Organizing Your Family Photos—Part 2

Organizing Your Family Photos—Part 2

by Kerry Scott on 1 March 2010

Last time we talked about the mechanics of starting to organize and scan in your pictures.  Today I want to share a few of the genealogical clues I found when I went through 300 or so of my oldest family photos.  Part of the reason my project took so long is that I spent the bulk of my time analyzing the photos.  It was worth it.  Here’s a sampling of some of the clues and other cool things I found (click on the photos to see a larger version):

This is my great-grandfather, Arthur Walter Scheiber, in 1931.  I’ve often wondered how my ancestors fared during the Great Depression, and this gives me a clue.  Art was a railroad worker for most of his life, but this photo seems to indicate that he may have also sold used cars on the side for a period of time.  The back reads, “Dad’s pal Grimm calls this ‘Scheiber’s Breadwagon.’ He (Mr. Grimm) has this picture right over his desk.  He sure likes my dad,” in Art’s son’s handwriting.

This is my grandpa, Donald Arthur Scheiber, in about 1918.  That’s his mother’s handwriting on the photo at the top—it says: “Donald & Sport[,] Aunt Martha’s house.”  Sport the Dog appears in a number of photos labeled “Aunt Martha’s.”  He was probably Martha’s dog.  Some of those pictures include people I don’t recognize at all, but Sport’s presence gives me some clue that they’re connected to Aunt Martha’s branch of the family.  That’s a huge help when you’ve got photos of unknown people.  Don’t discount the value of identifying the pets in your family photos!

This is my great-great-grandfather, Frank Scheiber.  His line is the one on which I’ve done the most research, so I’m fairly confident I have all of the family’s geographic moves documented.  The interesting thing about this photo, though, is the photographer’s stamp.  You can’t see it very well here (because no matter what I did, it just wouldn’t scan well), but at the bottom it says, “J. Cole, Carrington, North Dakota.”  Since my research (so far) indicates that Frank and his family never lived in North Dakota, I’m curious.  What was he doing there?  Was he visiting friends or relatives?  Was he looking for land?  Was he on some sort of business trip?  I don’t know yet, but I’ll definitely be looking in and around Carrington for connections to this family.

The woman in this photo is my great-grandmother, Severina Elizabeth Nelson.  The older boy next to her is her brother, Allert B. Nelson (yes, it’s “Allert,” not “Albert”).  The younger boy is their half-brother, Clarence Nelson.  I was thrilled to find this photo, since I don’t have many of Clarence.  As I looked at it, I noticed something interesting about the pin on his lapel:

The button appears to be a picture of a woman wearing a dark-colored dress.  What does this mean?  Is it some sort of mourning custom?  I don’t know, but it’s a great clue (especially since Clarence himself is one of my most elusive ancestors…more on him in another post).

This one is my favorite.  The little boy on the steps is my grandpa, Don Scheiber.  The two women on the left are his paternal aunt, Irma Scheiber, and maternal great-aunt, Martha Erickson Swanson.  The man in the suspenders is his father, Art Scheiber, and the man in the suit is Martha’s husband, Alfred Swanson.  The older woman on the right his is grandmother, Mary Leonora Holthusen Scheiber.  This photo was taken at Art Scheiber’s home at 5411 Emerson Avenue South in Minneapolis in about 1918.  What caught my eye in this photo was the service flag in the corner of the window on the right side.  Art Scheiber had a brother, Edward, who was serving in the military at the time the photo was taken.  Although I think it was a little unusual (at least at this time of the photo) for a brother rather than a parent to have a service flag, I guess it’s possible.  Alternately, it’s possible that Art’s mother was living with him at this time; she was still married to his father, but they seem to have spent some period of time living apart during this period.  But the flag shows two stars, not one.  Could another of the Scheiber brothers have served?  There’s no other evidence of that so far, and they were a little old for service in World War I…but this photo tells me I definitely need to do some digging.

I’ll be working on each of these clues in the coming months.

Next I’ll talk about some of the tools I’m finding to be useful in organizing, analyzing and sharing my family photos.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Tiner March 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Neat. I can’t wait to hear more about Clarence. You obviously have quite an eye for details in photos.
.-= Susan Tiner´s last blog ..3. Jack Version 2.0 =-.


Michelle March 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Thank you for sharing – this is fascinating!


Nancy March 1, 2010 at 6:50 pm

This was a great post. I enjoy looking at the detail in my photographs, too, and try to notice every little thing. Just wish I had more old photographs of my ancestors!
Nancy from My Ancestors and Me at


Kerry Scott March 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Nancy—I have lots of photos of some people, and none at all of others. There are some ancestors who I’ve “known” through my research for years, and I would LOVE to see what they looked like.


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith March 2, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Neat set of photos and analysis to go with them. Thanks for sharing!

Keep telling your ancestor stories!

Dr. Bill ;-)
Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”
.-= Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith´s last blog ..Tombstone Tuesday – Jacob J. KINNICK =-.


Em-Dash March 3, 2010 at 10:58 pm

This is fun!
Of course, it’s leaving me with the feeling that I need to come up with some sort of naming convention for all the digital photos that I take… It would be fun if I could make little clues or hints for whatever future generation may actually be interested in them.
.-= Em-Dash´s last blog ..Was I scooped?? =-.


Kerry Scott March 4, 2010 at 7:05 am

Em—I thought about doing that too, but with two little kids, we take a LOT of pictures. I know I’d never be able to keep up with renaming them all. So I’m sticking with the default numerical file numbers that the camera assigns them (and that’s part of the reason I used numbers for my old photos too).

One thing you should do is label/caption them in some way. One of the most fun parts of my project so far was going through the envelope of pictures of a trip to Europe my grandpa’s first cousin took in 1930. It was cool to map out where she’d been and pull up pictures online of those places today. Your travel photos are considerably more exotic, and I’m guessing some descendant will be super impressed by Cousin Em’s photos from her time in Siberia. I’m impressed by them now and I’m not even related to you!


LB Sheehan April 23, 2010 at 6:13 am

Great post, very interesting!

About your great great grandfather and his North Dakota picture… I believe some photographers back then went from town to town to peddle their trade to the farmers, etc who could not take the time or means to travel to a city for a sitting. Perhaps the photographer’s studio is in N. Dakota, but the picture was taken in your family’s hometown?


Kerry Scott April 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

LB—in the case of this particular family, probably not, because they lived in big cities during the decade in which this photo was taken (I have farmers, but not in this line). But you bring up a great point…the location on the photo definitely doesn’t tell you for sure where the family lived.


Lyn April 27, 2011 at 6:21 am

Could the lady in the button on Clarence’s shirt be his biological mother or their mother if the half siblings shared the same mother? Perhsp she was deceased and could not be in the photo for some reason. Black was a mourning colour – there is a whole tradition on mourning costume in Victorian times ranging from full black outfits to black lace trims as time went on, so long as another close relative didn’t die in the meantime.

I love the tracing pets idea.


Kerry Scott April 27, 2011 at 2:46 pm

That’s long been my working theory on the woman in the photo.


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