There is an advert doing the rounds on television at the moment for some new family history database service which is supposed to make tracing your ancestors as easy as sending a Paypal transfer for £100. Just press a computer key and: “Oh goodness, my grandmother was the daughter of the Duke of Beaudung“, says the happy customer, followed by “Well fancy that, my Great Uncle Percy” was with Nelson at Trafalgar“! Those of us who have actually dipped our genealogical toes into the world of old census returns and births, marriages and death notices, know it is never as easy as that. The tangled web we leave when first we practice to deceive, has nothing on the convoluted web that connects us with the past. Take, for example, Edward Gregson.
Edward Gregson was not – as far as I am aware – any relative of mine, but he was a photographer and native of my own home town of Halifax. Over the years, I have managed to collect a small number of his photographs which date from the latter half of the nineteenth century. I have featured several of these in my various blogs, and on the last occasion that I featured one of his Carte de Visites, I recklessly vowed that I was off in search of his story. We know from the studio details printed on his various photographs that he had studios both in Halifax and Blackpool, and several Halifax addresses are associated with his name, including the Central Portrait Rooms, Waterhouse Street, Bedford Street, and Lister Lane. We can’t even be sure of his name – there are referenced to both Edward Gregson and Edgar Gregson, both of whom were Halifax photographers – nor the dates when they were active. Quite clearly we have a photographic dynasty at work, and untangling it is going to be just as difficult as getting your portrait subjects to stand or sit still for long enough for your Victorian shutter to click open and closed.
What I should do, of course, is to lock myself away in a dark room, do lots of research and eventually come back to you with the fruit of my labours in the form of a clear and precise account of E Gregson, photographer and businessman. But that would be boring for me, and probably excruciatingly boring for you. Far better to join me as I dig and delve into whatever I can find out, in no particular order, and with the possibility of no precise conclusions. It is not, perhaps, as satisfying as being told that your Cousin Mabel was a pony driver for Scott’s Expedition to the Antarctic …. but at least it won’t cost you £100.
Let us start with a bit of solid evidence, which is a death notice from the Halifax Courier of 12th January 1889, of one Edward Gregson, photographer of Halifax and Blackpool who died of dropsy at the age of 56. We now have a definite birth year (1833); a death year (1889), and a definite name, Edward Gregson. Let us see where this takes us….. (to be continued …. probably)