Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday From The Collectors - Brett Payne Redux



A rare visit from my grandparents, April 1966

While I was growing up in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), I was often envious of my friends with their large networks of grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. My parents had both emigrated from the countries of their birth – England and the Netherlands – before they were married and I hardly knew my grandparents. By the time I left home, I could count on one hand the number of times that I’d met members of my family outside the immediate circle of parents and siblings. The photograph above shows one of those rare occasions in April 1966, after my grandparents had made the adventurous journey by train and ship from the English Midlands to the Eastern Highlands of Rhodesia. A decade ago, events unfolding in the country of my birth precipitated a further scattering of family members, something my father resignedly referred to as La Diaspora Continua, and I emigrated with my wife and children to New Zealand.

Perhaps it was a lack of contact with extended family that precipitated my fascination with my Dad’s large accumulation of family photographs. He inherited the collection, along with a hefty archive of family papers, from his parents. Much of the older material had originated from his great-uncle Hallam Payne (1870-1960), who had been the family archivist, although the existence of several items from the early 1800s points to an earlier origin for the hoarding gene. With my Dad’s encouragement, I drew my first rudimentary family tree when I was nine or ten years old. Nevertheless, it was only fifteen years ago, with my purchase of an early version of FTM, and an introduction to the internet, that my interest was piqued.

Like many readers of this blog, I’m sure, I've since become a family history addict. Building on the archives passed down by family members, I’ve spent an enormous amount of my spare time researching and building up the framework of ancestors and cousins, boring and confounding family members and friends alike with my tales of discovery. I still do make the occasional breakthrough, resulting in the adding of an extra generation or two, or the discovery of a new umpteenth cousin.

Along the way I have developed an even greater interest in the vast body of material which envelopes the bare bones of the family tree. I find that I have an intense need to discover ever more and more details of the life of a particular ancestor – anything that might embellish the character that my mind builds up around the bare essentials of a name, two or three dates, and a position in the tree. That’s why I tend to use the term family history instead of genealogy to describe my passion. It is ironic therefore that, despite being bored to distraction by history in my school years, I am now most intrigued by the historical aspects of my research. So much so, in fact, that I have some considerable trouble keeping myself from getting “too distracted.”

Charles Vincent Payne (1868-1941)
St Andrew's Middle Class School
Litchurch, Derby

I don’t really have much fascination with how major historical events in history might have influenced my family. Perhaps I have a little more interest in how a particular ancestor might have played a role in some local incident. I find myself more absorbed with building up a timeline of events that are likely to have shaped peoples lives, and hoping that this exercise will reveal something of their characters. In the course of this quest, I’m always hunting for new tools that might have the potential to open further avenues of research. However, I repeatedly find myself returning to the family photograph collection for clues and inspiration.

Postcard Photograph
Payne Family Off-Licence & Grocery Shop
New Normanton, Derby
c. 1908-1909

I would even go so far as to say that photographic portraits, both formal and informal, now form the fundamental framework of my attempts to unravel the life stories of these people who I never met, either because they lived so far away, or because they died long before I was born. Once the photos are assembled into chronological order, I am often able to gain an impression of what the person looked like and, if there are enough in the sequence, how they changed through the course of their life. While it helps me to build a concept of that person, I find that a detailed examination of the photographs can often reveal far more. Apart from a simple observation of the identity of the subject, other factors such as photograph type and style, studio name and location, inscriptions, clothing, studio backdrops and accessories used, other backgrounds, such as buildings, may also be usefully analysed. I will admit to setting less store on things like family likenesses, and expressions on the subjects’ faces, but they can be useful in certain circumstances.

My GG-Grandparents
Henry Payne (1842-1907)
Henrietta Payne nee Benfield (1843-1917)
A rather nice portrait, expertly colourised
by a kind Photo-Sleuth reader - just one of many examples of the
collaboration and co-operation which I have experienced.

Often, when I approach portraits from my family collection from a fresh point of view, I make exciting new discoveries. In my series of articles on Photo-Sleuth, I like to share these findings with fellow family and local history enthusiasts, and hope that they will prove to be of some use to others in their own research. It is, of course, a collaborative process, and I continue to learn a great deal from such exposure. I have presented my own analyses of some of the old family photos that researchers have kindly sent me from all over the world, and I value enormously the numerous and varying contributions that I receive.

It is to my own ancestors that I return perennially, building up a more detailed picture in my mind of who they were, how they lived, and why they chose to make certain decisions and changes in their lives. It is also important to me how those decisions and changes – in particular the successive emigrations, from village to village, county to county, country to country, and continent to continent – shaped the individuals and families that eventually produced me. The family photograph collection chronicles and illustrates many moments within that process of movement of my family through the Diaspora. What remains is for me, and others who follow, to document, describe and interpret, joining the lines between those moments to relate the stories of our tīpuna.

Article & Photographs
Copyright © 2008


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Many Things Thursday - Don't Go In The Water

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things."

Thursday, on Shades Of The Departed, will be dedicated to
many things,
and nothing in particular.

Many Things Thursday

Bathing Suits and Trunks

Photographers went where the people went, and when the people went to the beach, so did many photographers.

They would set up seaside studios equipped with backdrops imitating the shore. Seavey, one of the most famous background painters of his time, sold a Sea Shore Ground backdrop for $13.00 in 1887.

The description of bathing apparel accompanied by the photographs below all offer sufficient reasons "not to go into the water."

Bathing "trunks" are usually made of knitted cotton or worsted, and shaped to cover the loins and trunk of the body.

Man Oh Man!
A Studio Tintype.
Year and photographer unknown

Bathing "suits" are of various shapes and made of many materials. Surah silk of thick quality is used extensively. It is claimed that it does not retain as much water as flannel, and that it does not cling so closely to the figure. The medium quality bathing suits are manufactured of flannel and of a coarse wiry cheviot.

Marie Jansen
The Lady GaGa of Her Time?

The more modest suits are made with the waist and drawers in one, cut in continuous pieces or attached to the same belt; a seperate skirt reaching to the knees is then buttoned on to this belt. The drawers fall below the knees and are quite wide with rubber in the hem to draw them into shape.

A beautiful background
painted and continuing
under foot.

Jersey suits are also manufactured and these do not shrink. The waist and skirt are all in one piece in this variety, and the skirt is made full. The drawers are close fitting like equestrian tights and have stockings woven with them—but how and where they are fastened no man has ever found out.

Just add sea shells
and mix.


Cole, George S. A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods and History of Silk, Cotton. W. B. Conkey Company, 1892.

American Journal of Photography. Advertisement. 1887.


Women all courtesy of the Library of Congress.