Mistaken Identity in Old Photos: A Facial Recognition Challenge

Mistaken Identity in Old Photos: A Facial Recognition Challenge

Last week a woman at one of my lectures raised her hand, pointed at an old photo on the screen, and said "the man in that photo is my great-grandfather!" But was it really?

Last week a woman at one of my lectures raised her hand, pointed at an old photo on the screen, and said “the man in that photo is my great-grandfather!”

You can imagine the oohs and ahhs of the other attendees. What a coincidence! Stranger things have happened, but to be safe, I asked her to email me a picture of her ancestor.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

I wanted the photo reunion to be real, but when I received her emailed photo, it was clear that the two men weren’t the same. It was a case of mistaken identity because the men had the same facial shape, mustache and even hairline.

Comparing faces in old family photos isn’t easy. Not everyone can read faces, and even technology can get it wrong. You can take a fun (not diagnostic) test at Faceblind.org to see how good you are at recognizing people.

Factors that interfere with our ability to compare faces:

  • The angle of the portraits (profile versus face forward)
  • Glasses
  • Hair changes
  • Facial hair
  • Makeup
  • Shadows

So I thought let’s have a little fun with these two pictures. Do you think these men are the same person? Why or why not?

Comparing faces in old family photos

Click Comments below to reply. Ready … set …. go!

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


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  1. I do not think they are the same person. I think the ears look different. The eyes also look different to me. The main thing I see is the way they are dressed. Although they have similar clothes, the man on the left looks much more neater in appearance and gives the appearance of being more &quot;society&quot;. The man on the right doesn’t seem to be as neat. His collar and tie aren’t as crisp and his jacket seems a little rumpled.

  2. There are some definite similarities, but I don’t believe they are the same man. The shape of their eyes is quite different and that isn’t something that changes as we age. The colours of their eyes don’t appear to be the same either. The man on the right has much lighter coloured eyes. Their chins are similar, but it appears the man on the left has a slight cleft in his not visible in photo to the right. Their bottom lips also appear different.

  3. I don’t believe it’s the same person. The guy on the right has a more rounded out chin. The guy on left is narrowed at the jaw line and squared at the end.
    The guy on the right looks to have a more bulbous head above the ears.
    Way different hair line.
    Guy on L., his ear lobes connect to his jaw. Guy on R has dangling ear lobes. The shape of the ear is different on the inside ridge.
    Guy on R has narrowed eyes where guy on L has wide open eyes.

  4. No, I don’t think they are the same. Ears, hair type; wavy vs straight, mustache is different,chin are all different, left has a bit of a cleft chin, while the right is rounded, left has brown eyes while right has blue, lighter;jackets are from a different time period,as well as the backdrop makes for a later time period WWI, whereas the one on the left is 1860-80s.

  5. Different men. Different ear shape, different jaw line, spacing of eyes is different. Clothing is from different time periods as mentioned previously. But the most noticeable difference to me is the difference in neck thickness between the two men.

  6. The gentlemen on the right has lighter eye color, larger ears and smaller deep set eyes as compared to the picture on the left; so I’m saying they don’t appear to be the same person to me.

  7. The eye color is the first give away. The blue eyed mans ears set higher on his head. The difference in the space between the nose and top lip is also different. The foreheard on the blue eyed man is also wider. I no nothing about different clothing eras but I know that can help determine time frames. The men look quite similar at a quick glance but overall the head shape is different.

  8. I think they’re the same man. The right ear is the same, the shape of the eyebrows is the same, and the tie appears to be the same. Also, the way he carries his head on his shoulders seems very similar between the two. I don’t judge by eyes anymore, because my granddaughter has very blue eyes like me, but they can look brown in some photos, and that’s in colour.

  9. No – I look at the shape of the ears – I’ve read that ears are unique like fingerprints and these two images have definite differences in the shape of the inner ear structures

  10. I do not think they are the same person. The ear ridges inside the ear look different; one nose seems to angle toward the left while the other seems more straight in the middle; one chin is more pointed rather than round; and the eyes on one are more rounded while the other seem flatter.

  11. No, not the same. Ears are slightly different, jaw structure not the same. Eyebrows, hairline and part are quite different. Eyes are not the same shape and do not line up the same. The mouth is similar but I’d vote they are not the same.

  12. I believe they are the same man. The picture on the right taken when he was younger. I see the same eyebrow arch, and the same left ears, which seem to lift away from his head on his left side. Nose is slim and thin in both.
    But I guess I am alone. ??

  13. These are photos of two different men. The features of both men are very similar. However the eyes, ears, nose, hairline and other features are not identical and cannot be resolved by saying one is a picture of the same fellow at a later age. Sorry but no match.