Monday, January 9, 2012

A Family History Mystery: Who is the Man in This Tintype?

My father sent a picture of this image, which was in the Eva Overson Tanner collection:

This appears to be a tintype. My father notes that it is about 2 inches by 1.5 inches. Here is an image of another tintype from the 1860s in a similar frame:


Tintypes were an interesting technology. They were not made with tin, but were created by making a positive image on a sheet of blackened iron. Another name for a tintype is ferrotype.

There is a tintype in the following link that is presented in the same sort of case as our family tintype, and there is also some good information about identifying and caring for a tintype:
If I had to guess the subject of this family tintype, which I do, since there was no identification included with it,  I would say it is probably Jens Christensen, an ancestor in both the Tanner and Morgan lines. His style of dress looks more Danish than English or American.

Here is a picture of Jens' wife, Karen Johannesen. This image also appears to be a tintype, though it could also be a daguerreotype or ambrotype. This is scanned from Margaret Overson's book:

Here is a picture of Jens and Karen's daughter, Mary Christensen Oveson:

The next picture is of a younger Mary and her sister, Christine, and their adopted brother, Marinus, who, according to family legend, was the son of one of the two girls. The style of this picture is similar to the first tintype, and isn't it lovely, with both girls in their native Danish costumes?

Here is a picture of Marinus Christensen as an adult, the blacksmith of St. Johns, Arizona:

And the tintype again:

And Mary Oveson again:

I think there's a pretty clear family resemblance, especially between the tintype and the picture of Mary Christensen Oveson as an adult. Look at the broad forehead, the droopy eyelids, the wide nose, the wide mouth, the deep lines running down from the nose. (Is there an actual term for those lines?)

Here is a picture of Mary's son, Henry Overson:

There are those droopy eyelids again. (For lack of a better way to describe it.)

There are probably just two more options for a memento that was kept in the family for so many years. The first is not really an option: Jens' father, Christen C. Jensen, died in 1862, but during the time that the technology was available, he would have been older than the man in the image. And a tintype of him would have been kept by his wife, who died in 1896 in Brigham City, Utah.

The second alternate option is Mary Oveson's father-in-law Jens Ovesen. Here's his picture:

Although there may be a superficial resemblance between Jens Ovesen and the man in the tintype since the two were from the same rural corner of Denmark, I think they're clearly two different people. ("The noses are different," said my daughter.) (Apart from the droopy Christensen eyes and the nose, there is more of a resemblance between Henry Overson and his grandfather Jens Ovesen than to the Christensen family.)

So here, once again, is the mysterious tintype:

I think we can clearly label this picture "Probably Jens Christensen (1819 Denmark - 1866 Nebraska)." What do you think?

* * *

If this is a tintype of Jens Christensen, it would have been taken in Denmark, Hamburg, or America, slightly after the Christensens arrived there in 1866. It would have been a good thing that these family pictures were taken, because Jens and daughter Christine both died and were buried on the plains.

If this is a picture of Jens, it would have been kept by his wife, Karen, and then passed down to daughter Mary Oveson, and then to her son and daughter-in-law, Henry and Margaret Jarvis Overson (our family historian), and then to their daughter, Eva Overson Tanner, and then it remained, unlabeled, with her photos and family memorabilia.


  1. You reasoning seems sound, And the family resemblance is fairly obvious to me. You are probably correct.

  2. nice detective work! super interesting to see all of those pictures right next to each other.

  3. Thanks for the comments! There is another unidentified picture in the family history that will get a similar but slightly more complex treatment one of these days when I get around to it. (That strange sound you hear is me collapsing in hysterical giggles at the thought of starting another project.)