Faces from an unexplored past

eft: Jessie Susan Harris, born 21 March 1868 Christchurch, died 13 June 1923, Hororata aged 55 right: Alice Margaret Wright, born 12 October 1872 Kaiapoi, died 10 August 1930 Washdyke photo by Eden George, Christchurch. From This photograph album was owned by Jack Thomas Frederick Baker until his death in 2003. It was previously owned by his mother Clara Elizabeth Harris (1873-1945).

Great grandmother, Jessie Susan Harris (left), and sister in law (?) Alice Margaret Wright. Photo by Eden George, Christchurch. From photograph album owned by Jack Thomas Frederick Baker, son of Clara Elizabeth Harris (1873-1945). With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for sending me the link to Clara’s album (canterburyphotography.blogspot.co.nz), and others.

We can’t help ourselves. We look at family photos and can’t help trying to find some resemblance between those we know and love, and the the faces in pictures.

The hallway in my house has become a rogues gallery of family photos and there is much pleasure to be had watching visitors scrutinize them, trying to establish who’s who. My son is regularly mistaken for his father in one photo, and an older cousin in another; while I increasingly see myself in the faces of my maternal aunts.

For family historians, photographs are the ultimate treasure. We spend so long trying to put flesh on the bones of our ancestors, that to see the faces of these long-dead men and women is a sweet pleasure indeed.

My partner is fortunate to share in a large collection of photos (now digitised) from his mother’s side of the family, but until very recently we had virtually none from his father’s side.

Roger Andrew Gray with his parents, Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray. c. 1956. Photo: Gray-Dove family archive.

Paternal line. Roger Andrew Gray with his parents, Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray. c. 1956. Photo: Gray-Dove family archive.

This changed when a fellow blogger (Belinda Lansley, at Great Grandma’s Wicker Basket) recognised the Big T’s paternal grandmother, Merle Matilda Laura Wright as a friend of her own great grandmother, Dorothy Lord. In Belinda’s collection of family photos were several of Merle, her sister Clara and other members of the Wright family. These she generously shared with me.

Dorothy Lord, Clara Wright, May Lord, Merle Wright early 1920s. With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for allowing me to reproduce this image.

Dorothy Lord, Clara Wright, May Lord, Merle Wright early 1920s. With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for allowing me to reproduce this image.

Belinda also sent me the link to a photograph album belonging to another member of Merle’s extended family (Early New Zealand Photographers), and it is through these sources that we have begun to learn a little about this branch of the family.

Merle was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1904, to Jessie Susan Harris and Sidney Robert Wright. The couple married in Timaru in 1890, and had eight children; Harry, Margaret, Fred, Alice, Sidney, Merle, Clara and Frank (Source: Births, Deaths and Marriages NZ)

Jessie Harris (shown in the first photo with Alice Margaret Wright) was born on March 21st, 1868, in Christchurch, twin sister of Henry Richard Harris.

The photo below is Jessie’s brother Henry, with Sidney Wright — Jessie’s husband. It appears that both families lived in Ohoka, a small rural settlement near Christchurch, and would presumably have known each other. Did Jessie marry her twin’s best friend?

Jack Baker's album page 5

Henry Richard Harris (left) with Sidney Robert Wright. Photo by Eden George – Christchurch. With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for sending me the link to Clara’s album (canterburyphotography.blogspot.co.nz).

Sidney was born three weeks after the Harris twins, on 9 April 1868. He was the third of six children born to Robert Marshall Wright and Matilda Ann Baker (married 1859: source BDM New Zealand).

Another photo in the same album shows Jessie and Henry as small children with their mother, Sarah Ann Duffull. A note with the photograph indicates that Sarah was born in Croyden, England. Her marriage, to Nathaniel Harris, took place in New Zealand in 1867. The couple appears to have had 10 children, including two sets of twins (source: BDM, NZ).

I haven’t been able to find New Zealand birth records for Nathaniel Harris, Robert Wright or Matilda Baker, so it would appear that all four of Merle Wright’s grandparents were born outside of New Zealand, and immigrated either as children, or young adults, making the Big T a fourth generation Kiwi.

Sarah Anne Duffull with her children Jessie Susan and Henry Richard Harris. c. 1871

Sarah Anne Duffull with her children Jessie Susan and Henry Richard Harris. c. 1871. Photo by Eden George – Christchurch. Grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for sending me the link to this photo.

Far left, Jessie Harris, middle seated, May Lord. Other's unknown. Image courtesy of Belinda Lansley.

Far left, Jessie Harris, middle seated, May Lord, family friend and great grand aunt of Belinda Lansley, who has kindly shared this photo with me. The identity of the other women and the children is unknown.

One of the great joys of genealogy blogging is meeting distant relatives and others with shared connections to the past. When Belinda generously shared photos with me, she gave my family the chance to see the faces of men and women who helped shape the people that my partner and son are today. For that, I am extremely grateful.

This post was written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme at Where’s My Backpack.

 

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26 thoughts on “Faces from an unexplored past

  1. Priceless family photos with a nice vintage feeling and a touch of nostalgia!I can imagine your hallway,it sounds like a gallery with old sepia & b/w photos hanging on the walls!Great idea and a very special tribute to your ancestors!Have a nice & creative day,dear friend Su πŸ™‚ xxx

    • Thank you dear Doda. Our gallery is something we have always wanted, and admired in others’ homes. It came to life after we renovated the house, and it is such a talking point with friends. Have a lovely evening my dear friend. xx

        • Hehe. When the boy-child was doing photography at school, I actually considered staging an exhibition at our house, inviting people and letting him have the chance to sell his work. He wasn’t keen — I think he didn’t feel confident that he could sell any.

  2. Wow, I can’t believe she recognized her great-grandmother’s friend! That is just amazing. What wonderful photos. Belinda is so kind to have shared all these.

  3. What a great story about finding family photos (so sad when I see many orphaned photos in flea markets and antique stores, and can’t help wondering if somewhere there are family members who would love to have them)

    • Thank you’ we’re really grateful to have them. I know what you mean; I rummage through photos in junk shops and occasionally buy some. I have a couple on my office pin-board that just totally fascinate me. Must write about them sometime! Cheers, Su.

  4. OMG – what are the chances of one blogger recognizing a long ago face in a photo from another blogger?!! What an amazing story and how wonderful to get never-before-seen photos that provide a link in the family history!

    • Hi Joanne. I gather the Wright and Lord families were really close, and sent each other photos quite often. Belinda’s photos had Merle and her sister’s names on the back, so when I mentioned that Merle was my grandmother-in-law, she got in touch. It has reinvigorated my interest in that side of the family — I even found Merle’s grandfather’s Will online last night. Guess there goes my weekend!

  5. “For family historians, photographs are the ultimate treasure.” Oh, so right. What luck that you met Belinda! I love stories like this. I’m a huge believer in the power of blogging to make connections that we never could have imagined.

    • Hi Lesley. Me too. I have made so many unexpected connections. A few distant family members, but also people with links to places I’ve written about (like our old flat at Gayhurst House), and non-family connections to people, like Belinda. In this case, it’s given me a whole new area of research. And because the Big T has so many NZ ancestors, it makes road-trips (I mean “research” trips) so much more affordable and easy. πŸ™‚

  6. Reblogged this on Zimmerbitch and commented:

    After hitting a bunch of brick walls in my own family history research, I’ve returned to looking at the Big T’s, and particularly his paternal grandmother’s family. Oh how I love New Zealand information sources. Now I just have to start writing this up.

  7. Pingback: Opening the door on a new journey – Shaking the tree

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