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535-07-5248 and Wife

Oregon, August 1939. "Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note Social Security number tattooed on his arm." (And now a bit of Shorpy scholarship / detective work. A public records search shows that 535-07-5248 belonged to one Thomas Cave, born July 1912, died in 1980 in Portland. Which would make him 27 years old when this picture was taken.) Medium format safety negative by Dorothea Lange. View full size.

Oregon, August 1939. "Unemployed lumber worker goes with his wife to the bean harvest. Note Social Security number tattooed on his arm." (And now a bit of Shorpy scholarship / detective work. A public records search shows that 535-07-5248 belonged to one Thomas Cave, born July 1912, died in 1980 in Portland. Which would make him 27 years old when this picture was taken.) Medium format safety negative by Dorothea Lange. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

My Cooper cousin

Tillman Thomas Cave was my cousin, he was married at least twice. Vivian Couture (pictured), I have some photos of her and she worked for Kaiser Mills in Portland, Oregon. She had a photo ID indicating she was 5'9", Tillman was 5'6". She was a slender dark haired dark eyed girl and her half brother Melvin was lighter haired with very blue eyes. Tillman's full name is Tillman Thomas Ursel Cave, born July 2, 1912, died June 4, 1980. He married Vivian on July 3, 1934. They were together seven to nine years. He later married Ann Kathryn Bloom. His name Cave had been shortened from Cavendish at some point.

My Great-Grandma

I loved reading all the comments. Yes, this is a picture of my great-grandma Vivian. My grandmother recounted the story to me. A photographer came into camp and because of this, no one was allowed to go work while the photographer went tent to tent taking pictures. Hence the death stare she was giving. They lost out on an entire day’s wages because this guy wanted to take their picture. And yes, my grandma remembers it as a man who came even though it is credited to Dorothea Lange. I know very little of the man in the picture. I do however know that my grandma is not resting in peace next to him. What I remember of Grandma Vivian is how her house was in the middle of the woods and she had a pet deer that would visit her daily and she would let it in the house. She had the most beautiful flowers around her property. And she always wore a head scarf. She died when I as around 3 years old.

Mofred Info

Here he is, with three wives, on FamilySearch:
Tillman Thomas Ursel Cave 2 July 1912 – 4 June 1980

Relationship dynamics

Her place on the photo, uncomfortable body language and wary eyes as if the photographer was an attractive woman.

Late to the game, but --

I have a little more information about this man, if anyone is interested.

Anyone looking on a genealogy/records site might have some trouble finding him under the name Thomas Urs Cave, because it looks like his real name was Tillman Thomas Urs Cave.

I initially found a census record for a Thomas U Cave in 1940. At the time he was renting a house in Shasta, Oregon, and stated that he was a truck driver who had an eighth grade education. He was also married - but not to Annie (Ann Kathryn per the grave marker?). His wife was a woman named Vivian, who was a fruit picker on a farm. I believe Vivian is the lady in the photograph.

But that was it, beyond the service records/SSA death record already posted about. But a census record for 1920 caught my eye because the young boy, Tilman T Cave, had a sister called Juanita - the same name Thomas gave his daughter in 1949 per the newspaper announcement. In 1920 Tilman and Juanita lived with their parents, Tilman B and Sarah N Cave, on a farm in Buckham, Oregon. A possible match, but not 100% guaranteed.

Searches for the name Tilman Cave, though, found three good records:

- a 1918 WWI draft registration for a Tillman Benjamin Cave, wife Sadie, both living in Buckham, Oregon
- a 1930 census record for Benjamin T and Sadie N Cave in Los Angeles, California
- a 1940 census record for Benjamin T and Sadie N Cave in Portland, Oregon

I realize the names change during this time. I've known plenty of people who go by their middle name, which would account for Tillman Benjamin becoming Benjamin T, and it's possible that Sadie is a pet name for Sarah given the shared middle initial of 'N'. As for the sudden jump from Oregon to LA and back, I'm guessing a lot of people migrated for possible work.

The clincher record: a 1934 marriage record of a Tillman T.U. Cave to a Vivian Couture (both residents of Multnomah County, Oregon) in Washington State. The witnesses' signatures are Benjamin Cave and Saddie [sic] Cave.

Unfortunately I still can't find Tillman or Thomas Cave in the 1930 census, but we're at the mercy of both the census-takers and transcribers here. I've found faults from both before (a prime example: the census of 1940 says Vivian worked as a picker on a Fruit Farm, but it has been transcribed in the index as a Kunt Farm. I don't even want to imagine what one of those would be.) He's probably out there somewhere.

All of this isn't 100% proof, but that's hard to get without a chain of vital records.

