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Old family photos spawn identity question

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By The Staff

Helen Luster, of the Pinhook community, and I have corresponded for several years now. In her occasional letters, she has shared with me old stories passed down through the Luster family, several of which I have repeated in this column.

Last week, I received a note from Helen, accompanied by two pictures. She wrote about a mild controversy in the Luster family over the identification of a couple in an old photo.

The photo in question was found "at Aunt Sarah’s house in a box of pictures." It appears to be a wedding photo, with the bride in the standard pose, her hand resting on her husband’s shoulder.

Helen wrote, "The tintype we think is Philip #1 and Francis, but it might not be them. The man looks like another picture of a man we do know is Philip #1, and so Vay jumped to a conclusion. Given the way the Lusters look alike – could be anyone."

Helen’s late husband, Vaylord Luster, thought the couple were his ancestors, Philip Clark Luster, born 1801, and his wife, Frances Haley.

There’s only one problem...Philip and Frances were married on March 24, 1820. Photography, as we know it, didn’t reach America until 19 years later.

Philip and Frances may have waited until 1839 to have their likenesses preserved in a photo, but by then they were parents and their children would have been included in the picture.

Let’s talk a little about photography. The Daguerreotype was the first "photo" in use. Invented in Great Britain, this process reached America’s shores in 1839.

The image was on a silvered copper plate, and was protected by glass in front. When tilted one way, the image turned negative – but tilt it another way and it flashed light. Also called Daguerres, they came in two sizes – 2 3/4 inches by 2 l/4 inches and 3 l/4 inches by 4 l/4 inches.

The Ambrotype followed in about 1854, but fell out of favor with the introduction of the tintype in 1856. These pictures were printed on a thin iron plate, and did not need glass to protect the surface. The common size was 2 l/2 inches by 3 l/2 inches, but larger prints were made.

The photograph of the couple above, by all appearances, is a tintype, and that automatically places it after 1856.

Another Philip Clark Luster married in Fayette County. His bride was 27-year-old Mary Catherine Gensler. The couple was married on Dec. 24, 1876, by the Rev. Garlin C. Shepherd at the home of the bride.

Comparing a photograph of Mary Gensler Luster in her later years with the woman in the photo, I saw several similarities – the nose and the chin. And I remember a line from a spy book I’ve read, "The ears never lie." Sure looks like Mary.

There are other reasons to place this tintype in the 1870s. From the book, “Clues To Dating Old Photographs,” during the 1870s, there was pleating and ruffled flounces seen in the women’s skirts. The two-piece dress became the fashion, with a jacket bodice, and neck ribbons again became fashionable.

For the man, jackets became closer fitting and narrower, and shirts started appearing in more varieties of color and patterns. Beards had generally lost favor over the decade, beginning the 1870. Shoulder seams were near the top of the shoulder for both men and women.

Evidence of several of these 1870 fashion trends can be seen in this photograph. We may never be 100-percent certain that this is the wedding photo of Philip and Mary, but the proof mounts up.

Philip Clark Luster died on April 8, 1896, in Fayette County, with Mary surviving him by nearly 36 years.

Philip and Mary were parents of eight children, including Dan Hugh Luster, Vaylord’s father, Margaret and Annie. Margaret married Roscoe Pruett and Annie married Rollie Brown.

Helen concluded her note to me saying that Philip and Mary Gensler Luster had 22 grandchildren, and Bill Brown of Vandalia is the youngest.

Next week – Luster family tales.