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…
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.”
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.
Light 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!!
Cousinly Review Prompts a Re-view (updated 27 August 2014)
Shortly after posting this piece, I received an email from reader and cousin, Linda Bell. My colleague strongly suspected that the face was familiar, not just family-like, as if she had seen the photograph before. Perhaps, Linda suggested, this face appears in Bates’ History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (©1888) which can be read online at the Internet Archive. And yes, he was there…This post has been updated to reflect the new information. Portions of the original post have, therefore, been deleted.
I have stared at the last half of the Minor Family Album for a month now, confounded by more than one photograph. None are annotated with given names, or family names, or even a hint of a date. I look at the next cabinet card with a hand lens. I scan it into my hard drive, enhance the clarity and then look again, with the computer as hand lens. The paper photo drops crumbs of information, which I collect and line up, willing a trail to appear.
The photograph was produced by Thomas W. Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, on ivory colored cardstock with rounded corners, and the simple, red-ink trademark on the back. The photograph, whether original or a copy, was made most likely between the late 1860s and early 1870s, early in TW Rogers photographic career.
Mr. Clean-shaven is between 50-65 years old, with thick wavy hair worn in a conservative above-the-collar fashion. The white mane sweeps from right to left above his bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows. Puffy half-moons beneath light-colored eyes cushion his intensity; this is a busy man with little patience for sleep. The gaze, the wavy hair, the Roman nose, the bushy brow…features shared with other Minor family members.
My wavy-haired gentleman is wearing a starched white shirt, with a heavily starched, detachable collar. He has tied a black silk cravat into a flat bow tie at his throat. Over this he wears a black, collarless, single-breasted vest, trimmed in braid fashionable in the late 1860s. All of the buttons are fastened, without any evidence of a watchchain. The double-breasted sack coat is also made of black wool and trimmed in braid. The buttons and button holes go very high into the lapel, which is notched quite deeply, the lower portion much wider than the upper portion at the neck. The fit is quite generous, particularly at the sleeves, which sit on the shoulder, a style worn in the late 1860s-early 1870s.
This clean-shaven man had his portrait taken at the height of his career, when he was about 55 years, between 1868-1872. Fortunately, Samuel Bates included an illustration based on this very photograph in his History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (1888), which accompanied a biographical sketch of a very prominent Baptist minister–Charles W. Tilton.
Born to New Jersey residents Enoch and Elizabeth Tilton in 1815, Charles spent his childhood on the family’s farms. The youngster attended local subscription schools in western Pennsylvania and Frankfort Academy in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Tilton’s first vocation was as a teacher, but he was called to the ministry. In 1843 Teacher Tilton was ordained a Baptist preacher, and began a life of service inside the Ten Mile Baptist Association, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Reverend Tilton filled the pulpit at several Ten Mile churches, at times perhaps simultaneously, including Goshen Baptist in Garards Fort, home church to my Minor ancestors.
Pastor Charles was a reknowned revival leader during the post-war years, leading congregants to a healing place after the horrific losses and community ruptures of the Civil War. (Greene County was a Democratic Party stronghold, fiercely opposed to the concept of emancipation.) This photograph was taken during this time. As a revival preacher, Sabbath School leader, and a higher education advocate, Charles W. Tilton was famous among the Baptists of Greene County, and probably well acquainted with the Minors of Ceylon Lane.
Little wonder that the man’s photograph was sought by my great-great-grandmother, and later displayed, among family, for posterity.