Barefoot in the Backyard: Identifying Kids in a Hand-Colored Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

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This week I’m back with another photo from Barbara White’s collection. These three barefoot kids make me think of summer. Someone has colored the blanket-covered stump and the plants underfoot green.

identifying children hand-colored photo

Hand-colored portraits

As early as the 1840s, photographers employed artists to add bits of color to photographs. Pink cheeks and lips were common. Gold jewelry tinted with gold leaf. Sometimes photographer’s colored in eyes and even the details in a dress. The quality of the hand-coloring varied based on the skill of the artist. By the time paper prints became available, some people tried their hand at coloring with mixed results.

The lightly tinted lavender suit on the boy on the right has held it’s shade, but the tint on the other two children’s outfits has faded. Not so the deep green. It’s a little too dark for us to imagine that it’s the actual color of the plants, but it adds interest to the scene.

Clues in the clothing and hairstyles

This mother had three children under the age of five. Short pants for boys were fashionable until that age. Based on the haircuts, the boy on the left is slightly older than his brother on the right. He has a bowl cut while his brother still has the long locks common with younger boys. Their sister wears a bonnet. It looks like the photographer tinted their hair too. There is a hint of red on their heads.

Consider their age

If the oldest is almost 5, his brother 4 and the sister 2-3, then Mom had three children fairly close together. This detail might help Barb sort out who’s who.

According to the Sears Catalog of Spring 1910, one could buy these Russian blouse suits in linen for forty-eight cents. You can search the Historic Catalogs of Sears, Roebuck Co. on

Next steps

The 1910 census would be a good choice to search for these siblings. I’m hoping only one of her possible families had three children close together with the right mix of boys and girls.

Editor’s Book Recommendations: Family Photo Detective