Pastel portraits

We all have them, those ancestors who seem to fade into the long-ago background of family history. Perhaps they’re not even our relatives, just names heard frequently but without context, or in a wedding guest book, a newspaper column, or in an obituary. The figures are distinguishable, but so unfamiliar that they are blurred whether pastel in color or in sepia or gray.

A few years ago when I was muttering (complaining, whining, moaning) about all the unidentified photos I had inherited, I was pointedly, and quite rightly, reminded that at least I have photos about which to mutter. Some of those piles have been culled, some identified, leaving me with two stacks of studio portraits, one of which is clearly marked with each person’s name and “CHS ’02” or “Cony ’02.” They are graduates of Cony High School, my paternal grandmother Winifred Sturgis (Lee) Church’s high school class, but none of them are of her, and none of the names were familiar to me.

So I created a spreadsheet of those names, checked census records, newspapers, family trees, and any basic research ideas I could apply.

So I created a spreadsheet of those names, checked census records, newspapers, family trees, and any basic research ideas I could apply. “Basic” is clearly the operative word here! Other than names, dates, and a few places and occupations, nothing in the way of enlightenment on Winnie’s high school friends came to light. They have, for me, faded into an obscure background of my grandmother’s teen years, a collage of a few photos without the accompanying stories.

I pulled out one family photo of Winifred Lee and friends in “bathing costumes” (risqué they’re not!), nicely labelled with names (shown above).

In that photo, the lady second from right is Eva Penney (1883?-1947), one of Winnie’s classmates. Further investigation revealed that “Maude” was Maude Morris (1883-1963, who later married George Straffin), and Elsie Jones (1883-1950, who later married Edward Colburn, Jr.). Whether they were classmates as well as friends remains a question.

Because the “bathing beauties” photo had to have been taken at the Lee family camp, Camp Wichita on Lake Maranacook (Winthrop, Maine) sometime after 1903, when it was purchased, I checked the camp’s guest book as well as Winifred and Rex Church’s wedding guest book: Eureka! The Straffins and the Colburns were frequent guests at the camp, along with Blanche Fuller and Essie Fisher. Maude Straffin, Blanche Fuller, and Essie Fisher were three of the few friends who attended my grandparents' wedding (“only the immediate relatives and friends”), and the three of them are more Pastel Portraits. Of the unnamed graduation photos, might one be Blanche?

“Reading through the lines” of the camp guest book and wedding documents, Winifred Lee Church (1884-1979) had many friends who married or not, moved or not, but who stayed in touch with Christmas cards or postcards, none of which filled out their stories, and all of which led to the portraits of their lives in faded sepia or gray photos, for me at least. Someone, somewhere, knows more about these friends of hers, and I am comfortable thinking that they will not remain (indefinitely) Pastel.

Jan Doerr

About Jan Doerr

Jan Doerr received a B.A. degree in Sociology/Secondary Education from the University of New Hampshire, and spent a long career in the legal profession while researching her family history. She has recently written and published articles for’s Cognoscenti blog: “Labor of Love: Preserving a 226-Year-Old Family Home and Preparing to Let It Go” and “The Value of Family Heirlooms in a Digital Age.” Jan currently lives with her attorney husband in Augusta, Maine, where she serves two Siamese cats and spends all her retirement money propping up a really old house.View all posts by Jan Doerr