In 1980, when I was just 16, I wrote to Lura Treffeisen, my grandfather’s cousin, to see if she might be able to help me with my family research. She and her niece Janet were both working on the “family tree” and were very excited to hear from me. We exchanged several letters over the years, but in one of the first, Lura sent this photo of my great great grandfather, Wilhelm Treffeisen, standing in front of his tailor shop in Philadelphia.
When my Aunt Alma died in 2010, she willed all of her belongings to charity. The auction company was supposed to put aside all family photographs and heirlooms, but apparently some were actually sold at auction! I was very fortunate that the woman who purchased them was also a genealogist, and although she was selling them, she would prefer that they go to a family member. She made sure to add all of the inscriptions on the photos when she posted them to eBay. I probably would never have known that they were sold at auction had I not received an email from a cousin, asking if I had seen a photo currently for sale on eBay. I followed the link that he had sent, and sure enough, it was one of *my* family! I quickly purchased it, but then I got to thinking. What if there had been more than one for sale? I quickly searched the seller’s other items for sale, and found there were fifteen photos for sale. I quickly purchased them all, and in less than a week, they were in my hands.
One of the photos was another photo of Wilhelm in front of his tailor shop, this time with his family. I had never seen this one! How exciting! Receiving this one caused me to go pull out the other one for comparison. At first, I assumed that they were taken in the same location, but then I started noticing differences. The sign out front was different. The arched windows on one door appeared narrower. One had two panes of glass in the front, the other had three. I realized that although both were his tailor shops, they were different shops.
I wondered if I might be able to figure out where they had been taken? Which photo was earlier? When were they taken?
I went back through all of my research and started a list of all of his known locations. I used census records, vital records, and city directories to come up with the following list:
- 1880 909 Gordon St.
- 1881 909 Gordon St.
- 1882 613 N 3rd St.
- 1883 1213 N 5th St.
- 1885 1213 N 5th St.
- 1886 1218 N 5th St.
- 1889 840 N 3rd St.
- 1890 840 N 3rd St.
- 1892 410 Fairmount Ave.
- 1895 410 Fairmount Ave.
- 1897 504 N. 4th St.
In 1880 and 1881, he was living at the same address as his brother Jakob (a shoemaker), who was older & helped bring him to America, so I doubted either of these photos were taken at the 909 Gordon Street address. Besides, they didn’t have 2 children at this time, so really the 909 & 613 addresses are ruled out.
Since Lura had died, I asked my cousin Janet if she had inherited Lura’s genealogical materials and old photos. She had! I asked her to search to see if she could find the original of the copy that Lura had sent me over 30 years ago. She did! She scanned it and sent the updated version:
This version had something that the 1980 copy did not – a portion of the photo on the right-hand side that had been cropped out. Note the neighborhood children watching the spectacle of a photographer at work. Interesting details, but it didn’t help me.
Then I noticed that this version had something else – additional detail! If you zoom in on the pane of glass above the door behind him, you can make out portions of three numbers. To me, it appeared to be an “8”, followed by a number I couldn’t quite make out, followed by a number which was rounded at the top – perhaps a “0” or an “8”. There is only one address on his list of known locations that matched – 840 North 3rd Street, Philadelphia. Since I know that he resided at other locations in 1886 and 1892, I can now date this photo to sometime between those years, and probably to about 1889 or 1890 when he was listed in the city directory. I believe this photo was probably taken for an advertisement for his new shop.
The 410 address is still standing, and can be seen on Google Street View. Although it looks similar, this address has the door on the left of the large window, so I think it can be ruled out.
The address 1213 North 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA seems to be the most likely, which would date this photo to 1883-1888. Since Becky, the youngest child who was listed on the back of the photo as the younger of the two children, wasn’t born till 1891, it is unlikely that this was her. In fact, it is most probable that the children were Amelia and William, Jr., born in 1881 and 1883, which would suggest a date for the photo of about 1885.
Thus, I believe that this photo was taken about 1885 at 1213 N. 5th St., Philadelphia, PA, and that the subjects are an unknown man, Wilhelm and Bertha (Schreier) Treffeisen, and their children Amelia and William, Jr.
- Compile a list of all known addresses for your family members. When you find a photo with a visible address, you can quickly search this file for a match.
- If you have a photo with no visible address, use this address list to see if the homes where the family lived are still standing using Google Maps or Google Street View to try to find a matching location.
- Use the ages of people in the photographs to obtain a tentative range of years that the photo may have been taken.
- If you have duplicated photos, track down the originals for better copies.
- SHARE your photos – I never would have seen the one for sale on eBay had a distant cousin not recognized it as the same man as one I had previously shared with him.
- If you find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of seeing a family photo on eBay, be sure to check all other lots for sale by the same seller.