Triple Tintype Mystery

Triple Tintype Mystery

Most of us feel lucky to have one picture of an ancestor, but imagine finding three images of an identical person in family photos and not knowing who he is. Obviously this man was important to someone in Kyndahl Carlson's family. This triple mystery appears in a family photo album...

Most of us feel lucky to have one picture of an ancestor, but imagine finding three images of an identical person in family photos and not knowing who he is. Obviously this man was important to someone in Kyndahl Carlson’s family. This triple mystery appears in a family photo album.

Here are the three pictures:

In this image, he’s posed between two men. The two men each rest a hand on his shoulder showing a close relationship. Kyndahl has no idea who they are. One could be the young man’s father and the other a brother or they could be other relatives.

The young man wears a suit from the 1860s, with a velvet collar and wide lapels. The other two men also wear suits from the 1860s, but the tie on the man on the right suggests a date of circa 1870. There was a market for second-hand clothing, so it’s possible that the young man’s suit is a hand-me-down.

He wears the same watch fob in both images.

The man on the left has light blue eyes. A few weeks ago I wrote about Spotting Light Colored Eyes. This could be an identification clue if there are family stories about this man and his blue eyes.

The final tintype is very interesting!

In this image, the same young man is posed with pants tucked into boots, no jacket, a fiddle, a pipe and an old hat. He’s ready to perform. Is he really a performer, or was this arranged by the photographer? Fiddlers often tucked their pants into their boots and wore hats, but not necessarily this style.

When faced with three images of the same person, it’s helpful to arrange them in a timeline. In this case, that’s difficult since all three images were taken around the same time. He doesn’t age from picture to picture. Here’s the order that I think makes sense:

A side-by-side timeline of images often reveals details overlooked when examining the images individually. What’s apparent from this collage is the expression on his face. He’s a solemn person with no smile and sad eyes.

Carlson’s family lived in Maine, Wisconsin, Montana, South Dakota, Oregon and Idaho. The young man’s identification depends in part on his branch of the family. At this point, that’s unclear. I’d start by figuring out the following:

  • He’s a teen. Who in Carlson’s tree was in his mid-teens around 1870?
  • Does he look like anyone else in family photos? There could be another picture of him at an older age. He has a slim nose, a small mouth with narrow eyes and thin brows. Watch for men with similar features and facial shape.

I’m hoping these additional details help Carlson figure out an identity.


Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
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