Finding “–oolittle”

Chris and I made a fun discovery this weekend. In sorting through boxes of old family memorabilia, we came across a an old small metal frame with two  19th century family photos. I remember seeing that frame standing on an end table in our living room throughout my childhood, and my mother had it on a shelf near her chair in the living room of her apartment later on.

Burke family ancestors (photo by Lee McIntyre)
Burke family ancestors (photo by Lee McIntyre)

The photo on the right   – the one of the 3 young women – looks like a snapshot taken outside.

But the other photo is clearly a formal studio portrait of a woman in her 20s or 30s; she’s all dressed up in a fine dress and beads.  The photo has even been slightly tinted with a touch of color added to her cheeks.

Louise Hynes Burke, 1847-1887. (photo by Lee McIntyre)
Louise Hynes Burke, 1847-1887. (photo by Lee McIntyre)

The woman in this photo is my great, great grandmother,  Louise Hynes Burke, born 1847, died 1887. On the back of Louise’s photo there is no handwriting, but there are  remnants of the photographer’s studio information.  Most of the photographer’s advertising was still stuck on it but with a few gaps where the backing had worn off, and also where the photo had been cut into an oval to fit into the frame:

Back of Louise Burke's photo
Back of Louise Burke’s photo

From what we could make out, the name of the photographer seemed to be

“-oolittle”  in   “–ockton –llinos.”

Chris and I surmised the photographer’s name could possible be “Doolittle,”  and the place name “Rockton, Illinois” .

[Ok, well, to be fair, our/my first guess was actually Stockton, not Rockton  for the town name in Illinois.  But then we remembered that my ancestors lived in a town called Rockton.]

But the really fun part is that based on our investigation, we are guessing that the photographer, Doolittle, was quite likely a woman named Sarah K. Doolittle. Yes, the photo was likely taken by a female photographer! How fun is that, eh?

As it turns out “Miss S. K. Doolittle” was a long-time photographer, starting out her career  in Belvidere, Illinois, later relocating across the Rock River  to Beloit, WI. Miss Doolittle  also simultaneously ran multiple branches in nearby towns, too. Sarah Doolittle  eventually  married  another photographer, and together they continued to run a photography studio in Beloit for many years.

Now, in all honesty, Chris and I haven’t yet tracked down anything that shows that Miss Doolittle indeed ran a studio in Rockton itself.  The photo of Louise Burke has to have been taken prior to her death in 1887, of course, but there are no city directories nor newspapers available online for Rockton  from the relevant period. However, Rockton is in that same part of Illinois as Belvidere, IL, and we haven’t found other photographers name Doolittle operating  in that area at that time.

So, it is at least extremely plausible that Louise Burke had her photo taken in a studio run by an early woman artisan photographer.

This is now our second family photo taken by a female photographer. Chris’ grandmother had her picture taken at a studio run by a couple in Medford, Oregon:

39 – The Peasleys – Part 1

Sometimes it pays to sort through all that family memorabilia…

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