Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Family History Haze

Gloria Kennelly Chicago 1942

I think I am starting to emerge from the haze of an unexpected family history overdose.  

Last week was "closet cleaning week".  I always have a list of cleaning projects that I intend to finish over my summer before school starts in the Fall. No comments from my brother!  I had finished the hall storage closet, and my bedroom closest was next on the list.  My clothes are swapped, stored, and sorted each season, but the floor had a pile of random "stuff" and my top shelf held who knows what.  It had been years. . . many years. . . since I had pulled down the recycled cardboard boxes assuming that they held the usual assortment of mementos from my children's youth . . . drawings, projects, report cards, and Halloween costumes.  I was feeling particularly smug because I was finishing earlier than usual.  Most years I put off these projects until the week before school starts and then frantically try to "accomplish something" before returning to school.

The first two boxes held the expected, and after sorting, and re-boxing, I lifted down the final box expecting to finish the job quickly and pack them away in the attic. But when I opened it, I was glad I was sitting down  because music started playing and a bright light emanated from the contents  this is what I found . . . OMG, Holy ?#%, Momma Mia, what the?

My actual reaction was a gasp and stunned silence!  After a few moments of just staring at the contents, I started lifting up and looking through the top photos, I realized then that there were albums at the bottom.  How did I not know this was in my closet for the last five years while I have been consumed with the family history and totally ga ga over old photos??  I spent the next 3 hours looking through the box, and at the end my face hurt from smiling. The photos were 1940's and earlier.  Also included were many large format (from 2x2 to postcard size) single image black and white negatives.

This was overwhelming. I found teen photos of my mother and her brother, fun pictures of my grandparents, the earliest photo I had ever seen of my great grandmother (about 1890), and multiple pictures of my father including my parent's wedding day. It also presented some new questions.  Not a single photo had names on the back.  I have no idea who many of the individuals are, and some of them are obviously family.  It was definitely more than I could scan in an afternoon, but I wanted to share at least a bit of what I found with family. . . at least those that love the family history.  My daughter's reaction was still "un huh", and "yeh, nice", accompanied by an eye roll when I forced her to look at them. It was hard to choose, but I selected a few, scanned them, uploaded to Flickr, and began to write numerous emails to my family historians to let them know.  I like Flickr because it allows each person to download just the photos they want in the size they want.  It is easier for me than sending attachments in multiple emails.
Just as a sample
Gloria Kennelly on left in front of Providence Catholic H.S. for girls, Chicago - 1942. Now combined with St. Mel's
If you know where I can locate a 1942 yearbook for Providence, I would love to identify these girls!

Gloria Kennelly about age 12 or 13

I am sure this is in Chicago.  Can you identify the location?

Earliest known photo of my gr. grandmother Anna Mae Allen on left, b. 1873
If you are a family member and can identify the girl on the right, PLEASE contact me!

Love this photo of my grandparents, Ed and Berenice Kennelly!
My uncle, Eddie Kennelly who I never knew liked football.

And sadly. . .
Berenice Moldt and her brothers, Edward T. (aka Doc) and Harold.
 The family photo scratcher strikes again! - Can this be fixed?

Lastly, the box contained three rolls of sound Super 8 film I had taken of my children 30+ years ago.  The cells were so tiny that, even holding them to the light, I couldn't tell what the years or events were.  That sent me on a multi-day search for a business that could transfer them to DVD.  The dilemma was that I did not want to send them away.  I didn't want them thrown in a bag with 50 other orders and then on a truck with 500 other orders.  These were irreplaceable. I wanted someone who could do it locally.  I called everywhere and visited multiple locations that thought they could do it, but needed to actually see the film.  The fly in the ointment was that they are sound recordings and everyone offered to do it without the sound . . .  Really, why would I want that??  Finally, when I was very discouraged, I found Band Wagon Video and left a message on the answering machine since it was after hours.  The next day I spoke with the owner and TA DA! he could do it sound and all.  Amazingly, he was less expensive than anyone else.  This was a bonus, and I made an appointment to take my videos over that afternoon. That sent me on a search for the other videos I knew I had "safely tucked away" somewhere.  In fact I had 22 more rolls which I mentioned at our meeting.  He offered to lend me a video editor, at no charge, so I could put my videos in time period order and to do four of them so I could be confident of the quality before I committed. The next day I spent going through the additional 22 rolls. My discovery was stretching out into days and days of related activities.  

BTW. . . Only yesterday did I finish my closet and finally put the boxes in the attic.  And. . . sandwiched in and around all of this was planning for my yearly research trip to Clinton, Iowa.  Whew!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is Family History a Possession?

Who owns your family's history. . .  your family tree?

