Norfolk Family History
Who do you think you are? It's a question asked on TV by celebrities from Barbara Windsor to David Suchet, Bill Oddie to Stephen Fry.
But it matters to all of us. Where did we come from? Who are our ancestors? Is there something in them which we can recognise in ourselves?
Many hope to can reveal a hidden secret in our Norfolk family history. Is there a royal connection, a dark criminal forebear, or an illicit connection the family have kept concealed?
But for most of us it's more straightforward, a question of wanting to satisfy our curiousity about the stories passed on through the family about our Norfolk and Suffolk ancestry - did great cousin Fred's mother come from Ireland? And did grandma Alice's father really have a shoe shop in Cromer?
Perhaps most of all, can we map out our Norfolk family history to pass on to our children?
One of the keys to unlocking the secrets of the past are the census returns, telling us who lived where, with whom, and what their ages and jobs were. And so as the new census takes place, inspiring interest in our past, we give you a comprehensive guide to finding out more.
Use the links below to discover how you can make the best use of the information available to reveal your Norfolk family history.
- First Steps
- How Much Do You Already Know?
- Searching Public Records
- Using Census Data
- Birth Certificates and Notices
- Marriage Certificates and Notices
- Death Certificates and Notices
- Inquests Reported in Newspapers
- Dating Old Photos
- Norfolk Surnames
- How to be a Photo Detective
- What Can Military Uniforms Tell You
- Victims of the Blitz in Norwich
- Heroes of Trafalgar
- Cartes de Visites
Six steps to starting your trip back in time
What is family history all about? Basically it's about you and all the people who went in to making you who you are. It also means becoming a detective – you have to find the clues to lead you stage by stage through your family tree. If you are starting out on the trail of your ancestors then there are six basic steps which will get you on the right path.
Begin at the end — this means start with yourself because family history works backwards.
Write down everything you know about yourself, full name, birth date and place, schools, work, marriage, addresses etc.
Now do the same for your parents, grandparents and any other member of your family.
Ask the family. Talk to other members of the family, especially older relations, after all one of them may have done some research, or know of an ancestor who started researching the family.
This could save time and money, especially if they have already obtained official certificates or other documents.
Make out a list of questions before you start and don't forget to take notes. Also ask if they have any old documents, photographs, letters etc.
Check the registers of births, marriages and deaths and census records. The certificates recording births, marriages and deaths are legal documents and the information provided will include exact dates and locations of the events as well as other family information, such as occupations, parents' names, ages.
Civil registration started in England on July 1, 1837, but in the early days there was no compulsion to register births or deaths.
Census returns provide family groupings with details of age, occupation and marital status.
The census as we know it today began in 1841 and has taken place every 10 years (except during the second world war).
Information on individuals is released for public scrutiny 100 years after the original publication. This means the details from the censuses of 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901 are now available.
Indexes to both sets of documents are available at local record offices and at the Family Records Centre in London. Some of these records can be viewed on the internet.
Parish registers are the next port of call giving details of baptisms, marriages and deaths, not only before 1837 but also helping to fill in the gaps for the period from the start of registration until some registrations (such as births) became compulsory.
They were started in 1538 but not many survive before 1600. They are kept at county record offices and a national collection of copies is available at the Society of Genealogists in London.
Cemeteries can provide added information and sometimes give you clues to other ancestors.
Not all graves have markers or headstones these days but there are often cemetery records that can provide information.
Many churchyards and cemeteries have had the names from graves indexed and these are often held by family history societies and are sometimes published on the internet.
Wills can provide information on addresses and other relations and will also pad out the bare bones of the names you have discovered so far.
These can be found in public record archives but nowadays some are also available on the internet.
And don't forget...
Once you take these first six steps on the journey into the past the rest will follow. The path isn't always easy but the finds along the way can make up for the pitfalls and blind alleys you might stumble into.
Remember to keep proper records. This includes noting where you obtained the information, who from and when. Never throw away the original notes as sometimes you can make errors in copying them on.
You will also need some form of files to store the various certificates, photographs, documents, photocopies etc.
Now might also be the time to consider whether you are going to use a computer to keep your records and look around for an appropriate software package.
How Much Do You Already Know?
Every journey begins with the first step and for the new family historian that first step involves finding out how much you know right now, before you go chasing after information far afield.
Write down as much as you know about your family: your own date of birth, and where you were born; who your parents are; when they got married (and where if you know), details of any siblings (brothers and sisters) that you have, and when and where they were born.
If your parents, or your grandparents, are still alive then ask them what they know about family members and try to find out who is the keeper of the family documents — birth, marriage and death certificates, old notebooks, a family Bible — in fact anything that provides any sort of information about any member of the family, including wartime ration books, service records, discharge papers, etc.
One of the best sources for such documentation can be a younger brother or sister of your parents or grandparents. An aunt or great aunt in particular could well have stayed at home to look after parents and might have inherited all the old papers and photographs. Try and track down any member of an older generation than yours and ask them if they have any such papers.
If you are lucky enough to get your hands on this type of documentation (and promise to give it back or take care of it for later generations) then you will probably find you have a mine of information.
A full birth certificate will give a date of birth, a place and name both parents as well as giving the mother’s maiden name. From this, if you know whether the birth certificate applies to an older child or a younger one, you can track down an approximate date of marriage.
A marriage certificate names both bride and groom, gives addresses, sometimes ages, occupations and names of both fathers and occupations as well as identifying witnesses who may well be related.
A death certificate can provide details of age, place of birth, address and even the name of the person who provided the details for the certificate, and their relationship.
Don’t despair if you cannot find any of these certificates. They can be obtained via local registry offices or the Family Record Centre in London by post or internet. What you will need is some of the dates, however, and there are other ways to track them down.
Although the full birth certificate is the best one to have a short birth certificate (often used when it was necessary to prove a date of birth as it cost less than the full certificate) can at least provide a date and place of birth and registration.
Even if you cannot find a birth certificate at all you might find a baptismal certificate which will give a close date (except for adult baptisms) and often names people other than parents — for instance the godparents — who might be related.
A marriage certificate might not be available but someone may have kept a wedding invitation, order of service or even the printed card that was often sent out with pieces of wedding cake and gave the name of the bride and bridegroom, the place of marriage and the date.
Instead of a death certificate there may be an order of service, a funeral or memorial card or a copy of the death notice (and if you are very lucky an obituary) from a local newspaper.
Obituaries are very useful because they normally print a list of mourners (including relationships where appropriate) and a list of those who donated flowers.
This is where you might find a reference to a brother as Mr JohnSmith but listed amongst the floral tributes as “your dear brother Jackie” which ensures that if the affectionate family name crops up at any time you know who it refers to.
If you find a family Bible with details of births, marriages and deaths you can consider yourself lucky but take care.
