NEHGS president Brenton Simons recently proposed an “Ancestral Gallery” – a series of paired portraits of staff members with their ancestors and relatives, to hang in the building’s staircase. Jean Powers coordinated the effort with staff members who could contribute pictures for the first exhibit. The gallery debuted before our recent annual meeting. I was one of the staff who contributed a picture of an ancestor, and so for these last few weeks I have seen a large picture of myself next to my ancestor, followed by several colleagues, on my way up the stairs! The exercise was also another great example of reaching out to local organizations and distant relatives for material.
Elizabeth is the earliest ancestor for whom I have found a photograph.
The ancestor I picked was my great-great-great-great-grandmother Elizabeth (Eaton) Larned (1790–1890) of Dudley, Massachusetts, the last centenarian in my family. I had acquired a scanned photograph of hers as a result of my challenge of finding family photos a few years ago, after contacting local historical societies in my great-grandmother’s hometown of Dudley. While not the oldest ancestral photograph (this was taken around 1890, just before she turned 100), Elizabeth is the earliest ancestor for whom I have found a photograph. (Earlier photographs are of ancestors born after 1790, but taken in the 1840s and ’50s.)
The problem was that the photograph needed to be at a higher resolution than the image I could provide. I contacted Linda Braniff, who had kindly e-mailed the photograph three years ago. She told me the picture was sent to her by Gregg Estabrook in Ohio, who I then e-mailed and left my phone number. He called me the same day.
Gregg turned out to be my father’s fourth cousin: I descend from Elizabeth’s eldest son Thomas, while Gregg descends from her eldest surviving daughter (also named Elizabeth). Gregg and my father even shared a small amount of DNA, as they showed up as a match on AncestryDNA, with a predicted kinship of …. fourth cousins! Gregg had a lot of family photographs, many of which were scanned on his Ancestry Tree. Sure enough, he was able to send me a high resolution of our common ancestor Elizabeth, but he also sent me the back, which identifies the photographer in neighboring Webster, Massachusetts (which happens to be where my parents live today).
He also sent me a bonus picture, of spectacles belonging to Elizabeth’s husband – my great-great-great-great-grandfather Colonel Morris Larned (1786–1878). I was quite pleased indeed. I of course shared my genealogical research on our common ancestors with Gregg as well.
Our last common ancestors – Morris and Elizabeth – were born just before and during the administration of George Washington! Yet thanks to making contact with a fourth cousin once removed, and several states away, I now have pictures of two artifacts to remember them!
Gregg wanted to add: “I was fortunate enough to have inherited tons of pictures and family history information. I haven’t had to do a lot of traditional research, because so much was handed to me already documented. Unfortunately, often times when people get this sort of information, if no one at that time is interested in being caretaker, it all goes to the scrap heap.
“Thanks to the World Wide Web, commercial companies like Ancestry, and now public resources like AmericanAncestors.org, there is a venue for sharing this information with others, whether distant cousins or generations yet to come who may find it interesting. Your story is just one example. I would encourage anyone else who finds themselves inheriting this type of information to make it publicly available, as you never know who may benefit from it.“