We would mainly choose them for their visual qualities- cute child, fashionable dress, unusual background. As my genealogy research skills developed, I began to get curious about these adopted relatives, especially those who were identified by name on the photo. How did they end up in some antique dealers’ stash? I thought if my ancestors’ portraits ended up being sold, I’d sure love it if someone took the time to find out who they belonged to.
To that end, I began researching the people in some of the photos I had. Of course this was not always possible, even with a name to go on. Some names are very common, and even with the locality of the place where the photo was taken from a studio imprint, it can be impossible to know for sure who is in the picture. I did have some success, however, and even managed to return a few of these “orphans” to their families. I made contact with people in California, Idaho, Washington state, and South Carolina, just by searching for the people I had researched in Ancestry public family trees. I have also shared photos of individuals on Find a Grave.
The above photo, purchased at a garage sale in Sackets Harbor, NY, is probably my most interesting find. The picture, with its version of 19th century style Photoshop, contained the names of the all the people who appeared in it, and the fact it was taken in New York City on December 28, 1897. Research revealed the 5 women in the picture were sisters, and the man spliced in was their brother. He had obviously been unable to make it to New York for the photo shoot.
Rarely is so much detailed information written on the back of a photo, but sometimes a single name and a location where the photo was taken can be enough to start the search in census records. In the above photo, all of the individuals had either name Rynder or the initial “R” in their names, so it could be inferred they were at least all related. The photo was taken in 1897, so a search of the nearest available census (1900) was undertaken to locate some of the subjects. The name of the only male in the photo, Theodore Rynder, was certain not to change in the 3 years between 1897 and the 1900 federal census, so unless he died between those years or was already dead in 1897 (and that was the reason for the splicing in) they he would hopefully be located.
Using the search form for the 1900 census on Ancestry, I entered “The*” in the first name box, and “Rynder” in the surname box. Two people with that name appeared- Theodore Sr., born in 1838, and Theodore, Jr., born in 1874, both members of the same household in Erie, Pennsylvania. Figuring the spliced male in the photo looked too old to have been born in 1874, I guessed the photo was of Theodore Rynder, Sr. The census revealed some facts about Theodore that would almost certainly pertain to the rest of his family- his birth in Pennsylvania in 1838 (his siblings would likely have been born around that time as well), his father’s birthplace of New York and his mother’s birthplace of Massachusetts, his occupation as an editor indicated he was a well-educated man and likely came from a family of some means who could provide him with that education. The clues found in this single census record would help me find out more about the sisters, about the family when the children were growing up, even the fact that Theodore Rynder was a minor candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1890, representing the Labor Party. Sometimes a simple Google search can reveal a lot more than you think!