If the details are all written in the same hand and in the same colour of ink it is possible it may have been copied from another source and mistakes might have been made.
Always find a way of double-checking the information, before you go too far up a wrong track.
Also check the date of publication of the Bible copy. If the birth, marriage and death details pre-date this then someone may just have written them in from memory.
Other sources of information include military medals which (except for those issued for the 1939-1945 war) have the name, rank, number and regiment inscribed on them; family diaries or letters; old household bills; bank account documents; even driving licences, insurance certificates and passports can be useful.
Whatever information you glean from these documents must be carefully noted down with details of date received, type of document and, if possible, who normally keeps the document.
The point about documentation is that it is the evidence you need to prove your family connections.
The initial ones you know about, but the higher you climb the further you are from personal knowledge and that is when the evidence will count.
This information puts you on the first rung of the ladder to take you up your family tree and soon you will be climbing along different branches and even checking out sub-branches and twiglets.
Searching Public Records
Registration certificates for births, marriages and deaths are among the main building blocks in family history research.
Although the indexes to birth, marriage and death certificates can still be examined without a computer the online method of viewing details and ordering certificates does save a lot of time, and money.
You don’t even need to own a computer as you can go to an internet café, or log on at your local library — or find a friend who will let you use their computer.
Below are some places to start your search of public record.
Original bound volumes of the Norwich Mercury from 1750 are still held in the Archant archives along with many other Norfolk newspapers published over the centuries whose companies eventually came to form Archant. Most of the later ones started life in the 19th century, such as the Norfolk Chronicle, which ran from 1838 to 1854; Norfolk News (1845-1883); People’s Weekly Journal (1864-1922), Thetford and Watton Times (1880 onwards), Yarmouth & Gorleston Times (1880-1939); Dereham & Fakenham Times (1881 onwards); Diss Journal (1909-1922); and the Downham Gazette & Journal from 1880. Also, of course, the Archant flagship newspaper the Eastern Daily Press, which was launched in 1870, and the Evening News from 1882.
Editions of the Evening News and all our weekly titles are available on microfilm 1952 - 1996, 1996 onwards are on a digital archive.
Most editions of the Eastern Daily Press since 1870 - 1996 are available on Microfilm or CD, 1996 on digital archive.
Norfolk Record Office
The Norfolk Record Office collects and preserves records of historical significance for the county of Norfolk and makes them accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. Click here to view their website.
For Suffolk historical records visit the Suffolk Record Office visit Click here to view their website.
Norfolk Family History Society
The Norfolk Family History Society's collection of genealogical resources encompass Norfolk parish register transcripts, monumental inscriptions, census returns, wills, family trees, pedigrees, photographs and a wide range of published work to help you trace your family's Norfolk origins. Click here to view their website.
Births, marriages and deaths records for Norfolk
Contact details for Norfolk register offices, plus how to get hold of a copy certificate, and trace your family tree. Click here to view their website.
NOAH: Norfolk Online Access to Heritage
NOAH contains a huge range of information held by Norfolk County Council libraries, museums and archives. Included in the coverage are Picture Norfolk, Norfolk Sources, Norfolk Historic Environment Record, the local newspapers index 1922-1978, tithe and enclosure maps and the collections databases of the library and museums services and Norfolk Record Office. Click here to view their website.
Norfolk Sources is a collection of images of archive material supplied by the Norfolk Record Office and the Norfolk Heritage Centre (part of Norfolk Libraries and Information Service). They include probate records, 1800-1857 and trade directories. Click here to view their website.
Norfolk Virtual Museum
Curated by the people of Norfolk. When the EDP asked for suggestions about what should be included in a collection of Norfolk treasures we were inundated with paeans of praise for everything from Norwich Cathedral to Colman’s mustard and from Cromer pier to Carrow Road, home of the Canaries, Norwich City Football Club. Click here to view their website.
Norfolk Historic Buildings Group
The Norfolk Historic Buildings Group was founded in 2000 to bring together all those who appreciate Norfolk's old buildings and who want to learn more about them. Over the past decade it has pioneered the detailed analysis of buildings of all kinds in the county. Click here to view their website.
Norfolk Record Society
The Norfolk Record Society was founded to encourage the study and preservation of Norfolk records and to publish editions of documents relating to the history of Norfolk. Since 1930 it has published annually a transcript of a significant and sometimes unusual manuscript or collection of manuscripts. This series now covers a time-span ranging from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries. Click here to view their website.
Birth Certificates and Notices
A copy of a birth certificate entry can provide plenty of much-needed information about your ancestors. Newspapers can help you track down the possible date of birth by means of their births, marriages and deaths columns.
A birth certificate can be a start for many journeys into a family’s past. The certificate itself provides a birth date and place (sometimes only a town or village but at other times a full address) and can also be a pointer to a multiple birth if a time is given (except in Scotland where timings are normally put on certificates even for single births.)
Normally the name of the child is given but sometimes this can be left blank (especially in the 19th century and early 20th century).
This happened if a father was away (a sailor on a long voyage or a soldier posted abroad or, in the early 20th century, fighting in the trenches). A birth had to be registered within a statutory period so a name was often chosen on Dad’s return and formally given at baptism.
A reason for a blank here may well be found in the father’s occupation section, further along. The sex of the child is also given — not as silly as it sounds because many names we now accepts a specifically male or specifically female were once used for boys and girls.
Shirley Crabtree (the real name of wrestler Big Daddy) may have been an oddity in the 20th century but until well into the 19th century Shirley had been an exclusively male name.
Except where there is doubt about a father the names of both parents will usually be given. In the 19th century a man could be named on a birth certificate even if he had not admitted paternity.
A birth certificate and what to look for. You'll find:
- Name and sex of child — a name can be misleading as some could be used for boys or girls
- Father’s occupation
- Name of informant and address, usually a relative (see end panel)
- The date of registration, which had to be within six weeks of the birth
- Although this copy was typed and not photocopied the original error was included deliberately. The correction in the margin was necessary otherwise the impression would that the parents were not married
- Date and place (often just parish but can be full address) of birth. A time normally indicates a multiple birth
- Names of parents —the mother’s maiden name is also given and formerly usually indicates a marriage whereas alias or “also known as” indicates doubts about a marriage
A mother’s maiden name will also be given — if it says “formerly” it usually means the couple were married, but if it says “also known as” it could mean they just lived together and the mother had taken her partner’s name for everyday use.
The name of the informant is normally the mother or father so does not add much detail.
Actually tracking down births is not as easy as you might think.
You cannot just wade through thousands of birth indexes so you need some form of approximate date to start from.
This could come from a baptism, a note in a Bible or even from a date of marriage (don’t forget you might find the birth within a couple of months of the marriage date.)
Unlike marriages and deaths you will not necessarily find birth details easily in newspaper columns.
