Saturday, 6 August 2011

Identifying & Dating Old Photos: Mystery Photo 1

This evening I participated in an excellent webinar by Maureen Taylor, Photo Detective, on the subject of Identifying and Dating Family Photographs. It has really motivated me to get back to work on an album containing photographs of my Lowe ancestors in Coupar Angus, Scotland, which a cousin shared with me last year. See Every Picture Tells a Story for the background. Of the 96 photographs in the album, only 26 have so far been identified.




I have decided to start with this full length portrait of an unknown man because it has details of the photographer on the reverse:




Here is what I know so far, set out under headings suggested by Maureen's webinar:

Provenance of Photograph

From an album belonging to Dr John Lowe (1849-1925), and his wife, Annie Willie Cowpar. The album was subsequently taken to Canada by their son, Major Robert Lowe (1882-1955). It is now in the possession of one of his daughters, my third cousin, once removed, from whom I obtained a digital copy.

Type of Photograph

Paper print, common in England from 1858 to 1914.


Thanks to Photo London, I know that Alexander Lamont Henderson, born in Edinburgh in 1838, had a studio at 49 King William Street, London Bridge, from 1860 until November 1887. His son gave his photographic library to the Guildhall Library in November 1907. Alas, it was destroyed during the Blitz in 1942. Otherwise I could simply have looked up the print number in the library.

Internal Evidence

The painted window, looking out on a country scene, was popular in the late 1860s.


A number of features suggest the first half of the 1860s:

  • Loose fitting suit
  • Peg top trousers, wide at the top and tapering to a close fit at the ankle
  • Dark jacket worn with light trousers
  • Shoes neither square-toed nor pointed

Genealogical Research

Most of the photographs in the album were taken in Scotland. This one suggests someone who was living in London. Between 1863 and 1872, George Lowe (1819-1915), worked in London as an engineer, first at Woolwich Arsenal and later at St Pancras. He was aged 44 to 53 during this period, which fits with the age of the man in the photograph. I have a photograph of George Lowe taken in 1902, when he was 83. Comparing the two photographs, there would seem to be a similarity in the eyes, nose, mouth and ears:


Copy of Lowe George1902 head 

Add up all the Clues

The evidence so far suggests that this may be a photograph of George Lowe, taken when he was working in London during the 1860s.

Next Steps

George Lowe and his family emigrated first to Canada, in 1872, and then to the USA in 1873. I am in touch with one of his descendants in the USA, my fourth cousin. I shall email him to see if he, or his relatives, have any photographs of George Lowe.

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