As family historians, researching our ancestors and their stories is only one element of understanding their history. Their ancestral pictures provide us with a richer and deeper view of who they were. The photos are what draw us into their souls and provide a connection to their past.

When pulling out all of my ancestral pictures for placement in my family history book, I made an effort at identifying everyone in the photos along with possible dates and locations of where and when they were taken. Fortunately, my mother was  diligent in dating all of our photographs, taking great effort in gathering the appropriate details for the ancestral pictures. But there is one particular photo; that of my paternal grandfather's family, I have yet to fully identify.
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Who is that curious man on the left?
The picture is quite amusing and it gives me a little chuckle every time I view it. Dated 1913, there are six individuals in the photo: My great grandfather B.F. Capps sitting in front; his two youngest sons, a young woman (most likely my step great grandmother), a strikingly handsome young man standing to the right (my grandfather William Capps-did I say strikingly handsome?) and then, a curious looking man standing to the left. I describe the unidentified man as 'curious' because frankly, with a somewhat short stature, a tall cap with a medal, a beard and a cigar dangling from his mouth, he looks unusual and I am quite curious!

As the photo seems to have been taken by an amateur photographer in what looks like a forest or campsite, there is nothing on the back to identify the place or location of the picture. And there is no notation as to the identity of the 'curious' man posing in the background. So, it has been left to my imagination to complete the story of the photo of my grandfather's family and the 'curiously unusual' man; coming to three possible conclusions:

1)My grandfather's family was traveling the country by train and the 'unusual' man was Ivan, the Prussian train conductor, jumping in the photo for posterity sake.
2)The Capps family was celebrating a family reunion and Uncle Hector, a circus lion tamer from Pittsburgh, squeezed in for a photo shot.
3)Caught red-handed, (no pun intended), the Capps family was photographed trading top secrets with Boris Grusov, a Russian spy.

Well, my stories seem to grow wilder every time I pull out the photo, but to provide you with some sensible guidance for identifying your ancestral photos, here is some helpful information I have learned:

1)If the old photo has a shiny image it is most likely from 1839-1860.
2)A photo on glass can be dated from 1854-1870.
3)A tintype is from 1856-1900.
4)Look at the name of the printer and/or photographer on the back and then research the information on a digitalized city directory. This can help you narrow down the date and location of the photo.
5)Many Civil War veterans wore belt buckles with insignias; Use your magnifying glass to help identify the insignia or pendant.

I have also found several websites and blogs helpful in learning tips for dating and identifying ancestral photos. I highly recommend following the
Photo Detective with Family Tree Magazine and for good historical information on old photos, go to the AJ Morris website.

For the photo of my grandfather's family, I am resolved that I will never truly learn the identity of the 'curiously unusual' man. So, since I can write this story, I'm sticking with 'Uncle Hector, a circus lion tamer from Pittsburgh.'

It just makes my occasionally lackluster family history a little more intriguing!

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source:Webyfly.com)
 

Seize The Memories

06/19/2011

 
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Sgt. Paul W. Capps
After tossing the last load of supplies into the back-end of the plane, Paul slid into the cockpit, buckling his helmet and flipping a switch overhead. Waiting for the pilot and another soldier to board, Paul scanned the large control panel, checking the instruments and running each through a sequence of tests. Intuitive and well-skilled at the mechanics of the plane, he was meticulous in each detail, preoccupied with perfection. But Paul's expert eye could not foresee what would soon lie ahead for the three World War 11 Army Air Force soldiers.

Paul's two platoon buddies jumped into the plane and the small crew headed the large C-47 down the airstrip, off to a familiar mission: flying the 'Hump'. It was a weekly run made from their Army Air Force base out of Chauboy, India and though seemingly routine, the flight was laden with danger. Their mission was to jump their plane over the Himalaya Mountains and plunge down over enemy lines; quickly dropping food and supplies to the American troops.

On this particular day, nothing was out of order. Every operational detail was normal; another run, another mission. Swooping over the large, majestic mountains, the plane dipped its belly close to the ground. As the men found their target area, one soldier swiftly pulled open the large side door and both began kicking the supply bags to the ground. But suddenly, the sound of bullets from Japanese soldiers was heard ricocheting off the side of the plane and Paul began to blindly fire his pistol from the door. And then with little warning, the plane's belly hit bottom, crashing behind enemy lines.

