Saturday, August 25, 2012

Photo Research Case Study - Local Celebrity

Jesse Lazear
(By Candice Buchanan)

The Greene County Historical Society in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania holds a carte-de-visite size photograph album connected to the Cathers, Inghram, Lindsey, Munnell, and related families. In the album is a CDV captioned "Jesse Lazear." The photographer stamp credits Whitehurst Gallery, 434 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.[1] This photograph shows up again, in combination with another pose from the same sitting, captioned as Jesse Lazear, as a loose CDV in the orphaned images of GCHS and also of the Waynesburg University Museum.[2]

This popular photo has made not only three archived appearances, but it has also made itself present in family photograph collections and research questions submitted by private families to the Greene Connections: Greene County, Pennsylvania Photo Archives Project. Whether the image appears (1) captioned as Jesse Lazear, (2) captioned with an ancestor's name, or (3) without a caption at all, it has been cause for further research. In the first case, who is this man with a name that does not fit into the family tree? In the second and third, if this is an ancestor, why would he have had a photograph taken in Washington, D.C.? Did he reside there, or did he travel to visit or attend a special event?

Photograph Analysis

This CDV is an albumen print taken in the early 1860s. The beaver pelt collar that he appears to be wearing was at its height in popularity and a cravat was still commonly worn around the neck, the latter a style donned in larger form during the 1850s, but narrowing and beginning to look like a bow tie in the 1860s.[3] There is no revenue stamp on the back of the card-mount, as would have been common during the Civil War, specifically from 1 August 1864 to 1 August 1866.[4] So due to the early-decade fashions he is wearing and the lack of a revenue stamp, this picture was most likely taken prior to 1 August 1864.

Private photograph collections very often feature faces from outside of the family. By the 1860s, tintypes and CDVs were being produced in multiples and traded among friends. Both styles fit neatly into popular photograph albums, and photographers made the most of the trend by reproducing images to sell of famous figures: royal families, politicians, war heroes, and stars of the performing arts.[5] Consequently, it is not uncommon to find Ulysses S. Grant or Abraham Lincoln staring out from Civil War era albums a few pages from a great-great-grandfather. Though not images of family members, these famous photos still tell us about our ancestors' political views or give us a snippet of insight into their interests or sense of humor.

More common and more difficult to discern, are photos of friends, neighbors, and local celebrities such as popular community leaders, teachers, preachers, and others who frequent family albums. These images are less recognizable and do not immediately stand out to be non-family. They are often produced by the same local photographers, who took the family portraits and are consequently similar in studio appearance, card mount, and photographer marks. A study of the ancestor's community is the best way to solve these mysteries. If an image is captioned, compare the caption to rosters of classmates, lists of fellow congregants, neighbors in Census records, and so on. Captioned or uncaptioned photos both can be viewed against pictorial histories, yearbooks, institutional archives (i.e. church, school, fraternal or veteran groups), and community web sites that provide opportunities for photo sharing.

Caption Analysis

In this case, we find Jesse Lazear among the rolls of local politicians. He was Greene County's representative in Congress during the Civil War, having been elected to the Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth Congresses (March 4, 1861-March 3, 1865).[6] Jesse sat for famous wartime photographer Mathew Brady in 1865, providing an excellent identified image for comparison.[7] The popular CDV featured here was likely taken during his first term in office and circulated to his supporters back home. Even though Jesse lived his later years in the Washington, D.C. area, he was born, spent much of his active life in, and ultimately was buried in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Upon word of his death reaching friends in town, the Waynesburg Republican solemnly declared, "There is perhaps no person now living so universally well known and respected in Greene county."[8] This explains why he frequently appears in local collections of his era.

As to incidents of this photo appearing with captions naming family members instead of Jesse Lazear, these may indicate to whom the photo was given as opposed to who is in the photo. This is a frequent problem in any type of photo caption analysis and is a primary reason for testing the caption. It is also possible that in more than a century of photo ownership, notations have been added to the original image by a well-meaning relative who simply misidentified the image. Though captions are always a strong starting point for investigation, they must be treated like any other document in genealogical research. We must consider the evidence of a handwritten notation against other sources and be ready to reconsider our conclusion if new evidence comes to light.


During the early years of the Civil War, Jesse Lazear, aged in his late 50s, was serving as Greene County, Pennsylvania's representative to the United States Congress in Washington D.C. These facts make him the right age at the right place at the right time to be the subject of the Carte-de-Visite photograph that so often bears his name. His local celebrity status explains his image's frequency in local collections. Finally, the well-documented photograph taken by the era's famous photographer, Mathew Brady, provides a timely photo comparison to confirm the Lazear caption. It is reasonable to assume that any other captions found on this image were either written with an intention other than to identify the subject or were simply errors in identification.

