Mystery photos are one of a family history researcher’s biggest frustrations. We find them in old albums, between the pages of books or in loose files. It can heartbreaking to wonder whether we’re looking at the face of an ancestor–and to know we may never know for sure.
Daguerrotype of a Photograph of Abraham Lincoln, used for the $5 Bill. Original taken on February 9, 1864. Photographer unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Well, we’re not alone. Two news stories ran recently about old mystery photos theorized to be two icons of American history: President Abraham Lincoln and singer Elvis Presley!
(Image Right: Daguerrotype of a Photograph of Abraham Lincoln, used for the $5 Bill. Original taken on February 9, 1864. Photographer unidentified [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)
Mystery Photos: Abraham Lincoln Funeral
The Washington Post recently posted a story about the possibility that some unidentified photos at the National Archives (U.S.) show rare images of Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession in New York City.
The article gives some great back story how Lincoln’s 2-week+ funeral procession. His body traveled by rail and horse-drawn hearse for 1600 miles from Washington, D.C. back home to Springfield, Illinois. Along the way, there were stops for elaborate funeral processions in several cities. Millions of mourners turned out. The article quotes the man who put together this theory – a retired government accountant who loves historic photos.
Mystery Photo: A Young Elvis Presley?
The Blaze recently reported on an Elvis sighting: well, at least a photo sighting of Elvis. The image in question shows a young teenage boy. There are lots of questions about whether this is really The King before fame changed his life – and American pop music – forever.
These remind me of a genealogy blog post by Lisa Frank. She shares how listening to the Genealogy Gems Podcast led to the discovery of an online video that may belong to her family story. Read her post Could It Be My Ancestor? and chime in with your opinion.
What surprising, poignant or fascinating mystery photos have you found in your family history research? Share them on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and tell us about them! I look forward to seeing them!
Remember the board game LIFE? Archives.com has put its own spin on this family favorite that experienced a revival in the 1960s.
(Quick Quiz: 1. What year was the game of LIFE created?
Bonus: 2. What was the original name?)
We recently discovered this cool, interactive webpage for learning more about U.S. history through census facts. It’s called The American Family Through Time and you can “play” it here free at Archives.com.
This clever page uses census data to show how American life has changed over the course of 220 years (and 23 censuses). You can click on decade-by-decade summaries on the “gameboard.” In addition to the census questions, you’ll find some fun now-and-then comparisons for housing, education and occupations. Great for kids of all ages!
Quick Quiz Answers:
2. The Checkered Game of Life
Everyone’s families have a little bit of mystery in their past–or a lot!
TheBlaze.com recently posted this great story about a woman who was able to solve a longtime family history mystery by posting it online at Metafilter.com, a crowd-source blog. She posted this query:
“In my grandmother’s final days battling brain cancer, she became unable to speak and she filled dozens of index cards with random letters of the alphabet. I’m beginning to think that they are the first letters in the words of song lyrics, and would love to know what song this was. This is a crazy long shot, but I’ve seen Mefites [other site users] pull off some pretty impressive code-breaking before!” Then she posted the “code” from one of the cards.
Within 15 minutes someone solved part of the puzzle: a section of the code was the first letters of the prayer from the New Testament, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name….”
Have YOU ever been faced with indecipherable notes left behind by a family member? What family history mystery do you wish an online community could help you solve? Share this on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page and leave your answers.
Do you have a family reunion, wedding or another special family gathering coming up soon? I’ve been busy helping plan my youngest daughter’s wedding, and we are looking for ways to capture memories from our loved ones while they are all together.
Hannah and I aren’t the only ones looking to make the most of this exciting event. Genealogy Gems podcast listener Kirsty recently asked me how she could incorporate family history gathering at her upcoming wedding (Congratulations, Kirsty!) and here’s what I told her:
1. Search family reunion websites and other websites for ideas you can convert to a wedding reception. For example, Reunions Magazine has a page devoted to family history activity ideas for family reunions. A search of Google and Pinterest should help you find more ideas. Check out my Pinterest board called Incorporating Family History Into Your Wedding.
My Board: Incorporating Family History into Your Wedding
2. If you have your guests seated at tables, that’s a great opportunity to provide an icebreaker that can double as a family history gathering opportunity. You could have a form at each place setting for them to fill out. If you are having a videographer, you could have a short list of questions at each table, and when he comes to their table he records them answering the questions. (What’s your earliest childhood memory? Who’s the earliest ancestor you have a photograph of? What are three things you remember about great-grandmother? etc) Can you imagine how this Martha Stewart placecard on Pinterest (which I found by searching “family reunion history” at Pinterest) might be adapted this way?
3. If you they won’t be at tables, you could have a family history table (next to another table they are likely to visit such as guest book table) and have your activity there. Let them know that this is their gift to you. You could even have some sort of treat or little sticker they can wear that says “I shared the family history, have you?” (In the U.S. when you vote they often give you a little lapel sticker that says “I voted.”) Or you could create the “Sweet Memories Candy Bars” that feature family history that I write about in my book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies.
I hope these ideas help inspire Kirsty and anyone who wants to gather their loved ones’ memories at their next family event!