Learning New Things About Old Things

160722 Chester Photobomb

This morning I was doing some photography for a book that Peggy is writing on wool.  It’s been a long time since I’ve taken photographs for someone else, let alone tabletop items.  It was stressful and wonderful at the same time.  She also wanted a photo of my wool wheel in a specific place.  As you can see I had more than one obstacle to deal with.  He is a master of photo bomb.  I had to physically remove him from the area.

Along with the photographs I took was one I had to scan.

Charlton Woolen Weave Room

This is a photograph of the weave room at Charlton Woolens probably taken in the mid to late 1930’s.  My grandfather’s toolbox is one of many in the photograph.  This photo was one of the many reasons I wanted to experience the Crompton and Knowles power looms. In doing so this photograph is so much richer.  I now have an understanding of what was happening in this room, where the weavers stood, the noise.  I look at this photo and think about how you must have felt the vibrations in your feet and gone home with your ears ringing.  I have a better idea of the kind of job a loom mechanic had.

I’m always amazed at just how long research takes when it comes to history if you want to understand the whole story.  Genealogy gives you the names and dates of the people – the who, what and where kind of thing.  The photographs, when you can find them, begin to fill out the story.  Then there is the living history.  This is far more elusive but when you find it you can put yourself in your ancestors shoes with a little bit of imagination.

Social history is what makes studying the past come alive.  It’s where you begin to understand a little about the way people thought about their world and made their life decisions.  Public records give you clues into things.  You begin with the big stuff – politics and religion and work your way down to minutia.  Things like what were they wearing and how did it affect how they moved and did their work.  You look at how men and women treated each other, how economics made or broke their lives.

I think there’s been an injustice served on the American people in not teaching our history in a way that is accessible to everyone.  I think a lot of the turmoil that we see is a lack of understanding of what has gone on before.  I feel like people are making up things as they go along in a way that is only self-serving. Their knowledge is so narrow.  Maybe because social media has taken over our lives and rather than read a book we read twitter every morning.  I think the idea of knowing our history has been lost.  It’s too bad because some of the greatest stories ever told are true.

I plug along learning new things about old things everyday.  I’ll continue to put myself into situations where I can understand what was going on or the work involved.  One year I dug my garden plot completely by hand so I could feel what kind of work went into putting in a kitchen garden for the women of 1840.  It’s one thing to read about it, quite another to do it.

The real goal is putting the family history into words with understanding.  Not just any story, a story that makes these people human. One that makes you understand that the world could be just as scary a place to them as it sometimes is to us.  History repeats itself, over and over, but unless you know something about it you don’t recognize it when it happens.



What I Thought I Knew

160423 Building Chain

Last week my task in learning the power loom was to build the chain that controls the design or pattern in the weave.  It’s what makes the harnesses move.  It’s a dirty job, greasy, one where a pair of gloves seems to be a necessity.

Peggy informed me that every weaver had to learn to build chain before they learned to run the loom.

It took me a minute after that comment to totally comprehend what she had just said.  Every weaver . . .

Wait, that means that my Mimi, my grandmother in her house dresses and aprons with her clean hands and nails was at one time sitting at a bench putting chain together for the looms she hoped to one day run?  Without gloves?!?

All of my Canadian relatives had immigrated to the United States in the late 1890’s to early 1900’s to work in the woolen mills.  My grandmother, born in 1898 grew up with her mother’s family around her all working in the mill in Charlton, MA.  Most of them were weavers.  She probably started working in the mill at the age of 15 and continued to work there until she turned 31 and married my grandfather.

190101 Lena (2)Lena Babineau around age 20

I have looked at the census records for these people many, many times but all it takes is one little comment to change the whole perspective on things.

When doing genealogical research we make up stories in our heads about who these people were and how they lived.  After awhile we trust them as fact even though we have no reason to.  We never really know anything about them.  It’s like my daughters thinking they know me, and they do, they know the me from age 29 on.  The rest of my history is mine to tell and they don’t know a good lot of it, not that’s it’s particularly bad or good it’s just in the past.

When I originally wanted to learn about the power looms and the mills it was more to do with my father and grandfather.  I wasn’t anticipating that this would begin a different understanding of the lives my ancestors lead as young adults.  I only remember my grandmother talking about working in the mill with her aunts – they were very close in age.  It shows how little we ever really know about anyone really.

We all spin our tales and share bits here and there with those that we love. All the good with some bad sprinkled in but unless you lived in the time when these stories were made you only have a shallow perspective on the events.  Delving into the social history helps a little but history is made up of the big things not the mundane minutia of everyday life.  Maybe that’s really where the interest I have in learning how to do things that were done a long, long time ago comes from.  It helps give me a little more insight into how my ancestors lived.  What I have learned is their lives were similar to ours in many ways.  Life moves on through the same stages no matter what generation you’re looking at and I will never know the ins and outs of their lives as children or young adults.  They did hand down a love of family and a strong work ethic that continues through our children and sometimes knowing that is enough.


