I'm excited to report that this week I made contact with a McConnell family researcher through Find-A-Grave. He let me in on a few corrections to the family of John C. and Rachel (Browning) McConnell and we began talking more and more about the family and their children. While he was descended from John and his first wife Jane Boals/Boles, he knew an awful lot about John's second family because he'd been interested in genealogy from a young age and managed to talk to many of the 'old ones' before they passed on.
In the course of our converstions I mentioned that I had a picture of John C. McConnell given to me by a few surviving relations. He was curious about the photo, saying he had a few photos himself (a set of four consisting of a man and wife and two boys) that he'd always been suspicious were McConnell's but who weren't identified on the backs as such. He'd run into another McConnell descendant who'd owned the same set but his weren't identified either. I sent him the picture of John I had as a comparison, hoping that there would be a match. His next email was an excited YES! (truthfully, there were a lot of hallelulahs and praise Jesuses too!)
I was just as thrilled as he was, because as I said, he had a set! He had John......and RACHEL!
I haven't seen pictures of too many of Samuel and Margaret's children. I only have two: Ezra C. and John Wesley Francis. I also have pictures of the two girls, Laura and Mary, that Samuel had with his second wife Sarah (Bell) Gaddis Browning. Out of fifteen, I only have four. Rachel's picture makes it five. It's a very thrilling addition to the fold.
Once I received the photos I wanted to analyze them to establish a date range. John C. McConnell died in 1873 so that gave me a topmost range to work with.
First, the things that you can't see. This photo has been cropped; I know this because the sender told me. No worries, though, because I also have the photos of John C. and the two boys. The photos of the boys haven't been cropped and the sender told me that the pictures of Rachel and John are framed exactly like those of the boys. The boy's photos are all on thin paper stock and all have two golden double lines encircling them. The sender says there are no photographer's stamps or studio names on them at all.
The pattern on Rachel's dress is quite striking and she is wearing a matching cape. Her sleeves bell outwards between her elbows and shoulders but become less so at the wrist. Are they leg'o'mutton sleeves? I can't tell because of the way the cape covers her shoulders but I don't think they are. They seem more bishop style, tighter near the wrist with some sort of trimming near the cuff. I think I see just the barest hint of a small row of buttons down the front of her bodice -- perhaps a double row, hidden by the cape? -- and I'm questioning whether her skirt isn't of a split style, with some sort of pleated panel in the front and the pattern to each side. She has a simple but delicately scalloped wide white collar with a brooch or cameo in its center. Her hair is center parted and smoothed neatly behind her ears into a bun.
The boys are both wearing shawl collar vests that are higher up on their necks than the one John is wearing. The boy on the left, who I judge to be the elder by a few years, is holding a work or mechanic's hat. I can't tell whether John is wearing a bow tie or some sort of cravat tucked into his vest because of the length of his beard but both boys are wearing small bows tucked underneath their collars. Both boys have sack coats on -- the eldest's of tweed or patterned wool, the other's dark -- and the seams of each are falling off their natural shoulder. John's coat seems longer than the boys' coats but that might just be a trick of the edge of the photo. John sports a single button on one side. His is more fitted to his shoulders and it appears that part of his coat collar is made or trimmed in velvet. All three are wearing their hair parted to the side. The boys seem to have oiled their hair and pushed it up off their heads but John has a full length chin beard. His hair is thin and a little full at the sides.
Looking at the pictures as a whole, I would say that they were taken by the same photographer on the same day. All four appear to be seated on a simple wooden chair; the tip of it can be seen in Rachel's photo and its seat in the elder boy's. The background is the same in all the pictures, though in the pictures of John and the boys a white strip (perhaps a baseboard?) can be seen to their bottom right. I believe the fullness of Rachel's skirt is blocking the view of that strip in her photo.
It will help at this point to have some information about the McConnell family. Rachel was born in 1825 and John in 1807. Their eldest, Theodore, was born in January 1850 and their second son, John W., was born in December of 1853. I believe that Theo is the elder boy holding the hat. Does he look about 15-16 to you? He does to me. I think the other boy looks about 12-13. The elder boy has the look of Rachel in his nose and the set of his mouth while the younger has more the look of his father.
Now to the dating. It's important that we look at these pictures as a unit as well as individually where that's concerned. Rachel's wide white collar, the double row buttons, and the bishop style sleeves all point to a date of the early 1860's. The dress styles of both the boys and John look to be near the same dates but I think, given the style of ties the boys are sporting, might be more toward the middle of the decade. I would be content to think that Rachel, being a woman in or nearing her 40's, might wear styles a couple of years out of fashion. All in all, I would say this set of photos dates about 1865 or 1866.
But the real kicker is something I questioned about her photo the moment I saw it. Most of the dresses I've seen on women in this date range have skirts that are full and consistently patterned. Rachel's dress has a pleated middle section. Now it could be that she's simply a heavy-set woman, but is it possible that she's pregnant?
Rachel had children born in 1850, 1851, 1853, 1855, 1859, 1860, 1862, and 1864. She was also possibly pregnant one other time (either in 1857 or around 1866 -- but the child in this case was either stillborn or died as an infant (I say this because in the 1900 census Rachel stated she was the mother of nine children and I can only account for eight.) If she IS pregnant in this photo, it might date the image to around 1865 and it would match the ages of her sons Theo and John W. If this image is older (say, 1870-ish) it would still match the ages of her sons (though their identification as Theo and John would certainly be in question) but Rachel would not be pregnant, just heavy.
So what say you all? Is this c1865-6, or closer to 1870?
3 hours ago