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Family History Research: Interviews and Photographs

How much do you know about your recent(ish) family history? Have you done any interviews? Talked with older members of the family?

Interview older people and record what you learn

I sat down with my great aunt Frieda (my grandfather’s sister) before she died around 18 years ago. She had several albums of family photographs which belonged to her and some from her father and brother. The photo below shows her and her husband Jim Davies.

I wrote down notes of our conversation so I had a record of what she said.

I think this is an important point.

Yes we live in an age of computers but who knows where something will be stored on a computer and if it will be accessible in the future. A written record in a notebook or folder means it is easily accessible by you or whoever takes over the records from you.

We went through various photo albums and she identified some of the people within them (where she knew or had met them) and mentioned places they had lived and if she had visited them.

Questions to ask

When doing an interview consider the following:

  • Do they know the person/people in the photograph?
  • Did they ever meet them?
  • Where was the photograph taken?
  • Did they ever visit or hear about this place?
  • Do they know any other information about the person in the photograph?

For example, she described my great grandmother Naomi as “14 years younger than her husband Percy. Lived to 76. Had arthritis badly for last two years and was bedridden.”

Another description was of her grandmother Ada Edwards (born Cox) who lived at Haydon Hall. “A small old lady. Active and lively when A Frieda was young. Arthritis crippled her. Bedridden and nursed by Inez Edwards (daughter in law)”

Ada’s husband was Henry Bennett Edwards. He was “out in India. Had an accident with an elephant and never 100% afterwards. Excitable person. Volatile. Possible epilepsy? Children fonder of him than their mother. Called him “Parpi”.”

Also my grandfather (Frieda’s brother) apparently looked like him.

Loads of useful information there which can be used to start records on each person. Mention of relationships, places they lived, health issues, personalities and more.

Identifying people in photographs

The photos above are a treasure trove of different people. These are in my great-grandfather (Percy Stuart Cox)’s photo album. Apparently he was a keen amateur photographer although these were professionally taken.

Unfortunately somewhat stained in places but still identifiable. All are earlier than 1900. Luckily some were annotated on the reverse.

Harriet Cox

The lady bottom left is Harriet Cox (born Harriet Upcott in 1773 in Cullompton in Devon). She is my great (x3) grandmother.

The back of the images says “Granny Cox, Serjeant’s Mother” Taken by Golding & Co. This caption made it easy to identify her as Serjeant Cox was Edward William Cox and there are quite a few entries online about him as he was a successful barrister and publisher in London. A serjeant was the predecessor of a King’s or Queen’s Counsel.

Harriet was quite an old lady in this image! She was alive in 1851 according to the census and was aged 70 then.

By coincidence my brother named his daughter Harriet without knowing about this Harriet.

Oh and I mentioned Henry Bennett Edwards earlier on. He’s the man on the top right.

Recording notes on people

If you need to identify people in photo albums you have a few options on how to record names/dates/events.

Write in the album itself if space allows. Ensure writing is legible and use pen (or pencil if you don’t want to damage anything). NB pencil will not fade as easily as pen.

If the photos can be removed from the album, you can write on the back of them. Do this very gently with a pencil so they are not damaged.

You could also put a paper note (not a sticky note) in the album with details of who is on which pages.

Have you interviewed anyone in your family yet?

You could start with your parents or grandparents and go through any photographs taken when you were young. It’s sometimes surprising how your memories may differ from theirs (or yours may be incorrect).

Please let me know in the comments below.

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