Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sepia Saturday 187: Ephemera and the preservation of family photo albums


Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett

The image prompt for Sepia Saturday this week gives me an opportunity to look at some of the non-photographic material often found in family photo albums, as well as to show off some of the photo-related ephemera in my collection. Although Victorian carte de visite and cabinet portrait albums contain largely that, i.e. photographic portraits - the purpose-designed sleeves weren't really suitable for flimsy pieces of paper and arbitrarily sized cards - one does often find a variety of family history-related ephemera in them.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Edith Mary Morton's photo album
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This album was an eBay purchase a few years ago. It is in a rather dilapidated state, but in addition to 45 cartes de visite, five cabinet cards and a postcard format photo, the album also contains an ornate baptism card and a printed memorial card.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

An inscription on the front page of the album demonstrates that it was a birthday gift to Edith Morton from her sister Amy.

May 19th 1895
To Edith Morton
With best wishes For a
Happy Birthday
From her sister Amy.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Baptism certificate for Sidney Stephen Sears
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Near the front of the album, and loose between the pages, I found a brightly coloured baptismal certificate for Sidney Stephen Sears, dated April 12th 1903 at St James Enfield Highway, filled in and signed by the vicar, J. Leonard Boulden. The baptismal certificate is of a type that appears to have been used quite commonly in parish churches in the early twentieth century. I have found almost identical examples from as late as 1933. [1,2] Boulden was vicar of St James until at least 1922. [3]

Image © London Metropolitan Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.com
Entry in baptism register for Sidney Stephen Sears
Enfield Highway St James, Register of Baptism, Ref. DRO/054, Item 007
Image © London Metropolitan Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.com [4]

The entry in the baptism register for St James, archived at the London Metropolital Archives, is in the same handwriting. Not only does it confirm the baptism date, but it also provides the very useful information - not given on the certificate - that Sidney Stephen was born on 16th February 1903, the son of Stephen and Edith Mary Sears of 22 Durrants Road.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Edith Mary Sears, c. 1897-1901
Albumen print (96 x 139mm), probably detached from cabinet card
Attrib. Henry Bown, 31/33 Jamaica Rd & 43 New Kent Rd, S.E. London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Using this information, I was able to identify the owner of the album as Edith Mary Morton (1874-1944). Edith was born in 1874 at Riverhead in Kent, to a railway clerk Frederick William Morton (1843-1891) and his wife Emily Wanstall née Andrews (1843-1896). She grew up with her six sisters and three brothers in Sevenoaks and Deptford in Kent and as a young woman worked as a book folder. [5]

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Stephen George Sears, c.1896-1900
Cabinet card (107 x 166mm) by W.H. Fawn, 13 Evelyn Street, Deptford
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

On Christmas Day 1897 Eadie married Stephen George Sears (1875-1934). They lived at 22 Durants Road, Ponders End, Enfield Highway in Middlesex and had three children, Ethel Edith (born 15 November 1898), Helen Amy (born 27 August 1900) and the youngest Sidney Stephen.

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
Roadworkers in Church Street, Ashover, c.1900-1910
Mounted albumen print by J.J. Shipman of Ashover
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

Stephen Sears' occupation is listed in various records (marriage, baptisms of children, etc.) as engine driver or engineer, but in 1891 he was employed as a "plowing portable engine boy," i.e. an agricultural traction engine, and by the time of the 1901 census he described himself as a "steam road roller driver." This gives me the chance to re-use this excellent image of a steam road roller at work, albeit in a small Derbyshire village, which I wrote about for Sepia Saturday a couple of years ago. The 1911 Census shows him as an "engineer fireman" working for the District Council.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Four unidentified women from Edith Sears' photo album
Cabinet cards from the studio of Henry Bown, S.E. London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Sadly, the album doesn't seem to contain photographs of any children that I can identify unequivocally as Ethel, Helen or Sidney. In fact, the bulk of the portraits are of young women dressed to the nines, taken between the late 1880s and the late 1890s, probably Edith's sisters and possibly including some of her friends. There are a few photos of children, but I suspect they are Edith's nephews and nieces.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Frederick William Morton, c. December 1908
Postcard portrait (87 x 138mm) by unidentified photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This postcard addressed to Edith was sent from Toronto, Canada by her younger brother Frederick William Morton in 1908.

