Friday, July 02, 2010

Who in the world?

The big frustration for those of us who inherit a lot of old family photographs is the fact that manyof them are unidentified. You understand why they're not. How many of us, after all, continue to slap snapshots into an album, paper, digital or otherwise, without writing names on the back or othewise identifying the subjects? We know who they are. Who, in a hundred years, will care? Well, you never know.

I've stared at this couple for years, inviting them to tell me who they were. Since that hasn't worked, I play the percentages.

I'm 100 percent sure the photo was taken by J.H. Reynolds, a Burlington photographer. That's what it says on the cardboard backing. Most likely the phots were taken in Burlington. And I'm about 80 percent sure, based primarily upon the woman's hairdo and costume and what little I know about the history of photography, that they were taken not long after the Civil War, probably during the 1870s.

It's a 95 percent certainty that they were a couple. Everything except the actual images is identical; they were found on facing pages of the same album.

The likelihood that they were somehow related to my Wayne County Boswell family is about 60 percent. Nearly everyone in this album, which belonged to my great-aunt, Emma Prentiss, is a Boswell or a Boswell relative. Emma's mother was my great-grandmother, Chloe (Boswell) Prentiss/Brown. Aunt Emma died in 1894, however, so I can't ask.

If not a Boswell, there's a 20 percent possibility they're related somehow to Browns. Emma's stepfather, my great-grandfather, Joseph Brown, married Chloe when Emma was six (she was only nine months old when her father, Moses Prentiss, was killed). There are a few Browns in the album, but not many, and those who are there tended to be stepcousins of Emma's own age.

There's also a 20 percent possibility that these are Prentiss kinfolk, related somehow to Emma's biological father. But this family, some of whom were Mormon and some of whom were not, scattered like buckshot. Once Benona Freel and his family (including his wife, Moses's sister, Margaret) moved on west from Corydon to Nebraska there seem not to have been any of the Prentiss family left in Wayne County. There are no other identified Prentiss photos around and I have basically everything Emma left behind when she died that was thought to be worth keeping.

As you can see, the percentages haven't taken me very far. So if you recognize these faces, please tell me who they are. I'd really like to know.

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