The above composite image is of three members, as yet unidentified, of the Lemaire family of northern France. How they are related to each other and to the contemporary family I’m working on is also yet to be determined. I’ve decided to post them now simply as examples of the kind of black-and-white studio portraits so common from the late 19th century and the early 20th century that I find so appealing. There is a painting-like quality to them that draws me in. Though they are all carefully posed shots, I don’t sense any kind discomfort on the part of the subjects, especially the WWI soldier in the middle. They all seem to have the poise of professional models.
Ephemeral: what a lovely sounding adjective. My thesaurus has the following synonyms: transitory, fleeting, brief, short-lived, momentary, impermanent, passing…you get the idea. Its origin is the Greek ephemeros which means “lasting only one day,” according to Wikipedia. The singular noun form is ephemeron; the plural is ephemera. In the fields of history and genealogy, you hear of collections of ephemera. What is it? Professional historians say that ephemera consists of anything printed on paper that was of passing interest at the time it was created. That’s irrelevant to what I’m talking about, since I’m neither a historian nor a professional.
I’m talking about keepsakes. Family heirlooms. Mementos. You know–Stuff!
Since I spend so much time working with and talking about photographs, I’m going to leave them off of this list.
Here are examples of items other than photos that people back in the day would stash away in closets. Some where, in fact, meant to last; some were not. Some of it is indeed printed matter; much of it is not. The list is in no particular order.
- High school and college yearbooks.
- Birth, marriage and death certificates.
- Diplomas and similar educational certificates.
- Awards and trophies from work, school and hobbies.
- Original paintings, sculpture and handmade craft items.
- Religious mementos; bibles and hymnals.
- Handmade family trees.
- Diaries, journals and sketchbooks.
- Locks of hair or baby teeth.
- Military uniforms, discharge papers and memorabilia.
- Passports, naturalization documents, probate documents.
- Sheet music of original compositions; manuscripts that later became published works.
- Newspaper or magazine clippings.
- Mailed birth announcements, birthday and anniversary cards, party invitations, sympathy cards and thank you cards.
- Tickets and programs to theatrical or sporting events in which a family member participated.
- Church programs from baptisms, confirmations and memorial services or funerals.
- Advertising brochures and flyers from businesses owned or companies worked for by relatives.
- Handwritten or printed collections of home-created recipes.
- Personal telephone and address books.
- Postcards and souvenirs from honeymoons or big vacations.
- Contents of wallets or purses, such as driver’s licenses, insurance cards, club membership cards.
- School report cards.
- Menus, placemats or matchbooks from family-owned restaurants.
- Résumés and letters of recommendation from employers.
- Cancelled checks from banks that document important purchases.
- Old road maps with the route of a life-changing cross-country trip marked in pen.
- Artwork created by children.
- Personal letters, including love letters.
- Timepieces and jewelry; keys and similar hardware.
- Wedding dresses, baby blankets and clothing.
- Stamp and coin collections (which sometimes have actual monetary value!).
In trying to determine what is and isn’t ephemera (in the view of a serious hobbyist) this is what I think: If the item has become, regardless of original intention, something that has acquired meaning to someone in the present, then it is worth keeping.
I have in my possession items from several categories in the list. I’ve kept or collected them because they either have emotional value or are useful in my research. Sometimes I only have a digital version of an item. If eventually the meaning or usefulness to anyone of an item fades, either the original or the copy (or both) may be discarded.
Edwin Theilig was not related to me, but to the families I am currently doing a project for. Here’s his high school algebra class report card for the school year 1922-23. Now doubt it was originally saved by his mother. Decades later, when she passed on, we can assume Edwin found it and decided it meant something to him. Eventually he died, and his widow kept it for the remaining 22 years of her life. Edwin’s daughter, is now in possession of it.
The report card itself has no monetary value or historic significance. It’s possible the signatures at the bottom are the only remaining handwriting by Edwin’s parents, Max Arno Theilig and Ruth A. (Merrill) Theilig.
As long as I’m discussing the Theilig family, here’s a dispatch from the U. S. Navy (the spelling “despatch” was in use at the time) from 1928 from the U.S.S. General Alava somewhere in the Asian Sea. Apparently there had been an attempt to contact 20-year old Edwin (with the description “Fireman”) to inform him of his father’s death back home, and there had been trouble locating him. No doubt some modern-day veterans would consider this a typical military SNAFU.
