Circa 1899: Peter Laurence and pals pose for a photo

Sepia Saturday 577. Third in a photo blog series on my maternal Italian ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y.

A blog series featuring photos of my maternal Italian ancestors from this  Laurence-di Lorenzo-Curcio family album. Photo: Molly Charboneau

By 1896, when my Italian great grandfather Peter D. Laurence (née Pietro di Lorenzo) emigrated to the  U.S., studio photography had become well established in and around his new Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. hometown.

Having a likeness or portrait made was no longer exclusively for the rich. Now, the average working person could sit for a portrait at a local photographer’s studio for a reasonable fee — to either keep for themselves or to give or send to loved ones.

A photo of Peter and his pals

So imagine the enthusiasm of Peter and his friends for the new medium and their desire to have a portrait taken together — perhaps on a group outing, since photographer George Kibbe’s studio was located out-of-town in nearby Amsterdam, Montgomery Co., N.Y.

Circa 1899: Peter and pals pose for a photo. My Italian immigrant great-grandfather Peter D. Laurence (di Lorenzo) is third from left in this  studio photo with friends/colleagues. The photographer George Kibbe operated from Amsterdam, Montgomery County, N.Y., not far from where  Peter lived and worked as a leather dresser in nearby Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. Scan by Molly Charboneau

It’s hard to choose what I like best about this picture of Peter and his pals. Is it the white pocket handkerchiefs draped stylishly from their jacket pockets? Or the cigars that three of the four men are holding? Or the symmetry of the men on either side holding their hats, while Peter and his seated friend have their legs crossed in mirror image?

One thing I love is that the photographer seems to have told everyone to look to one side — yet my great-grandfather apparently ignored the instructions and looked straight into the camera lens.

Who were Peter’s pals?

This photo was probably taken around 1899, when Peter also posed for solo portraits before he married. In this photo, he wears a pinkie ring on his left hand, but no wedding band — and none of these men were his in-laws, who appear in later photos. Then who were the other fellows in this photo? And how did Peter know them?

For a high school assignment in the late 1970s, my sister Amy wrote a biographical sketch about our great-grandfather Peter — based on an oral history interview with our mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau — which includes information about his immigration and early years in the U.S.

…unless he met a friend here, he didn’t know anyone. The reason he came was very common, he came for better job opportunities. No one knows where he arrived in the United States, perhaps Ellis Island, but he first settled down and started work in Gloversville, New York. His first job was as a dye master, coloring skins in a skin mill….He worked in the mill for about five years.

Clues in the 1900 U.S. census

Could these men have been friends from Peter’s work at the skin mill? Let’s take a look at the 1900 U.S. population census of Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. — the first one in which Peter appears, four years after his arrival in the U.S.[1]“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MSXT-THQ : accessed 3 July 2021), Peter D Lorendes in household of Petsie … Continue reading

Peter D. Laurence in the 1900 US Census, 5 Washburn St., Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. — Source: FamilySearch[2]FamilySearch requires free login to view records.
Name Age Born Imm.
In U.S. Household Job
Petsie Pierce 25 Italy 1896 4 yrs. Head (with wife & child) Leather dresser
James Ets 24 Italy 1893 7 yrs. Boarder Leather dresser
Peter D Lorendes 27 Italy 1896 4 yrs. Boarder Leather dresser
Patrick Berry 28 Italy 1896 4 yrs. Boarder Leather dresser

As summarized in the table above, in 1900 Peter was living at 5 Washburn St. in Gloversville, N.Y. in the home of Petsie Pierce and family. Apparently my great-grandfather wasn’t the only one victimized by a pronunciation problem — because all the adults in the household, although born in Italy, were enumerated with anglicized surnames.

Friends from back home or the U.S.?

However, what stands out for me is that all four men were in their early twenties, were from Italy, worked as leather dressers — and three of the four, including Peter, had immigrated in 1896.

Circa 1899: Reverse side of Peter and pals photo. Alas, the back of the photo offers no additional clues. Just the rubber stamped signature of my great-grandfather Peter D. Laurence. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Did Peter know them from back home or from the boat? Meet them in the U.S.? Get to know them through work or from boarding together? There’s no way to know for sure — nor to decide that they are the three posing with Peter in this photo. But it certainly is a tantalizing prospect.

Up next: Peter Laurence/di Lorenzo and his brother Antonio. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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References

References
1 “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MSXT-THQ : accessed 3 July 2021), Peter D Lorendes in household of Petsie Pierce,  Gloversville city Ward 6, Fulton, New York, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 17, sheet 4A, family 80, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,037.
2 FamilySearch requires free login to view records.

10 thoughts on “Circa 1899: Peter Laurence and pals pose for a photo”

  1. I enjoyed your observations about the details of the photo. You sound like me. Some day I need to blog about a photo that I have of 2 guys in OVERALLS and hats posed in that jaunty and proud way. They look like they couldn’t afford a professional photo, yet there they were in their work clothes.

    1. I would love to see a blog about your overalls photo. Affordable studio photography opened up portraiture to the masses, and they seemed to have flocked to have their likeness captured — happily for us!

  2. They are well-dressed young men, betraying their occupations. But, everyone needed a suit for church, weddings and funerals. Your great grandfather looks very poised. He reminds me of Omar Sharif with his mustache, dark hair, and good looks.
    Now I’m wondering if you will search and find any useful information in passenger lists!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I also see the resemblance to Omar Sharif! And you have presaged a coming post about passenger lists. Stay tuned.

  3. This is a terrific series on the photos of your great grandfather with lots of fascinating history and intriguing puzzles. Before I read your research, my initial guess on the men’s photo was that they were all good friends celebrating an occasion, especially because of the cigars and handkerchiefs. Was it a boys’ night out to celebrate an engagement?

    I think you are definitely on the right track to suspect they were Peter’s fellow boarders. The photo has such a good sharp quality that you might find a match for one or even all three men in the photo archives of Ancestry.com since you know their names. I’m also fascinated by Peter’s occupation and if the other men worked with him. Here in Asheville there used to be a few tanneries down by the rail yard. Descriptions of the trade in hides and leather make it sound like very harsh work in an odorous and messy environment. Not a place for someone who fancied themselves as a well dressed gentleman.

    1. Thanks, Mike. Now you have me wondering if this group may have been celebrating Peter’s engagement — since he’s the only one with a white tie. Alas, the problem with the names is that they appear to have been anglicized by the census taker and may not be accurate — but worth a try nevertheless. And yes, dye master in a skin mill does sound like toxic work. It’s no wonder Peter moved on from that job after five years.

  4. I liked your introduction on the development in studio photographs for the ordinary family. You image of Peter and friends reminded me of a very similar style photograph in my collection of my great uncle George Danson and friends. Unlike you, I have made no progress in finding out about his friends, but the photograph is a poignant one, as George was killed on the Somme in 1916 a week after his 22nd birthday.

    1. Thanks, Susan. Photography definitely became the portraiture of everyday people — and still is in our digital era. And happily so. How else would we have such memorable photos of our ancestors, such as your great uncle George Danson, to remember them by?

  5. I like the picture. The four are nicely posed. Your great grandfather was a little different in that his tie was white and his slacks, a lighter shade, and then, of course, he looked straight at the camera rather than off to the side as the others are doing. It might mean nothing at all, but I think maybe he was just a bit of an individualist. There’s no doubt at all he was a very handsome young man!

    1. I like your take on my great grandfather Peter — a very handsome individualist. I also can’t get over the use of cigars as props — perhaps as a symbol of rugged individualism or a bon vivant touch to indicate a celebratory occasion.

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