Breathing new life into an old photograph

I thought i’d try out a photo restoration service to see if it could breathe new life into an old WWI photograph of my Gt Grandfather – here’s the results!

You might remember that during my 2015 Genealogy Resolutions, I aimed to grow my collection of family photographs.

The up-shot of that is that I have about a dozen old original photos that are creased, flaking, distorted, torn – I’m sure I’m not alone in having these. I also have a few that are modern prints of damaged photographs – where I’ve been able to temporarily borrow a photo to copy it.

Each one of these is just that little bit imperfect that it doesn’t quite make the grade when it comes to enlarging, printing or framing.

As the new year chimed in, I received an email out of the blue from Pick Nick Photo Restoration Services, in Kent, here in the UK.

Pick Nick Photo Restoration Services logo

I’d not really prioritised my photo restoration, as I can meander my way around the likes of Photoshop okay-ish and have made some improvements to the lesser-damaged images in the past, but nothing too adventurous. I think I’d mentally filed the more damaged images in my ‘to-do’ file… you know, the one that must be huge and probably has a 10yr waiting list. That one.

Trying out a photo restoration service

So, on the offer of a freebie, I thought that I’d give it a go. Why not? I get a photo repaired and Pick Nick gets a photo to show off in their portfolio. Everyone’s happy.

So, let’s take a look at the original – this is a photograph of my Great Grandfather, Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey. He served as a Private in the First World War, with The Suffolk Regiment, The Royal Munster Regiment, and The Royal Irish Fusiliers, and saw action in Gallipoli.

Pte Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey on horse (before)
BEFORE: My Great Grandfather Pte Ernest Dewey on a horse during the First World War. Photo: Andrew Martin.

…and within a few days, I received an email back from Pick Nick with the photo restoration job done.

Pte Ernest Dewey on horse - after photo restoration by Pick Nick
ABOVE: My Great Grandfather’s WWI photo looks as good as new after Pick Nick’s restoration (the watermark is purely to protect this image online – i have one without).

I’m really impressed at the result. The photo is much crisper and the sepia level is less aggressive, but those creases have been removed, and the missing bits of the photo that have long since flaked away, have been replaced – seamlessly returned to their rightful place about 100 years since the photograph was first taken.

To feed my curiosity (I’m never one to shy away from such nerdery), Pick Nick sent me a video link that shows the photo restoration done in 3 minutes. From my own dabbling experience, I know it would have taken hours rather than the 3 minutes to do – it’s a very tricky art to master!

So, bringing new life to an old photo has inspired me to rummage and find some more photos that could do with a new lease of life in 2016.

For now though, I definitely know who to recommend if I’m looking for someone to restore my old photos in future.

Happiness, Sadness, and Pride: writing the eulogy

With the death of my grandmother, I was asked to write her eulogy. The happiest, saddest, and proudest piece of writing i’ve ever done.

My grandmother passed away on New Year’s Eve, after several months of hospital care from the ever-brilliant NHS. She was 83, and the last of my grandparents.

My grandmother with her very first Great Grandchild, c.2005. Photo: Andrew Martin.
My grandmother with her third Great Grandchild, c.2008. Photo: Andrew Martin.

As we wait, for what here in the UK feels like a huge drawn-out time for churchyard burial to take place, I found myself being asked to write her eulogy by my mother and her siblings.

I won’t be reading it out. Nor will I post it here. But taking the phone call from my mother where she asked me to write it, I soon found myself feeling a huge wave of happiness, sadness, and pride all rushing at me all at once.

I spent a lot of time with my grandmother during school holidays – playing games, helping her and my grandfather in their allotment, helping what felt like an ever-lasting task of weeding the rockery and not trying to fall in their pond, singing and dancing to records, walking to her local village shops and on to her parents and in-laws to whom she provided daily care, and many bus trips in to Ely.

