On occasion I look around my living room, at the lovingly collected and curated family photos on (almost) every flat surface, and wonder how I will pass along the identifying information on the subjects. (No unidentified photos for me! But the identification resides in my head…)
I don’t worry so much about the ones of my parents and grandparents, although in due course they will all pass into history. The multitude of photos of them, at each stage of their lives, here and in other family houses, argues for some chance that they will be recognized and remembered by future generations. Continue reading In pencil→
“In the fits of our ages, tales and characters are revealed” … or so it was the case with my grandmother, as dementia stole over her mind during the last years of her life. I have used “fits” and “ages” here in the plural form, as I want to tell you a tale of that composite age, the age that my grandmother was then, and an age in life when our minds return to what we once knew best. This is the way it was for my grandmother Babe Sage (as she was called), and how the specter of a woman called “Ma Seal” came into our lives. Ma Seal, for long years unknown to the rest of the family, was a grand old lady whose identity was only revealed in the last couple of weeks. I hope you will indulge me as I try to explain the whys and hows of it all, and yes, perhaps the “fits” and “ages” of it, too. Continue reading Finding Ma→
Our family has an historic heirloom, a microscope that originally belonged to [Heinrich Hermann] Robert Koch (1843-1910), the famous German bacteriologist, who won the 1905 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discoveries related to the causative agents of anthrax, tuberculosis, and cholera. The microscope came into our family by virtue of his cousin, my great-great-grandfather, Ernest Wilhelm Eduard Koch (1827-1903), who was born in Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany, about 30 miles from Clausthal, the birthplace of Robert Koch. After moving to the United States, great-great-grandfather went by “Edward,” but usually was referred to by the family as E.W.E.
Much like genealogical research, photo collecting can be a serendipitous process – sometimes one finds answers, and interesting ones at that, when least expected. From time to time I have focused my efforts on one photographer or another, collecting everything available for sale at a given moment. One such photographer is Alfredo Valente (1899-1973), whose handsome portraits of Broadway stars (and others) give me joy.
I like to buy photographs where the subject is known, although a bit of detective research doesn’t trouble me. In the course of purchasing a Valente proof of Julie Haydon (Donella Donaldson, 1910-1994), I came across an attractive proof of Miss Haydon (and, so I understood, Martha Scott, 1912-2003) as part of a quartet, also by Valente, so I bought it, too. I spent a bit of time trying to figure out what show these four women had appeared in, and came up with the note (to myself) that Miss Haydon and Miss Scott had done some summer stock in 1937-38… Continue reading Group photos→
I recently discovered an online app. that allows me to scan my photographs. As I like to be able to refer to a record of my collection (still somewhat maddening if I forget the subject’s name), this has been a revelation. One of the vernacular photos I bought some time ago shows a cheerful group of four young men standing in front of a large building, perhaps a school. On the reverse, the four have signed their names. So who are they?
The clearest signature belongs to Henry Angiola, and a check of Ancestry.com’s databases yields Henry Angiola, a student at Belmont High School in Los Angeles. The cryptic S ’42 next to Sinn Lew’s signature is seen on Henry’s yearbook page, and all four may be found in the Campanile, Belmont High’s class of 1942 yearbook. Continue reading Belmont High School, 1942→
On a glorious late spring afternoon, just days before the solstice and the return of summer, I should have been jostling with the crowds on my visit to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I should have been standing on the hot pavement waiting my turn to see the sanctuary of the beautifully restored First Parish Church in Town Square. Should have been in a long line snaking its way to the pavilion to get a glimpse of Plymouth Rock, after which I should have been climbing the hill for a tour of the eighteenth-century Edward Winslow House, built by the great-grandson of Pilgrim Edward Winslow, and now the headquarters of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. I should have been among the throngs visiting the humble thatched homesteads of the Pilgrims at the recreated Plimoth Plantation, watching them cultivate their gardens and listening to them recount stories of their first years in the New World. Continue reading Phantom faces→
Recently Meaghan E. H. Siekman shared tips for how to incorporate genealogy into at-home learning, noting that going through old photographs is a good way of introducing children to relatives who passed away before they were born.
That reminded me of a mystery in my own album of early childhood photos. It’s a picture of me taken on my very first Easter, sitting on the lap of an elderly man, and labeled: “Grandpa Ewer 98 Yrs.” Even as a very young girl, I was perplexed by this picture because I knew both of my grandfathers, and two of my great-grandfathers, and none of them had the name Ewer. When I asked my mother who this “Grandpa Ewer” was, she replied that he wasn’t really related to me. Who was he, then, and Why was he in my photo album? It was only when I started doing my own genealogical research that I found out. Continue reading ‘Grandpa Ewer’→
As I said in Family Treasures: View from the index, Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo, Publications Design Manager Ellen Maxwell, and I recently finished work on a beautifully illustrated book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. For me and Ellen, the experience was a nice change from the 60+ text-heavy genealogical resources and compiled family histories we have produced in our four years at NEHGS. We enjoyed learning from our author Gerry Ward and our colleague Curt, who brought their combined experience in producing fine art books and museum catalogs to the project. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the pressroom→
For the last few years, NEHGS Curator of Special Collections Curt DiCamillo and I have been working on a special book called Family Treasures: 175 Years of Collecting Art and Furniture at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. This lavishly illustrated volume showcases the most interesting and unique items in our collection. We contracted with Gerald W. R. Ward, American decorative arts expert and Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator Emeritus of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to write the text and hired award-winning New York City photographer Gavin Ashworth. The result is an intimate portrait of our collection’s highlights, told in engaging narrative and 123 stunning full-color images. Continue reading Family Treasures: View from the index→