The original Lucy

Just when one thought we might be done with John and Lucy Lee…

When I began to research the life of John E. Lee, I was fortunate when a photograph surfaced purporting to be that of his wife, my great-great-grandmother Lucy Melinda (Nestle) Lee.[1] For me, a photograph of my primordial Lucy was a real prize. Hard to find, it was a photograph procured through more than just my own efforts, thanks to the amazing connections we all make with our distant cousins.

Though the copy of the photograph wasn’t labeled, and the photographer’s mark was missing from my copy, I was comfortable with the identification of its subject as Lucy (Nestle) Lee. I was familiar with the research of the cousin who’d supplied me with the picture knowing his work to be well considered if not complete. This cousin also supplied me with the “source” for the photograph, a person who turned out to be the wife of an another great-great-grandson of John and Lucy’s. I was satisfied that I had a proper identification for “Lucy.”

However recently, and in light of my last post Possibilities, the correct identification of Lucy Lee has come into question, and yes, it has been a bit of a ‘sticky wicket.’ As my Grandmother Record would have said, “Another country heard from…,” meaning that someone else, in this case another third cousin, has voiced a rightful and dissenting opinion, claiming the old photograph is not [Mrs.] Lucy Lee at all, but rather her daughter, Lucy Lee. Having two Lucys and only one photograph is not going to work for me, so I have reinvestigated (and hopefully re-verified) the identity of the woman in the photograph – with few clues to go on.

The earliest mention of De Young’s I could find was 1884.

Having only hand-me-down memories to consult, verifying the identities of those long dead in antique photographs can be a challenging task. With regard to Lucy, it has meant that I must re-visit the previous information used to identify her. I trusted the party who had supplied me with the picture “second hand,” so I decided to contact the cousin(s) who had made the identification of Lucy for him. This cousin graciously replied, sending me a copy of their original un-cropped photograph, along with the following explanations:

“…when Grandma Margie —– passed away and [they] were going through her stuff. The photo had written on it “Lucy Nestle Lee,” [then] someone erased that and wrote the name “Lucy Lee Evans

“…the photo was taken at DeYoung’s located at 815 Broadway, N.Y…  Lucy (Lee) [Potter] Evans was not in NY at any time…”

“…by all that I have found, I believe the photo to be Lucy (Nestle) Lee, the information that was first written on the photo  and [with] nothing showing that Lucy (Lee) Evans was ever in N.Y. as a young woman, [this] makes me believe that the photo is Lucy (Nestle) Lee.”

With this explanation in hand, I wondered what clues might be found in the copy of the un-cropped photograph. The imprinted address of DeYoung’s photography studio was interesting to me. How long had DeYoung had kept a studio at 815 Broadway? DeYoung’s studio, a somewhat noteworthy establishment, moved locations several times, changing from this “815” address about 1890. The earliest mention of De Young’s I could find was 1884. Keeping in mind the address of “815 Broadway,” I have a general (though still uncertain) time frame for this picture as 1884-1889. These are some of the questions I am still grappling with:[2]

Mrs. Lucy Lee would have ranged in age from 34 to 38 years old during this time period. Is the original Lucy in the single portrait in her mid-thirties? And how is it that John Lee’s wife, widowed in the Colorado of 1885, is in New York City at any time between 1884 and 1888?[3]

Lucy Lavina (Lee) (Potter) Evans, second from left (1870-1916), ca. 1900. Courtesy of cousins Arline Feit Wagner and Jerry Sandoval

Miss Lucy Lee would have ranged in age from 14 to 19 years old during this time period. Is the original Lucy in the single portrait in her teen age years? And what would a newly-wedded Colorado mountain girl with a new baby, Maude Lavina Potter (b. 1885), be doing in New York City?

Or, are these just photographic circumstances where mother and daughter (and women of the family in general) bear a strong resemblance to one another? I have but one ace left to play – a great-granddaughter of Lucy (Nestle) Lee is still living; she might solve this mystery once and for all. Indeed, if not, this is a case where I must turn it over to the Wisdom of the Crowd, as I hope for a better identification of Lucy, and an understanding of both women called Lucy Lee, and the lives they led.[4]

Notes

[1] Lucy Melinda (Nestle) Lee (1850–1888) – an original cropped copy of her photograph without the photographer’s mark was supplied to me about 2015.

[2] Trow’s New York City Directory, for the year ending May 1, 1889, as per langdonroad.com

[3] De Young’s studio is also noteworthy for having taken a picture of the Sundance Kid, who along with his friend Butch Cassidy is alleged to have had strong ties with the Bassett family of Colorado. Mrs. Lucy Lee was in residence with a Dr. George Bassett in 1885 – bringing about a perhaps coincidental association between Lucy Lee, DeYoung’s photography studio, the Bassett family, and the infamous outlaws. Mrs. Lee died 19 September 1888.

[4] Wisdom of the Crowd, Algorithm Entertainment, CBS Universal; a recent television program premised on solving crime or mystery through the analytics of participatory social media.

