Saturday, February 28, 2015

Who Am I? Burgard Family Photos


  A treasure trove of photos have been passed down through my mother's family.  We are luckier than many, having images that stretch back into the nineteenth century.
     Among the earliest examples are the items pictured here, probable members of the Burgard family of Pennsylvania and Astoria, Fulton County, Illinois.  My ancestor was Hester Burgard, born to John and Susannah Hollinger Burgard in Pennsyalvania in 1844.  Hester (Hetty) married Isaac L. Myers in Astoria in 1865.  These photos may show several of her siblings.  This was told to me by my grandmother, who knew Hetty well.  My grandmother was an adult of 28 when Hetty died in 1932.
     Offspring though to have been born to John & Susannah Burgard, with births years, are:  Mary, 1828, John, 1830, Jacob Hollinger, 1834, Catherine, 1836, Peter Henry, 1837, Joseph E., 1838, Daniel 1840, Hester, 1844, Michael, 1846, and Susan M., 1848.
     The ages of Hetty's siblings, together with the style of dress and type of image, might give a hint as to the subjects.  Not being a photography expert, I can only guess at these being daguerreotypes, which were produced beginning in the 1840s, and on into the early 1860s.  The next process which came into use was the ambrotype, which appeared between 1854-1866.

     My examples are in fragile condition.  Some are missing their leather covers, or the covers have become separated from the side with the image.  The one on the upper left depicting a male can’t be seen with the naked eye very well.  It comes to life through the scanning process.  At first glance, it looks like a piece of old mirror.  You can faintly see a face when you hold it sideways in the light.
     An excellent resource for studying this type of question is found at, which offers background on the types of photographic processes we are likely to encounter when researching our ancestors.  The have a large library of over 1,000 images for comparison to our own samples, and offer other tips for determining what kind of example we have.
     The Burgard family were members of the Church of the Brethren, which kept to a “plain” style of dress.  Because of this, the young woman pictured in this collection wearing the elaborate hat, and carrying a fur muff, seems to be an anomaly (unless she was the family rebel!).  Perhaps she's a friend or an in-law?  Or the image was mistakenly delivered to the wrong customer?  This leaves six other separate individuals in this grouping of images.  If the photos were taken at around the same time, one might assume that the older two men are among the siblings born the earliest, John, Jacob, or Peter.  Perhaps the beards indicate marriage?  The two younger males in the images might represent Joseph, Daniel, or Michael.  I have pictures of Hetty as an older adult, and I wouldn't say that any of these show the same woman.  This leaves Mary, Catherine, and Susan as potential candidates.  Or, perhaps some of these individuals aren't that close:  in-laws, cousins, or friends.
     This is a fascinating puzzle, and I'd love to know more.  Perhaps you have another copy of one of these images that you know is your ancestor.  If anyone out there can identify one or more of these people more definitely, please let me know at  Images can be snagged or saved by right-clicking, and enlarged for further study.

All images in possession of the author, 2015