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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Computer-Aided Forensic Facial Comparison Removes Doubt of Alsop Image

After much speculation and debate, there seems to be an answer in the case of the "Susan Alsop" photograph discovered in the attic of the Alrich house in Spotsylvania. See the original post here. Is this an early portrait of Susan M. Read Alsop, widow of James Addison Alsop?

I would have to give an emphatic "Yes" based on caparison to a known post-war portrait kindly supplied by Alsop family genealogist Jerry D. Alsup. Jerry is currently working on volume three of his monumental family study, Alsop's Tables. The first volume was published in 1986 with the second volume following in 1994.

This identified image shows Susan M. Read Alsop sometime in the 1880s based on her clothing. She would have been in her 40s during that decade. The earlier image of which we have been uncertain shows a young woman dressed in the fashion of the 1850s. Susan M. Read Alsop was born on September 25, 1840.

I took both images and produced a superimposition to compare facial features. I was delighted to see an easy comparison of the craniofacial landmarks. At 50% transparency it is clear that there are no readily apparent deviations in the placement of the eyes, nose and mouth, suggesting very strongly that they are of the same woman with perhaps a separation of three decades. Both images even show a possible asymmetry of the nostrils, her left appearing larger than the right.

The only remaining questions regarding the older image would be as to how long prior to her marriage to James Addison Alsop was it taken, and who may the image be in her broach? One thing is probably most certain is that this was not an image of her in mourning following James' death in December 1860.
There is also the question as to how she was related to the Alrich family? Her son, John Addison Alsop had been married to Florence Chartters, a relation to the Chancellor and Leavell families. Hopefully the connection will become apparent soon.


John Banks said...

very, very cool stuff, John. Thanks for posting this. Have you on my blog roll!

Deborah said...

Great post. Pat & I are always trying to match up photos of ancestors young to old. I have found in my files, that quite often a couple would each have a sitting for a photo just before their wedding day.

Andy Hall said...

That's god stuff.

Dating photographs based on clothing is dicey; they may be considerably later than the fashions suggest. My mother had a favorite older relative -- something on an "Auntie Mame" figure -- when she was a kid in the 1930s. She remarked later that this woman had "decided she liked the styles of her own youth in the 1890s," and that's what she wore until she died in the 1950s. She had her dresses made to old patterns, hats too, but no one ever figured out where she got those high-button shoes so long out of style. I suspect it would be very difficult to date one of her pictures, based on the clothing she wore.

John Cummings said...


Other considerations when dating photographs would be the studio's backdrop design. Is it typical of the period the clothes suggest? Also any photographer's information printed on the front or back of the image. Keeping in mind the possibility of an older image being reprinted at a more recent date. Many things do go in to weighing a decision.
But, you do bring up a valid point about some people and a psychological need to adhere to a style they feel is proper and appropriate to their needs. I had offered something to that possibility in the comments section of my April 5th post, when considering if the image did indeed show Susan Read Alsop as a widow in 1861 or 1862. Was she wearing the clothes that she did when her husband was living? Is this how she identified herself? It's something that still may have some validity, but only if and when we can determine who is in her possible "memorial broach". That may be the only solid evidence to solve that mystery. If we could turn up an obvious copy of that image, one identified as James Addison Alsop.

Thanks for your comment.