Relatives who keep old photos are great.
Relatives who don't put any information on those photos are creating mysteries their descendants may find it impossible to solve.
Take this confident looking Civil War soldier. My aunt Katherine had it. She didn't get to America until after 1900, so it's probably from my father's family, which was in the Weymouth/Mays Landing, NJ, area, at the time of the war.
This guy is wearing a light blue Zouave jacket, a private's uiniform despite all that stuff on the sleeve. There's a bugle on the front of his cap (infantry) and the corps badge is that of the Sixth Corp.
You'd think that might be enough to maybe track him down? Nah. It's going to take awhile. There were 11 New Jersey regiments that served in the Sixth Corps at one time or another, and it's hard to say how many of them had Zouave uniforms.
Nor is there any guarantee this is a family member. It could be a photo of a family friend, someone in the community, or a photo that ended up in my family by accident sometime in the last 100 years or so.
The only other thing going on here is the fellow's watch chain. Taking it at face value, the man has a watch in that pocket. That means he was not impoverished; watches were not carried by most people at the time this photo was taken. We can add a couple of names besides Watson to the search, including Giberson, Abbott and maybe Mattix. All are families that had prosperous members back then in that part of the world.
Wish me luck on this one. There are at least 12,000 names in those 11 regiments, probably more than 16,000 and possibly as many as 19,000 if you add the new enlistees and draftees to the two- and three-year regiments, which might have started out with 1,000 men but lost and added men all through their service. Nor are all the rosters for all the 11 regiments complete. And, as I've discovered with my great grandfather William Thorp/Turp/Torp/Toerp/Torpes of the 7th NJVI, nor does the military necessarily have the spelling of the name the way you expect to find it.
Aunt Katherine had about 40 images, including ferrotypes that could date to the earliest years of photography, right through the 1920s. She died before I got the photos, so I didn't have a chance to talk to her about any of these. So far I've identified four people: GGF Thorp, his daughter Mina, and Uncle Frank and Aunt Catherine when they got married. Looks like I'm going to be busy for awhile.
I'll take all the help I can get. If anyone knows which New Jersey unit had a light blue Zouave jacket, give a holler.