Photo Mystery: Mother or Baby?

By Maureen A. Taylor

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Marla Hathhorn sent in this picture with a simple question. On the back someone wrote, “Ann Hicks.” Is Ann Hicks the baby or the mother?

Marla knows that her ancestor Anna Foley Hicks was born in Canada in 1844 and died in Oklahoma in 1914. With that information in mind, let’s take a closer look at the photo and see if the clues we find can solve this mystery.

Portrait of a mother, father and baby in the 1800s. The bottom reads "Hudson Bay Parlors" and lists the name of the photographer, as well as an address.
Portrait of a mother, father and baby. The bottom reads “Hudson Bay Parlors” and lists the name of the photographer, T.R. Colpitts, as well as an address.

A lot of people ask me, “What do I look at first in a photo?” The answer depends on the image. In this case, I read Marla’s e-mail and quickly glanced at the photographer’s imprint at the bottom of the card to see where the picture was taken.

T.R. Colpitts took this photo. The Rock Lake Herald of 1881 featured a short bit of news about him. It stated that he was taking a trip into southern Manitoba to take scenic views for resale. It appears from this photograph that he also found employment with Hudson’s Bay Parlors, a photographic establishment possibly connected with the Hudson Bay Company. A list of photographers on The Manitoba Historical Society’s website lists a Thomas R. Colpitts and states that he was active between 1883 and 1887. 

Next, I examined their clothing. The woman’s dress is from the circa 1880 period. The bodice extends over the hips, extra fabric drapes over her upper legs and there are two layers of pleats. Her choice of jewelry is also typical for the time — a thick chain with a charm was very popular. In the early 1880s, women wore their hair pulled back with short bangs. This young mother is very stylish in an understated way. Dad’s clothing agrees with this time frame as well.

The baby is very cute in it’s long dress, thick tights and buttoned boots. Around it’s neck is a lovely bib.

Could the mother be Anna? In 1880 she’d be 36 years of age, a likely fit.

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