The Christmas Tree Photo

Unknown Family Portrait

Unknown Family Portrait

I started collecting old family photographs when I was about 15. My first set of 74 pictures were given to me by my grandmother Audrey, who typically doesn’t place much sentimental value on old photographs. She was probably just happy to have cleaned out a drawer and found a home for them. Once other family members saw how much I treasured and cared for them, they started to add to my collection.

My other grandmother, Elva, was much more possessive – giving me a few photos here, a few there. About 1983, she gave me a set of photos including this one – an unknown family seated in front of a Christmas tree in what looks to be their living room, with an organ off to the side. At the time, she told me that she thought this was probably on her dad’s side of the family. I don’t know how many times I examined this photo – even looking at it with a magnifying glass to see if I could spot any clues to its identification. Little did I know that it would take me 28 years to finally solve the riddle.

I had very quickly determined that the older seated man was probably the same as the man in this set of photos:

I had received these four photographs a couple of years earlier from my grandmother, and they were in a cardboard album that folded out. I knew for sure that the man on the right was my Great Great Grandfather, Terry George Stevens, but the other three were unknown to me. I thought perhaps that the woman may have been his wife Cora Belle Allen, who had died in a Chicago hospital in 1900, and perhaps the other couple were her parents, Nathaniel Chandler and Emeline S. (Johnson) Allen. But that’s as far as I got – suspicions and possibilities.

Wedding Invitation

Wedding Invitation for Terry Stevens and Cora Allen, 1880.

In December, 2010, I was contacted by Janie Payne, a cousin also descended from Terry and Cora. We exchanged many emails, getting to know one another, and sharing scans of many old family photos. One of the scans that she sent me was this one – the wedding invitation for Terry and Cora, which hangs on her wall.

I don’t think I noticed the words right away, or at least not their significance, but one day they just screamed out to me – “At Their Home”. Yup, Terry and Cora had been married in her parents’ home. Then I noted the date of their marriage – “Thursday, January 1st, 1880”. If they were married in their home on New Years Day, that meant that it was not unlikely that the family Christmas Tree would still be up! It was all coming together.

I now believe that this photo was taken at the wedding of my Great Great Grandparents, Terry George Stevens and Cora Belle Allen, taken January 1, 1880 in the home of her parents, Nathaniel Chandler and Emeline S. (Johnson) Allen, in Willow Grove, Illinois. It took 28 years, but I finally identified not only the people, but also the event, the date, and the location!

Nathaniel Chandler Allen, Cora Belle Allen Stevens, Terry George Stevens, and Emeline S. Johnson Allen, taken at the Wedding of Terry and Cora, January 1, 1880, in Willow Grove, IL


  • Carefully examine and reexamine your old photos
  • Watch for clues, even the tiniest
  • Compare photos with each other
  • Reach out to cousins who might have materials which can help you
  • Don’t give up!
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