Clothing Clues from Family Pictures

So I have a wall of family pictures directly behind my desk – I like to think that my ancestors are smiling and encouraging me at my work 🙂  Pictures are such an interesting snapshot in time – capturing the social, economic, and personality status of the subjects.    The picture that I leveled my gaze at this morning was a portrait of my great grandparents, Christen and Agnethe Christenson with their young daughters Clara and Cora.

Christen, Agnethe, Clara and Cora Christenson ca 1908; author’s collection

]I wanted a large picture of them so you could see the details that tell a story about their life at this snapshot in time]

The Christensons lived in Winger, Minnesota when this picture was taken.  Agnethe Rindahl immigrated from the Lillehammer region of Norway when she was 10 years old and Chris was born in Wisconsin to Norwegian immigrant parents.  Their age at marriage seems unusual for the time – Agnethe was 29 – listed as “servant” in the 1895 and 1900 census, and Chris was 31 – a shopkeeper/postmaster in Winger.  They were living with their parents and other siblings so perhaps it wasn’t so unusual during that time to have to combine incomes for economic stability?  After their marriage in 1903, they set up a homestead in nearby Garden township, probably farming wheat, barley, oats, sugar beets, or potatoes – the regional crops.  Clara was born in June 1904 and Cora in October 1906.

Going back to the picture, zooming in on the 3 white circles on Agnethe’s bodice – they are beautiful pieces of lace or tatting.  There is also lace around her neck.  These perhaps were part of her wedding trousseau or taken from another dress?  She also has a long necklace that has lighter beads (pearls?) tight around her neck and the long section looks like cording with larger beads every 12 inches.  Is it tied down by her lap?  It fades out there. She is also pregnant with their first son Gilbert – a loose waist is evident compared to the cinched waist styles of the times.  Her hair looks it is curled on each side of her head and daughter Clara’s hair seems to be crimped or curled also.  Curling irons and hair crimpers were available from the Sears & Roebuck catalog in 1900 for around 50 cents (plus postage).

The girls also have beautiful crocheted lace on their dresses.  Baby Cora has a lace collar with matching trim around her cuffs and dress with a thicker lace underskirt.  Perhaps this is her christening dress?  Does she have a pearl-ish pin at her throat?  Clara looks like she is wearing a short pearl necklace on top of her scalloped collar.  She also has a ring on her middle finger and a ribbon in her hair.  Perhaps the doll came from her father’s shop or was handed down from her mother.  It has blonde hair, a decorative sash, sleep eyes (eyes that opened and closed) and some sort of blanket or coat that is fuzzed around the the head.  I don’t know much about antique bisque dolls, so would appreciate any info about the cost or style from that era.

Chris looks like he is wearing a heavy woolen high button 3 piece suit with a rounded collar shirt and striped tie – dapper.  No pocket watch or rings that I can see.

So it is interesting and unexpected to see that my Minnesota farm family has a bit of luxury what with the porcelain doll, pearls, lace and crimped hair.  Marrying at a later age and being a storekeeper before farming allowed them some extras that reflected their status in the community.  Have you ever used the clothing and accessories in your family pictures as clues to their lifestyle and personality?  Now I want to go look at some more pictures!



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