Mister Mystery

Following my story of The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, I received this photo this week from the same distant cousin who has provided me with a vast amount of information about my family in the nineteenth century, helping to turn data into human beings.Unknown Probert - front

This is one of that great-grandmother’s family. Did I recognise him? I’m sorry to say that I didn’t, but I couldn’t help being attracted by his amiable expression. He looks approachable, a man who would be easy to talk to, and ready to smile; a man I would like to get to know.

So – who is he? Most of the men in that branch of the family were miners, with big families to provide for, hard working and hard living. This is one of those unidentified photos that get passed down the family, and when everyone who knew him has gone, no one has a clue who he is. We know where this portrait was taken, who the photographer was (Walter Scott!) and which branch of the family he belongs to. Also, his clothes give clues to the era and suggest a certain degree of prosperity. The pose and his facial expression also indicate more self-assurance and confidence than other family photos from this period. This man looks at ease as he faces the camera. His hands don’t look like the rough hands of a manual labourer: his nails are clean and trimmed. He doesn’t have the awkward air of a workingman dressed up in his Sunday suit.

The detective work starts. How old would he be? His hair has not yet gone grey. My guess is late thirties to mid forties, and those Imperial collars were worn at the end of the nineteenth century, although as this was in South Yorkshire, it’s quite possible that the fashion lasted into the early twentieth century. Which of the men in the family tree would have been that age at that time?

I would so like to claim him as an ancestor, but I’m afraid my great-grandfather would have been in his fifties or sixties then, and this man looks younger than fifty. George Probert

I have a youthful photo of my grandmother’s older brother George, who did quite well for himself. Could this be the same man twenty years later, filled out, a pater familias, civic dignitary? Look at the fob on his watch chain: is it the same little semicircular pendant?

My bets would be on Uncle George were it not for the fact that the cousin who sent me this photo belongs to his line, so if it is him, she ought to know. In the meantime, he has joined my collection of family portraits, simply labelled Mystery Probert.

7 thoughts on “Mister Mystery

  1. I also have a mystery photo of a prosperous looking gentleman in my ancestor collection. I have a brick wall and feel he may be a clue to solving it. My third Great Grandmother was supposed to be given a house on her marriage as her mother owned several properties. However, Ann Booth married a house painter behind her mother’s back and her furious mother never gave her the promised property. All I have on Ann Booth is that her father was Thomas Booth, an overseer and she was born and married in Liverpool. There is no trace of Thomas Booth, overseer, in any of the census data. Yet, I feel this gentleman is him or perhaps his son, Ann Booth’s brother.

    I hope we can both solve our mystery ancestors soon. Best wishes for your success.

  2. As you say, he has the confident air of a man who has achieved success and prosperity. The fact that he’s relaxed in front of the camera tells us this isn’t his first portrait sitting, and also that he knows how to present himself. My first thought was that he might have been a writer or other intellectual, but he really has the look of a man of action, a man who spends days on his feet, or going to and fro, rather than sitting at a desk. He exudes health and vigor. A great portrait!

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