Tag Archives: photograph

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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Friday’s Faces From the Past – Monticello, Illinois Kin

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This week’s mystery family appears in a photograph taken at the Brady and Medaris studio in Monticello, Illinois. I have no record of any genealogical events taking place in Monticello itself, but many family members did live in Piatt County, of which Monticello is the county seat.

Could this be Minnie (Walker) Bateman, discussed in my last post, with her husband Joshua and children Lora, Roy, and Tessie? In about 1895 Lora would have been 8, Roy 6, and Tessie 4; youngest child Elsie would not yet have been born.  Minnie would have been about 30 and Joshua 34.

Any other candidates?

Friday’s Faces from the Past – From Our Nation’s Capital

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This week’s unknown photo comes from the Rice photography studio in Washington, DC and again was found in Grandpa and Grandma Montgomery’s house. The only Washington connection of which I am aware is great-aunt Bessie (Montgomery) Boyland. The third of Grandpa Montgomery’s sisters, she was born December 20, 1886 in Mansfield, Illinois, and married Francis Marion Boyland between 1906-1907. Their daughter Helen was born the following year.

In 1910 Francis, Bessie, and Helen were in Grover, Colorado. By 1920 Bessie had moved to Washington, DC and was working as a clerk for the Treasury Department. Bessie is listed as a “boarder” and is living alone (where were Francis and Helen?). By 1930 she had moved to Los Angeles and was living at the Commodore Hotel and working as an auditor. But the question remains – is this Bessie, or another as-yet-unknown connection to our nation’s capital?

Friday’s Faces from the Past – The Mysterious Family from Olney

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This is another of those mysterious family photos that makes me feel guilty remembering all my own unlabeled pictures. Obtained from Grandma and Grandpa Montgomery’s house while packing things up, the family is most likely one of our Montgomery connections – but which one?

Again one of the major clues is the name and location of the photography studio.  Olney, Illinois, home of the M. B. Rush studio, has any number of Montgomery and Walker connections, with even more when all of Richland County is considered.  The family members themselves also provide clues – is there a family consisting of two sons and then two daughters with approximately the right age differences between them?

One possibility is the family of my great-grand-aunt, Hattie F. (Montgomery) West. The oldest child of John and Belinda (Simmons) Montgomery, she was born November 28, 1859 in Ohio; from at least 1870 until her death, Hattie resided in Denver Township, Richland County, Illinois. Hattie married Martin V. West in a double-wedding with her brother Charles William (my great-grandfather) and Laura Maud Walker.  The ceremony took place February 22, 1883. Ten months later Hattie and Martin’s first child, Wilmer Madison West, was born. In 1885, son Harley R. West followed. Around 1887-1888, daughter Stella West was born, followed by Bessie in 1891-1892.  Edna Bertha West was not born until August 23, 1897. A photograph taken of the West family when baby Bessie was about two years old might look similar to this one. Around 1894, Wilmer would have been 10, Harley 9, Stella 7, and Bessie 2. Of course, there’s also the possibility this could be some other family entirely!

Friday’s Faces From the Past – Champaign, Illinois

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This photo is one of many I acquired when I helped empty out Grandma and Grandpa Montgomery’s house after Aunt Laura moved into her own place in 1998.  Luckily a lot of the photos had penciled names on the back and could be identified, but there are still some that remain mysteries.

There are a few clues that can be gleaned from the photo – the most obvious, of course, being the photographer’s studio name and location.  George Gamble, photographer, appears in the 1900 census in Champaign, Illinois.  Born in March 1845 in Ohio, he appears to have opened his studio in Champaign between 1880 and 1900; in the 1880 census he still appears in Center, Indiana, not having moved yet to Champaign.

There are any number of potential Montgomery candidates for the couple in the photo, as evidenced by the number of genealogical connections for Champaign and Champaign County (and nearby locations) detailed on my genealogy data site.  Perhaps someone will recognize these “faces from the past” yet!