Every once in a while I receive a photo that is difficult–or maybe impossible–to identify. In this case a local gentleman dropped off two photos with the hopes of giving them a good home since they do not depict any of his family members. The photo of the twin baby girls had names on the back and was easy enough for him to confirm. But the other one, a confirmation photo of a young lady, has been a struggle. The photographer on the photo is Mosser from Palatine so, clearly, the young lady is a local girl.
Here’s where it gets interesting though. The photo, oddly enough, has two names on the back. They are “Milly Mess” and “Helena Mueller.” They are written in two different handwritings and in two different colors of ink, with Milly’s name more in the center of the photo.
Where to start? Recognizing the Mess surname, I contacted a member of the family who, indeed, acknowledged her aunt was Emilie (Quindel) Mess or “Millie” for short. Emilie was born on May 14, 1889 in Schaumburg to Charles and Caroline (Busche) Quindel. According to confirmation records for St. Peter Lutheran Church, Emilie was confirmed in 1902 around the time she turned 13. Given the length of the dress in this photo, it is quite probable this photo is from that time period.
Millie married Otto Mess at age 21, eight years after the confirmation photo was taken. Below is a photo we have of Millie in our Local History Digital Archive. She is clearly older than the young lady in the confirmation photo. Do the two photos depict the same young lady? The dates for Millie certainly align with the confirmation photo.
Information for the other young lady took a bit more effort to track down. Mueller can be spelled so many ways in government and church records–Muller, Miller, etc. I tried the census for the years 1900-1920 and did not have any luck. I also tried variations on the first name–Helena, Helen, Helene, etc. I then tried a simple search of Helena Mueller in the Daily Herald and bingo!
There was a reference in an obituary to Helena (Mueller) Heine. Additional obituaries mentioned that she was married to Oscar Heine. With such a distinctive first and last name, I tried searching for him on findagrave.com and there he was. And his wife? Rosa Helene “Helena” Muller Heine. With a photo included on the page! I’d obviously hit the bonanza. And I’ll be darned if she didn’t look very similar to our young lady in the photo above.
The problem is that Helena was born February 17, 1882 in Germany. In talking to the descendant who posted the photo and data on findagrave.com, I was told that Helena was confirmed in 1897 and came to the United States with her husband and son after marrying in 1905. The photo above was taken in 1905 when she was 22 or 23, probably around the time she married. Given her time frame and all of these details, it’s very unlikely that she is the young lady.
So, the mystery remains. Is it Millie? Or more remotely, is it a relative of Helena? Taking a bit of a closer look at the confirmation photo, it looks like the girl’s nose tilts downwards. Millie’s nose does the same thing. Helena’s seems to tilt upwards. However, the young lady’s hair appears to have some wave and curl to it just like Helena’s. In the confirmation photo, the young lady looks more sedate and relaxed. Millie looks more tense and staunch in her photo while Helena has the same relaxed expression as our mysterious young lady.
Until someone comes forward with another copy of the photo it appears we cannot definitively identify the young lady. Whoever she is, her mother must have lovingly sewed her dress–and ironed it!–for the occasion. It’s probably a safe bet that those are new shoes too. Confirmation was a special moment in a young Lutheran girl’s life and it would be a shame to leave her unidentified.
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library
The photo of Helena is used courtesy of the contributor to Helena Heine’s findagrave.com listing. My thanks to C. Debenport for posting the photo and passing on more info about Helena. She shared wonderfully researched information with me as I created this blog posting.