Sunday, August 25, 2013

Identifying old photographs - 1. Richard Walker, identified by a direct link with the past

When you have an interest in genealogy an old photograph album is a treasure trove. Often one is dismayed to find that many of the photographs in it are unidentified. The compiler of the album knew the subjects perfectly well and saw no reason to label them. Unfortunately family history is an interest that tends to grip one later in life and so there are seldom family members surviving who are able to help.

When my father, Frank Walker, was in his seventies he passed on to me several albums which he had owned since his mother (Katie Cumming) had died in 1947. Many of the photographs were unidentified but at the time he pencilled in the names of many of his relatives that had been known to him. One that he identified, based on what his mother had told him, was of Richard Walker the 1820 settler, brother of Joseph Walker.
I had seen the collection of 1820 settler portraits in the Albany museum in Grahamstown and knew that, while they had a picture of Joseph, there wasn’t one of Richard, so I offered them a copy which they accepted. Shortly afterwards I got a letter (those were the days when snail mail was the only option) from Colin Steyn in the genealogy section of the museum. It surprised me in that he had identified the studio as the London Studio (afterwards Hepburn & Jeanes) which opened in 1862. This raised a doubt in his mind: “… there are three possibilities to be considered, viz.: Richard (the settler) brother of Joseph, Richard son of Richard or Richard son of Joseph …

“…Richard Walker, the settler, died in 1867 at the age of 79. He would have been 74 in 1862. While it is possible that the man in this picture might have been a well-preserved 74 years old, I am anxious to remove all doubt…”

On the back of the photograph was an inscription “Richard Walker, Father’s uncle.” I asked my father about this and he pointed out that the logical person to have written that was his Aunt Alice (Sarah Alice Walker), wife of Sir Walter Stanford. “Why,” he asked, “Don’t you write to Elliot and ask him if he recognizes his mother’s handwriting?”

Elliot Stanford was then in his late nineties; he was to live in vigourous old age until he was a hundred and four. The son of Sir Walter Stanford, he had been one of the first Rhodes scholars in 1906. Since taking his degree at Oxford he had farmed near Kokstad. I had spent some happy times on his farm as a teenager. I wrote to him, sending a copy of the inscription. He replied that he was fairly confident that it was his mother’s handwriting.

I was bowled over that it had been by a living link 1981 to someone who had known the 1820 settler that the identification of the photograph was confirmed.

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