Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Determining Perspective
in Photograph Labels


When sorting through family photographs bequeathed to me from prior generations, I'm grateful for those which have actually been labeled. Even so, some of those labels leave me almost as clueless as their unmarked counterparts.

Take, for instance, the photograph I mentioned yesterday. It plainly identified the man in the picture as someone named Will Nellis. I know where I got the picture—a son of Agnes Tully Stevens had it in his possession before he died, and his wife gave it to me, hoping I could figure out the identity. My first step, before actually doing that, needs to be determining the perspective of the person who wrote that label on the photograph.

My first consideration involved speculation about the handwriting itself. Who wrote that label? I thought immediately of Agnes' own daughter, who had labeled another family memento with a tag along the same lines. That one, for another cousin, took me quite some time to figure out, despite the convenience of being provided with a name and a relationship. 

Comparing handwriting between the two photographs, I noticed that while they were similar hands, it was more likely that each was written by a different person. In order to figure out just who Will Nellis was the cousin of, I'd need to determine the identity of the person who wrote that label. Since the photograph was among several passed along to me from among Agnes' own papers, that would be the first guess. However, I need to remember that I received her daughter Pat's photos and memorabilia from that same source. Not only that, but the dimensions and appearance of Pat's photos commemorating an event in 1929, and this other one from—maybe—Agnes may reveal that they were all taken at about the same time.

For now, I'll test the working hypothesis that "coz" refers to a cousin of Agnes Tully Stevens, granddaughter of Anna Flanagan Malloy and first cousin once removed from Johanna Flanagan Lee. While Will Nellis doesn't necessarily need to be a relative from the Flanagan side, posing for a picture while holding a Flanagan baby certainly does seem to provide a clue.

It is possible that this hypothesis may remain unsubstantiated when we actually start looking for people by that name in the Chicago area, where this picture was likely taken. That, too, is an assumption which will become part of my collection of working hypotheses, as will an estimate of the date when this picture was taken. While each of these components are now merely guesses, I've got to have some place to launch this search. We'll begin by using these parameters.

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