New Old Photographs

Myrta Hill (1)

For as many years as eBay has been in existence I have been bidding on and purchasing old process photographs with children and dogs.  In recent years these have become a little too pricey for me to win often.  The photograph above is one I recently purchased for a very decent price.  It’s an ambrotype in a pristine Union case.  In the case was a slip of paper that read Myrta Hill and Mrs. R. E. Smith, woohoo!  For me this is the holy grail of photography finds.  I can match the photograph with a family.  After a brief search on Ancestry I found Myrta’s family and was able to contact the owner of their family tree and send them a copy of the photograph.

I love it when that happens.  I love the investigative work that goes into this and I am all too familiar with the feeling of seeing new old photographs of relatives.  Being online with the genealogy community has given me so many opportunities to communicate with relatives that I had no idea existed.  They all are similar minded and very open to sharing what they have.  There have been instances where I have met long-lost cousins with photographs in hand and others that have emailed me diary transcripts from the mid to late 1800’s.

In the past few months, with online connections, I have seen photographs of my father as a baby and my grandparents that I have never seen before.  It’s really a wonderful experience.  With this photograph arriving in the mail I was able to share that experience with a total stranger and that is something that makes searching these little treasures out worthwhile.  I often wonder when I buy one of these what happened to the photograph’s family, especially when there isn’t any identifying information with or on the photo.  Because of the time period of my collection we are going back a few generations and in my mind I know that someone’s estate was cleared out and things put up for auction.  Either there were no family members left, they didn’t realize what was in the auctioned items or they didn’t care.  Sad.

I have been the “keeper” of family photographs forever.  Someone’s household is cleaned out the photographs come to me.  I scan them, put them in chronological order and file the originals away.  I currently have thousands of photographs from all branches of my family as well as Bill’s.  The beauty of this is in the sharing.  Being able to show other family members the photographs they have never seen.  Sharing is a little gift on my part but very often it seems like a big gift to the receiver.  I know, being on the receiving end is wonderful.

Posting will be a bit sporadic for another couple of weeks.  I will be packing up all those photographs and moving them to Rowe (hopefully their final home).  No small feat because moving them can be a real distraction.  I have to just move them and not look at them until I have time.  I expect regular postings to resume once I’m there.  Send positive thoughts for a smooth transition!

Genealogy Rabbit Hole

I’ve just spent the better part of this morning down a rabbit hole of genealogy which I have to admit happens quite often.  It all started out with a thought about sugaring.  I figured I’d do a little research on what sugaring was like on Fort Pelham Farm in the mid to late 1800’s.  I will still do that but that thought led me on a little adventure.

Sugar House on Fort Pelham Farm


This photograph was taken in the late 1890’s to early 1900’s.  I decided to try and figure out who the people in the photo were as best I could.  I have a number of other photographs with the names of people on them so I figured I’d just have to do some comparisons and maybe I could have an idea of who each person was.

The man farthest to the left is most likely Henry Wright, the next older gentlemen is Edward Wright.  The woman next holding the bucket is Charlotte Mills.  I think the man kneeling down is Lucius Wright but I could be wrong on that one.  The last one I know is Daisy who is second from the right.

In dating old photographs one of the clues is in the clothing they were wearing.  Daisy’s jacket is really of early 1890’s vintage.  The rest of their clothes could be anywhere from 1890 to 1910 so we can probably assume that residents of Rowe were not on the cutting edge of fashion. I figured I’d look at the marriage date for Henry and Daisy Wright since they are together on the farm during sugar season.  January 1, 1903 they were married.  Then it happened.  I opened the 1900 census for Daisy Negus and find her living with her aunt and uncle as a servant.  Hmmm, now how are J. Frank and Mary E. Brown related to her.  I search their family trees to find that they lived in the house next door to Fort Pelham Farm and Mary was Daisy’s mother’s sister.  In addition to finding out they were neighbors I read on to find out that J. Frank and Mary were killed in a railroad accident in Zoar on December 21, 1903. Wow.

None of this really had anything to do with my quest to identify people in the photograph but these little searches sometimes do enlighten you about circumstances that you may never have known about.  Daisy was Wright’s neighbor for a number of years as she was listed as a servant for her aunt and uncle who rented out rooms next door in the census.  She was born in Readsboro, VT so I often wondered how they came to know one another.  Mystery solved.  That left a lingering question for me – how did they all feel on that tragic day in December 1903?  It’s something I can only imagine.