Looking at Our Ancestors

29 Aug

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 family 20002we 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.

Mae Walker and daughter Virginia about 1918-20

Our mother and her  mother

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,

Virginia Walker school picture abt 1918

Virginia Draper in grade school – early 1920s

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.

Virginia Walker in high school - about 1925

High School friends about 1925

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


L to R:  Our grandmother, our mother, our great-grandmother

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

Louis R

Our father (the kid) on an early dump truck

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

little Mae walker - far left

Our grandmother on the far  left

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

George Draper Watts approx 1900 - died in military aircraft accident approx 1922

Little George Draper Watts – later in the military, died in crash of an early dirigible

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

William G

Our grandfather William (R) working on an unknown construction project

and equipment, blacksmithing, product deliveries, restaurant ownership, soldiering, movie studios, early animation and cartoons, cowboys, homemaking,

Sybil Dehougne - our beloved nana - in her Los Angeles patio

Our beloved grandmother Sybil

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


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Posted by on August 29, 2017 in Bird Lover


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