Photo Detective: Same Man?

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

Figure 1 Figure 2

Several weeks ago, I wondered aloud in this column why the majority of submissions were photographs of women. Gregg Reno answered my request by sending in two photographs that he believes to be his great-grandfather, Maurice Hickey. Hickey left behind few records of his life. The family knows he was from Ireland and that he had a son Daniel born in 1868. They believe he died July 17, 1889, while he was a patient at the National Soldier’s Home in Virginia (he served as a private in the 13th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War), but this needs further confirmation. It is from an online source, When using data found on the Web, it is always a good idea to double-check the original source of the record.

Gregg Reno submitted the photographs with four questions in mind: When was the image taken; why is there a darker oval around the man’s head in the paper print; is this a copy rather than an original image; and are the two photographs of the same person? Let me answer one question at time.

When was the picture taken?
The photographer’s imprint on the cabinet card reads, “Aufrecht, Allegheny.” In the Directory of Pennsylvania Photographers, 1839-1900 by Linda A. Ries and Jay W. Ruby (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999), Gustave Aufrecht worked as a photographer in Allegheny City in the 1880s and at Scranton and Pittsburgh later in the decade. These business dates provide a general time frame for the image. His clothing also supports a date in the 1880s as evidenced by his top buttoned jacket and tightly knotted striped tie. The clover tie pin perhaps indicates his Irish origins. His clothing is clearly fashionable for the decade of the 1880s and he appears well-dressed and successful.

Why is there a darker oval around the man’s head?
While this image (figure 1) was found in a photograph album, it originally stood in an oval mat. The darker area of the photograph is due to exposure to light. At some point, Gregg’s great-grandmother removed the image from the oval frame and placed it in her album with different size and shaped openings than its earlier frame.

Are the two photographs of the same individual?
The strong resemblance between the two men indicates that they are related. The fact that the tintype (figure 2) was taken in the 1880s proves the images can’t be of the same person. In the first image the man is older with crow’s feet around the eyes and gray hair in his mustache. In the second image the man’s homburg hat with a high crown verifies the decade, but it is a picture of a much younger person. Figure 2 could be an image of Daniel Hickey, the son, taken in the late 1880s when he would be in his 20s.

Where to go from here?
Since there is no name on the images, verifying the identity of the men in the photographs will require additional research. One of the first Web sites to look at is the one dedicated to the 102 Pennsylvania Infantry (which at one point was the 13th Pennsylvania Infantry). Since the organizers of this site are collecting new material, they may know of other Hickey descendants or might even know of other photographs of unit soldiers. Another excellent resource for military images is the United States Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pa. The site has a searchable database of material and photographs online. 

The lack of documentation on Maurice Hickey makes it difficult to ascertain whether these are photographs of him and his son. The existence of the images in Gregg Reno’s great-grandmother’s album suggests a family relationship, but they might not be Maurice Hickey. Before positively identifying the photographs, I would look for more data in census records, local histories and regimental records for Maurice Hickey. A major problem with the one burial record is answering how Hickey ended up in a Virginia soldier’s hospital. This might be resolved by searching for Civil War pension records and those for the National Soldiers Home located at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

The search to place a name with a family in the family album requires detective work and creativity. It also demands that you gather together all possible documentation for those individuals in addition to photographic evidence. I love working with the photographs submitted to this column. It is extremely challenging and each new photo is an adventure. Thank you for sharing your family picture puzzles.