• 1850’s Style: Prince Albert's Influence on Fashion

    The previous blog post in this series looked at the influence of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress on 1840’s fashion. Following on from this, we’re now focusing on Prince Albert’s influence on men’s Fashion in the 1950’s.

    1850’s Men’s fashion

    In the 1850s men’s fashion became bolder and more stylised. This was evidenced by wider lapels on the frock coats, which also started to become more loosely fitted. The waistcoats became more boldly patterned with metal buttons. 

    A Princely Fashion

    In fact, the style of men’s fashion still very much followed that set by Prince Albert the decade before. He made the large, distinct, mutton-chops and moustache fashionable. Men also tended to have a side-parting to their hair with an elaborate, high wave at the front. High upstanding collars on shirts and large, asymmetric bow ties, tied at the neck, also followed Prince Albert’s style (shown in the picture of Three English Gentlemen below).

    Coats were mainly in the style of tight-fitting frock coats that fastened high up to the neck, but sack coats were also becoming more fashionable. These were loose-fitting jackets that reached down to the mid-thigh (shown by the man on the right in the picture of Three English Gentlemen below left and the picture of the working-class men to the right). They would later become the modern suit coat.

    This was also the decade the Bowler Hat was invented (around 1850), but it was seen as a working man’s hat and so not worn by members of the middle- and upper-class, who favoured Top Hats.


    1850’s Women’s Fashion

    In contrast to men’s style, women generally parted their hair in the centre and tied it back in a bun or side coils, with deep bonnets. The indoor cap, commonly worn at home to cover the hair, decreased to ribbons or lace worn at the back of the head. Generally, the style was conservative and not as elaborate as in the coming decades.

    Feminist Intentions

    The main changes in fashion were Bloomers (introduced in 1851) and Hoop skirts (1856). Bloomers, often trimmed with lace, were taken up as part of the feminist movement against masculine ideas about what constituted appropriate fashion for women. Prominent Women’s Rights advocates of the time, Libby Miller, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Amelia Bloomer (writer of the groundbreaking reform paper The Lily) were pioneers of the fashion, Amelia sharing her name with the liberating garment. Bloomers became popular in the early 1850s but fell out of fashion after failing to take off in America - because of a feeling that they lacked decorum!

    The hoop skirt was more successful and greatly altered the shape of women’s skirts. It was often worn over a crinoline petticoat and had three-tiers or deep flounces in it to increase fullness. Paisley patterned shawls also became fashionable at this time. The fabrics were mainly linen or cotton, with silk or wool less common.


    In our next blog, we'll take a look at the fashions of the 1860s, helping you to date those old family photographs by the clothing.

  • 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 ‘local’ resources, as recommended by YOU!

    As Wikitree’s Sarah Callis said in her presentation during our 2021 conference: “Our ancestors are not just dates and names – they are people. And we want to learn more about them!”

    The good news is that it’s possible to build a narrative around them – and, it is actually possible to do it using free resources.

    Take one of our volunteers who is researching her Scottish roots. Using FreeCEN, she found her 3x great grandparents, William and Ellen, in the 1851 census. He was a soldier with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders, and they were currently in barracks at Stirling Castle with their three young sons. But by 1861, Ellen was a widow, living in Plymouth, earning a living as a washerwoman.

    Interest sparked, our volunteer set out to fill in the gaps. Wikipedia offered a wealth of information on the 93rd, and the Internet Archive provided an online book giving movements of the regiment. Then, contacting the archivist at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders' Museum gave further insights into army life - such as this enlightening story he told about what it meant to be an army wife: 

    “Mrs Kiddie’s husband had died. During the funeral, another soldier asked if he could marry her. To his surprise, she said it was too late – she had already agreed to marry another soldier. You see, it took a certain strength of character to be a soldier’s wife and cope with all the associated hardships of army life – and women of such character were scarce.”

    Work on building her ancestor’s story continues for our volunteer, but it just goes to show the rich range of free resources available out there. 

    An early photo, taken at Scutari, of officers and men of the 93rd Highland Regiment, shortly before their engagement in the Crimean War, 1854. Via Wikimedia Commons

    Your recommendations revealed

    So, here we go with YOUR recommendations for FREE local or occupation-specific genealogy resources. (For the national resources you recommended, please see our previous blog.)
    The first recommendation was for the Forest of Dean Family History Trust where you will find resources ranging from parish records, marriage licence allegations/bonds and census name indexes to memorial inscriptions, surname interests and summary convictions registers. Simply register to search the records for free. It also has a popular forum described as ‘a very valuable tool for breaking down brick walls’.

