How to Tell Men’s Faces Apart in Old Photos

By Maureen A. Taylor

Pat Dwyer reached out through Facebook to ask a question about some confusing family photos. This post is the first of two.

Pat owns a photograph of Patrick Sheridan, and her cousin thinks he does too.

Patrick Sheridan

Unknown man thought to be Patrick Sheridan

When comparing two pictures of men, look closely at their facial features— especially ears, eyes and mouth. Examining pictures of men also involves comparing their facial hair growth patterns and hairlines.

Establish a Time Frame
The second photo of the unknown man likely dates from the late 1870s. The wide lapels and the style of the card the photo is printed on make this clear. It was more common to see men with small ties with loose ends under their collars, but a necktie was an option.

Here’s a photo of Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady wearing similar neckwear.

Mathew Brady, 1875,

Pat’s photo of the older man standing with his hand on a fake column also dates from the 1870s.

Look at Facial Features

What do you see?

Here are the differences that I immediately notice:

  • Hairlines are different
  • One man has curly hair and the other straight, but the man on the right has greased hair.
  • On the right, the tops of the man’s ears tilt away from his head. The other man’s ears are larger.
  • The beard is fuller on the man on the left.

Here are some traits in common:

  • Shape of the nose
  • The brow line close to the eyes
  • A narrow chin

While these two images don’t depict the same man in my estimation, these could be a father and son. I’m hoping Pat has more information on the Sheridans.

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