 Will you . . or should you share your photos, research and theories?  Recently, I have been in contact with a distant cousin who is a self proclaimed "black sheep".  I did not ask why she labeled herself as such.  Our correspondence started through when she saw her ancestor listed on my private family tree.  She wanted  photos of her g-g-grandfather, and asked if I had one.  One?  I have multiples from casual to formal. In her introduction, I learned that she is the grandchild of a very generous relative who shared many family photos with me. I sent several to her by email, and pointed her to my blog which had more photos and stories she might be interested in reading.  Through a series of emails I learned that she was a young mother and had no family photos.  She felt there was no one who would share what they had with her.  I started to slowly send more and more - mostly those from her grandmother first, then some from other relatives.  I sent newspaper articles about events in the family, and I never expected anything in return.  She had only a couple of photos to exchange with me, but it never crossed my mind to hold back.  At one point, she commented that maybe I shouldn't say anything about sharing with her to some of the other family members.  She was worried that it might be held against me.  I have never had anything but brief contact with other family members, and the impression I received was that they were not interested in sharing, but maybe they're just not interested in the family history.  That's too bad, because, if they just ask, I will share with them what I have discovered and what has been shared with me . . . information, relationships, stories and photos that could be new to them . . . even if they don't share with me.  But I wish they would.  I don't believe that family history is a possession, since we all have a part in creating it.  The more we share, the more we discover, and the greater chance that MY, our, family history will be passed on to another generation.

Now, I have to admit that on occasion I have shared slowly at first in the hopes of encouraging a cousin to share with me - a mutual give and take when we first find each other to establish trust.  But, if I find a relative with a love of family history, I have to remind myself not to overwhelm them.  I might start talking and not stop for 3-4 weeks.  Heck, I might forget to breathe between sentences.  On the other hand, if I get a request, just as an example, from an individual who is trying to find information for her boyfriend's family, and could I please send everything I have on so and so, I pause.  A reply with a request  for more specifics results in silence. Needless to say they don't get anything from me.  Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit, when I have paid for documents, I've found myself hesitating, then I give myself a good shake and a stern "talking to".  I remind myself that the family history is not a possession, nor a piece of property belonging to one individual.

I began my quest for my ancestors with very little.  There were few photos, many with unidentified faces staring back at me and little knowledge of family names beyond my grandparents.  Now, a rich tapestry is taking shape, not people of fame or wealth, but immigrants, farmers, miners, millers, soldiers, shopkeepers and women who knew how to use needle and thread.  It has been, and still is, a grand adventure and my long gone ancestors seem so real to me despite not even knowing many of their names a few years ago.  I have been so blessed by the generosity of family members who have shared what they have with me and, most unbelievably, complete strangers who have spent their time to send me copies of newspaper articles, researched in libraries located in towns far away from me, photographed headstones, and located probate records of my ancestors.  I even have a road sign pointing to the town named after my great great grandmother, a Kansas pioneer.  There are not enough days in my life to pay forward what I have been so fortunate to receive.

I will continue to gather together the stories and physical evidence of my family, but I am just a custodian, holding onto to it so it doesn't blow away.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

This Photo Should Be Easy . . .Why Isn’t It?

Remember when I said that I was going to do the easy ones first?  Well, this should have been the easiest of all because this is the only photo that is still fastened in the album, and it has a name written below the photo of a young woman.  It looks like it says Simon Curtain but since it is a girl rather than a boy, I (like everyone else I show it to) deciphered it as Susan.  The problem is that I can’t find a Susan Curtain listed for the family – either in the family notes I received from a now deceased family member OR in the census records from which confirmed the names in my family notes plus the addition of a William as the youngest
Family Notes from Mary Farley Clark - click to enlarge

But as I look more closely at the identification written below the photograph, I can tell that something has been erased  below the first name, and there is still a faint impression of it.  Can you tell what it is?  I have cropped and enlarged it . . . J. ? . h . ?? n . r or e . y.  Only the J and y are for sure.  The h could be a b.  Even looking at this I cannot find a name that might match.  However, with the name enlarged, it now looks more like Simon again, and they DO have a Simon in the family.  Could this be Simon’s wife . . .  Nope!  Simon's death certificate says that he was single when he died in Cincinnati on July 1, 1927.  He does have sisters, though: Catherine (Kate), Helen (Nell), and Abigail (Abbie).  None of those names seem to match either the visible name or the erased one below it. Shucks! . . . since I must use a socially acceptable term.

All morning I have been chasing records, from whence comes the term, Wild Goose Case, for a Susan Curtin who lived in Muscatine, Iowa and was about the same age as the lady I seek.  My family comes from the Clinton area, and so I searched for hours for a connection - unsuccessfully.

I have concluded that I need to narrow down the date of the photo.  The website, Demode Couture, shows us several examples of hairstyles from the 1870’s and 1880’s.  My young lady has wispy bangs, hair gathered at the neck with either a bow or ornament of some type in her hair. This site from the University of Vermont has several photos, many that are courtesy of Joan Severa, that I used to compare both the hairstyle and clothing.  Her dress neckline is similar to other photographs shown for the 1880's.  Using these two sites as a guide, I have concluded that this photo is from the early 1880's possibly very late 1870's.  Do you agree?  Have I overlooked or misjudged something? Is it later or earlier than that?  To my eye, this girl looks young . . . possibly 18-25, which would make her date of birth between the mid 1850’s to the  mid 1860’s.  I have given her hairstyle more consideration because a young lady, despite her circumstances, could always change her hairstyle at no cost to be fashionable while clothing might be a bit behind due to the cost.

So who are you?  My easiest photo has proven to be very elusive. . . .