Tuesday, November 19, 2019

52 Ancestors - SOLDIER: Mystery Man

Unknowns in album of Helen Killeen Parker World War I era https://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Of all my photos of unidentified people, this is probably my favorite. It came to me in a box of photos belonging to my grandaunt Helen Killeen Parker. Since many of the other photos were of her mother and her mother’s sisters and their families, I assume this one is as well. But who is it?

Here is what I know: Helen’s mother, my great grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, immigrated to New York from Ireland in the late 1880s. Her sisters did as well. I know for sure that a brother Denis remained in Ireland. One brother, John Sheehan, might have immigrated to New York but I am not sure.

There are many photos of women who resemble Mary Theresa, but the few photos that are labeled are of children who would be Helen’s cousins. Photos of adults are not labeled, so I cannot tell for sure who is who.

As a result, I can identify NO ONE in this photo.

One problem I am having is determining age in the photo. Is this a set of parents with a son and daughter? Parents with a son and granddaughter?  Could it even be a 4-generation photo? The woman resembles Mary Theresa somewhat in body type, but if the photo is from the 19-teens, Mary Theresa and sisters would have been younger looking and probably thinner.  

Another problem is determining the place the photo was taken. Since I have seen none of these people in other photos, I considered maybe this was the family left behind in Ireland. However, the architecture of the house does not fit with what homes looked like in Ireland, or at least in photos I have seen. Could this house have been in New York? Massachusetts? Maybe it was taken in Portsmouth, Virginia where Mary Theresa moved following the death in 1905 of her first husband, John Joseph Killeen.

The soldier’s uniform might answer that question, in part, at least. The coat resembles this one identified online as a US army enlisted man’s tunic from 1912. Later uniforms also had buttons on the collar. I looked at World War I uniforms for other countries and am satisfied that this is an American soldier. I can rule out Mary Theresa’s brother and family in Ireland as candidates.

But who should be ruled IN? That is the million dollar question!

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2019, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. This would be a bit frustrating to me, yet I think you are intrigued by then. I know people don't think about doing it because they think they'll live forever, but I think more people should mark their photos. I have with the old ones we have. The newer ones the present people would know who is in them. Those are digital ones, so I'll have to figure out a way to name/number them. I know you'll keep searching though for something with these pictures as you have the time to do so.


  2. Wonderful attempt at figuring out who these people are. And if you put it on the "back burner" maybe more information will click. On the other hand, I did that when I saw an ancestor had been a Reverend of a Baptist congregation on an old census report, and didn't add it to my ancestor's own data, and now I can't figure out who he was and have had to look through everyone I've recently been adding things to, all without finding him again! Have been following too many leads these days!

  3. Oh, the frustration of unknown people in old family photos! I hope somehow, somewhere you can find more information, or other photos, to identify these people.
    I posted a photo of a grand-uncle who served in WWI. His uniform looks like the one you posted here except his buttons right to left (which in recent years has always been the way women's clothing is buttoned).

  4. The uniform looks just like my grandfather's WWI uniform. I'm a big help, aren't I? ;-)