My generous cousin Alan sent me another glorious batch of scanned images that belonged to our ancestors. How I wish they had written their names on the cards for easy identification! But sadly, this is rarely the case.
There are many ways to determine the year a photograph was taken but when I have the photographer imprint, I start there. So much data is available on the dates and locations of photographers it really helps to narrow the time frame quickly. I like to group the photos by photographer imprint & city, then research the photographer to determine a time frame for the image. The simplest imprints on the back are the oldest, the more elaborate the newest, once you accept the 1880s as "new."
Determining who is in the image is like winning a billion dollar lottery jackpot. I'm not that lucky. Are you?
I will happily acknowledge here that I am an amateur. I am not a photo detective, forensic genius, nor expert genealogist. I'm just a gal digging through her ancestors letters & images with an obsessive compulsive desire to figure out who they are, what they did, what they looked like and any other finite details I can uncover. Why? Because I must.
And yes, I am learning how to do some of this as I go. If I can do it, you can do it too! Just follow your instincts and trace the clues. Please dig out your family letters & photos & start sharing them with the world. Not going to lie, I am not-so-secretly hoping you are sitting on letters & photos from my ancestors so I can learn more, more, more.
That being said...back to the task at hand.
The longer I stare at these photos, the more they start to look the same, which makes sense because so many of them probably are related. I have to remind myself to take breaks and revisit images to refresh my perspective.
Occasionally, there is a photo here and there with a name on it that lets me work backwards or forwards in time checking residences in census records against photographer studio locations. Then I hope I've guessed correctly and get giddy thinking I've found a unicorn until I discover more photos from the same places in the same time frame that are clearly related in some way and head back to square one.
Note to all you photographers of today - TAG & IDENTIFY YOUR PHOTOS. That way, when some poor soul like me is researching their ancestors they can figure out who the heck folks are.
John Robert Mather Sawyer
For this exercise in futile ancestor identification - I'm focusing on a set of eight images I have from Norwich photographer John Robert Mather Sawyer, known as Sawyer. What's exciting is that they could all be from one family that visited the studio over a span of 30 years. What's not exciting is there is no way to be certain.
Unless, by some miracle, there are photographer logs with subject names on them out there that have yet to be indexed and can be aligned with the numbers on the back of some of the cabinet cards. If that's the case, then every time I see on the back of a card, "Further copies may be had at anytime by the person whose portrait it is, or with his or her express sanction" or "Further copies can always be obtained by quoting No. XXXX", it would really mean something.
I was hoping that these eight images all tie together. That they were all the same family and lived near this photographer and visited him throughout their life. Maybe every ten years when a census was completed. Wouldn't that be swell? But I can accept that just because people went to the same photo studio, does not make them the same family, nor related, nor even residences of Norwich. It's just a possibility.
I am happy to simply have the time frame for the photos and cross my fingers that by divine intervention (or something) I will be able to match them to a name down the line. Or someone else might...
Dating John Sawyer
John Sawyer (1828-188) first shows up as a photographer in Norwich in 1849. Ads place him at 42 London Street between 1853-1863. So, it's possible, that the gal below, is the gal in P.5491 within a 10 year timeframe. And the man, could be her husband.
John Sawyer began advertising services at 46 London Street between 1863 - 1865. Could be the same man as above, or his father? but I don't have an image of the woman with this same imprint to compare.
By 1865, Sawyer was advertising his new Italian studio at 18 Brook Street in Ipswich. He didn't have the studio long as research indicates he sold it in 1867 to his studio manager Walter Smith. So this image below, between 1865-1867. Note the latin motto "Solem certissima signa sequuntur" translates to "Most sure are the signs which attend the sun" or "Follow signs in the sun."
In 1870 Sawyer began promoting his studio at 182 King Street in Great Yarmouth. But in 1871 he formed a partnership with Mr. Walter Bird to create Sawyer & Bird, so these images are likely circa 1871-1887 as the studio name was changed to A.E.Coe by 1887. Also note that the bottom of the cards reads "Marion Imp. Paris" which takes the date to about 1870 when A. Marion & Co begin printing cardstock for photographers to adhere their photographs to. The large letters were more commonly used 1874 onwards - so possibly these next three cards are circa 1874-1887.
You can learn more about Marion Imprints on Cartes.FreeUk.com
And then there is this girl. This beautiful little girl. Who is she!! If the image is from around 1875, she could be about 5. So, who was born in 1870ish with blonde hair & does anyone have that locket around her neck as a family heirloom? I'll have to keep an eye out for it in future photos.
After staring at these images for hours and shuffling back and forth between my FindMyPast tree and my Ancestry.com tree, trying to match names to estimated dates, checking census addresses distance to photo studio addresses, I concede defeat, for now. I resolve to be happy having a rough idea of when the photos were captured and know that they are either family, friends or just a bunch of CDVs and cabinet cards my ancestors collected for fun.
I may never know, and I have to be ok with that, or go crazy trying to identify them.
Until next time,
Happy Genealogy Hunting!
I try to be as accurate as possible but I'm only human so I make mistakes. All years indicated are best guesstimates. The information out there is not perfect and not everything you read on the Internet is true.