[1] Jesse Lazear Carte-de-Visite photograph, circa 1860-1864, from Whitehurst, Gallery, 434 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.; Album 3 Series, Greene County Historical Society Collection (918 Rolling Meadows Road; Waynesburg, PA 15370), digital image scanned for the Greene Connections: Greene County, Pennsylvania Photo Archives Project between 2005 and 2011; GreeneConnections ( accessed 4 June 2012), item # GCHS_AN004_0039.
[2] Orphaned images refer to photographs that were either donated without a record of provenance or were at some point separated from their original collections and consequently have lost any contextual documentation. Jesse Lazear Carte-de-Visite photograph, circa 1860-1864, from Whitehurst, Gallery, 434 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.; People Series, Greene County Historical Society Collection (918 Rolling Meadows Road; Waynesburg, PA 15370), digital image scanned for the Greene Connections: Greene County, Pennsylvania Photo Archives Project between 2005 and 2011; GreeneConnections ( accessed 4 June 2012), item # GCHS-AN026-0116. Jesse Lazear Carte-de-Visite photograph, circa 1860-1864, from Whitehurst, Gallery, 434 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.; Greene County People Series, Waynesburg University Museum Collection (51 W. College St.; Waynesburg, PA 15370), digital image scanned for the Greene Connections: Greene County, Pennsylvania Photo Archives Project between 2005 and 2011; GreeneConnections ( accessed 4 June 2012), item # WAYN_AN003_0007.
[3] Date of photograph determined from: Maureen A. Taylor, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, 2nd edition (Cincinnati, Ohio: Family Tree Books, 2005), 92, "Men's Fashions" chart for years 1860-1870. Gary Clark, Photo Tree ( : viewed 4 June 2012), Photo Gallery - Confirmed Dates - 1860s. Family Chronicle, More Dating Old Photographs 1840-1929 (Toronto, Canada: Moorshead Magazines Ltd., 2004), 24-28.
[4] Taylor, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, 44-45.
[5] Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler and Diane Vogt-O’Connor et al, Photographs: Archival Care and Management (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006), 40-43; Taylor, Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs, 39 and 41-42.
[6] Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 - Present ( : viewed 27 February 2004), Jesse Lazear bio.
[7] Print from negative: "Hon. Jesse Lazear, PA," by Mathew Brady; Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, compiled 1921 - 1940, documenting the period 1860 - 1865; National Archives, Washington, D. C. online image digitized by ( : accessed 30 May 2012); image number B-1248.
[8] Jesse Lazear obituary, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 5 September 1877, page 3, column 5.

Friday, August 3, 2012

When Great-Great-Grandfathers Go Hunting

(By Candice Buchanan)

Part of my devotion to (a/k/a obsession with) genealogy comes from the fact that my own immediate family knew and preserved so little. My paternal grandma was awesome for the photos and stories of her generation and even of her parents’ peer group, but of anyone further back she had no knowledge. For me, and for most researchers I know, family history has always been about so much more than names on charts. The entire Greene Connections project grew out of a desire to find and share the rare history hiding in attics and drawers and shoeboxes that could bring our ancestors to life in image and storied detail. And, so, a random little find prompts me to write today.

A month or two ago, I tracked down an 1880 marriage announcement in the microfilm of the Waynesburg Republican available at the Cornerstone Genealogical Society in Waynesburg, Pa. On the same page, I noticed an article about my Cook family. I printed the whole page to study later and today I finally got to read it thoroughly. The following is a story I never knew about my great-great-grandfather Thomas Hamlet Cook [1859-1928], while he was still a young bachelor, and had things gone differently my family would never have been.

"Accidentally Shot Himself" article, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 14 January 1880, page 3, column 7.
"Accidentally Shot Himself"
On New Years day, a young man named Thomas Cooke, son of Mr. Wm. H. Cooke, of Centre township, near South Ten Mile Baptist Church, accidentally discharged a load of shot into his person, inflicting a severe wound. He and two or three other young fellows were out with guns and he was standing resting the breech of his shot gun on the ground, when by some unknown means the gun was discharged, the charge entering the unfortunate youth's breast near the left nipple and passing through the shoulder making a ghastly orifice. Medical aid was immediately summoned and at last accounts, the patient was slowly improving. It was a narrow escape from death, and we trust it will not disable him to the extent feared."
Interestingly, a “Mere Mentions” column that I found a few years ago in the same local newspaper, also revealed one of the few random facts I know about another great-great-grandfather, William Daily Buchanan [1847-1922].

Will Buchanan article, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 17 February 1875, page 3, column 2.
"Will Buchanan, two miles from Waynesburg, discovered a den of skunks last week. He dug down until a small aperture was made into the hole, and as one would show his head--attempting to get out--he would take it on the snout and lay out his skunkship. He took out eight of the odoriferous animals, and it wasn't a very good day for them either. The eight hides netted him about ten dollars."
Two random stories, unintentionally discovered, brought a little life to my family tree. Keep your eyes open as you search, you never know what unexpected discovery awaits.

If you have made some surprising and interesting discoveries in your Greene County research that you want to share, please post to the comments section below!