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.
Crumbs…crumbs…leading me to a tentative set of conclusions. Maybe, just maybe, this is a photograph of my great-great-grandfather’s brother. Abia (a-BYE-ya) Minor was born in 1815, and would have been about 55 at the time this photograph was taken between 1866-1873. Like this man, Abia was a no-nonsense kind of guy, a progressive farmer first in West Virginia, then Illinois, then Kansas. Big brother Minor had uncommon business sense, getting farm equipment patented and establishing a strong reputation as a cattle dealer. Abia would have been the kind of man to take time to arrange a portrait, in his good suit, and share it with his far-flung family.
I gaze at these eyes as I type, and see myself, my intensity, staring back. I wonder…are there others of you who resemble this past?