Roosevelt family, Christmas 1939

I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays. I came across the image you see above, which appears to an official Roosevelt Family Christmas portrait. Here is the image as I found it on Wikimedia Commons. It is titled Christmas 1941. For a few minutes I could not put my finger on it, but I knew something was off. The caption at the bottom reads 25 December 2041, with someone adding an addendum noting that “This date is not correct.” That is obvious true but something was still off. At first I noticed the relaxed poses of everyone in the picture; remember, this would have been just a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even at Christmas, they would not have been so casual. The poses are a tip, but still just circumstantial.

After another minute or so I got it: that is Sara Roosevelt, Franklin’s mother, sitting next to Eleanor on the left. Sara died in September 1941, so for this Christmas photograph to have been from 1941 is obviously incorrect. So when was it? I then looked at the baby, not quite yet a toddler, seated to FDR’s left. That’s John Roosevelt Boettiger, standing on the lap of his mother Anna. An internet search informs us that John is Franklin and Eleanor’s grandson and that he was born in March 1939. A retired professor, he is still alive today. Here he is the center of attention. Everyone is looking at the little tyke. With Sara in the picture we know definitively that this is not 1941. For this photo to be taken in 1940 little John would have been well over 21 months old. That seems unlikely. 1939, when he would have been nine months, is a far better bet.  Sure enough, outtakes conclusively show that this Christmas family photograph was taken in 1939.

I found this image in several places where they get the date incorrect, which is inevitable but always a little dismaying. Were it not Christmas Eve, I would go into that more depth. The point in analyzing the image today is to have a little fun. Merry Christmas, all.

(image/National Archives)