The spellbinding story of my father, Sgt Paul W. Capps, was a small piece of his total war experience during World War 11. But it was never heard until a few years before his death. A man of few words, stories such as these were buried deep within his soul, concealed from view.

A few years before my father died, I presented him with a Father's Day gift: a journal. Explaining I had always longed to hear of his experiences of the war, perhaps he could finally feel comfortable writing them down. But what I was unconscious of at the time was there were few memories left: The evilest of enemies, dementia, had seized his precious memories of days past.

Weeks later the journal was returned, pages filled with stories of the war, but to my dismay, my mother had composed them. Attempting to provide me with some of dad's memories, mother did her best to rewrite the stories he had told her so long ago. I cherish the journal but much of the details, the little precious nuggets of his experiences, were never told.

The story of my father and fellow soldiers sweeping their plane behind enemy lines was described briefly, hidden within a journal of mostly mundane stories. Fortunately, he survived the crash without injury or enemy capture, but I was stunned to learn of such a life changing adventure. And I long for more details to fill in the missing pieces of the stories of his war years.

On this Father's Day, grab the moment to discover all the details of your father's stories. Whatever his great adventures were, they were unique to him. And a hundred years from now, your father's descendants will be probing for records and searching for stories. Visit with your grandfather and father and help them write their stories. Seize the memories before they are stolen from them; so their stories will not be left for others to complete.

Keeping searching for answers,

Cheryl
**Here's another tip: Put together a memory box of your dad's records; military, medals, letters, etc and search through Ancestry.com and other sites for draft records, and other documents. His descendants will be forever grateful.
 

The King's Man

06/12/2011

 
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William Templeton was a man of great skill. Meticulously selecting each thread spun from his 'spinster' wife, he would artfully place the colorful threads on his loom, weaving them into beautiful masterpieces. And soon the large shawls would be retrieved by the * 'cork' and sold in the weekly Paisley market.

The Scottish middle Lowland town of Paisley was a bustling village of weavers and craftsmen in 1774: Men with talent passed through generations of proud Scots and apprenticed by their fathers. The beautiful little town had become well known throughout Scotland as the 'weavers village'; producing the loveliest cloths in all of England. But with competition high in a village of over 1700 weavers, William Templeton began to entertain the thought of moving his craft to the new world: The American Colonies.

The weavers, printers and other Scottish craftsmen in Paisley were considered well read and intelligent and William was certainly among the best. With word of greater opportunities in the colonies for men of talent, he had grown more interested in the thought of venturing to America. A craftsman well thought of within the community, William and his wife Margaret were soon granted permission to embark on their Atlantic journey and make a new life in the colonies.

Disembarking from the port of New York, the Templetons traveled to the small community of Morristown, New Jersey: A quaint colonial village with some similarities to their homeland in Scotland. William and Margaret settled onto their land and began weaving and spinning their craft once more.

Quickly starting their family, the couple took roots in their community and William gained prominence as a freeholder. But the local politics began to infuse the villagers and growing tension with the British Monarchy seeped throughout the community. It was an unexpected and uneasy atmosphere for William: A Scotsman of strong loyalty and servitude to his British King.

It was May 1776 and the little village of Morristown was different than the town the Templetons first settled into just two years earlier; men taking up arms and joining the Rebel cause. Town meetings to discuss the tensions between the colonists and the British government brought an unsettling feeling for William Templeton. This was not the America he came to; the land of plenty, so well spoken of amongst the villagers in Paisley. And when the call was made for the town freeholders to gather in the village square to denounce the King of England thus signing an oath of allegiance to a new America, William Templeton would not place his pen to the paper. It was a pivotal moment for the proud and talented Scotsman; the loyalist from Morristown, New Jersey.

Taking a closer look into the research of my ancestors of Morris County, few records from the 1700's can be found. But feeling a nagging desire to search for possible evidence of Revolutionary War records for William Templeton, I dug deeper through every genealogical website and e-book found.

