The Man with the Mustache: Are You My Grandfather?

For Thanksgiving week, I am only posting once, so let me wish all of you a wonderful holiday (for those in the US, anyway). May we all be thankful for all the good we have in our lives—those ancestors and parents who paved the way for us, those we now share our lives and love with, be they spouses, relatives, or friends, and those who will come after us—our children, grandchildren and all our descendants.

For today, I want to update an earlier post where I reported on Ava aka Sherlock Cohn’s analysis of this photograph, taken in 1923, probably in Atlantic City. I am curious about your reactions to our thoughts on the man with the mustache. Is he my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen?

Based on earlier research and photographs along with Ava’s report, I am now fairly certain of the identities of most of those in the photograph, as I discussed here.  In the front row are Bessie Craig Cohen, probably her mother Sarah Tadley Craig, and Maurice Cohen, Jr. In the middle is Bessie’s niece Margaret Craig and behind Maurice Cohen Jr is his mother, Edna Mayer Cohen. Kneeling behind Edna is her husband, Maurice Cohen, Sr., my great-uncle. I also assume that the photograph was taken by my great-uncle Stanley Cohen based on the fact that he appears in a separate photograph quite obviously taken at the same time and place.

But who is the man kneeling on the left in the top photo, the man with the mustache? How does he connect to the rest of this group? It could not be Bessie Craig Cohen’s brother James because he died in 1918.1 It also could not be her brother Christopher if the photograph was taken in 1923 because he died in 1922.2 Edna Mayer Cohen had a brother Eugene born in 1893 who is the right age to be the man with the mustache. He was living in the Philadelphia area in the 1920s,3 so he is one possibility, but I have no photographs of Eugene.

Ava at first had a much more intriguing conjecture with respect to the man with the mustache. She saw “a resemblance also to the young man holding a hat in the Cohen & Co. Money Loan Office photograph from ten years earlier. If we are to assume that the young man in that photograph is John Nusbaum Cohen, born 1895, then we can assume that the man on the beach is also John Nusbaum Cohen who I estimated to be born circa 1893-1895.” Ava had done a previous report for me on the Cohen & Company photograph and had tentatively identified the young man holding the hat as my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr.

Cohen & Company photograph

That is, Ava speculated that the man with the mustache could also be my grandfather because he resembled that boy holding the hat. I can definitely see the resemblance. Look at the chin and lips, the deep set eyes, the angles of the ears, and the high forehead:

It would make sense for my grandfather to be in the 1923 beach photograph.  He was the right age (born in 1895 so 28 in 1923), and he would have been with his two brothers and their wives.

But my grandfather did not have a mustache in any of the photographs I have of him. Also, my grandfather definitely had attached earlobes. It’s hard to see in the beach photograph, but that man does not appear to have attached earlobes.

And where is my grandmother? They married in January, 1923, so if the beach photo is correctly dated as 1923, my grandparents were already married by then. My grandmother would have been pregnant in the summer of 1923 as my aunt was born in January, 1924. Why wouldn’t she have been at the beach with her husband and brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law?

So I was not convinced that the man with the mustache in the photograph was my grandfather, but I also wasn’t willing to dismiss the possibility.

Then I received a whole box of photographs and other papers and books from my cousin Marjorie Cohen’s cousin Lou. Inside that box was this treasure, my grandfather’s 1921 passport including this stunningly clear version of his passport photograph:

The beach photograph was taken two years later in 1923. I definitely see similiarities—in the shape of the face, the lips, the forehead and eyebrows, the chin, and the nose. The eyes are so hard to see in the beach photograph, but they are definitely deep-set. But that mustache threw me off, and I could also see differences. My grandfather’s ears looked smaller and seemed lower set on his face, the top of his ears set below his eyes rather than at the same level.

Later, while doing a search on my computer for pictures of my father, I tripped on this photograph. I have no idea where I got this photograph. And I had no memory of seeing it before. But it had been saved to my computer three years ago. Hmmm. Why didn’t I label it when I got it?

