In search of family photos: Part Two

Child photo 3
Four generations in the late 1920s. From left: in his father’s arms, Gilbert Wayne Helman III (1926-2010); Gilbert Wayne Helman, Jr. (1906-1985); Gilbert Wayne Helman, Sr. (1882-1945); and Herbert Heath Helman (1854-1931).

As a personal challenge, after seeing a few genealogist friends on Facebook post ancestor charts with photographs of their ancestors back to (in many cases) their great-great-grandparents, I decided to see how “complete” my collection of ancestral photos was.

Turning my attention to photos of my paternal grandmother’s family, I contacted several cousins and arranged to meet my second cousin in Pennsylvania. He also had several photos which he allowed me to take back to Boston. Unfortunately, most of these were not identified. We were able to identify our great-great-grandfather, Herbert Heath Helman, as he posed in a picture with this cousin’s father as a baby in the late 1920s. This photograph was meant to be “4 Helman Generations,” so that gave us one of my direct ancestors.

I scanned several other unidentified ones, including a framed photograph of an older lady from the 1910s, and a tintype of a younger man from the 1890s. I sent these to several Helman relatives in hopes of further identification. My aunt quickly identified the framed lady from the 1910s as our ancestor Eliza (Peltz) Kelly, as she had the same photo herself. The tintype we concluded was her husband Thomas Nelson Kelly of Philadelphia, based on certain descriptions that we had of him and the timeframe of the picture. The photo of Mary Rosella Through is a bit of an educated guess, after concluding who the photo could not show, although I’d still like a bit more verification for her.

Child photo 4This left just my father’s father’s mother’s father, Lemuel Healy (father of Uncle Morris, about whom I wrote in an earlier post). I contacted a couple of historical societies in his hometown of Dudley, Massachusetts. “Lem” Healy served on the board of trustees at Nichols Academy (now Nichols College) and was also the town clerk. His father had been treasurer of the local Dudley branch of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. I also contacted the Black Tavern Historical Society, which maintains a home that had been owned by members of the Healy family. The following morning I received e-mails from two different members, one of which not only included his photograph (taken from a book of old photographs from the Dudley Congregational Church parishioners, which the church historian allowed them  to scan a few years ago), but other very interesting newspaper clippings, including this silhouette with him enjoying his cigar.

Child photo 5

So in just a couple of months, I found pictures of the eleven ancestors that I had missing from my collection (with one being an educated guess). Looking to the future, I’m sure I won’t be able to complete the next generation! Still, this was a fun exercise, getting me back in touch with some distant cousins and learning about the collections of some local historical societies as well.

Child photo 6

About Christopher C. Child

Chris Child has worked for various departments at NEHGS since 1997 and became a full-time employee in July 2003. He has been a member of NEHGS since the age of eleven. He has written several articles in American Ancestors, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, and The Mayflower Descendant. He is the co-editor of The Ancestry of Catherine Middleton (NEHGS, 2011), co-author of The Descendants of Judge John Lowell of Newburyport, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2011) and Ancestors and Descendants of George Rufus and Alice Nelson Pratt (Newbury Street Press, 2013), and author of The Nelson Family of Rowley, Massachusetts (Newbury Street Press, 2014). Chris holds a B.A. in history from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

18 thoughts on “In search of family photos: Part Two

  1. Hi Chris:

    I enjoyed your article. I doubt I will find all my greats, but it has prompted me to go through what I have, sort out the pictures and scan them.

    BTW, I noted your mother was an Ovalle. We have an Erin Ovalle at a local television station in Portland, Maine. Never ran into that surname until she came here.

    Bud Dorr
    Gorham, Maine

    1. Hi Budd – Thanks! Ovalle is my wife’s maiden name. Her father was from San Francisco de Macoris in Dominican Republic, going back to an Esmeraldo Ovalle born there about 1835

      Chris Child

  2. I enjoyed reading this article, Chris. And, in fact, I think I am inspired to use this as a springboard to do the same and in the process get in touch with some relatives. I have lamented the fact that I don’t have a lot of photos, but reaching out to relatives might yield some results and give me an opportunity to get to know other members of the family!

