• 1840s fashion: The influence of Queen Victoria

    1840’s Fashion: Fashion Styles and Queen Victoria’s Wedding Dress

    Fashion can be a fascinating subject to family historians who have photographs to date, as discussed in the first in this series of blogs. We're now focusing on the decade following the advent of photography — the 1840s — including how a change made to the wedding dress then, is still observed by brides today.  

    In March 1841, the first public photographic studio in England opened on Regent Street, London. Sitting for your portrait was now more accessible for those who could afford it. As sitters wore their finest and newest clothes for the occasion, studying the garments in these images can work as a useful tool when researching your genealogy. If you are lucky enough to have photographs of relatives you believe to be from this period, here are some typical styles from the time which may help you date the photographs. 

    1840’s Women's Fashion

    Shoulders were low and sloping, as was the pointed waist. Skirts evolved from conical-shaped to bell-shaped, and increased in volume as the decade progressed. Evening gowns were often off-the-shoulder and accompanied by crocheted or sheer shawls. Lace was a prominent textile, adorning linen caps and shoulder-length gloves. Large bonnets and large collars on capes for outdoor wear were popular. Hair was parted in the middle with side ringlets, or styled into loops around the ears and then pulled into a bun.

    Evolving fashion in the 1830s

    1840s fashion plates

    1840’s Men’s Fashion

    For fashionable men, a low, cinched waist and round chest with flared frock-coats gave them an hourglass figure which was inspired by Prince Albert. Trousers were tight and collars were high, styled with a necktie. Hair was usually long but kept out of the face and facial hair was popular.

    Image of Victorian Men's Clothing 1847

    Victorian Men's Clothing 1847

    Queen Victoria’s wedding dress

    On 10th February 1840, 20-year-old Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg-Gotha at Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, London. The queen wore a white, heavy silk satin gown with Honiton lace detailing. Although the common idea of a white wedding gown was thought to symbolise the bride’s innocence and purity, the colour was actually used to highlight the wealth of the bride’s family. A white gown shows the ability to have clothes thoroughly cleaned - a privilege afforded only to the wealthy in the 1800s - and also to show the public that they can wear a colour that wouldn’t be dirtied or stained by any manual labour. Victoria’s choice to wear a white gown was not to prove any financial prosperity, however; but rather to show off the delicate lace on the dress and support the English industry - and, in turn, to encourage others to do the same. 

    Image of ​Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress

    Queen Victoria's Wedding Dress

    Although not the first royal to wear a white gown on their wedding day, Victoria’s choice was different to the bright and brilliant colours often preferred by Western European brides, or the more practical darker colours which could be reused for other wears.  Soon after, fashionable and elite brides felt inspired to do the same. Newspaper articles, illustrations, paintings and souvenirs were all created in the wake of the wedding, exposing a wider audience to the day's events and inspiring future brides. 

    So there we have it, the queen’s choice of colour for her wedding dress 180 years ago has influenced British wedding dress traditions ever since! Have you ever considered what decisions made in history might have influenced your or your ancestors’ choices for wedding attire? Exploring the influence of fashion trends through the ages is fascinating, and we will take a look at the 1850s next time

  • How to date photographs from fashion – Free UK Genealogy

    Dating photographs from fashion

    Some family historians are lucky enough to have photographs of their ancestors. Some are even more fortunate, because their forebears had the foresight to write names on the back of them.
    But what can you do if you have photographs and no idea of who is depicted? One option is to date the photographs based on the clothes worn by the people - as this can then help you narrow down the generation and possible contenders! 
    A fascinating topic in itself, we decided it might be helpful to publish a series of blogs covering fashion through the decades since the advent of photography.

    Oldest photographs

    The world's oldest known photograph was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce around 1826 – a view from a window at Le Gras, France, which took no less than eight hours to capture.
    But the first clear images of people were taken in 1839, by which time the process had been refined to take around one minute. American scientist and photographer John William Draper is credited with producing the first clear photograph of a female face: his sister Dorothy Catherine Draper.
    And while we might consider the ‘selfie’ to be a relatively new concept, Robert Cornelius, an amateur photographer and lamp maker in Philadelphia, is credited with taking the first self-portrait – also in 1839.

