Clues, Cousins and Contacts: Three Ways to Solve a Photo Mystery

By Maureen A. Taylor

What does it take to solve a picture mystery? In this case it’s clues, cousins and contacts.

ThomazinTintype Tintededit.jpg

June Thomazin is determined to solve this tintype mystery! I featured it in my Photo Detective column in the September 2010 Family Tree Magazine (you can get a download of that Photo Detective column or the full issue at Family Tree Shop).

She was hoping someone would come forward with more information, but no one did. Here’s how the story evolved.

Back in 2010, June submitted two painted tintypes. I studied them and suggested they were taken in the late 1860s. Tintypes, patented in 1856, remained popular until the mid-20th century. The wide lapels on the man’s jacket and the woman’s belted dress fit the period.

In June’s tireless search for an answer, she discovered three other copies of this picture owned by various cousins. At some point, a descendant of this couple took the image to a studio to be copied and had different versions of it made. Of the four existing images, two are tintypes and two are crayon portraits (photos enhanced with charcoal and artist’s materials).

One cousin owns the tintype above. His mother wrote on the back “Grandma Dunaway’s parents.” June and her cousin thought this meant Wesley and Elizabeth (Close) Newman.

In another cousin’s collection is this tintype:

Thomazin2TinType painted (5).jpg

In the 1860s, photographers had reversal lens. Some tintypes are reversed images, while others are corrected. Two of the cousins’ four images have the husband seated on the viewer’s right; in the other two, he’s seated on the viewer’s left.

The other two versions of the photo are paper prints.

This four-fold mystery raises a lot of questions:

  • Who had the copies made?
  • Is one an original, or is the original image missing?
  • Are there other copies?

Three of the four images are owned by cousins who descended from James William “Harvey” Dunaway (1829-1880) and his wife Treasy Humphress Bateman (1820-1901). Could this be the link that June’s been hoping to find?

June created this graphic to illustrate who owns what.


In May 2010, I’d posted about June’s detective work trying to identify a cabinet card. That post disproved a caption identifying the couple.


A distant relative saw that blog post and sent June a copy of the exact cabinet card. This couple turned out to be the Newmans. The tintypes above show some other couple. It was an online Family Tree photo reunion.

She had such good luck with the last photo posted here, that she’s crossing her fingers that a Dunaway descendant will be able to figure out who is in the tintypes.

I hope so too! I’d love to write another reunion story.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books 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
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album