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.
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!!
Stuck between some sheet music bearing my grandfather’s signature was a photograph. A faded copy of a copy, it depicted a mid-19th century cane-carrying gentleman astride a large dapple gray horse. Establishing provenance of the photograph is almost impossible, but the copy appears to have been among Donald Minor’s possessions, which were then stored by my mother, Marilyn Minor Strickland, and inherited by me.
When first discovered, I posited that this commanding figure was a Minor.(read my first post here)
Since that summer day, I have been in communication with two Minor cousins, and was lucky enough to score a new photograph. This time provenance is known. The original photograph of John Pearson (Pierson) Minor was taken by J. P. Shafer of Morgantown, West Virginia, held by his son, Samuel, in Greene County, Pennsylvania, and then passed down through that family to my cousin, Ron.
The figure on the horse bears a striking resemblance to the man calmly sitting for his portrait. My investigation into my mystery horseman will require additional knowledge of period clothing and hairstyles. I also think the cane may hold a clue about his identity. But I am stepping lightly toward identifying the rider as one John P. Minor, circa 1860.