I remember my mother catching me packing my suitcase for my first solo stay – i was putting loose eggs in my suitcase. I didn’t know how these things worked, and I wanted to be sure I’d get fed. Of course I was.

grandparents marriage 1953
My grandparents’ marriage in 1953. Photo: Andrew Martin

In later life, after the death of my grandfather and her reliance on a wheelchair, as both of us lived alone, we were also kindred spirits. She’d revel in telling me funny risqué stories of her teenage years of dating, or the trouble she caused her parents, and of adventures of dances and trips away with her local friends – and her ‘how i met your grandfather’ stories that she’d certainly never tell my mother, aunt, or uncle!

She was my rebel grandmother. Game for a laugh, a joke, and a singsong. A gadget girl – she was the first person i knew to get a thing called a ‘microwave’ – a huge white thing which she kept in the cupboard, and it weighed a ton. She also had DVDs and CDs long before I or my parents did.

She also had a lazy susan in a kitchen cupboard that spun merrily around to reveal ‘the tin’ – which was where the chocolates lived (albeit briefly) and were magically replenished by kind unseen hands.

She had a green and yellow budgie named Joey (probably more than one to be honest) – who eventually learnt to say his name back to her after years of her saying ‘Joe-Joe Dewey’ at it. My cousins would secretly do impressions of her saying that – which I’ve got here on cassette somewhere.

My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic.
My grandmother, reading me a story, whilst my sister pretends to be angelic, and 70’s wallpaper upstages us all. Photo: Andrew Martin.

She was also an absolute raffle fiend, and would win at least 2 prizes for every raffle she took part in – even if it was to win a wholly unsuitable prize – that prize was hers, and like some strange economy, she’d often put those prizes back in to the next raffle. I swear that tin of Heinz Ravioli did the local raffle/bingo circuit for a good few years.

She also delighted my 7yr old ears one school holiday breakfast time, when she went to pick up a bottle of milk she’d had delivered by the milkman. She dropped it. It broke. Then, in a flash of a second which instantly boosted my adoration of her, she ran a 5 word string of mild expletives without pause or breath. I think she realised that I had heard her from the kitchen as it was only herself and I in the house, but my little ears were utterly impressed, and I can hear her say it right now as I type – these 30 years later.

I’ve never written a eulogy before. I heard my cousin (on my other side of the family) read one for  his mother a few years back. I don’t quite remember what was in it, more the way he delivered it, but in a way, I just knew how to write my grandmother’s one. I knew I had to make it funny (to match her sheer sense of mischief), respectful (to match the occasion), and touching, with lots of memories for those cousins, neighbours, friends etc listening.

Pamela Maud Barber c1938
My grandmother in an almost timeless photo, circa 1938. Photo: Andrew Martin.

Keeping roughly to chronology, I found it easy to write, and not as daunting as I first thought, but I had to partly put my family historian aside, and let it just come from the heart too.

I emailed it to my mother. Her only words were ‘perfect. thank you‘, and thankfully my aunt, and my uncle agreed. I don’t know why they thought I should write it, but I’m very grateful they did.

It is a bit rollercoaster, but in a verse I found in my grandmother’s Ely Senior Girls school exercise book from June 1945, I found some inspiration that got me writing, and wondered whether this inspired her in life too as she wrote it down (it seems to be a copy of something, but I don’t know what):

When oft-times plans don’t work out right,
And you are feeling blue.
There is one way to make you bright,
I recommend to you…
– keep smiling.

And that kind of sums her up really. Laughter, happiness, joy, mischief, and a never-ending stream of positivity, and without a doubt, huge waves of love for us all.

My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i'm the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin
My grandmother with my sister, cousin, and me (yes, i’m the squawker at 11wks old). Photo: Andrew Martin

Wordless Wednesday – posing in 1953 and 1973

Wordless Wednesday: Both sets of maternal Great Grandparents pose in 1953 and then again in the same formation, 20 years later in 1973.

Barber and Dewey great grandparents pose for a photo in 1953
Both sets of Maternal Great Grandparents in 1953…
Ernest and Maude Barber, with Susan and Ernest Dewey, at the wedding of their granddaughter Glenda Ann Dewey to Stephen Leslie Martin at Witchford, 1973.
and by complete serendipity, they pose in the same order 20 years later, in 1973.