    First clear photograph of a female face. 1839, Dorothy Catherine Draper
    Robert Cornelius, 1839. The first ever "selfie"

    Dorothy Catherine Draper and Robert Cornelius

    Follow the fashion

    Imagine now that we don’t actually know when these photographs were taken. A little research into fashions of the day – in America, since both were taken there – will hold the key.  
    To date the photograph of Dorothy, a quick search on ‘American fashion 1830s’ offers thousands of links, including this one to The Fashion History Timeline - an open-access source for fashion history knowledge.
    Here, we learn that the 1830s was a decade marked by ‘huge sleeves and hats’, and ‘hair was parted in the middle and brushed smoothly over the ears’. Scrolling down, several images are a good match for Dorothy, including this one from 1838, entitled La Mode, New York.  

    Women: 1834-1839. 1830s sleeves and hats
    Evolving fashion in the 1830s

    Women: 1834-1839 and 1830s fashion plates

    As for menswear in the 1830s, the site advises that ‘towards the end of the decade, sleeves began to fit smoothly to the shoulder… and neckwear was varied and elaborate, usually consisting of a stock or cravat' - basically a neck cloth. Using another source, a good match for Robert’s clothing was the above image found on Wikipedia, which is the work of American painter Henry Inman dated 1838-40, A Gentleman of the Wilkes Family.

    Henry Inman - 1830s men's fashion

    Inman, Henry - A Gentleman Of The Wilkes Family

    Future decades

    Since photography was new in the 1830s, we have had to resort to comparisons with drawn or painted images from the era. But future blogs will be able to draw on other dated photographs, too.
    Next time, we will look at photographs and fashions of the 1840s, and see how trends can be influenced by popular figures – such as royalty. 

  • Free and Open Genealogy Resources (UK & International)

    We asked, you suggested…

    Recently, through the power of free data sources, some precious photographs, letters and documents belonging to a flight engineer who died in World War 2 found a new home and purpose with a blood relative.  

    In November 1942, the flight engineer was part of a crew who perished when their plane was hit by flak. He was 25 and had been married to his childhood sweetheart for just six months.

    Some 60 years later, a distant cousin researching the family tree found the flight engineer’s details on the Commonwealth War Graves website. His widow was still listed in the BT Telephone Directory, so the cousin wrote a letter hoping to learn more, but received no reply.   

    Six years later, however, the widow’s nephew and executor of her will wrote to say he had found the cousin’s letter in his aunt’s files. He confirmed the family connection and offered to share copies of photographs, letters and more. Later, on reflection, he decided to pass the whole collection to the cousin, since his was the direct family line. 

    Now the cousin - who happens to be a history teacher - is the custodian of the items, and he uses them to illustrate his lessons. So, the flight engineer’s story lives on – all thanks to a couple of free searches.

    Image of the flight engineer's burial site - Oldebroek General Cemetery, NL (CWWG)

    Open sources, galore

    This is a powerful little story that illustrates the benefits of Free UK Genealogy’s vision of making data more accessible, more usable, and free, forever (see our previous blog).

    This week, we asked you (via Social Media) for your recommendations for FREE sites that YOU use in your research – and you came up with the goods. In fact, there were so many suggestions, we plan to share them over two blogs!

    Below, we will cover the national and international sources you have recommended. Then, next time, we will share your local gems.

    "Free to All"

    High on the list is FamilySearch, which has the tagline "Free to All". Provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch is dedicated to preserving important family records and making them freely accessible online. Originally intended for Church members, the FamilySearch resources are now open to everyone to discover their heritage and connect with family members.

