Back in February, Juliana Smith posted a photo to the 24/7 Family History Circle blog. It is owned by Sandra Luebking and it shows a man in an interesting outfit. Several folks have weighed in with their opinions. Now Julianaâ€™s asked me to comment on the image. I love a good puzzle.
A photograph represents a personâ€™s life and this one is no different. Itâ€™s the history behind the image that often solves the mystery. For instance, the combination of the single gold lined border around this picture, the simple drapery and single table date this picture to the period 1860-66. If it has tax stamps on the back, that time frame can be narrowed from 1 August 1864 to 1 August 1866. Having a time frame is an important first step.
Luebkingâ€™s relative is Henry Smith of Port Huron, Michigan. According to the 1870 census he was a cabinet maker who listed his place of birth as Prussia. In the nineteenth century more than 50 percent of men were members of a fraternal organization. As a tradesperson, Smith was a likely candidate to be initiated into such group.
The big question is which one? Each organization had its own symbolism. The challenge is finding data on these groups and then locating images of men wearing the specific garb. One person commented that he could be an Odd Fellow or a Maccabee. His cap resembles the one in a link that is provided. Itâ€™s possible, but there could be other groups in Port Huron in the 1860s. The trowel on the table indicates heâ€™s likely a member of a Masonic group. His garb could be area or chapter specific since there was variation in attire depending on rank and group. Based on the simplicity of his accessories I think this image documents his initiation. Sandra owns a real family history treasure!
Finding more information about fraternal society symbolism, can be hit or miss. Unfortunately, resources can be tough to find. â€œStories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography,â€ by Douglas Keister, devotes a chapter to â€œSecret Societies, Clubs, and Fraternal Organizationsâ€ that includes images of some symbols that are found in cemeteries. These images may help to identify symbols found in photographs and on heirlooms.
Iâ€™d like to create an online album of fraternal uniforms and symbolism. If you have something youâ€™d like to share, send it to me at email@example.com using the password ambrotype.
Maureen Taylor is The Photo Detective at www.Photodetective.com. Her work on identifying family photographs was recently profiled in the Wall Street Journal.
Maureenâ€™s Events Schedule
Come hear Maureen talk about photographs and family history. Sign up for a one-on-one consultation in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maureen will be at the following events:
- 5 April 2008, Fairfax, Virginia
Fairfax Genealogical Society
Digging for Roots Conference and Genealogy ExpoÂ
- 11-12 April 2008, Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Wisconsin State Genealogical Society Gen-a-Rama 2008