First Photo Mystery of 2015

By Maureen A. Taylor

Diana Luellen and her father found this old photo at his sister’s house almost 20 years ago. A lot of the aunt’s pictures were identified, but the portrait of this man and several others were not.

Diana emailed me that “this is the one I keep on my computer desk, willing him to tell me who he is each day.” It’s no wonder. The quality of this portrait shows us this man’s expressive face and light-colored eyes.

At one time this oval portrait was in a frame. The solemn, formal portrait makes me wonder if this man held a position of importance in his community. Nineteenth-century local histories feature men dressed in this fashion. It could’ve been taken for inclusion in a town history.

The clothing is conservative. Wide lapels with deep notches and a silk stock around his neck over an upturned shirt collar date to the mid- to late 1860s. His tie style is more appropriate to the late 1850s or early 1860s. However, the style stayed in fashion for men in business and politics long after that period. His side whiskers don’t appear to continue under the chin.

If this man were approximately in his mid-60s when photographed, and this photograph was taken about 1867, then he was born circa 1800. Judging age is difficult, of course, because it relies on various factors including occupation, health and genetics. The man also could be in his early 70s.

Diana has one clue. The man looks like the paternal side of her family, which lived in Luzerne/Susquehanna Co., Pa.

My advice to her is to reexamine her family history for men born near the turn of the 19th century and still living during the 1860s. I’d then consider their occupational history, searching for someone who may have been a community leader or well-known business person.

I’d also use the Internet Archive or Heritage Quest (a ProQuest database available through libraries) to look for local histories for the towns in which her ancestors lived.

In this picture mystery, age, dress and local history are clues that could identify this man.

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