Identifying Old Photos in Lockets and Brooches

By Maureen A. Taylor

Teri Luna’s grandmother Catherine Walker Brown Robson owned two pieces of photo jewelry.

Her locket contained two photos, one of Catherine and the other of her sister Jean. When Teri removed them, two other images fell out that had been stored behind the other pictures. One was Catherine’s husband, William, when he was young, and the other was her brother George Andrew Drinnan in his WWI military uniform.

The other photo jewelry, a pin or brooch, presents a mystery. Teri’s not sure who’s in this portrait:

Catherine was born in Dalziel, Lanarkshire, Scotland, in 1894, and immigrated to Canada with her mother, Agnes Dunlop Drinnan Brown. Teri is hoping that this picture shows Catherine’s father, John Waddell Brown. Brown was born about 1855 in Fintry, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

People wore pins like this in both the United States and Scotland. But the pin dates to earlier than Teri thinks. Pins of similar design date from the 1850s to the early 1860s.

Based on the man’s tie and lapels, I’d date this photo to the early 1860s. His under-the-chin beard connected to sideburns also was common during that period. In the United States, this type of beard was called a Greeley after newspaperman Horace Greeley.

Because Brown’s great-grandfather wasn’t born until 1855, this man isn’t him. This man is middle aged, with gray throughout his facial hair.

So who could he be? He could be Agnes Dunlop Drinnan Brown’s father, or the father of her husband, John Waddell Brown. I’d need more information on their birth places and years to double-check the data against the photo evidence.

If this image was taken in, say, 1863, and the man was in his 50s (let’s estimate 53), then this man was born about 1810. This suggested birth year might help identify him in the family tree.

The best resource for researching photo jewelry, such as lockets, charms, pins and brooches, is Tokens of Affection and Regard (2005) by Larry J. West and Patricia Abbott. Teri’s family is lucky to have this gorgeous pin.

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