The family album

Readers who have been following the postscripts will know that my mother passed away over Christmas and I have now taken possession of a number of family photographs which have now joined my personal archive along with a small Kodak camera, a Box Brownie and a few Instamatics (remember those?). It was inevitable that a few of these pictures would end up on the blog. Although I’ve never researched my family history I’ve met many people who were in the process of genealogical research and helped some of them on their way. Family albums are often the start of such a quest. Census returns, electoral registers, street directories, parish registers and Ancestry / Find my Past (other online genealogical tools are available) tell the story but it’s often family photographs which bring the search to life.

So this post is not just about me and my collection of old photographs. It’s about how family ties connect all of us to the historical past. In this post I start by looking at the oldest photos I could find some of which feature people I never knew personally. Like this one which my mother had copied for me several years ago.



This is my grandparent’s wedding. Ellen Barwise has just married Charles Williamson. He has his hand on her shoulder. His two brothers stand with him. One of them married one of the Barwise sisters standing near Ellen. The guests are a mixture of Barwises and Williamsons. The diminutive lady on the right side of the picture is a Williamson. She has her arm linked with an elderly Barwise lady.

A studio portrait of the two.


Charles did a variety of jobs

This was one of them.


The fire brigade at the lunatic asylum in Liverpool Road, Chester. Charles is dead centre, behind the man in the helmet.

In the picture below, an action shot of the brigade in action. He is eighth from the left standing in shirt sleeves.

I have been asked (and asked myself) why this establishment needed its own fire brigade. Perhaps they were ready for general emergencies in the area? In my last visit to the house I found a number of pictorial histories of Chester to one of  which my mother contributed the picture of the men in action. The author confirms that the hospital did indeed have its own fire brigade

That doesn’t seem to have been Charles’s only job. He also worked part time as a gardener. Here he is with some of the others staff. The lady in the dark outfit might be on eof the family.

I’ve left the caption. I think this is my mother’s careful printing but I’m not sure when she did it.

Other members of the family were involved in agriculture, as this badly faded pictures of Walter Barwise, one of my grandmother’s brothers shows.

Here is a studio picture of another of Ellen’s brothers, Bill. A distinctly country man.

And a later picture of Bill and his wife.

There are several other pictures of men in uniform in the album, but I’m saving them until some further research on uniforms and badges can be done.

This particular album is pretty old and was obviously started by someone in the family well before I got my hands on it. I’m lucky because at some point my mother annotated it with notes on who the people in the pictures were and their relationship to each other. But even she wasn’t sure of all of them, and was sometimes going on what she had been told when she was young. Such as this one, simply captioned “relations in America”. I never knew we had any at this point.

In every family perhaps there is someone who gathers together loose photos and puts them in an album. The explanation of the picture is not always clear like this picture of a crowd of people being addressed by some eminent man.

Others need no explanation like this picture of my mothers’ two aunts, Lizzie and Martha and her cousin, also called Martha.

I knew Aunt Lizzie (on the right I think) when she was quite old. But before we get to the end of the post I should show you another picture of Cousin Martha, who was my mother’s godmother.

She is sitting with Auntie Em (and friend)

Family albums and the pictures in them tell a story of people getting older, living their lives. In this case the album started with what to me was the historical past, gradually becoming more personal.

When someone dies they become ageless. My mother is no longer the exhausted woman who passed away in a hospital bed. She is just as  much this little girl aged 8


Or the young woman who served in the ATS.

Or the woman who met my father after the war and became my mother.



I don’t make any claims for my family being especially noteworthy. But as a lover of old photographs I believe all the pictures in all the family albums are interesting. If you like these, start looking back at your own family photographs. In my case there are several more albums and many loose photos, some of which may get used in the future.

I’ve been working on this post for ages , thinking I might add more information or thoughts. But I finally decided to leave the pictures with a fairly minimal commentary. This post is dedicated to my mother of course, but also to my father who died in 2003. More about both of them on another occasion perhaps.


9 responses to “The family album

  • Lynne Collins

    Always enjoy these articles and pass them on to my husband who came from West London and has a particular interest in that area but social and art history in general. I was interested in the wedding photographs, everyone very smart. I believe Queen Victoria started the trend for the white wedding gown and this wedding looks later than that but the fashion not necessarily adopted as widely at that time. Fascinating.

  • reggie unthank

    A lovely family record Dave

  • coachingwithintent

    Dave,a thank you so much for this Time Machine post.
    I follow your posts because my paternal grandmother grew up and lived in Chelsea and raised my dad in Uverdale Road alone once she was widowed in 1920. I have vivid memories of the apartment – no electricity – dangerous stuff as were false teeth – the scullery at the back with a great view of the gasworks.
    I follow them because when my father died five years ago the reason for his sister’s death six weeks after birth in 1903 was revealed by my (still alive and 95) mother. The knowledge has sparked a novel which led me to the library and to your post.
    The two studio portraits of my grandmother – my very sour-faced baby father on her knee – and my grandfather whom I never knew, are propped up on the floor. I always wonder why there are two and not the one.
    Best wishes,

  • First Night Design

    Fascinating. I’m lucky enough to know quite a bit about my forebears but now that I’m building up a family tree on Ancestry and searching through the accompanying photos I’ve inherited, I’m discovering fascinating snippets about which I knew nothing and wish my mother was alive to ask about. We should all be marking our photos for future generations. The problem is now that I’ve forgotten who certain people are! Thank you for this post, Dave.

  • Shirley Bays

    Thanks, Dave. Love looking at old family photos, whomever they belong to. They are precious links to the family past.

  • northkenhistories

    Love the pictures Dave. But then I am very partial to family photos. My father always taught me the following.. always write on the back who is in the photos, when and where. I wait for part 2.

  • Lipgloss and Wellies

    Family history is priceless, for its own sake and also for the window that it opens onto wider social history. I wonder how future family historians will cope, when so many couples remain unmarried and all our photos are stored digitally. I think they will be poorer.

  • lucyclemson

    Wonderful photographs, I enjoyed looking at them so much. Thank you for sharing them, Dave.

  • Marcia

    Just looked at this post. Coincidentally, I have been enjoying the writings and old family photographs of a dear friend who is returning to his childhood home in Beckenham after an absence of 50 years. I have inherited beautiful old albums of my Swedish family that reach back 125+ years. Unfortunately, the subjects are not dentified and I can name only a few. Thank you for sharing your personal treasure trove.

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