This photograph in my collection is one of the few that doesn't have a positive identification attached to it. Most of my old photos do -- thanks to my wonderful grandmother Beulah (Garrard) Browning! -- so this one has always been a curiosity to me.
It is a 6.5 x 9 sheet and is either an ambrotype or a tintype -- I'm ashamed to say I'm not sure which. You can't see it in the reproduction to the right but when you hold it to the light the people nearly disappear. That makes me think ambrotype. However, in the bottom right corner you can clearly see a bit of metal where the image is peeling away. It also sounds like a tin sheet, if you know what I mean? So perhaps tintype is more accurate. Anyway, it's also been enhanced by the photographer. Some color has been added (most notably on kerchiefs and ties) and there are brush strokes accentuating the lines of the jackets worn by the boys and the older man. And as for the background? The house behind the fence looks like some sort of clapboard structure; one can see each thin board atop the other. However, the other side of the background is stranger. It appears to be the chimney of a house or perhaps a squared off church steeple in the distance but it seems almost completely drawn and colored up. I'm not sure the photographer didn't just sketch that in!
It's important that I date this photo because it would help me eliminate a few suggestions my grandma made when she and I were looking at it. Grandma told me she thought this photo might be the family of one of the sons of her grandfather William Garrard (1822-1864.) She thought this could be the family of her uncle James A. Garrard (1851-1910) or the family of her uncle William Bauer Garrard aka William Garrett (1859 - ?). She wasn't sure and I can understand why. My grandmother wasn't born until 1900 and she had only dim recollections of her uncle Jim since she was only 10 when he died. She never met her uncle Bill at all, who'd changed his name and split for Oklahoma before she was born.
I could try to date the photo by analyzing the hairstyles shown. If I did that I would look at the girls with their tight curls bunched up on top of their heads, their mother with a stricter and older sort of style, and date it roughly mid- to late 1880's.
I could look at the clothing, too. The girl behind her mother has a dress on with vertical puffs at her shoulder seams, a brooch, a neck collar and tight sleeves on her arms. That also puts me in the late 1880's. The mother again seems to be wearing an earlier style since her dress has a long row of buttons down the bodice. The oldest boy has on a longer coat over a vest and a striped necktie. The middle boy has on short trousers, a short coat and high stockings. His youngest brother wears the "dress" typical of a young one. And the father? His longer sack coat suggests a decade or so out of fashion just like his wife.
I felt comfortable with my analyzation but it helped that there was also something else I could use to help me independently assess the time period. Apparently this photo had been stored in an album or attached to some sort of keepsake holder with glue. When it was attached and/or removed, it had been laid down upon a newspaper. When it was removed the newspaper ripped and portions of it were left attached to the back!
Click on the picture above if you'd like to see the snippets of words that were left when the newspaper ripped but I can summarize it here. It looked to me like a review of "noteworthy features" in something called "....ort Stories" that was issued monthly. You can see a word here and there and it's obvious that some story titles are being listed. I could see the following:
"...ale from the Spanish..."
"...ecquer; "Qauarantine Is.."
"...an island, by Walter..."
"..ghbors," an amusing..."
So I started out by looking up the only name that was clear -- John Habberton. I could have used Randolph Churchill but his more-famous name would have been difficult to narrow down to a specific time frame. I did a Google search and four pages in, Bingo!
Google Books lists this compilation (for photo credit follow the link) entitled "Short stories: a magazine of select fiction, Volume 10" By Alfred Ludlow White. Published in May of 1892, it included stories such as "Next-Door Neighbors" by John Habberton, "Quarantine Island" by Walter Besant and "The Spirit's Mountain" by Gustavo Adolpho Becquer, among others like Bret Harte and George Eliot.
What a great way to find out about a picture. My dating system wasn't off by too much!
This helps eliminate one of the families I listed above, though. According to the information I currently have available, James A. Garrard married Nora Belle Tohill in 1891. They had eight children between the years 1892-1907, six sons and two daughters. One daughter was born in 1892 and the other 1907. James died in 1910 when his youngest was only 3. Therefore I don't believe the picture I have is of this family because the girls in the photo are too old to have a living father.
And what of my grandma's Uncle Bill? Now that's harder. Bill got into some trouble with the law and ran off to Oklahoma, changing his name from Garrard to Garrett. I met some of his descendants about a decade ago but I stupidly didn't gather all the information I should have from them when I had them there (or if I did it's buried in some box/file/etc and I have no idea where it is.) I could kick myself for that. I hadn't thought of Bill in years and I got up just a moment ago to look in my files and lo and behold, there is a picture! It must've been given to me all those years ago, goodness me!
Bill and his wife Sarah Box had a total of nine children, five girls and four boys. I don't have dates for any of them. I don't know when Bill died (he was born in 1859) or when his wife Sarah did. All I have are two grainy photographs. But you know, compare them yourself. The triangular nose, the half circle squint of the eyebrows from the forehead. This might be the right guy after all....
24 minutes ago