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.
The Minor Family Album closes out with portraits of nine children, all taken between 1887-1894. I can identify, with confidence, only one face.
Framed by short bangs and soft, baby curls, the chubby toddler’s brown eyes flatly state that she will hold this position but a moment longer. This is Flossie, christened Florence McClure in 1889 by her parents, Owen and Sarah Minor McClure.
The puffed sleeve of the eighteen nineties makes an appearance in even this little one’s dress. Her bodice is embellished by a large lacy collar, and ribbon and bows adorn the bodice, sleeves, cuffs, and floor-length skirt. What a fabulous portrait!
The cabinet card is not quite as sturdy as one would expect from an established photographer like Benjamin E. Goldsberry, and his studio logo was stamped in haste across the bottom, leaving the green-inked words crookedly confirming the man’s location–Court Avenue in Bedford, the county seat of Taylor County, Iowa. Ben Goldsberry operated cameras like an artist and had a strong reputation in the region, training other aspiring photographers like Matthew G. Maxwell.
The young couple wear clothes that are simple and traditional, probably made of worsted wool. The woman’s bodice is plain with no inlays, embroidery or ruffles, and the buttons appear to be made of bone. She dresses the outfit up with a starched undercollar and a beautiful oval broach at the throat. Her hair is divided in three pieces; the bottom strands are pulled to the back and twisted into a bun, which is then wound with the two upper pieces for an 1880s finishing touch. The man wears a jacket and vest made of matching plaid fabric, and a long flowing beard with trimmed sideburns and mustache–a style considered old-fashioned back east. Mr. Goldsberry operated his Bedford studio from 1880-1890, and these internal clues suggest that the couple posed on Court Avenue between 1884-1889.
I have uncovered six Minor family members living in Iowa’s southcentral counties during the latter decades of the 19th century so far, and only one would fit the description above.
John Pierson and Minnie B. Norton Keenan
John P. Keenan was born on a farm near Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, son of Hugh and Isabella Minor Keenan. An adventurous person, John left Greene County in 1875, and as an eighteen year old made his way to Taylor County, Iowa, where he herded other people’s cattle for a living. He was an enterprising man known as a progressive farmer. By 1881 John was acting as the legal agent for his Uncle Marion Minor, collecting “judgements” from other Greene County residents who had borrowed money to establish their Iowa roots. During this same time period, John had made enough money to purchase his own farm in the neighboring Ringgold County. There he met, courted and married Minnie Norton in 1884.
By 1887 John and Minnie had the opportunity to purchase 300 acres of fine farming land south of Mormontown (Blockton), Jefferson Township, Taylor County. Their lives were turned topsy-turvy when son Hugh was born the summer of 1887. Unfortunately the following year was filled with grief, as they lost first Minnie’s father, Martin, and then their little boy.
Perhaps later that fall the young farmers headed to town, purchasing winter supplies, tying up financial matters, posting letters before the winter storms set in, and stopping by Court Avenue to document their resilience for posterity.
Page twelve of the Minor Family Album holds a cabinet card addressed to my great-great-grandfather, Marion Minor (1828-1913). The paper photograph is mounted on a basic ivory-colored cardstock, the photographer’s information stamped at the bottom.
The woman’s face holds a gentle expression, her dark hair swept back to enhance her dark eyes. Her dress looks plain, as if she had but one good outfit to be worn on many occasions. She dressed it up by adding a white starched collar and a beautiful, in-laid broach at the neckline.
Is she friend or kin?
The mystery lady had her portrait taken by a now-forgotten photographer Howard in Nelson, Nebraska around 1883-1886, judging from from her hairstyle and clothing. Nelson was a town just a decade old, the county seat of agricultural Nuckolls County. Her two hundred and fifty inhabitants lived and worked in forty-five blocks of newly constructed buildings, hoping for the day the railroad would come through their town.
The Nebraska this woman looked upon was a rapidly growing state, its rolling hills and plains dotted with cattle and corn, and lined by the historic ruts of the Oregon Trail, the California Stagecoach Line, and the Pony Express. Railroads would soon cut through the waving fields, bringing passengers and goods, and exporting marketable farm products east.
Who was she? Friend? Kin? For now, she remains my mystery woman from Nebraska.
June 23, 2014 —–UPDATE through cousinly collaboration with Linda Bell——-
A close look at several Minor resources* located a cousin some fifteen years younger than Marion Minor. Andrew Jackson “Jack” Minor (1843-1911) was the son of Uncle Samuel and Aunt Elly Lowery Minor, the last of at least six children who were born to the couple while they lived in Greene County a few miles north of Marion and Mary Jane. In between 1855-1860, this branch of the Minor tree set off for Linn County, Iowa, for reasons unknown.
Jack served in the Pennsylvania cavalry from 1862-1865, and returned to Linn County. He married another Greene County native transplanted to the midwest in 1870. Nancy Rine (1849-193?) and husband Jack moved to Adair, Illinois by 1872 where they ran a store on the railroad with brother Will Minor. In the 1880s the family moved to…NEBRASKA!!!
Specifically, the family relocated to the town of Fairfield, Nebraska, just a short distance north of Nelson, where two children were born (1883 and 1885) before the family relocated TO NELSON where two more children were born (1887 and 1890). BOOM!!!!!!!!!!!
What if my Cornhusker woman is Nancy Rine Minor, wearing a slightly dated fashion for her portrait taken after moving to Nelson. What if? I await cousinly confirmation!
* including the Ancestry and the Thomas Minor Society databases, and a set of letters written by Samuel Minor to brother John P Minor in the early 1870s.