In the 19th century it was frequently only the very well-to-do who could afford the cost of putting an announcement in the newspaper, and even then information provided was very sparse, offering little more than a date and the name of the proud father (it appears the mother was not worth the cost of the extra words).
Even into the 20th century most birth announcements were often placed locally for people who had moved away on marriage, or for other reasons.
The real boom in newspaper birth announcements did not really come until the middle of the last century.
Most birth dates from then are normally known in the family. The newspapers can be helpful at times, however, especially if someone had moved away from the area and vanished from other records.
A classic example of such a case appeared in the Eastern Daily Press, on July 7, 1927:
RIX: July 4, at Englefield, Williamstown, South Australia, to Mr and Mrs Rix (nee Chrystabel Newton) a son.
Someone, somewhere could well have been missing Miss Newton and at least this puts them on the right track.
The weekly papers sometimes contained some local births with more detail, as can be seen from the Yarmouth Independent, Gorleston TImes and Flegg Journal of September 30, 1927:
GILL, August 30 at 6 North Parade to Olive, wife of WP Gill, a son.
Marriage Certificates and Notices
Tracking down records of marriage is all part of the game when you become a family historian.
In the early days you will deal with marriage certificates and, although they look similar, these will come in two different types.
Original certificates were given to the couple at the time of the wedding. But these often get lost and in the main family historians have to send off for copies.
Both certificates are forms, filled in either at the time of marriage from the details in the register or, as in the case of copies, from register entries. The details should be the same but copies from the General Register Office can have errors.
These also come in two types, those with an original entry photocopied on to them and those copied by hand from the original entry (normally typed). Depending on handwriting the photocopied entries can be difficult to read but you normally manage to make them out after a careful study.
A marriage certificate and what to look for. You'll find:
- Full names (hopefully) of the bride and bridegroom and their ages
- Occupation of the bridegroom — sometimes a bride’s occupation will be given
- Addresses — but sometimes these are just to provide an address in the parish of marriage
- Names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and the bridegroom. Sometimes this will say ‘deceased’;
- The type of service and also sometimes includes whether it was by licence or after banns
- Witness names —these are often members of the families and can give more clues to identifying siblings and cousins; the place and date of marriage
The problem lies with those copied over by a clerk, often overworked and short of time. This, as many of us know, is when mistakes can occur. My copy of my great great grandfather’s certificate described him as a timekeeper — but he did not work in a factory.
His will described him as a publican — an overworked clerk had written time instead of inn. The original parish register confirmed this.
A good place to track down marriages is in old newspapers. If you know the approximate year of marriage it can be easier to check newspaper files at the local library than to try and track down names in the national index for marriages.
Some of the very old marriage announcements offer an insight into what attracted some of the men to their women.
In the Norwich Mercury of January 13, 1753, we learn that: “On Tuesday last Mr Ralph Smyth, an eminent Dyer in this city, was married to Miss Bale of Toft-Trees in Norfolk, an agreeable young lady with a handsome fortune.” Agreeable may not mean beautiful but there is no doubt what is meant by “a handsome fortune.”
One final point — sometimes our ancestors did not stick to the truth. A reference to “of full age” did not necessarily mean the bride or bridegroom was really 21 or over. Coupled with a lack of a father’s name (just deceased) can sometimes mean an under-age marriage.
Death Certificates and Notices
Deaths can be as important as births and marriages to family historians.
After all a death can actually define a closure point on a family and can sometimes rule out a lead you might have been following.
Better to find out a possible lead has died before the known date of your particular ancestor.
Deaths are also used to rule out people of the same name when you are tracing a family.
If you are trying to to track down an ancestor called William Grover, who could have been born in any part of the country, and you find three William Grovers born at approximately the same time then try and track down deaths in the area of birth.
Death reports can also clarify family links such as the report in the Norwich Mercury of December 11 1830 about the death of Sara Leathese, at Shropham Hall, wife of the Rev G R Leathes, daughter of the late General Hethenett and niece of the late Colonel Barker.
Which suggests that Sara Leathese’ mother was a Barker before she married Hethenett the soldier — all useful information.
Until late in the 19th century the deaths column in a local newspaper was of limited use as it would mainly refer to people of an elevated position in society.
On a typical death certificate you'll find:
- Full name of the dead person, and date of death
- Sex and age of the deceased — sometimes a name can be misleading so make sure the sex is what you expect
- Occupation — again this can be a final decider as to whether or not you have the right person
- Cause of death — and often reference to an inquest — a newspaper report could give more information
- Signature, description and residence of informant. This could be a relative
If your ancestors are of somewhat humbler origins you could still find them in the newspaper, however, if they died in a violent or strange manner.
Suicides, accidents and murder victims will almost all be named in reports such as inquests.
Families did place entries in newspaper columns for people who had moved out of the area and died elsewhere.
In the Eastern Daily Press of Saturday, January 2, 1875, there was a report of the death of Captain George James Rice, aged 71, formerly of Great Yarmouth.
He died at the home of his son-in-law (not named) in Liverpool. The full address is given and a report such as this could answer queries about where members of the family had gone to in between census returns or other events.
Once you track down the date of death and find the correct references in the national index of births, marriages and deaths, you can obtain a certificate. Provided the copy is accurate, and nowadays as they are photocopied onto your certificate they probably will be, you can find a range of useful information.
Clearly the name and usually the address will be on the certificate — close to a census date this can help find the rest of the family.
Inquests Reported in Newspapers
When a death certificate arrives giving a cause of death as suicide it can be disconcerting for the descendants or other family.
The problem comes when the reason for the tragedy is not known. A stark statement on a death certificate would not be of much help. It might, however, lead to a coroner’s inquest and then you can look for a report of the inquest in a local paper.
This will give you more information than might be left in actual court records as these were often shortened and disposed of after a while.
Coroner’s records are actually closed to access for 75 years after the event and many have been destroyed. Those which have survived and are beyond the 75 year limit are usually found in the county record office.
This is why the newspapers are a more likely area to find out the cause of the incident.
In June 1861, local papers in Norfolk reported on what appeared to be an attempted murder and suicide.The stories provided enough detail to allow anyone related to the people involved to glean some extra information on their families.
The Norwich Mercury began its report by stating:”Events that occurred on Thursday and Friday last have excited considerable sensation at Diss. A farm servant named Charles Sheldrake, in the employ of Mr Ringer, a gentleman residing at Walcot Green, about three quarters of a mile from the town of Diss, shot a fellow servant named Susan Garrod and, on the following day, when about to be apprehended by the county police, terminated his own existence by firing a loaded gun into his mouth.”
Certainly a long-winded opening but it does give the just of the story.
Inquest reports in the Mercury and the Beccles and Bungay News of 2 July 1861, enabled readers to piece together the story of Charles Sheldrake, who appeared to have in interest in guns.
