No, not that kind. At least not here. It’s genealogy I’m cozying up to.
One of my research goals in 2013 is to learn when, where, and on what occasion the formal portrait of my grandparents and great aunts and uncles featured in the header of this blog was taken. My mother identified all the participants on the back of the picture and, on a separate family tree, noted their birth dates. I now have most of their death dates too, as well as the dates of birth — and sometimes death — for their children, but haven’t yet explored much about family occasions like weddings or bar mitzvahs.
Come to think of it, I don’t even know if Viennese Jews had bar mitzvahs.
So maybe it’s putting the cart before the horse — that is, once I learn more about family events, it might be easier to make an informed guess — but that picture has been hanging in my hallway since my mother died in 1991 and it’s begun nagging at me. Today I’m going to ruminate on the year in which it might have been taken; I’ll work on which occasion next.
For more information on these families — and another picture for reference if you don’t want to keep scrolling up and down — see the Family Trees section.
The Age Range of the Siblings
Many country fairs and carnivals have barkers whose game is to guess your age and weight, which always seemed odd to me. I’m not going to try that here; I’ll just present the information as one piece of the puzzle.
The youngest sibling, Ernestine (aka my grandmother), was born in 1885. The oldest, Siegmund (aka Freud’s butcher), was born in 1868. I don’t think Siegmund looks 17 years older than his youngest sister, Ernestine, do you? I just noticed that my grandmother’s oldest brother looks a bit like her husband, Hermann Rosenbaum. But that’s neither here nor there.
Their birth years, going from left to right: Ernestine (1885), Mizzi (1883), Resi (1881), Anna (1877), Berta (1873), Siegmund (1868), Martin (1875), Rudolf (1880).
The sisters are arranged from youngest to oldest, the men from oldest to youngest. I have no idea why, do you?
The Grandparents Guide
I don’t have many other pictures of the family in Vienna besides the group picture, but I do have a few of my grandparents.
Here is Ernestine Rosenbaum with my mother, Henriette, ca. 1915:
Here is Hermann Rosenbaum in 1916:
And here are all three, in 1938.
Also, one of the brothers, Martin, died in 1935. It’s safe to say, then, that the group picture was taken somewhere between 1918 — when my grandfather would have come back from World War I — and 1935.
The Fashion Guide
Based on the women’s shoes — all of which are remarkably alike, though they’re obscured in the photo — I’d have to guess the picture was taken in the 1920s. According to the Vintage Inspired Clothing blog, “the biggest fashionable shoe style of the 1920’s was the T-strap or the T-bar heeled pump. The side strap closed at on side with a button or sometimes two.”
This would put the siblings’ ages between late 30s and early 50s, which seems reasonable.
The rest of the women’s clothing is no help, at least to me. Hemlines, necklines, purses — and why doesn’t Mally Kornmehl have one? — are all over the fashion spectrum. So are the hairstyles.
It would be useful to know more about their life circumstances, aside from the fact that the three women on the right were married to butchers and the one with the white fox boa was married to a cafe owner. They all seem reasonably affluent and therefore able to afford nice clothing, but were they dowdy matrons — only Mizzi Schmerling, second from the left, looks at all glamorous — dressing up in older clothing for a special occasion, or was this the height of Viennese style? Viennese Jewish style? Viennese Jewish butcher’s wives style? I got too depressed trying to track down the popularity of those fox boas to continue searching.
Then there are the men’s facial hair styles. Here again, all are remarkably similar: clean-shaven with small, trim mustaches. The lush upper lip of my grandfather during World War I is gone. Only one of the brothers-in-law, the “other” Siegmund Kornmehl, has a beard — and what a beard! It makes him look older than the rest — not to mention like one of the Smith Brothers, of cough drop fame – but he was born in 1875, making him exactly the same age as Martin.
The search for a history of men’s facial hair on the internet also led me to places I didn’t want to venture, places with pictures of soul patches and Z Z Top.
I wrote for advice to the Wien (Vienna) Museum, which has a fashion collection along with other artifacts of everyday life in Vienna, but so far got no response.
Do any of you family historians or fashion mavens have any ideas about how to further pinpoint the date of this picture? I won’t get my feelings hurt — well, not too much — if you send me back to the archives to search for significant events in my family’s life. But I thought it would be fun to try.
Update: I got a very nice long email this morning from Wien Museum curator Dr. Martina Nußbaumer, which started off: “Thank you for your interest in the collections of the Wien Museum and for your information about the most interesting history of the Kornmehl family.” How can you not love a museum that calls your family’s history “most interesting!” She offered help with several other topics I inquired about, including cafes and butcher shops, and suggested that the family portrait dates from the mid/late 1920s.
And another staff member at the museum, Susanne Breuss, was generous enough to offer to post the picture on her own blog about history and everyday life in Vienna, which looks fascinating. Stay tuned.