Thursday, 30 October 2014

PRONI's spiritualist photos - and my ancestor the spirtualist!

PRONI has a great Hallowe'en post on its site for its Document of the Month - a series of spiritualist photos from the 1930s. The images can be viewed at

From the site: "The photographs remind us of the post-WWI period in which many personal tragedies were being played out. Many people had lost family members in WWI without having the opportunity to say goodbye. During the 1920-30s some sought comfort by trying to contact their missing loved ones through their belief in spiritualism"

In fact, my family has a very direct connection to this phenomenon, as my two times great grandfather Edwin Graham was the Secretary of the Ulster Christian Spiritualist Association in Belfast in the 1920s! Edwin was a welder who married three times - first to Florence Halliday (my two times great grandmother), then briefly to Matilda Blair, and finally Sarah Stitt (with whom he is pictured on the right, from 1939). Sarah was said to be a 'gifted medium' from Liverpool.

In 1926 Edwin was involved in an extraordinary story in Belfast City Cemetery. Here's the story from the Irish Times and then the London Times:

Wednesday, July 28th 1926


Remarkable Service in Belfast Cemetery

Our Belfast correspondent states that unusual scenes were witnessed at a Service held yesterday at the City Cemetery under the auspices of the local Christian Spiritualists' Association. The Service took place around the grave of Mrs McDermott, mother of Mr John McDermott, medium of the Association, who died about three weeks ago. Upwards of a hundred spiritualists, some of them carrying cameras, wre present and during the singing photographs were taken. Mr McDermott conducted the Service, which consisted of prayer, singing and an address.

Mr. Edwin Graham, secretary of the Association, explained that the Service was purely evangelical, and that many photographs had been taken with the object of photographing the spirits of departed friends of persons present at the grave. "It is a very hard thing," he added "to obtain spirit photographs". He added that when the photographs were developed, in a day or two, they would know whether they had succeeded in their object. Mr Graham explained that a special Service for Mrs McDermott had been held previously in the Hall. She was a native of Glasgow but had been in Belfast for the past year.

However, the Times also followed up the story in August:
Wednesday 18th August 1926


Belfast Spiritualists Claim

The photographs taken in Belfast City Cemetery during the burial of Mrs McDermaid, wife of Mr John McDermaid, President of the Ulster Christian Spiritualist Association, with the object of recording the spirit forms of relatives which were believed to be hovering over the grave, were produced in Belfast last night.

The photographs, say our Belfast correspondent, are apparently out of focus. They show small white clouds over the people assembled round the grave. Mr McDermaid claims that in the photographs he can see the spirit forms of three departed relatives. Mr Edwin Graham, the Secretary of the Association, is convinced that he can see his brother. The Association invites inspection of the photographs.

The joys of genealogy - Happy Hallowe'en! :)


My next Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the Old Parish Records online course starts on November 5th, and runs for 5 weeks, priced at £45.99. Spaces are still available - see

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