Margaret took advantage of a visit to her brother's home to go through some old family pictures. She brought home this one because she knows I am always interested in such photo artifacts.
A masking tape label on the back of the framed photo identify the subject by name as "Capt. A.C. Thompson, father of Mrs. T.S. Johnson". Margaret did not recognize the specific names, though I thought they were likely ancestors of Margaret's mother whose maiden name was Johnson.
The subject's features are much easier to make out in the scanned image than in the actual photograph which is under glass in a thin, embossed metal frame which measures 2.75 inches by 3.25 inches. I thought at first that the picture might be a tintype. However, the surface damage apparent in the scan is not typical of other old tintypes I have seen. I am guessing from the condition, the framing, the dress and the pose that the picture dates to the mid-to-late 19th Century.
It turns out that I jumped to some wrong conclusions about family connections to The Captain. We got to talking about him with my daughter and granddaughter who is doing a school project on genealogy. Margaret said there were Johnsons and Smiths on both sides of her family. Sure enough, when we dug out the family tree, there was The Captain, four generations back on the paternal side.
Later in the evening I got an email from my daughter who had discovered some records and pictures on line of an A.C. Thompson who was a Captain of the Confederacy. There was a family connection to Georgia which fit. My daughter asked me what I thought the chances were that our A.C. was the Confederate officer. I was skeptical on two counts.
The fellow in the old photo we have has a nose which resembles that worn by the two generations of Smiths that I have known personally. The Confederate face has some superficial similarities, but I don't see that nose. Additionally, the family history notes accompanying the picture of the Civil War officer lists a wife whose name does not match that associated with the A.C Johnson in the copy of the genealogy we have.
Later yet, my daughter wrote again that she had found a discrepancy regarding the name of the Confederate's wife in another document which indicated that the name ascribed to the wife was actually that of a mother-in-law. Then, again, we don't at this point know the details of the process by which a name, a rank and a family connection was made to the picture we have. My daughter is still hot on the trail.
I have to confess my interest in the identity of the fellow in our pictures is quickly reaching its limit. There is no doubt that a photographic portrait can instantaneously record a moment in the life of the subject. How one interprets that record is, however, a slippery process. The circumstances of the moment may or may not be faithfully recorded at the time by another person, or they may be later pieced together by several or many people, each with their own perspectives and prejudices. Still, there remains the possibility that somewhat firm connections to past lives and events can be revealed by the photographic record, and it is interesting to see how people chose to have themselves portrayed at a distant time in the past for history's sake.