As family historians, researching our ancestors and their stories is only one element of understanding their history. Their ancestral pictures provide us with a richer and deeper view of who they were. The photos are what draw us into their souls and provide a connection to their past.

When pulling out all of my ancestral pictures for placement in my family history book, I made an effort at identifying everyone in the photos along with possible dates and locations of where and when they were taken. Fortunately, my mother was  diligent in dating all of our photographs, taking great effort in gathering the appropriate details for the ancestral pictures. But there is one particular photo; that of my paternal grandfather's family, I have yet to fully identify.
Who is that curious man on the left?
The picture is quite amusing and it gives me a little chuckle every time I view it. Dated 1913, there are six individuals in the photo: My great grandfather B.F. Capps sitting in front; his two youngest sons, a young woman (most likely my step great grandmother), a strikingly handsome young man standing to the right (my grandfather William Capps-did I say strikingly handsome?) and then, a curious looking man standing to the left. I describe the unidentified man as 'curious' because frankly, with a somewhat short stature, a tall cap with a medal, a beard and a cigar dangling from his mouth, he looks unusual and I am quite curious!

As the photo seems to have been taken by an amateur photographer in what looks like a forest or campsite, there is nothing on the back to identify the place or location of the picture. And there is no notation as to the identity of the 'curious' man posing in the background. So, it has been left to my imagination to complete the story of the photo of my grandfather's family and the 'curiously unusual' man; coming to three possible conclusions:

1)My grandfather's family was traveling the country by train and the 'unusual' man was Ivan, the Prussian train conductor, jumping in the photo for posterity sake.
2)The Capps family was celebrating a family reunion and Uncle Hector, a circus lion tamer from Pittsburgh, squeezed in for a photo shot.
3)Caught red-handed, (no pun intended), the Capps family was photographed trading top secrets with Boris Grusov, a Russian spy.

Well, my stories seem to grow wilder every time I pull out the photo, but to provide you with some sensible guidance for identifying your ancestral photos, here is some helpful information I have learned:

1)If the old photo has a shiny image it is most likely from 1839-1860.
2)A photo on glass can be dated from 1854-1870.
3)A tintype is from 1856-1900.
4)Look at the name of the printer and/or photographer on the back and then research the information on a digitalized city directory. This can help you narrow down the date and location of the photo.
5)Many Civil War veterans wore belt buckles with insignias; Use your magnifying glass to help identify the insignia or pendant.

I have also found several websites and blogs helpful in learning tips for dating and identifying ancestral photos. I highly recommend following the
Photo Detective with Family Tree Magazine and for good historical information on old photos, go to the AJ Morris website.

For the photo of my grandfather's family, I am resolved that I will never truly learn the identity of the 'curiously unusual' man. So, since I can write this story, I'm sticking with 'Uncle Hector, a circus lion tamer from Pittsburgh.'

It just makes my occasionally lackluster family history a little more intriguing!

Keep searching for answers,