He was from Burston and in January 1853 had been committed for trial by the magistrates in Diss for stealing two guns, the property of Mr John Mallett, of that town.
At the Norwich quarter sessions, he pleaded guilty and as it was his second conviction for felony, he was sentenced to be transported for 10 years. He was taken to Dartmoor but apparently did not get transported and after four years penal servitude at the prison there he was given a ticket of leave and returned to his father’s home at Burston.
It was then that a local philanthropist, Mr George RInger, tried to find him employment but was continually told he was unemployable because people felt “his character was against him”.
He did get the odd day or two of work from Mr Ringer and eventually told the philanthropist that he had earned only eighteen pence (7.5p) in a fortnight and in the meantime he had married and had young children.
The News takes up the story: “As time wore on, Mr Ringer gained considerable confidence in the man; he appeared to lead a sober, steady life, and to conduct himself respectably. This brings us down to last week, and the tragical ending of the history. The affair, whatever may said, is quite inexplicable upon the facts which have been allowed to transpire. Little can be added to that which was elicited in the inquest given below.”
The coroner was told by various witnesses that Sheldrake had been running by degrees into loose and less sober habits.
One day when Mr RInger and his wife were out Sheldrake brought home a bottle of wine and a bottle of brandy, which he had purchased on his master’s credit, and he and Susan Garrod, and her female cousin visiting her, drank the wine, and the two girls turned ill upon the wine.”
The newspapers said that there was only the girl’s statement as to what ensued, and this fails to explain what really happened. She said her cousin had gone and she was walking in the garden. As she reached the orchard she saw Sheldrake with his master’s double-barrelled gun which he then fired at her from the bushes at a distance of about twenty yards.
The gun was loaded with small sparrow shot, a large number of which entered her breast. She said she ran into a shed and locked the door but Sheldrake tried to break it down but then went away.
Half an hour later Mr RInger arrived home, found the girl covered in blood and in a dangerous state, although she was out of danger after a day or two.
It appeared that for the rest of the night and until noon the following day Sheldrake hid himself nearby.
The papers reported that meanwhile a warrant had been issued for his arrest: “Boutell and Curson, the police-constables, went in search of him, and when Boutell first saw him, he was crouching down among the bushes.
“Sheldrake immediately raised the gun to a level with his hip, and Boutell leaped forward, and shouted to him not to fire, and Curson and a boy came up, when, before Boutell could reach him, he dropped the butt of the gun upon the ground, and placing the muzzle in his mouth, pulled the trigger and killed himself instantaneously.”
The inquest was held in the Magpie Inn, Walcot-green, before E. Press, the coroner.
Thomas Boutell told the court that as he was looking for Sheldrake a boy named Henry Foulser said he had seen him in his father’s field.
Henry Foulser told the coroner: “I live at Walcot-green, Diss, and am a farmer’s son. On Friday last, about ten minutes past two, I was looking for Charles Sheldrake, in consequence of what my father said, and saw him near my father’s clover field, which is next a wheat field.
“Soon after that I saw police-constable Boutell, and told him I had seen Charles Sheldrake.
Mr George Ringer said the deceased was his groom and gardener and had been with him for four years. He said that for a four or five week period he had been absent from home and left Sheldrake in charge. On the day in question he and his wife had just left the house for the day to go to Harling.
As Susan Garrod was not fit to appear in court Mr Ringer was allowed to state what she had told him. He said: “ From her answers to my questions. it appeared to have happened between six and half-past.
“She told me that Charles Sheldrake had shot her while she was standing in the orchard. Sheldrake said it was accidental, but she would not credit that.
“Undoubtedly the shooting was deliberate, for he went to the chaise-house and got the gun when her cousin left. For the last two years the deceased had been in a place of trust, and I had the greatest confidence in him.
John Sheldrake, labourer, of Burston, Charles’ father, said he knew nothing that had distressed his son enough to make him shoot the girl, although he was upset he could not support his wife and two children.
The jury returned a verdict that “Charles Sheldrake did wilfully and with malice aforethought kill himself, and the Coroner issued his warrant for the interment of the body in Diss churchyard, between the hours of 9 and 12 that evening. On Monday evening about half-past eleven o’clock, the body was buried under the north wall beside the path, in the unconsecrated portion of Diss Churchyard, without ceremony or Christian burial.“
The papers said: “Two or three hundred persons were assembled, but were not allowed within the Churchyard. He was brought from Walcot-green in a cart, and carried to the grave followed by four or five of his relations. The scene was a very solemn and terrible one.”
Using Census Data
The census has been taken every 10 years since 1801 except during the war in 1941. Useful family history information (i.e. names) is only released to the public after 100 years so the most recent census return available is that of 1911.
A valuable resource for family historians lies in lists of names from 19th century censuses which can also provide extra information.
Although the census began in 1801 the first four were just headcounts and are not much use to the family historian because they do not give individuals’ names.
But from then on they became more and more useful.
Copies of the returns, on microfilm, are available at local record offices and main libraries. In the main these will be for the appropriate locality, although some offices hold them for the whole country.
You do need information before you start looking, however.
Although the two online are searchable by surname that alone would offer too many hits to make it worthwhile.
Birth or marriage certificates should provide you with an address and the closer you can get to one of the census dates the better.
The best place to start is the 1901 census, the most recently released for public perusal.
Although the census has taken place every 10 years since 1801 (except for 1941) there is a 100-year rule in the UK relating to access to public data.
This means the personal details of the census returns for the years 1911 to 2001 are not yet publicly available.
The census records who was in each household over the period Sunday night to Monday morning — with special arrangements for recording crews of vessels afloat, military personnel, night workers, itinerants and travellers.
Remember that the census is based on an person’s presence on the night of the census and is not based on whether or not they were living permanently at the returning address.
This could give rise to the situation of children living at a house without parents — should their parents be staying the census night elsewhere — or the appearance of families living together.
You have to work out whether an aunt, for instance, was visiting or living with the family — cross checking with other census returns may give a better indication of the situation.
Census indexes are arranged by place, not surname. Therefore your search could take a while, because you will be looking through the records for a complete district — and hoping that your ancestors were there on the night the census was taken.
Each census enumerator’s book contains details of his walk (route) to collect his returns.
Sometimes roads disappear and names change. So when preparing to check a census return it is worth making note of adjacent roads covered by the enumerator and in particular public houses.
These can then be cross checked against road indexes for the individual census.
What Can Military Uniforms Tell You
In 1914 the men marched off to a war which many expected to be over by Christmas. It wasn’t, and some were at war for four years before they came home — others never did come home and, after all these years, the very large majority are now just a fading picture of a man in a uniform.
But inside every uniform is a story - whether it is that of a grandfather, or an uncle or great-uncle, or a cousin.
Norfolk made an immense contribution, and paid a heavy sacrifice, during the First World War, 1914-1918. By the end of the war nearly 12,000 Norfolk men had died which, based on the 1911 census, was one man killed or missing for every nine men aged 18 to 41.
