My great-grandfather, Robert Minor (1869-1943), was brought up on the family farm just outside the village of Garards Fort, Pennsylvania. Just down the red-dog Ceylon Lane stood the sturdy brick home of his Uncle Samuel (1825-1909) and Aunt Louisa (1832-1917) Minor. Sam and Robert’s dad, Marion Minor, were two of John P. and Isabella Minor’s sons, farming land purchased in the 1820s from the Myers and McClelland families.
Sam and Louisa were married in 1852. In the next eighteen years, Louisa gave birth to eight children, three girls and five boys. Their eldest daughter, Isabella, died in childhood. But the rest lived to thrive into adulthood. At the time of this studio work, two boys, Jesse and John, had migrated to Taylor County, Iowa, where they settled among many other Greene County transplants. Three boys, Friend, Sam, and William, were finding their way in and around the farm, and the two girls, Mary Euna and Della, were still living at home. A teenage Robert would have known those cousins well, and would certainly have recognized Sam and Louisa as they are captured here in this set of 1885 portraits by Thomas W. Rogers of Carmichaels.
My camera is three and a half pounds of image-capturing magic. Mary Jane Minor’s mouth would round in wonder at its 1295 frames. My great-great-grandma and I are alike in this regard–we collect faces, without identifying the occasion or relation or special qualities that make those eyes so admired, so treasured. Nonetheless, the portraits, now and then, are at an edge, where private lives meet public spaces, revealing a good bit about who we are, what technologies shape our present, what kinds of people add value to our days.
I can confidently put names to only a few faces. So what? This Victorian album is evidence of the sweeping movements of people and machines that transformed my ancestors’ communities in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. More than faces, these portraits are portals to history.