Two Faces But Just One Name in This Old Mystery Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

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mystery photo of two young women

We know the name of one young woman in this old mystery photo, thanks to the scrawled caption. But there’s no way (yet) to tell which person the name belongs to. Here’s what we’ve been able to figure out so far, and what to do next:


The Eyes Have It

These two women posed in the mid- to late-1880s. They wore their hair down (older women would’ve put theirs up in a bun) and you can see bits of their cotton print dresses peeking out in the center. The blue eyes of the woman on the right are quite stunning. They’d stand out in other images of her.

mystery photo of two young women

Photographers in our ancestors’ day used props to make their photos interesting. In Erin, Tenn., E.E. Collison Jr. (1859-1907) framed these friends’ faces with a lovely lace mantilla. These Spanish lace head coverings saw a brief revival in popularity after the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia.

The edge of the image is deckled. As photographic cardstock became thicker, it was common for cabinet card photographs to be given decorative edging and even a bit of gold.

Collinson invented the Instantaneous Shutter for camera, patent No. 341887, on May 18, 1886. (Here’s our guide to researching your inventive ancestors’ patents.)

Archivist Melissa Barker of the Houston County, Tenn., archives is trying to collect Collison’s images to document his business. If you own a photo of his, contact Melissa by email.


Photo Caption Clues

Penciled notations on this image appear to read “Ida Rushing” and “Lura B.” I did a quick search for Ida  in the 1880 census for Erin, Houston County, Tenn. I didn’t search with a last name in case “Rushing” was a married name.

Bingo! Ida Rushing was 8 in the 1880 census. It would be easy to assume these women are sisters, but Ida has no siblings in the 1880 census. Photographs also could be tokens of friendship.

The next step is to continue researching Ida and to search for her descendants in online databases. Perhaps one of them has other photos of her that will reveal whether she has the stunning blue eyes in this old mystery photo.