St Barnabas parish in Norwich had the highest number of deaths at 171 - one in 42 of the population compared to a national average of one in 57.
So how do you go about finding out who they are and what story they had to tell?
In many ways it is not much different to tracking down any other relative and you need to start with what you know.
Details which will aid the search:
- Army unit (regiment or corps)
- Date signed up and date of discharge or death
- Where served (Western Front, Gallipoli etc)
- It would help if you also had his regimental number; details of any injuries and details of any medals.
One of the best ways to start (other than documentation) can be with a photograph. A cap badge or belt buckle can identify a regiment. The first thing to do is to check if it is the Norfolk Regiment. A visit to the regimental museum at Shire Hall in Norwich could help (you can access it through the Castle Museum).
The picture can also give clues as to medals (ribbons or the medals themselves worn over the heart), and even rank (stripes for NCOs and even badges such as axes for a pioneer.
Your local record office (Norwich County Records office) will also have material on the First World War and may have something on your forebear.
This will not be a straightforward task as the material may not be directly classified under the name of your subject.
But sifting through material on the First World War in a local county office can give you a greater feel for the situation in the first place.
Direct service details will be held at the National Archives in London and also at the Imperial War Museum.
Before you really start on the trail it could be worthwhile checking some of the background to the war and the main theatres of war.
There are plenty of books available at local libraries and in bookshops.
A search on the web will also bring up a great deal of information and you will need to sift it carefully.
What’s in a name? Before the Normans arrived – 1066 and all that – the business of names was simple. If your father named you Wat then you were Wat. If there was another Wat in the area you might be Wat the tiler or Tom’s son Wat.
Then Duke William arrived and brought over surnames and within 300 years nearly everyone, in England at least, had one.
In the beginning it was easy. If you were called Wat then your son Wat would be Wat Wat’s son which became Watson. Eventually even the child of Tom, son of Harold, son of Wat would be called Watson rather than Tom’s son.
This was quite useful because if Wat had just six sons and daughters (one of them called Wat) and each then had a child and called it after their father then there would have been eight people called Wat.
Imagine if each generation named their first child after old Wat — we would have been inundated with Wats.
A name based on a father’s name is called a patronymic. A less common form of naming came from a mother’s name (metronymic). These generally came about when a woman had been a widow (or otherwise raising a child on her own) for most of her life, or if she was an heiress in her own right.
There are many other ways of obtaining a name ranging from your job (occupational names), to the place where you lived (or had lived if you were a stranger in town) which included things like Underhill, or Bywater (habitation or topographical names) or even a nickname because of something you did or the way you looked.
Names are not always as obvious as you might think. Someone with the surname Farmer might see themselves as being from a rural background, a tiller of the soil — whereas the name actually derived from a tax-gatherer.
The term farmer was not used as a term for a tenant of agricultural land until the 1600s, long after naming practices began.
What did the Normans ever do for us?
Well they did give us surnames, in fact their leader was already known as William the Bastard, a reference that at the time was a means of identification rather than a term of abuse.
The name still survives today and in the 1881 census for Norfolk there are 32 people with the surname Bastard.
The name crops up 188 times for the Norfolk in the International Genealogical Index, the earliest reference being 1532 in Grimston.
Victims of the Blitz in Norwich
The old city of Norwich seemed peaceful in the moonlight. Suddenly the silence was broken by the wail of sirens, the distant throb of engines, the menacing roar of aircraft growing louder and louder. As the lights went out across the city a deadly airborne convoy was already on its way. Its mission? To destroy as much of Norwich as possible. The date was Monday, April 27, 1942.
Stung by the increasing severity of British air raids over Nazi Germany, Hitler’s Luftwaffe High Command decided to strike back. They pored over Baedeker’s tourist guide to Britain, and over two nights in April 1942 they set out to destroy as much of Norwich as they could. These were the Baedeker Raids.
In previous months there had been a lull in enemy action over the city and there were those who had started to ignore the sirens and not bother to seek shelter. That night they did so at their peril. The shadow of death was being cast over the city.
A week of living hell that would change the face of Norwich forever bringing chaos and destruction was about to start. Life would never be the same again. The deep rhythmic note of the powerful engines in the sky was ominous. Between 25 and 30 planes were over the city.
Parachute flares lit up the city and once the attack had begun there could be no doubt as to its gravity. First there was the mechanical scream of heavy missiles hurtling down on streets and roofs, yards and gardens. This was followed by shattering explosions, usually in series, as the stick of bombs took effect.
- 1940: Killed - 60. Injured - 190
- 1941: Killed - 21. Injured - 104
- 1942: Killed - 258. Injured - 784
- 1943: Killed - 1. Injured - 14
At the same time a rain of silver fire indicated the course of the incendiaries, and in a short space of time, the orange glow of great fires could be seen across the fields and villages surrounding Norwich. The city was on fire.
The emergency services struggled to cope as the raid carried on. Rows of houses were destroyed, factories were burning. For over two hours the Luftwaffe pounded Norwich dropping 185 heavy bombs weighing over 50 tons. At 1.25am the all-clear sounded.
Then the grim rescue work started. Mountains of rubble had to be dug and shifted. Official records say 162 people had been killed and nearly 600 others badly hurt – many with appalling injuries. Hundreds more were homeless and even the mortuary had been put out of action. Few people had running water as the mains had been smashed.
By some miracle all the landmarks survived – the cathedral, the castle, St Peter Mancroft and the new City Hall.
The destitute and the bereaved, grief-stricken and bewildered began queuing. Over 14,000 emergency ration cards were issued. And so many only had the clothes they stood up in and they could not get any more because so many shops had also been destroyed.
But the people had little time to regain their senses. Smoke was still coming from the rubble when the bombers returned. At almost the same time on Wednesday night, April 19, 1942, the bombers were back. This time there was some attempt at defence but the anti-aircraft fire did little to stop the attack which resulted in, according to official figures, 69 deaths and badly- injuring nearly 90 people.
About 112 high explosive bombs with a higher number of incendiaries weighing about 45 tons dropped across the city, flattening huge areas. Eye-witnesses said the second attack – although 45 minutes shorter, and claiming fewer lives – was more spectacular and devastating than the first one.
“Those of us who drove through the blazing streets had an unpleasant reminder of old days of Ypres and Armentieres (First World War)” wrote Ralph Mottram, author of Assault Upon Norwich. "The light of flames flickering through jagged gaps in familiar walls, and reflected in pools of water, the crunch of broken glass and plaster beneath wheels and feet, the roar of the conflagration and the shouted orders and warnings were ominously reminiscent,” he said.