If any of the previous posters are still reading this, or new readers comes across this, I hope you find this information of interest!

Service Details

The grave marker said he was a Sgt during WWII. One of the lucky ones to have made it to the end after enlisting in 1942. Does anyone have the ability to look up his service record? Would love to know what he did and where he was during WWII.

Reminds me of Freddie Mercury

British musician, singer and songwriter, best known as the lead vocalist and lyricist of the rock band Queen.

Who knew History could be so Handsome

I love checking out Shorpy everyday, and it's a double pleasure when such a handsome picture pops up.

We know him as 535-07-5248

But his wife just called him "5". I think she's got kind of the Dorothy Lamour vibe:


He looks like David Gandy, one of the top male models of the last 10 years

No Golds Gym Here

What impresses me most is that his nice body is most likely due to heavy labor, not lifting weights in a gym.

A little bit more about Thomas U. Cave

All this information was found via the newspaper archive at (I would have just posted links to save space, but it is a paid site.)

In the June 4, 1949 issue of The Oregonian, there is a birth announcement that Mr. and Mrs. Thomas U. Cave gave birth to a daughter on May 28. Then, on Sept. 22, 1950, another announcement that another daughter (Juanita L.) was born on Sept. 13. An address is included in both announcements.

Then, a tragic story from the May 4, 1952 issue: "Kelso Grid Star Dies in Collision". It reads:

KELSO, Wash. May 3 (AP) - Richard "Rip" Raappana, 24, well-known southwest Washington athlete, was killed early Saturday. His automobile swerved into a Consolidated Freightways truck and trailer a mile north of here on the Pacific Highway, the state patrol reported.

Louise N. Robinson, 21, Longview, a passenger in his car, was injured critically.

The state patrol said the truck driver was Thomas U. Cave, 39, of Portland.

Raappana was an all-round athlete at Kelso high. He played college football for Eastern Washington college at Cheney and last fall was with the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.


I think he is a pragmatic man, his circumstances make it quite possible that he will be found dead at the side of the road or in a ditch. The number on his arm makes identification possible.

First Generation Lifelock

Mr Cave's efforts to protect himself against identity theft were, perhaps, not so well thought out.

Bean Pickers, Marion County, Oregon

My father's family left Oklahoma in 1934 headed for California, and by 1939 would have been permanently settled in Marion County, still picking other people's crops and working odd jobs. None of my family from my father's generation, or the one before his, is still alive, but it does make me wonder if they might have encountered this handsome couple back then.

"Cute Boys"?

We have "Bathing Girls!" and "Pretty Girls" categories; when, oh when, will "Cute Boys!" be created? Along with Mr. Cave, "Powerhouse Mechanic and Steam Pump" should be included! Yowza is it getting warm in here?

[Look at the tags above the photo. The category you're describing already exists. - Dave]

Two more photos of Thomas Cave

Two more of Lange's photos of Thomas Cave (neither quite so interesting visually as the one here) came up via the LOC's "Neighboring Call Numbers" browser: LC-USF34-020536-E and LC-USF34-020538-E. In the second of these, Cave appears to be deliberately displaying his Social Security number tattoo. Perhaps he was a true believer in the promises that it represented. Other photos from this group of 30 identify the bean harvest locale as "Oregon, Marion County, near West Stayton."

Movie star looks

He reminds me of Errol Flynn. Maybe it's the mustache?

A handsome rake

Not sure if this fits the bill, but I'd nominate this pic for the Handsome Rakes gallery. I'll bet people walked up to him and told him he looked like Errol Flynn. His girl is on the pretty side as well, though I think we have pictures aplenty in the pretty girls gallery!

Looking Back to Now

There are some historic photographs -- and they are rare indeed -- that somehow manage to look as if they were shot in the present, just yesterday. This is one such. I'm not speaking of the people exactly but the manner in which they enter the camera. Not all of Dorothea Lange's (or other commercial photographers of any era) manage to convey such "magic" but this one does. It took my breath away when I first saw it (elsewhere) last month.

Kind of Weird

This is one of my favorite pictures I've seen here on Shorpy. For some reason, these two make me think of Rooster and Lily from "Annie."

Thomas Cave

Thomas Cave, 1912-1980.


