Knowing How We Know Who They Are

You look through old black and white photographs, and notice a photograph of your great granduncle Bob in a farm field with a few unknown men. You’ve never met him. You’ve never any other photograph of him. Then you wonder, “Where did I get this photograph, again? How was it identified that this man as great granduncle Bob?”

At one point in working on my Fritz background, I came in contact with Christine, a third cousin once removed. She had found a photograph of a family. The photograph has names written on it for the children in the photograph and roughly when it was taken. I do not know who wrote that information or when, but the year appears to be off, so I speculate the information was written by Ona, one of the children in the photograph, and Christine’s grandmother who’d already passed away.

Millie and Henry Fritz having dinner with children 1902

Although the adults in the photograph are not named, Christine had determined the two to be the parents of the children: Henry and Millie née Barnes Fritz.

Some time later, I came into contact with Bruno, a distant cousin who lives in Austria. His family had various old photographs, with information collected by his father. Bruno and his wife provided one which was claimed to be my third great grandfather, Benedict, and his children and grandchildren.

Family of Benedict Fritz

At the time I was provided with a scan of this photograph, I did not know the evidence Bruno had that matched up the elderly man as being Benedict. However, Bruno had the entire family named, and they matched up with the names I had obtained in US Censuses.

What stood out the most was that the man second-to-left in the back row was clearly a younger, thinner Henry Fritz. Because Christine in America and Bruno in Austria both had photographs of the same man, that provided even stronger evidence that that man was Henry Fritz, and that the rest of these people were indeed Benedict and his family.

Bruno also has old drawings of Benedict and his brothers Christian and Anton. Here is the drawing of Benedict:

Art Benedict

Another photograph provided by Bruno and his wife was of Gertrude’s family.

Fritz Gertrude mit Familie (cropped)

Gertrude isn’t as immediately recognizable between these two photographs as Henry was, but there are similar features in her face. The children around her match the appropriate age differences for her two daughters and son, which would place the man as her husband, William Shea.

Some time later, I would find another photograph of William Shea, found in the “Roadmasters” publication called “Maintenance of Way Bulletin”, volume 2, on page 168.

William Shea - Roadmasters - Maintenance of Way Bulletin - Volume 2 - Page 168

Due to the large number of years that passed between when these two photographs were taken, it is difficult to conclusively say this is the same man in both photographs. The latter is confirmed as William Shea, and the former is highly likely to be William Shea.

Speaking of William, there was a William Fritz in Benedict’s family. Bruno and his wife provided another photograph of this William.

Fritz William

Much older here, there is still a familiar appearance compared to the young William posing with his father and siblings.

There are multiple sources stating or collaborating with the statements that William Fritz visited Europe, and while there he visited Austria. Bruno has another photograph of William which places him in Austria, alongside men identified as his uncle Anton Fritz to the viewer’s right, and Anton’s son Anton on the viewer’s left.

Fritz-William-auf Besuch in der Halde  in Bludenz (1900) v.l.n.r.Anton Keckeis (Sohn v. Anton Fritz). William Fritz, Anton Fritz geb.1829

Not all photographs are of identified people. Some remain mysteries.

William also visited Braz, Austria to see the home of his mother, Anna Müller, who had passed away in America back in 1884.


The man on the far right may be William’s uncle Anton again. William is seen standing on the left. The identifies of the woman sitting on the left, and the man sitting in the middle are unknown, but they may be relatives of Anna Müller.

This photograph has a note written on the back by Bruno’s father, which I translate into English (from German) here, with clarifying additions in square brackets: “This is Frank [Fritz]’s house. From left to right: Clara [Abernathy] (daughter of Louise [Fritz]), William [Fritz]’s uncle Christian [Fritz], Frank [Fritz]’s and Emma’s baby is Edward [Fritz].”

Frank housem

The photograph file name is “Frank house”, suggesting this is a photograph taken outside of Frank’s house.

I am able to confirm from other photographs (outside the scope of this article) that the elderly man is indeed Benedict’s brother Christian.

On the leftmost is stated as being Clara. Clara appears in the family photograph heading this article, the younger blond-haired child sitting on her mother lap. Somewhere I believe I have a scan of the newspaper clipping with her obituary which shows Clara had dark hair at the time, but I have not yet organized obituary scans and am unable to present that photograph here–or confirm its existence.

Should I find the photograph again, it will provide reason to believe the dark-haired woman seen in the photograph is indeed Clara.

The description next states William’s uncle Christian, but it is not clear on if the mustached man beside him is indeed William Fritz. He does have William’s part in his hair. But who is the boy whose hand he holds? I shall return to him in a moment.

Moving to the viewer’s right we have Frank Fritz and–as far as I know–the only photograph of Emma. They have with them their child, Edward. The only one we can have any hope of recognizing by appearance is Frank. Think Frank’s face looks a bit more filled out than the younger Frank in the family photograph. When I look at the younger Frank, the distinguishing feature is his large ears that stick out. On this older Frank, it’s possible those same ears are there, but I’m not completely certain.

Back to the boy, to determine who he is requires dating the photograph. Edward was born near the end of 1900. This photograph was likely taken in 1901. (I originally suspected William took this photo with him to Austria, but that trip was in part to visit the Exposition Universelle, which ended on November 12th in 1900, before Edward’s birth.)

The only other boy in the Fritz family around 1901 was Gertrude’s dark-haired son John Benedict Shea. Born in March of 1896, he would have been five years old when this photograph was taken. I think the boy looks a little young for five, but it’s possible it’s John.

Another photograph of curiosity is that of the Abernathy house. Louisa Fritz married Moses Henry Abernathy, a man I have no known photographs of. Louisa is the woman sitting on the left in the family photograph above, with her two daughters on her lap and to her side.

