Saturday, January 4, 2014

Who is This Lady From Kentucky?

Portrait Found on Ebay

There are many genealogy groups on Facebook, and in one group "Our Black Ancestry" a member shared a  very nice portrait that he saw while browsing on Ebay. The photo was a striking image is that of a young African American woman in a high collared victorian era dress wearing an ornate hat. 

There was only one clue to where she may have lived and that was the embossed imprint of the studio that took her photo.

The photographer A. J. Earp, appears to have been from Winchester KY

Since there was no name identifying the lady in the portrait, only the photo itself is the clue to the identity of this striking woman. 

So, what can be learned?

The embossed imprint of the photographer was a bit difficult to read easily, so I went to Ancestry to look at the enumerations for Clark County KY, and used the wild card search method by typing in a surname using an asterisk (*) for part of the name, and right away a listing for A. J. Earp appeared. I clicked on the name, and sure enough this person was listed and with the occupation of photographer.

1900 Federal Index on Ancestry, revealed the name A. J. Earp


1900 Census reflects A. J. Earp living in Winchester KY and working as photographer.


I was excited to find the photographer in the 1900 census, but this did not tell me a lot, and there were other questions to be asked:

Was this made in A. J. Earp's studio? 
Or did A. J. Earp travel around as some photographers did during those years?
And what about this mysterious lady herself? Are there clues about her to be found?

The clues to this woman's identity are possibly found in the image itself. One can tell that she is a young woman possibly not much older than 30.

The lady in the photo had recently lost a loved one. Why? Because she is wearing mourning clothes. Her dress is all black as is her hat, and clearly this is a portrait made of a one who has lost someone close to her. Could it have been a husband? A parent? A child? If it was a parent, would not other siblings have been in the portrait with her? She she had lost a child, would her husband have not been with her? My guess is that she had recently lost a husband, thus no man in the photo. So she was a young lady in mourning. So, what else could be learned?

I concluded that she was a Christian woman evidenced by the cross on her collar.



I also concluded that she may have been a woman who was a literate person. She was wearing spectacles, and although she may have simply been near sighted, my guess is that this was a literate woman who needed eyeglasses for reading, writing and other tasks. The glasses appear to be the kind that simply clip and rest on the nose, for the part of eyeglasses known as the temple that touch the side of the face and wrap behind the ears, are not evident in the photo.  This is clip-on is a style of eyeglasses worn in the early 1900s.

The glasses bear no temple stems on the side.


This young woman was possibly a woman of status in her community, She was not wearing an ordinary dress. Her dress was an elegant one with fine stitching and decorative piping. This was the work of an elegant tailor or seamstress and not an ordinary work dress.  


Elegant piping detail is noted in the fabric of her dress.

The lady also compliments her ensemble with a feather decorated black hat, and black teardrop earrings.

Black earrings, that appear to be ear screws complete the lady's attire.

So, this elegant women in the high-collared Victorian style dress made an impressive photo. She possibly lived in or near Winchester Kentucky, which is in Clark County. I decided to see if there were any young women, possibly widowed who might fit her profile. The person was possibly an educated woman, I decided to see if I could pull up the African American females born about 30 years or less in Clark County.

I decided to use the Old Search on Ancestry, because the interface is cleaner, and less cluttered.

Old Search Feature on Ancestry

So I selected USA, then Kentucky and then Clark County. In addition, I decided to pull up all females, who were enumerated as "Black." I know that there are often many designations that people can have when researching African Americans. But as this lady did not appear to be bi-racial, chances are high that she may have been enumerated as "Black".  Because of her dress, I am estimating that this photo was taken in the early 1900s, so I selected the 1900 census year.


Data put into Search box on Ancestry


So I had to create a profile from which I could search for this unknown woman. Although I had no name, I entered Kentucky as the state, and I selected Clark County,and the township of Winchester. I entered, color as "Black", and gender as "female". I also made an estimate of her age. I felt that she was a young woman, and not much older than 30, estimating her year of birth to be about 1870. But I know that all guesses are not accurate, so of course I gave myself an age range, with her birth year being plus or minus 10 years. 

And the real guess that I took, I decided to only look at "widowed" women. I did this for a reason. This is a single portrait of a woman in mourning, and she was not a teenager, as her hair was off the neck as was common for married women. This was clearly an image of a grown woman alone. Had she not been in all black I might have been less confident about her marital status. but the fact that this was a woman who intentionally had a portrait made in mourning attire suggested to me that her husband was deceased.

