My enthusiasm for researching my family history ebbed away this summer. Close DNA Matches not replying to my messages. People breaking promises by not sending me a copy of some old family photos. And ancestry brick walls not ready to fall down.
My genealogy batteries ran out of the juice of curiosity.
Over the the last week, the situation dramatically changed. My research batteries are recharged.
Firstly, a descendant of my Great Uncle Peter Sherry (1886-1918) is researching our shared ancestry. He sent photos of Peter’s daughter Jane Mallon Sherry (1913-1981) and I see the family resemblance to my pocket of the Sherry clan.
Its great to be in touch with a younger relative who is genuinely interested in family history.
Then, a few days ago, a 2nd cousin contacted me through the blog. He shared information alongside some fantastic old family photos of my Grandfather Thomas Sherry’s older brother Michael Sherry (1893-1967) and his wife Mary Paul (1892-1979) with some of their family.
Old Family Photos
To see old family photos is a joy. I guess my side of the family during the early to mid 20th Century were allergic to photographers.
Perhaps I inherited that allergy as I avoid cameras. Much to the annoyance of my wife, and the future.
The old family photos featuring Michael Sherry my 2nd cousin shared with me were from his later years. But, he sent this one too:
A Familiar Old Face
The young man looks so familiar. I see a resemblance to my close family. Initially, the assumption the young chap may be my Great Grandfather Arthur Sherry (1857-1918) or his Dad Patrick (1834-1902) a spectacular find if verified.
But, does this young Sherry relative from the past look as if he is a moment in time from the 19th Century? Dating old family photos like this is not in my genealogy toolbox.
Looking for an expert, one of my Twitter genealogy contacts suggested Jayne Shrimpton, a professional fashion historian and image specialist. Jayne has worked as photographs and artwork consultant on the BBC One Series Who Do You Think You Are?
After sending the image to Jayne, she sent a detailed report highlighting many things the untrained eye would not pick up on this photograph:
This professional studio portrait is likely to be a postcard photograph – the most popular photographic format of the early-mid 20th century. Seeing the back of the mount would confirm this, its style probably offering further clues. However, we only have the visual image to go by and so must date this photograph mainly from your ancestor’s appearance.
Seated in a contrived studio setting and well-dressed, as was usual when visiting the photographer, this youth wears a classic three-piece lounge suit – the regular outfit of the working man, also kept for ‘Sunday best’. With all three suit pieces matching in a sober material, this would be regarded as suitable for business wear, as demonstrated also by his watch chain suspended across the waistcoat front, the watch itself concealed in a small pocket. During and after WW1 the younger generation would begin to favour the more modern wristwatch: this conservative method of timekeeping was, however, the norm throughout the Edwardian era.
Studying the styling of the suit, the narrow cut of the trousers, worn rather short in the leg, with turn-ups, is typical of the early 20th century, revealing traditional laced leather boots – customary footwear in the 1800s and early-1900s. The style of the waistcoat, displaying a high buttoned fastening and, especially, the exact size and shape of the jacket lapels place this photograph close to 1910, a date also supported by the starched white shirt collar with rounded points.
The evidence of dress is clear and highly typical of its time, indicating that your forebear was photographed c.1908-1913.
Clearly the subject, whilst dressed as an adult, is very young, being fresh-faced and completely clean-shaven. He looks to be a teenager in my opinion, aged anywhere from about 14 to 18 years old. Happily, both the date and his appearance accord perfectly with your great uncle Michael Sherry (1893-1967) Michael being almost exactly this lad’s apparent age at the time of this photograph.
Therefore I see no reason to question your identification: you can tell your relatives that he most definitely is not an ancestor born in either 1834 or 1857!
Formal studio portraits were generally taken to mark a special occasion and it was common for youths of this kind of age to visit their local studio dressed smartly in a ‘grown-up’ suit. Sometimes at this date they held a newspaper or periodical (or one was displayed nearby, as here), creating a serious, mature impression.
Given their subjects’ age and appearance, I believe such photographs were generally career-related, either signifying a lad’s completion of an apprenticeship, entry into the workplace, a new job, or promotion at work. Hopefully you can now link this photograph to a key phase of your great uncle’s working life.
I wont look at at old family photograph in the same way again! Im going to assume that the young well dressed lad is my Great Uncle Michael. Its such a lovely photograph.
I am not in direct contact with a lot of my close relatives. But I planned to organise a copy of the photograph sent to an Aunt Ive not seen in two decades.
My brother visited her a few years ago. She warmly remembered her Uncle Michael and his family. I thought it would be a nice way re-establishing links to close family.
A few days ago I learned that my Aunt recently passed away.
It seems I am closer and friendlier with the dead than I am with the living..
I am grateful to Neal McLaughlin who shared with me old family photos from his archive.
A big thank you to Jayne Shrimpton for analysing the photo of the young Sherry relative.
You can learn more about Jayne and her work at: