Week 35: #52 Ancestors – Unforgettable
By Eilene Lyon
This week’s prompt really stopped me in my tracks. Unforgettable? If there’s anything I’ve learned from all my years of genealogy research is that family history is eminently forgettable. So many fascinating stories have been rescued from oblivion by sheer determination on my part (and yes, with the help of research passed down to me by my grandmothers).
If someone alive today had a personal relationship with a dead relative, then they are remembered. If not – well, the shame of it is that the dead are forgotten on a regular basis. When I’m gone, who will remember me? I don’t even have children to mourn my passing.
It’s why I do what I do. Resurrect the lives of those who have gone before. Put some flesh on their bones and share it on my blog, in my newsletter, in my books. I want to make my ancestors and relatives unforgettable.
If anyone needs a reminder of how unmemorable we are, just look through some old, unlabeled family photographs. Yours or anyone else’s. There are billions of them moldering away in closets, attics, antique stores. Faces, no names. How sad.
Both of my grandmothers kept photo albums. Dad’s mom, Reatha (Gusso) Halse, left untidy albums with photos glued in crookedly, in no chronological order whatsoever. But she wrote captions for almost everything. Not that it always helps.
This photo has it all: I can see it was taken in front of Guy Halse’s distinctive barn, in December 1931, and the man in the wagon is Chet Painter, certainly a relative of mine. But “Chet” is a nickname and I am still stumped as to who this man is. Most likely he is Truey Chester Painter (1886-1969).
Mom’s mother, Clare (Davis) Smith, kept the tidiest of albums, generally in date order, photos with neat little corner pockets. And she identified nothing. It’s quite frustrating for this family historian.
This photo from one of her albums appears to have been taken in the early 1930s, because there are also pictures of Clare that seem to have been taken at the same time and place. I thought it was a picture of her cousin, Clara Leona “Peggy” Myrick.
“I remember my mom Robbie showing me this photo and saying it was her, in a new dress for a 4th of July gathering. While lighting fireworks that night, the dress caught on fire and was damaged beyond repair. She remembered her mom being very angry (mom was OK).”
Clare Smith’s mother, my great-grandmother Clara (Ransom) Davis, unlike Clare, kept untidy, even damaged, photographs that she wrote on directly to identify people. She gave some to her descendants and many she donated to various archives. Those in archives are identified, at least to some extent, with a glaring exception. It has me dying for answers.
Clara donated this series of glass negatives to the University of Idaho Special Collections in 1913, with no explanation at all. Cousins and I believe the toddler is Clara’s daughter, June Ransom Davis, born in 1907, placing the date of photos at about 1909-1910. The infant, however, is a complete mystery.
Clare wasn’t born until 1914 and we know of no other children in the family. June did have a couple cousins born in the right time frame in Moscow: Isaac Elton Ricketts and Mary Ione Davis. Could this baby be one of them?
Idaho didn’t begin statewide birth registrations until 1911. Though some counties began a little earlier, Latah County apparently kept only sporadic records from 1907 to 1911. Death records began in 1907, but I have found nothing for a Davis infant. Nor is there a record at the cemetery.
My only hope was a baptism record. Unfortunately, the Methodist Church records in Moscow are a disorderly lot. A cursory search by the secretary came up empty on baptisms for any of Clara’s children, but the records show they were usually performed on young children, not infants.
Perhaps we are on the wrong track altogether. The toddler isn’t June Davis, nor is the infant a child of Clara and her husband, Sterling P. Davis. But then why did Clara have these images, and why did she donate them to the university without identification? We may never know. And these children will be forever forgotten.
Feature image: Wedding photo from Clare Smith’s album. Clare and Laurence Smith are on the right, but the bride, groom, and man on the left have defied my efforts at identification. It’s possible the groom was Laurence’s co-worker/friend.