A Damaged Photograph

halderman-016-aThe borders of a small, faded, and damaged black-and-white photograph frame Emma, Jessie, and Minnie. On its back their names are typed under the heading “TRIO.” The typing and handwriting, probably by  Emma, includes “Emma Halderman. Arizona” on the photo’s face. 1

The photograph, taken on a sunny Arizona day, shows the women in white, mid-calf cotton dresses with high bodices. Their dresses and black tams likely reflect fashions of the day.

Jesse, a World War I soldier, wears a U.S. Army Class A uniform. An Expert Rifleman badge is pinned above his left breast pocket flap. The absence of stripes on his uniform sleeves shows he was a Private.

The “Trio” sit on the grass. Jesse rests on his left hip, his right arm stretched behind Emma, at his right. Minnie, at Jessie’s left, regards Emma with a hard stare.

The photograph was probably taken in Bisbee, Arizona, where the Haldermans lived. Despite “1920” on the photo’s face, it was probably taken earlier. Jesse and Minnie married on 17 November 1919. Emma, who gave birth to a daughter on 13 July 1920, was pregnant for half of 1920. The child, Drusilla Eugenie Halderman, grew up without knowledge of her paternity, a dark family secret sealed in the graves of those who knew it.


Emma married Albert Byron Irwin on 2 January 1925 in Fresno, California. 2 Albert intended to adopt Drusilla. The Irwins engaged attorney, M. C. Kerr, of Quincy, California, to proceed with the adoption. On 10 September 1936 he mailed Emma a copy of the petition for adoption and a bill for ten dollars to cover the petition filing fee and other “necessary cash fees.” In the depths of the Great Depression, the amount may as well have been ten thousand dollars. The Irwins never finalized the adoption. 3

“Their intention is as good as fact for me,” Drusilla said.

Albert’s last will and testament, dated 22 August 1965, names four daughters, Drusilla E. VanderWerff, Richenda E. Roethler, Willemma N. Craig, and Delonas M. Boothe, making Drusilla’s adoption “fact” for him, as well. 4

Who was Drusilla’s father? Is the photograph a clue? Why did Emma’s photo album include this photo with other photos of Drusilla’s earliest years?


  1. Emma Mary Halderman with Jessie [—?—] and Minnie [—?—], photograph, ca. 1917; in author’s files, Bakersfield, California, 2016.
  2. California State Board of Health, Standard Certificate of Marriage, 25-005287, Irwin-Halderman; Office of the State Registrar of Vital Statistics. Certified photocopy dated 12 September 1980, in author’s files, Bakersfield, California, 2016.
  3. M. C. Kerr (Quincy, California) to Mrs. A. B. Irwin, letter, 10 September 1936; in author’s files, Bakersfield, California, 2016.
  4. Albert B. Irwin, Last Will and Testament, 22 August 1965; photocopy in author’s files, Bakersfield, California, 2016,

4 thoughts on “A Damaged Photograph

  1. Jill Morelli


    Very nice post. I assume it is in WordPress. 🙂

    Some comments:
    1. I love the spare look of the template. Very nice.
    2. I do not see a way to sign up to receive notifications of a new posting. Where do I do that?
    3. You will need to cite your sources, e.g. the photo, the adoption paper etc. I just use [1] to indicate a footnote, but you can insert the code for a superscript into the html (see tab next to “text” at the top) or there is a software you can use to track your footnotes.
    4. Your site never states your name except in the copyright notice at the bottom. It seems a good place would be to introduce your name in the “About page.”

    Nice post.



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