Then and Now…old photos tell a story

Notice the small number above the doorway entrance to this “mom and pop” shop: #840.  What else does this picture tell us?  It’s a grocery store, presumably owned by the man in the center.  Jello and Lipton’s Tea were already available in neighborhood stores.  Who are the 4 women in this photo and how are they related to him?  Wife?  Sister?  Mother?  Mother-in-law?  Governess? Can we assume that the two older women are widows??? Are all the children his? How can we find the answers to these questions?

Knowing the name of the man in the picture (because some clever relative wrote it on the reverse– you do that, too, right????)  enabled me to find his (gro)cery store in the local 1916 city directory:

It shows Samuel Ortman (r)esided at 858, down the street from his (gro)cery store at 840 20th.  But who is Mrs Sophia Ortman?  His wife or his mother?    In the 1920 Census– a redacted version is shown below– you’ll see that Samuel Ortman (age 62), gro. store (o.a. = own account) lived at 858 20th Street, with wife Shufra (age 55) and mother-in-law Fanny Goldstein (age 82).  It’s the wife who is the store keeper, so now we know that Shufra = Sophia.  We also learn that the couple immigrated in 1885, but Fanny came 2 years later.

Now, let’s do the math!  62 years old in 1920 means in 1900 he was 42 and his wife 35.  Since Jell-O gained nationwide popularity and distribution around 1902, we can assume that this photo was taken around that time, and Mrs. O would still have been the right age to have a young child.  It would also explain why there are no children listed in the 1920 census:  they would have old enough to be married and living on their own.

The picture below shows the building as it exists today. Pretty cool, huh?840 20th St., now

Here are a few other photos that may shed more light:

Since there is only one child in the center photo, I’d say that Mr. and Mrs. Ortman may have had just one son. The other children could be nieces/nephews.  My educated guess is that the lady seated in the photo on the left is his wife’s mother: Fanny Goldstein.  If the young woman in the grocery store photo, just to his left, is his sister Mrs. ? Ortman-XXX, then her mother-in-law (Mrs. XXX) might be the grandmother of the 3 other children seen above.


About Billie Tekel Elias

Author of upcoming book, Pearl's Party...and you're invited.
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2 Responses to Then and Now…old photos tell a story

  1. Pingback: May 18, 1940 | ALL IN YOUR FAMILY

  2. Boomdeeadda says:

    Currently doing a family geno project and your breakdown of that photo was really interesting. I love looking into histories of families and landmarks. Thanks for taking time to post photo of present day house, puts it all into perspective.

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