June 13 - Friday From The Collectors
I was blessed on a childhood visit to the home of a great-uncle and great-aunt to be gifted with a 1929 family portrait that I was found admiring. My grandfather's brother and his wife had no children of their own to whom to pass down the photograph, and gratefully I accepted with extreme awe its gift. Unbeknownst to them I vowed to care for it and share it with others in my family who had an interest. The sepia portrait of my grandfather as a young man posing with his mother and siblings gave me my first glimpse into the early life of a man whom I knew only in his old age. There he was: a young man acting in place of his father as "the man of the family". If my affinity for the study of family history wasn't genetic, the gift of this portrait to me as a young lady surely nudged me toward what would become a lifelong passion for genealogy.
Toth family (circa 1929)After many years of asking questions of relatives, filling out paper pedigree charts, later migrating to genealogy software, writing letters to family members, requesting information from state and county vital records departments, and visiting genealogical libraries and cemeteries, I have amassed a nice (but still lacking) collection of historical information about my family tree.
It is a joy to share what I've learned with others. One branch of my family has had some pleasant family reunions recently, thanks to the birthday parties of some of our eldest members. At those gatherings I have enjoyed sharing some of the family photos that I have collected. I have seen the amazement on my cousins' faces when they viewed our grandparents' depression-era wedding photos for the first time, and the pictures of our great-grandparents with their young children in the early 20th-century.
A small display of family portraits at a recent 100 Years in America family reunion.
Shortly before beginning my various family history blogs last year, I realized that the worldwide web was a convenient way to connect and share information with the various branches of my family. For one thing, it prevented me from having to publish a family history when I wasn't nearly finished with my research. (Although I'm not sure that I ever will be.) It also gave me the ability to continually update family on new information as I found it, and to make corrections if needed.
My various family history blogs have begun to accomplish my initial goal of "giving the gift of history" to my extended family, although I have many cousins that still need to find me online, and also a number of relatives (particularly older ones) who do not travel on the information super-highway.
What started out as an intended gift to others, has indeed become a gift to myself. Through the process of online publishing via weblog, I have found encouragement through the contact of other family historians and writers, through non-relative readers interested in the subjects that I write about, and through others that have shared information with me that has assisted me in my research.
One of the best "gifts" that I received thus far came directly from the village from which my great-grandparents emigrated over one-hundred years ago. A resident of Legrad in what is today northern Croatia found one of my old photos of his town's 300-year-old Catholic Church online. He kindly emailed me and sent photos that he had just taken of the very same church: the parish in which he currently sings in the choir.
Catholic Church, Legrad, Croatia (early 20th-century)
Catholic Church, Legrad, Croatia (January 2008)
What a pleasant surprise to receive his pictures! I had taken a trip to Croatia (then Yugoslavia) many years ago, but during my visit I unfortunately did not make it further north than Zagreb. It is a dream of mine to visit the villages of my ancestors, and here I was visiting Legrad today via brand new photographs from the lens of a current resident.
Once I had assistance in translating his email message, I learned some exciting news: my generous photographer was actually related to my family. He had viewed the wedding portrait of Peter and Maria Gres that I had posted on 100 Years in America, and immediately realized the family connection.
Wedding of Peter & Maria Gres (circa 1913)
After receiving his beautiful photos, I had thanked my newfound cousin as best I could. It was not your average thank-you message. I had pulled out my Croatian dictionaries and made frequent use of Tomislav Kuzmic's Eudict: European Dictionary website when I had received the original email, then finally asked for assistance with translation. Understanding that message had been hard enough: now I had to compose my own reply! I made an attempt and then realized that it would be wise to enlist the help of a friend more well-acquainted with the language of my ancestors. Thanks to Ivan Curkovic of Curkovic.ca and another kind reader of 100 Years in America, I was able to reply to my generous Croatian photographer with an appreciative thank-you in his native tongue and correspond again asking permission to publish his images on the web. He eventually shared quite a few more images of the village of Legrad with me. You can view some within my article about the history of our shared Croatian ancestral homeland entitled Međimurje: Meeting place of rivers and cultures.
In the process of emailing back and forth, my newfound cousin shared with me the names of other members of the family who had also emigrated to the United States many years ago. Unfortunately, they had lost touch with cousins back home. "Could I help to find them?", he wondered. With only a few names and one address in Piscataway, NY for clues, it may be a difficult task. However, it will certainly be much easier for me on this side of the Atlantic and without the language barrier that family members speaking Croatian would encounter. What joy if I could connect with another lost branch of the family here in the United States - and share our common history through these beautiful photographs!
