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Mystery Photos to Identify

Updated on December 21, 2014

Unlabeled Photos Cause Problems for Genealogists

Every family has them... unidentified photos. No matter how diligent you are labeling the photos, there are always a few that are missed. Sometimes there are many photos that no one knows who they are.

Photos are a valuable part of a family's history, so it's sad when generations pass and the unlabeled photos mystify the next generation. Sometimes they are just thrown away in frustration. Don't do that. Hold onto those old pictures and maybe someday, someone in the family will identify them.

Here are some photos that puzzle my family. I'll give the possible town names and family names in hope that a distant relative might discover the photos and tell me who they are.

(photo from the family album of unknown men and boys playing croquet in Tyro, Kansas)

tower children old photo
tower children old photo

Tower Family Children

Do You Know Their Names?

I'm guessing these are the branch of the Tower family in Oklahoma, but don't really know that.

NEW INFO FROM VALLAIN

March 24, 2013

Pat Ruble just sent me the picture that matches the Tower family children above. Here's what she said about it, "This one is Titled Frank Smith and Ancelin Fiscus children. On the back of the photo though it says Jim Smith so you need to check that with the history also." Still a little confusing.

...and here's my response from March 25, 2013

OK, I've been doing some research on this at our MyFamily site, but there are still questions. We have a studio portrait from 1917 there of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith and Marie (which I've posted below for reference), with a note that Mrs. Smith is Ruthie Ann Fiscus, daughter of Malissa Angeline Tower Fiscus, granddaughter of Abraham Bates Tower. That doesn't match--quite--with Pat Ruble's info from her copy of the photo labeled "Tower Children" that it's the Frank Smith and Ancelin Fiscus children. I don't have any info on Jim Smith--could be that the photo was given to him (often the recipient's name was written on the photo when given as a gift). Take a look at the photo just (below) this one--the one of the two children labeled "Tyro, Kansas"--bet they're the same children! I'll do some more work on this though.

Can You Identify These Children?

Photo is from Tyro, Kansas

We have three branches of our family that lived in Tyro, Kansas. That means we need to search the Tower line, the McGhee line and the Vining line for the names to these children.

UPDATE March 25, 2013:

Could these be the children of Frank and Ancelin Fiscus Smith? (See detailed information above and related information below.)

Connecting the Dots!

Is this photo connected to the "Tower Children" and the "Tyro, Kansas" photos?

This is a photo that is reliably identified, so I'm posting it to compare with the other two photos ("Tower Children" and "Tyro, Kansas" children) because there seems to be a connection (see the comment from vallain below).

Description: Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith and Marie (1917). Mrs. Smith is Ruthie Ann Fiscus, daughter of Melissa (Malissa) Angeline Tower Fiscus, who was one of Abraham Bates Tower's daughters. Malissa was married to Henderson (Henry) Fiscus and they were known within the family as "Uncle Henny and Aunt Lissa." Ruthie Ann was the older sister (2nd child) of Floyd Wilder's mother Daisy Fiscus (8th child). Photo from the collection of the late Melvina (Vina) Tower Vining.

Mobile Scanner to Take Along on Family Visits

Flip-Pal mobile scanner with 4GB SD card and USB adapter. EasyStitch and StoryScans talking images software
Flip-Pal mobile scanner with 4GB SD card and USB adapter. EasyStitch and StoryScans talking images software

This is definitely on my wish list! You can scan photos while they're still in the album or frame. This scanner is battery-operated, has high resolution, and scans quickly. No computer needed to scan when you're away from home!

 

Storing Family History Photos Online

NYA Camp Kansas Bertha McGhee
NYA Camp Kansas Bertha McGhee

Can You Name the People in This NYA Photo?

One is my great-aunt Bertha McGhee. She's 3rd from the right on the back row.

Try this book: Family Photo Detective - Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries

Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries

I first found Maureen Taylor through her genealogy column on photo identification. She's an expert on this topic. Each photo has clues that the book helps you interpret.

For instance the kind of photo (postcard, tintype, daguerreotype, etc.) helps determine the age of the photo. Other clues in the photo include hair styles, kind of clothing worn, and background details.

Compare the unknown photo to labeled ones that you have. Ask family members and share the photo with them.

 

Do You Have Unlabeled Old Family Photos?

Vote in the poll

See results

Is This Donald Vining?

UPDATE: Yes, it IS Donald Vining!

Jack Irwin shared this photo with us and identified the young man in the front (2nd from left) as Donald Vining. Can anyone verify that? I believe this photo was taken in Tyro, Kansas.

UPDATE:

Jack Irwin, on his Tyro Facebook page, provided this information: First row, left to right are Victor Pocock, Jr., Kenneth Skinner, Donald Vining and Pete Scott. Jack said he thought Donald Vining was our great-uncle Albert Vining's son.

Since we knew Albert and Vina Vining didn't have any children, this created a new mystery! So my sister Virginia Allain did some rummaging about in the family records that our mother Gail Lee Martin maintained....and discovered that Donald was the oldest son of Luther Vining, one of Albert's older brothers, and lived with Albert and Vina from the age of 13. There was no explanation in Mom's records though.

