I reunite identified family photos that I find in antique shops and second hand stores with genealogists and family historians. If you see one of your ancestors here and would like to obtain the original, feel free to contact me at familyphotoreunion [ at ] yahoo [ dot ] com. I also accept donations of pre-1927 images to be reunited. I hope you enjoy your visit!
~The Archivist

Friday, November 5, 2021

Why a Watermark? The Søren Gregersen Photograph and My Skepticism

Incorrectly i.d.'ed photo found in various online trees

I thought I'd take a departure from my regular post approach today to explain something you may have been curious about. Why do I write the blog address of Family Photo Reunion across the images I write about? 

First, let me tell you a little story. My 2nd great grandfather, Søren Gregersen, was born in Voer, Hjørring, Denmark. He converted to the LDS church and immigrated, along with his wife and a few of their grown children, to Redmond, Utah in the 1880s. Other children, including my great grandmother, stayed in Denmark. He has many descendants in America and elsewhere, and as a result the majority of my matches on the DNA sites are from this line. 

I noticed on The Familysearch Family Tree that someone attached the above carte de visite photograph of a young man to his profile. Søren Gregersen was born in 1823. I had a sneaking suspicion that this wasn't my 2nd great grandfather simply because the age of the person fit with the style of photograph. How old does he look to you? For this individual to be my 2nd great grandfather, I estimated the photograph would have had to be taken between 1843 and 1855 in Denmark. Cartes de visite did not come onto the photographic scene until around 1859, though they were by no means common and available to the regular person (who could afford to spend money on photographs) until the 1860s. The style of this particular cdv, with its square-cornered card stock, and fairly ornate studio background, table and patterned carpet indicates a time frame of 1865 to 1875, but it could certainly be later than that. It could not be earlier. The wide lapels of the man's coat would indicate an 1860s to mid 1870s date as well. Of course, many men held onto their clothing longer than fashion would dictate due to economic reasons as men's fashions did not experience the same pendulum swings that women's fashions did. There may be cultural differences in fashion styles, too. Cartes de visites were popular in Denmark until the early 1900s; while in North America, they started to decline in favour in the late 1880s.

I am skeptical of the attribution on Familysearch for a few reasons, but mostly because there is no source information provided. I am not saying that the individual is absolutely not the person he is reported to be, only that I am unable to evaluate that likelihood based on the information I see. I decided to contact the person who uploaded the image to the Familysearch Tree to learn more about it. Perhaps they could provide a scan of the reverse of the photograph, which might include a photographer's imprint or perhaps an inscription with a name or date.

I did receive a very friendly reply to my note. The Familysearch poster explained that they had copied it from someone else's online tree. They didn't remember when or whose tree it was. But, they were pretty sure it was correct. As I mentioned earlier, there are many descendants of my ancestor. Quite a few of them are engaged in the genealogy hobby. Many have accepted this image into their family tree. At what point does this fellow become my 2nd great grandfather, even if he is not? Is it after it is found in 50 trees? 100? Or should we be skeptical of unsourced information and state that uncertainty when sharing? I'm all for the latter. At the very least, we should provide a bread crumb trail for those who would like to think critically about the artifact.

The story doesn't end there. I decided to contact each and every family tree owner who has posted this image in their tree, in hopes of finding one person with a physical copy of the photograph. So far, no luck. All have copied theirs from another online tree. However, one of my distant cousins from Denmark helpfully pointed me in the direction of WikiTree, which seems to be where many of the people I've spoken with have found this image. I contacted the poster of photograph. That person replied almost immediately. The long and short of it is that they also found this photo on a relative's online tree, and re-posted it. But they remembered seeing a similar photo in one of their family albums, and assumed it was the same photograph. They had intended to compare it with the one in their family album, but they had forgotten about it. They told me that when they locate the photograph from their album, (currently in storage and not an original, but a copy--so no imprint information), they will either provide any accompanying information if it's the same photo or remove the above photograph from Søren's record on WikiTree if it is not. In the meantime, they've posted a disclaimer under the photo entry in WikiTree about this uncertainty. If you have copied this particular photo of Søren Gregersen into your tree, you may want to add a disclaimer of your own to your files that states this photograph is currently in question.

Since starting this blog, I've noticed that the photographs I've posted can be found on many family trees. The watermark I place on photos ensures that anyone who stumbles across the image can find the original and read about the process used to identify it. Sometimes I don't fully identify an image. If I have reservations (and I often do), I say so. Some people do include this information when they post the image online. Sometimes they even include a direct link to my blog post. Some people don't bother and, instead, crop the photo to avoid the watermark and plop it on their tree without an apparent second thought, even when the photograph in question is not 100 percent proven to be their ancestor. Don't get me wrong. I love it when a photograph can be reunited with a descendant, even if it is just a digital reunion that I know nothing about. But I implore those who re-post these images to responsibly cite the source. 

As always, if you are a direct descendant of the photographic subject in one of my blog posts, feel free to contact me about obtaining the original photograph.

If you happen to have the original Søren Gregersen photograph in your possession or are able to provide more information about its provenance, I would dearly love to hear from you.While I'm skeptical, I would love this to be a picture of my great, great grandfather.


UPDATE: November 13, 2021

The earliest online appearance of this photo I can find dates to 2011. The WikiTree image was posted in 2018. The 2011 image was added to a family tree on Ancestry and attached to a person identified as "Soren Peter Gregersen." This Soren Peter Gregersen was born in 1849, Brovst, Denmark. His wife happens to have a similar name to my Søren's wife. Soren Peter Gregersen is clearly not my great great grandfather, Søren Gregersen, who was born 26 years earlier in Voer. The research provided on this tree appears correct, in that it matches the information I found for Soren Peter after a quick look in Danish parish records. Name confusion is a common problem in Danish research. Simply having the same surname is not an indication of relationship.

My hypothesis is that one of Søren Gregersen's (b. 1823) descendants thought Soren Peter's Ancestry tree pertained to their relative. It did not. There are some questionable online trees for my 2nd great grandfather that inexplicably include the middle name "Peter"--I have researched my ancestor thoroughly in the original Danish church books and censuses. I have not found one document that records his middle name as "Peter." I suspect one person posted this image in error, and many re-posted the mistake. My conclusions about the date of the image and the age of the sitter fits Soren Peter Gregersen (born 1849) much better. Not only that, but the person who originally posted the photograph labelled it, "Grandpa Gregersen." That's a fairly close relationship. It is unlikely the person knew their Grandpa as he died in 1917, but it is very likely that someone close to them did. This is important for identification.  How do I know the unlabelled picture I have of my Grandma Jensen is actually an image of my grandmother? Because I knew my grandmother. I met her. I know what she looked like.

While still only speculation at this point, I am feeling this 2011 attribution is the correct one. I have sent a note to the original poster, as well as other researchers and am hoping to hear from them sometime soon. If they have a physical copy of the photograph in question, that pretty much cinches it.

 I will keep updating this post as I obtain new information. I'm determined to get to the bottom of this photograph yet! 

ANOTHER UPDATE: November 15/21

The image above is of Soren Peter Gregersen, born 22 Feb 1849 in Brovst, Denmark. Eric, a descendant of his from Pittsburgh, has the print photograph and will be forwarding me a copy of the reverse so I can post it here. The fountain pen inscription reads, "Soren Peder Gregersen."

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