Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Studying Pioneer Photos by Linda Hubalek

I have several plastics tubs full of family photos, dating back the late 1860s. I know the people in most of these photos, except for young couples that must have been friends with my ancestors. Of course the recipients of the photos knew who was pictured, so they didn't bother to write a note on the back of the photo of who was pictured.

Many of these photos have been featured over the years in my books. I'm always amazed at the details in the clothing—most of which were handmade, the hair, hats, and shoe styles of that era.

Now I'm hooked on looking  for photos of pioneers on Pinterest. I could look and "pin" all day—finding photos of women with very long hair, to families in front of their dugouts.

The details in photos show us what was important and what was needed to survive out in the middle of nowhere when families decided to start over in a new place. Food and guns are a prominent theme in this photo, but then there's the delicate lace collar of the little girl.

Unfortunately most aren't labeled with who is in the photos, or the descriptions have been changed or erased as people add new comments. Who lost their baby? Is this the only photo they had of the whole family? You wonder if all the children in this portrait survived to adulthood.

I marvel at the amount of people who moved west to start a new life, and happened to be photographed along the way. How many wagons, people, cattle, horses, dogs and...barrels of flour did this photograph capture?

 The names and places may be lost on these photos but they give us important information on the times and lives of America's pioneers. I'm glad they didn't have digital cameras back then, because we wouldn't have these great images of the past now.

Thanks for stopping by to enjoy today's Sweethearts of the West blog.

Linda Hubalek


  1. You've just made my day with these fantastic vintage photos. I could look at such all day. Isn't it amazing how well-dressed the people are, even the family posed in front of the ramshackle house. How did the mother keep that young girl's dress so white?
    Thanks, Linda. These are priceless.

    1. Those clothes were kept white with bluing and lots of scrubbing!

  2. Linda, I love this post. I also have tubs and file cabinets of old photos from my grandmother, mother, and family members who have shared. I treasure each of them. I've done three family books using relevant photos. One for my mother-in-law, one for my mom, and a much larger one for my father--he was from a larger family. By the way, I had no idea a wagon train could include so many wagons! Think of the logistics of acquiring enough water, fuel, and grazing land on the trip. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I've written eleven books about my family so those old photos have really helped. Yes, think about the wagon trains, and no cell phones or GPS to guide them and communicate.

  3. I loved all these amazing pictures. It's such a shame people didn't think to label who was who on the back of photographs. Generations late we are left to wonder who these people were and what they were doing when the picture was taken. My grandfather McNeal left a trunk full of photos and letters. I loved the letters. But, like your family, many of the people in the pictures are not identified. I am working on scanning the pictures and saving them on a thumb drive just in case of flood or fire and to arrest them from fading or deteriorating the way real pictures do.
    Great blog, Linda.


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