Researching a Photo Album

Recently I did some slightly different family history research. Instead of tracing a family back as far as possible, I have been going back a generation and then sideways. It's something similar to what happens in the television programme Heir Hunters, but instead of money there is something much more valuable to family historians - photographs!

Last year the Rugby Local History Research Group was given a photo album, together with a few books. Someone clearing a house had found them and had been unable to find any living relatives. RLHRG was asked if they were interested in taking them, otherwise they would be thrown away (Pause while all historians gasp in horror!). They now had an album full of photographs - was there any way of discovering whom all these people were? I decided to find out.

Photo Album

 The Photo Album

There were 55 photographs in the book (including two duplicates) mostly Carte de Visit but a few loose postcard sized prints in the back. A lot were by a local Rugby photographer, E H SPEIGHT, but there were others from Weybridge and Birmingham. There were also a few "tourist" pictures of Scarborough Castle, Warwick Castle and one from Wigan of a pair of "Pit Brow Lasses". There was also an inscription in the front of the album "Lizzie CHAMBERS given to her by E.B. August 12th 1878"

I had been told that the album had belonged to the PAYNE family, so who was Lizzie CHAMBERS? I started with FreeBMD and searched for anyone with the surname CHAMBERS marrying a PAYNE - in a long list there was only one in Rugby, Elizabeth CHAMBERS and Joseph Truslove PAYNE married in 1891. Remember, before 1912, spouses surnames were not listed in the GRO indexes, so I couldn't assume this marriage was the one I was looking for. The marriage was in the December quarter of 1891, so there was no point in looking for them (married) in the 1891 census. I looked in 1901 and found Joseph Truslove PAYNE and his wife Elizabeth living in Whilton Villas, Vicarage Road, Rugby. This was the road where the Album had been found, so it looked like I had found the right family.

According to the 1901 census Joseph and Elizabeth had three daughters, Marjorie, Dulcie Emma and Gladys Mary. I confirmed in the 1911 census (that gives length of marriage and number of children in the marriage) that these were the only children. A search for marriages or deaths confirmed that none of these daughters married. A useful source for finding deaths was the National Probate Calendar on Ancestry. Unfortunately this only goes up to 1966 and the last sister died in 1976, so I was unable to discover who was granted probate. This date (1976) ties up with the books associated with the album - none were more recent than a copy of Aspects of Rugby (coincidently the first book published by Rugby Local History Research Group) published in 1975. 

I then tried to find out more about Joseph PAYNE. Did he have any siblings and what happened to them? I discovered two sisters: Elizabeth Mary (or Mary Elizabeth) became a schoolmistress and Sarah Ann who kept house for her. Like their nieces, neither married. Joseph had a brother Harry John - I have traced him forward as far as 1911, when he was a 57-year-old labourer, and single! No wonder the family seems to have died out.

So, back to Lizzie (Elizabeth) CHAMBERS, after all it was her photo album. From the details on the censuses I had found, it appeared that Elizabeth was born in Dunchurch, so I was able to find the 1891 marriage in the parish register. Both Elizabeth and Joseph were aged 34, giving a birth around 1857. She was baptised in Dunchurch on 30th May 1858 but her birth was registered in the third quarter of 1857. This ties up nicely with a birth date of 12th August 1857. The photo album must have been a twenty-first birthday present.

Returning to the photographs, all of which I had now scanned, including the backs, I sent some copies to our local SPEIGHT expert* who is also a member of RLHRG. He estimated that a lot of the photographs were taken between 1875 and 1890. Therefore they must be of the CHAMBERS family, not the PAYNEs. I now had another family to research.

After a lot of searching in the GRO indexes, and censuses I was able to find most of the family. Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas CHAMBERS and his wife Mary (née ALLIBONE) a bricklayer in Dunchurch. They had a total of ten children

Sarah Anne (1843) married in 1872 a Joseph TRUSLOVE. By 1901 they were living in Smethwick, where Joseph was a storekeeper at an engineering works. They had at least two children Frederick W (1873) and Alibone (1879) who both have descendants.
William (1845) was a bricklayer. In 1891 he was living with his sister Sarah Anne's family and was unmarried.
Matilda (1846-1854)
Emma (1848-1907) was a servant (cook) in Weybridge. She died, unmarried, in Rugby.
Frederick (1851) joined the Royal Marines. In 1871& 1881 he was in Kent, probably unmarried.
George (1854) was a painter in Dunchurch. He married Ann and has descendants.
Thomas & Mary (twins 1856-1856)
Elizabeth (1857-1940) married Joseph Truslove PAYNE - as above
Thomas (1862-1870) 

I had discovered at least two branches of the CHAMBERS family with descendants living today. Apart from the CHAMBERS family who stayed in Dunchurch, there was the TRUSLOVE family in Smethwick. If you have either of these names in your family tree, I might have pictures of your ancestors! 

There were several other things I discovered about the CHAMBERS family. First, there is the strange coincidence of two sisters marrying Joseph Truslove and Joseph Truslove PAYNE. As far as I can find there was no connection between them - perhaps they liked the name!  

Secondly, Elizabeth's sister, Emma, was in service in Weybridge. In 1881 Elizabeth was working in the same household and a daughter of George was there in 1891. This explains the photographs from there.

Finally, there is a picture, with colour added at some point, of a soldier. It was taken in Kent. As soon as I discovered that Frederick CHAMBERS was a Royal Marine, in Kent, I searched the Internet for the name of the photographer. Several photographs by him turned up, some of Royal Marines in the same uniform. I had identified one of the pictures. Only another 52 to go!


 A Royal Marine, probably Frederick CHAMBERS.

A Royal Marine in the Album, probably Frederick CHAMBERS.


Sources: BMD indexes, Census, National Probate Index.


*John Frearson was also interested in the only non-portrait in the album: A picture of a steam engine. This has led to more research into J D PINFOLD of Rugby and a book has been published