Years ago, a framed map of Acton was found in a South Acton home. Recently, when the map was remounted, its backing turned out to be a large, beautifully preserved group portrait (16”x12.5” photo, mounted size 20.5”x18”), taken by Elmer Chickering and Company of Boston. On the back were written three names out of the thirty young men in the picture: A _ Bancroft, H.R. Sewell, and William W. Rawlinson. There was no date or place. Not having any use for it, the owner brought the picture to us.
We started our research with the one full name we had. Investigating William W. Rawlinson led us to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s online yearbook archives. In the 1906 and 1907 yearbooks, (actually produced in the previous years), Delta Tau Delta fraternity included not only William Woodward Rawlinson, but also Albert Fitch Bancroft and Henry Rollo Sewell. It appeared that we had found our group, but we searched the yearbooks for commonalities among the men aside from their fraternity membership. Albert Fitch Bancroft was in the class of 1907, from New Bedford, MA, and studying Course III. William Woodward Rawlinson and Henry Rollo Sewell were from the class of 1908 (respectively, from Lowell, MA studying Course III and from Hastings, Nebraska studying Course II). We did not find any other group in the yearbooks in which all three were members. Given that and the size of the group, (thirty active brothers were listed in the 1906 yearbook and twenty-eight in 1907), it seemed likely that the picture was of the brothers of MIT’s Delta Tau Delta fraternity in 1905 or 1906. Proving it turned out to be a challenge.
Assuming our tentative identification was correct, the next question was how the picture ended up in Acton behind a map. The yearbooks showed that none of the brothers lived in Acton at the time, but it was possible that one of the brothers either had Acton roots or that he settled in Acton later in life and left the photo behind. Armed with perhaps too much enthusiasm, we tracked down the DTD brothers listed in the yearbooks. If it turned out that the portrait was not of Acton people, we hoped we could at least confirm its identification and have enough information to find an appropriate home for it.
The fraternity brothers were surprisingly easy to trace. Because the MIT yearbooks listed students’ middle name, class, and address, we were mostly able to avoid the “common name” problem that plagues genealogists. The timing was also helpful; the brothers were born early enough that many of their births, marriages, and census records are easily available online, but late enough that many were also included in Social Security records. In addition, the brothers happened to be of the age that they had to register for the draft in both World Wars. Many of them joined the Masons, and for those with Massachusetts Masonic ties, cards listing birth, occupation, residence, and often date of death can also be found online. Many were engineers and travelled, causing them to show up in passport applications, consular records, and passenger lists. It is an ideal era in which to be doing genealogical research.
With all of that information available to us, we were optimistic that with a little effort, we could find some connection to Acton. The effort happened, but the hoped-for connection did not. We found DTD brothers involved in industry in Massachusetts and all over the country, in mining ventures in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Peru, and on a Vimy Ridge memorial in Winnipeg. There is no indication that any of them ended up in Acton or even nearby towns.
Back in Acton, we had one more possibility, investigating the people who lived in the house where the framed map was found decades later. That turned out to be surprisingly difficult. At the time the picture was taken, the residents of the house were Henry Waldo and Lizzie (Piper) Tuttle. Their children did not go to MIT. Son Harold Knowlton Tuttle (born 1880) went to Tufts Medical College and eventually settled in California. Daughter Florence Piper Tuttle went to Wellesley and did not marry an MIT graduate. Searching for later residents of the house was no more successful. There were no obvious ties to MIT, and there were simply too many changes in residents over the years to figure out possible connections. Perhaps the picture was simply discarded and someone with no personal interest acquired it for its frame.
Having given up on an Acton connection that would give the picture context, we turned to trying to identify its faces to make sure we had the correct group. As anyone who has tried to identify old pictures knows, the process is difficult and uncertain. In this case, we had started with three names, no date, no location, and nothing to compare the faces to. We were lucky to make the MIT connection. Though the MIT yearbooks of the time did not have individual pictures of graduates or group fraternity photos, there were a few team and club photos. We did find “Rawlinson” identified in a picture of the MIT Mandolin Club in the 1907 yearbook. He appears to be in our picture, the third man from the left in the back row. Other attempts to match faces (including comparing a 1906 portrait of one of the DTD brothers sent by a generous descendant) left us still uncertain. We were about to give up hope on identification when we somewhat accidentally came upon exactly what we needed and had searched for, unsuccessfully, several times.