After entering all of the categories, I came up with 26 possible people who fit the profile.

26 possible matches were provided on Ancestry

Before looking at the 26 names, I had to decide what would be the most important feature that would make me either keep their name on the list or eliminate them. Only one category would make them a candidate for this lady, and that was whether or not she was a literate woman. The 1900 Federal census recorded whether one was able to read and write so since these ladies met other categories, and I felt that she was a literate woman, I decided that I would eliminate those who could not read or write.

My 26 candidates were:

Rachel Anderson: Can Read and Write -  School Teacher
Mary Bean: Can Read and Write - Washer woman
Hannah Boone: Can read and write - Cook
Kate Clark: Can read and write  - Washerwoman
Sarah Clark:  Can read and write- Cook
Eliza Davis: Unable to read or write - Cook
Anne Eaton: Unable to read or wrote Cook
Georgia Ellis:  Unable to read or write Cook
Sallie Fields - Unable to read or write Cook
Amanda Hazzard: Unable to read or write  Cook
Sallie Hickman: Can read and write -Servant
Leila Hodgkin: Can read and write - Cook
Emma Jackson: Can read and write - No occupation
Ether Lacy: Can read and write - Cook
Phoebe Martin: Cannot read or write Cook
Mary Mason: Unable to read or write Cook
Eliza Massey: Unable to read or write - Cook
Mariah Meyond: Can read and write - No occupation
Fannie Parks: Can read and write - Cook
Susan Reed: Unable to read or write Cook
Ella Robinson: Unable to read or write - Cook
Rosa Sommers: Can read and write-  Cook
Lizzie Thompson: Unable to read or write - Cook
Hulda Vivion: Can read and write - Washerwoman
Bettie Wells: Unable to read or write - Cook
Annie E. White: Can read and write - Cook

Through process of elimination I removed those who could not read or right and I ended up with a slightly shorter list:

Rachel Anderson: Can Read and Write -  School Teacher
Mary Bean: Can Read and Write - Washer woman
Hannah Boone: Can read and write - Cook
Kate Clark: Can read and write  - Washerwoman
Sarah Clark:  Can read and write- Cook
Sallie Hickman: Can read and write -Servant
Leila Hodgkin: Can read and write - Cook
Emma Jackson: Can read and write - No occupation
Ether Lacy: Can read and write - Cook
Mariah Meyond: Can read and write - No occupation
Fannie Parks: Can read and write - Cook
Rosa Sommers: Can read and write-  Cook
Hulda Vivion: Can read and write - Washerwoman
Annie E. White: Can read and write - Cook

When I created the profile for our lady in the photo, I made another guess that is the underlying factor about her. 

Based on her attire, including dress, hat, and her jewelry, I surmised that she might have been a woman of status in her community. That would therefore eliminate those whose occupations were "washerwomen". That made my list only slightly smaller.

Rachel Anderson: Can Read and Write -  School Teacher
Hannah Boone: Can read and write - Cook
Sarah Clark:  Can read and write- Cook
Sallie Hickman: Can read and write -Servant
Leila Hodgkin: Can read and write - Cook
Emma Jackson: Can read and write - No occupation
Ether Lacy: Can read and write - Cook
Mariah Meyond: Can read and write - No occupation
Fannie Parks: Can read and write - Cook
Rosa Sommers: Can read and write-  Cook
Annie E. White: Can read and write - Cook

I was admittedly surprised at how many women I found who were listed as "Cooks" by occupation. The work as a cook or house servant might have provided a living income for these women but the occupation would have been constant and demanding. The youthful and tender features of our lady in the photo, do not suggest that she was one of a demanding occupation--but I admit this is purely conjecture on my part, and there is no evidence that she could not have been a cook. But based on her clothing style which suggests a degree of status, I decided to eliminate the all of those with "cook" as an occupation, from the list.

Rachel Anderson: Can Read and Write -  School Teacher
Sallie Hickman: Can read and write -Servant 
Emma Jackson: Can read and write - No occupation provided 
Mariah Meyond: Can read and write - No occupation provided

This smaller list of 4 now left me with a handful of names: Rachel Anderson a school teacher, Salle Hickman who was a servant, and two ladies for whom there is no occupation listed, Emma Jackson and Mariah Meyond. I decided to eliminate the servant based on her occupation.

