Faces and Places: A Mystery in Numbers

By Maureen A. Taylor

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Like Cindy Brightman, I buy photos. Labeled ones for future research or unidentified ones with an interesting subject. The problem with these random purchases is that we lack the provenance or history of ownership that we usually have with family photographs. Think of them as images untethered to people and often place.

photo identification numbered photographs detective

This photo is a perfect example. First. It’s very interesting. The photographer numbered each person, 1-52.

What isn’t cool is the lack of the key that goes with it. The names of the folks in this picture got lost when they were purchased for resale. That’s a picture tragedy that happens far too often. It’s likely they were on a separate piece of paper instead of on the back.


photo identification numbered photographs detective

There are clues in the picture, but unless someone spots someone, something, or someplace they recognize it’s likely to remain a mystery.


What do you see?

  • Each man wears a badge, ribbon, or pin. Those would identify the occasion
    and even the group.
  • The women’s hats help date the image, especially the stuffed birth on number
    16’s head. It’s a stunner. Hats like this were fashionable circa 1906 and
    inspired music like, “ The Bird on Nellie’s hat. You Don’t Know Nellie, Like I
    Do!” by Lamb and Solman.
  • It’s possible to assign roles to some of these men. Center back is number 51.
    Thumbs tucked into his vest and his top hat mark him as a leader of some
    sort. He’s in the prominent position in this picture.
  • Where are they? That would help, but all we can see is the brick wall and
    windows. Did you notice the man on the far right peering out from the
  • There is a photographer’s name on the image in the bottom right. Photo by
    and a name. Cindy thought it was E. Paba. A quick search of Ancestry turns
    up an E. Paba in Canada, with more options if E is the photographer’s middle
    name. Not too many Paba’s

Tell me what you see? With 52 folks in this image, there is a lot to look at.


Editor’s Book Recommendations: Family Photo Detective