Following the raids on Tuesday, Wednesday and a smaller one on Thursday, guns and barrage balloons were moved into position in and around Norwich. But by then it was too late. The city was still smouldering. Water shortages handicapped the fire-fighting. The electricity and sewerage systems had been hit. The gas company was struggling to cope.
The emergency and relief services were stretched to the limits, and at nights women and children pushing prams, barrows or home-made carts containing what was left of their possessions headed out of the city to sleep in the fields. For days vans equipped with loudspeakers toured the streets giving out advice about boiling water, and where they could get help. They also appealed for the able-bodied to remain at their posts.
Then it was time for the people of Norwich to bury their dead…this was our darkest hour. We will remember them.
Heroes of Trafalgar
It is nearly two centuries since Norfolk-born Horatio Nelson earned his place in history with his victory and death at the Battle of Cape Trafalgar.
Nelson was born at Burnham Thorpe - he called it 'dear, dear, Burnham' - in 1758. In 1804 he wrote: "Most probably I shall never see dear, dear Burnham again, but I have satisfaction in thinking that my bones will probably be laid with my father's in the village that gave me birth. The thought of former days brings all my mother into my heart, which shows itself in my eyes."
Nelson once said: 'I am myself a Norfolk man... and glory in being so.' Many of those who fought and died with him were also from Norfolk.
The dead and wounded from the Battle of Trafalgar
Return of the Names of the Officers and Petty Officers, killed and wounded on board the Ships of the British Squadron, in the Action with the Combined Fleets of France and Spain, off Cape Trafalgar, on the 21st of October, 1805.
- The Right Hon. Lord Viscount Nelson, K. B. Vice-Admiral of the White, Commander in Chief, &c. &c. &c.
- John Scott, Esq., Secretary
- Charles W Adair, Captain, Royal Marines
- Wun Ram, Lieutenant
- Robert Smith, and Alexander Palmer, Midshipmen
- Thomas Whipple, Captain's Clerk
- Bruce Gilliland, Lieutenant
- William Chalmers, Master
- Robert Green, Second Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- John Akenhead and Thomas Braund, Midshipmen
- Francis Roskruge, Lieutenant
- Simeon Busigny, Captain of the Royal Marines
- John Kingstone, Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- Lewis Oades, Carpenter
- William Pitts, Midshipman
- George Duff, Captain
- Alexander Duff, Master's Mate
- Edmund Corlyn and Henry Morgan, Midshipmen
- John Cooke, First Captain
- Edward Ovetton, Master
- John Simmens, Midshipman
- Thomas Grier and Edward F. Brooks, Midshipmen
- Robert Lloyd & Wm. M. St George, Lieutentants
- Ebenezer Geall and John Woodwin, Lieutenants
- George Nin, Mindshipman
- Thomas Scriven, Master
- Francis John Mugg, Midshipman
- Thomas Simens, Lieutenant
- Williams Forster, Boatswain
- James Williamson, Midshipman
- John Pasco and G. Miller Bligh, Lieutenants
- Lewis B. Reevers and J.G. peake, Lieutenants of the Royal Marines
- William Rivers, (slightly), G. A. Westhall and Richard Bulkeley
- John Georghehan, Agent Victualler's Clerk
- John Clavell and James Bashford, Lieutenants
- James Le Vesconte, Second Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- William Watson, Master's Mate
- Gilbert Kennicott, Grenville Thompson, John Campbell & John Farrant, Midshipmen
- Isaac Wilkinson, Boatswain
- Stephen Trounce, Master
- William Grint, Midshipman
- James Mould, Lieutenant
- Samual J. Payne, Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- John Brooks, Boatswain
- T.S. Prioe, Master's Mate
- John Eastman, Midshipman
- Hurrell, Captain's Clerk
- James L. Lloyd (slightly), Lieutenant
- Andrew McCullock and James Saffin, Midshipmen
- Edward Garrett and James Black, Lieutenants
- Thomas Cook, Master
- Thomas Norman, Second Captain of the Royal Marines
- John Yonge, George Gulren, William John Cook, John Jenkins and Aldfred Luckraft, Midshipmen
- James Wemys, Captain of the Royal Marines
- Thomas Robinson, Boatswain
- Edward Hartley, Master's Mate
- William N. Jewell, James Stone, Thomas Bant and George Pearson, Midshipmen
- James Robinson, Boatswain
- John Samuel Smith, Midshipman
- Robert Moorson, Captain (slightly)
- Luke Brokenshaw, Master
- John Berry, Lieutenant
- Peter Lily, (slightly), Captain of the Royal Marines
- Thomas Wearing, Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- Philip Mendel, Lieutenant of his Imperial Majesty's Navy, (both slightly)
- J. W. Waton, Midshipman (slightly)
- Sause, C. P. Cable, Midshipmen, (both slightly)
- John Clerke, Boatswain
- Bellairs and Knapman, Midshipmen
- Matthew Hay, Acting Lieutenant
- J. Owen, First Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- Andrew Gibson, Boatswain
- William Henry Person, and William Culfield, Master's Mates
- Samuel Jargo, Midshipman
- J. T. Hodge, Volunteer, First Class
- James N. Morris, Captain
- George Bulley, Lieutenant
- William Forster, Acting Lieutenant
- John Benson, Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- Henry Milbanke, Master's Mate
- William Herringham, Frederick Thistlewayte, (slightly), Thomas G. Reece, Henry Snellgrove, Rawden, M'Lean, George Wharrie, Thim Renon, and George Denton, Midshipmen
- William Adamson, Boatswain
- Parkyns Prynn, (slightly) & Josias Bray, Lieutenants
- Pralms Westroppe, Captain of the Royal Marines
- William Leddon, Lieutenant of the Royal Marines
- George Pegge, Master's Mate
- William H Staines, and Wm. J. Snow, Midshipmen
- W. Smith Warren, Volunteer, First Class
- Alexander Bell Handcock, Midshipman
- John Snell, Master's Mate
- Alexander Galloway, Midshipman
- P.C. Durham, (slightly), Captain; James Spratt, and Robert Browne, Master's Mates; John Hodge, and Edmond Andrew Chapman, Midshipmen
How to be a Photo Detective
Dating and identifying old family photographs is mainly a matter of using your brain in the same way in which you would work out a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw.
Just be organized, work to a system and persevere.
You should also be able to look at all the possibilities offered by the clues in the picture, pose, hair, costume, thickness of card, photographer’s imprint, and then think ‘outside the box’ in case there is a possibility you had not thought of.
You can also make reasonable assumptions but there must be some evidence to base it on.
Consider your family, work out possible links and hypotheses — ask the questions and try and work out the answers.
One important factor is to consider which pictures go together. If they are all from the same old album (as the ones used in this feature are) then you can assume they belong together as a family.
Group them by photographer and then by facial similarities. A photographer can be a clue to where they live — but it might be a holiday visit or a trip to see friends.
Sometimes the same person might be photographed by photographers from different places and this could be to do with a marriage and setting up a new home.
