I haven’t taken a survey on this, but I feel pretty confident that the secret shame of photo archivists is that drawer full of unidentified images — the “orphans,” in archive speak. Photos that stubbornly refuse to reveal any hint of who might be in them, where they may have been taken and, most important, for whom they held significance.
One 8-by-10 glossy stood out like a gleaming sore thumb among the “orphans.” The unidentified women depicted in it almost begged to remain anonymous despite their perky expressions, the halo lighting just above their heads, and their twin outfits and matching wavy hairdos.
Found in the middle of a drawer full of cantor’s headshots, photos of Israeli folk singers of the early 1950s and or Yiddish theater stars, the photo from the Forward’s archives seemed to show one of a generation of sister singers. Were they perhaps the Barry, Feder or Pincus Sisters? Or maybe that breakaway pair from the Malavsky Family Choir — Goldele and Gittele — who became known as the Marlin Sisters?
In a first effort to unlock their identity, we reached out to expert Krysia Fisher, curator of photographs at the epicenter of Yiddish imagery, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. She was confident that the subjects were gentile. Perhaps they, too, in the style of Connie Francis or Julie Andrews, tried to reach the Jewish market by singing in Yiddish?
Fisher’s bold response reminded us that sister vocal groups were likely not invented by the Yiddish-singing Barry Sisters, a belief that seems hard for some to accept. More colleagues were consulted. Their guesses leaned toward the garden variety Yiddish sister singers.
In hopes of finding the answer, we turned to you, dear readers. The photo appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of the Forward’s Forward Looking Back column, which went up online August 10. Then we took to our Facebook page to ask for help.
Forward readers offered supportive guesses — including the Pincus Sisters and the Miller Sisters.