The Camera Doesn’t Lie – But the Caption Might. A Lesson in Family History Evidence

This post is dedicated to my dad who died in August 2017, after an almost three year battle with cancer. It is prompted by a photograph which appeared recently on a local Facebook page.

This is the photo which inspired me to write this post. It is a St Mary’s Batley school Rugby League team photo. Apparently under 15s.

St Mary’s 1948-49 Rugby League Cup Winning Team – Photo reproduced with permission of Mark Oliver Lockwood

The top right boy is identified as ‘Kev Hill’. My dad. My heart wanted it to be so, but my head said otherwise. It looked more like dad’s marginally older brother, Gerard. Plus dad would have only been about 12 at the time.

I knew dad was a good rugby player, a winger. He was quick, really quick. I know when dad served in the RAF, he played Rugby Union on the wing for them: back in the 1950s Rugby League wasn’t an accepted military sport. Rugby League though was his true game. It was in the family. His uncle, Thomas Brannan, played for Batley. His cousin, Brian Briggs, played for Huddersfield, St Helens and Wakefield. He also represented Yorkshire, England and Great Britain.

One of my earliest memories is dad taking me to Mount Pleasant on a Sunday afternoon to watch Batley play. We’d usually be accompanied by his brother Gerard, and my cousin Claire. It is from those early days watching the game with dad, either live or on TV, that I developed my love of Rugby League.

One of the conversations I had in dad’s last months was how he believed his playing days wouldn’t have been halted temporarily if his own dad hadn’t died when he was three. Dad suffered a bad led injury and, for a time, his naturally protective mum stopped him playing in the lead up to a cup final whilst at school. His mum eventually relented, but it was too late. It meant he missed the cup-winning final. A big deal for him, which almost 70 years later he talked about. It meant he wasn’t on the team photo which was on display in Batley Nash. Maybe it was the team photo in the year or so after the one above.

Anyway, back to this 1948/49 photo. Seeing it knocked me for six. It was the type of photo I’d share and discuss with dad. He’d go through those photographed, identifying them from his school days. But this was the first time ever he’d been labelled on a picture. And I couldn’t ask him about it.

Dad’s younger sister and brother are alive though. And they confirmed my belief. The photo is incorrectly labelled. It’s not dad. It is his older brother Gerard, who died a few years ago. I’d noticed uncle Gerard’s shorts contravened kit rules. My uncle also pointed out that Gerard wasn’t wearing rugby boots, something I hadn’t noticed. It turns out uncle Gerard was late for the team photo. So the family knew the history behind it.

Maybe if this photo had surfaced years later when those who knew dad and his brother were long gone, descendants would’ve accepted the name labelling as correct. Who is to say that the family history photos we have today haven’t been similarly mistakenly named? As with any other family history source it pays to evaluate that source and ask questions. In this case:

  • When was the labelling done – was it years later?
  • If names do appear, who did it? The person, another family member who knew them or someone totally unrelated?
  • Is it a family group photo, for example a wedding shot, which features many family members? This might make it easier to put names to individuals. Or is it a class photo, with no other family members on?
  • Does the period look right, in terms of clothes, style and type of photograph, studio name and location etc?
  • If there are dates indicated on the shot, do they fit in with what is known?
  • Does it match the family member’s appearance in other photos (if they exist)?
  • Do other sources corroborate it?

So the moral of this story, in life as much as in family history, is question and challenge. Back up with other evidence to build up a body of proof. Don’t go on just one single piece of ‘evidence‘ and don’t go with your heart – use your head.

Dad – Father’s Day 2014, with the Family History Book I wrote for his present

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3 responses to “The Camera Doesn’t Lie – But the Caption Might. A Lesson in Family History Evidence

  1. Hi Jane, this is a great piece. I notice that your fathers uncle is Thomas Brannan who played for Batley. Which one was he? Thomas ‘Dowdy’ Brannan (winger) or Thomas ‘Chick’ Brannan (half back) both from the 1920s era. Thanks.

    • Hi Matthew, thanks. This would be one of those times when I’d pick up the phone to dad and ask. He has mentioned both nicknames when talking about Batley. If you have a year or place of birth for either I’ll be able to tell you. He was married to my dad’s aunt so I have family history details. Failing that next time I see my uncle I’ll ask him.
      Btw you might know my husband Chris who used to work at the Batley News.
      You may also be interested in the blog post I wrote about Robert Randerson based on some work I did a few years ago when I researched the men on the St Mary’s War Memorial.
      Jane

    • Hi Matthew
      Confirmed with my uncle, it’s ‘Chick’ Brannan
      Jane

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