At the National Genealogical Society Conference this year, I met Tina LaFreniere in the exhibit hall. She was sharing her website, Related Faces. I thought it was neat so I invited her to share more about it here at Family Locket. Enjoy! – Nicole
Everyone who embarks on their genealogical journey quickly learns that the path into your family history is full of twists, turns and frustration, but it’s those moments of discovery that bring euphoria and drive us to learn more. Hello, my name is Tina LaFreniere. I’ve been a hobby genealogist for over 15 years, and I have a problem that so many people do… mine’s just a bit super-sized!
Along my genealogical journey, my family began to give me photos… I mean THOUSANDS of photos. Each time I received new photos it was bittersweet. I was thrilled to inherit these gems of my family’s history, but with each set of photos, that meant one of my relatives had passed and with them went the knowledge of who the people in the photos are! Does this sound familiar to you?
Yes, my family, like so many, didn’t think to write the names of the people in the photos on the backs. Of course, I sat with my parents, aunts, and cousins, magnifying glasses in hand, trying to solve the mystery of who the people in my photos are. I am sure many of you have felt like me, that you may never know who the people in your photos are, and trying to use Google, Facebook and even Ancestry and My Heritage doesn’t work for unknown dead people. It can be frustrating.
Being the wife of a technology executive and the mother to a website product designer, I just couldn’t believe that no one had developed technology to turn photos into a genealogical tool… So, I decided to do just that! I, along with my husband, John, and daughter, Grace, have developed a brand-new photo centric tool for genealogists that puts state-of-the-art artificial intelligence technology in people’s hands to help them solve their family photo mysteries. We even have created processes that are patent pending. Our company is called Related Faces and we are so excited that we can help people solve some, or maybe all, of their family photo mysteries, and possibly connect with other who have the same people in their photos!
Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain some of my photo mysteries and how I was able to solve them with Related Faces, in hopes that my story can help you.
Like so many of you, I collaborate with my cousins and other family members. One cousin, in particular, collaborates with me frequently and it so happened that about a week before we began Related Faces, she mentioned that she had some photos she was thinking about getting rid of because they were not labeled. Before she threw them out, she asked if I could run them by my dad and aunt to get their opinions on who the people in the photos might be.
My cousin, my dad and I are descended from a man named Henry Schlobohm and his first wife Eleonora (Laura). They had four children who survived, and Laura died giving birth to the 5th child, who also died a few months later. The family story is that after Laura died, our 2x grandfather wrote to his father-in-law in Schleswig-Holstein and asked him to bring one of his other daughters to the U.S. to marry Henry and become the mother to his existing children. If the story was true, we had no evidence of it. Henry did marry a woman from Schleswig-Holstein 10 months after Laura’s death and he and Engelina had nine more children. They moved from Illinois to Indiana in 1881, and no one seemed to bother to keep Laura’s memory alive. We thought we had nothing left from Laura. It took my cousin and me five years to find a marriage record for Henry and Laura that did show the two wives had the same last name.
One of the photos my cousin was about to discard was obviously very old.
We began to wonder if maybe this is a picture of our grandfather and his first wife. The clothing dated the photo correctly; c 1870’s, and the children’s genders and birth order correlated nicely to the birth order of our ancestors.
I decided to run this photo through our prototype for Related Faces and compare it against a photo of our family from about 25 years later. From the appearance of the youngest child in the photo, we know it was taken about 1899.
To our astonishment, and great delight, the results came back that the men in the two photos were 99.89% likely to be the same person and the two young girls on the left sides of each photo show a strong facial feature similarity, which indicates a familial relation. So, a photo that my cousin was about to throw away, turned out to be the only known photo of my 2x great grandmother, Laura, and the earliest family photo we have! Also, these are the only two photos we know of that include 2x great grandpa Henry.
After we developed Related Faces, I decided to rerun 2x Great Grandma Laura back through Related Faces to see if I could make any new pairings for her. The results were fantastic and further confirmed her identity.
Laura paired with her son, Henry, at 81%, her oldest daughter, Anna, at 99.86%, her younger daughter, Catherine, at 96% and her niece, Ida, daughter of her husband and sister, at 84%! So, a photo my cousin was considering tossing turned out to be the only known photo of our 2x great grandmother!
