Old Mystery-Photo Success Story: Six Years Later

By Maureen A. Taylor

So how long does it take to identify an old mystery photo? Sometimes it happens quickly, sometimes not. It all depends on how many facts you have about a photo and if you can rule out possible subjects. In Michael Boyce’s case, it took six years.

He’s determined to bring together Boice/Boyce genealogy with family photos. In 2009, I wrote about this image from his collection in a post called “Family Tall Tales:”

He initially submitted the photo of the man with a partial missing finger to try to sort out stories in the family Name changes, migration to the West Coast and a message board contact eventually helped sort out the Boice/Boyce family connections. But what about the man?

Who was he? John Boice (born 1794) had three brothers, Eli, Jacob and William. Michael Boyce tracked down images of two of the other brothers and was able to rule them out. Last week, he wrote to me and said he’d found a photo of William:

Comparing two images of the same person requires studying the facts of his life and the clues in the image. It helps to put them in a timeline too. The same is true for comparing images of family members. Sometimes there is a striking familial resemblance.

In the first image, taken in the 1860s, the man is balding. He has a full face. In this new image William is older and has a lot more hair. Men wore their hair combed front in the late 1860s to early 1870s.

Can you spot the family features? They both have blue eyes, prominent eyebrows and a down turned mouth. They also share an intense expression.

Now that Michael’s found pictures of all the other brothers he’s pretty convinced that the man in the 2009 column is his ancestor John Boice. Through process of elimination and photo comparison it looks like Michael can finally put a name with a face.

You can check out all of Michael’s Boyce family research on his new family history website.

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