Ok y'all, there's something that's been weighing on me. I've been taking part in my My Canvas Guest Blog Series. One of the other guest bloggers, Elizabeth Göesel talked about making a family history museum. I LOVED this idea. How many different artifacts have I come across in my family history quest that I loved, but didn't really know what to do with. Let's be fair, I had wanted to shadow box some of them, but I had never thought about organizing everything so that it kind of fits together like a purposeful display.
Immediately, I went to Pinterest for ideas about shadow boxes and display cases. I found some really great ideas, like recipe's and pictures of the woman that they came from. There were baby clothes, toys, trinkets - pretty much anything you can think of you can add it to your family history museum. I think some of my favorites included jewelry.
I can't wait to see how this project progresses. I look forward to uncovering new trinkets and finding creative ways to display the items left behind by my own ancestors. From pictures to letters to toys, they are the echoes of a generation past. How great to bring that back into conversation again!
The Background: Unanswered Questions
As is fairly typical of most of my weekends, I made a great genealogical discovery in my grandparents house. It was a quilt top with family names stitched into it. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I was. I was so excited, in fact, you can read about it in the upcoming My Canvas guest blog series featured here in the upcoming weeks. I began to map out the women on the quilt and determine their connection by color. There were some women who eluded me. The longer that I worked on the quilt the more frustrated I became. How was it, I began to wonder, that in the year 2016 genealogy is so paternally focused that it's nearly impossible to find information on female ancestors.
The quilt top isn't the only piece of family history lacking female ancestor information. My tree features female ancestors with no last name whose first names are taken from marriage records, census records, or personal correspondence. I find myself becoming endlessly annoyed that I must identify a woman's husband in order to identify records for his wife.
The Way Things Are
So why is it so hard to find women in family history in the year of our Lord 2016? The reason is actually pretty simple for American and Western European families (at least those are the records I'm looking at because of my personal lineage). Men tended to be property owners, heads of house, and members of governing bodies. Because of their positions in society, listed in tax records, and identified in legal documents their names appear in most documents. Despite my desire to be able to plug in a female ancestors name into ancestry.com, familysearch.org, or even Google the fact remains that many records are tied to a male family member - especially the further back your research goes.
2. Census Records - Looking at a search for the 1860 census, I did find Mary J Huggans listed as a child for George M. Huggans and his wife Sarah. I'll keep this in mind, this may be the Mary Huggans I'm looking for! If it is, I've got some great information on her parents. Her father, George is a physician who was born in Indiana. His wife, Sarah was born in Ohio.
3. Siblings - In keeping with the 1860 census record, in addition to Mary being listed there are also the following children: Orpha (born in Indiana), George (born in Illinois), and Lillian (born in Kentucky). This tells me that the Huggans family lived in Eddyville, Kentucky. But, now I know that if this is the right Mary Huggans I have the name of her siblings and the state that she was born in.
4. Marriage Records - An initial search for marriage records links an "Isabel Huggens" with James White. This is probably the same Mary Isabel Huggans White that I'm looking for, but I want to see if I can verify it against something else too. This record was part of the Indiana Marriage Index, 1800-1941. So, this tells me that a woman with a similar name to Mary Huggans married James L. White. They were married April 11, 1865.
5. Family Records - This can be any source from personal letters or post cards, newspaper clippings, or even pictures labeled by someone in the "know." Note: when searching for a female ancestor in a family record or when searching newspaper archives, you may want to search for your male ancestors name. In many instances, a wife will be listed as "Mrs. John Smith" instead of "Jane Smith."
Social Security applications or passport applications can also count. In this case, I found a family photo album with several White family pictures in it. Included in the album was a colored picture of Mary Isabel Huggans White (see picture above). Great! So now I've got a face to go with the name - awesome find! And this is one more source that I can use in turning over this leaf of the family tree!
Perhaps my favorite part of this clipping is the description of Mary White's birthday presents, "a number of pretty handkerchiefs and with best wishes and many happy returns of the day." The description certainly allows one to picture a group of women, gathered together to celebrate the life of a family matriarch and friend.
6. Bibles - I also found some pages from a family bible. This signed marriage record in the Bible identifies Mary Belle Huggans of Eddyville, Kentucky as being the bride - this is the same place that the Mary Huggans of the 1860 census lived. This marriage record identifies Mary Belle Huggans as marrying James L. White in Crawfordsville, Indiana. So now, Mary has a new family member - a husband! The bible page says that they were married April 11, 1865 - the same date that matches the Indiana Index Record - Score! So, this means that I can start looking for Census records for James L. White and Mary Huggans White!
9. Wills - Sometimes, locating female ancestors in a male ancestor's will is also a great way to find out some more information. But, keep in mind that sometimes female relatives were not always listed by name. Sometimes, they were referred to as "my loving wife" or by another endearment.
10. Headstones - Findagrave.com is one of the best websites for finding an ancestor's headstone! A headstone is another fantastic record (and sometimes it's the only physical leavings of an ancestor - the only picture you might ever find, as a researcher). And Mary Isabel Huggans White's headstone is listed! She is buried in Coyville, Kansas. You can see her memorial here.
Although finding your female ancestor may present research challenges, by considering an array of different records and search options you may be able to fill in some of the details missing in your family tree.
