Tag Archives: Photographs

Returning Elijah

Elijah Burson (1807-1886)

A year ago last summer I was contacted by a gentleman from Zeeland, Michigan. While out weekend bargain hunting, he had come across an antique photograph for sale at a local flea market. The gentleman wrote with empathy about family history, and he seemed to have at least a hobbyist’s eye for old pictures. His curiosity was piqued by this one particular picture, so he purchased it, no doubt saving it from the fate of some Michigan land fill.  He said that the only identifier as to who the person in the photo might be were the words “Grandpa Burson” written on its back.

From what I could gather, the man from Zeeland enjoys following where the clues in any old pictures might take him. Continue reading Returning Elijah

A memory bank

Mrs. Alta V. Lee with her daughter and grandson in Long Beach, ca. 1955.

Recently, on a trip to Long Beach, California, I did what most people do when they visit their home town. I did a bit of sightseeing. With my daughter and her fiancé, we hit the urban streets hoping to find the perfect little Italian restaurant. I hadn’t been downtown in literally decades, so it was interesting to see what about my old city had and hadn’t changed.

Naturally, the kids had to listen to me talk about ‘the old days,’ what used to be ‘here or there,’ and of course they had to hear tales of the old roller coaster that went way out over the ocean in a death-defying swirl of creaking bolts and lumber.[1] (I’ve decided it’s sort of fun to watch the kids’ eyes glaze over…) However, a curious thing started to happen to me as we went up and down one of those streets. I became a little boy again. Continue reading A memory bank

Frozen gold

During a recent reorganization effort of my squirrel files, those slightly more organized companions to my squirrel bins, I came across newspaper clippings entitled “Frozen Gold.” The title probably caught my eye because of all the things I’ve found in My Old House, gold is not one of them (not even one measly coin).

However, this frozen gold referred to ice blocks, those huge chunks necessary for the true “ice boxes” of early refrigeration days. Ice harvesting was once big industry on the Kennebec River in Maine, as I discovered by reading old newspaper clippings liberated from my files. Continue reading Frozen gold

The name is a mystery

Ralph Forbes (1904-1951) by Russell Ball. Click on the images to expand them.

Given the range of databases like Wikipedia and IMDb (more formally The Internet Movie Database), it can be surprising to find a scrap of biographical material that has not been covered. I encountered this paradox recently, when writing up notes on some photographs I’ve bought of the actors Ralph Forbes (1904–1951) and his mother Mary Forbes (1879–1974). Ralph Forbes Taylor was born 30 September 1904 and baptized in the parish of Streatham, Surrey – now part of the Borough of Lambeth in Greater London – the son of Ernest John Taylor and his wife Ethel Louise. The Taylors lived at 142 Gleneagle Road in Streatham (where Ralph was presumably born), and Ernest was a commercial traveler.[1]

But who was Ernest John Taylor? And who was his wife, Ethel Louise, who would in time become the character actress Mary Forbes?[2] Continue reading The name is a mystery

What the heck are they doing?

Image A. “Spirit of Wyoming”

We all have them. Yes, those stacks of old photographs passed down to us. They are images from someone else’s life; what can be daunting is that these are pictures we have to appraise even when we know nothing about what they mean. Often disorganized, unidentifiable, and fading, we can’t quite bring ourselves to put them out for the mid-week trash collection. It just isn’t who we are.

In going through my grandmother Alta Sage Lee Dixon’s old photographs, I understand that many of the people in her pictures may always remain unknown to me. Yet I can’t help wondering if there aren’t patterns in her collection. I’m resolved to try and put these “pictures of unknowns” into at least a few “photographic categories.” After all, this is my grandmother’s life – so maybe if I understand how she pictured her own collection, I might understand more about her. Continue reading What the heck are they doing?

A Starbuck in Seattle

A monument memorializing the arrival of the ship EXACT in Seattle.

This past June, I was excited to attend the first workshop ever offered by NEHGS in Seattle. It was a bit of a drive from my home in Salem, Oregon, but definitely worth it, and the most useful thing I learned was that many older Massachusetts deeds can be browsed free of charge through FamilySearch.org.

I’d hoped one day to revisit the Massachusetts island of Nantucket – where a branch of my family lived for the first two centuries of European settlement – largely to do additional investigation at their Registry of Deeds. The staff there was incredibly helpful when I visited in 2013, but even in the off-season, staying on the island is not exactly cheap, especially with a cross-country flight thrown in. Imagine my joy to discover that I could now do this work from home 24/7! Continue reading A Starbuck in Seattle

Fraternally yours

Fraternal organizations are not as commonplace for most people today as they were back in the mid-1800s on through the twentieth century. Our ancestors joined these groups for camaraderie, financial support regarding burials, insurance, and more. There were hundreds of such organizations, some of which popped up for just a brief few years. Continue reading Fraternally yours

Arranging your family papers, part 3

[Editor’s note: This series began here and continued here.]

The last topic that I originally wanted to discuss in my article on organizing and preserving your family papers was digitization. For someone who wants to digitize their material there are a few things that you can do to have archival quality digital images.

The first of thing to do is make sure that you have the necessary equipment for a digitization project. This would likely involve a flatbed scanner (your printer may have one) or a digital camera to photograph larger items. The disadvantage of using a camera is that if the item is large, you may not obtain a focused image and if you try to take the photograph by hand you may end up with a blurry picture. If you are photographing material, a tripod will help stabilize the camera. Continue reading Arranging your family papers, part 3

Flower power

A Sage family gathering: June Sage Peck (1896-1991) next to husband Ernest Bedford Payne (1902-1970), fourth and fifth from left.

Sometimes in the course of studying family history it helps when the right sort of inspiration knocks at our door. Blog sites like Vita Brevis and different forms of social media allow ways for like minded people of similar genealogical concerns to reach out to one another. And while I would not exactly consider Findagrave.com a “social networking site,” a recent experience reminds me that the inspiration to study family history can come from many different sources.

Seven years ago, I placed virtual flowers on-line for the memorial to my great-uncle Ernest Bedford Payne (1902–1970).[1] I find placing virtual flowers on findagrave memorials does two things: (a) it allows me to pay respect to my loved ones, and (b) allows me a trail of bread crumbs letting me know if I have previously visited a memorial I might not readily remember the next time around. I must confess I hadn’t been back to visit Uncle Ernest’s memorial in quite a while. Continue reading Flower power

Hollywood is a small town

Carole Lombard, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, and Kathryn Crawford in SAFETY IN NUMBERS (1930).

I was recently reminded of just how small a town Hollywood is as I wrote up some notes on two photos featuring a (now) little-known actress named Kathryn Crawford. Born Kathryn Moran in Pennsylvania in 1908, as Kathryn Crawford she was one of a trio of chorus girls in Safety in Numbers (1930); the other girls were Josephine Dunn and, of greater interest to us today, Carole Lombard. The three “Follies girls” are meant to introduce an innocent young millionaire (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) to madcap Manhattan – but of course there are love complications, and hilarity ensues. Continue reading Hollywood is a small town