Posted on July 19th, 2016 by Rachel
Like many historical societies and museums, we have a large number of photos in which some or all of the individuals are unidentified. We use a variety of techniques to address this problem, from archival research to crowd-sourcing; we also do our best, when accepting new donations, to ensure that we get the names and stories from the donors straight away.
Perhaps naturally, our focus in these endeavors has been on the Jewish community – but that doesn’t mean that only Jewish people are represented in our collections. Few communities live in a vacuum; we interact with other groups nearly every day, as friends, coworkers, and family, in shops and restaurants and on the street.
Herman Becker (second from left) with three unidentified employees of the Becker Sign Company, Baltimore, circa 1928. Gift of the estate of Herschel Elliot Becker. JMM 1989.102.10
Nurses Mary Mead (left) and Esther Farber Dubin (right) received Sinai Hospital’s Harry Greenstein Nurse of the Year award in 1971. Gift of the Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital. JMM 2010.20.193
Unidentified photos are the bane of a collections manager’s existence. (One of them, anyway.) And yet it’s a perfectly understandable problem; many of us can’t remember the names of people in our own snapshots, let alone those of our parents and grandparents. (As a side note, here’s your reminder to clearly identify all your photos with full names, locations, and dates.) If the people donating the images don’t know who’s in them, what chance do we, the unaffiliated museum staff, have? Happily, there are often clues we can use to recover some names. And once we know the names, we should use them.
The back of this photo is identified only with the date, “June 1907.” Comparison with the rest of the family’s collection tells us that the infant is Klare Lobe, but the African American woman holding her is unidentified. A little digging in the records shows that in 1910, when the census was taken, the Lobes were boarding with the Rayne family on Linden Avenue, Baltimore. In that year the Raynes’ household included three live-in servants, all African American: cook Laura Pitts, 47; “waiter” Eben Pitts, 12; and housemaid Lena Drummond, a 27 year old widow. It’s possible that Lena is the young woman holding Klare in this 1907 photo. Gift of Marjorie Scott. JMM 2002.045.016
Ruth Weinberg Leven compiled a photo album showing her family’s everyday life in the early 20th century. She carefully labeled each image with both the date and the first names of the participants. In this 1907 photo, on the porch of their Baltimore home are Weinberg siblings Martin, Helen, and Leonard, with Lizzie, a young African American girl in what is probably a maid’s or nanny’s uniform, holding Ruth Weinberg in her arms. Unfortunately, Lizzie was not “living in” in 1910, and so does not appear in the census (the servants listed in the household are white); more work must be done to identify her last name. Gift of Jan Weinberg. JMM 19220.127.116.11a
Employees of Wolf Salganik & Sons, a wholesale butcher shop, pose on a rooftop, circa 1935. As in the photo above, we’re fortunate in that someone has noted a few names on the photo itself, including Mabel, Mary, Sophie, and – the sole gentleman in the photo, and also the only African American – Bob. It would certainly be convenient if the original note-taker had also jotted down these folks’ last names and job titles, but historians know that a little clue is better than none. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Salganik. JMM 2004.27.7
Jewish Family and Children’s Services employees, 1971. Though this photo is not annotated, it contains an even better clue: the woman in the center is wearing a name tag. She’s Mrs. Ida Louise Carr, Homemaker and Home Health Aide for JFCS. (The other two women are still unidentified.) Gift of The Associated. JMM 1997.134.147
Unfortunately, what we’re more likely to find in our collections are photos with no known names at all, or – like this photo – with only the white individuals identified. In this case, while on a picnic in Harford County in 1920, Sylvan Eckhaus, Ruth Davis, Henry Hoffman, Miriam Davis, and Joe Naviaski posed with a young African American man, probably the driver. He looks in many ways like he’s part of this jovial group – he even has a cigar to match Mr. Eckhaus’s – but the fact that his name was not remembered hints that he was more likely a chauffeur, whose services and vehicle were hired for the day. Gift of Betty N. Eckhaus. JMM 1992.7.14
Now more than ever we need to do our best by the people – all the people – who can be found in our collections. True, their stories may not be our stories to tell; the goal isn’t to lay claim to them, but to make sure these images are accessible, remembered, and known… and that can start with a name. It’s a small thing, perhaps, but a vital one.
As always, if anyone can help us identify any people, locations, dates, or stories that accompany these images, please let us know!
For more images showing African American life in and around Baltimore, start with the Afro-American archives or the Maryland Historical Society.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.
Posted on November 6th, 2012 by Rachel
The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contactJobi Zink, Senior Collections Manager and Registrar at 410.732.6400 x226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: March 16, 2012
PastPerfect Accession #: 1991.036.004
Status: Unidentified. Do you know these two men?