I am neither an obsessive packrat nor a minimalist, but since it’s likely I won’t have any blood descendants, lately I’ve tended to do more tossing out rather than stowing away the effluvia of my own life. But that doesn’t keep me from keeping some of the stuff of my forebearers (and other people’s forebearers) while I am here and letting whomever I give it to before I go decide what to do with it.
Please mention in the comments any items you have kept belonging to a ancestor, relative or friend that I don’t have in my list. I’m sure there are many I haven’t thought of. I’ve purposely left out the many types of sound and motion picture film recordings from the past century or so, magnetic videotape from the past 40 years, as well as the digital versions of almost everything created in the past quarter century.
There’s a website that’s been popular for laughs in recent years called Awkward Family Photos. Most of it consists of hilarious, embarrassing, repulsive or otherwise cringeworthy “what were they thinking” genuine family photos from the past few decades. Here’s one I ran across in my research that could be viewed not with hilarity but with amusement–and it’s from ninety years ago. It was taken in the Summer Street home of the Hopkins family of Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.
To be precise: Mr. and Mrs. Ira Lincoln Hopkins and two of his three daughters. Pictured here are Lucille on the left and Eleanor on the right; Jessie is missing. Mrs. Hopkins, seated comfortably in her rocker stage left, was the former Lucy Martha Fairweather, about age 58 in this photo. She was a first cousin four-times removed to our grandchildren.
The photographer seems to have asked the two young ladies to sit cross-legged and hold on to their shoes–an odd pose for the time. At first glance I couldn’t see the shoes and thought their fingers were curled against the floor, like long-armed apes dragging their knuckles on the ground. Now I’ve figured that, with Eleanor and her mother looking at each other intently, they are waiting for Ma’s signal to levitate into the air like Hindu yogis. The prim and proper Mr. Hopkins will have none of that nonsense and rests in his handsome Morris chair, gazing into the middle distance. Only Lucy Junior looks at the camera, as if to say “Seriously?”
Ira Hopkins was described by local biographer of the time as a “prosperous dairyman” who owned 140 acres of farmland in Lima Township. Lucille, the eldest daughter, had considerable talent with the piano. The family were members of the First Baptist Church and always voted the Republican ticket.
I absolutely love this photograph: the way the photographer posed and lit these children; the way they are dressed and their expressions. The two older girls look alert and well behaved–they way a parent hopes for when paying for a studio portrait. The third girl, the youngest child in the middle, looks a bit frightened. Her blurred right hand indicates she couldn’t sit entirely still and was perhaps tugging at the sleeve of her calm older sister for support. The only boy is the one in the dark shirt–although in the style of the day, the outfit leans to the effeminate side.
These siblings are members of one of the thousands of Adams families that can be traced to the most famous Americans of that name: the second and sixth presidents of the United States. Let me be clear: I did not do that research. According to records left behind by many other family historians, these four youngsters are third cousins four-times removed from John Adams and fourth cousins three-times removed from his son, John Quincy Adams.
So are those presidents related to me, then? No, not really. My step-grandchildren are great grandniece and great grandnephew to these relatives, making little Theo and Olive third cousins seven-times removed of the second president, and fourth cousins six-times removed of J. Q. Adams.
Here are the names and life dates of these four ragamuffins: Left to right, Alma Peggy Adams (1902-1986); Esther Elizabeth Adams (1907-1998); John Sherman Adams (1906-1974) and in the front Lois Ruth Adams (1899-1985).
I have not been able to determine where the photo was taken; it had to have been either Missouri or New Mexico. The two youngest were born in Missouri in 1906 and 1907, the photo was taken in late 1908 or in 1909, but the entire family was living in Des Moines, New Mexico in the 1910 federal census.
I’ll bet that as soon as the photographer was done, little Alma (later known as Peg) stuck her tongue out at the camera, crossed her eyes and pulled the bow from her head. The two youngest ones probably scrambled down from the wicker chair and asked for candy. Lois likely just stood up and calmly brushed the wrinkles from her best Sunday dress.
It’s Sunday morning, and many people are in church at this time. I am not one of those people. Instead, I’m spending this Sunday morning thinking about where I am in life and what I am doing with its gift. Lately I have used up many hours doing what plain-speaking types call “collecting dead relatives.” I wouldn’t refer to it that way because a good deal of the people I’m interested in are still very much above ground.
