Facial Features as an Old Photo Identification Clue

By Maureen A. Taylor

Who do you look like? I’m my father’s child from the nose up and my mother’s child from the nose down.

Often, looking at family photographs will trigger a familiar response: “Ah, that’s where I got that nose” or “those blue eyes.”

Using facial features to identify family photographs is often a difficult assignment. It’s all about adding up the evidence—clothing, photographer’s imprint, format, etc.—and then comparing faces in photos.

There are more than 20 points in a face worth comparing. Eyes, noses, mouths and ears, as well as the spacing between them, can be key clues.

Richard Rainsberger owns this picture of Amanda Lash Newhouse (1862-1945):

The photographer, Rief, first opened his studio in Canton, Ohio, in 1902. These types of photo mounts were quite common in the early 20th century. Amanda Lash Newhouse wears a lovely printed cotton blouse with a high neckline, a style popular in the first decade of the 20th century.

Recently, a cousin gave Rainsberger this unidentified photo of a young woman:

Amanda had one daughter, Zelma, born in 1884. Could this be her?
Let’s look at the faces more closely.

Using, I created a collage of their faces. What resemblances do you see?

We inherit qualities from our mothers and our fathers (and our other ancestors). I see a similar smile and nose on these two women, but do all the facts add up?

The unidentified woman likely posed for this picture in her late teens or early 20s. The yoked bodice and high collar suggest it was taken in the first decade of the 20th century, just like the photo of Amanda Newhouse.

Newhouse’s daughter was born in 1884. Add 20 years to that birth date and you get 1904, a likely date for the photo.

There’s no photographer mentioned on the unidentified image.

I’m not sure how Richard and his cousin Rob are cousins. That last bit of information would help identify the provenance of the mystery picture. Who owned it before Rob and what other photographs was it passed down with? I can’t wait to find out.

This could be a picture of Zelma—which would make two genealogists very happy.

Here are the two images side by side.

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