Friday, June 29, 2018

A Reed by any Other Spelling

The note on the back of the abandoned photograph started out, "Henry + cousin" but then stopped. A second line continued, "John Reed" and then added the additional term, "Daughter." That was all I could find on that picture taken in Guelph, Ontario at a photography studio called Burgess and Son.

By style of photograph and by style of hair and clothing, all indicators pointed to a portrait taken in the 1890s. Especially considering the woman's hair with its frizzy bangs, it was likely a style from the 1890s, noted for short hair framing the face and treated to the heat of steel tongs "heated over an alcohol lamp or a gas jet" to "make the waves more lasting."

But a photo taken in the mid 1890s of a woman with such a hairstyle would not do for a target subject known to be born just a few years before in 1885. The daughter of the only John Reed I could find in the region surrounding Guelph would have been a mere child during that decade. And, just based on the fluffy hairstyles of the next decade with its Gibson Girl ideal, it is doubtful that the picture I found would have been taken in the early 1900s.

So, goodbye to the notion that the subject of the photograph I found in a northern California antique shop would have been Nellie Reed, wife of Kenneth Quarrie of Wellington County, Ontario. She was simply too young to be a likely candidate.

So who else was there in the region surrounding the city of Guelph who could have been a daughter of John "Reed"? This is where we need to get creative with our spelling. One obvious choice would be to search for the alternateand commonspelling, Reid. However, no candidates from that time period offered themselves for consideration.

There was, however, a man by the name John Read. This resident of Guelph was listed in the 1881 census. Most promising was the fact that he did have a daughter, who at that point was twenty years of age. Since our mystery photograph was taken at the Burgess and Son studio some time between the mid 1880s and the 1890s, this daughter would have been just the right age to qualify as our subject.

That, unfortunately, was where the case begins to unravel itself. While this daughterher name was given as Kate G. in the 1881 censusdid happen to have a brother, his name was not Henry, as was mentioned in the inscription accompanying our photograph. Kate's brother's name was Clement.

Of course, the man in the picture with this daughter of "John Reed" could have been a husband, rather than a brother. But taking a look forward in time to reveal Kate's life story, we discover she remained single until the point of her death in 1935. No Henry awaiting us in any such possibility.

Stepping in the opposite direction, though, shows us another possibility. If we find the household of John Read in 1881 to include only two childrenKate and her brother Clementwhat could we find if we took a step backwards in time?

It turns out that John Read and his wife Ann had two older children who had, by 1881, left their parents' household. And one of those older children was indeed another daughter. Her name was Emma, and while she was born in 1856, a youngish-looking thirty-something woman could still be a possibility for our photo subject.

Looking for the other telltale signs of a match, though, also brings disappointment. Emma's other brother was also not a Henry; John and Ann's oldest son was named Walter. And though it was encouraging to see that this daughter had gotten married, we discover it was not to someone named Henry. The man Emma married in 1876 was named Denis Cross.

Whoever Henry was in the photograph I found, I am not sure I will be able to identifyat least, not if I assume that the woman seated by his side was John Reed's daughter and either a sister or a wife. Perhaps the next step will be to take the label literally and assume that Henry was sitting next to his cousin, John Reed's daughter. That, of course, will require building these trees out yet another generation.

Above: The John Read family in Guelph, Ontario, in the 1871 Canadian census; image courtesy


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