Isn’t it wonderful when we find a photograph of an ancestor? Or find out who the nameless person is in a box of dusty old photos? While we can’t always find a photograph of our ancestor, we can do the next best thing… find photos of people who were living around that time with similar occupations or circumstances. Let’s look at one source of these types of photographs.
I was able to attend Judy G. Russell’s “Breaker Boys & Spinner Girls” session at the virtual National Genealogical Society Conference. She is an entertaining speaker and with her legal background finds some of most interesting collections for adding depth and color to family research. One such collection is from the National Child Labor Committee. This collection has no restrictions of use and is located at the National Library of Congress. (It’s still important to cite the source.)
To use this digital collection, go to the National Library of Congress and choose digital collections then search for National Child Labor Committee Collection. The photo captions include information such as the title, the location, and date. Some also include information about the individuals in the photograph including names and ages. What a gold mine if you find your ancestor!
Here’s an example.
Title: Laura Petty, a 6-year-old berry picker on Jenkins farm, Rock Creek near Baltimore, Md. "I'm just beginnin'. Picked two boxes yesterday. (2 cents a box). (See my report July 10, 1909.) July 8, 1909. Location: Baltimore, Maryland.
Date: 1909 July 8
Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer. Laura Petty, a 6-year-old berry picker on Jenkins farm, Rock Creek near Baltimore, Md. "I'm just beginnin'. Picked two boxes yesterday. 2 cents a box. See my report. July 8, 1909.Location: Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore. Maryland United States, 1909. July 8. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2018675292/.
Is this interesting? There are poignant photos of little ones working in the factories at such young ages. Having this photographic proof helped to slowly change the laws which allowed child labor in such dangerous circumstances.
On the left-hand side of the main page of this collection, you can choose to search in a variety of ways: date, location, and subject as well as contributor and type of file.
I did search through the locations. Tip: Change it to alphabetic sort instead of number of images to more easily find your locations. The images are abundant for the east and west coasts and larger cities in the United States.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find labeled for North Dakota, South Dakota, or Minnesota but I did find Wisconsin images. One tugged at my heart which was titled "I don't never git no rest." This is the attitude that Henry, a six-year old beet worker takes toward life on a Wisconsin farm. See Hine Report, Wisconsin Sugar Beet, July 1915. Location: Wisconsin. Here’s the link to that picture. And another which shows his three year old sister who was starting to work in the fields. They don’t mention if these are children of the farmer or not. Another photograph in another state noted that the nine-year girl didn’t work all the time, she also did housework and took care of the baby. I wonder how many nine-year-olds would do that now?! If anything it makes you think about what your farm ancestor’s life might have been like as recently as the early 20th century. Or if you grew up on a family farm, how did your experience differ from your grandparents. If your ancestors were from city, can you find some pictures that reflected their occupations?
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Perhaps you’ll be fortunate and find your family in these records. Good luck in your search.
“The greatest teacher I know is the job itself”.
--James Cash Penney
With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.