Hidden Mothers in Family Photographs

Hidden Mothers in family photographs is today’s topic. Photography collectors may already know about the “hidden mother” in early photographs, but I haven’t read much about this in connection with genealogy.

According to the The Hidden Mother Flickr group, there was a photographic “practice where the mother, often disguised or hiding, often under a spread, holds her baby tightly for the photographer to insure a sharply focused image.”

hidden mothers in family photographs sassy jane genealogy

hidden mother sassy jane genealogy

Courtesy Accidental Mysteries

The Accidental Mysteries blog goes a step further and suggests that “most infants during that time were photographed with their mothers holding them. The intended picture was ultimately headed for a frame or mat, so the child would sit in the mothers lap for the photo. When the picture was taken, the mother simply was cropped out to serve as the backdrop.”

There are many fascinating examples of this photographic phenomenon, dating from tintypes up to the turn-of-the-century at the Flickr group and at the Retronaut blog. Have you found one of these in your family photos? I’m going to take a second look at mine.

About the Author:

Nancy Loe has an MA in American History and an MLS in Library Science and Archives. She has appeared on PBS’s American Experience, at Rootstech, SCGS Jamboree, and state and regional genealogy conferences. Her website was featured in Family Tree Magazine's “Social Media Mavericks: 40 to Follow.”


  1. Yvette Porter Moore 30 January 2012 at 11:48 PM

    Wow! Amazing photo and idea…Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sassy Jane Genealogy 31 January 2012 at 12:43 PM

    Isn’t it strange? I want to see the mothers, not blankets!

  3. Andrea Kelleher 1 February 2012 at 5:52 AM

    This is a new one for me too. Very interesting. I personally would much rather see the mother too but hey, ya do what ya gotta do to get a good picture of the family 🙂

  4. Kathy Reed 2 February 2012 at 6:35 PM

    That’s amazing. Why does it remind me of a burkha (sp)? I find it a bit unsettling — having said that I’m going to click on the links.

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