It's hard enough to read some sense into a cryptic label slapped on the back of an old photograph, but doubly frustrating when enigmatic phrases get interpreted the wrong way. In the case of our current mystery photograph from Guelph, Ontario, we've been trying to locate the daughter of someone named John "Reed" and then see if she had any connection with someone named Henry.
The verdict on this approach? I'll give you the Reader's Digest version: it isn't working.
The photograph whose subjects we're trying to identify came with a two-line explanation. The first line said simply, "Henry + cousin." A second line followed up, just as unhelpfully: "John Reed Daughter."
We've already tried our hand at locating a possible John Reed in or near Guelph during the approximate time of the photograph (the 1890s). We've discovered two such men in Wellington County: one named John Reed (alternately spelled Reid) and another named John Read. Each had daughters of an age to approximate the youthful appearance, in the 1890s, of our unnamed subject. Yet none of these candidates had a connection to an older brother or husband whose name was Henry.
That observation was enough to provide the nudge to take the label on the back of the picture more literally. It's not enough to look for a candidate for daughter of John Reed. The relationship needs to be fixed with Henry, not John Reed's daughter. And the woman sitting next to our mystery Henry needs to have been either his cousin or daughter of his cousin John.
Normally, I would have taken the time to examine both Johns' family trees, pushing back another generation to find any cousin candidates for the enigmatic Henry. However, this time, I discovered a shortcut: there was a well-researched family tree on Ancestry.com for the more likely of the two John Reeds.
Of course, sending a letter out of the blue always runs the risk of being ignored—but then, again, sending that note to someone on Ancestry means, at least, that I'm talking to a fellow family history fan. It's more likely I'd receive a response there than, say, through Facebook Messenger.
So I reached out to a relative of John Holmes Reed, the former teacher and (sometimes) farmer from Erin Township, that twenty mile drive from the city of Guelph. I asked, among other things, whether this descendant might either have photos of John Reed's children, or at least have connections with other extended family members who might have those coveted photos.
While my newfound Reed contact did not know of any specific photos of the daughters, he did treat me to a rundown of the possibilities for cousin connections to John's two older daughters, Mary and Lavinia. Here's his thinking:
John Holmes Reed had eight siblings. One of these siblings was named Henry, who named one of his sons Henry Reed (born 1851)....a sister Francis Ann, who named one of her sons Henry G. Easton (also born 1851), and another sister Margaret who also named one of her sons Henry Awrey (born in 1858), and a brother Robert Alexander who had a son he named James Henry Reed (1867). So "cousin" Henry or brother Henry could have been any of these Henrys.
As for the woman in the photograph, this Reed descendant weighed in: "I suspect that it may be Lavinia or Mary Reed."
There, with one simple email, a family member provided me a lightning-quick tour of the Reed family tree, saving me the time of looking down each of eight branches of the tree to which John Holmes Reed was connected.
Of course, I couldn't just leave it at that. You know I always wonder how a photograph made it from its origin, so far away from California, to the point at which I located it in an antique shop in Gold Rush country. Taking this Reed family member's suggestions, I started examining the descendants of each of the Henrys, and something popped up that caught my eye: another connection to the Contra Costa area where so many others of the pictures I've found originated.
Above: Closeup of a man identified only as Henry, from a photograph taken, circa 1890, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Photograph found in antique store in Jackson, California; currently in possession of author until claimed by a descendant of this family.