A Mystery Photo

In August, I received a wonderful collection of photographs from my cousin Marilyn, the great-granddaughter of Henry Goldsmith and the granddaughter of Helen Goldsmith; I’ve written about Henry and about Helen in several places, including here, here, here, and here. Marilyn and I are both the four-times great-granddaughters of Fradchen Schoenthal. We are also both descendants of Jacob Falke Goldschmidt, the father of my three-times great-grandfather, Seligmann Goldschmidt and Marilyn’s great-great-grandfather Simon Goldsmith.

The next set of posts will feature the photographs Marilyn sent, most of which are of her grandmother Helen and some of Helen’s siblings and of Helen’s sons Edgar and Malcolm and their children. Some of these photographs were labeled, some were not. And even where labeled, sometimes those labels left more questions. All of these photographs are posted courtesy of my cousin Marilyn.

For example, this photograph, which is the oldest photograph in the collection.

On the reverse of this photograph was the following label:

But the more I studied this photograph, the more I became convinced that that label was incorrect. The photograph was taken in Philadelphia by a photographer named Brooks located at 600 or 724 Arch Street. I searched Philadelphia directories on Ancestry and was able to find a photographer named Thomas Brooks located at 630 Arch Street in several directories from the 1870s.1 Portrait photography as an art and business did not really even start until the 1850s.

Simon Goldsmith was born in 1795 and came to the US in 1845 when he was already fifty years old. By the 1870s, he was in his seventies. The man in the photograph does not look like he is in his fifties, let alone his seventies. His skin is smooth with no wrinkles or age lines. He appears to be at most in his forties, but probably even younger.

So who is that man? My first guess, given the source of the photograph and the collection in which it appears, was that it was Henry Goldsmith, Simon’s son. Henry was born in 1847, and in the 1870s when Thomas Brooks was operating a photography business on Arch Street in Philadelphia, Henry would have been somewhere between 23 and 33, and the man in that photograph could be in that age range.

Henry, however, was living in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, in the 1870s, not in Philadelphia. In fact, Henry never lived in Philadelphia. I thought perhaps when he married Sarah Jaffa in 1871, they married in Philadelphia, but the 1870 census shows Sarah living with her brother Samuel Jaffa in Pittsburgh,2 so she wasn’t in Philadelphia either.

Moreover, I am quite certain that it was Henry’s daughter Helen who wrote the words on the back of this photograph. There are several other photographs labeled in the same handwriting in the collection that are quite obviously labeled by Helen. For example, look at these two examples:

If Helen labeled the photograph of the man she assumed was her grandfather Simon, wouldn’t she have known if it were instead a photograph of her father Henry? I’d think so. So the more I study these photographs, the more I doubt this was a photograph of either Simon Goldsmith or his son Henry.

So who was he? I see a slight resemblance to Sol Jaffa, Helen’s uncle, as seen in this photograph to be analyzed in a later post. But wouldn’t Helen have known that it was Sol when she labeled the photograph? He and Helen are holding hands in this photograph, so she obviously knew him well. Did her uncle look so much different as an older man that she couldn’t see the resemblance?


The mystery lingers…

More of the collection from Marilyn to come.



  1. E.g., Gopsill´s Philadelphia Business Directory, 1870, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, City Directory, 1874, Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 
  2. Sarah Jaffa, 1870 US census, Year: 1870; Census Place: Pittsburgh Ward 2, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1295; Page: 441A; Family History Library Film: 552794, Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census 

27 thoughts on “A Mystery Photo

  1. Amy, great posts. Two comments. First I agree with you on the time frame taken for the photograph. And just because someone did not live in Philadelphia, doesn’t mean they didn’t have their photo taken there. Second, you are presuming that the writing on the top photo was the same as the others. The hand writing IS similar as cursive was among many in that time frame. However I see a different in the letter H and the letter f that could easily indicate it was someone else, perhaps who wrote the first one. You really can make a guess but you can’t say definitively that Helen wrote on the back of the top photo. Hoping you find another cousin with the same photo. Its not impossible, as it has happened to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your input. I am certainly no handwriting expert and will go back again and study it once more. You are right—I can’t be positive. But it sure seems very likely, given that this was Helen’s photo collection passed along to her family. Thank you! (Is this Janice of the Cowhampshire blog with a new blog?)


  2. Photo mysteries! I too see a similarity in the two photo’s and think it could very possibly be Sol Jaffa. Had Helen and Sol lived apart in their younger years? Could that explain perhaps not knowing him then? The ears look spot on the same and isn’t that an indicator? Jaw line, mustache shape, shape of brow ….hmmmmmm

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sharon—I see what you see. Sol lived out west in Trinidad, CO (remember the website you sent me about Jewish life in Trinidad—this was one of those Jaffas!) and Helen lived in PA, so they would not have seen each other much, especially when she was a little girl. Thanks for your input!


  3. Very frustrating. I wish the handwritings were lined up together and I wish the photos were next to each other. I am scrolling up and down and up and down LOL. I don’t think it’s Sol. Sorry! But maybe I need to see them side by side? And sorry for posting as my alter ego here :/.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Amy. I too think it might be Sol, the chin, cheekbones, ear shape etc seem very similar. I’m trying to view the link to the tree with the other pic of Sol in but it just keeps hanging and I can’t see it which is a shame.


  5. Pingback: Photographs of Helen Goldsmith: From Toddler to Young Woman | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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