Name Tag

Name Tag

Assuming that the shadowy conference goer pictured above isn’t wearing somebody else’s name tag or traveling in mufti, we may surmise that his name is Ernest. Similarly, when a person is tagged in a Facebook photo, we make a comparable match between the person and the Facebook tag, though here we need to assume that the tagger has (a) correctly identified the person tagged—yes, that’s Ernest in the photo, not his evil twin Alex—and (b) affixed the tag to the right person in the photo—yes, when you move the cursor over the photo, it’s the guy with the beard and not, say, the person with the blond hair next to him, that should be identified as Ernest:

Tagged Facebook pic

Facebook Tag

The use of names or other labels to identify the subject or subjects of interest in a picture is not new (though some uses of the term tag are of recent vintage). For example, the photo tag is essentially the offspring of the May-September romance of the pop-up and the callout:

pic with callouts


And even before that, people annotated photos by hand:

Humez Family Photo

Humez Family Photo

[“Grandfather Humez’s brother Ernest & his family — wife Aunt Ida (2nd wife) Adele, Paul his children by first wife ?? (?? Desguin’s sister). The girl in the center is child by Aunt Ida — Mildred Humez.”]

All of the people in Humez Family Photo are identified by name. (That there are people mentioned in the annotation whose identity is not clear, whether by omission or smudgy handwriting—Grandfather Humez, Ernest’s first wife, and the first wife’s sister, not to mention the likely family member who annotated the photo—is another story.) Pictures in the family album (or desk drawer, shoe box, wallet, Facebook page, or other such repository) are not always annotated in such a way as to make positive identification of their subjects possible. Sometimes, though, a bit of detective work will allow us to tag the hitherto unannotated.

The following is a case in point. Printed on postcard stock, the photo labeled Four Generations shows four people seated in somebody’s yard. The annotation “Four generations 1917” appears on the back:

Fhotoour generations p

Four Generations

Where to begin? We recognize Ernest Humez from Humez Family Photo. If the annotation on the post card is to be taken to mean that the photo has captured four generations of the family of which Ernest Humez is a member, we might suppose that the four subjects are (full names) Ernest Désiré Humez, his father Emmanuel Jean Baptiste Humez, one of his grandchildren (more on whom presently), and his son Paul Ernest Humez (né Paul Ernest Léopold Humez). Due diligence: Paul Ernest Humez was my paternal grandfather who died when I was ten years old and whom I remember as a physical presence though, obviously, as an older man than the one I believe to be the leftmost man in Four Generations and the fellow with the pince-nez in the back row of the undated Humez Family Photo. Other family members who knew my grandfather agree that it is indeed he on the left. So: two down and two to go.

 Identifying the other two subjects—the gentleman holding the child, and the child him- or herself—is not so easy. Taking the annotation on the back of the photo at face value, we may guess that the child is Paul Ernest Humez’s son, Paul Ronald Humez, born in March, 1916, the eldest of his eventual four children, the second of whom (my father, David Ernest Humez) was born in October, 1917. We may guess that the photo was taken in New England, quite possibly in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Paul Ernest Humez lived with his wife Charlessie, their child(ren), and his parents-in-law Charles and Louisa McKinnon. (The likelihood that Paul Ernest would have traveled with a toddler and a pregnant spouse or new mother and infant for a photo-op away from home is presumably nil.) If the 1917 date is correct and it is warm enough to be outdoors sitting on the lawn, Paul Ronald Humez is roughly a year and a half old and his mother is pregnant with my father.

 That leaves the gentleman holding the child whose father and grandfather we have previously identified on the left and right. A reasonable hypothesis would be that the man in question is Emmanuel Jean-Baptiste Humez, father of Ernest Désiré, grandfather of Paul Ernest, and great-grandfather of Paul Ronald. Four generations of Humez males. Unfortunately, Emmanuel Jean-Baptiste Humez died in 1888, thereby precluding his appearance in Four Generations or, for that matter, any photo taken after 1888. Perhaps the answer is to be found in another family photo:

Another Humez Family Photo

Another Humez Family Photo

Could the fellow identified here as Grand[pere Humez] be the mystery holder of the child in Four Generations? As it turns out, no, because Grandpère Humez is actually Uncle Ernest’s elder brother (by some 15 years) Antoine Charles Humez, which technically makes Uncle Ernest Great-uncle Ernest. (We may guess that the annotator of Another Humez Family Photo belonged to an American-born generation in which the French language was at best vestigial.)

 So, in true mystery-story fashion, the spotlight returns to a character previously seen only in passing, Charles McKinnon, here shown with his wife LouisaLouisa:

Louisa and Charles McKinnon

Louisa and Charles McKinnon

In that case, the annotation “four generations” would have to be taken not to mean “people representing four generations in the same (male) line” but, rather, “people (some but not all of whom happen to share a direct line of descent) whose ages place them in four adjacent generations, assuming 20-25 years, give or take, between generations.” Charles McKinnon was born in 1839, Ernest Désiré Humez in 1866, his son Paul Ernest Humez in 1889, and his son Paul Ronald Humez in 1916. So far so good.

 But while we may have completed the crossword puzzle, a couple of the words in the lower left corner look suspicious. For openers, there is the disparity between the 1917 date on the back of the photo and the officially documented date of Charles McKinnon’s death in September, 1916. Well, maybe the date is off by a year, the baby is a remarkably robust five-month-old, and Mr. McKinnon is having a really good day. Could the elder gentleman be Ernest Désiré’s elder brother, Antoine? My genealogist third cousin Diane Flynn (with whom I share a great-great-grandfather, Emmanuel Jean Baptiste Humez and on whose extensive research I have based much of this posting) offers two reasons to reject this hypothesis: (1) In all the photos she has seen in which he appears, Antoine looks really grumpy and (2) why would the tot have been entrusted to his grandfather’s brother—rather than to his father or his father’s father?

As only a casual puzzle solver, I’m prepared to live with a couple of three-letter words without vowels and quietly call it a day, though I still wonder if perhaps Uncle Antoine really was having a good day as he got to hold the kid and be in the center of the picture.