Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: Man at Left — John Tanner?

Now, to the fun part of this series: the man at the left. Is he or is he not John Tanner?

Since the identities of both of the women in the daguerreotype are known, and their approximate movements are known, we know that the daguerreotype could have been taken in Illinois, in Utah, or in California. If it was taken by Lucien Foster in Nauvoo, Illinois, John Tanner could have been in the picture, and he would have been 66 years old.

The man in the picture does not look 66 years old. He does not look like he has suffered a very serious head injury at the hands of the mob in Missouri, as is recorded in the history of the Church, and had suffered through other serious health problems.

As the experts at the Church History Library noted, the man in the picture may be in his 30s or 40s.

Also, if the daguerreotype was taken in Nauvoo, the case should show fire damage. (See notes about the fire in a previous post.) I have sent a note to the Church History Library asking if there is fire damage, and was hoping to hear back by now. I will include the response when it arrives.

If the picture was taken in Salt Lake City or San Bernardino, John Tanner cannot have been in the picture. By the time any daguerreotypist is known to have been in Salt Lake City (Robert Campbell or J. Wesley Jones in the summer of 1850 or Marsena Cannon in October of the same year), John Tanner had died.

Marsena Cannon's advertisement for daguerreotypes. Deseret News, December 14, 1850, 6.

* * *

The other day I had a curious experience. I sat down in the foyer at church and a few minutes later a man sat down opposite me to feed his newborn baby a bottle. I said something polite about the baby and went back to reviewing this daguerreotype series on a handheld device.

A few minutes later, I thought that I should show him the daguerreotype. As we discussed it, he asked if the picture was from a matriarchal society. I said that it wasn't. He explained that in the culture where he'd been raised, the only time you would see a woman seated in the center of a picture would be if she was the grandmother. This woman doesn't look old enough to be a grandmother.

The more he thought about it, the stranger he found the family grouping. His final conclusion was that the woman in the middle of the picture was the mother and that her position in the center indicated that the father was not in the picture. (He said "The father is not in the picture" at least three times.) He said that the man to her right would be her oldest son or a brother-in-law.

That conversation reinforced my opinion that the man to the left is not John Tanner, but puzzled me since her oldest son was standing behind her, and I didn't know of any brothers-in-law who could have been in the picture. I thought perhaps the man could be Sidney Tanner, her oldest step-son not living in the Northeast, and resolved to compare the picture again with the one known photo of Sidney Tanner.

Tomorrow we will review pictures of the men in the Tanner family.

Links to Posts in the Tanner Family Daguerreotype Series


  1. An interesting insight about the placement of people in the photograph.

  2. That is a very interesting point. We have family photos with the matriarch in the center as well, once she has become widowed.