Friday, June 22, 2018

Interpreting Labels

It is usually a given that, once having received an old family photograph with an actual name entered on the reverse, one should be grateful for having that detail provided. In our cross hairs at the moment, though, we do have a labeled family photoat least of someone's family, though we don't quite yet know whoseand despite the label, we can't really say much about what it means.

We've been told, thanks to that nameless, well-intentioned family member who provided the information, that the photo of a couple from, perhaps, the turn of the previous century might have been
Henry + cousin
John Reed Daughter

The trouble with that label is that it can be interpreted a number of ways. It could have meant that the couple featured in the photograph were cousins: Henry and an unnamed female cousin, whose father's name was John Reedthus, making John Reed Henry's uncle. It might also have meant that Henry was seated next to the daughter of his cousin John Reed, making her Henry's first cousin, once removed. On the other hand, it might have signified that the cousin was related to the person inscribing the photograph, rather than that she was cousin to Henry: Henry and my cousin, who was John Reed's daughter. Or the daughter of my cousin John Reed.

Is this enough to make your head spin? Wait. There's more.

What else was unclear was the relationship between Henry and the woman in the picture. Could they have simply been cousins? Or were they married?

Of course, we'll have to leave ourselves open for researching all these nuances to that enigmatic label.

In the meantime, one thing we know for sure: the only full name we have is of someone who was not even featured in the picture: John Reed, whoever he was. And the only thing we know about that John Reed is that his daughter lived close enough to the city of Guelph to travel to the photography studio of Burgess and Son for her picture to be taken.

With such a wide open possibility as what we've been presented with in this uncertain research scenario, we find ourselves opting once again for a sure thing: the dates the photography studio was in operation in Guelph under the business name, Burgess and Son. That way, at least the date range will give us an idea of possible candidates for a man named John Reed who had a grown daughter by the time the picture was likely taken.

Thankfully, several editions of the city directory for Guelph are available from that time period. We'll see, next week, how well we can narrow the date range so we can proceed to look for John Reed's daughter. At that point, if we can find a Reed family daughter from Guelph, Ontario, who married someone named Henry, we can consider ourselves doubly lucky.

Above: Inscription from the reverse of a cabinet card found in a northern California antique shop; original photograph currently in possession of author until a descendant of the subjects can be located.


  1. Many people wanted to have their photo taken in 1900, I think it was a "thing"
    I bet Henry and his cousin who is John Reed's daughter (whose name could not be recalled) is in the photo...and I will guess 1899-1900:)

    1. Thanks, Far Side. From what I'm finding so far, that is a good date range to zero in on. We'll see how long Burgess and Son was in business, though, just in case.


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