FRIDAY’S FACES FROM THE PAST: Searching for a lost child


Cabinet death card of a young childI came across this beautiful cabinet card in a local antique shop and was drawn to it. The picture is of a beautiful child who apparently died at a young age and his parents had a mourning card made. I could make out a very faint name written on the back – Robert – and I wondered if this was young Robert with the adorable curl on top of his head. I felt compelled to take him home. He didn’t belong in a cold antique shop among hundreds of  nameless lost ancestors. I wanted to find out more about him.

Upon closer examination, I discovered a very, very faint last name… Horne. The front of the picture has the name Forney and Bedford, Iowa which told me that the photographer of the picture was Forney and the picture was taken in Bedford, Iowa so I started searching Ancestry.com for a young Robert Horne who passed at approximately age 4 in Bedford, Iowa but nothing was popping up.Forney_RobertF_Closeup

I decided to try a different tactic and searched instead for the photographer of the picture. I figured if I locate him in Bedford, Iowa, I would have a time frame to help me search for young Robert.

I quickly found a Samuel Forney in Lenox, Iowa through the 1880 US Federal Census. He was 26 years old, single and his occupation was recorded as a photographer. Could this be the correct photographer?

I looked in subsequent censuses to see if his occupation continued to be listed as photographer – it was, which led me to believe I had the correct person. But after looking through various censuses, particularly the 1900 US Federal Census which listed a Samuel Forney and family, including a son named Robert, I developed another hypothesis – what if the name on the back was not Horne but Forney? Could this be a picture of Samuel’s son Robert Forney? Especially, since the picture of the mourning card shows the original cabinet card of the child alive was also taken by Forney.

Now the search was on and I felt sure this had to be Robert Forney. But after locating the family in the 1910 census I was more confused than sure of anything. The 1910 US Federal Census shows the family living in Abilene, Kansas and Robert was recorded as a very much alive 11 year-old and his birthplace was listed as Kansas.

That can’t be right – could it? The little boy in the mourning card picture was definitely not 11-years-old and if it was Robert and he lived to be at least 11, why was the picture of him as a much younger child? Surely with his father being a photographer, he’d have more updated pictures of him. And when did they go back to Iowa?

This was turning out to be a real mystery and felt I needed to start at the beginning to try find the answers!

Samuel Pierce Forney was born Nov 1854 in Ohio to John and Susannah Forney, who were both born in Pennsylvania. In 1860, Samuel was six and living with his parents and siblings, 14-year-old George, 9-year-old Frances and 3-year-old James in Tod, Ohio.

1880 found a single 26-year-old Samuel living and working as a photographer in Lenox, Iowa. In 1881, he married 26-year-old Amanda “Nellie” E. Lewis on July 2 in St. Joseph, Missouri. They started building their family right away with son Walter L. Forney born on March 15, 1882, daughter Bertha L Forney in Nov. 1884 and son Roy S. Forney in August 1885 with all the children being listed as born in Missouri.

There doesn’t seem to be a 1890 census of the family but I located them again in the 1895 Kansas State Census living in Abilene, Dickinson County, Kansas.  At this time, Samuel is listed as a 41-year-old photographer, Amanda 40, Walter 13, Bertha 11 and Roy is 9. All which confirmed I still had the correct family.

In 1900, the Forney family is recorded in the US Federal census still living in Abilene, Kansas  at 664 W. 5th Street but having added to their family, 3-year-old Edith born in Nov. 1896  and toddler Robert F. Forney, born February 21, 1899. Both Edith and Robert is shown to be born in Kansas. Walter is first shown as following in his father’s footsteps and works as a photographer in his father’s studio. An interesting find is that Amanda is listed as having birthed six children but with only five living in 1900.

1900 US Federal Census of Samuel Forney and family

Hummmm… six children but only five living and one of them is Robert. This is getting more and more interesting!