124 John St, Toronto, Canada, Dec 8th 12/08.
Dear Eadie.
Just a line hoping you are quite well as it leaves me the same hoping steve and the children are the same and wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year we have got winter here now and the sleighs out with the Bells Jingling and nice frosty air hoping you will know this photo allright I remain your affectionate Brother.
Fred Morton

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Memorial card for Emily Wanstall Morton (1843-1896)
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Also found loose in the album was this memorial card for Edith's mother, who died in August 1896, only fifteen months after Edith had received the photo album as a gift for her 23rd birthday.

IN LOVING REMEMBRANCE
OF
Emily Wanstall Morton,
Who died 12th August, 1896,
AGED 53 YEARS.
--x--
INTERRED IN BROCKLEY CEMETERY,
No. OF GRAVE 718A, PLOT P.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Probably Emily Wanstall Morton, c.1892-1896
Carte de visite portrait by Parisian School of Photography, London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

There are two photographs in the album which could be of Edith's mother. This carte de visite portrait shows a middle-age woman dressed in rather heavy clothing, perhaps even mourning dress, and was taken in the early to mid-1890s. Emily was widowed in 1891.


Possibly Emily Wanstall Morton, c.1866-1871
Carte de visite portrait by Hellis & Sons, London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Another carte de visite portrait, of which there are two similar copies, may also be of Emily. It was printed at one of the Hellis & Sons branch studios, judging by the addresses list on the reverse of the card mount, probably between 1899 and 1901. However, I can tell from the hair, clothing and pose styles, as well as the studio furniture, oval vignetting (a technique commonly employed to hide the edges of the original) and faded nature, that it was almost certainly copied from a much earlier photographic portrait, perhaps taken in the late 1860s or very early 1870s.


View Larger Map
22 Durants Road, Ponders End, Enfield

Sidney died in 1920, aged only 16. For the rest of their lives, his parents continued to love in the same house at Ponders End that they had moved into after their marriage in 1897 [6]. Stephen Sears died in 1934, aged 59, while Edith lived to the age of 70; she died in 1944. Ethel and Helen never married, and passed away in 1976 and 1991 respectively. Presumably the lack of any surviving descendants is what resulted in the album eventually finding its way onto eBay.


Morton-Sears Album

I find it interesting that there don't appear to be any photographs in the album of the Sears family after their marriage, except perhaps the portraits of Stephen and Edith Sears. Why would this be? After a lengthy contemplation of the album's contents I've come to the conclusion that it has survived largely intact since the most recent photograph (Fred's postcard sent from Canada in 1908) was inserted in it. There are some portraits taken after her wedding in 1897, but these are probably of her siblings and their children. Edith may have kept this album as a record of her life prior to becoming a wife and mother.

Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.com
Sears family at 22 Durants Road, Ponders End, Sunday, 2 April 1911
Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.com

Even though the album contains very few items with inscriptions - effectively three photographs and a further three pieces of documentary ephemera - I was able to identify the original owner of the album with a high degree of confidence. Using census and birth, marriage and death records, it was then possible to build up an extensive tree of both Edith and her husband's families. Quite apart from generating a list of potential candidates for the remaining photographs in the album, it also enabled me to locate and contact a descendant of one of Edith's sisters.

Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley
Group at front door of 22 Durants Road, Ponders End, c.1915-1920
Loose amateur print by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley

Ron Plumley is the grandson of Edith's sister Emily, and among his Nan's photographs he found this snapshot, which turns out to have have been taken outside the Sears family's front door at 22 Durants Road - compare this with the modern Streetview image above. Although it isn't a very high resolution scan, it's detailed enough to see that the clothing of the woman (at left), the man (at right) and three possible teenagers standing in the doorway equates with the fashions worn immediately before and during the Great War.

I estimate that it was taken between 1915 and 1920 and it's difficult to be sure, but I think this must be the Sears family. Apart, that is, from the man standing at the right, who seems to be too old to be Stephen Sears, then in his early 40s. Perhaps that is Ron's grandfather William Henry Plumley (1869-1919), who would then have been in his late 40s or early 50s, and the Plumleys could have been on a day visit to the Sears family on the northern outskirts of London from their home in Deptford, also in London, but just south of the Thames?

Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley
The Morton sisters: Grace Harriett Jenkins? (1870-1945), Agnes Helen Wright (1882-1947), Amy Maria Morton (1875-1963), Florence Maud Zillwood (1866-1946) and Emily Wanstall Plumley (1872-1958)
Postcard portrait by unidentified photographer, c.1930s
Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley

Finally, this image also shared by Ron shows his grandmother (at far right) with her sisters. It's quite a contrast with the photographs of the Morton sisters taken four decades earlier, naturally, but they look like they are having a lot more fun.