But with every New Jersey pension and militia list discovered, William Templeton's name was not there.

Until I happened upon a new list, a different kind of list: The Loyalists list.

And as I scrolled down the page, there he was; my proud, clannish, Scottish ancestor William Templeton.

The story of my ancestor can only be imagined as little records have been left but as I have delved deeper into the research of the Scottish colonists, I have discovered that many continued their loyalty to England before and during the Revolution. And as a result, many were tortured, tarred and feathered and others escaped to Canada. And although at first shocked with my discovery, looking at the events through my ancestor's eyes has provided a deeper appreciation of the gut-wrenching dilemma he must have felt.

Through the discovery of the numerous websites dedicated to Scottish genealogy, I am developing a new page: Links to Scottish records and indexes. Take a look through the sites and perhaps you, as I, will discover your Scottish ancestors: The often proud and sometimes very loyal 'Kings Men.'

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source: Renfrewshire.gov.uk)

*A 'cork' was the middleman who picked up the weaver's scarves to be sold by the larger manufacturers.
*A 'spinster' is a word derived from the wives in Paisley who spun the thread for their husbands.


 

Legends And Heroes

06/05/2011

 
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It was the fourth day of October 1813. James Luna placed his knapsack on the table in front of him and proceeded to fill it with a few personal items including his diary and his prized knife used for woodcarving. Turning to his wife Polly, James provided a soft kiss and then wrapped his arms around each child as he passed through their house. Polly always felt this day would come, marrying a man with a strong sense of military loyalty instilled by a father who was a veteran of the Revolution.

James made his way on horseback into the Tennessee town of Fayetteville and with the intensity and focus of any professionally trained warrior, he walked the steps of the courthouse to register with the Tennessee Militia. But this would not be an ordinary day for James Luna or the state of Tennessee, as both would forever be touched by history.

Respected by Tennessee commanders as a well-trained military man, James was enlisted into the militia as an Ensign, an officer given the authority over several troops. Assigned under the command of the fearless Colonel Andrew Jackson, James Luna quickly took control of his men and proceeded to fight the British friendly Creeks in the famous Battle of Talladega: It would soon become known as the Creek War, an historically significant piece of the War of 1812.

On the same day that James Luna walked the steps of the Fayetteville, Tennessee courthouse, another young man took a parallel path and provided his signature to the same military paperwork. Like James, a man well respected by the community, Davy Crockett penned his name to the list of volunteers under the famous Andrew Jackson. But Davy was given the military rank of Sergeant, serving as a subordinate to James Luna throughout his Creek War tour.

Both men fought heroically at Forts Strother and Forts Deposite, withstanding the brutal effects of a war riddled with disease and starvation. The rebellious Creeks were out-manned by Colonial Jackson's troops and the Tennessee Militia's victories provided further motivation for the mighty Andrew Jackson to march troops into the Battle of New Orleans.

At the end of their tour in 1814, James Luna and Davy Crockett were both honorably discharged from the Creek War but each took a different path in history. One returned to his family and plantation in Nashville; the other took a political turn that history has painted as a larger than life legend. But as the history books have described the 'wild frontiersman' Davy Crockett as fighting bears with one hand, the Ensign James Luna quietly settled back into his home, tilling his farm and carving his precious wood pieces with his prized knife.

Finding the heroes within our own family histories is only a short read when searching through military records. All of us hope to find ancestors of great honors, perhaps discoveries previously unknown of great great grandfathers heralded in history books of fortitude and military prowess. But like my ancestor James Luna, history only has room for a few legends and heroes; leaving his heraldry to be discovered by only a few.

As I reflected on last week's meaning of Memorial Day and listened to military 'flybys' over my rooftop, I was reminded that we all have legends and heroes within our family histories. And it is important to remember that although the American Revolution, War of 1812 and the Civil War were significantly great: American heroes have fought in numerous other wars throughout history. Wars that many of us forget to research such as the Creek War, the Mexican War, Spanish-American War, Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Look for your legends and heroes in the 'other wars' at Online Military Indexes, Access Genealogy and Footnote.

Keep searching for answers;

Cheryl