Did you know that you can mail us a copy (no originals please) of your family photos for this column? To find out more about submitting photo click on the How to Submit Your Photo link in the left-hand column. This week’s photo mystery was mailed to the editors of Family Tree Magazine, who in turn forwarded it to me.
Betty Nance’s great-grandmother knew the identity of the man in this photo. Sarah Jane Elizabeth (Jennie) Renfro told her daughter (Betty’s mother) his name.
Unfortunately, by the time Betty asked about this photo, her great- grandmother was deceased and all her mother could remember was his first name “Thomas” and that he was a cousin to Sarah Jane.
There are big questions about this photo. First, which branch of Sarah Jane’s family does he represent?
Sarah Jane was born in 1866, and since this is a Civil War photo of a Confederate soldier posing with a revolver, it’s possible that she knew him. Well … that could be the case if he didn’t die during the war.
So who is he? I’ve poked around a bit looking for men with that first name in both the Renfro and Fowler family lines—but no direct hits.
I’ve also searched Ancestry.com family trees and found one for the Renfro family. Based on the information that Betty sent me, it appears to be the right one, but no Thomas.
The 1860 US census might hold a clue. I used the census on HeritageQuest Online (available through many public libraries). There are 93 Thomas Fowlers in the census, but only a few in Illinois and Tennessee, where the family lived, and no Thomas Renfros in those states. Of course, he could have a different last name if his mother’s maiden name was Renfro or Fowler.
This is an involved family history project, but one that is solvable. I’d start by looking for Civil War enlistment lists for the states in which the family lived, and hope for a direct match. If not, then Betty would have to find all the collateral lines for her ancestor, Sarah Jane Renfro. With any bit of genealogical luck, she’ll find her Thomas.
One of the problems is that Betty doesn’t know what degree of cousin Thomas was. If he’s not a first cousin, then even more research is needed.
Untangling this mess could take a bit of time. I did a general Ancestry.com search for Thomas Fowler, and found a Thomas Jefferson Fowler who died in 1862 during the war. Other research is needed to determine whether that’s the connection.
The young man in this photo isn’t very old—I think late teens or early 20s. That will narrow down the number of possible candidates in Betty’s family tree.
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