Saturday, November 26, 2011

Using Indirect Evidence to Identify a Photo - Part 1

If you look closely you can see the words, "For Frank" written in pencil under the picture. Frank was my great grandmother, Frances Lowe's nickname.
Have you ever wondered who the person in an old photo is and if you will ever figure it out? My great grandmother Frances Lowe had plenty of pictures in her old candy boxes where she stored photos, cards and letters. This one had me baffled for years. This is what Frances wrote on the back:

Recently, while looking for something, I ran across this picture once again. Immediately, light bulb came on. I think I know who this is! Follow along with me and see if you are convinced I have the answer to the question - Who is the woman in the picture? If not challenge me! Where else should I research? What else should be considered?

The clues:
  • The photo was taken in Denver.
  • The photographer is G.R. Appel, 1579 Larimer Street, Denver, Colorado.
  • According to Frances, the woman is Walt Woods mother.
Back in the very early days of this blog, I wrote two pieces about Mary Ann Ballenger, including a timeline of her life. Right there is Walter Woods! Take a moment and at least read the second piece on Mary Ann Ballenger Woods. I'm not going anywhere...

It looks like the Walt Woods named on the back of the photo is Mary Ann Ballenger Woods son. It gets more interesting when I follow Walt through the census.

Re-examining the 1900 census we see that Walter and his sister are listed at the top of the page with his parents and another sister at the bottom of the previous page. Walter is 12 years old, born in Colorado, his mother is listed as born in Iowa which is consistent with what we know about Mary Ann. They reside in Montrose County, Colorado which is in the southwest part of the state, consistent with the Boulder Daily Camera, 7 December 1893, Boulder Daily Camera newspaper article.

In 1910, Walter is listed as the 24 year old head of household with no one else in the home. Further down the page is Milton, Mary A and Hazel. His birth year is a little different from that listed in the 1900 census but his mother's birthplace of Iowa is consistent.

So nothing directly proves the woman in the photo is Mary Ann (Ballenger) Woods but the evidence indirectly indicates that to be the case.

  1. In December 1893, Mrs. Milton Y. Woods, the former Mary Ballinger, visits her sister, Mrs. Dan (Nancy Ballinger) Robinson in Boulder, Colorado with her 3 children. (Boulder Daily Camera, 7 December 1893, front page).
  2. Mary was living in Telluride, Colorado at the time the news article was written and had moved to the southern part of the state about 15 years earlier.
  3. The 1900 census shows the Woods family including Mary and son Walter living in Montrose County, Colorado.
We have tied Mary and Walter together. Tomorrow I will show how the provenance of the photograph ties these families together.

How is it looking so far?

“Returns After Many Years,” Boulder Daily Camera (Boulder), 7 December 1893, p. 1; digital images, Colorado Historical Newspapers ( : accessed 28 September 2007).

1900 U.S. census, Montrose County, Colorado. Population schedule, California Precinct 10, sheet 13 B and 14 A, dwelling 229 & family 250, Milton Y. Woods family; digital image, ( accessed 21 February 2010), citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 127.

1910 U.S. census, Montrose County, Colorado. Population schedule, Precinct 106 sheet 6 B, dwelling 139 & family 129, Walter Woods; digital image, ( accessed 26 November 2011), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 123.

Walt Woods mother. Photograph. Original, privately held by Michelle Goodrum, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE]. 2010.

© 2011, copyright Michelle Goodrum


  1. The size of that woman's sleeves most definitely ties the date of the portrait to the mid-1890s.

  2. Thank you Brett. That piece of information was a huge help!