One day this album will return to a family member, but it is only by a stroke of luck that this has been possible. It could easily have been broken up and offered for sale on eBay as individual photos, as many such albums in a somewhat worn state clearly are. If that had happened, almost all of the photographs would have lost all connection with the provenance, history and genealogy that it has been possible to deduce from them as an intact collection.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

I cannot stress enough how important it is not to break up albums, even if the paucity of documentation suggests there is little chance of identifying the subjects of the portraits, as clues may only become apparent at a future date. Sadly, inevitable financial imperatives will result in the continued dissolution of many such family collections from deceased estates and yard sales via eBay, but we can all do our part to make sure those in our own families do not share the same fate.

I hope you'll join the other Sepia Saturday enthusiasts this week presenting their own family heirlooms, bibles, books, letters and a variety of other ephemera.

References

[1] Baptism certificate for Hilda Charlson, 12 April 1911, on Hindsford St Anne Parish Page, Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project.

[2] Baptism certificate for Ian Brackenbury Channell, Easter Day 1933, St Michael's Framlingham, Website of the Wizard of New Zealand.

[3] Licence from Bishop of London to Joseph Leonard Boulden, Vicar of St James, (To officiate in the district chapel of St Peter and St Paul, Enfield Lock, in the parish of St James), The National Archives, Ref. DRO54/45/2, 18 Aug 1922.

[4] London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906 database, from Ancestry.com.

[5] 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 Census records, UK Census Collection from Ancestry.com.

[6] London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965, from Ancestry.com

43 comments:

  1. What an interesting story. I used to live near Ponders End myself about 20 years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a coincidence. I've never been even close.

      Delete
  2. A wonderful piece of sleuthing Brett and what a blessing that the album remained intact. The photos of the young women are rather lovely, but what is one of them doing with that curtain?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is a bit odd, isn't it, but not the first time I've seen the pose, so I'm guessing it's what she was instructed to do by the photographer. He should have known bettter.

      Delete
  3. Thank goodness for people like you willing to invest the time to discover the story behind a cast-off photo album.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a passion or rather, I will admit, something of an obsession ... and not a cheap one, so I've had to go cold turkey for a while until I get permission to use the credit card again.

      Delete
  4. Another great piece, Brett - the type you do so well. I continue to be amazed how you can spend so much time on researching backgrounds to people in photographs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The problem is, the journey it never ends. I started this one six years ago, and returned to it recently, only to find there was lots more documentary evidence available on the net that I hadn't seen the last time.

      Delete
  5. Amazing bits of research here. What a full story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you - there's a lot I had to leave out, or you would all have given up on me.

      Delete
  6. Gorgeous Baptism Certificate! And finding names -- giving recognition to those "abandoned" people -- how extraordinary!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The baptism certificate is the most elaborate I've seen too, so I was surprised when I did an image search to find quite a few similar ones on the net.

      Delete
  7. I think lady number three is trying to be a foxy lady! It also appears to me that possibly the bottom two might be the same woman at different times? Or perhaps sisters? Such an impressive work of research for us to enjoy, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think you're right about the bottom two. I still haven't come to any firm conclusions about which sister's which. Always a very difficult task - genetics, of course.

      Delete
  8. Another fascinating and thoughtful essay on a different element of photography. The Parisian School of Photography sounds very grand. Do you suppose it was a real training college?

    I have dozens of photos that I know were detached from an album like this. It's like having only a chapter or just a page of a novel. Unlike this album, there is no sense of the full cast of characters, or the locations, or even timeline. Yet on the other hand, we collectors can't afford an entire album for every photo, so we must make do with the clues we can get. ...Sigh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somehow I doubt it, Mike, but I don't really know. I suspect it was a marketing tool.

      Yes, I'm very conscious that, being a purchaser of individual photographs on eBay, I am also part of the problem. You might even argue that since I'm creating the demand, I am the problem There are no easy answers.

      Delete
  9. Another fabulous post. What a beautiful album.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks you Alex. I agree, it is a particularly good one. I haven't scanned any of the album pages, since they are mostly fairly damaged, but they nicely illustrated.

      Delete
  10. Replies
    1. Yes I think so too. Thanks for visiting.