    Several of you have cited the Online Genealogical Index (OGI) – a free tool that saves researchers hours of time by finding the exact website they need. The OGI began as a spreadsheet in January 2012 and currently has over 407,000 links to vital record data (birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial), as well as school records, graveyard headstones, war memorials and family pedigrees. The tool’s creator is a genealogist himself who was frustrated with subscription sites selling access to resources that were free elsewhere.

    A highly recommended source: UKBMD. In 2000, the county of Cheshire revolutionised public access to birth, marriage and death (BMD) records dating back to 1837 when a joint project between the county's registration services and family history societies resulted in CheshireBMD. Other counties followed their lead, and UKBMD was started as a simple website to enable the main county BMD sites to be found via one convenient starting point. Many more BMD-related sites have since been added, covering parish records and Bishops Transcripts.

    Now, you might think that UKBMD is a rival to FreeBMD. But there is a subtle difference that is of unique value to genealogists. Where FreeBMD transcribes the GRO indexes, UKBMD has transcribed the original indexes created by the local registrars. For this reason, our databases can differ slightly. For example, in the event that pages are missing in one index, they would likely be present in the other. Both are volunteer-led projects and so have similar commitments to quality of provision and there is actually potential for us to combine our efforts in the future, to enhance wider access to BMD records.

    Again, in the same vein as FreeBMD, you mentioned the GRO website. As Howard, a FreeBMD volunteer explained:

    The GRO site (England and Wales BMD certificates) is probably known to [many genealogists], but some may not realize that it's free to search its indexes (which give a little more information than the paper indexes which other websites have transcribed.

    Staying with the BMD certificate theme, the BMD Certificate Exchange Facebook group was amongst your suggested resources. The group is a very popular one, with over 10,000 members, and is "a means to share birth, death, marriage, burial, and other certificates with fellow genealogists who may have an interest in them". You never know, you may find a certificate in there you would otherwise have to purchase!

    Another favourite you have recommended is GENUKI which provides a virtual reference library of primary sources of genealogical information relevant to the UK and Ireland. The content is provided by a group of volunteers, and the site is maintained by a charitable trust. Established in 1995, it now contains more than 110,000 pages of information.

    On a similar theme, Dustydocs is a 'web-linking site' of English Baptisms, Marriages and Burials records for the years 1538 to 1900. Their information is sourced from freely available church and BMD records, and validated user contributions.

    Ireland, US and Canada

    For those researching Irish ancestors, you have recommended two national sites. The first is the National Archives Genealogy Website where you can gain free access (through searchable databases and linked images of relevant pages) to a whole host of genealogical material in the custody of Ireland’s national archives. This includes the Census of Ireland 1901/1911 and Census fragments and substitutes, 1821-51.

    The second recommendation is Irish.Genealogy.ie, a government website where you can search and freely access records from a number of online sources including the historic registers and indexes to the BMD registers, some church records, and others such as the census data and soldiers’ wills.

    For those with American ancestors, you told us about The USGenWeb Project. Established in 1996 by a group of genealogists who shared a desire to create free online resources, it began with listing online directories of text-based resources. The site has since grown into a network of over 3,000 linked websites, all individually created and maintained by a community of volunteers. It includes a variety of unique county and state resources such as photos, maps, transcriptions, historical documents, and helpful links.

    And for Canadian ancestors, you suggested the site for the Royal British Columbia (BC) Museum and Archives, which offers a wide range of information in three searchable databases. These include textual records, photographs, sound recordings, moving images, and maps; descriptions of publications held in the library such as books, directories and government reports; and BMD registrations.

    Do you know of any other UK and international resources?

    Put them in the form at the bottom of the page and we'll add them to the list

    OPEN, GLOBAL GENEALOGY

    So, back to the free sources used in our flight engineer’s story, the Commonwealth War Graves site was also among your recommendations (as you might expect) – and, although telephone directories were not mentioned, perhaps they are a resource worth considering.  
    That said, while the current telephone directory is freely available online, it seems that past issues are only accessible via a paid-for site, which seems a shame.  

