Everybody Has a Grandma Emily!
She lived a hard life.
They just haven't found her yet.
What I mean is that everybody has an ancestor (or a genetic ancestor if you're adopted) that had a life very similar to my Great Great Great Grandma Emily. If you're descended from royalty, well then maybe it's a distant relative from back in the medieval days that lived a life like hers.
This photograph pertains to everyone in the world, but I will concentrate on the United States. In the United States, we have ancestors that were either already here in America (Native American), that were brought as a slave or indentured servant, or came off the boat, plane or car as an immigrant (from Colonial days to now).
All of us have had relatives that either recently or long ago lived HER LIFE. Now, I don't mean her exact history, I mean a life in which the main goal was survival.
How Do You Start?
Be a Photo Detective
Funny story: My mom started taking nice portraits from stacks of old family pictures and framed them. She placed two attractive looking full body portraits of my 'great grandfather' and 'great grandmother' in a double frame, really nice.My Mema (my father's mother) looked at them one day and said something like, "That's interesting that you put My mother's portrait with my father-in-laws (my father's father) portrait." So my mom had 2 separate parts of the family presented as a married couple in one frame! My mother said she would change it and Mema said, "You don't need to change it, it looks kind of nice like that!"
Some Guidance Can Help
Looking at old family photographs can be tricky. It's easy to make mistakes. I've spent time going back and forth over giant clumps of old family pictures. This book will give you some ideas on how to organize them and even date them.
I Absolutely Treasure This Picture
What can you surmise by the picture?
Look at her carefully. Emily was well over 100 years old when this picture was taken around 1925. It was probably taken in Virginia where most of my relatives come from. What are the clues to her life? I can tell you one thing, it was a hard life. Probably spent outdoors in the fields all day. Was she at least part Native American? We think so. Could she have been a former slave? Based on some family history, very likely. I also imagine her smoking a corncob pipe, but that's a stretch.This was originally one of those tiny, 1 1/2 x 2 photos they made in the twenties. When I enlarged it, so much detail sprang into view.
Update: What I Found Out
Ancestry.com added some more records. I was able to get some information based on the census and other records. I could not find any record of her maiden name.
She could not read or write. She was considered mulatto. She was born in 1804 and had at least 10 children into her fifties; one of which was my great great grandfather. At a 1920 census she was listed at 115 years old.
Emily, I have found you!
Dorothea Lange Photography
Her most famous photography is from the Great Depression. These extraordinary photographs by Dorothea Lange demonstrate the deep grit and emotion of that time.
Looking at the Details
I'm still trying to figure these things out.
Musings about Emily :
- Her dress was old fashioned at the time of the photo.
- Her cap or scarf possibly hiding thinning hair?
- She wore an apron? What's that about, she couldn't possibly be still working at home?! Maybe it hides a stained dress?
- Her face had seen it all, the good and the bad.
- Most of her life was not easy.
- She was a strong and tough woman.
- Was this the shack she lived in?
- The picture looks like it was taken outside but they brought out a chair and rug to make her more comfortable.
- What is behind her? I see a tilted chair behind her with someone on it?
- Who took this picture?
The History and the Land
Whether you have a picture of your Grandma Emily or not, reading the history of her land and it's people is a wonderful journey.
The reading goes more pleasantly when the history is presented in a storytelling way. Enjoyable read.
Where is the Trail?
The trail goes through my mother, to her father, to his sister (my Great Aunt Sally) who was born around 1908. This was her photograph and she told me that this was HER Great Grandmother. Arrington was Emily's married last name. We have no documentation on her maiden name.
The family legend is that she was born in 1799 (!) and lived till she was 126 years old. This was taken not long before she passed on. Realistically, she probably was born after 1799, but not by much more.
The History and The Music
It's hard for me to think about the history without the music.
A broadly inclusive collection from Smithsonian Folkways. Very complete, but being an expansive boxed set makes it a higher price.
Start Some Digging - Here are examples of software that can keep you organized.
You can make that journey more personal by going into the genealogy of your family. Ancestry.com is a good start. Since my family is mostly from Virginia, there is TONS of information there.
For those of you that are adopted, you can scrape together as many records as you can from adoption records. Maybe you can visit the town in which your biological parents are traced to. For my daughter who's adopted, we are keeping all the records and place names so she can visit whenever she wants.
Here's to Good Fortune
Coming Your Way
Lastly, we all can take DNA tests to determine ethnicities in our background.My advice is to make copies of information you know and old photos you have. Spread them out to children and grandchildren. Even if they're not interested now, somebody in your family in the future is going to want to know about your Grandma Emily.