Category Archives: #52Ancestors

Favorite Photo: Hidden Treasure

This week’s #52Ancestors blog post prompt is “Favorite Photo.” Photographs themselves offer such a perfect glimpse of the past (or sometimes an imperfect and mysterious glimpse) that it is difficult to select favorites. If forced to choose, I would have to say my favorite photo is that of Rita Blanche Wilson, which intrigued me from a very early age, but I’ve already written about that photo here. A close second, though, is an image I had never seen and didn’t know existed until I was 24 years old.

That year, before moving from Idaho to Virginia, I helped my dad and a number of aunts and uncles as we prepared to clean out my grandparents’ house. It was sad to say good-bye to that old house, but I managed to find and save a number of treasures: the old skeleton key from the back door; a piece of white-painted clapboard; the broken pieces of the necklace my grandmother wore on her wedding day; the poster of a boy, his collie, and a train that my dad remembered from his childhood.

But one of the most surprising discoveries came when my dad was removing the washer and dryer from the laundry alcove in the kitchen. There, fallen behind them and unseen for who knows how many years, was a family photograph. It is a beautiful photograph, and remarkably undamaged after all those years behind the washer. Dad handed it to me and confirmed, as I suspected, that the young girl in the back row was, in fact, my grandmother, Blanche Agnes Wilson.

Carl Ozro and Sophie Wilson with Children

The Wilson family was not a wealthy one, so there are not a large number of photographs of them. And none of them depict my grandmother at this time period – there are baby photos, and her confirmation photos at age eighteen, but none of this in-between time, which makes this glimpse of Grandma in her pristine white dress and huge hair bow all the more fascinating. What was she thinking here as she looked down at the book her sister was holding? Was the strain already evident in her parents’ marriage? Was there sorrow still over the two brothers she had lost, one the year after she was born, and one perhaps two years before this photo was taken? There is no way now of knowing these things. But the facts that we do know are these….

The photograph was taken at Wilson’s Studio in Albion, Nebraska. Whether or not the studio was owned by a relative of the Wilson family, I do not know. Captured here in the photo are Carl Ozro Wilson, his wife Sophie Christine (Roberg) Wilson, and five of their eventual ten children, including Blanche, their second child. Their eldest, Anders Clarence, had died of “cholera infantum” on his second birthday, when my grandmother was eight months old. The other children in the photo are Ozro Willie, Pearl Jeanette, Clarence Salmer, and Mildred Genevieve. Woodrow Wilson, born between Clarence and Mildred, lived only two days in the summer of 1917, dying of colic.

Baby Mildred was born in April 1919. I would assume this might have been taken toward the end of that year, though I’m not very good at guessing babies’ ages. If correct, that would make Clarence four, Pearl seven, Ozro eight, and Grandma eleven. I can’t help but wonder if, having lost two baby sons, Sophie and Carl made a point of capturing this family image soon after their next baby was born. I wonder, too, if Sophie’s father, Anders Roberg, could have played a part. Stories tell of Anders purchasing the matching dresses for Blanche and her cousin Martha seen in their confirmation photo taken in 1926. Could he have encouraged (or paid for?) this family photograph as well? By 1915 the family had moved from my grandma’s native Nebraska to Wood, South Dakota, some 200 miles from Albion, but Anders lived in Newman Grove, Nebraska, only 15 miles from Wilson’s Studio.

Whatever the reason or the circumstances, I am grateful to have this photo and its window into the life of my grandmother as a young girl. And grateful for the hidden treasure in the laundry room.

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Start: High School Sweethearts

Ted and Linda Montgomery 1st Anniversary

Mom and Dad: 1st Anniversary

So it’s January 2. As usual, I’ve made about 45962 resolutions, one of which is to resurrect this genealogy blog. I’m trying something new this year; I recently came across Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Each week has its own prompt, intended to encourage selecting one ancestor or relative to share in some way.

This week’s post? “Start.” There are many ways to interpret that one (the system describes the prompts as “intentionally vague”), but for me, and for all of us, we get our start from our parents. So where did my parents’ shared story start?

For Theodore Richard (Ted) Montgomery and Linda Jo Hoffmann, that start was in the first grade. They were in the same class at Van Buren Elementary in Caldwell, Idaho, though both had been born elsewhere (Mom in Portland, Oregon; Dad in Scottsbluff, Nebraska). Both have very different memories of that first grade class, as well, and not much memory of each other at that time. Mom seems to have a fairly positive memory of the class; for Dad, everything was marred by the fact that during a fire drill on the very first day, he asked the teacher (who shall remain anonymous) if there was a real fire, and she slapped him. I don’t like that teacher much, but she is long since dead. I checked.

Mom and Dad continued through school together, but it wasn’t until they were in high school that they had much contact. If I have my story straight, they got to know each other as more than just vague acquaintances toward the end of their junior year. The following summer, while Mom visited relatives in Illinois, Dad wrote her letters. A lot of them. At some point in here, they had their first date, playing miniature golf. Mom won. It wasn’t until Homecoming of their senior year, however, that they became more serious – Mom was elected Caldwell High School’s Homecoming Queen for 1959, and Dad was her escort and crowned her during the game. At least I think it was during the game; a secondary goal for 2018 is to gather more oral history details from family….

Soon after Homecoming, Mom and Dad began going steady. They dated all through their senior year and graduated in May 1960. Both attended the College of Idaho for one semester that fall (both had scholarships to cover that much college), but they knew already that they wanted to get married and start their lives together and not just “soak up knowledge,” as Mom accused my brother and me of doing when we went on for impractical degrees in English/Classics (Matt), and Medieval Studies (me).

They were engaged in December 1960 (again, I’m waiting for Mom to correct me if I’ve got that wrong). Dad then went to work at The Crookham Company, and Mom took classes at a business school. They were married at Grace Lutheran Church in Caldwell on August 26, 1961, which was also Dad’s father’s 60th birthday. Dad was 19, and Mom was still 18; she would turn 19 in about 6 more weeks. They would wait more than a decade to start a family; my brother was born in December 1971, and I in April 1974. But I still consider that first grade classroom where their shared history first began.

One final postscript: Mom and Dad’s glamorous honeymoon was spent at the 7K Motel in Garden City, a suburb of Boise. Like their marriage, the 7K is still in existence, 56 years later.