Friday, April 19, 2013

The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: Conclusion

Like I said in March 2012, since there was no identifying information included with this daguerreotype, we will probably never be 100 percent sure of the identifications. It has been accepted by many descendants as a picture of John Tanner, and I respect the effort that went into that conclusion, but as much as we would all like this to be a picture of John Tanner, it isn't.

The picture was kept in the Myron Tanner family because he is the man at the left. This picture would have been taken after Myron arrived in San Bernardino in the fall of 1852 following his successful California gold mining adventures.[1] He would have had cash in hand to pay for the fairly expensive picture and case.

Myron is Elizabeth Beswick Tanner's oldest son and is sitting at the right hand of his widowed mother who, like her step-daughter Louisa Maria Tanner Lyman, seems to be wearing mourning, either to mark the death of her husband John Tanner in 1850 or the death of her daughter Sariah Tanner in March 1853. Myron would have been 26 or 27 at the time this picture was taken.

The boy standing behind Elizabeth is her son Joseph Smith Tanner, 19 or 20 at the time. Both Myron and Joseph have distinctive Beswick features, most notably the mouth, but also an easily recognizable spacing of their facial features, and both men hold their heads at a particular angle in the pictures.

My final identification of the subjects of the daguerreotype:
Sitting, left to right: Myron Tanner, Elizabeth Beswick Tanner, Louisa Maria Tanner Lyman. Standing: Joseph Smith Tanner.
I would be happy to hear reactions to this series. Do leave a comment. If you disagree with the identification, please read through all the posts and let me know what part of the data you interpret differently and why. If you have questions about my sources, just ask, and I'd be happy to provide further citations.[2]

Analyzing this daguerreotype has been a great adventure. The existence of the picture, kindly provided to the Tanner family by way of the Church History Library by Myron Tanner descendant Claudia Rayl, together with the recent movie Treasure in Heaven, has led to a resurgence of interest in the Tanner family history. What a wonderful time for the John Tanner family.[3]

[1] Myron's biography states that he left Utah Territory for California in the spring of 1850, several months before any daguerreotypist was known to have been operating in Salt Lake City, so 1852 is the first date a daguerreotype could have been taken, and the family was in California at the time.

[2] Although I sometimes link to articles in Wikipedia, that is because the links tend to be stable and quickly explain the subject. I have a degree in history and specialize in community and family history, and I have been trained by excellent historians, so the information contained in these posts is from a large variety of vital and census records, primary and secondary sources, and one well-written, well-sourced Wikipedia article on hand-colored photography. My bibliography for this project is currently seven pages long, and it would be overkill to post it here, but as said, I would be happy to answer questions about sources and citations.

[3] To anyone who is reading this far down the page, I would suggest that any efforts to gather and write more of the history of the family should include the stories of the women, since the family history efforts up until now have almost exclusively focused on the Tanner men.

[May 29, 2014. A claim was made elsewhere that the subjects in this daguerreotype had to sit still for twenty minutes for the exposure. I'm not sure where that information came from. The following creditable source notes that by 1842, exposure time was down to as little as ten seconds. (The Daguerreotype Process.)]

Links to Posts in the Tanner Family Daguerreotype Series


  1. In yesterday's post, I asked for identifications, and SydneyMin noted: "I think the man is Myron Tanner and the boy is Joseph Smith Tanner." It was heartening to find that someone agreed with my conclusion about identities and approximate ages, particularly someone unrelated to the family, since I prefer to avoid conflict and have been stressed about publicly disagreeing with people who so much want this to be a picture of John Tanner.

    Congrats to Sydney for winning the contest! I'll put her certificate in the mail. :)

  2. Really cool to see how the men's faces match up to the other photos! Very exciting :)

  3. Very cool. Photo identification is hard work, as you know very well.

    btw, I know what you mean about avoiding the conflict of publicly disagreeing about the identity of a person in a photo. I almost got into an argument with a member of the Gibbs family over a photo. I caught myself before it got out of hand and backpedaled, realizing where our conversation was going. Very dangerous and emotionally charged ground.

  4. Your research is great, and I think you are correct. I agree with your dating on the photo for a different reason. Louisa's dress is a style not seen until the late 1840s and 50s. Dresses in 1844 would have had a different bodice style. Even though pioneers could keep up with fashion, they would still be behind Paris and London fashion, so it would be unlikely for this photo to be taken anytime earlier than the late 1840s.

  5. As wonderful as it would be to find I was related to the Tanners, I don't think I am. Glad that another piece of family "mystery" has been solved!

  6. Really cool. I thought it was Beswick sons but I was too chicken to guess.

  7. Thanks, Celia!

    I'd definitely take your word over that of a random Gibbs descendant, Bruce, for obvious reasons.

    That's a great addition to the data, Melinda. Thank you. When I was assembling all my sources yesterday I went over the fashion pictures again, but I don't have a good eye for those details. I should have thought to send a note. (Anyone who isn't familiar with Melinda's blog may be interested in her detailed historical clothing designs. Heritage Paper Dolls.)

    I think we could probably designate you an honorary cousin, Sydney. :)

    That's funny, Bi. A few times yesterday I was almost too chicken to publish this post.