Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Identification of photo subjects - Lessons to be learnt

In January this year, Kevin Rhodes sent me a batch of images, among which were these two cabinet cards, taken by John Mayle & Sons of 124 Parliament Street, Derby.

Lucy Saddington (1884-), taken by John Mayle & Sons in Derby, c.1900-1905.Lucy Saddington (1884-), taken by John Mayle & Sons in Derby, c.1900-1905.

Kevin had the following to say about them:

These presumably are siblings taken at the same time. I am unsure of the ill-fitting uniform and the sex of its wearer. I have wondered about the possibility of this being a male-impersonator outfit from the music-hall. The uniform certainly has no insignia on it and by the address on the card we are well before both the First World War and the Boer War.

As I had no clues as to the identity of the subjects, I posted the images in the Portfolio section of my profile of this photographer, and thought nothing more of them. Then, a fews days ago, I heard from Kevin again:

A comment on the ones I previously sent at Mayles photographers - census records of the family only show four sisters in the family, and the two people in the pictures have hands and fingers that are identical; leading me to think they both are of Lucy Saddington, of whom I have later studio photos with no photographers identity on them (poss trimmed off on purpose). Also, of the three sisters Mary is older, Jane had straight hair, and Edith was much younger.

So, I had a better look at the images, in particular the faces and hands of the subject(s):

They are indeed very similar, if the absence/presence of the grin is taken into account, and the ring is present in both cases. From the similarity of the studio setting and props, the portaits were probably taken on the same occasion. Kevin had more to say on the provenance of the photographs:

Last year, on the death of two elderly relatives, I came by two photo collections. The first belonged to my Mother Betty Rhodes née Rankin (1925-2006) (daughter of Mary, the elder Saddington sister), and includes the pictures from Mayle & Sons and a carte de visite by (Thomas) Frost of Derby (see below). These were clearly of a relative of Mary, but identifying her was difficult.

Lucy Saddington (1884-), taken by Thomas Frost in Derby, c.1898-1900.

The second collection was from Edith "Edie" Falconer née Smith (1912-2006), the daughter of Lucy Saddington. Amongst these photos was a studio cabinet photo of Lucy Saddington with her husband George Smith, and a postcard picture of George in uniform (presumably during the First World War.)
George & Lucy Smith, by an unidentified photographer, probably in Derby, c. 1906-1908.George Smith, Lucy's husband, a postcard portrait taken during the First World War.

Lucy Saddington married George Smith in 1906 and had Edie in 1912, but died of unknown causes whilst Edie was young. I have a photo of Edie as a child (see below) with a lady which could be Lucy but I am unsure. It was of course the photo of George and Lucy together which helped me in the identification process, not only tying up with George in uniform, but also if you look carefully she is wearing the same brooch as in the earlier Frost picture from my mother’s collection, and although no proof in itself, doesn’t the skirt look like the work of a proud young tailoress!
Lucy(?) & Edie Smith, by an unidentified photographer, probably in Derby, c. 1914-1915.

This is an excellent account of careful detective work which resulted in the provisional identification and tying together of a whole series of pictures from separate inherited family collections. It demonstrates the usefulness of examining photographs together with other family photos, and in the light of their provenance.

It also illustrates the importance of being cautious about making assumptions without reasonable cause. For example, the wearing of what appears to be a military uniform doesn't necessarily mean that the subject actually served in the military. Although the photo probably was taken during or shortly after the Boer War, it is obvious that Lucy never served in the army.

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