Sunday, 3 June 2012

An old photo album & the Comrie family

I received an extraordinary email a couple of years back from Susan Barnett in Dundee. I had picked up on a post that she had written on the Perthshire Rootsweb list concerning a photo album that she had discovered whilst clearing out the attic of the house in which she was residing. The album was not hers, but one that had lain forgotten in the attic from some previous owner. There were few details other than the fact that it involved a family by the name of COMRIE.

My five times great grandmother was a Janet McEWAN (1781 - bef 1851) from the Perthshire parish of Madderty, and she had a brother called Andrew McEWAN, who married Ann REID. One of their daughters, Annie McEWAN (1821-1873) married an Alexander COMRIE in 1843. As such, on a whim I contacted Susan and asked if she might send some more details. She kindly emailed me a few names mentioned inside, and several seemed familiar. I asked if it might be possible to see a scan or two of the images - instead, she offered to send me the album!

A few days later the album arrived, but as I worked my way through the pages I nearly jumped out of my seat - I had seen one of the images before! The Scottish Cultural Resources Network (, better known as SCRAN, has a series of images on its site from later generations of the COMRIE family at Drummie Farm in Fowlis Wester, as held by the National Museums of Scotland. Most of the images were from the early 20th century, with some that were from the late 19th Century, depicting both family gatherings and work based images from around the farm.

The following is a quick screengrab of some of the thumbnails:

One photo in particular, however, would confirm the link between the album and my family. It depicted the family of Alexander COMRIE and Mary PATERSON, from Perth, Scotland, alongside their children, Annie McCowan COMRIE, David Paterson COMRIE, Jessie Paterson Copeland COMRIE, Peter William  COMRIE, Helen Hardy COMRIE and Alexander COMRIE. Alexander COMRIE (snr) 1847-1913 was Janet McEWAN's great nephew. An almost exact copy of the same image appears on the SCRAN website, although was clearly taken as a separate photograph a minute or two before or after the other, as the hand positions and expressions are just slightly different, but the family is arranged in the exact same pose.

The family of Alexander Comrie and Mary Paterson

As I worked through the album several other images began to click into place - the family of John KINLOCH and his wife Annie COMRIE, the Reverend William COMRIE who emigrated to New Zealand and more. The images are truly superb, but some of them still remain unidentifiable. As such, I have now scanned them all and placed them onto a Flickr gallery at, with as much information as I have been able to glean from them.

If you have a connection to the family, feel free to use the images for your own research - and of course, if you are connected to my McEWAN line and its descendants, including the COMRIE line, do drop me a note! The information I have on the family so far can be viewed at

The Reverend William Comrie and his wife in Auckland, New Zealand


1 comment:

  1. Hi Chris

    How big are the photos? Are they carte-de-visite (ca 2.5 x 4in), cabinet cards (ca 4.5 x 6.5in)or some other format?

    The existance of a near identical photo to Alexander Comrie's family suggests that it may be a carte-de-visite. These were taken on a single glass sheet negative using a multi lens camera. Several photos (tyically 6 or 8)could be taken in rapid succession and contact prints made from the whole negative then cut up and mounted. This 'mass production' process made carte-de-visite photographs affordable.

    My impression of the collection on Flickr is that the dates range from the 1870s to early 1900s. Sorting out the dates would help you figure out who the people portrayed could be.

    The young woman standing behind Alexander Comrie is wearing sleeves that scream 1890s. Reference to Jayne Shrimpton's book would probably allow closer dating.

    I am frustrated by not being able to view the reverse sides! That's where half the dating information is, in the form of content and style of the photographer's details, royal arms, boasts about the new and superior photographic process used.... Always turn over

    Although it is hard to tell from a scanned copy, I think the two photos by J Ballantine of Cumnock,(schoolmaster & wife) may be albumen prints. These have a characteristic yellowish appearance. The squared rather than rounded corners suggest an earlier date. I'll stick my neck out and predict that they have nothing or fairly plain details on the back and are on thinner card. Am I right?

    Good luck with figuring out who everyone is.