Thursday, October 04, 2007

October 2007 - Miniatures, Genealogy, and Research

Looking for John Williams

Recently arrived is this miniature of John Williams. Anyone who has done any family history will know how rare it is to be able to research a name as common as John Williams. Brief notes on the reverse included the intriguing suggestion he was Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Australia in 1881 and mentioned the names of some of his descendants.

Research has determined that he was not Lord Mayor of Melbourne, but has also determined the probable reason for the comment. This is similar to some comments made by family members on the TV programmes "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "The Antiques Roadshow", where there is often found to be more than a grain of truth in verbal family history.

The research has also determined the probable reason for his descendants to decide to emigrate to the United States in the 1860's.

Where to Look

In case it is of interest to visitors, the description for this miniature gives in quite some detail the research path back through United States marriage and census records, then to England census records before finally identifying him in the 1841 English census records, see Unknown - portrait of John William

There are many useful sites but apart from Google and Google Maps, the ones I use most regularly are;

It is difficult to convey how absorbing it is to undertake this type of research, perhaps like reading serious detective fiction, where the conclusion is not solved by a bullet, but has to be determined by building one small clue upon another. To a limited extent research can be done for artists from art reference books, but for most sitters and some artists much information can be found from searching family history sites and the Internet generally. The recently added miniature of George III gives an indication of what can be found on the Internet, see Princess Amelia - portrait of George III This research took about two days.

One intention in undertaking research is that any information found about a sitter or artist be incorporated into the description of the miniature, with the sitter or artist's names recorded in a form that should appear in any Internet searches done for that particular name.

Looking for Nora Selina Dobell Williams

It is satisfying to have contact from other researchers who have come across a miniature via a Google search for a name and who are then able to provide more information. The benefit for this collection is that it makes the miniature itself more interesting.

As there are so many portraits in the collection, research is ongoing and there are a number of portraits that were added into the website holus-bolus in the initial stages but which require more research. Thus occasionally contact from a visitor prompts research into a miniature, which would otherwise remain on the back burner.

Illustrating this point is a miniature of Nora Selina Dobell who married Edmund Sydney Williams in 1868.

Just this past week, a kind visitor who had been searching for Nora's husband advised he had an autobiographical account of Edmund's life, including his courtship of Nora, on his website. Edmund was 25 years older than Nora and was initially refused, but accepted on a second occasion seven months later. Thus an extract from that autobiography is now included in the description of the miniature, see Riviere, Annette Louise - portrait of Nora Selina ...

Looking for Maria Cadwalader

Another example is a mother and daughter, acquired at public auction about two years apart, but now reunited, after an unknown number of years apart from each other. They are both named Maria Cadwalader, the mother being Maria Charlotte Cadwalader, nee Gouverneur see Brown, John Henry - portrait of Mrs Maria Cadwalad.. and her daughter Maria Gouverneur Hone, nee Cadwalader, see Brown, John Henry - portrait of Mrs Maria Cadwalad...

Since then there has been input from other researchers, so it has possible to include some family photographs into the description at Brown, John Henry - portrait of Mrs Maria Cadwalad... and also determine that the daughter is related to the sitter in another miniature in this collection, that of Matthew Calbraith Perry, see Gelee, Isabelle - portrait of Commodore Perry

Publishing in book form would preclude any opportunity to revise descriptions in this manner and so the Internet is an ideal format to store both the initial image and any extra information that emerges about a sitter.

Looking for Aaron Burr

The Internet also enables hyperlinks and other images to be used to assist research and enhance a description. An example of this is an early 19C miniature of Aaron Burr which was acquired as an unknown sitter and is by an unknown artist who painted in a fairly primitive style.

By comparison with other images, the source of the portrait has been established, see Unknown - portrait of Aaron Burr where there are shown examples of a number of other portraits, all based upon an early oil portrait of Aaron Burr.

It is now thought this miniature was painted around the time of his death, probably by an amateur artist seeking to sell a commemorative portrait.

Looking for Silas Wright

Another example which has been enhanced by acquiring related artefacts is of Silas Wright, a 19C Governor of New York, see Chappel, Alonzo - portrait of Silas Wrigh

In the case of Silas Wright, the artefacts accumulated since the miniature was acquired, include postage stamps and a copy of a banknote, all with his portrait on them. They have been engraved from the miniature.

In addition there is some early 19C sheet music containing "Governor Wright's March" which was composed to celebrate his inauguration as Governor.

Looking for Anne Tuttle Jones Bullard

Also Anne Tuttle Jones Bullard, a largely forgotten American author of the early 19C, see Doyle, William - portrait of Anne Tuttle Jones Bul...

In the case of Anne Tuttle Jones Bullard, several rare books written by her in the early 19C have gradually been acquired for the collection. It has been determined she was the granddaughter of the widow of Captain Isaac Davis, one of the first casualties of the War of Independence.

In addition she was related by marriage to Harriet Beecher Stowe and may well have been an inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe when she wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

Anne had a tragic life, as six of her seven children died in infancy and her husband, the Rev Artemas Bullard, was killed together with many other people in a major railroad train wreck when a new bridge collapsed under the train.

Looking for Minnie Dibden Spooner (nee Davison)

The last name mentioned here is not an artist represented in this collection, but I have been contacted by a visitor called Alec, who is researching Minnie Dibden Spooner (1867-1949) (also Dibdin, and nee Davison) and her husband the church architect, Charles Sidney Spooner, FRIBA (1862-1938).

He is seeking any information about Minnie and especially any examples of her miniatures. He has a comprehensive list of her exhibited works, exhibited under the name Minnie Dibdin Davison, but no images. Blattel records her as active in London between 1892-1927 and her memberships as RA, RMS, WAG, New G, and RHA.

Apart from some book illustrations, the only example of Minnie's work that Alec has been able to locate so far, is shown in this photograph. She painted the reredos at St Christopher’s church, Haslemere, Surrey. Her husband was the architect of this church (1902-4), and Minnie co-designed and executed some of the furnishings. She also made a sculpture of St Christopher which stood on an outside niche, but was, alas, stolen in 1990.

Thus any images of her work or other information about her would be gratefully welcomed by email to Alec at

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