(That’s another reason I usually don’t call it genealogy. I’m contradicting myself a bit here–see my first post of this blog, titled “Welcome!”–because I actually do believe the difference between genealogy and family history is significant–I include stepparents, adopted children and other non-blood relatives in my research.)
But I want what I’ve been doing to sound more inviting to those who are not into this as much as I am by finding yet another term besides “Family History”. Some people’s eyes glaze over at the mention of history. That’s stuff that happened in the past and is therefore not worth thinking about. Most people spend most of their time thinking about what they have to do today, tomorrow and next week. I want to show that if we take some time to consider our roots, we will be better able to appreciate where our lives have taken us. Maybe we will have a new perspective on where we might be in the coming years.
So how about I give an impressive name–like a university course. How about “Family Dynamics and Behavioral Studies Based on Ancestry and Descendancy 101.” That might work!
Enough of this for now. I suppose I haven’t really answered the question “why am I doing this”, but at least have laid out one rationale for it. I’m sure I’ll come back to this subject–probably on another contemplative Sunday morning.
There’s a website called Spokeo that I discovered about six months ago. I have often used it to help me contact living relatives. I paid about $25 for a one-year premium subscription. At first I found it very useful compared to similar sites I’ve tried in the past. However, today I found that it can be out of date–in this particular case way out of date.
I was looking up one Eveline C. Lemaire whom I believed to have moved to Florida after living most of her life in the state of New York. Lo and behold, I found her “current address” easily–along with an aerial photograph of her neighborhood. Then I scrolled down the page where it shows relatives who may live with this person. There was her husband, Samuel Lemaire–whom I happen to know died in 2007.
I sincerely hoped he didn’t still live with her.
Then that got me thinking: What age would Eveline be now? I referred back to my genealogy files and slapped my forehead when I saw I had records showing she passed away at the age of 77 on January 4, 1994–nearly 20 years ago. (I knew that a few months back but had forgotten–hence my visit to Spokeo.)
I know sites like this use public records for their data. But the Social Security Death Index, which is updated quite often lately, is a public record and Eveline C. Lemaire is indeed there. I would have thought Spokeo would have some sort of internal search engine combing the SSDI every time it gets updated–apparently not!
So the point is that sites like Spokeo can be very handy, or they can send you on wild goose chases trying to make contact with people who have been dead for two decades. If you really want to contact the dead, hire a medium and hold a séance–you might get lucky. Anyway, this is something to consider before you fork out your hard-earned money for a premium subscription.
I love it when I find a product that makes my life easier.
If you’ve done any kind of genealogy research that’s taken you to a faraway relative’s home, you probably have found a family photo or document that you want a copy of. Usually these items are stored in decades-old albums with black construction paper pages in delicate condition. Sometimes they’re in the more recent “magnetic” album pages with gummy plastic overlays, turning yellow. If we feel any kind of responsibility to preserve these treasures for future generations, we want to save them from further deterioration. Time to digitize!
But–your expensive flatbed scanner is at home. You wouldn’t bring it with you anyway because it’s too cumbersome–it’s not designed to be portable. Besides, it has to be connected to a computer to save the images, and you only have your bulky desktop PC or Mac in your home office.
What to do? Your great aunt Rita isn’t going to let you borrow that beloved picture album and bring it back months later–she wouldn’t let it out of her sight. Your cousin Marvin doesn’t want that elaborate handmade wooden frame with the marriage certificate of your great grandparents sealed inside for a century to be dismantled for scanning.
Enter the Flip-Pal scanner. Six months ago I picked up one of these gadgets online for $130. I was lucky to get it on sale; now it sells for $150. That’s a lot of money, but I’m serious about including photographs in the family histories that I work on–so I considered it an investment.
There have been other mobile scanners on the market for a few years, but most of them have drawbacks. Some of them have memory cards, so at least they don’t require a computer to store the images. (If you have a laptop with a USB cable, that last point is irrelevant–but play along with me here.) If the scanner requires you to feed a fragile item through a slot, if it doesn’t go in straight it can easily be damaged.
But the biggest issue with most scanners, portable or desktop, is that you have to bring the photograph to the scanner. You’re still faced with the problem of removing the photos from their albums or frames.