    Next, the Lancashire BMD and Yorkshire BMD sites were recommended as examples of several similar county projects aimed at placing the original registrars' indexes online. Note the word ‘original’ because there is a difference between the original indexes and the General Register Office (GRO) index that has been made available to the public. The GRO index consists of re-transcribed entries which were submitted quarterly to the GRO in London for the national catalogue. However, the simple act of making this secondary GRO copy introduced many errors and omissions – and that is what these various county projects seek to rectify.

    Staying with Lancashire, another recommendation was the site of the OnLine Parish Clerks (OPC) project for the County of Lancashire. Its aim is to extract and preserve the county’s parish records and provide online access to them, free of charge. It also provides other data of value to those researching in Lancashire. All information has been compiled and transcribed by volunteers who have often become involved in the project because of their interest in a particular parish where their own ancestors lived.

    Also recommended was the Cornwall OPC Database, which comprises parish records and 'extra searches' ranging from apprentice indentures and land records to muster rolls and wills. Other resources include emigration records, British Army & Navy BMD, and Cornish newspapers, plus links to useful information such as naming patterns, old occupations and trades, and online books about Cornwall.

    From a distance…

    Sheffield Indexers, another recommendation, is a site that started in 2001 with the aim of indexing genealogical information specific to Sheffield and make it available in a simple-to-access format. Access is free of charge, with all transcriptions provided by voluntary sources for the benefit of the genealogical community. It was started by Elaine Pickard who grew up in Sheffield but has lived in Ottawa for 50 years! She is ably assisted 'on the ground' in Sheffield by Vicki Theaker, who coordinates the team of transcribers. There is also a searchable message forum where anyone can ask for help from knowledgeable local genealogists.

    And now for a couple of burial site recommendations: Adur & Worthing Councils Burial Search and Bath Archives Burial Index. If your ancestor lived in the Adur and Worthing areas, this site offers a simple burial register search to enable you to find people buried in either Broadwater or Durrington cemeteries. The results tell you where they are buried and provide a map.  

    If you believe you have an ancestor buried in Bath, you can search on this site. Information can include name; dates of birth, death and burial; age at death; cemetery and grave location.

    Surprising results

    Staying with Bath, if your ancestors lived there between 1603-1990, the Bath Ancestors searchable database could be a real gem. It contains over 76,000 records of people who lived in and around Bath. The records have been indexed and transcribed by volunteers using original documents held by the Bath Record Office. The database includes brief details taken from the original sources, which is usually enough to enable you to identify individuals. The site states: “We index sources such as Coroner’s records, vaccination records, and Board of Guardian records. We’re always adding to it and it can come up with surprising results...”

    Another recommendation is Essex and Suffolk Surnames, genealogy and local history website run by one of our FreeREG transcribers, Helen Barrell. It offers transcriptions of parish registers wills and poor law records, plus other historical documents, stories about families and interesting people, and hints and tips for research. There’s also a page of links to free online books for Essex and Suffolk genealogy - and a recommendation to try Ancestorian, which is a social network just for family history.

    Staying with Essex, three more sites were recommended for this county.

    Essex Family History is a site that covers the towns and villages in the Dengie Hundred area in eastern Essex. As the site states: “Family history research has two strands – firstly, finding specific data about your ancestors; and then secondly, finding out how they lived and what their world was like.” Accordingly, the site divides its data into two areas. The Family History index includes data ranging from BMD and trade directories to court records and sporting records. The Local History index provides links to information about the area’s local and social history – for example, 'buildings and physical features', 'everyday life' or 'village statistics'.

    If your Essex ancestor was in the military, this site may help Military in Essex Family History. It covers the Essex Military, in its various forms, from 1415 up to 1958 when the Essex Regiment was amalgamated into the Royal Anglian Regiment. Or perhaps your ancestor was in the Police? If so, the Essex Police Museum could be a useful resource. It holds a large collection of service records for officers who served over 80 years ago, links to 'History Notebooks' free publications, and a digital archive of editions of the Essex Police newspaper.

    And last, but not least, the Tameside Local & Family History site was recommended. It concentrates mostly on pre-1837 resources for the towns which make up Tameside and are not available elsewhere online. There are photographs, transcriptions of trade directories, census returns, and tax assessments; historical articles about Tameside people and places; and a forum.

    Waiting to be discovered

    Thank you to everyone who submitted their recommendations – reviewing the sites has been an eye-opener for us, and just goes to show how many other similar sites must be ‘out there’. It’s just a question of looking for them, and listening out for suggestions. So, our volunteer with her Sutherland Highlander soldier should take heart – there’s still much more she can learn about him and the family. It’s just waiting to be discovered.