Photo Forensics

My Aunt Lillian – technically, my mother’s Aunt Lillian, but we always called her “Aunt Lillian” – was the keeper of the family photographs. I recall visiting her in the early 1990s, and looking at her photo albums while she told me who people were. Unfortunately, at the time, I really wasn’t paying attention to people I had never heard of before, and who had died prior to my birth.

When Aunt Lillian died in 1995, the photographs remained, but for many of them, no survivor knew who they were, nor where, when, and why they had been recorded. This is one reason I am always on the lookout for cousins with family photographs, and hopefully recollections about who they are.

One of the photos Lillian had was this slightly-out-of-focus shot.


Circa 1935

The woman on the far left is my grandmother. The man in the front center is her brother-in-law, Morris ABRAMS, and woman on the far right is my great-grandmother, Julia LEVY ABRAMS. My grandfather took the photograph. That was the extent of my knowledge when I started. I recall Aunt Lillian telling me that the family took trips in the 1930s and 1940s into upstate New York to visit family, so likely the others were relatives of some sort. I suspected that that the elderly woman next to my grandmother was possibly Julia’s sister.

Census to the Rescue!

One of the first pieces of information I found when I started serious genealogy was access to the censuses (censii?). In particular, the 1880 US Census, showing the entire family.


Levy family, Portsmouth, VA, 1880

My mother recalled the younger sisters, Annie and Pauline. They had married the JANUARY brothers in Norfolk, and she occasionally played with their grandchildren when she was young. The brother, Henry, and the three older sisters, however, were a mystery to her. At the time, I thought that might be the end of the road.

The Next Clue…

Fortunately, not terribly long afterwards, a librarian in South Carolina began uploading newspaper obituaries to, including one for my great-grandmother, Julia.


Obituary of Julia LEVY ABRAMS, (Charleston) News and Courier, 10 Feb 1953

Included in the obituary were the names of survivors, including two sisters, one in upstate New York! With a data point in hand, things proceeded rapidly with finding the “lost” siblings. Mrs. H. Pawel was Henrietta from the 1880 census, later known as Hattie, married to Henry Pawel of Hudson Falls. I found that Theresa and Edith had also married Pawel brothers (well, a brother and a half-brother).

Help from cousins…

Some time and communication back and forth, I was able to locate living cousins from those sisters, one of whom sent me a family photo with a couple of familiar faces:


Pawel family gathering, about 1941

A couple of years older, perhaps, but certainly them. The older woman was, in fact, Julia’s sister, Edith LEVY PAWEL. The younger woman was her daughter, Fannie PAWEL ENGLANDER. With some help, the remaining gentleman was identified as Fannie’s son, Harlan ENGLANDER.

“Who” identified, but WHERE?

The only remaining question was where the photograph was taken. With names and approximate dates available to me, more information came quickly. Edith passed away in 1942, in Hudson Falls, at the home of her daughter, at 38 Main Street. Curious about where that was, I used Google and Bing to find a street view…


38 Main Street, Hudson Falls, NY, 2014

There, off to the side (yellow arrow), I spotted the background house from the original photo. Thank goodness that small towns are slow to change!  Now on the homestretch, it was easy to get an aerial view to find a precise location of the original photo

20151231_6And there it is! The building addition on the back of 38 Main Street – at the base of the red arrow – must have been added after the 1930s, but clearly that’s the location of the shot.

From no knowledge, to names and a location, almost to pinpoint accuracy. If only everything was this easy!

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