Rediscovered Photographs and Faces

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Two stories in the news recently caught my eye: One, a man who discovered a stash of “forgotten,” walled-up 19th century photographs and equipment in a house in New York, and the other, a man who found a stash of mid-20th century photographs in an abandoned house in a Moldovan village. I admit that in both cases my first thought was simply a twinge of jealousy – why haven’t I ever found a stash of exciting and historic things in a forgotten building?? – but as always, I reminded myself that my job allows me that same sense of discovery all the time. With every donation offer, every document requested by a researcher, every artifact pulled for exhibition or photograph taken out of storage for a closer look, the collections staff and volunteers have a chance to discover something new that we can share.

In both of these recent stories, many of the found photographs were unidentified, but neighbors and historians were able to provide a few names. Unidentified photos are the proverbial raspberry seed in my wisdom tooth – I want to know who these people are! – and please, let today’s blog post be your perennial reminder to identify and date your photographs, whether printed or digital, for your own sake and for that of your descendants (and historians). Happily, we too have a community of neighbors who can help us put names to many of our unidentified photos; let today’s blog post also serve as an appreciation for everyone who looks closely at our “Snapshot” each week in the Jewish Times and on Facebook to see if they can help us out! Learning the names, and by extension the histories, of the people featured in our photograph collection is yet another moment of discovery.

table with historic photographs, printed photos, pencil, ruler, notepad, and magnifying glass
A view of the comparison and research process for the Kraus Family photo collection. You know it’s a good day when I get to whip out the magnifying glass.

One name that pops up frequently in the Jewish Times feature is that of the Kraus family. Finally, after years of growing frustration – surely we could sort some of these people out! – a few weeks ago I brought out the entire several-hundred-photo Kraus Family collection to see if I could start matching the few identified people to the faces that appear in other photos. It’s been a long process, here and there when I have a few moments to spare, and I’m not finished yet, but I am building a visual vocabulary of places and faces that appear throughout the collection (though some, I’m sure, will continue to appear in the Jewish Times, hopeful for recognition). I’ll post a longer story about my search for the Kraus Family and Friends another time, but for now, here’s a newly-identified photo of George W. and Gertrude Adler Kraus, their two older daughters Mabel and Edna, and a (still unidentified) nursemaid on the left.

three adults and two toddlers seated on a stone wall, looking at the camera
Gift of Mabel F. Kraus. JMM 2003.53.68

P.S. Also, go right now while you’re thinking about it, and label at least ten photos in your own collection.


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