Thursday, January 25, 2018
The Handwriting on the Back
Unlike most abandoned family photographs I've found, this one from a northern California antique shop was preserved by a chatty ancestor who felt the need to explain herself. Not only did she feel compelled to defend her childish pose from an earlier part of her life, but she managed to include that vital piece so important to family historians: the names of the three subjects.
The three girls, captured in film on a postcard surely one hundred years ago or more, were identified as Nellie, Alta, and Mollie Barnes. Since two of the girls towered above—and somewhat behind—the little cutie with the big bow, I wasn't sure whether the order of names represented back row to front row, oldest to youngest, or the more traditional left to right style of labeling.
The biggest drawback was the fact that the girls had a fairly common surname: Barnes. Not quite as pervasive as Smith or Johnson, the surname Barnes—perhaps owing to its English, Irish or Norse origins—still ranked as the seventy-ninth most popular surname in America as recently as 1990. Moving closer to the era in which the Barnes girls' photograph was taken, the 1920 census showed over eighty nine thousand individuals reported with the surname Barnes, with greatest concentration spread across the states from east to midwest, with a jump to the west coast. So we have our work cut out for us if we hope to find a family for these three girls in the picture found in the foothills of California.
There was one plus to this photograph, at least if the assumption that the three girls were sisters turns out to be correct. I could force a search at Ancestry.com to include a family with all three names represented. Though a search for each child individually—one for Nellie Barnes, one for Alta Barnes, and yet another one for Mollie Barnes—yielded several hits, without knowing a residence location or even the ages of the children, searching for them together as one family unit yielded one promising result: the family of Forrest and Clara Barnes in Cowley County, Kansas.
Above: Notation from the back of a photograph postcard, "Nellie, Alta, + Mollie Barnes - Seems like I always had the stomach ache." Photograph currently in the possession of the author.