Scottish Photo Identification Project

Scottish Photo Identification Project, Photo 5: Sisters, Mary Robertson Brown & Isabella McLaren Brown

Scottish Photo Identification Project-01


Recently, I was looking through the photos in one of my cousin’s Ancestry trees.  I saw lots of photos that were familiar but when I got to one, I couldn’t quite put my finger on where I had seen it before:


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It was so familiar!  I checked my own tree and couldn’t find it.  A few days later it was still bugging me.  I knew I had the photo and I was pretty sure that my copy was better.  It finally dawned on me that the photo might be in the box from Gregg.  Sure enough, that is where I had seen it before!


BROWN, Mary Robertson and Isabella McLaren


My original was unlabeled.  The back is just blank and black.  But what if my cousin’s photo label was correct?  What if the woman on the left who is in the poor quality cropped version really is Mary Robertson Brown?

My first question was where did my cousin get the photo?  Provenance is very important, especially when it comes to old photos.  Who labeled it, when did they label it, why would they know who was in the photo, and so on.

So, I asked my cousin.  I didn’t get a response.

Back to the drawing board.

Mary Robertson Brown is my 2nd great-grandaunt.  She is the sister of my 2nd great-grandmother, Catherine Brown (1874-1945).  Catherine immigrated to America.  She died in Washington State in 1945.  She is Gregg’s grandmother and her photos would be part of his collection.  It would be very logical for Catherine to have a photo of her sister.  It would also make a lot of sense for the other woman in the photo to be Catherine’s sister as well.

Mary Robertson Brown is the oldest child.  Isabella McLaren Brown is next.  Catherine Brown, my 2nd great-grandmother is third.  What if this is a photo of Catherine’s two older sisters together?

They certainly look like they could be sisters.

Adding strength to the possibility is the fact that Mary, Isabella, Catherine, and their family lived in Carluke.  Carluke is a very small place.  The photographer was located in Lanark & Carluke.

I have one known photo of Isabella McLaren Brown.  But in the photo, she is much older.  And the image isn’t high enough quality to zoom in super close.  Even so, the known photo of Isabella isn’t an obvious mismatch to the mystery photo:


George and Bella McNeil
George McDonald McNeil and wife Isabella McLaren Brown


Isabella has a living grandson in the UK.  I emailed him a digital copy of the mystery photo and asked if he happened to know if either woman was his grandmother.  His brother George was an avid family historian who recently passed away.  My cousin emailed back and said that his brother had labeled the photo with this file name:

“Mary (b. 1872) and Isabella (b. 1873) Brown”

Aha!  A perfect match to Mary and Isabella the older sisters of my 2nd great-grandmother.  Unfortunately, I can’t ask cousin George any questions about provenance.  I don’t know who labeled his copy of the photo, when they labeled it, and anything about how it made its way to George.

However, Isabella is George’s grandmother.  Isabella lived in the UK, as did George.  Of all my cousins to likely have the correct label for the photo, he seems like the one.  George was born four years before Isabella’s passing.  He likely knew her.  Probably not well, but George’s father who was Isabella’s son lived well into the 1980s, also in the UK.  George was in an excellent position to ask his father about the photo or any of his aunts, uncles, and cousins living in the UK.

So is that a good enough reason to believe George’s label?

Probably . . .

Is it conclusive?


So, I am hopeful that another cousin with a copy of this photo will come along and see this post.  Hopefully, their copy of the photo is labeled and they will know by whom.  For now, I am going to label this photo as likely a photo of sisters Mary Robertson Brown and Isabella McLaren Brown.  I’m going to add it to my trees with that label and an explanation of where the label came from.



Thank you, cousin George for leaving your life’s work in the hands of your very able and kind brother!  I am so glad that I could ask him about this photo.  And thank you to George’s brother––who shall remain nameless here––thank you for answering my questions.  ❤️



Here is the photo back:

BROWN, Mary Robertson and Isabella McLaren, photo back




Happy Wednesday!  Do you have any photos that you need to label?  Help your descendants and cousins out and DO IT!!   😉  xoxo



6 thoughts on “Scottish Photo Identification Project, Photo 5: Sisters, Mary Robertson Brown & Isabella McLaren Brown”

  1. I think you’ve found your answer and probably as definitively as you can at this point given how long ago Isabella died (though I should never underestimate your persistence and sleuthing skills). One question: The mysterious unnamed “cousin” who has the Ancestry tree—how is he/she connected to these sisters and how did he/she get their blurry version of the photo? Maybe the answer lies somewhere there?

    1. Thank you, Amy! ❤️

      Great questions!!! He connects to my family two generations above Isabella, Mary, and Catherine. Their grandparents are the common ancestor for me and this cousin. He hasn’t answered my question about where he got the photo yet. I hope that he will. You are right, he just might be able to help solve this one. 🙂

      1. Ah, you answered this here—no need to do so on Facebook messages. I wish I understood why people are so skittish and uncooperative. I have a private tree, but I am always willing to share with anyone who expresses a legitimate interest.

  2. Hi Amberly, I like your questions to consider when looking at each photo, and i certainly appreciate it when others point out a photo that is incorrectly identified. Thank you! Sheila Laundry

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