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George Sonnenleiter's Mugshot and the Importance of Primary Sources

sonnenleiter geowThe sheet of mugshots from which this picture of George Sonnenleiter was taken, clearly demonstrates the importance of primary sources. Yet, as a primary source its future was once tenuous. Its owner relayed a story about his purchase of the page. As he was buying the sheet of mugshots (the book from which it came is probably long gone), another fellow approached with the intent to acquire it, but realized he was too late. The buyer noticed the disappointment evident in the other person's demeanor and asked about his interest, thinking the latecomer had a family connection to the sheet. As they talked, it was revealed the prospective buyer wanted to use some of the photographs in a collage. The only reason he had not bought it immediately was because his girlfriend had the money and was elsewhere in the building. Yikes! Just think about information that might have disappeared had that particular art project taken off. 

    For instance, the location of the arrests, and those who were arrested, might have been forever lost. Although every mugshot on the page is labeled with some biographical information, no city or state is included. The arresting police knew their location and they probably never imagined mugshots would have genealogical relevance. However, the imprint (a printer's name and location printed on a document) reveals the sheet was patented by "Jones Eureka Leaf" on Feb. 7, 1905 and produced by Lucas Bros. in Balto. Maryland. This information provides a hint as to where to look for the men in the mugshots. In this particular case, the city of Baltimore, Maryland proved out.

   A couple of entries for persons named George Sonnenleiter (Sounenleiter) are found online. Dismissing the possiblity that online sources are talking about different men, confusion exists over Sonnenleiter's birth date.* Each of these online sources claims a different date of birth.  As a primary source, Sonnenleiter's mugshot lends creedance to one of the claims. 

   Archives, is only able to provide a "circa" birth year of 1892 for Sonnenleiter. In spite of this ,they do include information about his later years such as the names of his family members.** The part of that I can access, provides a "circa" birth date of 1898. Find-A-Grave furnishes yet another  possibility, listing his dates as July 15, 1891 to 1957. Although, the photo of a grave stone is included, no birth month is recorded on it. Of course, Loudon Park Cemetery might have his birth records on file, but it should be noted that Find-a-Grave, Archives, and Ancestry do not cite the information from which they obtained the information. Find-A-Grave obviously has his years from the headstone, but the months are questionable.*** This is in no way a criticism of these essential websites, but rather a testament as to the importance of accessing primary source material. It also demonstrates the importance of questioning information found on the web.  

    Mocavo has a record of the household of German-born John Sonnenleiter. As of the census of 1900, John's household included one George Sonnenleiter, a male about age 15 born in October of 1885 in Maryland. The information provided below George's mugshot states he was age 24 when he was processed in 1909, which aligns perfectly with this census record. The information found on the mugshot which is, of course, contemporary with George Sonnenleiter and coupled with information provided on the census record--one mystery is cleared up because of primary sources.   

     However, many people often possess the same name, could these multiple dates be two George Sonnenleiters--one born in 1885 and another born in the 1890's?  Afterall, many people name their children after them leading to occassional (often) confusion. In fact, George Sonnenleiter named his oldest son George Sonnenleiter, Jr. (1925-2007). As a final piece of evidence, compare the picture found in Senior's mug shot against that of Junior (photo provided by Find-A-Grave in the link). If I am not very much mistaken, those two men share many of the same features.  

     Once again looking at the primary source, the mugshot, Sonnenleiter's ancestors have information about his appearance, his height, and his weight. Written below the photo is the fact that he also had a brown mole below his right eye, which is not visible in the mugshot.

     Surprisingly, the bit of information that is not found on these mugshots is the infraction for which the individuals were arrested. I have tried, somewhat half-heartedly, to look for that information. The family members might enjoy that part of the search provided they were not already aware of his stint in jail and, in all honesty, a transgression from 1909 that was probably slight, is not the scope of this article. 

    Sonnenleiter's mug shot proves invaluable for a variety of reasons. If provides the family with a physical description beyond what a mere photo relates. If the various George Sonnenleiters found on the websites sites are all the same person, the year of his birth may be finally be resolved. Most importantly, Sonnenleiter's mugshot serves to shed light upon the importance of primary materials and the resulting confusion without them.


 *The uncommon surname, roughly the same dates, some of the same familial ties, and the Baltimore association all suggest this is the same man.


**A the time of the 1940 census records, someone estimated he was 48 (If this is the same George Sonnenleiter, he was 55 at the time of the 1940 census). The Sonnenleiter family lived in Ward 25 in Baltimore City, Baltimore Maryland. The family included his wife Rose Sonnenleiter (37) and Carolina (19), George (14), and Wesley (7).


***Although it may be "written in stone," in this case a tombstone, information can still prove unreliable. However, if there are two George Sonnenleiters running around Baltimore at the same time, please let the readers know. I will happily stand corrected. 


__Pat Earnest, Delaware, November 1, 2015


***If you like what you read on Passed Time, please take a moment to help us. If you are planning to make any purchases through Amazon, do so using the Amazon Widget on our home page (right column about mid-way down) We do not gain access to your personal information, but  we do recieve an advertisment payment from Amazon. Every little bit helps defray our costs. Secondly, check out our advertisers....The money we receive from them allows us to keep giving you free access. 


Pat Earnest is a history enthusiast, who has great regard for the past and is especially proud of the Pennsylvania German culture. In addition to Passed Time, I am currently working on a project for the German Historical Institutes Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies ( I also contribute to various newsletters and am working on another book...or two. Feel free to email me at with  questions, comments, information, a shared love of history, an idea, because you want to chat or you have an great idea for PT. Please be aware, Files With Attachments will not be opened, but immediately deleted.



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