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A Few Questions About That Picture

I’ve now read the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal article that detailed the evidence for the authenticity of the purported Joseph Smith photo, and I am more than 50% convinced that it is authentic. The provenance of the locket combined with the facial match is interesting, but a few points.

  1. Even as a statistician I’m a little fuzzy on what to make of the statistical facial analysis. According to the article the specialists “‘noted that between the daguerreotype and portrait images 19 of 21 features (pairwise measurements) fall within the 95% confidence interval.’ Almost all measurements taken from the portrait, and mask photos fall within range the 95% confidence interval of measurements taken from the daguerreotype image.” So basically 19 of the 21 features match, which seems convincing, but still, without some context it’s hard to know what to make of it. A single, pithy statistic that could help put it in perspective would be: what is the chance that a random person (of European or British descent presumably) would match on 19 or more of the 21 features? If they have a population sample it would presumably be quite easy to calculate such a statistic, and could help more precisely quantify the chance that this isn’t Joseph Smith, but some other guy. 
  2. Of course, if this is a locket in the Smith family it might not be a random draw, since it could be another relative that has similar features to Joseph Smith, which brings up a speculative thought: could this be Hyrum Smith? (The man in the photo kind of looks more like Hyrum to me, frankly). That would not really explain why Joseph Smiths’ descendants had it and wore it, but if it was the only available photo of one of the two brothers it might have still have had some sentimental value. At the very least it’s worth applying the same analysis to the Hyrum death mask that they applied to the Joseph Smith death mask.
  3. Finally, the more historically inclined might correct me here, but I seem to recall reading that Joseph Smith had gained some weight by the time of his martyrdom; and maybe I’m clasping at straws or the weight gain wasn’t in the face, but that picture does not look like somebody who’s gained weight.


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