One of the most wonderful things when working on online trees is finding that someone has a photograph of your ancestor. It’s even more special when that is the first photo you’ve ever seen of this person. What’s not wonderful is finding that people who have your relatives in their trees have photos of the wrong people attached to your ancestors. How this starts is anyone’s guess, but it quickly multiples, and then, many people have the wrong photo attached to the wrong person in their tree.
There Are No Photos Of Joam de Mello
I was surprised to find that several trees include a photo of my ancestor, Joam de Mello, because no photo exists. How do I know this? Joam de Mello died before photography became a thing.
Although photography existed when he died in the small village of Maia on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores Islands in 1837, it was in it’s infancy. It was expensive and it hadn’t been popularized.
Yet, several people have accepted this photo as the truth. It is important to know when photography became widely accessible to know how early you should expect to find photos of your ancestors.
The Photo Is Of Someone Else
Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? If it’s not Joam, it has to be someone else. But, I know who that someone is.
When I first saw it attached to a tree, I thought that the man looked familiar. It bugged me for several weeks until I realized that I had a copy of the exact same photo. My Botelho cousin gave it to me.
The man’s name is Jose Felicianno Boteilho and he descends from my ancestors, Antonio da Rocha and Maria da Estrella Boteilho. Jose was born in 1855 putting him in the right years to have a photographic representation of himself.
I do not know how the photo went from my cousin’s ancestor to Joam de Mello. It’s one of those great mysteries of online family trees.
Suggestions Are Just Suggestions
Whenever you get a photo suggestion from Ancestry Family Tree or any other online tree, you need to treat it as such. It’s just a suggestion.
Ancestry does not know that this is the person in your tree, but it has scanned trees and come up with a possibility. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they are way off.
When you get these suggestions, you need to ask yourself a few questions
1. Was this person alive when photography was popularized?
2. Did this person have access to photography either because of where they were born or their financial circumstances? Photography was expensive in the early years.
3. Whose tree did this photograph come from? Does this person who has it in their tree have direct knowledge of the photograph? Often, people leave notes where they identify the people in the photo or leave other notes that are important to the moment. They might give other insights like “this is just how I remember my great grandmother”. That tells you they knew them in real life and can attest to what they looked like.
4. Are their facts that prove the person in the photograph could be the same person in your tree? I was stunned to find the photo of my great great uncle, Jose Pacheco Smith, in a tree awhile back. I was stunned because there is no way this person in this tree is my great great uncle.
First, the photo was mine, so I was very familiar with the people depicted. Second, the person in this tree was married to someone who was not Minnie Ventura and this couple had several children.
My great great uncle married once. Minnie was the love of his life. They were unable to have children. When she died, his heart was broken. He never remarried. He died 4 years after her.
I don’t know how to fix this because the person did not respond to PMs. The only thing I could think of doing was adding the correct information to my photo in my tree hoping that anyone who comes across it realizes which person it rightfully belongs to.
5. Does the person in the photo fit the description? Sometimes we pick up details from stories or documents. Red hair, stout, short. Brown hair, blue eyes, skinny, scar on the cheek. Does the photo match up with how the person has been described? Do they look like other members of the family that you have photos of?
6. Do you know someone who can verify the person in the photo? You may have relatives who might have known the person or seen the person in another photo. Be sure to ask around! You might be rewarded with other photos!
A healthy dose of skepticism is always necessary when looking at photograph suggestions. If it doesn’t feel like it fits, it probably doesn’t. Don’t take into account that the photo has been shared many times because if one person got it wrong, they all did.