Often your detective work will lead you back to the genealogical data you began with, but will have produced new facts that will either back up your conclusions or give you another direction to work in.
The 1860s saw photography really take off and Desideri’s French patent in 1854 of the carte-de-visite revolutionized portrait photography.
From 1859, when it became commercially available, photo portraiture took off and even the working classes could afford a trip to the photographer. For just a few pence (although still a lot to a working man) you could have a number of copies of a photo to send to relatives and friends.
From the mid 1860s the larger cabinet-sized photos became available, but these did not really take off until the 1880s as the cdv faded from the scene.
The main points about cdv photos from the 1860s are:
- They have thin, poor quality card as mounts, with square corners
- The picture was generally hand cut and poorly aligned with the card
- Details on the back were minimal, sometimes nothing at all or at most a photographer’s stamp and/or signature
The soft vignette was popular in the mid to late 1860s. Hard vignettes were also produced, but mostly there was no masking at all. Often the surface of the emulsion will be badly foxed by bacterial action, rust or fading; the poses were stiff and formal, and at first taken in an ordinary room which had been adapted to studio purposes.
Often the early photographs just have a plain wall as backdrop or possibly drapes to one side.
The more elaborate painted backdrops and rustic props of the 1870s and 1880s — such as stiles and trees and benches — are not there yet. The subject is either seated, usually at a small deal table, or standing next to a plinth.
Sometimes they will be shown holding a book in a suggestion of intelligence or noble character — it has been known for the book to be upside down.
Otherwise they might be given some prop, perhaps related to a vocation. Many of the pictures from this period will also be full face this is because because the photo took so long to take that mechanical devices had to be placed behind the subject to keep their head perfectly still. The easiest way to hide these was to have the subject face the camera.
The first thing to remember when you look at a photograph is that all the clues may lead to nothing if the picture is a reprint.
You could be looking at an 1860s photograph on an 1880s mount — which would be a real mix-up. Clues to dates given by the mount-card might only apply to the card, not the photograph.
In general, though, most photographs are contemporary with their mounts. These mount-cards nearly doubled in thickness between the 1860s and 1890s.
From the 1880s bevelled edges came into fashion, often gold or silver, and this metallic colouring was applied the initials on the front of the mount by the 1890s and early 1900s. Cream was popular throughout the period from the earliest photographs and certainly in the 12860s and 1870s the mounts would, in the main, be pale in colour.
Later colours got stronger and moved on to deep reds and maroons and greens as the photographer’s imprint itself become more and more embellished.
The back of the mount soon came to be used for advertising purposes and although few records of photographic studios survive, but you might be able to discover information in trade directories such as Kellies or the White’s of the relevant town, which are not always accurate or comprehensive, but still useful.
The larger firms that had studios in a number of sites can give dating clues by the actual address details if matched with date of purchase. There are also different terms for photographic methods and styles which went in and out of fashion and offer dating clues.
Album Portraits were prevalent as a style in the 1860s. Some backs also show medals (the more of them the smaller they are) these can give clues by their dates but really only as an earliest possible.
Sometimes cards mention a “New Instantaneous Process” which is a reference to the faster gelatine negatives which were common around. These reduced exposures from seconds to fractions of seconds.
There may also be references to lighting such as the Luxograph (1878 to about 1886), electric light (1877 on ), gas light (1879 on) and magnesium flash (about 1886 onwards).
There were also patented processes which were often short-lived novelties but can offer a rough date if advertised: such as the Sarony Photocrayon (1869), the Ferranti-Turner Patent (1873) and the Mezzotint Vignette (1876 ).
If there are traces of tissue paper on the back of the card, or if the original tissue is fully attached, which folded over the photograph for protection, then the card is probably from the 1880s or 90s.
You will also find Japanese or Oriental designs on the back of many mount cards at this time. This was part of a general Oriental trend.
If there is any handwritten detail on the back of the card this could be useful but can till be unreliable — after all it may well have been written at a later date by a grown-up child after a parent’s death.
A date written on the back may refer to the date it was given not the date it was taken.
Clothing can offer many clues but remember to check the age of the sitter before making an assumption.
Remember some people kept the same clothes for decades as a matter of economy, and older people definitely preferred to stick to tried and trusted styles.
A rural sitter might also be well behind London fashions although in Norwich, for instance, they might keep up with the fashion.
The best you can hope for is to identify the first appearance of certain clothes on the fashion scene. Male dress is difficult to date because it did not change much and the clothing of sitters in head-and-shoulders portraits is barely visible.
Backdrops, especially painted ones as opposed to plain backcloths, were also ‘in’ at certain times.
The late 1890s saw the rise in popularity of ladies’ bicycles, so studios would keep one as a prop to save clients having to wheel them down to the shop (some may not even have owned one but to use it in a picture gave a sense of style.
Boys in sailor suits might have mastheads in the backgrounds and young women were often photographed on swings in the early 1880s.
The poses adopted by the sitters derived from painting conventions. Unsmiling and solemn people were aiming to give the impression of being serious, dependable and honest normally they might not have looked so grim and humourless people in everyday life.
Also consider a sense of occasion as Victorians went to the photographer to mark the most important events in a family — birth, rites of passage, marriage and death.
Portraits were also taken of men who had joined the services, of families before they emigrated, of sportsmen and women who had won championships.
All sorts of momentous events were recorded by the camera for people to keep for posterity.
This was a time when the major events were recorded in the family Bible — and once photographs came in they too were part of the process. You couldn’t stick pictures in the Bible so they did the next best thing and created leather-bound volumes to hold their pictures and if put side by side it could sometimes be hard to tell the Bible from the photograph album.
The photograph of a single woman, in a smart dress (bearing in mind that even into Edwardian times many women got married in a best dress not a specially made one) with an openly displayed ring or rings on her fingers, could be a marriage or engagement portrait.
A young couple standing together might be brother and sister or an engaged/married couple. The important thing to look for is the ring, or a flower in the man’s buttonhole.
Another variation is the matched portrait that would have been placed on facing pages in the photograph album. These were often taken to mark an engagement, a wedding or, with older couples, an anniversary.
Another anniversary pose might show the couple with their family around them. Remember that only family members touched and a young man standing next to a daughter of the house in such a picture, but without touching her, could be her future husband not a present one — yet another good way to pinpoint a date for a picture.
Then we come to memorial cards and people in mourning dress such as a sash or armband. This did not necessarily mean a death in the family as sometimes a Royal death might be marked by such mourning especially if the photo had been planned well in advance.
Some photographs, however, when you take style of dress and other factors into account, may appear to date from one decade, but the mount-card may date from another.
The may be reprints made as a memorial to the person portrayed and would then be circulated amongst the family.
You might find they are edged with a black border and if the reprint was taken from an existing print rather than a negative then the print will show lack of definition.
