The Adventures Of A Photo Sleuth: The Minor Family Album

Featured

Minor Photo Album Latch

The leather is cracking, and the gold flecking off of its pages. The images inside are time capsules.  Staring at their faces I search for some resemblance that reappears in my mother or my brothers or me or my children.  Someone on Ceylon Lane, Post Office Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, bought this richly tooled leather album in the late 1800s.  Its heavy card stock pages were cut precisely to hold 4½ by 6½ cabinet card photographs. She–and I only say she because it is this she who constructs family albums today–she did not do me the favor of identifying these people.  I just have clues in the photographers’ names and studio locations.  Hairstyles and jewelry, the cut of a bodice, the width of a lapel, all hint at a timeframe.  Then, like a sleuthhound, I pick up the scent, looking through all the shoots and roots and leaves of my family tree.  Because I do believe that these men, women and children are my family.

For the next little while I will be writing about my discoveries: the mysteries solved, the wild goose chases, and the tips and tricks collected along the way. Join me as I unlock the secrets of the Minor Family Album.

1.  Provenance

2. Page One: Mr. Chin Whiskers

3. Mr. Chin Whiskers, continued

4. Pages two, three and four

5. Page five: The marriage of Robert and May

6. Crossing Paths With More Strangers

7. Windows to My Past

8. Women Folk I Know

9. Taylor is the New Greene

10. For Marion

11. On Court Avenue

12. Resembling the Past

13. Grand Uncle Posed For His Portrait

14. Dashing Great-grandfather, Robert Minor

Robert Minor Showcased in the Minor Family Album

Sometime between 1888 and 1890, my great-grandfather, Robert Minor, strolled into the photographic studio of Thomas W. Rogers (Carmichaels, PA) and struck a pose.  He wore a well-ironed wool suit, the jacket buttoned so high that the full Windsor knot is all one sees of his dapper tie. His eyes belie the confident stance–Robert is on the cusp of adulthood, almost ready to marry, almost ready to manage the family farm.  Almost.

Little wonder that his mother, Mary Jane Minor, included this moment in time within the pages of the Minor Family Album.

Robert Minor, circa 1888-1890, in TW Rogers studio, Carmichaels (PA)

Robert Minor (1869-1943), portrait taken by Thomas W. Rogers in his photographic studio in Carmichaels (PA), circa 1888-1890.

Where Wave Meets Cloud

Beach Scene

Brother John P. Minor

 

 

John Pierson Minor, (1852-1922),

Photograph by Thomas W. Rogers, 1888-1890. From the Minor Family Album, archives of the author.

Page fifteen of the Minor Family Album holds this photograph of a middle-aged man.  Shot sometime between 1888 and 1890, this portrait is yet one more mystery.  An 1874 family photograph, however, has a person that is eerily similar to this guy, and on that bit of evidence I advance the likely identification of John Pierson Minor.

John was born seventeen years before my great-grandfather, Robert, in 1852, to Marion and Mary Jane Guynn Minor, just outside the village of Garards Fort (Pennsylvania).  Folks in the surrounding hills admired and respected the stock driving, enterprising man for whom he was named–grandpa John Pierson Minor.  And by the time this photograph was taken, young John had established his own reputation as a cattle dealer and farmer.  What is most fascinating about this artifact is what is NOT there…his wife and baby.

John P. had married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Garard (1852-1922) in 1876 and the couple remained in the Minor corridor of Ceylon Road.  Nine years passed before a son, Ary L., was born.  Perhaps this photograph is just one of a series, and the portraits of Lizzie and Ary were not included in this collection.  Or maybe those faces await me in the final pages of the Minor Album…

Digging For The Roots Beneath An Heirloom Cabinet Card

Charles W. Tilton, minister, Goshen Baptist Church, 1864-1882, Greene County, Pennsylvania

Mary Jane Minor left no diary, no ledger, no written clues about her daily life, but she did include a photograph of her preacher, Charles W. Tilton, in the Minor Family Album.  If this cabinet card, this tangible thing, is an entry point into my great-great-grandmother’s life, where can I go?  What intersections existed between the lives of a Baptist minister and a mother of four?  What values shaped their lives and structured their days? I wonder…

“Mama, Pastor Tilton is calling us in!”

A table top–thirty feet long–was  covered entirely with cakes, flower bouquets, and fall fruits. Twelve year old Sarah jiggled Bobby on her left hip as she snuck a grape from this Sabbath School Festival picnic. Mary Jane tucked one more stem of goldenrod between fern fronds before reaching out to her baby’s pudgy embrace. A final glance at her arrangement left the mother satisfied, and the slim figure joined the lines of children, teens, parents, and elders now flowing into the red brick sanctuary of Goshen Baptist Church.

Reverend Charles Tilton began, “From the book of Proverbs, chapter one.”

“To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgement, and equity…A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels…”

Wiggling free of his mother’s arms, the one year old slid to the floor where he sat and wailed, strands of hair stuck to his red face. With a sigh the forty year old scooped baby Robert up and quietly snuck out to a quiet spot within earshot of the preacher’s voice.  

