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Tobias D. Gehring, photographer of Charles Leonard

Looking into the past can be like peeking into a darkened room. Every little clue we find sheds a little bit of light on its contents. Sometimes we're lucky enough to have photos of our ancestors, and it's great to see what they looked like, but what other information can an old photo provide?

Ideally, someone wrote the names, dates, and places the photos were taken, but not always. Sometimes the photographer's name and the city may be imprinted on the border or backside, which could provide some clues.

One of the portraits of my 3rd great-grandfather, Charles Russell Leonard, for example, doesn't have a date to tell us when it was taken, but Charles was born in 1830 and he appears to be about 60 years old in this photo, so we can estimate it was taken around 1890, but if we wanted to be sure, doing some research on the photographer could help verify the approximate date of the portrait.

Charles R. Leonard's photograph is marked "GEHRING", the name of the photographer, along with the place, which is crossed out, but appears to be "Lyons, NY". A search of area newspapers for the words "Gehring" and "Photographer" helps shine some light on the photographer's career.

The photographer's name was Tobias D. Gehring. From these clues, along with census records, the following is a partial timeline of his life:

  • 1857/58 - Tobias D. Gehring born at sea in April, to parents emigrating from Switzerland.

  • 1860 - His family of eight people was counted on the census in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

  • 1880 - At the age of 23, Tobias was counted on the 1880 census, boarding in the home of William Clayson in Syracuse, Onondaga, New York. He was single.

  • 1882 - Tobias married Charlotte Hamilton.

  • 1887 - He had a photography studio located at 18 East Genesee Street in Syracuse (1887-1888 Syracuse Directory). He also had a studio on Locust Street at one time.

  • 1892 - Tobias and his wife, Charlotte, lived in Syracuse with four children: Grace, Charlotte, Ralph and Hazel Gehring. He was employed as a crucible maker. (1892 NY State Census)

  • 1893 - Moved to Lyons, 45 miles west of Syracuse.

  • 1894 - Gehring had a studio in the Nellis Block on Williams Street in Lyons.

  • 1898 - Gehring had a studio in Herkimer, New York, in 1898, which he sold that year and returned to Lyons, supposedly "his former home". Lyons is about 100 miles west of Herkimer. This time, he didn't remain in Lyons long, however.

  • 1900 - When the 1900 census was taken, he lived in Syracuse, about 45 miles east of Lyons. They had five children in their home in 1900. They were: Grace Gehring, Charlotte E. Gehring, Ralph Gehring, Hazel O. Gehring, and Harold R. Gehring. Hazel married Henry F. Loeb in Macomb County, Michigan, in 1915.

  • Tobias Gehring died on Sept. 21, 1906, in Syracuse.

Given the long distances between the places Gehring lived, one might wonder if it is the same person, but an intriguing story published in the Rochester Democrat in 1894, ties it all together, explaining that in 1894, Gehring had a photographic studio in the Nellis Block in Lyons. It also states that he had been in Lyons for a year and that he had previously operated a studio on Locust Street in Syracuse for 15 years.

So, from these references, we can see that Gehring had a studio in Lyons between 1893 and 1900, which makes sense, because we know that Charles Leonard, who spent most of his life in Cayuga and Tompkins Counties, lived in Wayne County briefly. He was counted on the census in Rose, Wayne County, New York, in 1892, and in Lyons in 1900. (See his census timeline here). The village of Rose is just a few miles from Lyons.

In summary, the portrait of Charles Russell Leonard was taken in Lyons, probably between 1893 and 1900. Charles would have been between 63 and 70 years old. The Nellis Block in Lyons, is shown here:


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