A world looking in: how a cousin’s photograph collection can boost your research

A world looking in – how near and distant cousins may hold the key to photographs of your family branch.

With today’s culture somewhat obsessed with taking ‘selfies’ or photographs of their dinner, or their cat (i admit i’m guilty of all three), it makes me wonder how this might affect photography’s role in genealogy research in the future.

Might we find in the future that there’s billions of collections of 10,000 photographs of the same one person, and no-one else?

This week, I experienced the delightful feeling of opening up an envelope and finding 16 photographs tumble out onto my desk. Not only was this somewhat un-expected, but not one of those photographs was familiar, and there are at least 9 people who I’ve never seen in a photograph before.

Collection of photographs on a desk
Some of the 16 photographs that were kindly sent to me.

This example reminded me of the importance of looking for photographs whilst researching.

And, it reminded me that while our own ancestors or relatives were often busy holding the camera and taking photographs of things that were new, or of special occasions, they were generally not taking selfies.

This seems to be reflected in the photo albums I have. Why would they fill a photo album of photographs of themselves? They would rather have photographs of people they knew, including neighbours, friends… and those all important relatives.

Having seen this in the albums in my custody, i realised that the photo albums of cousins may well be the same, but featuring photographs that their ancestors had taken at special occasions. So, like my branch looked into their world through a lens, their world was busy looking in on my branch, and often at the same occasion – giving you a potentially fuller photographic record.

So, to discover more photos of your family branch, reach out to those cousins near and distant, and see what snaps they have. This is one of my 2015 Genealogy Resolutions (and was also one in 2014).

It was a handwritten tree and a single photograph of two adults with a horse and cart, that sparked my interest in genealogy. Since then, I’ve been lucky to have found a vast wealth of family images reaching back to the late 19th century.

This isn’t the first time that a cousin’s photographs have helped to expand my research.

A couple of years back, one of my Cooper family cousins solved a puzzle of a crudely cropped photograph, and in doing so, changed the identity of the man in the piece of photo I had.

Originally, the man below was ‘Charles Newman‘, my Great Great Great Grandfather, but tantalisingly there’s someone else in the image who has been cropped out.

John Cooper cropped image
‘Charles Newman’ in the cropped photograph…

Two years later, cousin Evol Laing, who discovered me online, revealed the rest of the image, changing his identity completely to John Cooper, and showing his sons Alfred, John and Harry. She also had other photographs to back this claim up, and a wealth of photos from the Cooper family.  The connection between Newman and Cooper? Well, the ‘Charles Newman’ had a daughter-in-law named Harriet Cooper. John was her brother.

John Cooper with his sons
John Cooper (seated) with sons (L-R) Harry, Alfred, and John.

My scanner hasn’t been this busy since my first year of genealogy research, where I scanned dozens and dozens of images from my Martin and Dewey families.

I’m now back on the photograph trail, and hopefully will be able to tick off that Genealogy Resolution for 2015.

Happy tree climbing,


Surname Saturday: Levitt

This week’s Surname Saturday focuses on the Levitt family of Swaffham Bulbeck in Cambridgeshire, England.

This week’s Surname Saturday theme posting looks at the Levitt family, who lived in the village of Swaffham Bulbeck in Cambridgeshire during the 18th and 19th century.

Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire
St Mary’s Church, Swaffham Bulbeck

My most recent Levitt ancestor was Emma Levitt, who was born in 1825 as the oldest of at least nine children of John Levitt (a blacksmith) and Elizabeth (née Skeels). She went on to become my Great Great Great Grandmother when she married Charles Newman (also of Swaffham Bulbeck) in 1847, with whom she had six children.

The earliest Levitt name bearer in the Swaffham Bulbeck parish registers appears on 12th November 1750 when my Great x6 Grandfather James Levitt married local girl Frances Roote (she was about 16 at the time).

James and Frances settled down to have nine children over a 22 year period. Their fourth child, and oldest son, born in 1758 was James Levitt – my 5x Great Grandfather. With this James having married Elizabeth Fabb and bringing three sons into the world, the youngest – John Levitt – was born in 1797. By 1824, John was married to Elizabeth Skeel, and his father was dead.

The faux-Hardings on the 1871 census
John and Elizabeth Levitt appeared as ‘Hardings’ on the 1871 census for Swaffham Bulbeck.

