The photo below belongs to a large collection of images belonging to my German grandparents. Some we can identify; some we cannot. Recently I sat down with the mysterious occupants of this photo for an interview. Sadly, they were less than forthcoming. Vintage photo subjects are like that.
Who are you?
When are you?
Are we related?
Where in Germany are you? (You are in Germany, aren’t you?)
Honey, is that a clerical collar you’re wearing?
Why isn’t it a Roman collar? Did they just look different then?
Well, OK, if you’re not Catholic how come you’re related to me?
Did I just get that wrong?
Are you really happy, or are you just photogenic?
Do you have any descendants who can tell me about you?
A More Serious Note: I do not know if the people in this photo are Forsters (my grandma’s maiden name), Rudroffs (my grandpa’s surname) or whether they belong to families bearing other surnames associated with my grandparents, such as Held, Endres, Hoffmann or Dormann. I wonder if I’ll ever know. Anyway, they look like a friendly couple, don’t they?
It’s been one of those months, as I said — full of things I thought would be cool to write about that didn’t make it into reality. Before they slip my mind again, I’d better at least mention some of them:
• The updated and terrific-as-ever Cyndi’s List. Amazing, the stuff you find in there. And I can’t believe it’s already 15+ years old.
• A wow-factor story (courtesy of Randy Seaver) of distant (mitochondrial DNA) cousins meeting up at the SCGS Genealogy Jamboree.
• James Tanner’s latest update on FamilySearch.org, and how I’ve come to look forward to his monthly updates on all the exciting things happening over there.
• Finally, a plug for my kid’s school, which did a neat DNA+World Geography project this year. A bunch of our teachers took DNA swabs and created fascinating maps of where everyone began, and how they got to where they are now.
Without going all confessional on you, I will report that the last few weeks were personally … trying. In dealing with situations crowding the plate, one by one, the trick has been to avoid pulling back and looking at the plate in its entirety, never a good idea.
And on those insomniac occasions when the plate threatened to overflow, I was surprised (truthfully? a bit shocked) at how instinctively I turned to family history for comfort. As a refuge, it went beyond the typical hard-luck Olympics I find myself playing with my ancestors, listening to their imaginary voices when I’m in a jam. (“You think you have it bad?! I’ll see your gripes and raise you a Famine!”)
Oddly, the tasks I usually shun as mind-numbingly boring are the ones that came to the rescue. I edited footnotes. I double-checked FHL call numbers. I looked at long-ago, amateurish notes and spruced them up with upgraded data and decent citations.
Something was being set right.
Something looked a little better for my having been there.
Strange to say, it was comforting.
And I realized that this feeling, sometimes, is why I do this. There are other reasons at other times, lots of them. But as the whirlwind time recedes, it’s nice to see the benefits of dull genealogy housekeeping in the warmth of this unexpected light.
A quick nostalgic Father’s Day detour here, with what I think is the earliest photo we have of my father, Peter Haigney. Not to say there might not be an earlier picture of him somewhere. But this is the earliest one that we had among those rescued from the Evil Magnetic Photo Albums. It was taken in South Brooklyn when he was probably 3 years old, which would mean about 1927.
The full picture is a wonderful shot of Dad and some of his siblings standing on a wooden, platform-like structure. This structure defied explanation for many years, until recently, when a friend who saw it said she thought it might well be the entrance to a coal cellar, having remembered a similar set-up at her grandparents’ Brooklyn house. (Thanks, Karen!)
Dad died of a heart attack when I was 23, so Father’s Day went on hiatus for me personally for a while, until the birth of my first child. Meanwhile I lived it vicariously through other fathers in my life — my brother, my friends and of course, my father-in-law, all of whom got me in the habit of thinking about Father’s Day in broader terms.
Sure, it’s a day to miss the fathers who aren’t here anymore to pretend great joy at the latest bad necktie gift. But it’s also nice to send good wishes to all the dads out there who, I hope, are enjoying the day, whatever color the necktie turned out to be. Happy Father’s Day, guys.
A strange little article from the BBC: 10 Strange Ways Tudors Died, which I have to admit I thought was a review of a new trashy series about 16th-century monarchs. In reality, it is a collection of accidental death reports culled from 16th-century coroner’s files by Oxford historian Dr. Steven Gunn.
The stories range from dubious landmarks — Britain’s first accidental shooting death seems to have been in 1519 — to period-specific hazards, as when bears kept for bear-baiting escaped and attacked random humans (hard to blame the bears, really). But many are simply bizarre, as in the case of the man who shot himself in the head with his own bow.
Dr. Gunn has apparently spent some time researching coroner’s reports and accidental deaths in Tudor England. The article does not say what scholarly conclusions he has reached about them, but preliminary findings would seem to indicate that the freak accident has a long and illustrious history.