You learn new family stories all the time.
After seeing everyone else’s treasures at our family reunion this summer, Mom got in organizing and cleaning mode to find and put together any family treasures that had been put away. It’s amazing what you forget you even have when you don’t see it for awhile! A few months before, when working on a blog for my maternal grandmother’s grandparents, David Mooney Taylor and wife Sarah E Grant, I asked Mom if we had any pictures of them because I couldn’t remember. I had forgotten about the tiny picture in a frame of their family though it still sits on the dresser in the guest room of my parents’ home. We thought that was the only picture we had of them. At the time, we had both forgotten about two other pictures until much later.
Mom got on her organizing spree. We ordered pictures by Poppy’s family and Granny’s. We ordered by date as best we could. We bought photo albums. She continued to dig for more pictures. It seemed every other weekend she was calling me telling me to come over and showing me some other wonderfully treasured photo we had seen before but totally forgotten about after years of it being put away. I really haven’t worked on our genealogy in awhile! One week in particular she called me several days before and told me she found the best thing yet. Now, you have to understand folks, for my Mom to get excited about something genealogy related, it’s got to be pretty darn good. It takes a good story to peak her interest when I find a new story to share on the family tree. I kept asking Mom to tell me what it was. I told her it wasn’t fair to tell me and make me wait til the weekend like that. But she wouldn’t hear of it.
When I arrived at her house that weekend, the suspense was killing me. She made me close my eyes. “Come on, Mom! How old am I?” I jokingly protested. The moment I opened them, I gasped. I remembered them and knew I was looking at my great-great-grandparents, David Mooney and Sarah Grant Taylor:
After taking a few minutes to let the pictures sink in, of course, I started asking questions. Where were these drawings that look like photos or photos that look like drawings? Why were they somewhat damaged? Mom said my Mamaw always had these framed on the wall in their home. After Papaw passed away, when Mamaw moved out of their home, some things got left behind. “Why on Earth would Mamaw leave her parents pictures behind?” I asked. “I don’t know,” was her reply. A cousin of Papaw’s moved into the house and put things in the trash out back. Apparently, my Poppy kept telling my Gran to go over and check to make sure there wasn’t anything she wanted. Granny didn’t want to, but Poppy kept on about it. She finally did and I’m glad or these would have been lost forever. They had been taken out of the frame and put in the garbage, therefore slightly torn and damaged. Granny was upset about this and put them away for quite awhile but I remember them being out when I was young. Then, as more generations came and more pictures were taken, things got put away.
Recently, as I prepared this blog post I started thinking again how these pictures, which I’d always thought of as photographs because the likeness is so real, really look more like drawings. My 10-year-old daughter and assistant budding genealogist and I looked them over. “They do look more like drawings, Mommy,” she said. David’s mustache definitely looks drawn on as well as his collar. Their hair looks drawn as well, but still they look so real, I thought. It’s hard to imagine simple country folk in North Carolina sitting for a portrait at that time. I couldn’t even think of a time we do that today unless it is at a carnival or amusement park. I thought only the well-to-do sat for portraits then.
With this post almost complete, I decided to post a request at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness to see if anyone could identify what type of photo they were, if they were photos at all. In my description, I explained that they look like photos drawn over and that they are on thick but not currogated paper similar to cardboard but appear to be right on that not on a separate sheet and attached to the board. The volunteer who was kind enough to help me told me she sells and collects vintage photos. I sent her jpg’s of the photos along with the description and their birthdates of 1837 and 1867. She identified them as charcoal portraits and stated she will attempt to help me date them as soon as she has some time.
In the meantime, I called Mom to let her know this and she reminded me that there are negatives that appear to be these same pictures. So the question is was there originally a photograph and someone drew a charcoal portrait of it? If so, who? It makes me wonder if it was at some type of fair or if there was someone in the family with artistic talent. That gene didn’t get passed to me! Or were negatives somehow made later of a charcoal portrait? And what would the pictures look like if we went and got the negatives developed? Mom and I both wondered. We’ll have to find a really good photographer to do that. Now I feel like I want to take these and the negatives on PBS’s Antique Roadshow or somewhere to see if we can learn anymore about them.
Obviously, I still have a little more work to do in regards to these portraits and I will update you in a future post if I learn more about them. I am just so glad we even have them to wonder about today. To think they could have been lost forever. I’m happy Poppy kept bothering Gran to go check and I’m glad that she did. Regardless of the damage, they are still a wonderful treasure that I am so glad is not lost to our family forever.
Do you have a family treasure that was almost lost? Are there things that have been put away and forgotten about? What stories do they tell? Maybe it’s time to get them out, organize, and tell the stories to the next generations so they don’t forget where they came from.