  3. Hi Chris,
    When people find family photos or portraits It would be fantastic if they would take one more step and post them to public family trees such as the wiki based Family Tree on FamilySearch or Ancestry etc. so that other family members might have access to them. A number of these venues have considerable storage space and it insures that the images will be there for future generations.
    In lieu of photos or portraits (especially as I get further back in time) I frequently post images of the person’s cemetery marker, the ship they came over on or the structure they lived in.
    Thanks for your informative articles.
    Lou Daly

  4. Lou’s comment reminds me that one of my most exciting moments was seeing a photograph of my great-great grandmother Mary Jane Whittinghill Crow. A distant cousin down in Texas posted a photograph of her great grandfather with a woman identified only as his mother. We were able to make the connection through Mary Jane’s well-identified son, and now my cousin in Texas knows the name and I have seen the face. (She’s not at all what I expected, either!) I really appreciate the public family trees on ancestry — some not at all researched, of course, but some very well done. And sometimes, a grain of wheat in the chaff.

  5. Hi, Chris,

    I enjoyed reading your post, but I am curious about your Davis line. Do they have any connection to Strafford County, New Hampshire or nearby areas?

  6. Really enjoyed your post. Reminded me of the joy and excitement I had, receiving a package in the mail from Maine, with numerous relatives here in Colorado in the 19th century. Cousin Mary had no children, so was identifying cousins in order to get her collection of family photos to living descendants. I’ll never forget opening them to find a photo of my baby sister! Only it wasn’t sis, it was our great-grandmother in her early 20s, for whom she was named!! Amazing how those genes pass down to reappear several generations later…..had the same thing happen on receiving a photo of great-great-grandfather who looked identical to my nephew. The younger generation all wanted to know “where Danny got that Civil War uniform”—ha. They were surprised. Thanks again; great article!

  7. I have been doing well too, Christopher. I have recently gotten a picture of a wedding of my great great half uncle, Gordon Meggison, in 1897 and guess who is sitting in the picture near left? My great great grandparents, Thomas Cuthbert and Martina McLellan Meggison. My big wish is to find wedding pictures or pictures of my ancestors when they were as young as possible. It is a frustration I only have pictures of my great grandfather, Thomas Bernard Meggison, no younger than 60 something.

    1. Gordon Meggison is my great grandfather. His grandson Gordon Meggison is my father. Could you please send me the picture?

  8. Congratulations Chris! Your two post are as others have said inspirational, in both the achievement and in the effort. I haven’t added pictures to my tree yet, but you gave me the incentive to get on to it.

  9. Hi Chris,

    Would love to see you do a 3rd great grandparent “photo challenge.” My S.O. and I are both genealogists and I found this post as we both worked on our own 2nd great grandparent photo challenges, we really enjoyed the read. He is up to 13 with a new one coming in last week, I am at 10 (and have been for 8 years). After reading your article I reached out to my cousins who still live in the “Old County” and have 4 3rd cousins working their grandparents and aunts and uncles to try and get 3 new photos for me. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

    When It comes to the 3rd great grandparent challenge he is soundly beating me at 16 to my 6!

  10. Hi Daniel, when I get to my third great-grandparents, I believe I have only gathered photos of seven ancestors! For my fourth great-grandparents, I have four!

    1. Hi Chris, looking back at your tree it seems quite impressive for you to have four fourth-great grandparents photographed! They must be born around the 1810’s or so, if I have my math correctly. In the last four years since my first comment I have been able to add a single second-great grandparent, bringing my total to eleven second-great grandparents and eight of my third-great grandparents. My 3rd great grandparents are of the vintage of your 2nd great grands, so I am still hopeful I could make some more progress there.

      My S.O. has been much more successful, with fourteen 2nd great grandparents, nineteen 3rd great grandparents, seventeen 4th great grandparents, nine 5th and one 6th.

      Happy hunting!


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