My grandmother Olga was something of a packrat. When I was little we visited her in her house on Strand St. in Christiansted. She had all kinds of stuff around, papers, knickknacks, odds, ends, everything a little boy could want. She used to tell me she had a “Curiosity Shoppe”. When she died, it took two trips to the island to sort things into what to ship, what to give away, and what to donate. Fortunately, my mother kept the photos. Boxes of them. That was 25 years ago. Last night, we opened the boxes…
Well, it is going to take me a long time to sort through the boxes. We stayed up until after midnight going through the pictures (and making just a dent). My mother remembered some of the people; many she didn’t know. Some pictures have names written on the back (Thank-you Grandma!) but many don’t. Sometimes, even having the names didn’t help because my mother has no idea who these people are. Well, because of my research into the family, I recognized several of the names as cousins or other relatives. I was telling my mother who the people were in her photo box! The box is truly a box of treasures: many, many pictures of St. Croix from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Periodically I’ll post some of them here as I classify and scan them.
I want to lead off with this timely find. According to the notation on the back of the picture it is “C. A. Conrad”. You may remember my post from last week - I Found My Great-Great Grandfather - that my 2nd great grandfather was listed as “A. C. Conrad” and my great grandfather was named Christian Andreas Conrad. Well, I have several pictures of my great grandfather (born 1859) and he doesn’t look anything like this. Christian Andreas didn’t have any brothers, only sisters. This man has a full white beard and looks up there in years so it has to be an older man. A.C. Conrad was born around 1802, which would make him old enough. I’m not concerned by the A.C. vs. C.A. because I have seen that people weren’t terribly concerned with the ordering of first and middle names (I have numerous variations in the van Beverhoudts, who were fond of multiple middle names). Also, in last week’s post I mentioned that there was a dearth of Conrads on the island. This it is most likely a picture of my 2nd Great Grandfather. And I found it one week after I first saw his name in a baptismal record. Had I seen the picture two weeks ago I wouldn’t have had any idea who it was (although as a Conrad I would have thought it was a relative).
Dating the picture is tough, from information I found on Photos made Perfect, it appears to date from the early 1880s. The picture is mounted on plain card stock, with very little border, undecorated, with square corners (at least they appear to have been originally square). Several of the pictures in the box are similarly mounted, but this mounting is not ornate, making me think it was earlier than the others. This picture measures about 4in x 5.5in with very little cardboard border around it.
This size picture is referred to as a “Cabinet Print”, or a “half plate”. Other pictures of this size were mounted to larger cards with embossed studio logos. The resulting photos are often called “Cabinet Cards” because you can see them from across the room sitting on a cabinet. Like most photographs of the Victorian era, the print was not enlarged; the film was the same size as the print. Prints were made by “contact printing”, laying the exposed film over the photographic paper and exposing it in a darkroom.
When dating a picture, it is good to research the photographer. The picture is stamped J.A. Weng on the back. I reviewed the St. Croix Census and found that the photographer Jacob A. Weng was born in Christiansted around 1861 and operated a photography studio in Frederiksted by 1890, and lived in Christiansted in 1901. He married Maria Foss after 1901 but appears to have died soon after on St. Croix (he was Lutheran, maybe I’ll find him when I get to that roll at the FHC). Maria moved to New York with her brother Henry Foss in 1907. So he was probably making photos from around 1882 (age 20) until the early 1900s. Many of the photos in the boxes carry his studio name so they must date from this period as well.
So, reviewing my evidence:
- The style of photo was appropriate for the early 1880s
- The photographer was active at that time in St. Croix
- The man in the photo appears to be about the right age for C.A. Conrad at that time
- The photo is labeled “A. C. Conrad” and I know that first and middle names were frequently switched around.
- There is no other family member who matches the description
- There are no other Conrads known that it could be on St. Croix
About the only argument I can find against the conclusion is that the man may not look quite old enough (around 80), but he does look pretty old and the only evidence I have so far on his age is secondary evidence from Anna Sophia’s baptismal record when he was listed as 52. Not enough to be called contradictory. So I’m convinced!
Now, why was he never listed in a St. Croix census? That is bugging me.