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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree July 2019 > Your questions answered

Your questions answered

With our panel of experts Jayne Shrimpton, Mary Evans, Tim Lovering, and David Frost


A celebratory birthday picture?

Q Please can you estimate the date of this photo. It could well represent my great-grandmother and as I have her birth/death dates, an estimate could possibly give weight to my assumption. Thank you.

Tony Parker

A This is a traditional studio portrait taken by a commercial photographer at a time when professional images still dominated family photographs. The card mount is not visible in this scan and no studio details are visible, so unless you have access to the original bearing a photographer name and address, unfortunately the geographical location is unknown. I can, however, advise that the tall oval-shaped aperture ‘framing’ the picture is most typical of the mid/ late Edwardian and pre-WW1 period, occurring often between about 1905 and 1914.

A high quality, intimate close-up portrait, this image provides a fine view of the subject – an older girl or young woman dressed in adult mode, making her likely age 16 or more years. Her appearance in a dark tailored skirt and white or pastel-coloured blouse is typical of the early-1900s and early- 1910s, when these basic separates were customary for everyday use and even for semi-formal wear.

Style-wise, we notice the high, choker-like neckline of the blouse, a quintessentially Edwardian feature that grew outmoded during the early-1910s and had become virtually obsolete when war broke out in 1914. Another key dating feature is your ancestor’s hairstyle comprising a prominent central parting, the length drawn up and puffed out into two full swathes of hair above the temples. A predominantly youthful coiffure, this distinctive mode was fashionable for a short time only, during the years preceding the war. The principal dress-related evidence therefore indicates a firm time frame of c1909-13 for this photograph. I am not aware of your great-grandmother’s dates, but hopefully the close date range and an age estimate of 16 to early 20s will confirm your thoughts as to whether this young lady could be a match.

Being elegantly attired and wearing a beautiful bar brooch that may well have been a recent gift, undoubtedly she visited the studio to record a significant occasion. No engagement ring is visible in this scan, so we can probably rule out betrothal. This leaves two likely alternatives: it could signify the ‘coming of age’ celebration, when a daughter adopted full adult dress, usually aged about 16-18 years old; otherwise this could well be her 21st birthday portrait – the traditional age of majority and an important rite of passage that often prompted our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors to pose for a celebratory photograph. JS

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