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.

Conclusion

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 (http://www.GreeneConnections.com: 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 (http://www.GreeneConnections.com: 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 (http://www.GreeneConnections.com: 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 (http://phototree.com : 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 (http://bioguide.congress.gov : 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 Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com/image/#5715302 : accessed 30 May 2012); image number B-1248.
[8] Jesse Lazear obituary, Waynesburg Republican, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 5 September 1877, page 3, column 5.

5 comments:

  1. Great article on how to use deduction on identify a photo subject. The mistaken captions can be like today's misuse of photo captions. I have a number of photos that have the name of the recipient of the photo on the back and not the subject of the photo. A practice I wish people would stop.

    I wish there was of captioning tins back then, right or wrong, I have a number of tins that I can't identify and can only surmise what family they are by what other family photos they were attached to.

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  2. I acquired a 19th century photo album where almost none of the photos were identified. I've been able to identify a few of these based upon some research as well as being able to date the photo. You can read about this at Photo Genealogy at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets.

    By the way, welcome to Geneabloggers.

    Regards, Jim

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  3. So glad to have found your blog today courtesy of GeneaBloggers. Despite knowing I had some ancestral connections to Greene County, I was still excited to find several of our family's Gordons listed in your PDF! Looking forward to following your posts.

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you found some Greene County relatives in the Archives Project! I hope you were you able to locate them on Flickr after finding them in the index. I am trying to simplify that process and am open to ideas! The new "Genealogy Selections" section will make it possible to find the photos by searching the family tree as well. Since that section has just been added, it will take some time to plug everyone in, but please check back!

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  4. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    http://drbilltellsancestorstories.blogspot.com/
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
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    http://www.examiner.com/heritage-tourism-in-springfield-mo/dr-bill-william-l-smith
    http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/drbilltellsexcitingstories
    The Heritage Tourist at In-Depth Genealogist: http://www.indepthgenealogist.com/

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