As a collector of photographs, I am drawn to faces: the hints of personality in an unflinching gaze or a sidelong glance. Periodically I find myself haring off in a new direction, and this latest detour is perhaps unsurprising: I’ve started collecting royal cartes de visite, with a focus on the family of Queen Victoria and her -in-laws. (Just in time for the royal engagement, in fact!)
There is something pleasing about Queen Victoria and her family: it is large enough, complex enough, and far-flung enough to be a challenge. (I am still working on some of the sons- and daughters-in-law – I only just reached the full complement of Victoria’s nine children.) In these images, one can see the distinctive Hanoverian and Coburger physiognomies, as divided up between the offspring of Victoria and Albert. In the following images there is even the hint of the modern royal look, in Princess Louis of Hesse’s infant daughter, Victoria, later Princess of Battenberg and then Marchioness of Milford Haven – and the grandmother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Continue reading Royal cartes de visite→
Do you have a special attachment to one ancestor? I do, and she was a source of curiosity and amusement even before I started investigating my family history in earnest.
During a move ten years ago, I uncovered a (mostly correct) pedigree chart for my father’s side of the family. It sat for a while on my dresser, and in flipping through it with my husband one evening, the name “Hephzibah” caught our eyes. This Hephzibah (also spelled Hepsibah or even Hepsibeth in her later years) was a granddaughter of two other Hephzibahs, each born in Massachusetts by 1700. Continue reading A special relationship→
Today’s announcement of the engagement of Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales and Ms. Rachel Meghan Markle reminds me of an interesting genealogical tree that recently entered the Society’s collection. Bought by D. Brenton Simons from an antiquarian book dealer in the United Kingdom, it is a print from the 1900 edition of Mrs. Oliphant’s Queen Victoria: A Personal Sketch.
A simpler version of the royal family tree published for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the print treats the Queen (but not her late husband, Prince Albert, who had died as long ago as 1861) as the trunk of the tree, with her eldest children as the most established branches. Continue reading A royal engagement→
I’ve always wanted to know more about the life of my great-grandmother Opal Young (1895–1978). To do this, I decided to see what researching her siblings might reveal about her. By and large, information about her siblings has been limited to meager ‘raw data.’ An interesting exception to this has been the life of my great-grandmother’s brother John Alfred Young (1890–1960). He is called Johnnie on the back of this Hitchcock-like cameo – it is the only known photograph to show him.
Johnnie Young came to California about the time his sister Opal did in the late 1920s. Their lives as children back in Kansas seems to have been pretty normal – other than there were a LOT of people living with them in the Young household.Continue reading Fadeaway→
Early in my genealogical research, I noticed that one of my great-great-grandfathers, Cicero Hawley, was enumerated in 1870 on the same page as the family of his future wife. That piqued my curiosity. Checking out the census form more carefully, I saw that he and his brother James were staying at a Marshalltown, Iowa, hotel run by Ephraim and Emeline Shaw. The Shaws had a 23-year-old daughter (the same age as Cicero) who was an artist, but it was their 17-year-old daughter Belle (a school teacher) who captured his heart. Continue reading Hotel California→
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.
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. (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→
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→
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.
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?→