52 Ancestors: Identifying My Oldest Photo

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

For this week’s theme “oldest,” I am featuring my oldest photograph. The photo was included in the box of photos that my sisters and I inherited from our parents. This photograph was taken by a professional photographer named M. Thomas in Shamokin, Pa. (Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania). Initially, this is all that I knew about it.

Andrew Gunther and Eva Meisberger photo by M. Thomas, Shamokin, Pa., ca. 1884. Original photo in possession of the author.

First, I researched the photographer. Myron Thomas founded the Thomas Studio in 1878 in Shamokin, Pennsylvania. Therefore, this photo is more recent than 1878. M. Thomas is nationally known as the photographer who took Thomas Edison’s favorite photo. Please see my post “M. Thomas, Photographer of Thomas Edison’s Favorite Photo.”

A family photo given to me by a cousin includes both Eva Meisberger and Andrew Gunther, my great-grandparents. Eva strongly resembles the young woman in this photo, as does Andrew look like the young man.

My great-grandfather, Andrew Gunther, arrived in America on 2 June 1881. Mary Eva Ann Meisberger (b. 1861, Northumberland County, PA; d. 1941, Northumberland County, PA), who sometimes went by Mary but mostly by Eva, married Andrew [Andreas] C. Gunther (b. 1858, Germany; d. 1931, Northumberland County, PA) in Shamokin, Northumberland County, PA on 11 Feb 1884 at St. Edwards RC Church. Their first child was born 23 December 1884. I began to suspect that this was a photo of Eva Meisberger and Andrew Gunther, possibly taken on their marriage.

I had a session with a photo identification expert about this photo. Based on the style of the suit worn by the male, this photo, taken by M. Thomas, has been dated to the early 1880s, which fits the period of Andrew’s immigration and his marriage to Eva. The man is also wearing very stylish shoes of patent leather and regular leather with buttons. The dress worn by the woman is a functional dress with large pockets to carry items. My experience has been that, particularly in this period, people dressed in their best for a photo taken in a studio. Since the dress has ruffles, it could be her best dress.

This photo may have been taken either at their engagement or to commemorate their wedding in 1884. According to the photo expert, this photo was probably not taken on the actual day of the wedding. My pure speculation but, maybe the photo, which was comparatively expensive in those days, was a gift from Eva’s father.


The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. The prompt takes care of the guesswork of “who I should write about.” This week’s theme is Oldest.

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4 Responses to 52 Ancestors: Identifying My Oldest Photo

  1. Sandie Schwarz says:

    I am curious about the book or possibly a bible, that the young lady is holding. What are your thoughts on this ? Did the photo expert give any insight into this ?

    • Thank you for your comment. I, too, am curious about the book. The photo expert said it wasn’t a bible. I would not expect a bible since this is a Roman Catholic family and owning bibles were not really popular until after Vatican II. I don’t know a single person in my family that owned a bible. What they usually owned was a missal (prayer book) to use at Mass. The expert decided it was not a bible. If it was a prop given by the photographer, it could be anything. If it was personal to her, it may have been her missal. I know what missals look like in the 1940s and later but not how they may have looked in the 1880s.

  2. Barbara Scherer says:

    What a great story; I have no pictures of any of my ancestors, although I am going to subscribe to newspapers.com and might find some there.

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