Seeking the people behind the posters

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Think of the Second World War propaganda machine, and it can seem a very large and impersonal concern. But consider the artwork, particularly the photographic images and posters that were created to help encourage support for the British war effort, and the faces we see peering back at us from across the decades are those of real people – our ancestors. But who precisely are we seeing?

Now, as family historians, we’re certainly not happy to settle for the broadbrush approach to history – we want to know the details exactly. Yes – the hard and fast facts of names, dates and places never lose their appeal.

With the 75th anniversary of the start of the Second World War upon us, while many of those who lived through those years are still around to inform us, let’s do our best to find out these people.

Perhaps you were one of the children featured in a WW2 propaganda photo or poster? Perhaps you were a cheery housewife helping with the make-do-and-message? Or the victim of an enemy bombing raid? Not all propaganda was upbeat – just as we see images on the news of injured children tucked up in hospital beds to tug at heart-strings today, so it was in the war-torn Britain of the Forties. So, if you were the subject of a WW2 poster or photo, or perhaps one of your family members was, we would love to hear from you.

In our October issue we ran an article on WW2 propaganda posters by Home Front historian John Leete, so please either get in touch directly with John (email, or via the magazine (email Helen Tovey Click here to read John’s fascinating article.

Photo-dating with Jayne Shrimpton

Every issue family history photo-dating expert Jayne Shrimpton casts her knowledgeable eye over pictures that Family Tree readers have sent in. Unfortunately we do receive a huge number of photo-dating queries, and just can’t squeeze them all into Family Tree, so please find an extra Family Tree reader’s photos and Jayne’s insightful answer below. You never know – the clues she gives may help you date family pictures of your own. Enjoy!


Q I have obtained a copy of a rather unusual old picture in the form of a collection of portraits (probably from cameos or miniatures), arranged around a larger central one. These people relate to my maternal ancestors connected to my Gooch family of Suffolk and Cornwall. Could you suggest a date range for the person in the large central image from his dress style and appearance? I attach an enhanced copy of this image and a copy of the entire group. Comments about any of the other images in the group would also be appreciated.
George Waller

A This is a ‘composite’ portrait – a collection of separate portraits displayed together in the one picture. This sort of work, published, for example, by stationers, was popular especially in the later 18th and 19th centuries, when it was fashionable to collect likenesses of figures from history. Typically these would be famous personalities, but presumably it was also possible to have a composite picture made of one’s ancestors.

The different portraits in this composite picture range in date from the early-1500s/Tudor period (eg No.4) to the later 1700s (eg No.1). The evidence of dress and hairstyle indicates that the larger central portrait is from the 1640s or 1650s – the era of the Civil War in Britain. Presumably that gentleman is the focal subject of this collection and may hold the key to the identities of all the other subjects.

Celebrating 30 years of family history

Family Tree November 2014Today is a very special day. Our November 2014 issue has gone on sale, marking 30 years of Family Tree. Happy birthday to us and thank you to all of you lovely readers for your loyal support!

Family Tree has a unique history as it was Britain’s first commercially available hobby magazine for family historians and genealogists, so a real trail-blazer. Family Tree Magazine, as it was then known, made its debut in November 1984, after being put together by Michael and Mary Armstrong on a dining-room table in Ramsey, Cambridgeshire using a Brother typewriter.

Today Family Tree remains the UK’s only independent magazine sold in the newstrade for family historians and genealogists. Run by a small team who are passionate about family history, we are still based in the little town of Ramsey but have a worldwide readership.

We’re hugely proud of our roots and feel honoured to still be supporting family historians with their (and our!) much-loved genealogy pursuits. [Read more...]

From the Family Tree archives

Family Tree is celebrating its 30th birthday this year! With the November 2014 issue Family Tree will be 30 years old and by some margin the oldest national family history magazine published in Britain. Michael Armstrong, the founder of Family Tree, has been delving into the archives, recalling some of the treasures we’ve published, many of which were sent in by our readers over the years…

In our September-October 1985 issue we published an article by Colin Parry entitled ‘Beautiful Forever’ proving that even as far back as 1868 women who wished to improve their looks were open to fraud just as they can be nowadays. Colin told the story of a lady who called herself Madame Rachel. Rachel was sentenced to five years penal servitude for extracting money from middle aged ladies on the pretence of making them ‘beautiful forever’.

After being declared bankrupt in 1862 she was nevertheless determined to make her fortune. In 1861 a Colonel Alfred Borrodaile of the Madras Light Infantry died, leaving his wife a widow. Mary, hoping to marry again, set her sights on the 7th Viscount Ranelagh and was so determined that, patently deceived, she paid Madame Rachel the then enormous sum of £5,300 to make her ‘beautiful forever’. Inevitably the ministrations failed and Madame was tried for false pretences between 22 and 25 September 1868, found guilty, and was sentenced to five years penal servitude. Her sentence was reduced for good behaviour and she was released on a ticket of leave in 1872. Wasting no time in getting back to business she set up a shop at 29 Duke Street, Portland Place, London.

All went well until 1877, when Cecilia, the wife of stockbroker Godfrey Pearse, having handed over a quantity of jewellery in exchange for being made beautiful forever was not satisfied with the result. Madam Rachel appeared before Baron Huddleston at the Central Criminal Court from 10 to 11 April 1878 on the now familiar charge of false pretences and once again received a sentence of five years penal servitude, Disappearing behind the door of Millbank prison. By 15 July 1878 she was clearly a sick woman, and was transferred to Woking prison where she was found to be suffering from a combination of rheumatism, heart disease and dropsy to which she succumbed in the prison hospital on Tuesday 12 October 1880.

Rachel had seven children by her mutiple husbands, one of whom was a singer named Rosa Cromond who, says the author, had a less than humdrum life but that is another story.

For readers who may be interested in possible relationships with the lady, she firstly married a chemist from Manchester, whose name was not mentioned but from where she no doubt obtained her extensive knowledge of perfumes, face enamels and cosmetics. Her second marriage to James Moses ended abruptly when he was in the sinking of the Royal Charter on 26 October 1859. At this time she was established as a hair restorer at 5 Conduit Street. She may have benefited materially from James’s untimely death, since she took over a premises in New Bond Street, under the name of ‘Madam Rachel, Enameller and Vendor of Cosmetics’. In this year she married a Philip Nevison who kept a a fried fish shop in Vere Street, Clare Market.

Family history, archives and the referendum question…

With the Scottish referendum only hours away now, we thought we’d quickly share with you an article we published a year ago in Family Tree. In it punchy genealogist Chris Paton weighed up the possible implications of a Yes or No vote in the Scottish referendum, and the effects that a possible split might have on our archives, our shared heritage and – by implication – each of our own family histories.

Find the article in the pdf links to follow:

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