Jeff Record

About Jeff Record

Jeff Record received a B.A. degree in Philosophy from Santa Clara University, and works as a teaching assistant with special needs children at a local school. He recently co-authored with Christopher C. Child, “William and Lydia (Swift) Young of Windham, Connecticut: A John Howland and Richard Warren Line,” for the Mayflower Descendant. Jeff enjoys helping his ancestors complete their unfinished business, and successfully petitioned the Secretary of the Army to overturn a 150 year old dishonorable Civil War discharge. A former Elder with the Mother Lode Colony of Mayflower Descendants in the State of California, Jeff and his wife currently live with their Golden Retriever near California’s Gold Country where he continues to explore, discover, and research family history.

18 thoughts on “The original Lucy

  1. Hi, I am a novice in identifying photos or analyzing them. My first thought to pinpointing the age of the Lucy in your photo is this: would a young lady of nineteen have started “putting her hair up” or would that custom have been abandoned by then? And at what age would a Midwestern young lady be of age, even if married and a widow, to start “putting her hair up.” If your younger Lucy adhered to this custom, then your thirtyish Lucy would certainly have passed that milestone in her life and most likely be the woman in your photo. I see, as an example, the younger woman to left of Lucy Lavinia Lee has her hair down, if you enlarge the photo on your screen. What striking features they have!!! Beautiful and strong!

    1. Thanks Judy – I hadn’t considered Lucy’s hair style. I think you make a great point. It does seem to be the style of a more mature woman. Judy you have a good eye for this!

  2. I considered hair style first. If younger Lucy has been raised in the West, she’s more likely to begin putting her hair up at around age 18. What I see is the hand and the cheek. This does not look like the hand of a woman who has homesteaded at any time in her life, unless you can show an in-house servant at all times. Neither does the cheekbone have the definition usually found in frontier women in their mid-thirties. Also, there doesn’t seem to be a wedding ring. Just a few thoughts.

    1. Interesting comment about the condition of this woman’s hand…though a wedding ring would have been on the hand that’s not visible.

  3. Another consideration is the dress Lucy is wearing. It looks to me like a style which was fashionable in 1888 with the front apron-like draped overskirt. Also typical of that time were fitted long sleeves, and the hairstyle on the top of her head.

    This is a good reference book: “ Dressed for the Photographer,” by Joan Severa. See page 438-9 in particular.

    If Lucy (Nestle) Lee was born in 1850 and died in 1888 at age 38, that photo could be a woman aged in her late 30s, and be consistent with the dress she is wearing. Why she was in New York is certainly curious, but as you pointed out, she would be much more likely to be in New York than the younger Lucy (Lee) (Potter) Evans.

  4. Keep in mind that this photo might be neither woman. I have found that often when sharing a photo, the gift-giver would put the name of the recipient on the back. It was assumed the recipient would know who the subject of the photo was.

    1. Bonnie – Thank-you for this very real possibility. It did cross my mind that this could be the case insofar as the writing on the front of the picture might be just for the intended recipient (in this case “Lucy”) – and not an identifier. This scenario would further confuse if again “sender and receiver” were related and bore any strong likeness to one another!

  5. I have the book Carole suggests, and it is a good reference. It has helped me narrow down the time period of most photos, especially those of my great grandmother taken throughout her life, even those which were originally “mislabeled.” Sometimes an incorrect label is more confusing than no label! Good luck, Jeff!

    1. Samuel Grey Potter married Lucinda Kinkade–makes me wonder how many times the name Potter will show up in my Ancesters. The name Potter shows up in three different trees in my family. hmmm.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Maybe someone with expertise in 19th century American photography can answer this question: Is it possible that DeYoung employed traveling darkroom or “field photographers” around the country and simply used cabinet cards with his studio logo from New York City? Many of those backdrop scenes used by traveling photographers make it appear that a photograph was taken inside an actual studio, when in fact they were taken inside a tent or outside in open air!

    I found one ad for DeYoung’s that claimed his gallery was the “largest photographic establishment in New York City” circa 1902. By then he had moved to 857 Broadway.

    Good Luck!

    1. Alane, I wondered about this also – a “photo franchise” so to speak. That actually would be a big help because then I could rule wondering why either of these two “Colorado Lucys” would have been in NYC. – Many thanks!

  7. I think she is Mrs. Lucy Lee. She appears to be 30-something years old in original portrait photo which looks to me (judging by fashion) to have been taken between 1883 and 1889. I still have old photos, too, I’m trying to date and it isn’t easy! I have the book “Family Photo Detective” by Maureen A. Taylor which helps a little. Would love to know of other recommended titles.

    1. I agree — in my quite inexpert opinion, judging from the appearance of the faces of the two Lucys, I think the photo shows a woman in her 30s, not at all an old teenager about age 19. Further, despite the resemblance of the women in the two photos, I don’t think they’re the same woman.

      As for the written ascription, it could help to know who wrote the name on the photo and who erased it. Was the first, erased ascription in the same hand as the second ascription? Was the person who wrote the erased ascription someone who would know who the woman in the picture was?

  8. Have you considered that the photo might not have been taken in New York? Just because the studio address is on the folio doesn’t meant the photographer didn’t take those with him/her on a trip out west.

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