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Identifying Ancestors in a Crowd Photo, Part I

By Maureen A. Taylor

Outdoor images of street scenes or crowd photos offer up a visual buffet of social history. In this image from the Houston County, Tennessee collection a crowd stands watching something that’s happening out of the image. It’s part of a donation from a local judge, who’s family were newspaper publishers from 1929 to 1948. It’s quite likely that this image was taken for their paper before their ownership of The Houston County News.

Newspapers first begin publishing photographs in 1919. Prior to this, wood engravings were common during the Civil War and as of 1880, newspapers featured photo-mechanical engravings of events.

The group stands in an open area of a town. It’s not clear why they are there. Look closely you’ll notice that it’s composed of children of all ages from primary to high school. A few teachers stand out amongst the younger children. The rest of the adults are underneath of the shop awnings in the rear of the image.

crowd photo

In the background business signs advertise companies that occupy those buildings. J.B. Bunnell and Ruby Jones are clearly seen. City directories for the community would reveal the nature of those enterprises. Census records may do the same.

crowd photo

In the center are individuals holding signs. According to Melissa Barker, Archivist at the Houston County Archives: “the photo was taken in our town square [Erin, Tennessee] and we believe it to be a school event. The banners in the middle of the crowd say “Pollard School” and “Denmark School”. In the front row, far right there is a girl holding a sign that starts with “St” and we believe that is another sign that says “Stewart School”.

So who’s in the image? And is it a yard long image? Stay tuned for more details.