As much as I want to increase the number of people in my database of Heenans, it gets a bit tedious just adding factual information and source citations. It’s much more fun to delve into some of the stories about those individuals that turn up in the records.
So I’ve joined a 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge which will prompt me to write about a different theme or topic each week, using my research to find the human interest stories.
I’m unlikely to achieve 52 articles – for one thing I’m already late to the party. But I’ll do as many as I can.
This week’s topic is “family photos” and I’ve selected an image of a family in Hillsborough, County Down, Ireland.
This is the family of Mary Jane Heenan (nee Walker) who is shown in the middle of the picture surrounded by four of her children. She took over running of a pub in Main Street, Hillsborough on the death of her husband Richard.
I chose this image because it illustrates how often family research involves detective work – and although we ideally want concrete evidence and sources, sometimes we have to make deductions based on slivers of evidence.
The detective work involved here is trying to put a date to this image. I’m leaning towards it being early 1900s. There are a few clues that point me in that direction:
- The ages of the children in this picture correspond with the ages given in the 1901 census. So we have the youngest Richard, aged 3, in the white smock, Thomas George, aged 5 sitting on the chair to the right, James, aged 8 to the left and standing at the back 10-year-old Mary Jane. Her mother was 41 years old at the time of the census – about the same age as the woman in this photograph.
- Mary’s husband Richard is not included in the photograph. Family portraits from the 1850s on tended to show either just a married couple or the whole family. So why wasn’t Richard included? Was he away from home at the time? It’s conceivable but I think unlikely – the family would probably have waited for his return before heading to the photographer’s studio. I think it more likely that he had died by the date of this grouping.
- The dark nature of Mary’s dress reinforces this interpretation – it’s the sombre style of clothing hat would be appropriate for a widow . The daughter is also dressed as if in mourning. I’ve tried to work out a date for the photograph from the style of dress but it’s not possible to narrow this down to less than a decade.
- I know however that in the Victorian era, widows were expected to wear full mourning for two years and for children who were mourning parents the period of time was one year. We know that Richard Heenan died in April 1900 so I’m surmising that this image was taken still within that period of mourning – in other words sometime between April 1900 and April 1902.
Mary Jane Heenan is part of family group 208. One of her sons, Thomas George, was killed during World War 1. You can read his story here. Details of the family can be found in the database via this link.