Dressing the Past: Part 4- Using a photo to research Family History

Photos illustrate what is happening at a particular time and place in a family’s history. They also, usually illustrate the best of a family. Photos are about presenting an appearance. In particular, early photos are often staged with all members wearing their best clothing. These photos are very different from today’s snapshots of every aspect of a person’s life.

Photos may show relationships. For example, the father of the bride, the members of a wedding party including family and friends. Photos may also show good clothing over a range of events for example a wedding dress being worn by multiple family members at different weddings. See below as each bride from the same family wears the same dress. In this case, the dress was purchased during the war when fabric was very expensive. Coupons were used to source the materials. It was only possible for the family to afford one dress of this type so it was made in such a way that adjusting the dress could be done relatively easily so that more than one family member could wear the dress. Each bride had their own veil and accessories.

Jeffrey Carter, Shirley Gransden and Robert Stanley Gransden August 1946
Robert Burt, Betty Gransden and Robert Stanley Gransden April 1945
Keith Baker and Thora Gransden February 1945

In addition to the above, photos may be used to help identify individuals and or places. Using the backs of photos and the details of the photographer it can be possible to identify where and when a photograph was taken. Photos of one individual over time can be used to help identify people or other photos.

For example, the photo of Robert Gransden below is from the Tasma Studios. Robert had two sons marry around the time of this photo and one daughter. I have photos of one of those weddings but I don’t know who was the person who was married. In this case, as all of those weddings took place in Rural NSW it is probable that either the photographer was travelling, or more likely, the wedding parties did a combined trip to Sydney and all had their photos taken at the same time.

Robert Gransden
Same studio, same time frame. Either Henry and Naomi Gransden or Albert and Emily. Approximately 1901

The older photo of Robert Gransden also helped me to identify an earlier photo of Robert Gransden. The set of the jaw is the same, the hair parting is in the same place, the way the ears sit is the same and the mouth is the same. There is a significant difference in the time of the photo but it is the same person.

Robert Gransden- earlier photo, probably around 1870s. May well have been a wedding photo. If so, the photo of his wife Sarah Balcomb from the same date seems to be missing.

Overall, photos can be used to add colour to a family’s history. They can add connections between family members so that the family can be seen as a group, not just as individuals. Photos show the family as they come together to celebrate. They can also show the family as their grieve for lost members or in other circumstances and celebrations, for example, the celebration of Fred Lockwood and Emma Lockwood nee Atkins’ 50th wedding anniversary shown below.

Fred Lockwood and Emma Lockwood nee Atkins 50th Wedding Anniversary July 18 1929. ‘The Caraleon’ George St, Parramatta

Photos are yet another tool in the arsenal of the Family Historian to help the historian move beyond just the names and dates of family members. They help us to find the stories of those family members.

Part 3- Impacts of the Clothes People Wore

Part 5- Researching the Clothes in a Photo


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