Friday, February 04, 2011

Who Are These People?

I have been deep down in family history again, nostalgia. I am continuing to scan and organise my mother’s and father’s old photo albums. I have taken it upon myself to document and safeguard information which otherwise might get lost before long. There are quite a few albums, but I am nearing the end now.

Most people I recognise and identify, either through my own experience or logical thinking, deduction and a lot of staring at the same images over and over again. I look for hair styles, wedding rings and other clear indicators, who else is in the picture, which location, time of year, items in the background, notes on the back, anything printed in a corner by a professional photographer and so on. It is pure detective work most of the time.

It does not take long before you get to know somebody’s facial features, so you can recognise this person in another photo, which might be out of focus or damaged. You compare noses, eyebrows and mouths to determine relationships. Also somebody’s position in a group photo at a wedding in 1918, can determine the identity after having ticked off everybody you are sure of. Conclusion, this must be my grandmother’s only brother, for instance.

After a while I feel like I know some of these people who lived long before my time, but of course I don’t really. However, if I then come across some old letter written by one of them, suddenly this person takes on another dimension. I have found copies of letters, one of them 125 years old, regarding the death of my great great grandmother in 1885, and another from my grandparents to my grandfather's mother describing in detail what my toddler father had been up to in 1923. Quite sensational. Here he is that year on his mother’s knee.

S in 1923

Obviously there are many anonymous people who not even my old mother is sure of any more, some of them before her time, some before she knew my father. Then there is this very old photograph.

ca 1870

Who are these people? Well, they must be my relatives. My next assumption is that they most likely are in direct line, because why else would someone treasure an old photograph like that for so long? So they would then be my great great grandparents. Both sets of great great grandparents were born around 1820, and I guess they are roughly 50 years old in this picture. Then this was taken around 1870, but I could be out by 15 years easily.

Are there any clues in the way they are dressed, I ask myself? Probably not, because one of these men was a shopkeeper and the other one was a shoemaker, and one must assume they have got their Sunday bests on anyway. Does the man in the photo look six years older than his wife? If so, that would point towards the shopkeeper, whose wife was the one mentioned in the letter referred to above. My grandfather never ever met those grandparents because of the geographical distance, since they did not have a horse and cart. So did his grandparents therefore have their picture taken to send to the grandchildren? Does that sound plausible?

On the other hand, the shoemaker lived and worked in the small village of Bjellerup. My grandfather chose that to become his new surname in 1907. Is that connection why the photograph has been kept all these years. My father had it, and before he passed away five years ago, I seem to remember he told me it was the shoemaker in this picture. But I cannot be absolutely sure about it. Who can tell me? Can I phone a friend?


Anonymous said...

I love looking through old photos and wondering who they were...

swenglishexpat said...

LadyFi - I try to remember now to add the information for future generations, should anyone be interested that is.

Pearl said...

You're doing a valuable service to your family with this. All four of my grandparents came to the U.S. from four different countries (Denmark, Switzerland, Scotland and Czechoslavakia) and the oldest photos we have are from the early 1900s. It's lovely that you know as much as you do...


swenglishexpat said...

Pearl - Thanks for stopping by. You are a true European immigrant mix, wonderful! I have been lucky to take over other people's genealogical efforts, but have decided to further explore one of my grandparents line later. Her ancestors have been neglected in my opinion. Can you imagine how fascinated people will be in a hundred years' time to have photos from the early 1900s!?