      Delete
  11. I loved this history that you pieced together. As a Torontonian I googled 124 John St.
    But I couldn't find a definition of a book folder, I'm assuming it has something to do with book binding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think you're probably right - one of those professions that was quickly replaced with a mechanical device. A relative of the descendant already sent a photo of 124 John St so I didn't need to head to Google's Streetview. Thanks for visiting.

      Delete
  12. Oh the treasures you find in these things! 1895, 1903, 1843 - so old, so awesome. And look at those tiny waists. I'm jealous.

    Hazel

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well all of or waists were thinner once :-)

      Delete
  13. It's a fine thing you do, sleuthing your way through information to give those pictures names and meaning - even if it is obviously a hobby you enjoy so much. When perusing antique shops & the like, & seeing old photographs for sale with no names to identify those in the pictures, I feel sad. If the pictures are particularly appealing, I buy them & give the subjects names of my own choosing, then add them to my Old Fashioned People collection. :->

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's very satisying to be able to give them their real names.

      Delete
  14. What a treasure you found on Ebay and you turned it into such an interesting history. I'm always amazed at your excellent sleuthing.
    Nancy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Nancy. As you know, it's beyond a passion, more of an obsession.

      Delete
  15. A great find and as you say luckily it was not broken up and the photos sold individually. It is really a shame when Albums like this are broken up.
    It is part of history then like ours now more and more not kept in albums any more but on disks. I think the way the records were kept in albums is beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suspect that the ease of taking and storing digital photos these days will be matched by the ease with which they are lost forever. I know that I take them in such great numbers that I only document a very few.

      Delete
  16. Brett, a fascinating view of putting together the story behind the Sears (Morton) album. I came into a "collection" of of over a hundred old photos, tintypes and cartes several years ago. All of the photos had been torn from several old albums -- which were also in the pile of a cousin-type's refuse to be thrown out. Over the years I have identified a number of the the individuals, but I have a whole pile of baby photos that look very much like one another. That's not too surprising as, I believe that all of the photos are of the Keyes, Donnelly, Butler, and Brown families which were tightly interconnected. You give me new found determination to look further --as well as a few more tools.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like a fascinating project Joan. Well done for rescuing the collection from the tip, and I look forward to reading of the results of your own research into the photos.

      Delete
  17. Impressive research.

    It seems odd that the elaborate baptismal certificate doesn't provide spaces for birthdate and parents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, and yes, I thought the same thing. I had a look at the 1848 baptism card for my gg-grandfather and that has spaces not only for parents, but also for god-parents.

      Delete
  18. Thanks Brett for that amazing research. I have several similar albums and although I know who owned them, most of the portraits are not named so I can only assume they were family? or more likely friends. I think it is important that we ensure that the photos we collect have a record with them for future sepia addicts - except our photos are probably not going to be sepia and in all probability will not last as long.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have researched quite a number of albums over the years, and am slowly developing techniques that can be used, in some cases, to identify those subjects of the myriad of unmarked portraits. Yes, it's important that we don't make the same mistakes and leave piles of anonymous photos to our descendants, but it's inevitable this will happen, I suppose.

      Delete
  19. A great find and wonderful sleuthing! I'm so glad you were able to find the family and I hope they were as pleased to be 'found' as you were in finding them.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Supersleuth strikes again!
    Amazing that this album wasn't kept by the family but great that it'f found a very good home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the superlative endorsement, Lorraine. Of course there could be many reasons why an item like this ends up on eBay.

      Delete
  21. You have a fascinating hobby. It must take you hours to research these albums. What actually do you in your collection? Is it photos, albums, postcards or all of the above? Do you look for a specific type of photo? Sorry about the questions but I haven't heard of this hobby before and I am very interested.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diane - I guess the answer to your question is "all of the above, plus an awful lot more." I like to dig out the story behind the photograph, make a connection between the photographer and his subjects, and look at the more technical aspects, relating models and types of cameras to the photographs that they produce. I came to it originally from a family history background, so I suppose that's always been the root of my interest but, to be honest, I go where the whim takes me.

      Delete
  22. Ah, too late for that advice, in my case.
    When I closed home for my parents, I grabbed a mere few pictures of people I somewhat recognized and let go of the rest... Pity!!

    Quite a journey you've had with this album. Nice to hear it will return [eventually] to its family.
    :)~
    HUGZ

    ReplyDelete

Join my blog network
on Facebook