Thursday, December 26, 2013

My photo file tells a story

While looking at my photo files, discovered two big fat files that hadn't yet been processed. I'm a little miffed that I've overlooked these treasures when I would have bet that all the photos had been properly processed by photo editing, sorting and naming, with details put in labels within the file. But I'm also thrilled that there are more delicious pictures. So off I went to start that task and that's gonna take time. That's OK because I just love working with old family photos.

What I realized when looking through the yet to be sorted files as well as the older sorted photos is that they tell the story of photography in our family as well as photography in general and in the small Western Maryland world in which the taking of photos in our family operated. So I'd like to share with you what I observed, here in this post.

The oldest photos come from the mid 1800s, about 1850 or 1860 and on to about 1910-ish. They are formal portraits taken by professional photographers in their studios. There were a number of photographers operating in Western Maryland then. A couple in Cumberland, the largest town in the region, and two or three in Frostburg which is smaller and situated just west on the Old Pike or National Road, a major route west before the railroad came to the area. Let's start with a couple of those images.

The above was taken by a photographer named E. Gilbert Irwin and bound up in a book documenting the National Road about 1910 which Mom has in her collection. As far as I've been able to discover he did this project under the auspices of the management of the National Road.

The small plate in the rear of the book identifies him by name, and you can see that up top. The middle image shows the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania where the Maryland road work ends. As you can see, It looked bad for Maryland and the state of the road is pretty awful compared to how Pennsylvania took care of their portion of the road. That would have been a perfect shot to document the need for more Maryland funds to be allocated. The last image is included just because it's one of my favorites. Plus it was probably handy in demonstrating the general terrain which was farmland and forest. This image is often referred to as an example of the photographer's artistic eye, and indeed while this album had a practical use, it is a work of art, as well of history.

The real formal studio portraits are a treasure to us, and I bet you have your own grouping of these. Here are just a few. I love to look at what our ancestors are wearing. I'll put these in presumed order by date with the oldest first. They stop about 1913 with the formal wedding portrait of Dad's parents and they were married September 30, 1913.

Enoch Clise (1843 - 1896) in his Civil War uniform. He is not an old man here and died in 1896, which leaves a window of about 1865 to 1880-ish. Maybe.

They were married 19 April, 1878 and this is thought to be their wedding portrait.

Joseph E Whetstone 1816-1897.
He is quite old here so maybe about 1890?

His son, Joseph Hampton Whetstone (1858 - 1939) on the right, in his Frostburg Fire Department uniform. Date about 1890s, maybe.

Moretta Workman 1859-1946.
Maybe she's in her 20s here?

Moretta's husband, Gustav Zeller 1858 - 1925.
Wondering if these two images were their wedding portraits? If so then there would have been a couple photo. None of the relatives seem to have that. Too bad.

Their daughter and my paternal grandma, Helen Zeller Kelly 1894-1985. About 1900.

Wedding photos, 1913.
 When Grandma, above, married Grandpop, John Lee Kelly (1892 - 1969) these two photos of his family were also taken. That's he and his mother in the oval, and the whole Kelly bunch, with labels.
I like to examine all of the formal portraits we have and especially the backgrounds to see which were taken in the same studio. Those big backdrops are a good clue!

Just about the time Mom was born in 1918, the informal snapshots start to appear. These are wonderfully plentiful and their informality tells so much about the people in them. I'll just share a few for your enjoyment.
Mom with her parents, Emma Susan (Whetstone) Williams (1897 - 1956) and Cambria Williams (1897 - 1960).

John Lee Kelly (1892 - 1969) with his children, about 1925.

Mom with a kitten.

Joseph Hampton Whetstone (1858 - 1939) who we saw in his fire department uniform, above. What a difference! This image tells a broader story of family as he and his wife Catherine Elizabeth (House) Whetstone (1865 - 1947) sit with some of their grandchildren, Mom in the big hair bow.

These pictures tell, I think, a fuller story, about the family and times. The frequency of the images and their abundance tell me that it was easy and relatively inexpensive for the family to take their own photos. They are, of course, less formal by stretches! The family would have chosen, as we all do, where and when the picture was to be made so it tells even more about them. Plus, and I really like this, it catches them in their every-day clothes. Candid's: gotta love them!

Mom with her camera, August 1942.

After this date, photos in our file multiply like rabbits. Mom has a camera and is obviously using it. I bet she got it for her birthday on July 29. I mean now that I think about it, if you have your own camera you are going to take pictures, for sure!

Do you remember your first camera? I sure do. And the thrill of going to the drug store to pick up the processed photos to see how they came out? I usually went with friends. Once you have your own camera, you are free to capture your personal world as you see it, and that makes all the difference to those of us interested in family history. We get to see the family as it saw itself, or at least as one member saw it.

Here are some images from Mom, as photo documentarian. I won't label them because I want you to look at the content of the images and se what they tell.


Yeah, it's all there in those pictures: all the family history of the most recent generations. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every generation going back just five or six had their own cameras with which to document family? Wouldn't that be a treasure?

And so I ask myself, what with all the new media, are we taking enough photos? I wonder if I am?

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