A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards from the early 20th century.

2013-02-22

Sepia Saturday: Unknown

“All lovers of old photographs are familiar with unknown people, unknown families and unknown places, we all have them in our collection, and Sepia Saturday 165 provides an opportunity to give them their moment in the limelight, not because of who they are but because of who they may be.”

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Among my old family albums there is one with lots of unknown faces and places in it. I think it probably belonged to my grandmother’s half-sister Gerda – one of the “cast” in this blog. There are some photos of her in that album, and some of family members I recognize; but also many people I don’t know at at all.

The first photo is the very first one in the “unknown” album. I think the woman in the middle may be Gerda herself. Further on in the same album I found the other photo from the same room. Different occasion. Three people seem to be the same. Two are different. No Gerda.

It’s looks like a rather stylish house, doesn’t it, with that ornamented fireplace?

I’m thinking maybe a family she worked for… And kept in touch with afterwards??

To sum up what I know about Gerda so far:

She emigrated to America in 1902 (at age 21), worked as a servant at a few different addresses in Chicago for about 10 years (one of those positions was in the household of a rather prominent man in Chicago, dr Otto L. Schmidt – she is registred as servant in his house in the 1910 US population census). Around 1913 (age 32) she was back in Sweden, at least for a visit. But she continued to travel in Europe during the first world war and in the 1920’s. From a relative I learned that she worked as lady’s maid/travel companion to rich English ladies.

In the 1930’s and onwards (age 50+), she was housekeeper to the family of Swedish diplomat Folke Bernadotte (of the royal family) and his American wife Estelle Manville-Bernadotte. Folke and Estelle got married in 1928, and made their home in Stockholm.  (Possibly Gerda worked for Estelle or the Manville family even before the marriage. Among old photos there is also a press cutting of a photo from the wedding, cut from an American magazine.)

Folke Bernadotte was tragically assassinated in 1948 in Jerusalem. Gerda (then 67) remained with Estelle Bernadotte, I think for the rest of her (Gerda’s) life – which was a long one, as she lived to be nearly 92. Estelle eventually married again, but that was not until the same year Gerda died, 1973 (and Estelle herself was 69).

What do you think? Is the woman in the middle the same as young Gerda to the left, and old Gerda to the right?

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The photo to the right shows Gerda wearing a royal medal.  When did she get it? I’m guessing in connection with her 75th birthday, 1956. And/or 25 or 30 years of service to a royal(ly connected) family. Mid/late 50s anyway, as she’s sitting in my grandfather’s chair which got for his 50th birthday in 1954. And it was he who took that photo.

I’ve not been able to find any list of old medals on the internet, only more recent ones given to famous people. Gerda, in spite of the medal, belongs to the Unknown.

25 comments:

  1. I think the three photos are of the Gerda. It sounds like she had a most interesting life, living
    all over the world. She must have had excellent skills to have found employment with wealthy and even royal families. Excellent photos.

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    1. Helen, as far as I know my great-aunt never had any formal secondary education, she must have been keen and quick to learn from experience though.

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  2. Was that some kind of sewing bee going on in the first photo? And why was the man brought in? Just to read?

    I agree that the three photos seem to be the same person. The part in the hair is the same, not that it would be the conclusive factor, but there's something about the youngest woman's mouth that looks like it would have aged into the 2nd and 3rd mouth.

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  3. I think all three photos are of Gerda. Her nose looks the same and also her mouth. That's interesting about the medal. It seems that there should be info on that medal somewhere.
    Nancy

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    1. I suppose there must be old records somewhere. Maybe I could try to ask at the town library if they know where/how to search for that kind of info.

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  4. Yes, I think all three are the same person. Her ear lobes are the same.
    Is it possible that Gerda is wearing someone else's medal - her father's perhaps?

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    1. No, the medal was Gerda's, and to do with her having served in the Bernadotte family. I remember (vaguely) hearing about it in childhood because of that portrait of her wearing it.

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  5. The photos are just beautiful and yes I think it is the same person in all three photos.

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  6. Gerda obviously deserved her medal. She must have had an interesting life. The two room scenes are intriguing I found myself studying the barometer and the painting as well as the people. But it was Gerda's story and those last three photos that made this post.

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  7. It looks to be the same lady to me. Same nose, mouth and air of confidence.

    She must have had an interesting life and many stories to tell.

    Very interesting photos. The house is lovely.

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  8. I think they are the same person.

    In the second photo, everything looks perfectly placed and posed like a stage set.

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  9. What a wonderful home. It looks like they are all Gerda to me. She kept her hair parted the same way throughout the years. Very interesting information in your post.

    Kathy M.

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  10. I love these photos - the setting is a treasure. I agree with earlier comments noting the similarity in earlobes and hair part. Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Do those medals have records behind them? There must be some way to find out what it was for. Nice photos. I have a few "living room" shots from old photo albums and I too enjoy seeing how the homes were appointed.

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    1. See my reply to barbara and nancy above. Maybe I'll investigate further some time, if I get round to it.

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  12. These are wonderful pictures. I am curious about what they are sewing.

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  13. I wouldn't like to comment on whether all three are the same person, but I still found this post fascinating. The photos are amazingly clear and detailed.

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    1. Yes I think the photos must have been taken by an experienced photographer.

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  14. These are great photos for the game of "Spot the Difference". I agree that it is likely Gerda because the smiles are so alike, and it follows my theory that a person's photo smile tends to be consistent as they age.

    The interior decorations look more European than American. The fireplace is too ornate for an American home. The young woman in the first photo has an apron and an armband. A nurse perhaps?

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    1. My guess is that it's a Swedish home, even if I can't identify any of the other people. Can't be just any average home though, with that fireplace and servants!

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  15. Thanks everyone for your comments. I feel reassured now by all the support that it must be Gerda in the first photo. :) The original photos are rather small so it wasn't until I got it enlarged on the computer that it struck me that it could be her!

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  16. The photographs are so rich in detail, you can read them like a book. As for the three faces, I am going to be awkward and say that I don't think the middle one is the same as the other two.

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  17. I'm very curious is that a runner they're making, or sewing on? These photos are really exceptional, very nice. I think I have to agree too, that they are the same woman.

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  18. The doorway is not nearly as obvious in the first photo, because of the curtains which disguise it. I'm guessing the two occasions were some time apart to account for the redecoration, which included the additional carpet extending out into the hall.

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