The Flip-Pal solves that problem most of the time by bringing the scanner to the photograph in situ. It’s a lightweight color scanner measuring about 6 x 9 inches on the outside and is about an inch thick. The scanning area, the framed glass rectangle, is only slightly larger than 4 x 6 inches–but don’t let that stop you.
Before I explain where this handy doodad gets its name, let me just say that if you are lucky enough to have an original that is loose–that is, not confined to an album or frame–and happens to be 4 x 6 inches or smaller–then you can just use the Flip-Pal like the miniature flatbed scanner that is. Open the lid, place the original face down on the glass, close the lid, press the button. Done and done.
As soon as you hear the scanning bar begin its return pass to its original position, you can remove your original and put in another. A tiny version of your photo will appear on the monitor. It’s too small for judging the quality, but you can at least verify that you captured the image.
There are two resolutions to choose from: 300 or 600 dpi. With old photographs 300 dpi produces great results. Using the 600 setting will use your batteries up faster, take up twice as much storage and each scan will take twice the time. In the beginning I tried both settings on a batch of a dozen photos. When I later saw the two versions of each on my computer, I could barely see any differences.
When it’s time to scan those unremovable originals in albums, books and under glass, here’s where the flipping comes in. Take off the scanner lid. Go ahead, pull it right out of its two mounting slots! You’ll notice there are two glass surfaces–the second one is on the bottom.
Flip the device over and place it on top of your original. You’ll be able to see through both layers of glass to your original. Press the button and don’t move the scanner. You’ll be able to see the scanning bar travel across the machine. You can move the Flip-Pal away when it reverses direction–it only takes about five seconds to capture your image.
It takes a little practice to do the whole procedure smoothly. The scanning button on the side of the machine feels a little clumsier to press when it’s upside down–and obviously if you want to check the scanned image in the monitor you have to flip the scanner back over each time.
If your original is larger than 4 x 6 inches, you simply make as many overlapping scans as you need to insure the entire photo or document has been captured. You can even mix landscape and portrait orientations. There are guide lines printed on the glass to show you how much overlap is needed. Later you select all the scans you’ve made and use the included Easy-Stitch software to combine them back into one seamless image.
This can be time-consuming when you have a large original. I once made 10 passes over a 12 x 20-inch photograph; it’s better to make more scans that you think you need. This may be the only chance you have with that particular family treasure. Trial and error is the only way to learn how to use this device.
I used to worry about the glass window on the bottom of the machine. It seems so unprotected and easy to smudge. I was fastidious about wiping fingerprints off both glass surfaces with a microfiber cloth. Then I realized it’s only important to keep the top surface pristine–and it’s often protected by the removable lid. The bottom window is just there for aiming your upside-down scans.
Earlier I hinted the Flip-Pal is not perfect. Sometimes there are problems. If the photo is in a small frame and you are not able to lay the device completely flat against the image in the frame, you’re going to get a blurry image. This can also happen with larger framed items if there is not enough empty space or a mat around the original. You will also have a problem with photos in plastic sleeves or under those transparent sheets I mentioned if the plastic has become wrinkled by heat; the wrinkles will show up as reflections from the bright scanning light.
In these cases, the only thing you can do is convince your relative that you really do have to temporarily remove the photo from its enclosure, but at least you can scan it during your visit and put it back immediately. Good luck with putting photos back into those plastic albums though; you’ll have trouble making them stick.
The Flip-Pal has other uses. Take it to the library to scan book excerpts without having to wrestle them onto the copy machine and paying 15 cents a page. Use it to scan coins, stamps or other flat items. If you want to protect the device while carrying it around, you can get a padded nylon case in a variety of colors for $30 including a shoulder strap. You’ll also want to buy a larger SD memory card; the one that comes with the Flip-Pal is too small. A 4-gigabyte SD card can hold hundreds of images–the quantity will vary based on the resolution you choose.
I wish it came with an AC adaptor so you can plug it in when you can. It takes four AA batteries and it’s possible to use them up after several hours of scanning. Always take a spare set of batteries if you’re going on a scanning field trip. Fortunately the Flip-Pal will shut itself off after two minutes of inactivity.
In trying to convince you to buy this gadget, I’ve pointed out a lot of flaws; but I still find the Flip-Pal worth the price. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this time-saver 3½ stars.