Wedding Wednesday – 1929 (another visit)

This week’s Wedding Wednesday themed post stays in 1929, and visits George Moden and Lily Dewey as they walk down the aisle at Wentworth church, Cambridgeshire.

We’re staying in 1929 for this week’s Wedding Wednesday themed blog post.

This time, it’s the turn of George Edward Moden and Lily Dewey, at Wentworth, Cambridgeshire.

George Edward Moden and Lily, 1929
The second Moden/Dewey marriage – George’s sister had already married Lily’s cousin.

George was the youngest brother of my Great Grandmother Susan, whilst Lily was also related – being a distant cousin to Susan’s husband (and my Great Grandfather) Ernest Dewey.

This wedding also provides me with the largest photograph in my collection – an entire family group – featuring everyone from parents to bridesmaids, to best man and the vicar.

George Edward Moden and Lily Dewey's Wedding, 1929
A great 1929 wedding photo. Parents are seated at the far ends of the front row, with the bridesmaids either side of the newlyweds. The best man stands immediately behind them, and the rest is filled in with family, and the vicar. (Click for big)

The great thing about these wedding photos, is that it’s perfect for finding photos of relatives that you might not otherwise ever discover. A photograph of a great aunt for example, might never materialise because her own family have kept those.. but with these kind of group wedding pictures, you get a wide net with which to catch a family (and most smile).

In this example above, i’m fairly confident that nearly all of the people in this photograph are relatives of mine – from both the bride and groom’s sides.

George Edward Moden and Lily Dewey

The couple enjoyed 54 years of marriage until Lily died in 1983. George survived her by 15 years – dying in 1998 – not long after I began my research. I never met him, but his recollections were crucial to my early Moden research.

Wedding Wednesday – 1925

This week for Wedding Wednesday, I’ve gone back to 1925, to the wedding of my Great Grandparents Ernest Dewey and Susan Moden at Ely, Cambridgeshire.

This week’s Wedding Wednesday blog post, visits Ely in 1925, when my Great Grandparents were married.

After a nine year courtship, that reached back from November 1925, and into the First World War, Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey and Susan Jane Moden were wed at St Mary’s Church.

I’ve only stumbled across two photographs from this wedding, and neither of these show the bride or groom.

Here’s the first photograph – in very poor condition – showing their bridesmaids and the best man.

Bridesmaids Gladys (left) and Grace (right) with the mystery Best Man (centre).
Bridesmaids Gladys (left) and Grace (right) with the mystery Best Man (centre).

Their bridesmaids were Ernest’s cousin Gladys Anderson, and Susan’s younger sister Grace Violet Moden. Here is the other photograph, which has clearly been better looked after.

Gladys Anderson and Grace Moden in 1925
Gladys Anderson and Grace Moden in 1925

The best man is currently nameless, but a newspaper check should hopefully reveal his identity.

Ernest had many brothers, and Susan had just one. This man could easily be any one of those siblings (as was seemingly often done in this part of the family), or someone entirely different.

Wedding Wednesday – 1953

The first of my Wedding Wednesday blog series, travels back to the sleepy village of Wentworth, Cambridgeshire in 1953.

In the first of my Wedding Wednesday blog series, I’ve decided to travel back to 1953, when my maternal grandparents walked the aisle during April.

In the tiny village of Wentworth, my grandparents married. My grandfather being 21 and my grandmother being 20.

Here’s the final moments of my grandmother as a single woman, on the arm of her father. She was his only child.

Pamela and father Ernest Herbert Barber 1953

And a little bit later, the happy couple emerge. Kudos to my grandfather there for that severe ‘short-back and sides’ look.

The happy couple

And here are the bridesmaids in line.

Pamela Barber's bridesmaids

Some of the wedding party, which includes my Grandparents, Great Uncle, Great Grandparents, and Great Great Grandmothers.

Wedding Family Group

The proud parents – my Great Grandparents – (L-R) Ernest Herbert and Maude Barber, with Susan Jane and Ernest Edward Thomas Dewey.

