Thursday, April 11, 2019

What About the Children?

Here we are, still puzzling over the identity of an antique photograph found in Sonora, California—despite the Council Bluffs portrait being labeled with a specific name: Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts. But now, we have another photograph, thankfully supplied by a descendant of one of the Iowa men by that specific name, with which to help determine the correct identity of our Mr. and Mrs. Roberts.

While we can't yet be certain, with this new version of our couple, whether we are looking at a portrait of the right Albert Roberts family, there are other ways to solve this identity puzzle than by relying on a side-by-side of either adult. After all, besides the issue of the effect of aging on appearances, different photography studios could have specialized in techniques that produced wildly different results, through lighting, positioning or placement of subjects. Different lighting can make eyes seem more deeply inset, for instance. Broad shoulders or a wide forehead can seem much less imposing when the body is angled slightly away from the camera lens.

In the photo we viewed Tuesday from a descendant of the first candidate for Albert Roberts—the couple from Fremont County, Iowa—not only was the opportunity to view the picture a gift, but the portrait came with three bonuses: the three young children included in the portrait.

If those girls were indeed Lillian, Mayme and Ola, as indicated on the back of the cabinet card, we certainly can find out more details about them. This, however, requires us to do a brief review of the personal history of Mrs. Roberts, who happened to be a widow before she married Albert Roberts.

Alice Roberts was the former Mrs. John W. Eachus. Together, they were the parents of Lillian Eachus, born in California in 1884, and her younger sister Mayme, who arrived in the Eachus household in 1887. Those girls were but five and two years of age when their mother married Albert Roberts in 1889.

The third child in the photo—nicknamed Ola, but born Ruby Viola Roberts—joined the ready-made family in the spring of 1890. Thus, if Ola was the little cherub dangling her feet from the lap of her father in the photo we viewed the other day, figuring out her age—two? three?—and that of her older half-sisters would help us fix a date for the photograph. And if that date we devise seems to align reasonably with the style of the cabinet card shared with us and appear to be a few years more recent than the style of photograph we viewed for the Roberts' presumed wedding photo, we might be able to claim relative confidence from simply the dating of the two photographs.

The main reason I say that: the other option for Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts would not be quite as cooperative a fit as this option. You'll see what I mean by that tomorrow.

Above: Inset of a young Lillian Eachus from the family portrait of Albert and Alice Roberts, undated, taken in Riverton, Iowa; photograph in private possession of a Roberts family descendant; used by permission.


  1. Replies
    1. And I keep wanting to trust the process, Miss Merry...but at this point, I think it is tying me in knots!

  2. Ok here is my take.
    The Sherradan photo of the couple; 1884-1885, she wears a bustle that was popular 1881-1886. If the card is a different color on the reverse it comes from 1880-1890.
    The JF Lewis photo of the family; 1889-1904. In 1890 Cabinet Cards with scalloped edges were popular.
    So my final guess is 1884 for the couple, and 1890 for the one of the family :)

    1. Thanks for those dates, Far Side. If anyone would know that, it would be you! The Sherradan card is the same color, front and back, by the way.

      Do you suppose the widow Alice could have been a bit behind the times with her outfit? After all, the 1889 wedding would be only three years after the popularity of the bustle started tanking in 1886.

      I'm thinking with the youngest daughter in the photo, she would be about two years of age, placing the date for that photo around 1892--but not too far into the years as to add the next daughter's arrival into the family.

      See, those dates don't quite fit as easily as we'd hope, leaving me with that nagging doubt about whether we've identified the right Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts, after all.

      That's where I start cheering for one of the two couples--neither of which seem to fit the parameters.

  3. Now I think that they are different people. She could not have been Mrs Roberts at that time of the first photo. :)

    1. Yeah...that's that nagging doubt that plagues me, too...


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