Tag Archives: photographs

Fascinating Headdress – where is this family from?

My post Who’s in that photo? from September received a comment today from Jane, who had a photo she couldn’t figure out as well. She knew the names of the people in the photo (they were her great-grandfather’s sisters), but didn’t understand the significance of the massive bows on their heads. She asked if it was a fashion thing, or perhaps a religious requirement? Someone suggested to her that it might be a Jewish headdress, and thus she was asking here for advice on the photo.

Here’s the photo, one of the more interesting family photos I’ve seen:

Now first let me say, nothing about the bows looked familiar to me. I’m not an expert on Jewish headdress or historical fashion, but I was pretty sure this was not a specifically Jewish headdress.

So what is its significance? Considering all three sisters are wearing the same headdress, my initial guess was that it would not be simply a fleeting fashion choice, but had to have some cultural or religious significance. How many sisters do you know who otherwise would wear the same outfits?

I can’t say for sure that I know the origin of these bows, but I suspect from the research I did that these are in fact Alsatian headdresses called schlupfkàpp (a ‘bow cap’). In the 19th century the region of Alsace-Lorraine developed a unique form of headdress that lasted into the 1940s before mostly disappearing. Early in the 19th century the bows were relatively small, but apparently the bows grew in size until they peaked in size around the turn of the century, exactly when Jane’s photo was taken.

Here are a few examples of the style:

1919 illustration of traditional Alsatian costumes (Wikimedia Commons)
Husband with wife in traditional Alsatian costume, about 1875 (Christ Family)
Three sisters in Alsatian folk dress (Flickr)
Most sources point out that single women wore these bows in specific colors indicating their religion – Protestants wore Black bows, and Catholics wore brightly colored ones, usually Red. Apparently after marriage both Protestants and Catholics would wear black bows. One source I found mentioned that Jews wore Lavender bows, although I haven’t found any other reference for that fact.

I certainly can’t determine the color of the bows in Jane’s photograph since it’s black and white, so even though they seem black to me that might not be the case. I also can’t read the location of the studio where the photograph was taken, although it could have been taken anywhere (although if it is in Alsace-Lorraine that would certainly seem to confirm my guess).

What I would suggest for Jane is to try to contact someone who knows about traditional Alsatian costumes. One other reason to do this, especially if Jane does not know what town her family came from, would be to determine the specific type of headdress her family members were wearing. Apparently the style of the bows varied from village to village, and it might be possible for someone to figure out the region or even the specific town by seeing the style of the bow.

One place to look is the Alsace Tourism web site, which has a section on Alsatian Costume. The web site even has a map showing the origin of specific headdresses in Alsace. The site also links to two different cultural groups and the Alsatian Museum in Strasbourg, all of which might be able to help figure out the specific origin of the bows in Jane’s photo. Another option if Jane doesn’t know where her great-grandfather came from is to track down his origin and seeing if he tracks back to a town in Alsace-Lorraine. If he moved to the US, she can using the techniques I wrote up previously in my article Finding Information on US Immigrants.

Certainly, this is an interesting example of using family photographs to locate the origin of a family. Even if the photo was taken in London or Chicago, it would still point to the family coming from Alsace-Lorraine and may even (with some expert help) point to the specific region or town. Of course, I don’t have a lot of information about the family and could be totally off-base. I’m sure everyone reading this would appreciate if Jane would post in the comments if my guess is right and she confirms the origin of the headdress (and her family) as coming from Alsace-Lorraine.

Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during World War I. His family had fled their homes in Galicia, then a region of Austria, and fled to the capital city to avoid the invading Russian army. His brothers, one born before him in 1911, and one after him in 1921, were both born in the Galician town of Rzeszow, known in Yiddish as Reisha.

In 1927 the family moved to Antwerp, Belgium, seeking a better life and perhaps more stable situation. As I’ve written about before, Antwerp and Belgium in general received many many Jewish immigrants during the interwar years, among them my family (my grandfather’s future wife also made her way around the same time to Antwerp from Rzeszow).

