Lost Pictures: A Picture Mystery in Reverse


At a recent conference, David E. Rencher, Chief Genealogical Officer at FamilySearch.org approached me with an interesting dilemma. He has a business receipt for a family picture, but no photograph. It’s a picture mystery in reverse.

In the Abraham Rencher Papers at the Wilson Manuscript Library of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is a receipt from John Gihon’s Photographic Art Gallery at 1024 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. According to the receipt, Gihon’s client, Mr. W. C. Rencher asked to have 12 copies made of carte de visite and paid in advance. Rencher posed for the picture on July 27, 1865. David Rencher told me that William Conway Rencher is the son of Abraham Rencher, brother to Umstead Rencher who is David’s 2nd great-grandfather. With no picture in the family and no photograph in the Rencher papers, David began his search by researching the photographer.

Gihon ( 1839-1878) was a well-known Philadelphia photographer and a frequent contributor to the periodical, Philadelphia Photographer from 1867 to 1878. A bibliography of material about Gihon can be found in William S. Johnson’s Nineteenth-Century Photography: An Annotated Bibliography 1839-1879 (G.K. Hall, 1990). According to Linda A. Ries and Jay W. Ruby’s book, Directory of Pennsylvania Photographers 1839-1900 (Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999), Gihon was at 1024 Chesnut St. in the following years, 1859-61 and again from 1864-68. David has Gihon’s obituary from the Philadelphia Photographer (November 1878) and even an advertisement for his business. He even knows what Gihon’s building on Chesnut Street looked like. Drawings appeared in The History of Chesnut Street, Philadelphia by Casper Souder, Jr. (King & Baird, 1860). Unfortunately, he has not been successful in locating any large collections of images by Gihon. He’s still a man without a picture.

Despite all his efforts, David is unable to locate this missing picture of his ancestor. If there were 12 copies made, then it’s easy to assume that one of them remained in family hands. David is left with little choice but to continue his search for all family descendants of W. C. Rencher in the hopes that someone has the picture to go with the receipt. That would close the case!


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