“…Know the value of this Sabbath School, assembled here today, which inculcates in our young people morality and uprightness…”

At the sermon’s close, the Baptist minister invited each child to come forward to receive their prize for completed work. Murmurs of approval followed the footsteps to the pulpit.  At last Pastor Tilton recognized the student who had memorized the most Bible verses.  Mary Jane allowed a small smile of pride at her Sarah’s name. A pocket-sized Bible would be a treasured addition to the girl’s night table. 

Gradually Bobby’s nursing slowed, and his arms splayed softly open to embrace his dreams.  Mary Jane rocked back and forth, a metronome to the hymn now drifting out the open windows.  

“Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky, sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly. Still all my song shall be, nearer, my God, to Thee. Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.”

Goshen Baptist Church

Goshen Baptist Church, Greene County, Pennsylvania, now known as John Corbley Baptist Church

William Hanna, The History of Greene County, Pennsylvania: Containing an Outline of the State from 1682 until the Formation of Washington County in 1781 (1882; image reprint, Internet Archives: https://archive.org/details/historyofgreenec00hann), 213.

Samuel Bates, The History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (1888; image reprint, Internet Archives: https://archive.org/details/historyofgreenec00bate), 95, 749.

“Religious Revivals,” The Washington (Pennsylvania) Review and Examiner, 2 February 1866, p.3; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 29 July 2014), Newspaper Archives.

“Sabbath School Festival,” The Washington (Pennsylvania) Reporter, 13 October 1869, p.1; digital images, GenealogyBank.com (http://www.genealogybank.com: accessed 29 July 2014), Newspaper Archives.

“Tenmile, (Pa.,) Baptist Association,” The Wheeling (West Virginia) Daily Intelligencer, 26 September 1873, p.3, col. 1; digital images, ChoniclingAmerica.loc.gov (http://www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov: accessed 6 August 2014), Historic American Newspapers.

Swiped, Stolen, Borrowed…What To Do When Your Work Is “Shared”: Tuesday’s Tip

Portrait of Unknown Man, Minor Family Album, p.1Light colored eyes, weak from age and illness, stared out from between a headful of thick, wavy hair and a chinful of white whiskers.  The photograph was among a list of search returns for John P. Minor on a major genealogical website. The problem?  This is NOT John P. Minor.  The PROBLEM? Two different ancestry.com users had conducted a google search, found their way to an old Shoots, Roots, And Leaves blog post in which yours truly had misidentified the whiskered gent as my patriarch, John P. Minor.  Without contacting me, they lifted the photo and uploaded it to Ancestry, perpetuating inaccurate family history.

Two things have gone awry here.

1.) My original attempt to identify an old, unlabeled photograph found in an album that belonged to my mother.  I had ascertained a probable chain of provenance, and reached the conclusion that the photographs were collected by Mary Jane Minor in the late 1800s.  With limited technical knowledge of dating photographs and limited contact with other relatives, I made a stab at identifying the guy primarily based on his age and the placement of the photograph in the first page.  I certainly did not have enough sources or experience to make a solid claim–as I did–that the whiskered man was John P. Minor. I have since acquired more skills, and conferred with relatives, to know with certainty that this is NOT J. P. Minor, and I have written two subsequent blog posts about this research here and here.

2) Readers did not collaborate before sharing.  I give my contact information for a reason–to collaborate.  I also have the “comments section” activated for a reason–to collaborate.  Had these tree climbers been willing to use either method I could have shared the newly discovered photographs, and collaborated on a possible identification of Mr. Chin Whiskers.  Instead, the readers perpetuated my error.

What’s a Geneablogger to do?

Well, I sure as heck will not stop blogging and sharing.  The collaborations and contacts have proven to be insightful, stimulating, and fun.  But I have established a few guidelines for error catching and correcting!!

1.)  If the error is perpetuated on Ancestry.com:  Leave a note in the photograph’s or document’s comment section attributing the original source, your blog, and stating the error that is perpetuated.  THEN contact the user directly with the Ancestry.com in-house mail, with the same message.

2.) Review the past post.  Delete the inaccurate information.  If the remaining text is nonsensical, delete the whole darn post.  If a wonderful story still deserves to be told, note that the post has been updated to reflect new information.  Don’t forget to update your tags and photo captions!!

3.) Up your game. If a post’s story is a mere “perhaps”, generate reader engagement.   Ask questions instead of making statements.  Write a piece of fiction, based on a piece of intriguing data, and ask readers if they think that interpretation to be likely given the source.  In short…if you are not confident that the family story is probably or certainly true, then flag the post as a work in progress.

I am a writer, a blogger, a family historian, a researcher, and collaborator.  I know by putting my work out here that it will sometimes be taken, reused with and without attribution to me.  That is the risk I take, gladly, willingly, for ultimately every reader is a potential friend and collaborator.

I am curious to know how other geneabloggers have handled this situation.  I look forward to reading your comments!!