Photo Album Mystery: Whose Granddad is It?

By Maureen A. Taylor

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Photo albums are always interesting to look at. You can find almost anything tucked into a album: I’ve seen locks of hair, swatches of fabric, colorful scraps of paper, postcards, family photos, and images of friends and famous folk. Most times it isn’t clear as to who’s who.

Art Parker calls himself a “Kodak kid” from Rochester who grew up in the Pocket Instamatic generation. He’s fascinated with photographs but is stumped by this image.


At some point, a well-meaning relative of this man wrote on the page, “Grand Dad Armstrong.” I bet you know the problem. The big question is, whose granddad is Mr. Armstrong?


This is a question of provenance. The history of ownership of this image is very important. This album is currently owned by Art’s cousin. To verify the identity of this gent, it’s important to know who owned the album all the way back to when it was put together. Of course, it’s possible someone added that image later, but it’s also likely that the person who placed the images in the album put it there.

Some 19th-century albums have patent numbers in the front that can suggest when a relative bought it. Researching patents is really easy at Google’s Patent Search. Art can enter a patent number into the search box and find the patent relating to the album. Nineteenth century patents included an illustration of the item.

GrandDadArmstrong close up.jpg

The general appearance of this image suggests that it’s a copy of a daguerreotype. Here are some tips on spotting a copy in your album. A daguerreotype is a shiny, reflective image on a silver-coated copper plate that needs to be held at a angle to view. You can read more about daguerreotypes in the January/February 2014 Family Tree Magazine.


Art believes there are two possibilities: This man is either Isaac Armstrong (1779-1855) or his son Alfred B. Armstrong (1819-1902).

The knotted tie worn by this man looks like those worn in the mid-19th century. Combine this detail with his age and the fact that it’s a copy, and it appears this man could be Isaac Armstrong. His picture was likely taken in the early 1850s.

Now I want to know … where is the original daguerreotype? Descendants of the Armstrong family still live in New York State’s Southern Tier. I’m hoping the original is still in the family.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album