In trying to find the fraternity bothers’ Acton connection, we had searched for their individual names and for MIT’s Beta Nu Chapter of DTD. We used broad-based and genealogically-focused search engines, looking for text and images. It was hard to imagine that we had missed anything relevant, but we did. It wasn’t until we broadened our search to look into whether Tufts student Howard K. Tuttle (who lived in the “map house”) might have been a DTD brother at Tufts’ Beta Mu Chapter that we came across Delta Tau Delta’s digitized archives of newsletters from the period. It happens that in the June 1907 newsletter, a chapter photo was published of MIT’s Beta Nu chapter, with surnames identified. It was apparently taken later than our photo, as some of the names did not overlap with our lists, but thirteen of them did.
After comparing the photos, we were able to find some faces that look virtually identical and others that are similar enough that they may be of the same men. There remain plenty of questions, but between the names on the back of our picture and the faces that could be identified from the June 1907 newsletter, we are quite confident that our picture was taken of at least some members of MIT’s Beta Nu chapter, most likely in 1906. (One of the matched faces was not in the first yearbook’s DTD listing). The photo may be of the chapter or of a group of attendees at a special event; there were joint fraternal events in Boston during the year, so it is possible that the picture included alumni or brothers from different chapters.
We at the Society work to connect people with their roots and with Acton’s history. In this case, we wanted to find an Acton story that never materialized, but perhaps our research can help others interested in finding out about this group of brothers or their era.
Searching for MIT's Delta Tau Delta Fraternity, Beta Nu Chapter, 1905-1906
If you recognize any of the faces in the group photograph or can share with us an identified picture from around 1906 of one of the brothers listed in the MIT yearbooks, we would be delighted to hear from you. We have done research on and would love to see pictures of the following brothers (in parentheses are the states/countries in which they seem to have had connections at different points in their lives):
Identified by Name on Back of Photo:
Albert Fitch Bancroft (Massachusetts)
William Woodward Rawlinson (Massachusetts, Maine)
Henry Rollo Sewell (New York, Nebraska, possibly Texas, Massachusetts)
Tentatively Identified from Other Photographs Online:
Lawrence Allen (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland)
Harold Peters Baker (Pennsylvania)
Marcus Johnson Cole (Massachusetts)
Eugene Phelps (Washington, Illinois, Wyoming, France, possibly Russia)
Vernon Stone Rood (Pennsylvania, Utah)
Arthur Lassell Shaw (Massachusetts)
Norman Higgins Stubbs (England, Illinois, later life unknown)
Charles Ernest Whitten (Massachusetts)
Other MIT DTD Brothers, Possibly in the Group Photograph:
Fred Hathaway Abbot (Massachusetts, Michigan and Florida)
Edgar Clark Ballou (Rhode Island)
Raymond Jenness Barber (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Utah, California)
Howard Parkinson Belknap (Massachusetts)
Robert Harbison Booth (Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, possibly Illinois)
George Henry Bryant (Massachusetts)
Frank Milton Carhart, (Utah, Idaho, Massachusetts)
George Hobart Chapman (Massachusetts, Wyoming)
Frank Spencer Elliott (Massachusetts, Missouri)
Robert Morse Folsom (Massachusetts)
Arthur Peterson Gerry (New Hampshire, New York, possibly Massachusetts)
John Tinker Glidden (Massachusetts, Peru)
Arthur Henry Hastings (Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Indiana)
George Foster Hobson (Massachusetts)
Alfred George Lang (Connecticut, Germany, Maryland, California )
Harold Swindells Landis (Pennsylvania)
Ernest Farnum Lewis (Rhode Island, Italy, Canada, possibly New York)
Henry Francis Lewis (Illinois, Ontario, England, Manitoba)
Elliott Lum (Missouri, South Dakota, Virginia, Ohio, Rhode Island)
Jesse Worth Maxwell (Texas, Utah, Chile, Mexico)
Frank Sanderson McGregor (Massachusetts, Delaware)
John Miller (Massachusetts, Cuba, later life unknown)
Frank Lee Niles (Utah, possibly PA and NJ)
Walter George Pfeil (Pennsylvania, probably Missouri & New Jersey)
Williston Canfield Rich (Minnesota)
Ernest Joseph Hill Waters (Australia, Massachusetts)
Robert Wilson Williamson (Tennessee, possibly Alabama and Louisiana)
Edward Howland Wing (Massachusetts)
William Henry Prentice Wright (Massachusetts, Colorado)
Bartolette Artman Yoder (Nebraska, Iowa, possibly Illinois and Florida)
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