Parents at wedding

Finally, Starr & Rignall (a popular photographer’s studio) produced a series of colourised versions of some of the photos. Here’s one of them to give you an idea of the dresses.

Colourised 1953 Wedding Group

Gordon and the Giant Cake

A mystery photograph of my great uncle Gordon Dewey, staring into a bowl of cake mix.

Found this unusual old photograph in a photo album – it’s been through some tough times, so I thought I better scan it before it gets any worse.

A man and three women with a large bowl of cake mix

The man in the photograph is my grandfather’s youngest brother, Gordon Dewey. Quite why he’s with three women staring into a large bowl of cake mix is a complete mystery. I think the photograph is possibly one taken by a newspaper photographer – due to the original’s size and paper – it being different from all other photos in the collection.

At a guess, the woman on the far left is his girlfriend, Maisie, who appears in a couple of other photographs and is someone that my grandmother remembers, but I have no record of her surname.

Sadly, Gordon died aged 20 from a brain haemorrhage in November 1954. He never married, and he died without issue.

How To: Have your ancestor’s headstone cleaned and stood back up (Part One)

Article detailing the first two steps in exploring how to get my great great grandparents’ headstone cleaned and re-stood in a UK churchyard.

If whilst doing the graveyard shift of your family history research, you find one of your ancestor’s headstones in a less-than-favourable condition, what can you do about it?

This article might help you if you’re in the UK and thinking of having a gravestone cleaned up, repaired, or re-stood up.

My Great Great Grandparents’ headstone toppled over at some point in 2011 or early 2012. It had always seemed sturdy, so this came as a surprise. I wonder whether it might have been helped on its way down? I’ll never know.

John and Elizabeth Dewey gravestone laying down in 2012
John and Elizabeth’s gravestone in 2012 – may have fallen over as long ago as 2011.

When the headstone fell backwards, it landed partly on the kerb stones of the grave behind it, but fortunately it appears that neither grave sustained any damage.

During the 00s, the church had a tidy up of their churchyard, and this included removing the kerb stones from the grave in order to help them mow the grass (don’t think they asked!). This would have probably have contributed to the gravestone’s instability, as it was never designed to stand on its own. Also, the grave stands in Cambridgeshire, and therefore with the heavy clay soil, it is prone to movement.

John Freeman Dewey and Eliabeth (née Boulter) grave in 1990s
The grave of John and Elizabeth, complete with some kerbstones, in about 1996.

Step One: The Church

My first step was to email the church to find out how to go about having it re-stood and possibly cleaned. I received a friendly and helpful email back from the Canon to say that the church is not involved in that process but that I should contact a stonemason directly as they would then do the necessaries.

Understandably the Cannon asked that, if I did go through with some work and the stone needed to be removed (perhaps for cleaning), that it would be best to keep her and/or the churchwarden in the know, so that its removal doesn’t suddenly trigger a search for a missing headstone.

So, next step is the stonemason for an idea on costs and feasibility of cleaning it.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some lichen in the UK are protected by law, so I’m hoping that this will not be an issue here – and that I can bring this headstone back up to how it would have looked in 1943 after John Dewey’s burial.

My reasoning for contacting the church first was down to a couple of conversations i’ve heard over the years about being charged by the church for setting a stone in place. No fee has been mentioned – perhaps an indication that the Cannon would be pleased to see a tidier graveyard.

Step Two: Contacting the Stonemasons

After Googling for stonemasons in the appropriate county, I emailed 3 of them to ask for rough ideas of prices for both the re-standing and cleaning parts, and included a link to the photo of the grave laying down.

Essentially I have a few questions about the whole process:

  • Cost for re-standing
  • Cost for cleaning
  • Insurance – what happens if the stone breaks whilst in their care?
  • Marker – does a grave get a marker to a) mark the position of the grave and b) alert any visitors to the grave as to where/why the stone isn’t there?

Admittedly I haven’t asked the last two questions yet, but as I don’t have a massive budget, I want to know that I have the first two options covered first.

… to be continued….