Photo Detective: Family Tall Tales

Photo Detective: Family Tall Tales

No doubt about it, Michael R. Boyce has spent a lot of time working on his family history. He's discovered that some of the stories his father told him appear to be true—such as being related to a Dutch sea captain. He's also uncovered photographs of many of...

No doubt about it, Michael R. Boyce has spent a lot of time working on his family history. He’s discovered that some of the stories his father told him appear to be true—such as being related to a Dutch sea captain. He’s also uncovered photographs of many of the people in his family who were alive since the advent of photography in 1839. As with every family tree, there are those unexpected moments—you know what I mean—those uncanny connections you make via the Internet that help you unravel mysteries. In Michael’s case, he not only found a name change, but an eastern link to his ancestor Stephen V. Boyce and some more photographs. It is one of those pictures that he submitted to this column with the hope of putting a name with a face.

Michael Boyce had heard that a member of his family was from the eastern United States, but couldn’t discover any information linking his great-great-grandfather Stephen V. Boyce to other Boyce families. A response to a posting on an online message board solved that mystery. It turned out that Stephen was the son of John Boice and had run away from home. Eventually Stephen ended up on the West Coast settling on San Juan Island in Washington state as Stephen Boyce rather than Boice. Michael thinks that this tintype is a picture of Stephen’s father John. The name change is not unusual in this family. It appears to derive from Dutch name, Buys, and appears with different spellings in various documents.

John Boice was born in 1794 in Columbia County, NY, and died July 4, 1876, in Greene County, NY. According to federal census records, he was a farmer until a few years before his death. Michael thinks this portrait is his third-great-grandfather because he has photographs of two of John’s three other brothers (Eli, Jacob and William). He thinks William died somewhere around the mid-19th century. Since this picture is of a man in his later years, it couldn’t be William. Only John is left as a possible identification. So is this a picture of John Boice?

The answer is perhaps. There is no identifying information on the photograph to connect this image to him. It was, however, provided by a cousin who had pictures of the other two brothers. There is a strong Boyce family resemblance in the photograph when compared to the other images on Michael’s family history Web site at webpages.charter.net/boyceweb. Unfortunately, this type of photograph doesn’t provide a narrow time frame. Tintypes were introduced in 1856 and in some places are still available today.

While clothing clues usually help determine a date for an image, in this case the man is wearing work clothes suggestive of the 1860s. In the 1860s, John Boice would have been in his 60s and still working his farm. There is striking evidence of the hard life of a farmer present in this picture. Take a look at the hand leaning on the arm of the chair. Both his middle and little fingers have bruised fingernails and he is missing the first joint of his index finger. He also appears to have something wrong with his right eye. Since there is no way to prove or disprove the identification at this point, it very well could be John Boice.

John Boice’s life story is just one of the tales that appear on Michael Boyce’s Web site. If you want to follow the migrations and name changes of the Boice/Boyce/Buys family through documents and photographs, take a look at his site. It is full of interesting facts and is a good example of what happens when a family works together to unravel a set of mysteries.

Find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis by Maureen Taylor. E-mail her at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com.

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