You mention that you don't think the tattoo was put on with a machine. As a tattooer for 17 years I can pretty much assure you that it was. That kind of serif style and the continuity of size would be impossible for a novice to achieve using a hand-poke method.

re: to Kate Urs, smoking, and identity

Thanks for the info Kate. Maybe he and the woman in the picture weren't really married. Interesting, and I agree about the "premarital sex and cohabitation". I couldn't believe my ears when I finally was told the stories about my family ;o)

My dad used to do that with his cigarettes too. He never said why however, but now I know :)

Urs, smoking, and identity

I think Urs is also an old Celtic name. I still don't get why he doesn't show up in the 1930 census. Anyone on the list in Multnomah, Oregon? He's buried at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland: Col-2, Row 382, Site B. Maybe they have a next of kin on record to whom the picture can be shown? His 1980 death cert. lists an Annie as spouse, but his enlistment record lists him as divorced with dependents. Don't know if the woman is Annie (before they got married) or the former Mrs. Cave. Every generation thinks it invented premarital sex and cohabitation. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was pretty common in all strata of society. Sometimes in the Depression, the especially hard-hit would not bother to get a formal divorce; people would just leave.

He also might have been a Wobbly. 1935 is kind of late, but they were always strongest in the West: mining and timber.

Another thing bothers me about his "identity": Thomas Cave's enlistment record has him at 5'6" and 156 pounds. I know there are ways to judge height of sitting people with software, but that's beyond me at the moment.

My father used to cup his cigarettes in his hand until he quit in the 1980s, "so the snipers couldn't get a fix." That's why it's "unlucky" to light 3 cigarettes with one flame, so says my Vietnam Vet husband. Remember the old WWII movies, "smoke-em if you got-em, boys." I think I also remember my Dad saying something about the tobacco killing hunger in the Depression. Dad was a tenant farmer 'til he went off to war. Pregnant women were encouraged to smoke to stop morning sickness. Tobacco use was ubiquitous. The Red Cross even handed out cigarettes in the 1931 drought.


re: Lookalikes-Dave

Thanks Dave, that's what I was trying to say. Mind goes blank ever so often and I use the first word I can think of. Old age and drugs are he-- on a mind.


My father once told me that he started smoking during the Depression because it killed his appetite. You know how some folks worry that if they quit smoking they'll gain weight. He smoked so there would be more food for his brothers and sisters. Unfortunately he like his father and several of his uncles, brothers and sister fell victim to emphysema


The name “Urs” is common in Switzerland, but not in Austria or Germany. Only the female equivalent, Ursula, is quite common here.

Dangling modifiers

Touché. I wish my students picked up such things.


[Imagine a fact-checking school of piranhas and you basically have our readership. (Kidding!) - Dave]

The Trap of the Dangling Modifier

>> As a professor of history, the LOC uploaded the highest res photo

The LOC is a professor of history? Hmm.

SSN number

Hi Dave:

As a professor of history, the LOC uploaded the highest res photo on my request. The LOC librarian examined the neg with a magnifying glass and could get no greater detail. Unfortunately, writing a 9 with an exaggerated bottom hook was common handwriting practice in the '30s (as it in in Western Europe today). Also, the tattoo was not doen with a gun. A 4 with an open top would have been easier to do than a curved 9. If it is indeed a 4, the tattooist made the job harder on himself by closing the top of the 4. If you notice, the straight lines in the 3 and 7 are more distinct than the curved lines. Quite honestly, it looks like my Dad's handwriting (1924-1991, US Army 1942-1946). In some ways, we cannot believe our eyes when looking at old pictures. We have to see them in their historical context.

Also, the the letters are SSA not SSN. They stand for Social Security Administration. SSN did not become a common acronym until after World War II. The first SSNs were issued in 1935, a year before this picture. The New Deal agencies were referred to back then as "the alphabet agencies" and then "alphabet soup." For example, Lange, a photographer working for the RA, had previously worked for FERA (forerunner of today's FEMA) and later the FSA, took the picture under the auspices of the USDA. Before the New Deal, government was much smaller, and, saving the USDA, these "alphabetics" (as they were also called) did not exist. There were dozens.

For a great read on the Depression (that assumes no prior knowledge of the era), I recommend Robert McElvaine, _The Great Depression: America, 1929-1941_.

We have to take all the facts, inside and outside the image, before making sound historical conclusions. But, engaging in ths kind of dialogue is the best way to learn more of our history. I hope that looking at these amazing artifacts of our national past sparks a greater interest in the history, one that is not dependent on memorization of dates and names (which I hate too). History is about feelings and motivations and all manner of human endeavor. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this picture with you.

BTW, if anyone thinks he is an ancestor (his middle name was Urs), is the names "Urs" a common name in your family? I think it might be German. Giving a mother's maiden name as a middle name, or the first name of a parent or grandparent, was common practice in the early 20th c. Because "Urs" is textspeak for "yours," I can't do too much with a quick Google search.



Unfortunately I don't have a picture to prove it, but he looks like my brother in law at that age. Rich is Greek and Irish. I wonder what nationality Thomas Cave was.