Christmas 1955, Columbus, Ohio. Top row, left to right: John Wilson Castle, Nell Myrtle Castle, Ruth Margaret Castle, mother Nellie Jane (Carson) Castle (a widow for 16 years at this point), and Raymond William Castle. Front row, left to right: uncertain (could be Ann Louise Castle), uncertain (could be Dorothy, John’s wife), Mary Jane Castle and Ross Samuel Castle. So there are at least six of the nine Castle adult children shown. The three missing would be Helen Mae Castle (my mother), Martha Evelyn Castle, and Ann–if she is not the woman on the left in front.
Here’s a list of this generation of Castles with their offspring, all in birth order:
- Raymond (1904-1984) never married and had no children.
- Ruth (1906-1981) never married and had no children.
- Nell (1909-1982) married Edward William Parker and had three children.
- Ross (1911-2002) married Doris Marie Bellis and had two children.
- John (1916-2001) married Dorothy Grace Johnson and had three sons.
- Mary Jane (1918-2002) married Jack Elton Edgell and had two sons.
- Martha (1920-1998) married Frank Paul Troiano and had four children.
- Helen (1923-2001) married Lloyd William Winget and had five children.
- Ann (1926-2003) married Donald Henry Martin, Sr. and had four children.
As you can see, there were only three sons to carry down the Castle name and only Ross and John did so. But some of us, um…half Castles…like myself…can feel Castle-y sometimes.
In later posts I’ll expound a little about some of these folks.
These are the surviving Rodgers siblings of Ringgold County, Iowa in the late 1890’s. The woman on the left, first row is Eudora Rodgers (Price). She was my stepdaughter-in-law’s 2nd great grandmother. At this point in her life, she was the widow of Thomas Price, who served in the Civil War as a drummer boy, but was nevertheless wounded in battle. He died of his wounds early in 1882.
The only man in the photo is her brother Norman Rodgers. The other four ladies must be their sisters Mary Elizabeth (b. 1843), Malinda (b. 1848), Lydia (b. 1849) and Festina (b. 1856). There were two other sisters who died before this photo was taken. There was one other brother, Harper N. Rodgers, who lived until 1918. So, altogether there were nine siblings.
I’m hoping someone will tell me which of the four unspecified sisters is which. There is a 13-year spread between the eldest and the youngest. Eudora turned 50 in 1897, and this photo had to have been taken before 20 March, 1900 when she died. If I had to guess, I’d say the woman on the right in front looks the youngest, so she could be Festina. The woman behind her I would pick as the eldest, Mary Elizabeth.
I like this photo for the differing dresses on the ladies, especially the one on the upper left with the matador shoulders–she even has the slight hint of a smile, like the sister on the front right does. That was a rarity in these formal studio photographs of the time.
It’s Labor Day weekend–how appropriate for starting a labor of love. I’ve finally jumped on the blogging bandwagon–a few years late but zero dollars short. This will be about my trip down the rabbit hole of studying Family History; unlike some others in this hobby, I consider the difference between the “Genealogy” and “Family History” insignificant.
My 20-plus-year quest to find as many ancestors, aunts and uncles, and cousins (close or distant, full or removed, living or dead) has yielded some fascinating results as well as a whole boatload of mysteries still to be solved. I’ve been swinging the sledgehammer to break some of those brick walls down, so I’m hoping to get some help from my readers.
My specialty and strongest interest is in collecting old photographs and ephemera.
My research recently has branched out from my own relatives to those of in-laws of mine and spouses of relatives. Right at the moment I’m concentrating on family members of my stepson and his wife, hoping to have a book ready by this coming Christmas.
Here is a partial list of the surnames I’m working on, in no particular order:
Winget, Castle, Carson, Littlejohn, Boggs, Gray, Haye, Neubauer, Grochowski, Loiry, Fairweather, Merrill, Price, Windhusen, Adams, Gleeson, Theilig, Lemaire, Braband, Locker, Dalton, Tanner, Durham, Anderson, Gray, Knopsnyder, Gabriel, Altendorf, Rydzewski, Steiper, Alfs and Lawrence.
First of all, a quick thanks to Lisa Louise Cooke at lisalouisecooke.com and her Genealogy Gems empire–(dare I call it that?)–for inspiring me.
I look forward to this adventure, and I invite you to enjoy it with me.
~ Steve Winget