Sunday, January 9, 2022

52 Ancestors - FOUNDATIONS: A Rule I Ignored

One of the many rules guiding family historians and genealogists in their research is that working with an original document is better than working with a transcription or abstract. The same holds true for photographs. I never quite understood how a photo of a photo could not be just as good as the original until yesterday.

Yesterday was the day I set aside to clean out my Fibber McGee & Molly closet upstairs in my Gene Cave. For months I have had to use my foot to push back baskets overflowing with who-knows-what and then quickly extract said foot while jiggling bifold doors into place.

Who knew I have five 3-hole punchers? Why???

But I digress.

Stuffed somewhere among the paperbacks, office supplies, cookbooks, and craft supplies was an envelope of photos that I must have borrowed years ago from my sister to scan. One photo that caught my eye was this one that I had already scanned.

I have used this photo numerous times here at Jollett Etc. The couple were among my many UNKNOWNs. For a time, I thought maybe this was my 2X great-grandfather James Franklin Jollett and his first wife Lucy Shiflett. However, they married in 1859. The couple’s clothing does not fit the period.

Then I thought maybe this was my 2X great-grandparents Mitchell Davis and Martha Willson. They married in 1846. Again, the clothing does not reflect the period, nor does the woman look to be only 14 years old.

What I failed to notice the first time I scanned the photo was the reverse. The frame has aged into very soft paper making the pencil message nearly invisible and almost impossible to read.

There is a sentence at the top. Is the first word Come? Look? I don’t know. The next part is better: Remember me dearest until we meet and I will still *something something something* days apart be *something*.

It is signed “L. E. Sulli…” – the rest is too faded to read but I am pretty darn sure it is SULLIVAN.

“L. E.” was none other than Laura Etta Jollett who married Will Sullivan. Laura was one of the sisters of my great-grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis. The flowers at Laura’s neck suggest this is a wedding photo. (Read about their Golden Anniversary HERE.)

The fact that the photo was in an envelope containing nothing but Sullivan photos tells me I am probably correct. However, as many times as I studied this picture, I never once guessed it might be Will and Laura. At first glance they do not look like other photos of them.

Laura and Will
Minnie and Pearl
(Is Will wearing the same shoes?)

Laura and Will
50th Anniversary

After I studied noses and chins and overall face shape, I was able – with confidence! - to rename the image from “Unknown” to “Will and Laura Sullivan.”

The moral of the story, boys and girls, is always look at the back of the photo too.  


© 2022, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. What a find! Congrats. It seems that the more you handle a piece of family history, the more clues that jump out at you when you put fresh eyes on them.

  2. That's great that you happened upon that envelope and that photo and looked further into what it showed. Kudos to being a "second looking" sleuth.

  3. I have taken to scanning both sides of a photo, regardless whether there is writing or not. I have done this as insurance if the original is ever lost, that way no one would wonder if there was some further info also lost. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I've failed at that rule, as well, and can't tell you how many times I thought to turn the photo over and was pleasantly surprised!

  5. I have failed at this rule many times and been rewarded many times by following it. I've been able to piece some more modern photos together based on the numbers printed on the backs - connecting them to the same roll of film. If I'm lucky, one of those in the series will have a name or date or location on it. Glad you solved the case!