Swaffham Bulbeck was still home to the Levitt family, and would remain so during through the 19th Century census returns (including a stint where John and Elizabeth were disguised by their married daughter’s name on the folio – proving a small challenge to find them) whilst John and Elizabeth rear a brood of nine children – all of whom appear to have survived into adult life. The oldest of these is where the Levitt family name ends (at least for me), when their oldest child – Emma Levitt (born in 1825) married my Great Great Great Grandfather Charles Newman.

Emma’s Levitt siblings appear to have married and bore their own families, helping to keep the family alive.

Swaffham Bulbeck


There seem to be a few variants of the surname’s spelling, but the main ones that I have seen are: Levitt, Levit, Levet, Levett and Livett.

John Ayto‘s book “Encyclopedia Of Surnames” notes that Levett may have come from a few different origins.

(i) ‘person from Livet’, the name of various places in Normandy, of unknown origin; (ii) from the medieval personal name ‘Lefget’ (from Old English ‘Leofgeat’, literally ‘beloved Geat’ (a tribal name)); (iii) from a medieval Norman nickname based on Anglo-Norman leuet ‘wolf cub’.

Surname Saturday: NEWMAN

The Newman family of Cambridgeshire are this week’s Geneabloggers topic for ‘Surname Saturday’ – a story of illegitimacy, windmills and dinosaur poop.

A killer windmill, illegitimacy and dinosaur poop all play a part in shaping my paternal Newman family of Cambridgeshire.

Alfred and Harriet Newman
Alfred and Harriet Newman

My earliest known ancestor (so far) was John Newman, the husband of Hannah (née Squire). They lived in and were married in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire (as it was then in 1750). There’s no record of any earlier Newmans before this date and after parenting my ancestor Philip in 1760, there doesn’t seem to be another mention of them again.

When Philip reached 19yrs old he marries Lydia Ingle in Haddenham, Cambridgeshire in 1779 and they begin a family together. However, after their sons Thomas and Philip are born, baby Philip and Lydia die – both being buried on the same day in Somersham. This appears to leave Philip (senior) with his young son Thomas.

In September 1785, Philip re-marries, to Elizabeth Whitehead of Haddenham. The couple soon grow their family – having six children, although sadly their first (William) and fourth and fifth (Robert and James) children do not survive infancy. This leaves two daughters (Ann and Rebecca) and William.

The Windmill

In 1809 tragedy struck as Philip, working as a Miller at the mill of William and Robert Pate of Haddenham on 20th July 1809 “was caught in the works of his mill, and unfortunately killed” – as reported by the Cambridge Chronicle, dated 22nd July 1809. Philip was promptly buried the following day at Haddenham parish church where the register notes him as being both a miller and a baker. He was 49 years old.

The mill (known most recently as ‘Neville’s Mill’) no longer stands, although the windmill (The Great Mill) opposite the site is still standing and is being lovingly restored – well worth a visit to see what working in a mill may have been like.

Elias Dann

Having lost her father to the horrific sounding windmill accident at the age of about 5yrs, Rebecca Newman gave birth to a son Charles Newman in Somersham at only about 16 years of age. Whilst she was not married, parish records name an ‘Elias Dann’ as the father.

Rebecca does not go on to marry Elias, as it would seem that Elias may have already been living with his wife in nearby Wilburton. Being a fatherless teenage single mother must have been excruciatingly difficult for Rebecca in the 1820s. However, by 1826 she had married  John Seymore of Haddenham and bore him two daughters.

It appears that illegitimate Charles Newman was fully aware of who his father was, as he names him when he marries Emma Levitt at Swaffham Bulbeck, Cambridgeshire in 1847. The couple also name their youngest son ‘Elias Newman’. The couple remain in the village, with Charles becoming a blacksmith, and have six children.


Coprolites (fossilised animal dung) were found to be excellent sources of fertilizer in the 1840s. Digging them soon became big business in the fens during the mid 19th century, although it began to decrease by the 1880s. Massive manual labour forces were needed to trace and dig out the seams of dung (you can even buy them today on ebay!) and my Newman relatives briefly became part of the workforce.

The 1871 census lists Alfred Newman (the son of blacksmith Charles Newman and Emma Levitt), along with his brother Charles as a ‘Coprolite Digger’. By the time of the next census though, the industry has downsized and neither are digging for dung.

In 1877, Alfred Newman marries Harriet Cooper in Ely, Cambridgeshire. It is here where the Newman family has reached today – with many descendants of their large family still in the city and surrounding villages.

The Newman family faced terrible tragedies, but they have survived.