How many times do we say “let’s get together!” or “can I see what you have?” to a cousin or other relative? Well, I’ve done it and then not followed up. But this time I DID!
AND what a find!! Thanks to two of my nearest first cousins, Gary and Karen, with time to catch up and share memories, we dug through a box of old photo albums, lose pictures, carefully wrapped snippets of hair, and incredible old and valuable Bible (with items tucked inside!), and more. The enjoyment began with Cousin Karen picking me up from my home and our hour-long drive to Cousin Gary’s – her older brother. Gary is older than me, Karen is much younger and my now-done brother Mark was between me and Karen in age. The four of us spent SO much time together as children, as our mothers – sisters Catherine and Delores – were the tightest of sisters. So I knew that what Gary inherited when his parents passed would be important to me.
Unfortunately, Gary related that there was much that had been thrown out. Aunt Catherine had died first and she was/is the beloved auntie who got this family historian started at the age of 12 with her stories, notes, pictures and more. When Uncle Eddie died years later, he had thrown out things that Aunt Catherine had kept but he had to clean out a home that he needed to move from. Gary was with him in the cleaning but it was a hard effort to get Uncle Eddie to keep some of what Gary could tell was valuable.
So when the boxes and bin of photos and albums was put on the kitchen table and we dug through, my heart was pounding. Gary and Karen had some idea that there would be items of value but they weren’t sure who the people were and we worked to identify them. Karen had spent a lot of time with her mom and dad and the relatives in these pictures, so she was the best at identifying people. I was good at identifying the homes and couches, and sometimes the beautiful doilies (Grandma and Aunt Catherine had made beautiful doilies as they did tatting; Karen and I both have some).
The picture about contains the gems that we found! A picture I had NEVER seen of my great-grandmother Louise Villeneuve Elliott from when she was older. I have a group family photo from around the 1914 timeframe with 13 of the 16 kids, showing Louise in a younger time. The photo above, in the collection, of the older woman in the chair with a patterned dress is her at an older age – she was a widow by 1919 with all of these kids (the older girls were key in this huge family!). She later suffered from a stroke that left her dependent on those daughters. She apparently lived with her daughters in sort of a rotational way – 6 months perhaps with each one, as they helped her to cope with her failing health and frailties. She died at the age of 60 so this picture may have been not too long from that time.
The other marvelous pictures found were one of my grandmother Elsie Elliott Sutinen (later Niemi), the largest colorized image seen above. She was Louise’s fourth daughter and the picture represents a timeframe for which I had no images. I have a very much younger image of her perhaps in her 20s, one from her 60s, so this one is perhaps in her 40s – an active mother with five children, my mother being the youngest daughter.
The baby picture at the top is me … awww . The “little rascals” in the middle between Grandma and Great-Grandma are Aunt Catherine and her brother Doug – and I’m wondering what they were up to when the picture was snapped (they look like they are planning some mischief). My Uncle Jerry is stretched out on the picnic table bench as a young man that is in the young adulthood of his life and feels joyful to me. He was my mom’s youngest brother. The handsome man in the black and white photo below great-grandma is my step-grandfather, William “Bill” Niemi – the grandfather I so loved and grew up knowing. A quiet Finn man, this is a picture of him probably around the time that he married my Grandma Elsie as her husband Warner (Waino) had died from tuberculosis and Grandpa Bill became a loving presence in our lives.
The piece of paper here, full of notations familiar to all family historians, were dates of faily and extended family connections and births. BUT at the top right – some rather fun notations! “Aunt Eugenie – old maid – never had a hair on head ever” and “Mary Laura died of Black Diptheria hair was so long had to pull it out of …”. And interesting family fact – most of the women in this family had dark brown or black hair, never turning gray, until they died. Karen, of my matrilineal line, has undyed brown hair in contrast to my white hair. Her mother died with nearly black hair and my grandmother also died with dark hair. My mom and I clearly have some different genetics in our hair going on as we’ve both had gray for … well, let’s just say a while. :::::::::::grin:::::::::::::
For those who are genealogists, family historians, finds like these mean more than money, fame and more. They put my family into my mind in new ways, in new timeframes that inform what I know about them and they give me a fuller sense of who they were. The conversation with Gary and Karen about them was so fun and interesting. They knew things that I didn’t know and vice versa. And our shared time of family memories will be cherished.