The Roth Family Rediscovered

With the forecast crisis of flooding avoided today I visited one of my favorite places, Ghosts in the Attic. A multi-story antique mall that occupies a structure in the Boneyfiddle Historical District that has been everything from a funeral home to a furniture store, but today as an antique mall they have become a repository of local memorabilia and family relics. And those family relics, particularly old photographs are why I return on a regular basis. From glass plate negatives in wicker baskets to cabinets cards encased in their original paper frame they are often a nameless mystery aside from those emblazoned with the photographer’s mark, but even that is a clue.

Today’s find was interesting: a large family portrait. The family seemed well-off given their attire. The reason for the purchase however, was on the back.

On the back, centered, was the photographer’s mark: Lewis Lutz. Over the years I have acquired more than a few photographs from this studio, but this is the first time that I have seen this style of marking from Lutz’s studio; given that it is rather primitive I would guess that it was some of his earlier work. Unfortunately, there’s is a database that provides a date range for when a particular mark was in use; maybe that’s a project for another day.

When I returned home, I immediately start work, first by scanning the front of the image as a 16 bit 600 DPI TIFF image. The result is an archival quality image that can be reproduced to its original size with no loss of quality as well as permitting it to be edited to correct dust and scratches or other edits that may be required. The file size is a little over 25 megabytes, but with the low cost of storage file size is of little concern. To further document the photograph I also scan the back side as well. Impressions from long fades ink or traces of graphite remain and provide further clues about those in the picture. Scanning the photograph with the same settings as the front provides for a broad gamut of techniques to be used to tease back faint markings. With this image I isolated an area that appeared to show the photographs notes on the matte size and some other unreadable text. From there I desaturated the entire image and within the selection used a  the “Levels” adjustment slider in GIMP (an open-source photo editing program) to make the white (highlights) whiter and the black (shadows) darker and incrementally adjust the gray (midtones).

The result was encouraging as I now had a name and a number: Mr. Roth 4847. I thought for a while about the number: it could be a phone number, an address, maybe even an order number. Since it was so obscure I opted to pursue trying to follow the name. From the image there are other details that help determine which Mr. Roth this was. The family is comprise of two adults, three boys, and one girl. With the parents being of middle age, having a large family, and of moderate wealth, I had a hunch that they lived in Portsmouth long enough to have been registered by a census and most likely died in or near Portsmouth.

My first search was with FindAGrave, now owned by the genealogical giant Ancestry, to see how many burials had been recorded by volunteers who photograph, record inscriptions and locations throughout the world. Fortunately, there were only nineteen Roths recorded in the city of Portsmouth. Another feature of FindAGrave is that there is a sort of family tree associated with each individual burial. This is typically illustrated as husbands burial listing appearing on the wives or the children’s burials appearing on those of the parents. The grouping of family members is helpful and is most complete in family lots or cemeteries, but often fails when the children moved away, maiden names dropped, or no one has the entered the data into the system. What I was looking for what an adult who had two or more children associated with them, and ideally that the burial listed a husband or wife and four other children. What I found instead was a case for serendipity.

While searching the listings I came across Katherine Linck Roth, and the name was so familiar the the dots immediately connected. I knew this woman or rather I had already been researching her and for some reason or another I had moved along. Several weeks before I had purchased a photograph of a woman from the same antique store as the family photograph I was currently holding

On the back of this photograph there was a name as well: Catherine Linck Roth. While the name on the picture was misspelled it was the same woman.

A closer inspection of the image revealed that the physical characteristics of the two women were the same and that in both images the woman was wearing the same identical brooch. This was Katherine Linck Roth and there was one less nameless person in this family photograph.

The FindAGrave listing also provided the name of Katherine’s husband as well as her date of birth and date of death. This was enough information to dive deeper into her family history and hopefully be able to name the rest of those in the photograph. My go-to for genealogical searches is FamilySearch.org. Not only is it free, but their genealogical holdings are expansive and ever growing. FamilySearch differs from Ancestry in that members don’t built a family tree so much as they contribute to a central family tree. Personally, I feel as though this model is more trustworthy as any revisions must be supported with additional information and sources versus other more popular genealogical sites that permit people to be added rapidly, and haphazardly by simply clicking a single icon with no additional verification needed. Within seconds Catherine’s family tree was displayed as were the names of the other previously unknown family members.

And here are the fruits of my minor labor; the names of all those in the family portrait.

What I sat out to do was done, but I still wanted to know who these people were. I knew that Valentine Roth had outlived Katherine and one of his sons but I knew there was more to be known, but that’s a story or another post.

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