Monday, December 10, 2018
Perhaps it is possible to think one's self too clever. After all, it seems like a great racket: hit up several antique shops in quaint Gold Rush towns and rescue the abandoned family photographs being held hostage—then, à la Robinhood, return them to the bereft families from whence they once originated.
My comeuppance may have arrived the minute I lifted the picture of a young couple from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and spotted their name, written carefully on the reverse. Only problem was: the name provided—hard to read before digital enhancement—was Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts. Surely, there would be only one such couple by that name in a city of twenty five thousand people.
Then, too, there was no guarantee that this Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts—whoever they were—actually lived in Council Bluffs. That's just where the photographer's studio was located. Finding a city directory online for Council Bluffs would have been a nice touch, but, as it turned out, was an as-yet unsuccessful attempt. Thus, neither am I provided with a timeline of operation for the Sherradan studio nor any record of the couple's address in town.
If, that is, they even lived in town. Albert Roberts could have been a farmer somewhere in Pottawattamie County. Worse, the Roberts couple could have just been passing through town—or driving into town from quite a distance, simply for the express purpose of posing for their likeness.
Poking around in the digitized records in Ancestry.com's holdings didn't lead me to any compelling clues. I couldn't even stumble upon any enticing family trees there. So I opted for a different approach: to see whether I could find any mention of someone named Albert Roberts in the Council Bluffs newspaper.
Oh, yeah. There were plenty of articles. Enough, in fact, to help me construct an entire family tree. I wouldn't have thought it possible to build a family tree simply from newspaper reports, but in the case of one Albert Roberts, it may be a serendipitous exception. We'll take a look tomorrow at what can be gleaned about at least one family with that name from the Council Bluffs area. Either Albert Roberts was a well known man about town, or that city had a very chatty newspaper.
Whether the man in the newspaper accounts is one and the same as the young man in the photograph, however, is anyone's guess at this point.
Above: The digitally-enhanced scan of the name written on the reverse of an undated photograph from Council Bluffs, Iowa, labeled "Mr. + Mrs. Albert Roberts," followed below by the imprint of the photographer from the front of the picture. Scan and graphic manipulation courtesy Chris Stevens. Photograph currently in possession of author until claimed by a descendant of the family.