Living moments

Many of us cherish the notion that historical photographs capture a frozen moment in time. Upon more detailed examination, though, studio pictures sometimes possess more artifice and contrivance than would have been expected. Take, for instance, these paired images of my great-great-great-grandparents, Reuben Paine and Lovicy Hall.

They came to me without caption from a handsome late-Victorian album with pre-fitted picture slots. What a treasure! Reuben’s picture – from Hawes Studio, 68 Purchase Street, New Bedford – dates from after 1877, when the studio was located at that address.[1] Lovicy’s image, interestingly, comes from the Noah Gifford studio, located at 54 Purchase Street, after 1879. The problem here is that she died in March 1878, age 56. Her facial features are exactly as they appeared in an earlier image, from Henry Hatch’s Studio (at right).

Coincidence? I think not. Enlarging the Gifford photo reveals retouching: The photographer added the curls, scarf, and different pin over the first image. Thus, after Lovicy’s death, Gifford fabricated Hatch’s picture into one slightly more elegant. The practice of refashioning family pictures as post-mortem memorials was more common than I realized. As another example, one-of-a-kind daguerrotypes from the 1840s and ‘50s were photographed again and made into multiple copies of cabinet style photographs of the 1870s and ‘80s. Reuben Paine’s sister, Adaliza (Paine) Dunn, died in 1885, age 51. Her photograph (at left), in her age and hairstyle, does not match the late 1870s, from Hawes’s imprint. Adaliza, as she appears here, was only in her twenties. Perhaps, after her death, several members of her family wanted her picture. Today several descendants possess an “original” of this made-over picture.

Reuben Paine, with his trademark Shenandoah beard, did not sit for any other studio pictures, but that feature allowed me to pick him out of a crowd in an unlabeled group picture tossed in a box and forgotten for a century.

There he stands, at left, with a summer hat and umbrella. Knowing Reuben lived with his daughter, Mary B. Sylvia, and her family in Marion, Massachusetts, led me to identify his four Sylvia grandchildren to his right: Isabelle, b. 1880; Susan, b. 1882; Marian, b. 1887; and Reuben, b. 1885. Marian is my great-grandmother. As I have stared and wondered what this group occasion represents, I have not yet given up on rescuing one more person from the oblivion of anonymous faces. Someone else out there may have another copy of this picture.

In her youth, my paternal grandmother Annie Cassidy (1892–1964) loved to have her picture taken. Several years after her death, one of her friends gave my father this charming small image, circa 1912.

The picture came with a wonderful story from the donor. On the day Annie and her friend went to a Fall River portrait studio, they exchanged their work dresses for the muff, stole, and hat the photographer provided. Without this context, someone might think my grandmother was an affluent Edwardian lady instead of someone who toiled in a cotton mill. Of course, I could pick my grandmother out of a crowd anytime. Here is a snapshot taken at Island Park, Rhode Island, circa 1908, that sails much closer to truth, but not in every aspect.

My grandmother sits at right, holding an oar; her sister, Mary, is second-from-left.

Between my grandmother and great-aunt are two sisters, perhaps named Frain, possibly first-generation children of County Mayo immigrants. The family joke is that Annie could not swim, so I may never know if this is an action shot or a pose for the person holding the camera!


[1] A wonderful resource for me in this endeavor: Ronald Polito, ed., A Directory of Massachusetts Photographers 1839–1900 (Picton Press, 1993).

About Michael Dwyer

Michael F. Dwyer first joined NEHGS on a student membership. A Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists, he is a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist and The American Genealogist. His articles have been published in the Register, American Ancestors, and Rhode Island Roots, among others. The Vermont Department of Education's 2004 Teacher of the Year, Michael retired in June 2018 after 35 years of teaching subjects he loves—English and history.

18 thoughts on “Living moments

  1. Always love the different hat styles of both the men and women in photos such as the group photo. Thank You for sharing these observations, they did like to have their picture taken and am so very glad. My Grandmother could identify several people I would have had no idea who they were, but when she came across various baby studio photos she would say “Am afraid they were before my time.” I did discover at least two of them were herself and her brother finally because as you say others of the family also had them:)

  2. The only copy of a copy of a copy of a picture of my great grandmother has to be after she was dead. I’d hate to think she looked like that when she was alive!

  3. Michael, I sure did not realize that our ancestors had a penchant for photo-shopping, or that it was even possible to do so back in the day. Did they take a picture of a picture with the accoutrements added onto to the 1st for the 2nd?…. Very clever folks!

    You’ve a beautiful collections of pictures here. Hope that you will share more along the way!

    1. Jeff,
      I am not a photo expert, but I think they painted or carefully inked the additions and then re-shot the image. Always more to learn about the subject.

  4. Lots of new information in this one. I had no idea the women borrowed clothes from the photographer. Also, I live in Marion, so the Sylvia photo is of particular interest.

    However, the picture of the girls in the boat took me by surprise. Is it possible that the girl on the far left is Doris Anthony, born in Jamestown, RI in 1897? She would be about eleven in the photo, which seems right. Her family had lots of relatives in Portsmouth, Middletown, Tiverton, and Dartmouth, so she may have gotten to know these other children.

    I showed the picture to my husband and without prompting, he said, “Grammie!” So two of us vote for Doris.

    1. It’s possible but not likely because these were Fall River folks who went to Island Park for a holiday. We should compare an image of young Doris.

  5. Thank you for the informative article. I did not realize that early photos could be edited.
    The group photo is interesting in that it is predominately women; they significantly outnumber the men.

  6. Michael, great pictures. I didn’t realize “photo-shopping” hear sucha long history. One now on your the Reuben Paine picture, I believe you meant to say, “…to his left:…” Thanks for the article.

        1. Hello Michael, I married a Michael Dwyer… he recently passed this last year. as I am putting together Dwyer puzzle pieces I am curious if you might fit in? My tree is is The Jensen Family Tree. by Reconnectnow. I have enjoyed these writings.
          Always curious, Sincerely Rosalie Jensen

          1. Rosalie,
            Sorry for the delayed response. You can check out my family tree on Ancestry. My father’s grandfather, Patrick Martin Dwyer, came from County Kerry, Ireland, to Newport, RI.

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