Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Penny Postals

Herman Koplin (on right) was a first generation German born in Chicago in 1896.  The other young man and the exact year of this photo is unknown. 
 Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Howard

Three “penny postal” photographs have been recently donated to our Chicago Genealogical Society.  “Penny postals” are early 20th century snapshots which were taken by owners of black “box” cameras.  Once photographs were taken, the cameras were returned to Rochester, New York where the film was developed (by the Kodak Company), printed with post card forms on the back, and returned with a roll of unexposed film in the camera.  The developed pictures could then be mailed to friends and relatives by the photographer for one cent each.  Thus the term “penny postal photographs” came into being.

Penny postal photographs were taken all over the city, and many Chicago families may find a few in their family photo archives.  

(Courtesy of Chicago Genealogical Society)

Two of the photographs show five women on a visit to Jackson Park in Chicago on August 2, 1914.  Three of the five women shown in one photograph are identified by name. Two of the ladies were sisters; Anna and Ruth NELSON.  They were children of Gustav and Augusta Nelson.  The family is listed in the 1900, 1910 and 1920 Federal censuses of Chicago.  The Nelson family was living at 1685  88th Place in 1900.  Ruth and her mother are also listed in the 1930 Federal census of Chicago.  They were living at 820 88th Place in the city from before 1920.

The third person in the photograph is that of Daisy WILSON.  Daisy Wilson, born in Chicago in October 1893, was a daughter of Charles and Nellie Wilson.  The 1900 Federal census of Chicago lists the Wilson family as living at 1695 88th Place, just a few doors down from the Nelson family.

Another photograph has identifications of "Mrs. Wilson” and “Daisy Wilson.”  Mrs. Wilson, nee EVERELL and born in Sweden in 1867, was the wife of Charles Wilson.  Charles Wilson was listed in the 1900 census as having the occupation of “steamboat” captain.  By 1930, the family lived at 7817 Champlain in the city.  Nellie Everell Wilson died in Chicago on 20 August 1933. She is buried in the Cedar Park Cemetery on the far south side of the city.
(Courtesy of the Chicago Genealogical Society)

Interestingly, a Wilson family history addition on “Ancestry.Com states that a brother of Daisy Wilson, Archibald, is remembered in that listing as being one of the people who helped in the rescue of survivors of Chicago’s July 1915 “Eastland” sinking in Chicago. Archibald Wilson, a musician, died in Chicago on 6 March 1927 and is buried in Oakwoods Cemetery.

A number of archives of photographs of identified Chicagoans dating from the mid 19th to early 20th century exist and can be accessed by family history researchers.  One such archive is located at the Chicago History Museum.   A listing of individuals within that archive can be accessed by using the on line catalog of the Chicago History Museum (  Another place where researchers can search for ancestor photographs is now at our own Chicago Genealogical Society.  CGS Corresponding Secretary Craig Pfannkuche holds a large number of “carte de Visit” and “Cabinet Card” photographs of Chicagoans who are identified by name which he is willing to search upon request (  As a separate part of that collection, there are a number of such photographs which have, over time, been donated to our Chicago Genealogical Society which Craig will search.

If the reader has any suggestions as to where other archives of 19th century Chicagoan photographs can be found in public and private hands and are accessible to family history researchers, we would appreciated your contacting us about it. Please email  Also, you can share your own digital copies of your family's Penny Postals on our CGS Facebook page.

No comments:

Post a Comment