The leather is cracking, and the gold flecking off of its pages. The images inside are time capsules. Staring at their faces I search for some resemblance that reappears in my mother or my brothers or me or my children. Someone on Ceylon Lane, Post Office Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, bought this richly tooled leather album in the late 1800s. Its heavy card stock pages were cut precisely to hold 4½ by 6½ cabinet card photographs. She–and I only say she because it is this she who constructs family albums today–she did not do me the favor of identifying these people. I just have clues in the photographers’ names and studio locations. Hairstyles and jewelry, the cut of a bodice, the width of a lapel, all hint at a timeframe. Then, like a sleuthhound, I pick up the scent, looking through all the shoots and roots and leaves of my family tree. Because I do believe that these men, women and children are my family.
For the next little while I will be writing about my discoveries: the mysteries solved, the wild goose chases, and the tips and tricks collected along the way. Join me as I unlock the secrets of the Minor Family Album.
2. Page One: Mr. Chin Whiskers
3. Mr. Chin Whiskers, continued
4. Pages two, three and four
This series digitizes a set of postcards collected by my grandfather Donald C. Minor from 1906-1910. Born in Greene County, Pennsylvania in 1902, Donald was the youngest son, youngest grandson and youngest cousin of the Francis Marion and Mary Jane Gwynn Minor clan. His parents, Robert and May Stephenson Minor, sent cards from their travels; his older sister, Helen, sent cards while she was attending school in nearby Waynesburg; aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends sent photocards and holiday greetings from all over the United States with great regularity. The resulting Postcard Collection is both a family puzzle and a cultural window to the world of Donald Minor during the first decade of the twentieth century.
“Hello, Donal,” says Ralph of South Connellsville, Pennsylvania. “How are you. I am well and go to school nearly every day.” Ralph set down his Thanksgiving greetings in late November 1909, perhaps as a way of practicing his cursive.
The card he selected was printed in Germany, with the attention to detail and use of deep colors a collector comes to expect of German cards. The trademark is an unfamiliar girl at the mailbox illustration; this greeting appears to be #2140 in a series.
On the front, a traditional Eastern Wild Turkey is pictured in front of a patriotic banner. The embossed gold oval frames a still life of fruit and flowers. The white lilies were considered symbols of majesty and honor, while strawberries were meant to recall the sweetness in life and character.