The Found Photo Project

By Eilene Lyon

A New Project

Nothing thrills me more than finding photos of ancestors I’ve never seen — the photos or the ancestors! Many are posted on by distant relatives I do not even know. There are also angels out there who rescue abandoned or discarded family Bibles and photo albums, in hopes of finding their true homes with grateful descendants.

I recently explored the opportunity to do that locally. I went to the antique emporium on Main Ave. and perused the dens of the various purveyors of parochial paraphernalia seeking diaries, Bibles, and photos with any sort of identifying marks.

I left with three images, all female, that set me back a grand total of $7 and change. Giddy with anticipation, I hurried home to log onto and begin my investigation.

Dorothy Elizabeth Beaty Woody


The first photo, and the largest of the three, was the easiest, because it gave the full name and age of the subject: Dorothy Elizabeth Beaty, age 2 ½. The black and white print is cut in an oval and glued to a backing board that has the name of the photographer’s studio printed near the bottom.

I could tell by the styling it was probably taken in the 1900 – 1920 period. The toddler is posed (uncomfortably I would think) on a pedestal that doesn’t even have a cushion. She clearly seems to be a middle- or upper-middle-class child.

It has artistic merit in its own right, but what really got my attention was the studio mark: Gerhard Sisters, St. Louis. Interesting! Fortunately, I was able to quickly learn more about them, thanks to Wikipedia.

Emme and Mayme Gerhard were pioneering photographers in that city, purchasing a studio in 1903, and later opening a second studio. They did portraits of some notable people, such as Helen Keller and Geronimo. The two women were financially self-sufficient and even provided jobs to many family members.

My search on revealed that Dorothy Elizabeth Beaty was born in St. Louis County in January 1905, placing the date of this portrait in the summer of 1907. Dorothy married Samuel James Woody and they eventually moved to California. Samuel died in 1963 and Dorothy in 1994. They had two sons.

Emma K. Wulf Voss


The second image seems a bit mundane by comparison, but came closer to home (Colorado). The inscription on the back is simply “Mother Voss.” It implies a respectful, but not necessarily warm, relationship with the subject. The woman appears to be about 40 years old.

At first, I couldn’t detect a studio name or mark, but under bright illumination, I noticed a faint stamp mark on the backing board. (It’s mounted very much like the first photo and taken in the same time period.)

Using some lighting tricks and magnification, I finally made out “Grand Island” on the outer edge of an oval, with some sort of signature in the middle. Researching Grand Island – which conjures in my mind something along the coast or Great Lakes, but which in reality is a town in Nebraska – I was able to find the photographer, Julius Paul Frederick Leschinsky. The signature shown on the sample cabinet card picture on this blog matches the signature on Mother Voss.

The Ancestry investigation led me to the conclusion that this is a photo of Emma K. Wulf, born in Germany in 1870. She married Henry E. Voss and died in Grand Island in 1965. She appears to have had as many as fourteen children (though many may have died as infants), so she undoubtedly has quite a few descendants.

Aunt Ellen?


The third photo is a cabinet card image that I pegged as being taken in the 1875 – 1895 period. The photography studio logo on the back helped me date the photograph specifically to 1882 – 83. The location is San Francisco. The only hint at her name is a penciled notation on the back: “Aunt Ellen?”

I began my research on the subject using the location, and the approximate age of the woman to guess at a birth year range. Because there are many, many women named Ellen who lived in San Francisco in the 1880 census, I  didn’t really expect to have much luck.

However, I’ve come up with a remotely possible candidate. Her name is Ellen Elizabeth Robbins, and she was born in San Francisco in 1856. She got married, in December 1873, to Adolph Martin Hermann Fredrich Meyer, born in Germany in 1840. They had at least six children. She would have been about 27 years old at the time this image was taken.

Where to Now?

I’ve posted the first two found photos on in hopes that a descendant will claim them (though I’d love to keep Dorothy!). The Aunt Ellen photo I put on DeadFred since my identification is unlikely. So far, no one has claimed any of the images.

Maybe this isn’t the most productive use of my time, but for $7 and an afternoon, I sure had a lot of fun!

24 thoughts on “The Found Photo Project

Add yours

  1. I found an old WW I photo with my grandfather’s things. It had a name on the back and I was able to track down the family in Fresno, California. They were happy to have the photo as one of their sons was named for the same man and they had no photos of him at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Am I understanding this correctly: You put found photos [real ones not just digital] on websites in hopes that someone related to the person in the photo will want it? Identify it? Need it? This is a thing?

    I love the first photo of the little girl who is about as cute as they come. Great name, too. Think of the nickname possibilities!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I put the digital images online with the message that a descendant can contact me to claim the original.
      Someone found me through Ancestry once and sent me a bunch of original photos of my husband’s mother and grandmother. He’d never seen these images before. I’ve framed and hung a couple of them on our family-photo wall.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A fun afternoon spent on a favorite hobby is not “unproductive” — there are far worse ways you could spend your time! 😀
    I’ve seen old photos in antique shops and thrift stores and always felt a little bad for them. How could someone let go of their old great-great- whatever, even if they didn’t know their name? Awfully glad there are people like you who make an effort.


  4. That is so wonderful of you! I found a photo of a young girl on eBay once. I saw someone had her on their Ancestry tree. I let them know about the photo- turns out she had an unidentified photo of the exact girl! She at least was able to identify her.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is wonderful!! I think it’s a fantastic use of an afternoon and 7 smackers! Great detective work, too; I love that you didn’t just stop at the subjects, but did some research into the photographers, as well. I’ve been thinking about doing this type of thing for a while now and this post has definitely inspired me to get off my butt and do it. Please keep us updated if you hear from any descendants!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you again, Eilene! We never knew of the photo of Emma, and don’t even have a photo of her daughter, my mother-in-law’s grandmother. We’re going to present this to her at Christmas next week; she’ll be thrilled! (She was born in Grand Island. Google it; not worth visiting.) You’re a gem, Lady!

    Liked by 1 person

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