Consanguinity: (kŏn'săng-gwĭn'ĭtē) , relationship by blood, whether linear or collateral.

Primarily concentrating on my Browning family from Harrison County, Ohio (and their subsequent move to Crawford County, Illinois) but I've got Plymell, Crago, Eagleton, Garrard, McConnell, Nichols, Swan, Nevitt, Huls, Markee, Depperman, Papstein/Popstein and Hamilton in there too. And that's just the beginning......

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not So Wordless Wednesday - A Mystery Photo

This photograph in my collection is one of the few that doesn't have a positive identification attached to it. Most of my old photos do -- thanks to my wonderful grandmother Beulah (Garrard) Browning! -- so this one has always been a curiosity to me.

It is a 6.5 x 9 sheet and is either an ambrotype or a tintype -- I'm ashamed to say I'm not sure which. You can't see it in the reproduction to the right but when you hold it to the light the people nearly disappear. That makes me think ambrotype. However, in the bottom right corner you can clearly see a bit of metal where the image is peeling away. It also sounds like a tin sheet, if you know what I mean? So perhaps tintype is more accurate. Anyway, it's also been enhanced by the photographer. Some color has been added (most notably on kerchiefs and ties) and there are brush strokes accentuating the lines of the jackets worn by the boys and the older man. And as for the background? The house behind the fence looks like some sort of clapboard structure; one can see each thin board atop the other. However, the other side of the background is stranger. It appears to be the chimney of a house or perhaps a squared off church steeple in the distance but it seems almost completely drawn and colored up. I'm not sure the photographer didn't just sketch that in!

It's important that I date this photo because it would help me eliminate a few suggestions my grandma made when she and I were looking at it. Grandma told me she thought this photo might be the family of one of the sons of her grandfather William Garrard (1822-1864.) She thought this could be the family of her uncle James A. Garrard (1851-1910) or the family of her uncle William Bauer Garrard aka William Garrett (1859 - ?). She wasn't sure and I can understand why. My grandmother wasn't born until 1900 and she had only dim recollections of her uncle Jim since she was only 10 when he died. She never met her uncle Bill at all, who'd changed his name and split for Oklahoma before she was born.

I could try to date the photo by analyzing the hairstyles shown. If I did that I would look at the girls with their tight curls bunched up on top of their heads, their mother with a stricter and older sort of style, and date it roughly mid- to late 1880's.

I could look at the clothing, too. The girl behind her mother has a dress on with vertical puffs at her shoulder seams, a brooch, a neck collar and tight sleeves on her arms. That also puts me in the late 1880's. The mother again seems to be wearing an earlier style since her dress has a long row of buttons down the bodice. The oldest boy has on a longer coat over a vest and a striped necktie. The middle boy has on short trousers, a short coat and high stockings. His youngest brother wears the "dress" typical of a young one. And the father? His longer sack coat suggests a decade or so out of fashion just like his wife.

I felt comfortable with my analyzation but it helped that there was also something else I could use to help me independently assess the time period. Apparently this photo had been stored in an album or attached to some sort of keepsake holder with glue. When it was attached and/or removed, it had been laid down upon a newspaper. When it was removed the newspaper ripped and portions of it were left attached to the back!

Click on the picture above if you'd like to see the snippets of words that were left when the newspaper ripped but I can summarize it here. It looked to me like a review of "noteworthy features" in something called "....ort Stories" that was issued monthly. You can see a word here and there and it's obvious that some story titles are being listed. I could see the following:

"...'The Spirits'..."
"...ale from the Spanish..."
"...ecquer; "Qauarantine Is.."
" island, by Walter..."
"..ghbors," an amusing..."
"John Habberton"
"Randolph Churchill"

So I started out by looking up the only name that was clear -- John Habberton. I could have used Randolph Churchill but his more-famous name would have been difficult to narrow down to a specific time frame. I did a Google search and four pages in, Bingo!

Google Books lists this compilation (for photo credit follow the link) entitled "Short stories: a magazine of select fiction, Volume 10" By Alfred Ludlow White. Published in May of 1892, it included stories such as "Next-Door Neighbors" by John Habberton, "Quarantine Island" by Walter Besant and "The Spirit's Mountain" by Gustavo Adolpho Becquer, among others like Bret Harte and George Eliot.

