I have two brothers, Bill and Rich. Over the years (many years), we and others have managed to create, discover, collect, and store a great deal of information about our ancestors. Particularly, we are fortunate in having a wealth of photographs of the people who came before us. We particularly have our brother Rich to thank for his diligent and tireless work in interviewing people and researching data bases and historical websites to gather far more ancestral data than we ever thought possible. My brother Bill is also a valuable resource for his penchant to maintain and store many of the original photographs and documents detailing the interesting people who now populate our family tree.
Recently, the three of us have begun a project to organize, digitize and categorize these tiny treasures so they are preserved for years to come. The characters hanging in the branches of our family tree can thus be looked at, admired and even analyzed. Through Rich’s genealogy efforts and the fortunes of history, our lineage goes back centuries. We know nothing about the four-legged creatures and cave people who started all of us of course, but looking at the recent past, we find people we can relate to and eventually people we knew. Many of our ancestors were born, lived and died within a few hundred square miles of where they began. They were farmers for the most part but we have learned of hounds-men, sheep “ranchers”, soldiers, ministers, homemakers, restaurant owners, historical figures, American Indians and, probably, a few nobodies.
As civilization and technology advanced and people traveled more, our early roots spread from England and Europe to the American colonies. This travel was not always by choice as some of our ancestors were driven to leave their homelands by politics and economic conditions.
My purpose for putting my thoughts here is not to impress anyone. Every family has anecdotes and interesting characters that are remembered either orally or on paper, both of which are equally strong. My own thoughts are developing as I browse and study the family photographs and documents before me with a new ability and vision provided to me by age.
In a few very rare photos, I see my mother’s grandparents as she saw them. I see my mother’s young parents quite dressed up for some forgotten event. I see my mother as a child of two and watch her grow through girlhood, high school,
first jobs, dating, marriage, motherhood, pastimes and aging. I can see pieces of her entire life through pictures. Delighted, happy, stressed, determined, and proud. Looking at all these pictures, I can encapsulate her life. I found it heartbreaking in a way. A person’s entire life documented in a few dozen photographs. I can view my mother’s whole life in five minutes.
She was worth far more than that. We know she had a sibling, acquaintances, dear friends, pets, neighbors, colleagues, artistic talent, a good-looking husband and a young, growing family. We can at least fold our memories of her into the thread of her life and fill in details for some of those years. She was a bit out of mainstream life as an adult. We know her as one of the first beatniks. (look that up) Hippies came later.
A SPECIAL PHOTOGRAPH. We have one photograph that is especially endearing to us. Standing together by a train about
1920-ish, we see our grandmother, our mother and our great grandmother. Over 100 years ago.
Further, on a business trip to Great Britain, I managed to visit the grave of my grandmother’s great grandfather, William Sebright. We don’t have a photograph of Sebright, a master of the hounds at a castle, but we have a painting of him. He was born in 1791, over 226 years ago and we can see him. He was our great-great-great grandfather.
WE CAN SEE MORE. A careful look through our family photographs reveals a short
history of transportation technology, including horse-drawn wagons, early dump trucks, the first taxi cab, a variety of automobiles, airplanes and eventually, in my case, rockets. It’s all there in the pages of our family history.
AND MORE. We can’t overlook of course, the fashions in clothes for adults and children. It’s incredible how
garment styles have changed over the last 120 years. Through our photos, we can see the progression of styles in dresses, shirts, blouses, trousers, belts, shoes and hats. Men had huge
starched collars and bow ties. Women and girls looked like they had placed large doilies over their heads. They way children were dressed it’s nearly impossible to tell girls from boys until they’re 5 or 6. I notice that belts and all kinds of buttons were a BIG deal in the first half of the 20th century. I don’t recall seeing covered buttons in my lifetime worn as an everyday thing. Go back even a short way into the past and it seems men virtually always had their shirts buttoned right up to their necks. Even workers on construction sites wore long sleeve shirts and sometimes pleated trousers.
AND EVEN MORE. Evidence of the proud professions and trades of our ancestors can be seen in these photographs. We see (or read about) farm machinery
and equipment, blacksmithing, product deliveries, restaurant ownership, soldiering, movie studios, early animation and cartoons, cowboys, homemaking,
architecture, stone-masonry and teaching. We can sometimes see our ancestors as children, getting familiar with the work of their parents.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE FUTURE. With the accelerating pace of life, changing attitudes, decreased mores and increased self-absorption, I wonder what thoughts my own descendants will have of me and my two brothers. Certainly, our lives have been more frequently photographed and our experiences better documented than the previous 100 years. There are videos and sound recordings of us. By the time we’re gone, however, the enormous distraction of other photographs, videos, sounds and documentation within a more complicated world may overwhelm any future interest or analysis of the stories of the Draper brothers. That’s life.
Bob and Arlyne Draper