Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 8, Number 13 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 July 20, 2016
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss the small items that you find which tell the stories of your ancestors. I love finding old bibles filled with lockets of hair, letters, and photographs. These items tell so much more about the family that just the dates of when they were born, married, and died. Try to find out as much as possible about these items that held such a great importance to your ancetsors. As always, I enjoy hearing from you.
James L. Douthat
FAMILY KEEPSAKES In every family there are things that are kept through the years as a way to keep memories alive. They are not always the most expensive things in the household, but the things with the most meaning. I have seen families hang onto a cigar band or even a chewing gum wrapper as it reminds them of special memories. That cigar band might have been your grandmother’s engagement ring as that was all your grandfather could afford at the time. In all likelihood, there was later a ring or two to replace that cigar band, but that is the one with the most memories.
If you look carefully through the old family Bible, you will often find tucked within the pages a lock of hair, a letter, a poem, or even a certain recipe. To someone in the past, these were very important, but we seldom have the same special feeling with them. This is where we need to find out why that is so important and write it down and keep it with the item. That lock of hair might have been from a special child that died unexpectedly at age ten. The poem might have been great grandpaw’s favorite and the only poem he ever knew or perhaps he read it at the time of their wedding. The story is what makes the item so special. Dig for the story, it will give a whole new perspective to those ancestors. The stories are what helps make them come alive and have meaning to you.
You might find a special photograph. It might not look too special to you, just a bunch of old folks. Look very carefully and you might discover that the baby in the arms of one of the other children has passed away. Without the use of the Brownie Hawk-eye camera in the old days, a family is known to gather everyone around when a child died and have a group photograph since it might be the only one they will ever have with that child. In my vast collection of old photographs of the various families to which I am related, we have one of an older woman sitting in a rocking chair by the family fireplace, hands folded in her lap but a strange smile on her face. After looking at this photo for a number of years, I finally realized that her hair was tied to the spinning wheel behind her head. On even closer inspection, her eyes were closed and then we realized that she had passed away. This is the only photograph of the woman that the family has and it was her last possible moment to have it taken. Many today still want that one last picture of granddaddy in his coffin.
Other photographs tell different stories. Whenever a professional photographer was coming through the neighborhood, the family would gather up their prized possessions. They might gather quilts, shot guns, or musical instruments and then pose outside with the items as a record. The items in the photograph can tell the story of the family. Men standing there with gun drawn were not a threat to the photographer, but were showing off their arms. Since most families had few photographs, they wanted to have their possessions with them in the photograph as a record for the future.
One particular photograph in my collection is of a woman in questionable dress with one leg propped up on a stool with her skirt raised above the knee and holding a cigarette in one hand. When I first saw the photograph at the age of seventeen, I surmised this was a picture of a “lady of the evening”. It was taken before 1900 as you could tell from the print and other markings. It was in an album from one of my grandfather’s first cousins. She had no one else in the family to give it to, so I was the guardian of the album. I made some comment at the time about that particular photograph and she said, “Oh, that’s Brother Jim. He liked to dress up in women’s clothing.” Brother Jim turned out to be a doctor in a neighboring town from where I grew up. He did make a good looking woman as he was a handsome man.
The heirlooms that we all have tell many stories and we are the guardian of those stories. Make sure that you have them written down to give to generations to come. Make those old ancestors come alive and not just a collection of dates and places. Remember it might be a nice piece of furniture that has been preserved in a beautiful wood tone with a rich finish. Stress to that the next generation to not paint this some awful color to make it modern. Our ancestors are the stories and not just a collection of “hatched, matched and dispatched” list of information.
New Tennessee Books
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