Family photographs can truly establish a connection, a sense of belonging, a pride in who we are. As Maureen Taylor states in her book Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs, "Photographs can even unite families." It is my hope that my own personal family photograph collection will be one avenue that will help to unite the various branches of my extended family that have been separated over the years from each other and from their shared history. Photographs certainly have the power to do so. As I have been privileged to experience, they can even re-establish family connections across borders, oceans and language barriers.
Finding Your Own Family's Photographic Treasures
Interested in finding photos of your own family members, ancestral villages or family gravestones? Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Get in touch with family members
Older relatives often have collections of albums and portraits that beautifully illustrate your family's history. Once you have family photographs (or copies of them) in your possession, take time to identify and label them appropriately with the help of extended family members. George Morgan's article entitled Identifying Family Photographs has some good suggestions and a couple of stories that will inspire you to do so.
Rely on Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness
A great resource for those far from their ancestor's hometown or country, this is a group of volunteers who have offered to provide specific genealogical services for free by request (including records look-ups and gravestone photographs). I've received several images of ancestors' gravestones thanks to kind volunteers who happen to live near the cemetery and have gone out of their way to take and send a photograph to me. You can read my appreciation for the arrival of one such photograph at my post entitled A random thank-you for genealogical kindness. With volunteers in all fifty states (plus the District of Columbia) and more than thirty countries worldwide, chances are you'll find a kind soul living in the neighborhood of one of your ancestors. See the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website for more information.
Join Rootsweb's Genealogy Mailing Lists
A great way to connect with others researching the same topics that you are, and possibly to find extended family members. Start out by doing a search for a list by specific surname, location or category. Once you find a topic of interest, you can read the archives or post your own query. If you don't see a list for a surname or other topic that interests you, you can even create a new Rootsweb list yourself.
Search the web
You never know what you might find on the web in the way of photographic images of your ancestral homes or even members of your family tree. Don't discount a Google or Google image search. (For some good tips on genealogy via Google, view Robert Ragan's Google demonstration or read Dan Lynch's Internet Genealogy magazine article on Genealogical Googling.) You can also try sites like Deadfred, Family Old Photos, Ancestor Genealogy Photo Archive, or Ancient Faces, all online photographic archives of genealogical images.
Start your own blog
As I mentioned, writing my various family history blogs has truly become a gift in many ways. It has provided me with the ability to connect with those that share an interest in my family, their ancestral homes, and photographic images of both. If you would like to enter the blogosphere yourself, take a look at Blogger, Wordpress or other blogging platforms and look into getting started sharing your own family history online.
Toth family portrait. Photograph ca 1929. Digital image. Privately held by the author, United States. 2008
Family portraits on display. Photograph 2004. Digital image. Privately held by the author, United States. 2008
Catholic Church, Legrad, Croatia (Katolička crkva, Legrad, Hrvatska). Photographic postcard, early 20th-century. Digital image. Privately held by the author, United States. 2008
Catholic Church, Legrad, Croatia (Katolička crkva, Legrad, Hrvatska). Photograph 2008. Digital image. Privately held by current resident of Legrad, Croatia. 2008 (Please contact the author for more information.)
Peter and Maria Gres wedding. Photograph ca 1913. Digital image. Privately held by the author, United States. 2008
Lisa. "Međimurje: Meeting place of rivers and cultures." Lisa. 100 Years in America, 27 April 2008 (http://100inamerica.blogspot.com/2008/04/meimurje-meeting-place-of-rivers-and_27.html).
Lisa. "A random thank-you for genealogical kindness." Lisa. 100 Years in America, 8 December 2007 (http://100inamerica.blogspot.com/2007/12/random-thank-you-for-genealogical.html).
Morgan, George. "Identifying Family Photographs." The Generations Network. Ancestry.com "Along Those Lines", 7 August 1999 (http://www.ancestry.com/learn/library/article.aspx?article=2026&cj=1&sid=genphotos.html&o_xid=0000295820&o_lid=0000295820).
Taylor, Maureen Alice. Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2000.
Lisa has been researching her family’s story for more than a quarter of a century. Her desire is to bring others, particularly young people, to an understanding and appreciation of their own place in history. She currently maintains three genealogy blogs relating to various branches of her family. You can find Lisa on the web at 100 Years in America, Small-leaved Shamrock and A light that shines again.