The Final Pages

The final pages of the Minor Family Album hold photographs of children, none are identified, one looks familiar.  Together they present a plate of youthful Victorian fashion from the closing decades of the 19th century.  Separately they tell stories, even as the personalities remain cloaked in anonymity.  I hope you will return to this space as I reveal the hidden meaning of a photographer’s imprint and point out clothing clues that help family historians “age” the subject.  Play a game of “I Spy” as you examine the portrait for the photographer’s equipment or count the ribbons on a toddler’s velvet dress.

I look forward to hearing your reactions in the coming weeks.

Trio Incognito: 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.

Unidentified Family, cabinet card, F. P. Morgan, photographer, Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 1883-1888. The Minor Family Album, p. 18, Author’s Collection, 2014.

Unknown Woman In Day Cap: The Minor Family Album

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.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author’s collection. 2014.

Womenfolk I Know

page 10 blog 2

Ah! Another page of familiar faces. This woman’s stare…I have seen it somewhere. The eyebrows are a horizontal accent to an intense gaze. The mouth is held in a slight frown and she has that Minor Roman nose.  Who does this woman remind me of?

Sarah Priscilla Minor (1858-1925) at about sixteen.

Sarah Priscilla Minor (1858-1925) at about sixteen. Close up from the Minor Family Portrait, author’s collection.

Sarah Minor, that’s who!  My great-grandfather’s sister.

left to right: Owen McClure (1843-1925) , Owen's daughter from first marriage, Anna McClure (1872-xx), daughter of Sarah and Owen, Florence McClure; Sarah's daughter by first marriage, Beatrice Herrington; Sarah Minor Herrington McClure.

left to right: Owen McClure (1843-1925) , Owen’s daughter from first marriage, Anna McClure (1872-xx), daughter of Sarah and Owen, Florence McClure (1889-1968); Sarah’s daughter by first marriage, Beatrice Herrington (1880-1964); Sarah Minor Herrington McClure (1858-1925). Photograph taken by TW Rogers in about 1891.

The story here is of a blended family, thrown together by society’s constraints and family tragedy.  Both Owen and Sarah lost their first spouses and were left with a daughter each to raise alone.  They joined forces to make a stronger family unit, and created one more daughter–Florence.  Or Flossie as I knew her.

Yes!  That little girl grew up and lived down the street from my Minor grandparents in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, though I remember Flossie as an old, very old lady.  Flossie and Arthur Titus were regular visitors during our summer visits, and it pleases me no end to have a photograph that unites my ancestral and my childhood pasts.

 

Windows To My Past

Vintage photographs lead to vintage family.  Folks that shared an historical context and proximity, whose connections of love and sorrow shaped decisions that are even now rippling through my time.

I love looking at these eyes, windows to my past, staring back into my present.

Family Portrait taken by T W Rogers, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, circa 1874.  Standing: Sarah, John P., Olfred Minor.  Seated: Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor.  Standing front: Robert Minor (b. 1869) Photo recovered from Minor Home Farm circa 1965

Family Portrait taken by T W Rogers, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, circa 1874. Standing: Sarah, John P., Olfred Minor. Seated: Mary Jane Gwynn and Francis Marion Minor. Standing front: Robert Minor (b. 1869) Photo recovered from Minor Home Farm circa 1965

Thomas W Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania took this portrait of my great-grandfather’s birth family in the mid-1870s, when Robert Minor was about six years old.  The faces of his parents bear distinctive features, which I make use of as I sleuth through other photographs.

Like now, when we turn to pages eight and nine of the Minor Family Album.

page 8 blog

Marion Minor (1828-1913) His Roman nose was a strong facial feature. His right eyelid drooped noticeably.

 

page 9 blog

Mary Jane Gwynne Minor (1829-1908) Her most striking feature were her startingly light, and probably blue, eyes.

 

The photographs are mounted on heavy cardstock, with a metallic coating–silver or gold–on the beveled, scalloped edges, a product commonly used from 1880-the early 1890s. The two appear to be in their early sixties, suggesting a portrait sitting after 1888.  The puffy fullness at the shoulder of Mary Jane’s dress narrows the timeframe to between 1889-1892.

I imagine Mary Jane and Marion starting their day with the usual farm chores, milking cows, gathering egges, lighting the stove and fixing breakfast.  Instructions would be given to Robert and the farmhands for the rest of the day’s chores, before the couple changed into their best clothes.  A horse was hitched up to the buggy and they drove out onto the “red dog” surface, heading up the hill of Ceylon Road, past the homes of siblings and children, nieces and nephews, on their seven mile trip to Carmichaels.

What was the occasion for the photographs?  A sixtieth birthday acknowledged?  Their fortieth wedding anniversary celebrated?

Whatever prompted the impulse, I am grateful that the studio appointment was kept, and that I have these eyes gazing from my past.