Photo-dating with Jayne Shrimpton


11 June 2013
Mystery-man-86775.jpg Mystrery Man
Every issue family history photo-dating expert Jayne Shrimpton casts her knowledgeable eye over pictures that Fami


Every issue family history photo-dating expert Jayne Shrimpton casts her knowledgeable eye over pictures that Family Tree readers have sent in. Unfortunately we do receive a huge number of photo-dating queries, and just can’t squeeze them all into Family Tree, so please find two Family Tree readers’ photos and Jayne’s insightful answers below. You never know – the clues she gives may help you date family pictures of your own. Enjoy!


Q I only started researching my family tree in November 2012 and am making good progress. I have found Family Tree magazine invaluable for information and help with finding websites etc. This photograph was in a tin that belonged to my mother. I know it is not her father, whose dates are 1870-1943, as I have photos of him. This image looks to be earlier: it is sepia and measures about 6 x 4 ins. There is no photographer’s name and it appears to have once been in a frame. Could it be a great grandfather, I wonder? My ancestors were agricultural workers in Cumberland and one was a tailor in Chester: would this be indicated in the dress? I would love your help in dating this photo, if possible please.

Wanda Forrest 

Mystery man Mystery man

A Judging from its appearance and from the dimensions, this photograph is a cabinet print – the most popular card-mounted photograph of the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras, while the grey colour of the mount supports a date in the 1890s or early 1900s. It would have been taken by a professional photographer but the lack of printed photographer details strongly suggests that it was an itinerant photographer with no fixed studio premises who visited your ancestor at home. I can’t put a very precise date on this image as the gentleman is elderly and his dress is not especially fashionable, but a date towards the end of the 19th century or at the beginning of the 20th century looks absolutely fine. From his age, I think he must be at least one generation earlier than your grandfather and, judging by his smart appearance, I would suggest that a tailor is perhaps more likely than a farm labourer.

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Q I would be grateful if you could please estimate approximately when these pictures originated, as this would help me to positively identify the ancestors. I know who is in the painting (which is reduced from a full-length portrait) but not the date: the lady is Ada Amelia Smith, 1842-1918, who married twice: once in 1867 and again in 1879. Photo No.2 – the photo of the lady with the sash – could also be Ada. Photo No.3 could, I believe, represent Isabella Huntingdon (1814-1900), who married in 1841.

Ms Morgan 

Ada Amelia Smith Ada Amelia Smith

Possibly Ada Amelia Smith Possibly Ada Amelia Smith

Isabella Huntingdon or Ada Amelia Smith Isabella Huntingdon or Ada Amelia Smith

A Your painting is a beautiful, high quality artwork and, especially considering that the original is a full-length portrait, indicates that this ancestor came from a wealthy background. It is a shame that we can’t see more of her appearance as the shape of her gown would provide a close date. Based on her low square neckline and her hairstyle I would suggest a date at the end of the 1860s or during the early-mid 1870s. I’m not sure whether this could date from quite as early as 1867, when Ada married for the first time, although that could possibly have been the occasion behind this painting.

Photo No.2 is clearly an early carte de visite photograph dating from the 1860s. The style of the lady’s fine silk gown, with its wide crinoline skirt, confirms a date in the early-mid 1860s. She is wearing very formal dress, as we see from the short sleeves and the velvet sash suggests a special occasion, even a gala event of some sort. If this is Ada again, the portrait could perhaps mark her 21st birthday in 1863. No doubt that event inspired elaborate celebrations, perhaps a ball.

Photo No.3 is of similar date to No.2. We see from the full-length composition and full-skirted crinoline dress that the date is around 1860-65. This lady is clearly older than Ada, however. She wears the old-fashioned hairstyle with ringlets that middle-aged and elderly ladies often favoured in the 1860s. You suggested that she could be Isabella Huntingdon, born in 1814. This identification seems to fit the image perfectly: perhaps this photograph marks Isabella’s 50th birthday in 1864.