Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Story of an Orphaned Photo and the Mystery Woman - Lester Graham's Family

Occasionally I go to antique shows looking for interesting artifacts to add to my collection. Most of the time I don't find anything that I need, but I often find orphaned photographs. I feel sorry for these photos and wonder how they ended up in a collection of old photographs being sold at the shows. I will buy the ones that have identifying information on them and then try to reunite them with their families.

This photograph is one of those that I have found. So, what can I find out about this photograph and those involved in it?

Lester Graham's Family - front: George & Lester's wife - back: Henry, Rebecca, Ruth Graham

This photograph was taken at The Rippel Art Shop in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. The studio was owned by Conrad Rippel. Conrad was born in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, on 27 November 1854, and learned the skills necessary to become a photographer early in life. In 1878, he moved to Milton, Pennsylvania, where he and his brother John were partners in a photography studio. On 14 May 1880, the Great Milton Fire occurred, burning their business. Soon thereafter, Conrad relocated to Sunbury where he opened a studio and continued his trade of photography and eventually expanded to sell art supplies. The business was named the Rippel Art Shop. Conrad died on 13 March 1936, at the age of 82, having been ill for several years.

The back of the photo gives me a good number of hints to use when identifying the individuals. The photo says Lester Graham's family - Earl's brother (My "PapPap") - front seated: Lester's wife & George - left to right back: Ruth Graham, Rebecca and Henry. Notice that it appears that they have the back row of the photo turned backwards and it probably should have been Henry, Rebecca and Ruth Graham. It would have been helpful to have Lester's wife's name, but with all the other data I should not have a problem finding them.

Based on the photograph I know, or can assume, the following:

  • Lester Graham had four children: George, Henry, Rebecca and Ruth;
  • Lester's brother was named Earl;
  • Lester's family probably lived in Pennsylvania, maybe close to Sunbury.

The first thing I did was visit to begin my search. My first search was for Lester Graham which returns several dozen pages of possible matches. Since the results are so broad I decided to narrow them down by adding Pennsylvania to the birth location. The birth location is a guess but I am assuming that they lived in Pennsylvania based on the location of the studio. Once I did that I received about a dozen matches for Lester Graham who lived in Pennsylvania. The first match is for Lester Graham born 1863 in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Northumberland happens to be directly across the Susquehanna River from Sunbury. Clicking on this record I see that his family consists of his wife Maggie Taylor and four children; George, Henry, Ruth and Rebecca. Additionally, Lester has a younger brother named Earl. It's probably a good bet that this is the family this photograph belongs to.

From the records I can see that Maggie and Lester were married on 15 October 1892. Their children were born between 1893 and 1899. The 1910 census lists Lester as a widower, indicating that Maggie died sometime before 1910. Lester's sister, Rebekah, is living with the family. I assume she was there to help Lester raise the children, ages 10-16. Lester's occupation in 1910 was as a machinist. All of this looks good when compared to the photograph. The children look like they could be between 10 and 16 and the picture could have been taken just before Maggie died. But why would they not have listed Maggie's name on the photo? Maybe she died many years before the photograph was labelled and the person labeling it didn't know her name?

The 1920 census lists Lester as a widower and all four children, ages 20-26, as living at home. That same census lists Lester as a machinist for the railroad, with George and Henry working as clerks with the railroad. So, it looks like Lester didn't remarry after Maggie's death. 

That was easy....But we all know that the easy answer isn't always the right answer. I decided to dig a little deeper in the records to see if I could find Maggie's death date. So, I looked in the 1900 census to make sure she was listed with the family. To my surprise Lester is living at home with his parents and his siblings Rebecca, James and Mary. Also listed there are the four children and a nurse. Lester is listed as widowed!! Hold on a minute, that means that if this is correct, Maggie died sometime after the youngest daughter, Rebecca, was born and the 1900 census. Rebecca is listed as being born December 1899 and the census listed those individuals living on 1 June 1900. So she must have died sometime between December 1899 and the end of May 1900, leaving Lester with four small children to raise. Looking at I find memorials for Lester and Maggie. Maggie's memorial indicates that she died 10 January 1900, only about a month after her daughter was born. Lester died much later, in 1942. The interesting thing about the 1900 census listing is that the nurse's name was Beatrice E. Talor, age 19. Could this be Maggie's younger sister helping to raise the children? 

So, now that it appears that Maggie Taylor Graham died soon after her daughter Rebecca was born, and that Lester is a widower in all subsequent censuses, who is the person listed as Lester's wife in the photograph? It could be the nurse, Beatrice. But she would only be in her late 20's based on the age of the children. The picture looks like she is much older than that. Maybe it is Lester's sister, Rebecca. Rebecca would probably be in her 40's when the picture was taken. Also, it appears that Rebecca never married. She died in 1913, only three years after the 1910 census where she is listed as living with the family. 

In conclusion, I believe that the person listed as Lester's wife is actually his sister, Rebecca. Rebecca would have been in her 40's at the time of the photograph and was taking care of the children around 1910. The person adding the information on the back of the photo lists Lester's brother Earl as her PapPap, probably referring to her grandfather. By the time she wrote this, the family had probably forgotten Lester's wife's name as well as the fact that Rebecca had lived with the family to care for the children.


Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Bravo on rescuing this lovely orphaned photo! I do the same thing, but try to limit myself to only photos that have names on them. Hopefully, you'll find a family for these fine folks soon. :-)

Laura Hedgecock said...

I've started researching a rescued photo album too. Everyone's history matters.

Nancy said...

I hope descendants find this photo and can help verify who is who. Great research!

Aleksandra G. said...

It is like bringing those people back to life again.

Sandi L said...

This is interesting to me because I have Grahams and Taylors in my Mother's side. William Graham lived in Shamokin Pa. He was married to my Aunt Jule Boden. I also have My Grandmother's mother named Prudence Taylor who lived in Shamokin as well.