Adding Up the Clues in 3 Old Family Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

Wanda Allison inherited photos of the McIntosh/Pearson families. Last week we looked at a tintype of this man, wearing Masonic regalia and posed with his wife. Relatives thought the couple could be John McIntosh (1810-1898) and Isabella Rutherford (1806-1894).

The problem is the couple in this 1860s image is a lot younger than John and Isabella would be in this time frame.

Notice the pink cheeks, a common way for photographers to add life to a portrait.

Wanda has two other images that weigh into this puzzle:

Here’s a family-identified picture of John and Isabella in the 1880s.

And a card photo of Isabella in the 1860s. This woman is not the same person as the one in the 1860s tintype at the beginning of this post. Their noses are different.

The nose of the young woman on the left is very different from the woman in the middle.

So who’s in the 1860s tintype? That’s the big question.

Last week I mentioned how her arm resting on his shoulder suggested a close relationship. It’s possible that the pair isn’t husband and wife, but brother and sister.

John and Isabella had nine children:

  • John, 03 Apr 1833 – 24 Aug 1896
  • William, 07 Jun 1836 – 23 Jan 1913
  • Christina, 30 Jan 1839 – 04 Apr 1918
  • James R., 03 Oct 1840 – 21 Jun 1924
  • Catharine, 25 Feb 1846 – 05 May 1919
  • Jessie, 25 Feb 1848 – 18 Oct 1928
  • Isabella, 21 Dec 1849 – 19 Dec 1895
  • Jane (Jeannie), 02 Jul 1851 – 02 Mar 1888
  • Elizabeth Bruce, 27 Sep 1854 – 09 May 1930

Let’s estimate that the woman in the tintype is in her 20s, and that the picture was taken in 1864. That means she was born about 1844. This birth date rules out several of the daughters born too late to be the age of the young woman in the 1860s tintype. Any of the brothers could be in the tintype—John, William or James. Certainly the man and woman in the tintype bear a resemblance to John and Isabella, something that could lead descendants to believe them to actually be the older couple.

Sorting this out involves more research and more photo comparisons.

  • When do the older children marry?
  • Are there pictures of their spouses?
  • Are there pictures of the children?

Figuring out who’s who is all about finding more pictures. There is a picture of Christina with her younger siblings taken in the late 1880s, but it’s the older siblings that will help identify that tintype.

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