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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > Family Tree Christmas 2017 > ADVICE…


With our experts Jayne Shrimpton, Tim Lovering, David Annal, Mary Evans, Adèle Emm and Christine Wibberley


What do the dress clues say?

Q I am been researching my great-grandparents, John and Lavinia Taylor (married in 1869, Rowston, Lincolnshire), and their eight children: Mary Susan (1871-?); my grandfather, Arthur John (1874-1935); Amy Lavinia (born and died 1876); Minnie Allen (1878-1950); William Henry (1880-1965); Herbert (1882-?); Albert (1884-1902) and Ada Jane (1886-1970).

A couple of years ago I was given a photo in an envelope naming them and their first child, Mary Susan (born 1871). In April, I took the photo to the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE family history show in Birmingham and asked an expert to confirm the date. However, she told me the photo dated to the 1900s due to the style of dress.

I wasn’t expecting to hear that the date was much later than I thought; by then both John and Lavinia were no longer living and this deflated me. But I do have another photo of my greatgrandmother; it looks like a photo taken after the death of my great-grandfather in 1886, as she is wearing black.

To me they look like the same person, but I would like you to confirm whether or not you think it is the same person.

Lavinia died less than two years after John, in 1888 (aged 40); the couple’s children were orphaned, and scattered all over the country. I now have only two to track down to their deaths, Herbert and Mary Susan.

I have also sent a third photo, again given to me last year and from a photo collection belonging to one of the orphaned children, William Henry, who was sent to Wales c1893, aged 13: this was where William remained for the rest of his life. I am hoping it portrays his brother, Herbert, who was sent to Nottingham (the studio is named on the mount: Wallis & Reynolds, 7 Exchange Walk, Nottingham). In the 1891 Census Herbert (8) and Albert (6) were together in Nottingham; in 1901 Herbert (18) was in Scarrington, Nottingham, a wheelwright apprentice and Albert was in Pudsey, an apprentice tailor.

Albert died in 1902 aged 18, but in 1911 Herbert was still in Nottinghamshire. I hope you can help.

Lynne Earland

A It’s very sad to learn of the early deaths of both of your greatgrandparents and how they left seven surviving children to go their separate ways. It would be wonderful if you could tidy up the family record by positively identifying individuals in photographic portraits and this is where accurate photograph dating comes in.

Unfortunately photographs were seldom identified in writing at the time they were taken and so any names ‘attached’ to them much later tend to be based mainly on hearsay or guesswork. Although it is tempting to believe what we have been told, especially if it is what we want to hear, it’s always advisable to study the visual evidence carefully and work out a plausible time frame for each photograph – with professional help, if necessary – before making assumptions about whom they portray: otherwise errors can lead to confusion and disappointment.

The family group scene (the photo you took to Birmingham), appears to be a tintype photograph going by your description and from what I can see of its appearance in the original scan, mounted in an ornate metal frame (not shown).

Tintypes were less popular in Britain than in the USA, but were favoured by outdoor operators like seaside photographers who used special tintype cameras to take cheap souvenir photographs of people enjoying a day on the beach or promenade. Such ‘props’ were generally used by studio photographers based in seaside resorts, suggesting that this photograph originated somewhere on the coast.

Tintypes (also called ferrotypes) were photographic images struck directly onto a thin iron plate and often they were layered under glass and set into a frame. The painted scenery used by the studio was often closely based on local landmarks so potentially we might be able to discover where this was taken. If you recognise this particular pier, but please get in touch with
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About Family Tree

Welcome to the Christmas issue of Family Tree – we’ve got festive family history treats galore in store for you. Dive into our delicious feast of digitised documents – rare historic collections for you to enjoy browsing and researching on your device. Enjoy some genealogy jollies: a family history crossword, quiz and memories of Christmas traditions from centuries past. And last but not least, this issue sees the launch of the Family Tree Academy – this is your opportunity to hone your family history skills. In part 1, this issue, we’ve got documents for you to decipher, old handwriting for you to transcribe and a research case study for you to pit your wits against. Join in with our learning experience today to become a better family historian!