A Timeline of Portraits

By Maureen A. Taylor

Candace LaPrade send in several images of one of her ancestors. She’s very lucky to have more than one picture of this man!

When you have multiple pictures of the same person, try to put them in chronological order using their attire and age as a guide.

Peter Whitmer (1828-1909) of Lancaster, Pa., and later Bloomington, Ill., liked the chin beard. As a young man he wore the full chin beard. Later on, he groomed it into a small chin beard often referred to as the “spade.”

Here, Peter is dressed in typical attire for the 1850s/early 1860s with a patterned vest and horizontal tie. In 1860, he’d be 32.

This is likely an 1880s photo. By now, Peter’s hair is more gray. He wears the under-the-collar tie popular in the 1880s.

This image has the appearance of a late-19th to early-20th century portrait. Note the way the photographer has lit the face to draw attention to it.

Three pictures. One man over a 40-year time frame. His face changes in subtle ways from his 30s to 60s. What do you notice?

Certain facial features identify this man in all the images. The shape of his nose, his straight mouth and eyes, for instance.

Each of these images was likely taken for a specific reason. The middle one was probably posed for a local history and the last one might signify his retirement. The next step is to place these images in a timeline of his life and see what milestones line up with these portraits.

Next week, it’s Peter’s wedding portrait from 1855. Such a treasure!

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