Posted by: marthabernie | October 19, 2014


For the last sixty years that I know of, descendants of Thomas Marlin (1782-1861) have been circulating this photo believing that it is Thomas himself.  The image comes from a tintype that was found amongst other photos in the 50’s I think, and it was labeled “Thomas Marlin.”

I have always doubted that this is the first Thomas because photography was not prevalent until the 1860’s.  Even if it had been taken from an earlier daguerreotype, that process was mostly only available in France until the 1850’s.  Assuming that pioneer Thomas managed to come across someone to photograph him, he would have been more than 60 years old in the 1840’s, more than 70 years old in the 1850’s and he was 79 at the time of his death in 1861.

The style of dress worn by this man appears to be from about 1840 – 1860 and is reminiscent of clothes worn by Abraham Lincoln in some of his earlier photos.  The pose is also reminiscent of Lincoln from photos taken during his early political days.

I have had this discussion with distant cousins in Missouri who swear this is the first Thomas despite my research into the history of photography.  As the story goes, one of Thomas’ grandchildren, Gus Marlin, was asked in his later years if he recognized the man in the photo and he purportedly said it was Thomas Marlin, that he had known him as a child.  However, Gus wasn’t born until several years after the first Thomas died.  This is documented.  That said, Gus could have known the first Thomas’ son or grandson (also named Thomas) during his life time.

So who is the man in the photo?   I suspect it is the son or grandson of Thomas, also named Thomas.  If the first Thomas married at around 20 to 25 years of age, he would have started having his family with wife, Polly Rice, in the first decade of the 19th century.  In about 1860, a son would have been anywhere from 35 to 55 years of age.  By the 1870’s or 1880’s, a grandson would have been between 15 and 40 years of age.  The man in the photo looks to me to be in his early 40’s, but back in those days, people aged quickly.  So for me, the mystery remains.  I am sure he is  a Marlin because he’s got the jaw and hair line, and his hair covers up the ears that stick out slightly.   Also, those are definitely Marlin eyes.  But I still do not think this is my great great great grandfather, Thomas Marlin.  Note that someone has scratched the Masons’ sign around the button on his shirt front.  This was done on the tintype the photo was copied from.


  1. interesting investigative work – you’ve provided enough evidence to convince me.


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