The three that remain are:
Rachel Anderson, School Teacher
Emma Jackson, No occupation
Mariah Meyond, No occupatoin

Rachel Anderson is 32 and a widow who has had 3 children, though only 1 was living at the time. She made her living as a School Teacher and lived in a household with her mother brother and others. Her mother had no occupation listed and was said to be about 78 years old. Her brother Thomas made a living as a cook. Three other adults lived in the same household, in addition to two children and one infant.

1900 Census of Winchester KY reflecting household where Rachel Anderson lived.


Emma Jackson is 33 and head of a household, though no occupation is given. She is a literate woman and has a small child living with her. No one else is in the household with her.

1900 Census of Winchester KY reflecting household where Emma Jackson lived.


Mariah Meyond 34 lived in a household with one other adult who was a 58 year old male. Both were listed as widowed. The adult male was a Day Laborer and no occupation was given for Mariah.

1900 Census of Winchester KY reflecting household where Mariah Meyond lived.


It is quite possible that the two women, Mariah and Emma were simply "Keeping House" as many adult women who did not live outside the home were listed as such. (I had also noticed that no women who remained at home were listed with the typical "Keeps House" as occupation by that census enumerator.) Mariah clearly had a working male in the household, which might explain why she did not work outside of the home. 

However, after eliminating other women of color who were young and widowed, and looking at their occupations and social class, I am ready to make a deductive guess. 

In my opinion, the school teacher Rachel Anderson stands out the most. Being a school teacher reflected her literacy. The cross-shaped broach suggested that the lady was most likely, very actively engaged in a Christian church community. Also the one factor that was obvious was that Rachel lived in a household where there were several wage owners who were quite possibly also contributors to the household by paying rent.  Her mother Amanda worked as a cook, and was listed as the owner of the property. So, in addition to Rachel's salary which was probably small, there were 4 other working adults bringing money into the household. With 5 adults in the household, there may indeed have been sufficient funds to have afforded the kind of dress and mourning attire, that we see in the photo.

Therefore, I am guessing that the mystery lady in the photo might be Rachel Anderson, a school teacher who lived in Winchester Kentucky. 

I am fully admitting that all of this is merely a guess, but one based on deductive reasoning. 

We probably may never really know who the lady is, unless of course descendants of this beautiful lady come forth to identify her. 

In the meantime, I shall call this lovely lady, Mrs. Rachel. Anderson.

15 comments:

jack robinson said...

Excellent... from millions to three possible....
P.s.... I am keeping an eye on this young lady on Ebay.... Hopefully, I can provide her a nice home....

rashanda said...

Very good deductive reasoning... I am inspired. .......Thank You..

LindaRe said...

Very impressed with your skills. I enjoyed reading this post.

Professor Dru said...

Great genealogy detective work!

Jari Honora said...

What amazing detective work! I too am intrigued by this picture and am keeping an eye on it. Great work!

Papoose1932 said...

I really enjoyed reading this article. I am also researching my family history.

Cathy said...

What an inspiring piece of research. I really enjoyed reading it. Thankyou.

Tony dickerson said...

I made guesses on my friend's FB page and got several clues correct, but missed the mourning clothing off the bat! This article was fantastic! I love learning and learned so much from this article. PS: I'm an educator! Lol

Anonymous said...

Berea College in Berea, Kentucky educated and trained a number of women of color as teachers. I wonder if Berea College or its records might be helpful in learning the identity of this beautiful lady.

Judy Shepard said...

I enjoyed reading your post.

Andrea Kelleher said...

Great detective work. I like how you documented the whole process. Great post!

NAACP Santa Fe said...

Excellent teaching, Angela!

My first thoughts went to the photographer and the eyeglasses for clues; but I did not consider the dress as a mourning garment! That, my sister, was inspired.

There are a number of widows living next or near to Rachel. I wonder if there was a tragedy that affected the community? If so, there may be a newspaper accounting that may offer more clues.

Peace & Blessings,
"Guided by the Ancestors"

S J Mitchell said...

Rachel Taylor Anderson was a student at Berea College in the grammar department from 1881-1884. Winchester was listed as her residence and Aaron Taylor as her parent/guardian. Records show she married Charles Anderson Oct 24, 1898, possibly in Madison County. She either was a student or graduated from State Normal, Frankfort KY in 1897. (Now KY State Univ); This info per Berea Connections by Richard Sears and is available online and at Berea College Special Collections & Archives. GREAT detective work...Sharyn Mitchell

James said...

Great work!

Saundra Williams Blackman said...

Brilliant!