Philip Holmes – one man and his mule.

To go to the beginning of this story, click here. For the preceding installment about the information on the back of the picture, click here.

Photographic “evidence” part 2.

Sometimes when you are on the trail of a missing ancestor, you spend a lot of time messing about with trivia and tiny details, theorizing about a person’s life based on anything tangible that remains in your possession. Often this boils down to photographs without names, dates or locations marked on them.

The photograph of Philip Holmes was systematically dissected, element by element, in the hunt for any clue about his life. When all you have is a photograph of someone and no other information about what sort of life they lived, it is truly amazing how many lines of inquiry you can follow up – even when many of them may be dead ends.

For example: here is part of the photograph of Philip with red circles highlighting areas of interest – things that Carol and I both had questions about, things that might be significant in identifying him from all the other men called Philip Holmes.

Our thoughts related to these specific areas included:

  1. What significance did the animal have? Was it a working animal? Was it a small horse, a pony or a mule?
  2. Were those possibly tattoos on his arm, or simply odd markings formed from discoloration of the old photo paper?
  3. Philip is well-turned out – his clothes are clean and pressed, he is clean-shaven and well-groomed. What was his purpose in this location.? Working? Vacation?
  4. What is in the background and is it significant?


Philip highlights in photo

Some of these questions we simply mused upon, whilst others led to further investigation. I insisted that Carol send the photograph to someone with expertise in the history of working animals, especially horses. (Google will turn up a suitable expert for just about anything). The expert suggested that this was a mule, and passed our query on to her friend who was a “mule expert”. The mule expert did not have a lot to add to the conversation other than to confirm that this was indeed a mule. He suggested that the background might be indicative of mining in British Columbia around 1920. This was quite exciting, as there was a British Philip Holmes of interest who had traveled through BC and into the US. (After some frantic excitement, including going as far as to contact some of their living relatives, he was ruled out.)

The tattoo theory was interesting.  We were fairly certain at one point that if this was a tattoo, it was possibly a symbol like the caduceus – two snakes entwined around a winged rod, often mistaken or misused as a medical symbol. (The “actual” medical symbol is called the rod of Asclepius after the Greek god associated with medicine and healing. The caduceus is the symbol of Hermes, the messenger god.) Either one seemed like a cool tattoo!

There was nothing to suggest that Philip was involved in manual labor. There appears to be a structure in the background, possibly some kind of tarp shelter or even a campsite. The white objects could be some kind of hard hats like a miner’s helmet, or possibly a pith helmet.

Other than our flurry of excitement over a possible British Columbia connection, all the speculation served little purpose other than to keep the search alive and hopeful.

Meanwhile we diligently checked all of Carol’s mum’s DNA matches across various sites. One day, I was sure, there would be a new DNA match that would help solve the mystery.





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