Tuesday, April 9, 2019
The Problem with "Mr. and Mrs."
Finding an antique photograph with a name is always an enticing moment for me. I wonder: with just the name—and perhaps the location of the photographer who created the portrait—can I find a way to return this abandoned item to descendants of the family?
In many cases, since I've taken on this challenge a few years ago, I've been able to do so. See, those genealogical research skills come in handy.
And so it was, last summer when a friend and I drove up to the foothills of northern California—think Gold Rush country—and found a stash of such specimens at an antique store in Sonora. My only mistake, at least with one candidate I found to purchase, was relying on the name of the husband without any regard to how helpful a wife's name might have been in the process.
You know that old-fashioned etiquette: a woman wouldn't dare let herself be seen outdoors without cover of that title, Mrs., along with (at the very least) two initials representing her husband's given names. To be called by one's own name? Scandalous, at least for a proper married woman.
And so, I picked up the photograph of a young Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts, never dreaming that the Council Bluffs, Iowa, portrait could represent one of three different Albert Roberts couples living in the vicinity of that midwestern city.
Granted, I made a valiant attempt at isolating the right Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts. I scoured newspaper entries. And more entries. I hounded local historical societies for dates of the photography business. I borrowed likenesses from Find A Grave volunteers. And, of course, I stalked other Roberts researchers at Ancestry.com.
One such researcher was gracious enough to answer my unusual request. I wasn't sure that my photo's Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts were one and the same as those in his family tree, but what I did know was that if he had any photos of his Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts, it might help me determine whether to rule out one of the three possible couples in the Council Bluffs area.
At first, this respondent doubted that anyone in the family even had a photo of this ancestor couple of theirs. But then, as Life has a habit of doing, circumstances changed. In the wake of an unfortunate loss in his wife's family, she had been sifting through old family photographs in preparation for the funeral, and came upon a photograph she never thought she had. You guessed it: it was a picture of the Albert Roberts family.
Though the photo was taken of a somewhat older couple—by then, with three children—the clothes seemed to indicate they were from about the same time period. The names of the children match up with one of the Albert Roberts families I had researched, as well.
Oh, for access to one of those computer programs that creates a graphics sequence of "aging" a face of a younger person. All we have to go on, here, is our imaginations, but see what you think. Here, with permission of their second great-granddaughter and her husband, is a photograph of Albert and Alice Roberts and their daughters Lillian, Mayme, and Ola.