My great grandfather, also named Henry Schlobohm, was the last surviving child from the marriage between Henry Sr. and Laura, shown in the above Pairing, married a woman named Mathilde Foreman. Mathilde was one of six children who ALL looked so much alike. In particular, Mathilde and her sisters Lillian, Louisa and Grace have been confusing our family for nearly 100 years. It’s just so darn hard to tell who is who! Here’s some examples of photos of the three sisters from the Foreman family. Do you think you know which is which? I’ll even give you a family photo as a cheat.
In the pile there are a few photos where someone had written a name on the back but someone else had lined through the name and written in one of the other sister’s names. Solving the mystery of each photo has been a huge challenge. Here is how I have been able to use Related Faces to help me unravel which sister is which.
I do have a few photos where the girls are identified to include that big family photo. I loaded those photos into Related Faces first to build profiles for the girls. Then I loaded the unknown photos and gave the unknown girls General Descriptors instead of Names. This enabled me to receive pairing results from Related Faces between the known and unknown faces for the Foreman girls.
I then created a comparison grid for the results from Related Faces and utilized it as you might a timeline in a document search. It helps you see what makes sense and what doesn’t.
On the left, I created a row for each of the sisters, the photos have letters. Across the top, I put the photos where I didn’t know which sister was which and created columns for each of the unknown girls. The photos are numbered. In the cells I added the Resemblance numbers returned by Related Faces for the pairings between the know faces of the sisters and the unknown faces. Since the photo on the far right contained all three of the older sisters, and people in photos are not allowed to pair with each other, I was able to use the results from that photo to help me figure out the rest.
After laying in a row, photos 1, 2 and 3, I figured out I had confirmation photos for all 4 sisters. I utilized church records to help me figure out who was who. Lillian confirmed in 1896, and photo #3 paired high with her, plus the closing on the girl matched clothing from the 1890’s, so that must be Lillian. The records showed that Mathilde and Louisa confirmed together in the same class. This indicated that they are the girls in photo #1. The Related Faces resemblance numbers figured out the first girl is Mathilde and the second is Louisa. Out of process of elimination, photo #2 must be Grace, even though she did not pair with herself. This is probably because the known photo of Grace is quite blurry. The clothing of the girl in photo #2 matches with clothing from the 1910’s and Grace was confirmed in 1915.
Photos 4 and 5 have Foreman girls on the right in each photo and the chart helped me figure out which sister was in each. What is interesting, is I have since figured out the identity of the other two girls in each of those photos, but those stories would require a whole other post!
These stories are only a taste of the photo mysteries I have been able to solve for myself with Related Faces, and I still have hundreds of unnamed photos yet to work through. In so many cases, Related Faces has shown me that I already know the people in my photos, I just didn’t recognize them. Every day I stand in the shoes of the people I hope to help with Related Faces. It breaks my heart to know that people feel defeated and think they need to sell or throw away their precious family history when it is possible to solve the mystery.
When I conceived Related Faces, I felt sure that somewhere in Europe are long lost family members who have photos of my family and know who the people in my photos are. This was a gut feeling, but I know that my family has saved our photos for about 150 years, so surely people in Europe have done the same. In September of 2021, I was blessed to go to Sweden and meet family that only a few years ago I didn’t know existed. While I was there, my suspicions were confirmed! I was shown 8 photo albums of family photos that dated back to the late 1800’s and contained photos of my great grandfather, his parents, his siblings and cousins! But wat was truly amazing is they had some of the exact same photos I have inherited, but their photos had names, place and dates where the backs of my photos were blank! They also had photos of grandfather, great aunt, great grandmother, my parents and older brother, and aunt. As I had suspected, my great grandmother had sent photos back to her husband’s family, for over 40 years after his death!
This confirmation has motivated me to make Related Faces a worldwide format to reconnect families and help them find answers!
We are in a race against time because as people pass and their photos are inherited by others, knowledge of who the people in the photos are, is dying with them. I have been driven by the knowledge that when many people feel they will never know the identity of the people in their photos they have been selling, or throwing away, those precious family gems and therefore throwing away their family history. That must STOP, and I’m on a mission to help people identify their relatives in photos!
Learn more at https://relatedfaces.com/.