Mourners in Old Graveside Photo

By Maureen A. Taylor

This old graveside picture is proof that family photographs are inherited differently in every family. Sometimes the pictures go to the oldest, sometimes the youngest, and sometimes they get scattered among descendants.

The same can be true for genealogical information. Huge online genealogy databases like and can help bring all that data and those pictures back together.

Pam Fisher got this photo from her cousin Mary Fehr. Pam’s theory that it depicts the funeral of her great aunt Edna, who died in 1890, didn’t agree with the circa 1919 date for the picture. In last week’s post, I studied the evidence and theorized that the graveside mourners are close family members and that the deceased could be a child.

Pam also submitted an image of her great-uncle Benjamin F. Shepardson (born 1863). She thinks he’s standing in the group of mourners near the grave. I agree. Matching photographs of individuals involves looking at all the facial features and the spacing between those features. It’s also about adding up the facts of their life and making sure the picture details match those facts.

In this case, they do. Benjamin lived in the vicinity of the funeral. Here’s a picture of Benjamin taken in the 1880s and a close-up of him at the funeral. This single portrait together with an image I found online (owned by a distant cousin) helped break the case.


A quick search of turned up multiple family trees for descendants of the Shepardson family. Several siblings were still living in the circa 1919 period: Arthur (b.1860), Benjamin (b. 1863), Oliff (b. 1867), Pliny (b. 1873), Bessie (b. 1875), Otis (b. 1880) and Victor (b. 1884). Edna (1869-1890) and David (1877-1893) were deceased.

Benjamin was a favorite uncle amongst the descendants of his siblings—so special that his memorial on Find A includes a testament to him as “Beloved Uncle Ben.” He lived in Castle Rock, Cowlitz, Wash.

I wondered if there were more Shepardsons buried in the Whittle Hubbard cemetery there. Turns out the answer is yes. There’s is a family plot there as well. A photo of the cemetery appears on the site. All those evergreen trees and the rolling landscape looked familiar. Bingo! The graveside picture appears to have been taken at Whittle Hubbard.

Suddenly there was another possibility for who’s being mourned: Bejamin’s mother Flora died in 1915.

All the information about the family online might hold a clue to who’s standing graveside. Now take a look at the man on the far right: He also resembles Benjamin. 

This could be Benjamin’s older brother, Arthur. Looking at public family trees for the Shepardsons on turned up another picture, this one of their sister Bessie. She could be the woman in the front of the group of mourners or the woman in back standing next to Benjamin.

Below, I’ve added suggested identification to the people in the picture. This is a long way from saying exactly who’s who. More information is need on where these people lived to gauge whether or not they could have attended the funeral.

I’m playing devil’s advocate with the rest of the identities, estimating how old people might be in 1915. Arthur (55), Benjamin (52), Bessie (40), David (38), Otis (35) and Victor (31). Two of the brothers are missing: Oliff and Pliny, who would’ve been 48 and 42 in 1915. Now it’s time to try to find images of all the siblings and match them up to the folks near the grave. I’m confident that additional research can solve this mystery. 

It appears that images of the siblings are scattered in collections owned by distant cousins. Pam’s going to have fun trying to track down those images. In the process she’ll be bringing the descendants of these mourners back together.

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