Will the Real Robert Arbuckle Please Stand Up?

Remember the old game show “To Tell the Truth”  popular in the late 1950’s?  The game went something like this:

There are four people trying to correctly identify a described contestant. This contestant is accompanied by two impostors who pretend to be the central character. The panelists question the three contestants; the impostors are allowed to lie but the central character is sworn “to tell the truth”. After questioning, the panel attempts to identify which of the three challengers is telling the truth and thus is the central character.

This picture reminds me of that old game show.  I’m looking for the “truth” of who the couple in the picture really are.  We know that Robert Arbuckle and Jean McNiven were real people, but is this picture of them or of someone else? Obviously the man in the picture can’t stand up and tell us he is or isn’t Robert Arbuckle so we’re left trying other methods to figure out who the dickens he is!

Here’s my attempt:

The photograph is a standard Cabinet Card measuring 6 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches.

The Photo is glued to card stock, black in color.

The photographer was R.T. Dodd, 65 Jamaica St., Glasgow.

The man is wearing a three piece suit, the fabric looks like a rough woolen, there is a small chain attached to the vest.  Possibly a watch fob.

His hands appear to be clenched.

The woman looks as if she might be pregnant.

I’d been told by my cousin Margaret Blair who gave me the picture, that it was of Robert Arbuckle and Jean McNiven, my Great-Great-Grandparents who were born in Scotland, emigrated first to Canada and later to Minnesota.  But look!  Here’s another copy of the top half of the picture on which has been written: “Grand Mother and Father Arbuckle,  early 1800’s. The handwriting appears to be from one person and print (early 1800) by someone else.

Does the inscription resolve their identities?  No, not at all.  Whoever wrote on the picture has identified couple the photo as Grand Father and Grand Mother Arbuckle but although they may be Robert and Jean they could as easily be another set of Arbuckle grandparents? If so, who?

So I set up a telephone appointment with Maureen Taylor and even though it didn’t lead to  conclusive evidence Maureen was able to offer several considerations that helped me clarify the possibilities.

The inscription says  the picture was able to taken in the early 1800’s. Robert Arbuckle was born in 1821 so either this is not Robert, or that date is incorrect.

Maureen dated the picture as having been taken in the late 1860’s – 1870’s.  Jean Arbuckle’s last pregnancy was in 1874 when she was 54. This couple looks older, but farming in 1874 was not easy and they may be younger than they look.  If the photo is of Jean McNiven when she was pregnant with her last child, John, it would have been taken in the winter of 1873-1874.  John’s dob: February, 1874.

The Arbuckles were living in Canada in the mid-1850’s yet this picture was taken in Glasgow. Could they have returned to Scotland for a time or was there a Glasgow in Canada or Minnesota?  Indeed there is a Glasgow in Canada, but it’s been confirmed hat the photographer who took this photo did have a studio in Glasgow, Scotland so it seems likely that the photo was taken there rather than in Canada.

It seems unlikely that the Arbuckle’s were financially positioned to take a return trip to Scotland but we can’t be certain.

Perhaps R.T. Dodd, the Photographer travelled to Canada taking pictures of Scotts settlers there.

Another possibility is that the picture is of a sibling of Robert’s who stayed behind in Scotland.

My own personal, and probably sentimental idea is the unanswered question of why someone saved this particular picture.  And two different people identified the couple as Grandmother and Grandfather Arbuckle.  Margaret Blair verbalized that it was Robert and Jean Arbuckle, her Great-Grandparents.  Could it be?

So Robert and Jean if that’s really you we surely would like to know about it.  No need to stand up……

Note:  For an excellent analysis of this picture visit Patti-Davidson Peters blog: 



Susan J. Edminster, Granite Falls, Washington, January 29, 2012,  All rights reserved.

Pictures are the property of Susan J. Edminster.

This entry was posted in Arbuckle, Pictures. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Will the Real Robert Arbuckle Please Stand Up?

  1. Jim Sanders says:

    Great story. I just love old photos.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

  2. susaned1 says:


    Thanks so much for your comment, I really appreciate it. And like you I love old pictures!

    Sue E.

  3. sharon steinberg says:

    According to someone in England she has a photo of someone taken by R.T dodd at 65 Jamaica St Glasgow, R.T Dodd did not by the business owned by Bowman until 1887…so this photo has to have been taken after that. cheers, sharon steinberg

  4. susaned1 says:

    Dear Sharon,

    Thank you for this valuable piece of information! I so appreciate your comment and passing this information along.

    Sue Edminster

  5. William Arbuckle says:

    I’m an Arbuckle, Scottish-Irish.

  6. susaned1 says:

    Hello William, Nice to meet you. Where are you from? Most of my Arbuckle ancestors lived in Minnesota and Washington State, though not all. I live in Washington State Puget Sound region.

  7. Alistair Little says:

    Hi there, my paternal grandmother’s mother’s mother was called Jean McNiven. She lived in Islay and moved to Glasgow to find work, where I still live. My great aunt (grandmother’s sister) was also called Jean McNiven Currie. My great aunt was born in 1921, so I imagine her mother must have been born around 1890-1905. Could this be the previous generation?

  8. Alistair Little says:

    Interestingly her father’s father (my great, great grandfather) also has a history with Jamaica street. He was killed by a horse on Jamaica bridge. I imagine this would have been around 1910, give or take.

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