Photograph Mysteries

The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.

If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or information@fentonhistorycenter.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.

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A recent donation for the collection at the Fenton History Center included the accompanying photograph. Luckily someone had written on the back of the picture what it probably was. A second picture of the same view had different but confirming information written on it. The addresses differed, but the rest of the information included the same family and had a year connected to the picture. The 1920 city directory confirmed the family living at 1420 Washington St. and the parents lived next door at 1414 Washington St. Using the Sanborn maps, we could see that the footprint of the house at 1420 matched the view of the house in the picture and 1420 was on the corner.

A drive by the address showed that the houses along Washington Street in the vicinity of 15th Street were all gone and replaced with commercial enterprises. The corner where this house stood is now an empty lot. So why do we want to keep the picture if the house is gone, and the family is gone?

This photograph is identified and dated so we now have an image of the neighborhood at that time period. We also have two people in the picture wearing typical clothes of the time period. The house at 1420 Washington St. is not the only house in the picture. Other houses along 15th Street can be seen, and it may be the only picture we have of that area.

We often get requests from people who want to know what their house looked like at an earlier time. They may want to replace a front porch and make it look like the original porch, or the windows may have been changed at one time. Even the color of the paint may be of interest – even if the picture is black and white, one can tell if the color was dark or light or even different colors in places.

Also of interest may be the family members who are in the picture. We are not sure who is in this photograph, but we can narrow it down to a few people. Other family members may have the same photograph with the people identified, but they may not know where the house was.

Often in genealogy and family history we find that different branches of the family have the same photographs or copies of documents but each have different information about the photographs and papers. Think about who in your family may be the most likely to have written on the back of the photographs they had. Do others have the same pictures without the information? Now may be a time for family members to assemble their old photographs, and at the next family reunion or the next time you visit another family take them along and compare what who has and what who knows.

There are websites such as www.DeadFred.com where photographs can be posted. We have found photographs on that site that are from Jamestown photographers but who is in the photograph is unknown. Sometimes we can recognize them; sometimes there is a name with the photograph and we can identify just who the person is and how he fits into Jamestown history.

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The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County’s history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.

Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.

If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St.

just south of the Washington Street Bridge.