Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

June 3, 2013

Kirby Orphaned Photo Album - Step by Step Discoveries

Kirby Photo Album - Step by Step Discoveries
Last week I purchased another orphaned antique Photo Album. The owner's name was inscribed inside the front cover

          Maude M. Kirby

Of course I couldn't leave it in the antique store so it came home with me. The next day I started documenting and researching to see if I could find the family whose pictures were in this beautiful album.

It's been a challenge. There are very few names written in full, instead I found tantalizing references written on the backs of some of the photos: "Lillian and Baby Donalda", "4 Generations",  "Mother is 76 years old and growing younger every day" But no surnames! No hint of the relationship to the writer or the album owner.

After carefully removing and photographing all 120 photographs, I made a list of each one. I entered full details - photographer's name, location photo taken, any writing on reverse of photo, estimated time period of photo (based on visual clues such as clothing, hairstyles, type of photograph etc)

When I realized there were no clues re family surnames except for the inscription Maude M. Kirby in the front of the album, I decided to research Maude on  Unfortunately there are hundreds of Maude M. Kirby names, and without knowing a country of time period, I could not narrow the results to something manageable. Remember, I don't know when Maude owned this album and I don't believe she was the only owner as the photos range from early 1860s to late 1920s. I suspect more than one person owned this photo album

Also re country of the owner or the individuals in the album - some CDVs were from English photographers and one was from Brantford Ontario Canada. Since I purchased the album in Ontario, I had a hunch the album started its life in England and then came to Canada with family. Narrowing my search for Maude to England and then Canada and then Ontario did not help. There were still too many results.

One early CDV (ca 1870s) was of a minister. Written on the photo was his name "Rev. W. Mitchell". The photographer, Boak, was a Driffield studio.  A search online showed that Matthew Boak had a studio in Driffield as early as 1873.

Since many of the early CDVs were taken by photographers in Driffield, Yorkshire England I decided to find out what church Rev. Mitchell had ministered. It seemed to me that the family would hold their own minister in high enough regard to have his photo, and therefore they likely attended his church. A search of the church records might reveal a Kirby family or even Maude M. Kirby herself.

No need to go into details but that idea did not pan out. Yes I found Rev. Mitchell mentioned as minister of an Independent Church in Driffield and reference to a sermon he gave in 1863. But there was no mention of Kirby in the online Driffield church records and in fact Great Driffield records do not appear to be online at this time.

Lillian & Baby Donalda
I also searched on FamilySearch, thinking perhaps I could make an educated "guess" as to relationships, then enter the first names only. For example the photo with writing "Lillian and Baby Donalda" was a picture of a woman and a young baby. It appeared to be taken ca 1920s and my theory was that Lillian was the mother with her child. So I searched for a child Donalda born ca 1920-1930 with mother Lillian but was met with disappointment.

Continuing to search with so little information was proving fruitless so hubs and I laid the photos out on our coffee table and began studying them for clues. It is amazing what you can discover if you really study and analyze such things as the background of a photo, the architecture of a building, the vegetation in an outdoor snap.

This is not a quick or easy process and took us several days of intensive study and discussion - comparing our findings with each other, trying to confirm hunches and basically coming up with any new clues or theories that we could. I made lists of all the clues we were discovering.

For example, one outdoor photo was of a monument of some kind with statues of Indians. On the verso in handwriting it said "Victoria Park 1907" A Google search turned up dozens of Victoria Park references in different countries so that wasn't much help. But the Indian statues provided a clue that this photo was likely taken in North America and not England or another country.

Then we did a reverse image search using Google and there it was - the monument in the photo was of Joseph Brant and is on display in Brantford Ontario. So we had another reference to Brantford. It wasn't enough to enable us to find the family but at least it confirmed that Brantford had some connection to the family.

My journey continues and through this blog I will share the clues, the discoveries, the successes and the failures in my hunt to discover where this album belongs and what family held it so dear for over 60 years. Readers can follow along with me by using the link for Kirby Photo Archive


Celia Lewis said...

Every photo contains so many small clues - I can just imagine you and hubs scanning and searching for any detail! Two pairs of eyes are so helpful!

Polly said...

Matthew Boak is my great, great, great grandfather. Matthew was a Deacon at Driffield Congregational Church for quite a while, perhaps the photographed Reverand was a personal friend.

Best wishes from Driffield.