The photograph said to be taken at the Abernathy house is shown here cropped to focus on the people in front of the house.

Abernathy  Wohnhaus alt Cropped

First thing to identify is what kind of people are in this photograph. From left to right, there is a young child–possibly a boy–with his hand on a mustached man’s leg–possibly the boy’s father. To the viewer’s right is a woman, then a woman with larger hair, and a mustached man in a hat.

Looking from right to left, I believed the mustached in the hat may be William Fritz. The woman nearest him has hair similar to that of Clara Abernathy in the photograph taken outside of Frank Fritz’s house. Considering this is the Abernathy house, this would make sense. And her mother, Louisa, could be the next woman to the left. The man may be Moses Henry Abernathy. It’s possible the boy may be Moses and Louisa’s youngest child, Moses Walter Fritz Abernathy.

That’s all guessing based on likeliness, but it’s just as likely to be wrong. How can these guesses even begin to be to verified? The target here is to compare the people I believe to be Clara and Walter.

In the Abernathy family, found children were born: Achsa in 1879, Clara in 1882, a daughter in 1887 who died a couple of weeks after birth, and Walter in 1898.

If the boy is Walter and he is four years old in this photograph, then the photograph would have been taken in 1902. This would be about a year after the photograph outside of Frank’s house, so it’s expected Clara would appear similar to in the prior photograph. It’s also possible that the dark-haired woman in this photograph is not Clara,but her four-years-older sister Achsa.

Another possibility is that Louisa is not in this photograph, and the two women are her daughters. The quality of the photograph does not allow me to distinguish the age of the woman on the left. Regardless, one’s thoughts turn toward wonder of why the whole family except for one female member appears in this photograph. Did one of the women operate the camera, or would it be unheard of for someone not a paid professional photographer to take a photograph in 1902?

The common link between these two photographs, as well as the one in Austria, is William Fritz’s appearance in the photographs. I wonder if he owned a camera, or if he paid to have professional photographers take these three photographs. And this brings us to the next unknown photograph.

Fritz Benedikt  alte Heimat in Blacksburg (Ausschnitt)

This photograph is said to be Benedict Fritz’s home in Blakesburg. A mustached man holds the rein of a small horse upon which is sitting a boy. A horse-drawn carriage is stopped nearby, with a family consisting of a man with a droopy mustache, a woman, and possibly two sons.

I believe the man on the left to be William Fritz once more. I cannot figure who the boy may be. Is it Walter Abernathy, the same boy I believe to be in the prior photograph, only a couple of years older? If that, that would place this photograph circa 1904.

Is the man operating the carriage Moses Henry Abernathy? I cannot determine whether that droopy mustache is the same man as was with the boy in the Abernathy house photograph.

Another question toward identification is: why would these people be stopped in front of Benedict’s house? Benedict passed away in 1891, and I do not know who inherited his house. If strangers bought the house, why would William care to photograph them in front of the house?

Is it possible this is William Shea, his wife Gertrude née Fritz, and their daughters Edna and Alice, with the boy on the pony as John Benedict Shea? The boy’s hair looks too light to be John Benedict Shea, but if it were, this photo likely would have been taken around 1902.

Looking at the kids in the carriage, the one up front may be wearing a dress, or those could be the legs of pants I see. The child in the back may be wearing a dress, but it looks also like there may be a blanket over the child’s legs.

Finally, if that woman is Gertrude, she gained more weight in her face is this takes place after the photograph of the Shea family above.

A photograph taken outside the hotel of Frank and Matilda née Fritz Hardy. This photograph may be composed completely of random people, but one would be remiss to not check over each person.

Fritz Mahilde u. Frank  Mathilde  Hotel (Ausschnitt)

The light of the sun has whited out most of the faces. From the left, there is a woman sitting in a rocking chair. Could she be Frank Hardy’s mother? A couple of people are sitting on the deck, and beside them a white-bearded man in another rocking chair. Frank Hardy’s father, perhaps? I have no information on Frank’s parents other than their names (David and Elizabeth née Gunsul Hardy).

Two men stand side-by-side. On the viewer’s left is another gray-bearded man, and to the right a man who may possible be William Fritz once more. At the end of the photograph stand two more men.

Frank Hardy and his wife Matilda had only one child, a daughter named Annie. She is the dark-haired child in her mother’s lap on the right side of the family photograph heading this article. If this photograph were taken around 1902 (roughly the year of the other photographs), Annie Hardy would be 18 years old. It appears she is not in this photograph.

The final photograph is one of my favorites. It’s said to show William Fritz’s Angora goats.

Fritz William  Angora Gaissen resized

According to an article in the Centerville Daily Citizen on August 6th, 1900, page one, column six, William bought 100 Angora goats which arrived from California. The goats were let upon the 200 acres of William’s farmland to eat away at the underbrush, which would otherwise interfere with cultivating the land for farming. Factoring in the cost of the goats, their work to clear the field without pay, and the income from the long, silky wool taken from them, William saw profit on the investment fairly early on, and the return on investment likely only grew over the next year.

That back-story is one reason I love this photograph. Another reason is because it shows how the families of my ancestors lived their daily lives. This isn’t a dressed-up, posed photograph. This is life. This is how William and his brother-in-law William Shea spent their days.

And, the final reason to love this photograph is the mystery: who is the woman standing in the middle of the field? Is that William’s sister, Gertrude? Is it perhaps a lady-friend of William Fritz, a man who never married? Might it be a sister-in-law? (I do not know whether William Shea had any sisters.)

If this is in fact a photograph of William Fritz’s herd of Angora goats–which I have no doubts about–the photograph was likely taken around 1901, the same time as the photographs which William appears in.

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