February 25, 2014

Is This a Photo of Newel King? #52Ancestors

What family historian doesn’t love a mystery? Of course, it’s nice to solve one from time to time! I’ve been mulling this one around for awhile, and thought I’d reach out to you, my readers, for help.

This unidentified tintype was passed down from my grandmother, Wilma Steele Herrel. Wilma inherited some photos of her King and Steele relatives from her grandmother, Minnie King Steele. As I wrote last week, Minnie was the daughter of Civil War soldier Newel King. I’ve long wondered if he is the man pictured in this tintype.

Tintypes were introduced in 1855 and hit their peak of popularity in the 1860s and early 1870s, in the decade surrounding the Civil War. Gary Clark of, who I spoke to at the 2013 FGS Conference in Ft. Wayne, notes on his website that tintypes produced into the early 1860s were usually enclosed in metal cases. But as they became more popular and less expensive, paper sleeves or envelopes replaced the cases. This one looks as though it might have had a case around it at one time. Perhaps someone removed the case in hopes of finding a name or other identification.

Newel King was born 17 January 1838 in Gallia County, Ohio. (1) He would have been 22 years old in 1860. The young man in the tintype looks to be in his twenties to me. The long side hair is a particularly distinctive feature. I’ve noted other men with similar hairstyles in Maureen Taylor’s book, Fashionable Folks Hairstyles 1840-1900. I’ve also found examples of similar cuts on men in the 1860s in the Family Chronicle publications, Dating Old Photographs 1840-1929 and More Dating Old Photographs 1840-1929. The examples seem consistent with a young man about 1860-1865.

My working theory is that this is a photo of Newel King of Gallia County, Ohio, taken before he mustered into service for Co. B, 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in September 1862. The age seems right, the hairstyle seems right, and the type of photograph is definitely right. In addition, there was the added motivation for a young man going off to war to have his picture taken to leave behind with his mother or girlfriend.

Newel King not only survived the war, but lived until 1896, although he suffered from epilepsy and declining health. This means it’s very likely that there’s another photograph of him, somewhere out there (cue to song lyrics now going through my head). A picture might also include his wife, Electa Roush King, and/or children Wesley Berlin King, Curtis Walden King, Minnie L. King Steele, or Bella King Stickelman. If you think you might have one, please get in touch with me and let me know by emailing me at the address under the mailbox in the sidebar or by leaving a comment below. And if you have any tips or thoughts for dating or identifying this tintype, I’d love to hear them. Maybe by working together we can wrap this mystery up!


(1) Ohio Gravestones, database and images ( accessed 8 Sep 2010), data and gravestone image for Newel King (1838-1896) and Electa King (1845-1932), contributed by W. A. Anderson on 23 September 2009, citing Gravel Hill Cemetery, Gallia County, Ohio.

© Shelley Ballenger Bishop 2014

This is one of a series of family history stories written for “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks,” coordinated by Amy Johnson Crow, CG, author of No Story Too Small.

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  1. Shelley, here's hoping crowdsourcing your family photograph mystery will be just the thing to bring you some answers. It certainly seems plausible that this is your man, based on the reasons you've already provided. But I know what you mean: finding another photo of Newel King would provide some confidence to this theory.

    1. Thanks, Jacqi, that's exactly what I'm hoping. You never know!

  2. An intriguing post and I think you are right - the photograph could be of Newell King - and what a handsome young man he was. Good luck in your search - I had to wait 10 years before one of my key unidentified photographs was named - with my blog providing the link to a newly found third cousin in America.

  3. Ten years! That's amazing--glad you were able to get an identification in the end. How wonderful that your blog was the gateway to your new cousin. That gives me hope :) Thanks for reading and letting me know of your success, Sue!

  4. Shelley, I don't have any help for you in knowing if your photo is a portrait of Newel King but I'm remembering a RootsTech session Dave Barney gave 2 or 3 years ago about using google for family history. He had a photo of himself and his wife in front of a church which he uploaded and then asked google images to find similar photos. He already knew the location of the church but google images identified it for his audience (who didn't know the location). I don't know how closely it looks at faces to determine differences but it might be worth a try, just in case there's another image of Newel King somewhere on the internet. I'm sorry I don't remember the process but you could probably find it using google. I hope someone sees your post and contacts you!

  5. Thanks, Nancy! That sounds like it'd be worth a try. I'll look for Dave's process.

  6. Shelley, I was just browsing my 52 Ancestors emails from last year. I'm trying to sort out my KING ancestry for this week's topic. Do you have KING ancestry as well as BALLENGER ancestry, and if so, is it on the same "branch" of your tree, and if so, were they once in Kentucky?


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