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Photo of the Month - April 2014

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Genes Advisor 14 Apr 2014 12:06

Dress-historian, portrait specialist and photo detective Jayne Shrimpton is on hand to date your family photos.


This photograph is a copy of an original taken in Towcester, Northamptonshire. I believe the family are called Chapman but there is no other information. It may have been given to my great grandfather in the early 1900s, when he was involved in the Boer War. He enlisted from Australia and told his wife that he had had contact with his brother in Northamptonshire.

Jayne Shrimpton's analysis:
There is a slightly strange image quality to this photograph (not uncommon when working from a copy, as we often have to do when sharing family photographs), but as far as I can tell, it was taken in a regular photographic studio by a commercial photographer. There seems to be a painted back cloth creating the impression of an archway to the right, a cloth-covered table, and a profusion of ferns and other plants – this explosion of foliage a little exaggerated perhaps, but a fashionable studio ‘prop’ around the turn of the twentieth century.

When a photograph is undated, generally the appearance of its subjects offers the most accurate dating clues and here we see three ancestors dressed in the fashions of the late 1890s or early 1900s. The lady, whose dress, accessories and hairstyle would usually provide the most precise date range, is wearing concealing outdoor clothing, so her costume is rather obscured. However, her high-collared cape or cloak was a popular outer garment for walking and travelling at this time, while the style of her smart bonnet or hat is one of many in vogue for mature ladies during the late-Victorian and early-Edwardian eras. Based mainly on these key dress details, I estimate that this photograph was taken c.1897-1905.

Men’s wear is harder to pin down closely, although the appearance of both of the males pictured here accords with the suggested time frame. The older gentleman wears a rather loose three piece suit and the cloth cap that was becoming the favoured headwear of the working man by the late 1890s. He also looks to be wearing a conservative beard – the early style in which hair was grown underneath the chin, first introduced in the mid-late 1850s but worn for several decades in some areas of the country. The man standing looks more fashionable, as we would expect of a younger family member. He wears a suit of smoother fit, although the apparent lack of a tie or bow tie at the neck of his shirt is irregular and may possibly suggest a labouring man who did not favour formal neck wear. As far as I can see, he has grown a small moustache, which would be usual around 1900 or thereabouts, for a younger man.

It can be hard to estimate age accurately in old photographs but, judging from a combination of their mode of dress, their faces and their seated position (usually reserved for the older members of a group photograph), I would suggest that the man and woman could be a middle-aged married couple and the standing man perhaps their son. They could well be the Northamptonshire-based brother and parents of your great grandfather who enlisted to fight in the Boer War, for the date range of the photograph perfectly accords with the Second Boer War (1899-1902). The photographic print may well have been sent to your ancestor as a memento, to remind him of his family back in England when he was away serving in South Africa.


If you have any 18th, 19th or 20th century pictures, and are happy for Genes Reunited to share the image and findings, please scan and send a copy to with PHOTO in the subject.

Images used will be selected at random. Please scan the front and back of card-mounted photographs. Could we ask that you do not post any original images.

For further information on Jayne Shrimpton, visit

The Genes Reunited Team