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What’s the Story in this Old Family Photo? The Big Reveal!

By Maureen A. Taylor

It’s time to look at the big picture, the whole image and the rest of the details. If you’ve followed the last two posts, you’ve heard Mikael Hammerman’s family story and seen some of the clues in the picture.

Let’s answer his big question: Is this his great-grandmother’s sister and her daughter?

The big sleeves on this woman and her daughter date this picture to the mid- to late-1890s. Sharpeyed individuals will see the fashion plate on the sleeping mother’s lap.

The hat and the dress style in the fashion plate date from 1897 to circa 1900. Before Mom fell asleep, she was browsing the new fashions.

Also on her lap is a paper that says “Bon-Ton.” There was a Gazette du Bon-Ton published in France from 1912 to 1925, but those dates are too late for this image.

This could be an advertisement for Bon-Ton, a department store that debuted in 1898 in York, Pa.

Adding up the Clues
Mike’s great-grandmother’s sister, Mathilda Ericson (born 1859), immigrated to New York in 1879 when she was 20. By 1899, she’d be 40. Could this woman be her?

Possibly. The rest of the facts need to add up, including where she lived around the turn of the century.

Could the girl playing the piano be the daughter Mathilda was possibly pregnant with in 1879?


This girl looks to be a lot younger than 20. Perhaps Mathilda had several children.

What’s needed is a timeline of her Mathilda’s life from when she moved to the United States until the year this picture was taken. Here are the primary names to trace:

  • Matilda Ericson (born Aug. 25, 1859 in Sweden)
  • Anders J. Carlson (born April 11, 1843, in Sweden)

According to Mikael, they arrived in New York on January 31, 1879, as Auguste J. Carlson and Mathilda Carlson, a married couple.

Next stop: Digging into genealogy databases for more information. A photo mystery needs more than picture clues. It also relies on family history and good old-fashioned genealogical research.

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
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