Why Was Someone’s Face Cut Out of This Old Family Photo?

By Maureen A. Taylor

Old Photo With Face Cut Out

Last June, Janet Foss took a trip to visit Kohlhof in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, the ancestral village of her Blickensdoerfer line. Foss knows that the Blickensdoerfers were Mennonites from Switzerland who fled persecution and settled in the Rhine valley in the early 1700s.

(Overcome five common German genealogy problems with these tips.) She was given this picture during the trip. Janet has no idea whether the people shown are her relatives.

What’s intriguing, though, is the missing piece in the center of the image. Someone deliberately cut a person (probably a child, based on stature) out of the picture.


Faces cut out of old photos

I’d like to say this is the first ancestral photo I’ve seen defaced, but it isn’t. I’ve seen tintypes with faces scratched out. Paper prints with Xes marked over faces. I own a family picture that an unknown relative tore into pieces, then remorsefully reassembled and glued to a shoebox lid.

The cut into this picture, though, seems gentle and exact. It doesn’t damage the rest of the photo. Who was removed, and why?

It may not be because the family disowned this person, but because he or she was loved. The cut-out is about the right size for a locket or pin.


Use clothing clues to date the photo

We can narrow down when the picture was taken. The clothing, in particular the puffed sleeves and the wide, pointed vandyke collars on the two young people on the sides of the picture, suggest a date in the early 1890s.  That’s almost 200 years after the Blickensdoerfers settled in Kohlhof.

These stylishly dressed individuals are likely not Mennonites.

What I’d love to know is the name of the woman who gave Janet the picture. That woman could be a descendant of the family in this picture. This one piece of information could lead to an identification of the people pictured—maybe even the one who’s missing.

Read more Photo Detective blog posts with tips to date and identify old family photos.