Mourning dress in photographs stands out; black crepe bands and ribbons were added to dresses and black armbands were worn by men. Even post-mortem photographs might be taken of the dead person, especially children who would be laid out fully dressed as if sleeping. These were meant to comfort the bereaved relatives.
Finally we come to children and you must remember that in Victorian times commercial photography rarely featured naked babies on bearskin rugs. They tended to show small children fully dressed until the at least the 1890s. After that bare feet and simple shifts began to appear. Babies at christenings tended to be in long robes.
Boys wore dresses and had long hair in the early part of their childhood, so what you might think is a cute little girl with curling ringlets might easily be a photograph of her brother. When a boy was “breeched”, or put in short trousers for the first time, this event was frequently recorded in the studio.
In the early days of photography photographers would just use basic card to put the picture on and then write or stamp their details on the back but as the cards began to be seen as an advertising medium they soon needed to be done by a professional printer. On the back of later cards (and sometimes on the front) you may find some tiny printed writing, this was the printer of the card and who supplied the stock to the photographer. Sometimes they can be put into a date category, athough these can only be a guideline and you should use other details, they could put you in the right time period, especially if you match it with a photographer’s date.
From a reasonably wide collection of carte de visites, from a wide area it is possible to work out approximate dates for printers, including:
- England Bros. London (1885)
- B.P.Grimaud, Paris. (1890s)
- Samuel Fry & Co (Manuf in Berlin) London. (1890s)
- Herrmann & Co., Berlin. (1884 - 1892)
- D Hutinet, Paris. (c.1888)
- K Krziwanek, Vienna. (c.1885)
- A L Berlin [c.1900]
- Oborne (1876 - 1887)
- REG G.E.& C (1887 -1895)
- Riddle & Couchman, 49 Watling Street, E.C. (c.1870)
- Trapp & Münch, Berlin (1879 - 1895)
- Bernhard Wachtl, Wien. (c1894)
A major name in the business was the Printer Marion Imp, Paris & London.
In 1863-4 A.Marion & Co. Soho published cartes for Southwell Brothers of Baker Street W. London, and in 1866 produced cartes wholesale for Mayall of Regent Street)
Cartes de Visites
Cartes de visites were a popular means of letting members of a family at a distance receive a likeness of a relative.
From the pictures and the style of the mountings it is possible to date a picture which might make the difference between identifying someone as Great-aunt Lottie when it is actually her daughter, Letitia.
Although photographs were around much earlier the majority of people could not afford them before the 1860s.
These are normally very easy to identify as the card mountings are very thin and the subject is almost always seen at full length.
These two pictures are classic early 1860s portraits. This is shown by the fact that the card shows the complete subject with space above and below. Also in the picture of the woman the carpet can be seen as well as a mantelpiece. The woman’s hairstyle is also normal for this period with the ears fully covered. This point on its own would not have been enough to date a picture, however, because older woman retained styles into later decades. By the 1870s the hair had come off the ears and the poses were not as stiff or formal for women.
Judge by the picture here in which the woman is semi-kneeling on a chaise longue. Her hair is back and her dress is much lighter. By this period furniture would be used as a prop and never fully seen. The sloping rather than high bustle also indicates late 1860s to first half of 70s.
The picture of this man is more likely to be late 1870s and possibly even 1880s. By this time the style for men was a more formal head and shoulders. The high buttoned jacket, and cravat with pin rather than a tie point towards the turn of the decade.
This picture of the young lady in a floral dress with a painted backdrop, is harder to identify. The style of pose indicates a mid 80s to 90s and the brightness of the dress indicates a similar period. The card itself, however, and its simple border, hints more at the late 1860s. It may be that the photographer was using up old stock for the mounting.
The child’s picture looks like a solemn young girl but is more likely to be a boy as they were kept in skirts until about three or four years old and it is probably from the 1870s — after this little boys used to go into trousers and sailor suits.
This could be a family member who rode as an amateur jockey or it could just be a multi-copy picture of a jockey of the time so beware of putting him in the family. By the head and shoulders with softened surround it is probably late 80s or 1890s.
The young man has a high-crowned bowler popular in the 1870s but the style may have edged into the early 80s.
The collar and smocked yoke on the dress indicate 1880s onwards but the child’s hairstyle would point towards the 1890s.
This is a typical late 1890s pose with a head and shoulders pose and the softened area, plus the frilly neckpieces and wide shouldered dresses. Also the shorter curlier hair styles and the glasses on one of the young ladies point to this period.
The severe hairstyle (probably pulled into a bun) of the woman with the child and the softened edges point towards the 1890s and this could have been taken to send to a soldier husband abroad in one of Victoria’s many little wars.
The tighter fit of the jacket in the final picture, with a cravat beneath (note the pin) points towards a late 1870s possibly very early 1880s. The buttonhole indicates a wedding.
Dating Old Photos
Nowadays we tend to take family pictures for granted — especially in this digital age where we can snap to our heart’s content and delete any we don’t like.
This was not the case in the mid 1900s when, even though cameras were used for family snapshots, every picture had to count on a 12-exposure roll of film.
In the century before most people did not even have the luxury of a camera and relied on special trips to the photographer for family portraits. These might be a once-in-a-lifetime visit for some families (and there are plenty who could not even afford that once).
For others it might be special occasions — a wedding portrait of the happy couple; a family portrait at the time of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee; or a soldier’s portrait taken before he went off to war — the Crimea, the Zulu wars, the Boer wars (although now they are referred to as African wars).
If you do have old family pictures, hopefully with some form of identification as to the people in them, then take care of them.
You have to remember that in Victorian times styles of clothing made some people look much older than they were. Children often wore similar styles to their parents and with the penchant for beards among men until almost the end of the century it could be difficult to tell whether two men were father and son or brothers.
The main things that can help you are the style of clothes (men’s broad-lapelled high buttoned, almost double-breasted jackets, with non-matching trousers worn with top boots, gave way to narrower lapels, single-breasted jackets); while crinolines gave way to more fitted and less voluminous dresses but with fussier ornamentation around the neck. The problem is fashions sometimes arrived late in an area or lasted longer so other clues are also needed.
Props can help in picture identification — the chair as an ornament, or something to hold on to rather than a seat tends to point to the 1860s or early 1870s.
The earliest photographs involved a form of bitumen, varnish and pewter plates.
Louis Daguerre moved on the process to develo; the daguerrotype in 1839 which involved copper plates, silver coating, iodine and mercury.
They took a long exposure and were better suited to scenes rather than portraits but in the 1840s a method was found to speed up the process.
Some early daguerrotypes may turn up in your attic.
These were one-off prints but within a decade or so the negative/positive process had been introduced which allowed for multiple copies. Glass negatives still exist and, if handled carefully and by an expert can produce wonderful photographs from a bygone era.