In 1927 my grandfather was of course 12 years old, and he lived in Antwerp until 1940, when he was 25. Those were, no doubt, formative years for him. I know many stories about his time there, and have found documents hinting at others in the Police des Étrangers files I’ve found. I know just a couple of years after he arrived, after his father died, he ran a watch shop near the docks of the Antwerp port, helping support his family even though he was only 14 at the time. I know he used his US citizenship to travel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and helped younger cousins get out of the country, as the Germans still respected a US passport (they probably hoped the US would side with them in the upcoming war). One thing I don’t really know about, however, is what kind of social life he had. Some years ago he told me he bumped into an elementary school classmate of his from Belgium in New York, and he had recognized my grandfather even all those years later. He later sent my grandfather a class photo showing both of them. When researching family we sometimes forget that our relatives spent much of their time, especially when they were teenagers and young adults, with their friends instead of their family. It’s part of what defined them and made them who they were.

In this light, some recent photographs I discovered at my grandfather’s apartment are particularly interesting. I have no idea who anyone in the photos are other than my grandfather. If you had relatives born during WWI and who lived in Antwerp in the 1930s, perhaps they’re among the people in these photos.

My grandfather is sitting on the bottom right


My grandfather in the middle with the white shirt


My grandfather isn’t in this photo, but it was together with the others


My grandfather is on the right. The man on the left was his friend.


Is this Baden in Germany? or is that booth to buy a ticket? My grandfather in on the left.


My grandfather sitting in the front

Know anyone in these photos?

Concerning the last photo, it raises an interesting question. Do you you think the man on the top right looks like Itzik Manger, the famous Yiddish poet? Here’s a side by side, showing a close-up of the above person, and a photo of Itzik Manger from the YIVO Encyclopedia:

Right, Itzik Manger. Left, Maybe Manger?

I’m not an expert on Yiddish poets, and would never have thought of it, except in researching a distant cousin Golda I discovered she had once been married to (and divorced from) this famous poet from Romania. I never knew if this cousin even knew my grandfather, but if this Itzik Manger, perhaps this is evidence. Therefore is it possible that the woman he’s got his arm on is Golda, my grandfather’s cousin? or one of the other women in the photo? Here’s a picture of Golda:

Golda, my grandfather’s second cousin once-removed

So what do you think? Is that Itzik Manger? Is that my grandfather’s cousin with him on the beach, possibly in Knokke, a favorite vacation spot? The picture of Golda is obviously of an older woman than in the photo on the beach, but that makes sense sine the photo of Golda was taken in 1939, when she was 35 (she was born in 1904). In the beach photo my grandfather looks like a teenager, so it could have been 1930 or shortly thereafter.

Itzik Manger survived the war and eventually moved to Israel. My grandfather’s cousin, however, likely died during the war, although I’ve found no direct evidence of that. All I know is she shows up in the first register of Jews in Belgium in 1940 after the Germans invaded, but not in the later registration done in 1942. She doesn’t show up in deportation lists, which recorded all those deported from Belgium to Auschwitz, so she either escaped Belgium or was killed. If she escaped, perhaps she changed her name and the trail was lost, or perhaps she escaped from Belgium only to be killed later in the war – certainly a possibility.

L’Shana Tova (from 1948)

As Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) begins tonight, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a happy and healthy new year, or more traditionally L’Shana Tova (for a good year).

I also wanted to share a great new years card I found when scanning a cousin’s photographs. The card was sent from a cousin who lived in Israel to a cousin who lived in Europe. The card was sent in 1948. Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, and Rosh Hashanah that year started the evening of October 3. This card, which depicts the moment of the Declaration of Independence with David Ben Gurion in the middle (under the portrait of Theodor Herzl), was probably a popular card that year.

Rosh Hashanah card from Israel in 1948
So to everyone who reads this blog, happy new year from Israel 64 years later.