My paternal great-grandfather Ray Shearer continues to prove a mystery. I’ve never seen a photo of him, and until today I’ve found only a single artifact associated with him: a letter he wrote to his son on July 2, 1932. Today I found three more objects associated with Ray, as well as an unidentified photo postcard that might be of Ray, his sister, and their mother.
The first postcard was postmarked December (25?), 1908, from ___dyville, Iowa (possibly Braddyville, Iowa), and was from Ray’s aunt Cynthia. Cynthia is Ray’s father’s older sister, Cynthia Anne Shearer Maxwell (1863–1926). Ray’s father died traumatically when Ray was less than 2½ years old, of injuries suffered from a fall off of a roof onto a stump.
Dear nephew how are you this leaves us all well. as usual mother is well as she ever is I expect you are almost a man now cant you send me your picture. Write me a big letter soome day in the near future Your aunt, Cynthia
So it seems I’m not the only one who’s tried to get a photo of Ray.
Ray would have been 13½ years old, and was living with his 11-year-old sister Anita, their 33-year-old mother Mary Belle Coddington, her 43-year-old second husband Milton “Bert” Stokes, and three half-siblings: Vernon Thomas Stokes (7½ years old), Zelia Faye Stokes (almost 6 years old), and Glenna Irene Stokes (2 years old). Cynthia would have been 45 years old.
The second postcard is dated January 1, 1914 or 1915(?), and was postmarked in Salina, Kansas, on January 3(?), 1916(?). I’m guessing that it was written on January 1, 1916, but was accidentally dated January 1, 1915. It was written by a friend of Ray’s named J. E. Lasp(?). It reads:
Mr Ray Shear Dear friend how are you all is fine here am working every day from a friend J. E. Lasp Salina Kans
Ray would have been 21 years old when he received this, and had been married to Catalina “Lena” Edel for 9 months already. They had no children yet, as their first child (Vernon Cornelius) wasn’t born until December 24, 1916. Ray and Lena’s marriage certificate is to the right, showing that they were living at the address given as his mother’s (Bogue, Kansas, Rural Route #2) when they got married on March 17, 1915. Perhaps they were living with his mother and step-father, or perhaps they were just living nearby.
The third postcard, a birthday greetings postcard, is undated and is from someone named Berthena Veatch to Ray:
Berthena Tammany Veatch was born in April, 1899, to Charles and Dorsey Veatch, and at the time of the 1910 census, they were living in Walton township, Rooks County, Kansas, just five houses away from Daniel Coddington and family. Daniel Coddington was Ray’s maternal uncle. Perhaps they knew each other from visits to family in Walton? Perhaps she’s a cousin or more distant relative?
Finally, I found this photo postcard in the same stack of cards as I found the three postcards to Ray Shearer.
The “Frank Black’s relatives?” annotation is in my grandmother’s hand, and tells me that they probably got this photo postcard from Lena Black’s house after she died on December 23, 1978. She and Frank were both savers of family photos and letters. If it’s from Lena’s house, it could be from the Edel family, the Black family, or the Shearer family. It could also be from family friends, but the lack of an inscription makes me think that’s not the case.
They don’t look like my Dutch relatives on the Edel side, so I’m guessing that these people are either from the Black family or the Shearer family. I do not have nor do I know of any identified photos of any of the Shearer family, but I do have a fair number of photos of members of the Black family.
My cousin Sharon suggested that this might be a photo of Perry Commodore Black (1867–1947), which would mean that the girl is probably his older sister Ida May Black (1865–1942), and the woman is their mother, Ruth Jane Tucker Black (1841–1915). I only have one (blurry) photo of Perry as a young man (shown at the right), and I can’t tell if it’s the same person or not. The girl doesn’t look like the photos I have of Ida May (also shown in the photo to the right), differing in aspects of the eyes, nose, and hair, but not enough for me to rule her out. The older woman, on the other hand, looks very much like Ruth Black (compare also with the photo at the right). If this is a photo of Perry, and if he’s about 18 years old in the photo, then the photo dates to about 1885.
I’m still hoping that this is a photo of Ray Shearer, his younger sister Anita Fern Shearer (1897–1981), and their mother Mary Belle Coddington Stokes (1875–1922). If this is a photo of Ray, and if Ray is about 18 years old in the photo, then the photo dates to about 1913.
Thus the two hypothesized identifications of the photo place the date of the photo about 30 years apart—either around 1885 or around 1913. I referred to my copy of Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840–1900 to see what sorts of dating clues I might get from what the subjects are wearing. In this volume the author states that, “by 1880 all vestiges of the old, oversized, loose sack coat had disappeared from favor, and the short sacks were much more narrowly fitted, with narrow sleeves set high on the shoulder…. Lapels were extremely narrow and small, as the coat was made to be closed high at the throat, barely showing the necktie. Even a photograph of a poor, elderly man no longer shows the oversize coat style.” By 1915, in contrast, men’s lapels were wider and longer. The lapels seem to support the 1913 date.
I haven’t been able to find anything else about their hair, clothing, or accessories that could help me distinguish between 1885 and 1913.
Turning to the back of the postcard, I looked for anything that might help date the postcard.
There really wasn’t much to go on besides typeface and the mysterious “AZO” markings around the area for the stamp. From what I’ve been able to determine, “AZO” indicates that the photo postcard was printed on a specific type of paper—Kodak Professional AZO Paper. Kodak appears to have started making this paper in 1904, and they finally discontinued making it in 2005. Thankfully, they varied the style of the stamp box over time (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4):
|1904–1918||4 triangles, one in each corner, pointing up|
|1907–1909||4 diamonds, one in each corner|
|1918–1930||2 triangles pointing up and 2 triangles pointing down|
|1926–1940s||4 squares, one in each corner|
The stamp box on this photo postcard has four triangles, all pointing up, so that provides strong evidence that this photo postcard was printed between 1904 and 1918.
On the basis of the AZO stamp box and the style of the lapel on the young man, it’s more likely that the photo was taken circa 1913 rather than circa 1885.
So this could very well be a photo of a not-yet-married Ray Shearer (1895–1937), his younger sister Anneta Fern “Anita” Shearer (1897–1981), and their mother, Mary Belle Coddington Stokes (1875–1922). While an exciting prospect, this identification is far from conclusive.
If this is either Perry Black and family or Ray Shearer and family, it is an incomplete photo of the siblings of each family. If this is Perry, where is younger brother Frank Black (who would have been about 7 years old)? If this is Ray, where are younger half-siblings Vernon Thomas Stokes (11–12 years old), Zelia Faye Stokes (10), Glenna Irene Stokes (6–7), and Thelma Tracy Stokes (1 year old)? As this is a studio photograph, and as the photographer’s studio was likely to have been in a larger town, perhaps this represented a special trip to town with the mother and her oldest children?
What do you think? Do you recognize any of these people? Do you know of other plausible candidates for the subjects of this photo? Do you know of other identified photos of people who look like any of these people?