Wee bairn Beirne

What it is:

Photo (approx. 3.75 x 5.5 inches) mounted on a cardboard frame/backing (a bit more than 5 x 7 inches).

What I know about it:

Photographer is The Shepard Company, “F. Mortimer, M’g’r.”, of Providence, Rhode Island.  Written on the back in pencil is John Francis Beirne / age 7 months.


My interest in old photos stems from a desire to look into the past and see what I can learn about how life was lived once upon a time, to satisfy my desire to stare at people’s faces and imagine their stories, and just to look at pretty pictures.  I’m interested in learning what I can about the subjects, but unlike people who come to old photos with a passion for genealogy, and despite the enjoyment I get looking up information, I find I often stop when the answers aren’t obvious (especially when it’s late and I need to finish a post so I can get to sleep).  Still, at some point I’ll have to learn how to use better online tools, and maybe even pay for a genealogy site, because photos like this make me think the answer should be obtainable.  We have a full name, a location that could reasonably be assumed to be near his birthplace, and an approximate date (even if it’s just a matter of looking at this photo and figuring it’s not from, say, the 1860s, or the 1960s for that matter).  How hard could it be?  Well a few minutes spent Googling turned up enough John Francis Beirnes that I couldn’t be sure.  They’d be the wrong date, or the right date but wrong location.  At some point I’ll figure out how to access a more comprehensive database.  Meanwhile, there’s the photo itself to enjoy.  Here’s Baby John, in what I gather is a christening gown, with some strange (to me) jewelry pinned across his chest, wearing what I would take to be a wedding ring if he were an adult.  It’s a pretty chair, and I suspect he might be sitting on an additional cushion, because otherwise it would hit rather low in the back of an average person.  Whichever John Francis Beirne this turns out to be, I hope the years ahead (assuming he had years ahead) were happy.

8 comments on “Wee bairn Beirne”

  1. Oh dear gawd he’s cute.

    I don’t know when they Christened back in the day, but that is a Christening gown, and he’s old enough to sit…older than six months. Interesting.

    Would *love* to see that face as an adult. I’m so compelled by how people look as children and how they look as adults.

    *edit* I just saw 7 months. Gee I’m bad at details…

    • I’m not familiar with christening customs, either. I know what you mean about wanting to see them as adults, too. A series of pictures where you can see an age progression is fascinating.

  2. I took a quick trip into my Ancestry.com account, to look for Wee John. There was one who was born in 1904, and died in 1990. He seemed to have stayed in P-Town.

    • Thanks for checking! If it’s not too expensive, I was thinking of getting an account with Ancestry.com. I gather they’re the biggest, and it might make doing photo research a little more feasible.

  3. RE: Ancestry.com Depending on what you’re willing to spend, and what you want from your expenditure, you’ll have to determine what is too expensive. They may be other sites that are more in your money bracket. For instance, Geneology.com is less expensive, though not as extensive as Ancestry.com. Also, if you want, I can grant you permission to my Ancestry.com account for research purposes only.

    • Thanks for the advice and the offer. I’ll look into it and get back to you. I have heard that Ancestry is the largest database, so that’s probably where I’ll look first.

  4. Rings for babies may have been a custom. Although I was a born a few years after John Francis, I have a tiny little “baby ring” that I apparently wore as an infant. It is gold and has a very small garnet, my birthstone. That ring, along with several other pieces from my infancy, leads me to believe that jewelry for babies was more common years ago than it is today.

    • I guess such things go in and out of fashion. Recently I’ve heard or read things complaining about jewelry on the very young, particularly things like pierced ears, as if such things are inherently adult and rob the child of some innocence. But photographic evidence, plus stories like yours, seem to indicate that jewelry on the young was not always frowned upon. It’s so interesting the way society’s views of things shift.

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