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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Sepia Saturday: Overalls & Billboards

 Each week Sepia Saturday encourages bloggers to record their family history through photographs. This week's theme features a man in overalls in an advertising billboard.  it immediately brought to mind my husband's father  - John Robert Donaldson of South Shields, County Durham,

y father-in-law John Robert Donaldson came from South Shields, County Durham and was proud of his Scottish roots, but vague on the detail, believing his ancestors came from around Edinburgh.

Research began by tracing the family back from South Shields, using birth, marriage and death certificates and census information. I was delighted to establish the Scottish connection in the 1851 census where Robert Donaldson, mariner was listed as being born c.1801 in Leith - this was a great bonus as often English census returns just say born Scotland without specifying a parish. Another one of those typical family history coincidences - Leith was the place where Robert's great great granddaughter Gillian was then working.
John Robert with his youngest son Neil - my husband.
No helmets worn in those days!!

Samuel's descendants included his youngest son Robert, grandson Robert who went from South Leith to South Shields, and his son another Robert who moved to Portsmouth - the linking factor the sea, with family occupations as a merchant, master mariner, seaman, roper, ship's carpenter, caulker and river policeman.

The first John Robert Donaldson was born in 1856 and the name perpetuated down the generations, with the family occupation changing to that of painter and signwriter.  Here are some examples of my father in law's work. 

Painted just after the Second World War with son Ian who also went into  the family business  by the side. The story went that because of a shortage of paper, it was painted directly onto the board.  Nowadays, amidst anti-smoking campaigns, this advert would be banned. 

Another photograph with Ian standing beside his father's work in South Shields.  The story went that the railway company who owned the wall  eventually tried to paint over the advert, but the original paint kept showing through.

 John Robert, in his overalls, taking a break from work!
Click here to find how other blogger's have depicted this week's theme.
Copyright © 2012 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


  1. Awesome post! The photos are just perfect- especially the last napping photo!

  2. Love that last photo. What a treasure!

  3. How grand to be able to find his work and get a photo taken next to it. I took a photo of my father standing next to a painting his uncle had done that was hanging in a museum. Boy did the docents give me a hard time about that. I told them the painting was done by my great-uncle and I was going to take the photo no matter if they liked it or not.

  4. It is so nice to have tangible proof of things actually made by your ancestors. These are fine examples! One would hope that the wall in South Shields will survive. The motor cycle picture is super. There is so much detail that even the make could be determined, possibly also via the plate.

  5. That last photo makes me laugh. Is that a newspaper on his head?

  6. What a fascinating post. My father was apprenticed to a signwriter back in the 1920s, but his dreams were shattered when the school authorities said he had left school to early and he was forced to return for a final term - and he lost the apprenticeship.

  7. Very apropos with the theme, and quite funny.

  8. You may have been the last on this weekend's list, but I think you have written the best fit to the theme. Super story and photos that catch every part of the OshKosh photo.

  9. Thank you again to everyone for their kind comments - I was pleased to make a story out of very little. Yes, Wendy - it was a newspaper on his head - they often seemed to be used as a sunshade.


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