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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree July 2018 > YOUR Q&A ADVICE…


With our experts Jayne Shrimpton, Emma Jolly, David Frost, Tim Lovering, Mary Evans, Simon Wills and Geoff Simpson

Photos 1 & 2

The pronounced V-shaped base to the bodice could indicate a 1840s or 1850s date, but the sleeves confirm a year in the 1850s, being a modest version of the open ‘pagoda’ sleeves that dominated the decade



We welcome your family history queries, and try to answer as many as we can, but we do have a considerable backlog at the moment, so, if possible, we recommend in the first instance posting your query on or tweet us @familytreemaguk and we’ll aim to help you there


If those options don’t suit, please email and we’ll be as quick as possible

Handstitched heirloom

Q We have a lovely bodice that belonged to one of our ancestors on our maternal line, though we’re not sure who. We would love it if you could date the bodice and also tell us about any other clues to it! Our best guess is that it’s late 1850s and we’re guessing maybe it was kept because the person wore it to their wedding. Or maybe they were just proud of their seamstress skills. We’d be delighted to hear what you think. Diana Burke & Helen Tovey via the magazine

A You are lucky to be one of the relatively few families who have inherited clothing actually worn by their ancestors and this is a fairly early garment dating from about 160 years ago – as you rightly suggest, the 1850s.

Except in wealthy families, in which the ladies frequently ordered new outfits, generally clothes were used time and again and, becoming worn, were rarely kept intact.

The exceptions to this are generally christening robes (which we feature periodically in Family Tree), wedding gowns and also mourning clothes – all costumes created for a specific purpose.

The V-shape bodice

This bodice appears to be fashioned from silk material and is lined, as was usual, in cotton fabric. As far as I can tell, it is partly machine-stitched, partly hand-sewn, the centre-front seam typical of early-Victorian bodices styled with the customary darts to either side, all three being boned, up to bust level. It is a back-fastening bodice, as was usual in the 1840s: during the 1850s front-fastening jacket-bodices became fashionable, although some formal bodices of the decade still display the traditional back fastening, as seen here.

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About Family Tree

Join us as we celebrate the mothers, grandmothers, aunts and more on your family tree. It's vital to research the female ancestors, otherwise you're only learning half of your family history. This issue we have plenty to help and inspire your research into women's history and so gain a fuller understanding of your family members and their lives in times gone by.