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.
Sometime between 1883-1888, F. P. Morgan ushered these three people into his Uniontown (Pennsylvania) studio on Morgantown Street, and shot this cabinet card photo. Their identity is concealed by the passage of time; their relationship to the Minor family of Green County lost in a historical fog.
Their relationship to each other, however, is clearly described in the photographer’s clever posing.
The silver-haired gentleman sits relaxed in an upholstered chair, while the woman and boy stand to his right with their arms resting on his shoulder and arm. Their hands line up, smack dab in the middle of the frame, a visual statement–We are family. The tableau is vintage Victorian; the husband is seated in the only chair signifying his role as patriarch and the woman is beside him as helpmeet. Together they shelter and nurture their six(ish) year old son.
Three faces, one family. Incognito.
Unidentified Family, cabinet card, F. P. Morgan, photographer, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1883-1888. The Minor Family Album, p. 18, Author’s Collection, 2014.
This middle-aged woman sat for her portrait, held motionless by a photographer’s head rest for the minutes-long exposure. The discomfort of such stillness couldn’t keep an impish grin from her face. Woman in a Day Cap’s identity and relationship to my family has been lost. Her photograph, however, can serve now as a mid-nineteenth century fashion plate, evidence of what a mature woman wore out and about on a cold day.
LOOK WITH ME
A white cap covers the woman’s gray-streaked hair, framing her face with its starched ruffles. A white ribbon is tied under her chin, ensuring the cap’s place come wind or rain. At her throat, the woman wears a white cotton collar, one to three inches wide, with scalloped tatted edges decoratively set off by the dark material underneath. The woolen wrap is worn draped across the front, gathered and fastened on the upper left arm–not at the throat like other coats and cloaks of the 1840s and 1850s. Her hands are tucked inside a white fur muff, likely made of ermine.
Even if I don’t know how this woman is related to my Minor family, I take great delight in the inclusion of her photograph. As always, digging in the Minor Family Album reveals treasures.
Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author’s collection. 2014.
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 (1869-1943), portrait taken by Thomas W. Rogers in his photographic studio in Carmichaels (PA), circa 1888-1890.