Family historians face various challenges in locating documents, letters, deeds, diaries, and photographs of their ancestors and family members. Original sources can be difficult to discover, since they might have been lost over time, burned in a courthouse fire, or pitched when an older person died and the children or the executor did not save personal papers and pictures.

For those who have family photos, identifying the people can be difficult if all the older folks have died, and no one knows those pictured. Some of those photos will show people and old family automobiles.

Those photographs can be used as evidence, and the automobiles might help to date the photos.

Also interesting can be identifying the old cars and their features.

Ignatius K. Schultz’s 1914 Chevrolet Series H-4 Baby Grand Touring

One family photograph depicts Ignatius K. Schultz of Bay City, Michigan, and four family members in a 1914 Chevrolet Series H-4 Baby Grand Touring. He is in the driver’s seat, and next to him is Nicholas Kaptur. In the back seat left to right are Marie Schultz, Ignatius’s daughter; Frank Schultz, his son; and Helen Kaptur, Nicholas’s sister.

The date of the photo can be narrowed considerably since the vehicle is a 1914 model and Ignatius died unexpectedly in February 1916 from complications of appendicitis. Ignatius and his wife Apolonia (née Lewicka) lived at 1113 Cass Avenue and raised thirteen children. He was a prosperous South Side grocery store proprietor who could afford to purchase an automobile.

The 1914 Baby Grand was originally priced at $875. The vehicle could seat five passengers, had a wheelbase of 104 inches, and a 171-cubic-inch engine in a four-cylinder design. It had a three-speed sliding gear transmission, rear brakes, and a Zenith carburetor. The series H was the first Chevy to bear the trademark bowtie emblem that still adorns their cars to this day. A published flyer for the Baby Grand noted that it was “perfectly proportioned” and “splendidly built” and was a good example of one of the world’s great industries. It did not hurt Ignatius Schultz’s reputation to be seen driving around town in a stylish automobile.

Nicholas K. Kaptur’s 1918 Cadillac 57 Series Victoria Coupe

A snapshot from Detroit, Michigan, shows four young ladies and a 1918 Cadillac 57 Series Victoria Coupe in front of a store. The auto belonged to their father, Nicholas K. Kaptur. From left to right they are Emily, Peggy, and Helen, with Jessie in the driver’s seat. Nicholas worked as a watchman for Fisher Body Corporation for over ten years, so it would be natural for him to purchase a vehicle. From about 1915 to 1925 he was also a confectioner and owned a store at 1010 Joseph Campau where the photo was taken.  Nicholas, his wife Marcyanna (née Skibinska), and their family lived above the store; Jessie ran the business. The vehicle was a 1918 model, and Helen married in June 1919 giving a narrow window for dating the photograph.

The 1918 Cadillac Victoria had a V8 engine with eight cylinders and a 125-inch wheelbase. The original price was $3,205, and the car had wood wheel spokes. The horsepower was rated at 31.5 miles per hour, and the gas tank held 20 gallons of fuel.

The Victoria had a three-speed manual transmission, a solid front axle, and a live rear axle with two- wheel mechanical rear brakes. According to classic car auction site, Motostalgia “For 1918 all Cadillac models were designated Type 57, and that year saw a major improvement to the engine with the introduction of removable cylinder heads and a redesign of the transmission making it easier to shift gears.”

Clearly, the Kaptur family traveled in style, although the car seated only five passengers.

Edward P. Schultz, of 1309 Fraser in Bay City, appears in a photograph standing next to his 1928 Chevrolet AB National Series Coupe. Son of Ignatius and Apolonia Schultz, Edward worked as a bookkeeper for the Polish Branch of the Bay County Savings Bank on Kosciuszko Avenue.

Edward never married but stayed home to take care of his mother as she aged. He served as best man for the weddings of four of his siblings and was a mechanic in World War I at the United States Naval Aviation Repair Base in Eastleigh, England. The vehicle was a 1928 Chevy, and the Schultz family purchased the home on Fraser Avenue on 3 March 1928, so dating the photo would be more difficult.

Edward P. Schultz and his 1928 Chevrolet AB National Series Coupe

Distinguished by painted headlight buckets with chrome rings instead of chrome buckets, his 1928 Chevy Coupe had Landau bars on the sides. The car had steel wheels— not wire—four-wheel brakes, and a thermostat. It was powered by a 171-cubic-inch, four-cylinder engine rated at 35 horsepower. The auto was originally priced at $595 and weighed 2,235 pounds. It was equipped with a Carter carburetor and had a 107-inch wheelbase. It was a two- passenger Coupe, just right for Ed to get to the bank and back and possibly bring along another employee. General Motors had established a plant in Bay City in 1918, so he might have purchased it locally.

Another family snapshot was taken about 1950 by Frederick Schultz of 12545 Glenfield in Detroit. While it is uncertain when he purchased the 1936 Ford 68 V8 Series Cabriolet, he enlisted in the United States Army on 24 May 1951 to serve in the Korean War. When he was discharged in 1957 the car would not run because it sat idle for so long. He restored it to prime running condition and gave rides to his nephews and nieces in the rumble seat. Fred was something of an auto aficionado and later owned a 1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe, a 1958 Thunderbird, a 1970 Ford Torino 429 Convertible, and a 1980 Ford LTD Crown Victoria Coupe.

Frederick P. Schultz’s 1936 Ford 68 V8 Series Cabriolet

From 1962 to 1966 he operated Pure Service Station on Morang at the corner of Lakepointe in Detroit, and then he worked as a technician for Ford Motor Company until his death. His two door Cabriolet had a 112-inch wheelbase, three speed manual transmission with a Columbia two-speed axle, and four-wheel mechanical drum brakes. The car had a Stromberg carburetor and a 235.3-cubic-inch L-head V8 engine.15 The original base price was $625, and the gas tank held 14 gallons of fuel. His Ford had a radio and a clock, and featured roll-up windows for a weather-tight interior. When he died, the 1936 Ford was still parked in his garage.

Vincent D. Kaptur’s 1920 Chevrolet FB-50 Touring

Another picture shows three people in front of a car. Left to right they are Jessie Kaptur, Marcyanna Kaptur, and Vincent Kaptur. Vincent was one of the eight original stylists in the art and color section of General Motors, and he was later recognized for developing interchangeable body shells and devising a standard measuring method.

It was challenging to identify the vehicle because so much of it was blocked. What can be seen is the horizontal split in the windshield, the curve at the bottom of the windshield, two round windows at the back of the car, and two braces holding the back of the convertible top. Those specific features were enough to confirm that the car was a 1920 Chevrolet FB-50 Touring. While the photo was taken in Detroit in the fall or winter, it was not possible to estimate a date.

Originally priced at $1,235, the 1920 Chevrolet Touring carried five passengers and had a 110-inch wheelbase. It featured a 224.3-cubic-inch engine and was rated at 21 horsepower. The car had a Zenith carburetor, wood wheel spokes, and the tires were anti-skid. The split windshield allowed the lower section to open for air flow into the cabin.

A display ad for this automobile stated that “the finish and the equipment of the Chevrolet FB 50 Touring Car are evidence of the care with which it is made throughout to meet the requirements of the most particular motorist.”

Distinguishing old cars and their features in family photos can be rewarding and educational. Internet searches can locate images for comparison and matching. Information from family research and details about classic cars might help to determine a possible date for the photos. Also helpful is having a family member who is an auto enthusiast and knows many cars just by looking at them.

Identifying old family automobiles adds another colorful dimension to creating an interesting family history.


This article was first published in Federation of Genealogical Societies’ FORUM Magazine


The sources for this article are full of great classic car information –