Anyway, it’s another photograph of my paternal grandparents, Eva Schoenthal and John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr., taken some years later than the other two I have of them together. My grandfather was wearing glasses, so I wonder whether he was already having some of the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Sr.

Does this help to identify the man with the mustache on the beach?

I sent these two additional photographs to Ava to see what she thought, and interestingly, she concluded that although she now believed that the young man holding the hat in the Cohen & Company photograph was my grandfather John Nusbam Cohen, Sr., she did not think that the man with the mustache on the beach was my grandfather. Ava wrote:

He does look similar and, as you know, I initially said that the man with the hat in Cohen & Co. is the same man with the mustache in the beach photo. But as I said, the man in the beach photo is about the same age as John in the [recently added] photo taken with Eva and the two look different. I’m figuring the John and Eva photo is circa 1928-1931. So John would be in his early 30s. I’m quite certain John is in Cohen & Co. and the fact that his hair was parted in the center in 1921 for his passport picture and again in about 1928 would make the 1923 beach photo an anomaly if he had grown a mustache and changed his hairstyle two years after his passport photo and then changed it back by the end of the twenties.

That mustache is the real problem for me. The change in hair style is less concerning—he was at the beach. Maybe he went swimming? But that mustache. Facial hair often makes a man look older, so maybe that’s why he looks more like he’s in his early 30s and not 28, as my grandfather would have been in 1923.

But as Ava said, none of the other photos I have of my grandfather show him with a mustache—not the passport photo from 1921, not the one taken with my grandmother in 1923, and not the two later photographs. In fact, the 1923 photograph of my grandparents is dated July 1923 on its reverse, as I discovered when Lou sent me Marjorie’s collection:

Eva Schoenthal and John Cohen, Jr. July 15, 1923

Did my grandfather grow a mustache sometime that summer after the July 1923 photograph was taken, or maybe before and then quickly shaved it off? Neither of his brothers ever had mustaches. Were they even in style then?

Ava and I decided we both needed to get some distance from the photograph and come back with fresh eyes.  So for over a month, I put this all aside as did Ava. Then we both returned to it.

I asked the Photo Restoration Free Service group on Facebook to help by adding some clarity to the photograph and removing the mustache. Here was the result:

We then studied all the photographs again, adding this new one to the mix.

As I looked over every adult photo of I have of my grandfather, I began to see that he looked different in every single one of them. I was totally befuddled, but now thought that the man on the beach wasn’t my grandfather.

Ava was also convinced that the man with the mustache was not my grandfather. She wrote:

I took a long look at John’s passport photo and compared it to the man on the beach. I still don’t believe the two are the same person. Besides the obvious clues like hairstyle and mustache, it appears that John’s ears and the ears of the man in the beach photo are not the same shape and even though they both seem to have attached earlobes, the pattern of the “shell” is different. … I looked at all the identified pictures of John that I have from you, including his baby picture. I don’t think the man on the beach is your grandfather. I also don’t think that the man on the beach is the person holding his hat in the storefront photo.

I responded that I agreed with her and wrote:

So here’s the $64,000 question—do you think the boy holding the hat in the Cohen & Company photo is my grandfather? 

Ava responded that she thinks it is likely that the boy holding his hat in the Cohen & Company photograph is my grandfather, but without more photographs, it’s impossible to be certain, especially given the blurriness of that photograph and the fact that the boy is squinting, making it difficult to see his eyes.

As I looked over the photographs yet another time, I made a new observation. My grandfather’s hairline, even as it receded, always seemed a bit further back along the temples, a bit more forward in the center. The man with the mustache seems to have a hairline that did not curve backwards in this way.

So in the end, Ava and I both concluded that the man with the mustache was not John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr., but that the boy holding the hat likely is.

What do you all think? Here for your final review are all the photographs that I know are of my grandfather, John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. as well as the beach photo.