    If you are interested in OPEN, GLOBAL GENEALOGY, please do register your interest to take part in this year’s online annual conference to be held online on 22nd and 29th May.

    And look out for our next blog on your FREE local and other site recommendations.

  • What is "Open Genealogy" and why is it important?

    More accessible, more usable, and free, forever

    It’s not a surprise to learn that more people have taken up genealogy in the past year. What better lockdown pastime than one which can be undertaken by anyone from the comfort of their own home?

    Paid-for family history research sites are reporting increases in annual subscribers of up to 50%. “All you need is an internet connection and an inquiring mind!” according to one of them.

    If only that were true! Even if you use only the free sites, some data can still only be accessed for a fee, and BMD certificates must be purchased. Regrettably, this means some people feel unable to take up or continue with their research.

    That’s why Free UK Genealogy continually pursues its vision to make data more accessible, more usable, and free to use, forever. (And that’s why so many of you selflessly give up your time and skills to transcribe our records, helping to ensure that everyone has free access to their BMD, census and parish registers’ data.)
    Fortunately, we are not alone. There are many other organisations around the world that believe in open, global genealogy.

    Archives are for everyone

    So, what is open data and why is it important?

    Open data is the idea that our data should be freely available for everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.
     
    This is important because, as the National Archives puts it, such data is “an essential resource for our democracy, a public good and an asset for future generations. Our conviction is that archives are for everyone and that archives change lives for the better.”
    That’s a strong statement. But try a Google search on ‘benefits of genealogy’ and it returns over 32 million results. Among those listed are renewed sense of purpose; increased mental stimulation; reconnecting/making new connections with extended family; meeting like-minded people through groups and forums, and even discovering important family medical history.

    At Free UK Genealogy, we know that it’s only by having open, global genealogy that will enable EVERYONE to enjoy such benefits.

    Who does it?

    So, aside from ourselves and the National Archives, which other organisations share our vision? Another Google search, this time for "totally free genealogy websites UK", returns 717,000 results comprising websites, articles and lists.

    Most cite organisations such as ourselves, GENUKI, FamilySearch, RootsChat, the General Register Office, and the National Archives, but there’s also a myriad of event- or occupation-driven sites ranging from The Proceedings of the Old Bailey and Find a Will to The Gazette (receiverships, liquidations and bankruptcies) and Historical Trade Directories.  

    Other organisations on our own wide-ranging radar include: Legacies of British Slave Ownership – UCL; Wikitree (a community of genealogists connecting the one human family tree using traditional genealogy and DNA testing); Open Archives NL (containing genealogical data of Dutch and Belgian archives); and Open Genealogy Data (a community project to make data that is important to genealogists available outside of the walled-gardens of large corporate entities).

    There are thousands more.

    How does it differ?

    The main difference between free and paid-for sites is – obviously – the cost. While paid-for sites offer additional benefits such as ease of access to their collection ‘all in one place’, suggestions on other records to view, and connections to others’ trees, these CAN also be found through combining the various free sites, once you get the hang of them. You just need time and patience.

    At Free UK Genealogy, we understand that transcribing or indexing records to make them searchable can incur huge costs. But, as our working model proves, it is possible to bring together volunteers to see a project through, and therefore keep the costs to a minimum.
    Paid-for sites want to increase the number of records they offer as quickly as possible so that people will continue to pay a subscription. This can sometimes result in poor transcriptions - we all know that transcribing is actually a labour of love that cannot be rushed.

    So, the other main difference is that free sites can offer better transcriptions than paid-for sites. But you know that – we don’t need to preach to the converted!

    Taking to the stage

    We are encouraged that so many organisations share our vision about making genealogy data more accessible, more usable, and free to use, forever.

    And we are delighted that some of them will be taking to the stage to talk about OPEN, GLOBAL GENEALOGY at our 2021 conference on 22nd and 29th May. Learn morehere– and we hope you will be joining us, too.