Monday, March 5, 2012

The Tanner Family Daguerreotype: An Introduction

This is the first of an extended series.

There has never been a known picture of Mormon pioneer John Tanner, but with a family of his size, there is always a hope that some branch of the family has unknown family treasures: a journal, a diary, letters, a prized family picture.

A couple of years ago, Claudia Rayl, a descendant of Myron Tanner (son of John Tanner and Elizabeth Beswick) donated the hand-colored daguerreotype shown above to the new Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Mrs. Rayl also put a copy of the daguerreotype onto and noted:
This photo of John Tanner, his third wife Elizabeth Beswick, & their son Myron Tanner and John's daughter Maria Louisa with his second wife Lydia Stewart, was taken in Nauvoo, Illinois about Apr 1844. It was a prized possession of Elizabeth Beswick's she kept it with her during all their travels west. After John's death Elizabeth still guarded the photo. After her death it was given to her son Myron Tanner. When Myron died it was given to his youngest son Arthur Leroy Tanner. It then went to Arthur's daughter Katherine Tanner Carter who was my mother. I kept it for several years until the completion of the new L.D.S. historical building. It has now been donated to them.
When I was in Utah last year, I tried to see the daguerreotype at the Church History Library, but it was in processing and the person working on it was on vacation, and the exact location within the library was not known.

The picture raises two major questions: first, how the identification was made of the people in the picture, and second, how the date of the picture was determined.

I called Mrs. Rayl last June and had a delightful conversation with her. The picture had been kept in her family, and the provenance was clear, but it did not have identifications included with it. She made the identifications from looking at family pictures. I am still not clear on how the picture was dated.

Information from the Church History Library

Before discussing the picture in great detail, here is the cataloging information from the Church History Library:
John Tanner family, circa 1844
Call Number PH 8845
Description: Daguerreotype portrait of John Tanner's wife, Elizabeth Beswick Tanner, daughter Louisa Maria Tanner Lyman (wife of Amasa Lyman), and son Myron Tanner. Mature man appears too young to be John Tanner, but may possibly be one of John Tanner's older sons.
And here is a reply from the staff of the Church History Library, in regards to questions I asked about the picture. This is from an email dated January 18, 2012:
PH 8845 is a daguerreotype. Other than that, I can't give you a lot of information. We have a lot of questions about this particular item as well. If the image was taken in 1844, as the Tanner family claims, John Tanner would have been sixty-six years old, and the man appears to be in his thirties or early forties. The images of Elizabeth, Louisa, and Myron do appear to match other later photographs. The family also claims that the photograph was taken by Lucian Foster in Nauvoo prior to John Tanner's departure for a mission to the Eastern States, to which he was called at the 1844 April general conference. Research documents Lucian Foster's arrival in Nauvoo on 27 April 1844, but no clear evidence has surfaced for Foster's daguerreotype studio prior to August 1844.
The man's face has some similarities to that of a circa 1870s picture of William Stewart Tanner (1802-1875), the second son of John Tanner, but no documentation has been located for William ever living or visiting with his father's family in Illinois, though we can't completely rule out the possibility. William's children were all born in New York 1830 through 1851.
So all we can tell you is that further research is needed to determine date and man's identity. Our photo conservator did research on the case and mat to try to determine dating. According to his research, crimping on the mat would indicate a late 1840s-1850s date, and one of our photograph experts believes that the clothing would date the image at early to mid 1850s, but this remains inconclusive.

Part 1: Introduction


  1. so interesting! i had no idea there wasn't a picture of john tanner! how did i not know this!? your correspondence with the family history library is interesting as well!

  2. Thank you, Robin. There are sure a lot of details to track down!