  1. James Craig, death certificate, Certificate Number: 140783, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 140251-143500, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1967 
  2. Christopher Craig, death certificate, Certificate Number: 23826, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 023001-026000, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1967 
  3. Eugene Mayer, 1930 US census, Census Place: Cheltenham, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 0024; FHL microfilm: 2341815, 1930 United States Federal Census 

29 thoughts on “The Man with the Mustache: Are You My Grandfather?

  1. My observations. Neither of those two photos are your grandfather. A part in the middle will always come back even when wet if that is the way a person continues to part their hair. Second the young man has a widows peak hairline, which I have. And when you part your hair in the middle one side looks off balance. Your grandfather in the passport photo has a straighter hairline. Your fantastic passport photo is wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ellen, for your thoughts! I am not sure it was a widow’s peak, nor was Ava—could be how he combed his hair. But who knows! It just is frustrating not to know for sure… Happy Thanksgiving!

      Liked by 1 person

      • His hair just seems so much fluffier than your grandfathers. It has a lot of body, while your grandfather’s seems flatter unless he is oiling his hair to keep it down. Good luck I have decided to just ‘hate’ all my unidentifiable photos even as I keep trying to identify them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That made me laugh—I recognize that emotion! And yes, it was oiled down in most of those adult photos. He probably hated that his hair was somewhat curly and that he was losing it at such a young age.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That oil was popular, but yuck. I have to be in honest in my emotions. Sometimes I get so frustrated. But other times I see a photo and a feeling of joy comes over me as I realize who is in the photo!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes—that’s how I felt about the passport photo. The first really clear photograph I’ve ever seen of my grandfather (who died years before I was born).

        Liked by 1 person

      • That is why we keep searching and people send us pictures. We connect the dots and document it for our families. We are like the ancient store tellers who kept history alive. We keep our family history alive. Best wishes for a happy holiday.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hard work went into the process of deciding on the identity of the mystery man with the mustache. But the fact that you are now certain that he is not your grandfather is also knowledge. Another chapter out of your thorough and convincing detective work, Amy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree the man on the beach is not your grandfather. The shape of the top lip and the width of the mouth seems wrong. I agree with Ellen about the part vs no part and your hair will naturally fall to the part and even if out of the water and shaken to the side, to me there would be some indication it was not natural as his hair does and you would see a ‘want’ to go to the middle part. Beach mans chin seems much squarer to me also. BTW I love the love the photo of Eva and John – its so precious! I am pleasantly surprised by the your post as I know your week is full 🙂 Enjoy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sharon! The votes seem all on the same side—that he is not my grandfather.

      As for the post—well, all my posts are prepared at least a week, usually more, in advance. This one has been on the back burner for a while, and since it stands alone and didn’t incorporate research, it seemed the right one to post during this crazy week!


  4. Definitely ‘no’ to beach guy, but really undecided about the young man outside the shop. His ears, eyes, mouth, and face shape are very like your grandfather’s; it’s the hair and hairline that have me sitting on the fence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree – I don’t think the man with the moustache is your grandfather. Hairline and style are not only different, but as you noted ears are different and appear set differently on their heads.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t think the two pictures look like your grandfather. I see very different faces, especially in the shape of the foreheads. But, I get your confusion given the differences in clarity in the photos. It’s wonderful to have his passport photo!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Despite how frustrating it can be, I love playing this game and trying to determine if two photographed people are one and the same. I agree that I don’t think the mustachioed man at the beach is your grandfather. But I do see similarities between the passport photo and the Cohen & Co picture, particularly in the mouth, ears, and hairline. The eyes make it difficult to say definitively.

    My qualifier is that I’m not good at this game. For the longest time I swore I saw a likeness between my paternal great-grandfather and his son, my grandfather. Turned out that there was no genetic link between the two men and I saw what I really wanted to see. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that happens so often. After all, human facial features don’t have that much variation. so it is easy for our eyes to fool us when we want to see what we want to see. Thanks, Michael!


  8. I really enjoyed this post. I think both of you came to the correct conclusion that the man with the mustache was not your grandfather.
    I know what it is like to revisit a photo with new eyes. I have two planned posts to show what was missed in pictures I’ve already written about.

    Liked by 1 person

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