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Digital Subscriptions > Family Tree > May 2018 > ADVICE…



With our experts Jayne Shrimpton, Emma Jolly, Mary Evans, Pam Ross, Tim Lovering, David Frost, Adèle Emm and Christine Wibberley

Q Which ancestors are depicted?

The family story regarding these photos is that they are my grandfather’s brother, William Hartley Link, born in 1854 in Everingham, Yorkshire, and possibly either William’s first wife, Mary Farrell (born 1854 in Hull), or his second wife, Catherine/Katherine Gavin (born c1861- 1871 in New York).

William married Mary Farrell on 7 July 1886 and the marriage notice in the York Herald described William as a resident of New York. Shipping records indicate that they both returned to New York on 18 August 1886. However, Mary died soon after their arrival, on 13 September. Much later, on 7 January 1903, William married his second wife and was naturalised c1909. He and Catherine/Katherine remained in New York, but over the years William had travelled between there and England several times – census and shipping records describing him variously as a salesman/traveller/salesman of dry goods. He died on 6 March 1930 and his wife in July 1940.

Family belief is that the female photo depicts William’s second wife, Catherine/Katherine and that their portraits may be wedding photos. These copies are 4 inches x 6 inches, the backs of the originals inscribed with: Edsall Portraits, 246 & 248 W 125 St, New York. Any help would be appreciated.

Mary Tonelli

A These are two professional studio portraits. These photographs could be cabinet prints, judging from your mention of size of the copies (assuming the scans are the same size as the originals), cabinet cards being the most common format of the late 1800s/ early 1900s. With only visual images to go by, we notice firstly the close-up three-quarter-length compositions of the subjects, a typical pose of photographs taken during the 1870s and 1880s.

Photo 1

This outfit shows the cuirass silhouette – an unbroken line through the torso and over the hips, popular mid-1870s to mid-1800s

Photo 1

The female portrait provides the most reliable clues. The lady’s formal daytime costume follows the narrow cuirass silhouette that shaped fashion broadly between the mid-1870s and mid-1880s; this formed an unbroken line through the torso and over the hips, as seen from her tight-fitting bodice, with its front fastening of tiny buttons and expert shaping by means of darts. Her neckline revealing the neat ‘pie-crust’ frilled edge of her blouse beneath is typical of the end of the 1870s or early to mid-1880s, as is her ornate matronly day cap. Unfortunately we cannot see the shape of her skirt, which would help, so must consider a time frame of c1879-86.

Photo 2

The male portrait cannot be dated quite so precisely, but the man’s smart three-piece suit accords with our date range, the silk braid binding edging his garments a fashion associated particularly with the 1880s. In view of the.m late 1870s/1880s date we can eliminate these photos from the marriage of William and his second wife in 1903. Beyond that, identifying these ancestors rests on accurately judging their ages, which can be difficult in old photographs.



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

In conclusion

In my view, we are looking at a mature couple aged probably in their late 40s or 50s, so, although the date could just coincide with William’s first marriage in 1886, surely these are not William and Mary (both born in 1854), but are more likely to hail from the previous generation.

Since William’s family came from the UK, I wonder if this couple were his parents visiting New York, or even Mary’s parents arriving in New York for the sad occasion of her funeral in September 1886.


If copying or sharing photos with relations, be sure to scan both front and back of each photo, and to include the full mount if possible. Reverse views and the mount can provide much information, besides the name and location of the studio

Your questions answered

Photo 2

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About Family Tree

Where are you going to take your family history this spring? From planning a trip to The National Archives to a meander down memory lane, there are so many choices... I bet there are few among us whose hearts don’t gladden when spring is in the air, and this issue we’ve got all sorts of ideas to help you get out and about and enjoying your family history. Whether you’re going to pay a visit to the archives, or plan a day out or weekend away to the places where your family once came from, it’s sure to add so much to what you know about your ancestors’ lives. It’s definitely true – the more we look, the more we learn. Have fun!