Make Those Mystery Photos Talk!

Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photograph
Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photograph

A really useful book for genealogists! You'll learn how to identify the people in old family photographs using clues in the photographs. It also gives tips for how to find more old family photographs.

 

Grandma Tower?

UPDATE: NOT GRANDMA TOWER!

Our photo is just labeled "Grandma Tower." It doesn't look like photos that we have of Abraham Bates Tower's wife Nancy Angeline (Long) Tower.

Could it be Viola Matilda Tower? I think the photo is older than that.

UPDATE: Yay--our first success story! I had also posted this info on a private family site and got this response from the granddaughter of one of Viola Matilda Tower McGhee's sisters: "This is not a Tower. I found some time ago that this was a Newton. Just don't know which one."

So, yes, a success story--but only partially. We'd still like to find out the name of this Newton ancestor.

So Who's The Joker With The Vining Girls?

Tyro, Kansas

A family photo that is clearly marked with the date and the names of three girls. I know from my mother Gail Martin's stories (Ruth Vining's daughter) that Belle, Ruth and Lucy were sisters, but Mom always shook her head over the goofy young man. "Might be their brother Albert, he was short," but she also speculated that it was a cousin or a friend. It seems as if it were their brother Albert, his name would have been written on the front, too.

Some Useful Websites to Help You as a Photo Detective!

In this internet age, there is so much information to help with your genealogy research available at the click of your mouse. Here are a few websites that I found especially useful.

Learn How to Date Old Photographs

Amazon is a wonderful resource for books of this type. While you may want to support your local bookstore, assuming you live in a city large enough to have one, they often don't stock the range or type of books that is available through Amazon.

Tell Us about Your Old Photographs - Did You Know Any of the People on This Page?

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    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 2 years ago from San Francisco

      I'm a relative genealogy newbie, and often feel frustrated with the sparse information on photographs. Thank you for sharing these tips.

    • profile image

      Doc_Holliday 4 years ago

      I'm afraid not But I can relate to your frustration.

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      @Virginia Allain: Do you have any specific information about where this particular family lived?

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      @heytoto: The Smith children may well have visited in Tyro KS, since the Prague OK relatives came up now and then to collect the elderly Abraham Tower to go stay with them awhile.

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      @heytoto: I'll post that photo of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith and Marie so you can compare.

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      @Allain Christmas: OK, I've been doing some research on this at our MyFamily site, but there are still questions. We have a studio portrait from 1917 there of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Smith and Marie, with a note that Mrs. Smith is Ruthie Ann Fiscus, daughter of Melissa Angeline Tower Fiscus, granddaughter of Abraham Bates Tower. That doesn't match--quite--with Pat Ruble's info from her copy of the photo labeled "Tower Children" that it's the Frank Smith and Ancelin Fiscus children. I don't have any info on Jim Smith--could be that the photo was given to him (often the recipient's name was written on the photo when given as a gift). Take a look at the photo just above this one--the one of the two children labeled "Tyro, Kansas"--bet they're the same children! I'll do some more work on this though.

    • Allain Christmas profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      Pat Ruble just sent me the picture that matches the Tower family children above. Here's what she said about it, "This one is Titled Frank Smith and Ancelin Fiscus children. On the back of the photo though it says Jim Smith so you need to check that with the history also." Still a little confusing.

    • Mrcoolguy LM profile image

      Mrcoolguy LM 4 years ago

      Very interesting read, thank you!

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      Yay, we have one of our mystery photos identified--our first success story! I had also posted the info on a private family site and got this response this morning from the granddaughter of one of Viola Matilda Tower McGhee's sisters: "This is not a Tower. I found some time ago that tthis was a Newton. Just don't know which one. I tried to find the correspondence that told me who it was and couldn't find it. When we moved up here, the movers spilled 2 drawers - one from each of my small file cabinets. It's hard to find anything and I have not spent the hours it will take to fix it. I sent some pictures to Bertha some years ago that were of people I knew nothing about. She had some extras made and sent them to several family members and kept a copy just in case. I had forgotten all about that until the last time one of these pictures came up." (The Bertha she refers to was one of Matilda McGhee's daughters.)

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      When I first posted that photo on our MyFamily site, the info I had from Mom was "we think this is Grandma Tower." So that wouldn't have been Matilda, because she was "Grandma McGhee"--Tower was her maiden name. So I think we can rule her out. That makes it likely that you're right about it being Sarah Vest (Monroe) Tower, Abraham Tower's mother (1811 - 1884).

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      On top of all that, I just can't make her look like Grandma Tower!

    • heytoto profile image
      Author

      Karen Kolavalli 4 years ago from Lexington, Kentucky

      @Virginia Allain: Yes, I know--the ambiguities of these photos drive me crazy! Her dress and hair, plus the type of photo, makes me wonder, too.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      I wonder on the Grandma Tower photo. if that might be Sarah Vest (Monroe) Tower, Abraham Bates Tower's mother. She died in 1884. Trying to remember if that photo is a copy of tintype.