I know it’s an unusual birthday to celebrate but in the field of genealogy/photography Henry Fox Talbot is an important man. He was born on the 11th of February 1800 in Dorset, England. He could be regarded as one of the fathers of modern photography as the practices he developed allowed for the modern processes we use today to be developed.
Now Henry did not invent photography but he did develop new methods for making more stable pictures. He discovered ways to treat the glass plate in the camera so that with the long exposure times required the image would not be lost if too much sunlight entered the camera lens. Thus hours of work were not lost. Also he developed a process which allowed a photograph to be taken in bright sunlight in just a few minutes. His greatest development was discovering a process which would allow a negative image to be printed multiple times on to paper and thus allow for mass availability of an image. So if you can make mass images from one negative you can sell pictures of important events such as the monarch seated on their throne. Also if the event was outside images could be taken quickly so an image of a disaster could be taken for future reference. For example from 1864 there are photos of the devastation caused by the Great Sheffield Flood. This could have been examined to find out why the dam wall failed and thus may have prevented another dam from collapsing.
It should be pointed out that other scientists were also making the same developments and other innovations at same time and thus who invented the processes first is debatable but Henry Fox Talbot’s work in the field cannot be ignored.
So I’ve discussed in the past how important photography is to genealogy as through old photos of our ancestors we truly get an image of the past. But one way that photography helped out ancestors and thus modern genealogists was through post mortem photographs. Now this does not mean the images taken at crime scenes or of murder victims. It was the taking of photographs of loved ones after they had died so you had a permanent memento of them.
Warning! Post mortem image
This is an image of a girl with her parents taken after she had died. Now some may not like the idea of such a photo being taken, but this could be the only way for the parents to remember their daughter. If you didn’t know you would think it was just a family photo, but in this image if you look closely you can see something is not quite right. The girls image is totally crisp and sharp where as her parents have a slight blur to them as if they didn’t remain perfectly still for the exposure of the image.
Post mortem images were very often tastefully done, especially with young children. In these images the child is usually placed in such a way as they just looked like they were having a nap either in bed or in their parent’s arms. Although there are exceptions to this. There is a picture form the 1940’s of a Syrian bishop seated on his throne at his own funeral.
So to all the men and women who had a hand in developing the camera, negative, lens and final photograph thank you. You may not have realised it at the time but you opened the world of genealogy up by letting us see the faces of our ancestors no matter what stage of their life they were in.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!