The Rant - Bear With Me
My great-grandfather has been identified over and over again through Google, ancestry.com, myheritage.com, etc. as his father (James Wylie), as his grandfather (Samuel Wylie - a Revolutionary War veteran who died in 1814), and even as some of his uncles.
This issue endlessly frustrates me, especially regarding THIS picture, because I worked so hard to identify my great-grandfather as a young man. I am the only owner of the only physical copy of this particular picture. It was bound to a canvas and I had it restored and framed. I took this picture myself. Now, I'm not saying there aren't other copies out there of this picture. I'm saying that the picture online of Samuel John Wylie, Sr. (this picture <--- is one that I originally posted to this site).
Upon seeing the portrait I knew that it was one of my dad's family members. The portrait bears resemblance to my father and to my late grandfather. I took a picture of it, had it repaired, and began a search. I found a tintype, blurry and hard to identify. But still, I persisted. I scanned the tintype and I found that it was the same picture as the canvas portrait. But then, upon closer inspection I realized that it was actually a DIFFERENT picture. It was a younger picture. The canvas portrait features a man with a mustache. The tintype did not. But, the subject of the tintype was clearly the same man!
Samuel John Wylie, Sr. was born in 1860. So, he was alive when the tintype was being used to capture portraits. The approximate age of the man in the tintype is late teens or early twenties. In 1880, my great-grandfather was twenty years old. So, I established 1) the man in the tintype and the canvas portrait were the same man 2) my great-grandfather was alive when tintypes were being used for photographs and the canvas portrait and an actual photograph of my great-father bear a striking resemblance to one another. But, still I needed to confirm that this was actually Samuel John Wylie, Sr. So, I went to the only Wylie descendent that I have consistent contact with: my father. My father was born in 1948. He knew his grandfather. Upon examining the information that I had (all of which was in his own father's possession) he positively confirmed that the picture were his grandfather, Samuel John Wylie, Sr.
Why is this so important?
How does it cause confusion for other researchers? Allow me to explain. When this picture is identified as Samuel Wylie (1754-1814) for instance, it allows new genealogical researchers to believe that they have discovered the portrait of a man who died BEFORE there were cameras. A portrait so old...so historic...how groundbreaking for their research! Except that it is wrong. He isn't Samuel Wylie, the Revolutionary War veteran. They didn't evaluate their resources and their information. This can lead to weak research habits in future as well as damaging their own credibility as a researcher.
Now, to my second point, the constant mis-identification damages his legacy. I always find it to be important to identify the faces of my ancestors. Not only do I love trying to figure out if current family members share a likeness, the picture itself is another resource. The picture tells SO much about an ancestors life and activities ( I know that the tie that Samuel John Wylie, Sr. wears for this portrait is his BEST tie because he wears it many other staged pictures). By incorrectly identifying this picture, the resources attributed to one ancestor are no longer correct and any researchers that encounter any incorrectly posted information and then re-post it perpetuate the problem and now the life story of the ancestor has been damaged.
So here is the solution: watermarking family pictures. I've almost made up my mind to start watermarking any pictures that I find in order to prevent future mis-identification. What do you think about it? I fundamentally believe that family history is collaborative. These pictures aren't just my pictures. They belong to all decedents. But the next generation and future researchers have a right to know if the information they are looking at is accurate. I've posted hundreds of pictures of my family online (Facebook, here, ancestry, email, etc.) over the years that I have been doing ancestry. But now, I wonder, if the pictures were watermarked would people be less likely to mis-identify them? What are your thoughts? Do you watermark your pictures? If so, does this work for you? If you are against watermarking pictures, why?