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That lovely old photograph

So The Legal Genealogist is looking at those shaky leaves again this morning…

And going through that SMH moment again.

So here goes, one more time, one last old college try.

Cousins, really, there are no photographs of Elizabeth (Pettypool) Jones.


No matter what you see on somebody else’s tree. Not even the five — count ’em, five — trees that showed up as new hints for me this morning with a photo. Or the however-many-other trees that have linked to that photo, or reuploaded it as their own, in the past.1

Not Elizabeth Jones

It’s not Elizabeth.


It’s just not.

Elizabeth (Pettypool) Jones was my fifth great grandmother. She was born around 1750, and died in September 1818. She is buried at Sandy Run Baptist Cemetery in Cleveland County, North Carolina.2

You can see a photograph of her tombstone on Find A Grave: the inscription on the oldest stone reads “In memory of Elizabeth Jones Consort of John Jones Who died Septr 2(5?) 1818 Aged 6(8?) years.”3 A much-later-added footstone repeats the death month and year but offers a different day: 2 September 1818.4

And no matter whether it was the second or the 25th of September 1818, that, by itself, tells you there are no photographs of Elizabeth (Pettypool) Jones.

There can’t be.

Because the very first permanent photograph, of anything, known to be in existence today was created by a Frenchman, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, in 1826 or 1827. It’s now in the collection of University of Texas-Austin.5

Niépce and another Frenchman named Jacques Louis Mande Daguerre teamed up three years later — in 1829 — to try to perfect the photographic process. Daguerre produced the first photograph known to include a human being in Paris in 1838.6

But it wasn’t until 1839 that the details of the first commercially practical photographic process, the daguerreotype, were announced in public.7 It was that same year — 1839 — when an Englishman named William Henry Fox Talbot announced his process for what he called photogenic drawing — combining negatives and light-sensitive papers to produce images.8

You’re getting the idea here, right?

If the very first permanent photograph, of anything, known to be in existence today was created in 1826, it just isn’t possible that there is any image in existence that could possibly depict a woman who died in 1818.

This is exactly the kind of mistake that following the best practices of genealogy — the standards collected and published by the Board for Certification of Genealogists9 — will help us avoid. When we’re looking at sources — and a photograph is a source10 — we look at its physical condition and its history, among other things.11 We need to appraise each item’s likely accuracy, integrity, and completeness.12 We pay attention to details.13

Doing family history right means learning the history and concepts of a lot of other fields. We often incorporate “economic, ethnic, genetic, governmental, historical, legal, linguistic, military, paleographic, religious, social, and other factors” that impacted our families into our research.14 And, when we do, we have to learn the background needed to “understand both what an information item says and what it means in the context of each source’s place and time…”15

The place and time of this photograph compels one and only one answer.

It’s not Elizabeth.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “It’s not Elizabeth. Really,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 19 Dec 2020).


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Not Elizabeth,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 18 July 2015 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2020).
  2. W.D. Floyd, “Cleveland County Cemeteries,” Website On Disks, CD-ROM (Forest City, NC : Genealogical Society of Old Tryon County, 2007), entry for Elizabeth Jones, Sandy Run Baptist Cemetery.
  3. Sandy Run Baptist Cemetery, Cleveland County, North Carolina, Elizabeth Jones marker; digital image, Find A Grave ( : accessed 19 Dec 2020), photo added by Sharon & Jackie, Find A Grave ID #46808067.
  4. Ibid., photo added by Lisa Roth, Find A Grave ID 46934906.
  5. See Jessica Stewart, “How the Development of the Camera Changed Our World,” My Modern Met, posted 23 March 2018 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2020).
  6. See Brandon Griggs, “This may be the oldest surviving photo of a human,” CNN, posted 10 Nov 2014 ( : accessed 19 Dec 2020).
  7. Helmut Erich Robert Gernsheim, “History of Photography,” Encyclopedia Britannica ( : accessed 19 Dec 2020).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 2d edition (Nashville : Ancestry 2019.
  10. Ibid., at 89, Glossary, entry for “source.”
  11. Ibid, at 21-22, Standard 35.
  12. Ibid., at 22, Standard 36.
  13. Ibid., at 24, Standard 40.
  14. Ibid., at 12, Standard 12.
  15. Ibid., at 37, Standard 64.
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