Photographs and genealogy

Years ago, when I first saw this picture in the family collection, it puzzled me. I knew that the little girl to the left was my grandmother, and I suspected the other two children on the floor were her brother and sister. I assumed that the man to the left was her father and that the woman in back was her grandmother? But who is the other boy in the room? My family and I dubbed him Heathcliff, remembering that he joined the Earnshaw family by adoption when he was a young boy (Wuthering Heights).

This spring I’ve had the opportunity to go through family photographs and also to research my family tree. I deduced that this picture was taken Christmas 1905. The extra boy is a cousin to my grandmother. These same people were still in the same household at the 1910 census. The grandmother, by the way, is the mother of my grandmother’s mother, mother-in-law to the man in the picture.

Here’s another picture of the same family taken a few months earlier. The younger woman is my great-grandmother; she died in June of 1905. The man with the cigar is probably Heathcliff’s father, and the two additional girls are Heathcliff’s sisters.

Why are those sisters missing from the Christmas picture? According to the 1910 census, they were boarding at the Chicago Industrial School for Girls. Later records show that both grew up, had jobs as clerks, and got married.

 

Here’s Heathcliff and his sisters—possibly taken at their school. On the desk is a cube with the date: Wednesday December 27. Historians, archivists, and genealogists love clues like that hiding in photographs. (December 27, 1905, was a Wednesday.)

And what became of Heathcliff? He also got married. He and his wife had a son who lived only three months and a daughter who eventually grew up and married. In 1917, when Heathcliff registered for the Great War, he was a clerk supporting wife and mother (possibly mother-in-law). In 1920, he was living with his wife, in-laws, and infant son. In 1930, though, he was divorced and living alone in Chicago. October 1930 saw him incarcerated at Leavenworth, Kansas—I have no idea why. By 1942, when he registered because of the second World War, he was back in Chicago, working for Keller & Sons. He died in 1959, at the age of 63.

“Heathcliff’s” real first name was the same as his father and his grandfather. By coincidence, my wife and I chose the same name for our son. After skipping several generations, it’s nice to have the name return to the family, even though the previous holder of that name was a crook. J.

 

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