The family is again found in the 1905 Kansas State Census. Still living in Abilene, Kansas but this time without Bertha. In the home are parents Samuel and Amanda, and children Walter, who is now 21 and also a photographer, Roy 18, Edith 7 and Robert 6. Bertha would have been about 19-years-old so I wonder if perhaps she left due to marriage.

In 1910, the Federal Census shows the family still living in Abilene at 509 N. Spruce Street with 56-year-old Samuel, 55-year-old Amanda, 28-year-old Walter, 24-year-old Roy, 13-year-old Edith and 11-year-old Robert. Both Walter and Roy are listed as following in their father’s footsteps in the photography business. An interesting fact revealed on the 1910 census is that Amanda was the mother of six children but now only four were living.

So, perhaps Bertha didn’t leave for marriage but instead it looks like she passed away sometime between 1900 and 1910.

The 1915 Kansas State Census shows the family had moved to Fredonia, Kansas in the neighboring county of Wilson. Surprising, all the children still live at home. Samuel is now 61-years-old, Amanda is listed as 60, Walter is 33-years-old, 29-year-old Roy, 18-year-old Edith and Robert is still living at the age of 16. Although Walter is still helping his father as a photographer, Roy is no longer. His occupation is now recorded as a mechanic. Edith is in college and Robert is in school.

By 1920, the family dynamics have changed. Samuel and Amanda are still recorded as living in Fredonia, KS, but on the 1920 Federal Census, only Robert is left living at home. He is 20-years-old and is working as a mechanic in a garage. Samuel is still taking photographs and Amanda is a homemaker.

Sometime by 1925, Robert leaves the home. The 1925 Kansas State Census shows only Samuel and Amanda living at home in Fredonia with them being 71 and 70-years-old respectively.

The last census currently available to genealogists is the 1930 which reveals Samuel has passed on. Amanda is now listed as the head of household and a widow. Son, Walter, has moved back home at age 48. He apparently has taken over his father’s photography business.

According to Find-A-Grave, Amanda, Samuel, Walter and Robert are all buried in Fredonia City Cemetery, Fredonia, Kansas.  Samuel died in March 1928, Amanda in August 1935, Walter in May 1955 and Robert F. Forney passed away in July 1952.

It is apparent now, Robert is not the young man pictured on the mourning card.

My search on the family has given me a few possible explanations in solving this mystery.

One, and probably the least plausible, is Samuel used a picture of one of his children on a sample mourning card as a form of advertising for his photography business.

A second explanation might explain the large gap in years between the births of Roy and Edith.  It’s possible that Amanda had a little boy born between Roy’s birth in 1885 and Edith’s birth in 1896 and this picture is of that child. On the other hand, Roy was born in Missouri and Edith in Kansas. It doesn’t explain why Bedford, Iowa is listed on the mourning card as a location. But it could be explained if Samuel Forney simply had leftover pre-printed cabinet cards from his time in Bedford, Iowa to which he simply glue photos he had taken on to the front. I feel sure that scenario could be answered if the petals of the bottom white flower on the mourning card were not covering the bottom of the original card, allowing us to see where the original photo was taken.The answer could also lie with the 1890 Federal Census. Unfortunately, the records of Kansas and Iowa did not survive the fire which destroyed the majority of the 1890 Federal census records.

A third possible explanation might lie in the two-year gap between the births of Walter in March 1882 and Bertha in November 1884. Amanda could have borne another son during that time and the picture is of him. Perhaps after the birth of Walter, Samuel moved his family back to Iowa where he started his business and after the child died, they moved again back to Missouri.  But again, the child in the photograph appears to be approximately 4 years of age. If that is the case, they would have been living in Missouri as Bertha and Roy are recorded as being born there. So again, the use of left over pre-printed cabinet cards could be the answer.

My conclusion is the beautiful little boy who is so lovingly portrayed in the mourning picture is the child which Amanda lost. Whether he was born after Walter or Roy is undetermined at this time.

The name of Robert Forney written on the back of the mourning cabinet card is in pencil and unevenly scrawled.  Perhaps young Robert wrote his own name on the back of the card to show ownership of a picture of a brother he never knew but still loved.

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