[His nationality was American. Ethnicity? - Dave]


The TIFF is already on the LOC site for anyone to download. Here's the number in question. 535-07-5248. Maybe you are not using the highest resolution file available. (There are two.)


I asked the Library of Congress to upload the .tiff file so we could read his SSN. It could be a 9, not a 4. The LOC librarian took out the original negative but could not be sure either. I agree, Thomas Cave makes more sense because the other option, Clarence Horn, was born in 1917. That man does not look 22. But, often writing history comes down to this kind of reasoning and, hopefully, corroboration.

Unfortunately, Thomas Cave's 1942 enlistment document lists him as "divorced, with dependents." That might not be accurate for a whole host of reasons, especially he does not show up on the 1930 Federal Census. I'd like to believe she was the "Annie" listed as his spouse on his death certificate. History doesn't kill romance; it just makes sure it's true.

Tobacco was a standard ration in the Depression. Do note the date of death, however. He died at 67. That said, there is no dress rehearsal for life. Times were tough, in a way we can only begin to imagine today. Scurvy: can you give me lists of those tatooed numbers or maybe let me interview you about the people you knew?

If anyone wants to know more about the conditions in which this man and woman lived during the Depression, please do not hesitate to ask. I am teaching the photo tomorrow and am introducing my students to the kind of enterprising research and insight I've seen reflected in this list. Bravo. (And yes, he's hot--my students agree).

Dr. Kate Sampsell-Willmann
Assistant Professor of American History and Photographic Historian
Georgetown University
School of Foreign Service in Qatar

Wow, and is she hot.

Wow. She's kind of hot too. Well, I am not showing proper respect for history either.

Re: Harder Times

I think that it was a product of responsibility. People back then were given greater responsibility at a much younger age and had a lot more expectations back then.

Social Security Number? Priceless

Not thrilled that so much is revealed with a SSN search. Somebody is probably getting a credit card in his name right about now.


It was a inexpensive pleasure back then

A treat, indeed! Wish we

A treat, indeed!
Wish we could interview this couple now and ask them about those times.

I'll bet they'd say it wasn't such a bad time of their lives.
They had each other...

Perhaps we people have forgotten what's really important in life.

Or more smoke?

Maybe it was all the smoking those people did that aged them? Imagine being flat broke, having to live under a tarp, and still spending money on tobacco!

Harder Times

Times were harder back then, and arguably so were the people. I'm struck by how much older than I he looks as we are both the same age.

Makes me wonder if he had a great head start on life experiences at 27, and I'm lazily slow-poking my way through life. Maybe I should just count myself blessed to live in such times of relative ease and prosperity.

Actually, it probably has more to do with the fact that he could actually grow facial hair at this point in his life...but I think I'm going to stick with the "harder times" thesis : )

Well now, he's obviously a

Well now, he's obviously a Dapper Dan man!

Pierce Brosnan?

I think he looks more like a younger Treat Williams.

Thomas Cave

born: 02 Jul 1912
death: Jun 1980
last residence: Portland, Multnomah, OR

Oregon Death Index
Name: Thomas Urs Cave
Spouse: Annie
Birth: 1912
Death: dd mm 1980 - Multnomah

U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946
Name: Thomas U Cave
Birth: 1912
Military: 29 Oct 1942 - Portland, Oregon
Residence: Oregon, Multnomah, Oregon

U.S. Veterans Gravesites
Name: Cave, Thomas U Thomas U Cave
Birth: 2 Jul 1912
Death: 4 Jun 1980
Military: 12 Nov 1942
Military: 4 Feb 1946

There are just so many

There are just so many awesome things about this photo. The elegant beauty of the woman. The handsome man with pipe. The tattoo on the arm with his Social Security number of all things. Then to be able to search them out by using his social and modern technology. It's just a treat!


What a babe! :)

They're both very

They're both very attractive! The Depression was tough, even for the good-lookin'..

They managed

They managed to keep clean and she looked pretty good

Pierce Brosnan?

He bears an uncanny resemblance to Pierce Brosnan when he as in The Matador. Or, I guess I should say, Pierce Brosnan bears an uncanny resemblance to him.

See for yourself:


You can search the Social Security Death Index (available at, among other places) and it will tell you dob/dod plus last residence. You can also generate the form to send to the Social Security office to request (purchase) a copy of the original application which will give a little more information.

I'm impressed with how well groomed they both are. Sure he's got stains on his trousers, but his hair is combed and (except for the mustache) he is clean-shaven. In the background, his wife is wearing what looks like a fairly stylish dress and her pose looks like it could have come out of a fashion magazine. They certainly do not look like the tired and downtrodden people we've seen in other pictures. Makes me wonder what he did before and how long they've been following the harvest.

[He was, as the caption says, a lumber worker. - Dave]

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