What a great way to find out about a picture. My dating system wasn't off by too much!

This helps eliminate one of the families I listed above, though. According to the information I currently have available, James A. Garrard married Nora Belle Tohill in 1891. They had eight children between the years 1892-1907, six sons and two daughters. One daughter was born in 1892 and the other 1907. James died in 1910 when his youngest was only 3. Therefore I don't believe the picture I have is of this family because the girls in the photo are too old to have a living father.

And what of my grandma's Uncle Bill? Now that's harder. Bill got into some trouble with the law and ran off to Oklahoma, changing his name from Garrard to Garrett. I met some of his descendants about a decade ago but I stupidly didn't gather all the information I should have from them when I had them there (or if I did it's buried in some box/file/etc and I have no idea where it is.) I could kick myself for that. I hadn't thought of Bill in years and I got up just a moment ago to look in my files and lo and behold, there is a picture! It must've been given to me all those years ago, goodness me!

Bill and his wife Sarah Box had a total of nine children, five girls and four boys. I don't have dates for any of them. I don't know when Bill died (he was born in 1859) or when his wife Sarah did. All I have are two grainy photographs. But you know, compare them yourself. The triangular nose, the half circle squint of the eyebrows from the forehead. This might be the right guy after all....


  1. Wonderful photograph, interesting story and excellent sleuthing skills on your part! I particularly like your discovery of the magazine on Google Books - a great example of how Google has changed the face of sleuthing! This would have been absolutely impossible a few years ago, at least in such a short space of time.

    I believe from your description that what you have must be a ferrotype (commonly referred to as a tintype), as ambrotypes (or collodion positives) were printed on glass rather than metal. To make sure that it is not a daguerreotype, which would have been printed on a silver-plated copper sheet, use a magnet to see if it is magnetic. The ferrotype should be attracted by a magnet.

    I think that the very charactersitic shape to the sleeves points to a date of 1890-1892. I think it unlikely to have been before 1890, so your magazine article may well have been used as a backing not long after the portrait was taken.

    As far as the background is concerned, at first I thought the "view" of church/steeple could have been a photographer's backdrop. However, on closer inspection I think you may be right. The photographer has rather crudely painted a background in on the actual photo, perhaps to give the impression of more salubrious surroundings. If you examine the photograph's surface with a lens or microscope you may be able to detect differences in the behavious of the painted and photographic media, such as the degree of cracking/crazing, which could help you decide one way or another.

    It's also fairly unusual to see what is called a "full-plate" tintype, which would have cost substantially more than the more common quarter-, sixth-plate or gem-sized tintypes. The standard size for a full-plate tintype is usually quoted as 6½" x 8½" but there would have been some variation.

    A very interesting photograph - thank you very much for sharing it, Patti.

    Regards, Brett

  2. A wonderful photo, I love it. You are a great detective, figuring out so much with so little. The first thing I noticed is how much the youngest boy looks like his mother, if that is his mother. Everything suggests that it is.

    Good luck finding out more about this family, (I love mysteries, let us readers know if and when you have any breakthroughs on this guy).

  3. Thank you both for your comments! When I get home from work this evening I'll pull out a magnet (and a magnifying glass) and see what comes of it. I suspect it's a ferrotype instead of a daguerreotype but the magnet will confirm. My grandma's father Robert Elbert Garrard (a brother to both James A. and William) was a tintyper and it's quite possible he took this photo!

    I'll definitely keep everyone posted....

  4. A photographer in the family - you are lucky!

  5. Looking at the blow-up of the photo -- is it possible that the woman behind the mother (and by the church) was repaired/touch up? And perhaps the man to her right as well? Comparing the quality of their faces against that of the parents, the parents seem like a photograph but the couple behind them do not.

  6. Pagel, I think you're at least partially right. Touched up, most definitely. The two people you referenced are the most drawn upon/tinted of them all. Their clothes appear to be part of the original photograph and I think their faces were too (the grass between the fence behind them all also retains a photographic appearance) but the two faces might have become damaged or faded and someone tried their hand at repairing them.

    Good comment, thank you!