While working on a future post about some of the earliest family photos I’ve seen, I had a revelation that I’d like to share with you. One of the most exciting discoveries that I can make when going through old family photos is finding a photo of an ancestor for whom I thought no photos existed. My 3rd-great-grandfather, Horace Scott (the subject of two previous posts: here and here), is one individual whose face I figured I’d never have the chance to see. He was born in 1842, he went off to fight in the Civil War at age 20, he caught tuberculosis two years later in 1864, he was discharged a year later, and he lived only five more years, dying of tuberculosis in 1870 at the age of 28.
I had no photos of Horace Scott that I knew of, and I didn’t expect to ever find any, although I figured I’d keep looking just in case.
Earlier this summer, I wrote a post about a tintype I inherited of Horace’s son Frank Scott. Frank also died of tuberculosis, but not until 1937. I have several identified photos of Frank from between 1917 and 1935, and he’s easily distinguishable in all of these photos. I have two additional, earlier photos that are said to be of Frank, but I’m less certain of these. One is a wedding portrait of (presumably) Frank Scott and Maggie McAllister, and the other is a tintype of a man who was identified in 1953 as being Frank Scott (see photo below).
I initially accepted this identification on its face, as it seemed a solid identification. After all, Myrtle Soule was Frank’s first cousin (her mother, Emily Cordelia Woodruff, was the sister of Frank’s mother, Caroline A. Woodruff). The boy in the photo is about 15 to 18 years old, so if this was indeed Frank (who was born on September 24, 1869), then then this photo would have been taken around 1885–1888. As I stated in my original post on this tintype,
My initial thought about this estimated date was that this doesn’t sound right. First of all, this is a tintype, a mode of photography popularized in 1856, and which began to be replaced by paper prints in the 1860s. According to Wikipedia, however, tintypes “continued to enjoy significant use throughout the 19th century for inexpensive portraits, particularly by street photographers.” Next, the fashion of his clothes didn’t fit my idea of men’s fashions from the 1880s.
But in that first post on this tintype, I accepted Myrtle’s attribution and so I went on to find ways to consider this as not being out of the realm of possibility for dating to 1885–1888.
Things started to break down when I gathered together the scans of all family photos from 1900 or earlier in preparation for the aforementioned future post on our oldest family photos. This tintype stood out dramatically when all the pre-1900 photos were ordered by date. It was striking similar to other tintypes that date to the late 1850s and early 1860s, and it really stood out among photos dated to the 1880s.
Think of Myrtle Soule’s circumstances. It’s 1953, and she’s shown a photo of a boy that looks like her cousin Frank did when he was much younger (when Frank was about 15 and Myrtle was only 7). Would she have considered that the boy was Frank’s father, Horace L. Scott? Horace died on July 30, 1870, in Alden, Illinois. After his death, his widow and children migrated to Minnesota. Myrtle was born in Fergus Falls, MN, on May 16, 1877—seven years after Horace’s death. Myrtle never knew Horace and quite possibly never even saw a photo of Horace. So for her, when seeing a photo of a young boy who looked like Frank did when he was young, stating that the subject of the photo was Frank Scott would have been a reasonable guess. But that’s what I now believe it was—a best guess.
Horace enlisted to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War on August 6, 1862, and reported for duty on September 4, 1862. It was common for soldiers to have their photos taken before heading off to war, to give their family something to remember them by. Compare the tintype in question with another tintype that dates to 1861:
If this photo is indeed of Horace, and it was taken right before heading off to war in 1862, then he was a young-looking 20 year old. If, on the other hand, he was about 15–18 years old in this photo, then the photo would date to 1857 to 1860. Either of these scenarios seems plausible to me.
Now compare this photo with the wedding photo of Frank Scott and Maggie McAllister from 1893:
Clearly, more work is required before I can state with full confidence that this photo is of a young Horace Scott, and not of a young Frank Scott, as Myrtle Soule asserted. That said, it’s a wonderful feeling discovering that I might have a photo of a man I’ve been learning quite a bit about lately, but whom thought I’d never see. Horace was my great-grandmother Gertrude Scott’s grandfather, who died 27 years before she was born. It’s also an odd feeling realizing that I may be seeing the face of an ancestor who’s gone unrecognized by his descendants for perhaps four of the last six generations.