Do you recognize this man?Jul 22nd, 2008 | By Leonard Legends & Legacies | Category: How-To, Missing Persons
I should say, “Do you recognize this photograph?” Looking for duplicates is just one of the techniques I use to help identify the people in an old photo.
This photo, courtesy of cousin Shannon, bears an inscription on the back that reads simply, “Mr. Leonard.” That’s a nice start. It tells us that he is, most likely, a distant relative of ours. The BIG question is… which one? (Go ahead, mouse-over the image for a closer look.)
Spend enough time researching your family history and you’re sure to come across your own “mystery photos.” So, how do you go about unraveling the mystery? Why, the same way a detective would… by looking for clues.
The first, and possibly most important clue, is knowing where the picture was found. Shannon’s Dad remembers this one hanging above his grandfather’s roll-top desk. Since the picture isn’t a photo of his grandfather, it might Shannon’s great-great-grandfather. Or someone even older. Whoa! We could be talkin’ about someone born in the first half of the 1800s!
Next step, trying to determine when this photo might’ve been taken. There are several approaches. The first is to look for a photographer’s imprint. Handwritten tags, embossed labels, rubber-stamped indentifiers were all used, at one time or another, to identify the photographer who took the photo. That, in turn, can lead us to city directories which might tell us when he was in business. Alas, this photo had no such marks.
Next, we look at the type of photograph. This one is printed on paper, mounted on a cardboard backing. It measures roughly 8 inches tall by 3 1/4 wide, making it what’s known as a “cabinet card” popular between 1860 and 1920. That’s a wide date range, but we know it was probably taken no later than 1920. (For more on the different types of photographs and their usage, see David Mishkin’s article “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Family Photographs.”)
What’s the first thing that strikes you about the clothing? The hat? The plantation tie? The vest? They’re all clues to when the photo was taken. In this case, they all point to a period between 1910 and 1920. Now we’re getting somewhere! (There are lots of great books and web sites on clothing styles and their eras, but you might try “Dating Portraits – Clothing Styles” for starters.)
There are other things to look for, like the props (the hay at his feet and the straw in his hand), the background (“erased” in the darkroom), and the style of the pose. But the bottom line is this… 1910-1920 is as close as we’re going to come on the date. Shannon took the photo to an expert and he concurs. Now what?
We know, by comparing the man in the picture to others in our collections, that he is a Leonard. Even if the name weren’t written on the back, the similarity of his distinctive features make it a virtual certainty. Knowing that it’s not Shannon’s great-grandfather (sometimes knowing who it’s not is as important as knowing who it is), we can assume that it’s either her great-great-grandfather or her g-g-great-grandfather!
The first would’ve been 58 years old in 1910. The second would’ve been 73 (and he did live that long). So which is it? Great-great-grandfather Leonard? Or great-great-GREAT-grandfather Leonard? Ag-g-g-g-h! I can’t tell, can you?
And that’s why we’re asking… do you recognize this man/photograph? Maybe your copy has his full name on the back! Some day. Some day, we’ll find the answer. But, like all things genealogical, it will take some patience.