Photo Detective: Inked Identity

Photo Detective: Inked Identity

Tracie Rose is determined to find out more about her unusual family name, Bankz. She's posted online queries, searched databases and looked in public records. Now she owns a photo she suspects is of her great-grandfather Jamel Elvin Bankz, his brother, and their parents. Will it help solve her...

Tracie Rose is determined to find out more about her unusual family name, Bankz. She’s posted online queries, searched databases and looked in public records. Now she owns a photo she suspects is of her great-grandfather Jamel Elvin Bankz, his brother, and their parents. Will it help solve her family mysteries? Perhaps, but it’s going to take some more work.

Rose knows a bit about her family. Her grandfather was 18 and the oldest of 11 siblings when he lost his mother. The two oldest children were left to support themselves; their younger sisters and brothers went to an orphanage. Those who weren’t adopted were raised by the nuns who operated the institution. These events have made Rose’s genealogy research difficult, but she’s been able to recreate some information.

This photo of two young men and their parents is as much of a puzzle as the Bankz surname, but it’s also a clue. The family stands in front of a rock in bright sunlight; vegetation is sparse. Based on their attire, the weather is warm. The woman wears a hair net low on her forehead and a simple, loose dress. The mustached, pipe-smoking man is attired in a shirt, vest and cap.

Crouched in front of him is a man in his late 20s or early 30s dressed in a jacket, shirt and pants. But the most interesting character is the final one, an individual and a rebel. His combed-back hair is long on top; his arms are covered in tattoos and he wears a tight t-shirt and sleeveless vest. The younger men’s hairstyles and their attire suggest this photo dates from the 1940s—based on this date, the image probably doesn’t show Jamel Elvin Bankz.

The tattoos may hold the answer to this visual riddle. According to Tattoo You, beginning in the 1920s, tattoo parlors opened in cities near military bases, especially naval facilities. Until World War II, these markings often identified where a person had traveled. A tattoo on this man’s right arm looks like a knight’s helmet with intersecting arrows; on the left is a lion. The rest aren’t clear.

To decipher this unusual clue, Rose should start with Tattoo History: A Source Book (Powerhouse Books, $29.99) by Stephen G. Gilbert, and The World of Tattoo: An Illustrated History by Maarten Hesselt van Dinter (KIT Publishers, $80). Since Rose has no idea where this image was taken, these details such as where this man traveled and whether he served in the military could help her find her family’s origins.

If you have information on these tattoos or the surname Bankz, please post them to the FamilyTreeMagazine.com Photo Detective Forum (look for the Dec. 14 Identifying Family Photographs: Tattoo thread).

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