So yesterday I went to my mom and dad's house. My parents are amazing people. My mom's in charge of old person wrangling (my grandfather is living with her), animal herding (they've got more than one furry baby), and general household management. When my dad's parents were aging she and my dad were caregivers for them as well. My dad was an only child, and so the difficult decision of what to do with his parents stuff fell to him.
So, my dad and my mom decided what they would keep for my sister and me. Yesterday I started looking through some of the boxes that they have kept for over a decade. One of them was labeled "family pictures" and "family room pictures".
My first thought? Genealogy score! So, the box was opened and sorted. There were a lot of pictures in the box but only one of them was really a family picture. And that family picture was...a baby picture of my paternal grandfather.
Right now, you should be going "OMG!" I don't have a lot of pictures of my dad's family. I've got a lot of pictures of my dad and his parents and maternal grandparents, but pictures of my Grandad and his family are few and far between.
Finding this baby picture of Samuel John Wylie, Jr. was the perfect unexpected discovery, and a great way to end a Monday!
(My mom also got pretty excited about this picture and wondered if there wasn't a blanket mom holding him. What do y'all think?)
The Rant - Bear With Me
I am tired of encountering misidentified pictures. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I'm tired of encountering misidentified pictures that I worked hard to identify. There. No other picture that I've ever identified has been more reposted on the internet and incorrectly identified than this picture (see below) of Samuel John Wylie, Sr.
How did I identify this picture? When I first began my family research I had very few pictures of my dad's family - the Wylie's. They were certainly few and far between. One day, as I was visiting my parents house and looking through some information I found a very badly damaged canvas portrait.
Upon seeing the portrait I knew that it was one of my dad's family members. The portrait bears resemblance to my father and to my late grandfather. I took a picture of it, had it repaired, and began a search. I found a tintype, blurry and hard to identify. But still, I persisted. I scanned the tintype and I found that it was the same picture as the canvas portrait. But then, upon closer inspection I realized that it was actually a DIFFERENT picture. It was a younger picture. The canvas portrait features a man with a mustache. The tintype did not. But, the subject of the tintype was clearly the same man!
The tintype was not identified. So, my search continued. The ancestors (my paternal grandparents) that I would have asked had already passed away. I began looking at pictures that I had of Wylie ancestors that would have been alive when tintypes were being used. The most obvious choice was Samuel John Wylie, Sr. I knew the picture was a Wylie family picture, and my mother confirmed that it had belonged to my paternal grandparents.
There is a striking resemblance between these two figures. The figure on the left has been proven to be Samuel John Wylie, Sr. Multiple pictures have been labeled identifying him. So, now we know they LOOK alike. But was he alive when the tintype was also used to capture the human image? The tintype was first patented in 1856 and used into the 1930s (read more about this photography style here).
Samuel John Wylie, Sr. was born in 1860. So, he was alive when the tintype was being used to capture portraits. The approximate age of the man in the tintype is late teens or early twenties. In 1880, my great-grandfather was twenty years old. So, I established 1) the man in the tintype and the canvas portrait were the same man 2) my great-grandfather was alive when tintypes were being used for photographs and the canvas portrait and an actual photograph of my great-father bear a striking resemblance to one another. But, still I needed to confirm that this was actually Samuel John Wylie, Sr. So, I went to the only Wylie descendent that I have consistent contact with: my father. My father was born in 1948. He knew his grandfather. Upon examining the information that I had (all of which was in his own father's possession) he positively confirmed that the picture were his grandfather, Samuel John Wylie, Sr.
Why is this so important?
I feel like the constant mis-identification of this picture not only causes further confusion to other researchers when he is constantly mis-identified, but it also harms his legacy and the legacy of his ancestors.
How does it cause confusion for other researchers? Allow me to explain. When this picture is identified as Samuel Wylie (1754-1814) for instance, it allows new genealogical researchers to believe that they have discovered the portrait of a man who died BEFORE there were cameras. A portrait so old...so historic...how groundbreaking for their research! Except that it is wrong. He isn't Samuel Wylie, the Revolutionary War veteran. They didn't evaluate their resources and their information. This can lead to weak research habits in future as well as damaging their own credibility as a researcher.
Now, to my second point, the constant mis-identification damages his legacy. I always find it to be important to identify the faces of my ancestors. Not only do I love trying to figure out if current family members share a likeness, the picture itself is another resource. The picture tells SO much about an ancestors life and activities ( I know that the tie that Samuel John Wylie, Sr. wears for this portrait is his BEST tie because he wears it many other staged pictures). By incorrectly identifying this picture, the resources attributed to one ancestor are no longer correct and any researchers that encounter any incorrectly posted information and then re-post it perpetuate the problem and now the life story of the ancestor has been damaged.
So here is the solution: watermarking family pictures. I've almost made up my mind to start watermarking any pictures that I find in order to prevent future mis-identification. What do you think about it? I fundamentally believe that family history is collaborative. These pictures aren't just my pictures. They belong to all decedents. But the next generation and future researchers have a right to know if the information they are looking at is accurate. I've posted hundreds of pictures of my family online (Facebook, here, ancestry, email, etc.) over the years that I have been doing ancestry. But now, I wonder, if the pictures were watermarked would people be less likely to mis-identify them? What are your thoughts? Do you watermark your pictures? If so, does this work for you? If you are against watermarking pictures, why?
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I love family history and the various ways that it can be approached by researchers! I hope that this blog is interesting and inspiring!