Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Family Portrait

My father's side of the family. The adults, from the left, are Emily (Sessions) Arnold, Fannie (Arnold) Smith, Herbert Elmer Arnold, Lizzie (Curran) Smith, Harry Lee Smith, Sidney Brown Smith. In the front is my aunt, Jane Elizabeth Smith.
When I was much younger, probably in my twenties, my father gave me a copy of this old family photograph. In the picture are my Dad's older sister (age two here), Dad's parents, and his four grandparents. Each of his parents stands between their own parents. My Dad isn't in the picture, but he was there in utero; his mother was about six months pregnant at the time of the picture.

I don't remember when I first saw this picture. I was at least a teenager and maybe out of college. I do remember being immediately captivated by it. Other than my Aunt Jane (the child) I never met any of the people in this picture. I hadn't even seen pictures of most of them.  So this single picture was an "Aha" moment for me—discovering what Dad's entire family looked like.  And for some reason the deliberate organization of the entire family in one neat picture made it all the more interesting.

At the time, I didn't know much about most of these people, just a few tid-bits that came up in my Dad's recollections of his youth.  His mother (second from left) studied voice at Oberlin Conservatory. Her father (3rd from left) owned and operated a laundry company in the town of Oberlin. Dad's father (2nd from right) was a farmer, who died when Dad was a boy, and Dad's grandfather Smith (on the right) lived to be over one hundred years old.  Since then, I've managed to learn more about my family, partly by asking Dad about them, but also by digging through old newspapers and other records.

Returning to the picture, from left to right, the adults in the picture (and their relation to me) are:
  • Emily Jane (Sessions) Arnold (1866 – 1941): Great-grandmother
  • Fannie Diem (Arnold) Smith (1893 – 1976): Grandmother
  • Herbert Elmer Arnold (1863 – 1933): Great-grandfather
  • Elizabeth "Lizzie" (Curran) Smith (1860 – 1945): Great-grandmother
  • Harry Lee Smith (1890 – 1941): Grandfather
  • Sidney Brown Smith (1861 – 1962): Great-grandfather
The girl is Jane Elizabeth (Smith) Rumbold (1929 – 2011), my aunt. 

The picture was taken outside Sidney Smith's house at 9 Jackson Street in Silver Creek, New York.  He had been a farmer for much of his life.  When he retired, Harry, his son, took over the farm, and Sidney bought this house "in town" in Silver Creek. The Arnolds lived in Oberlin, Ohio, so they must have been visiting.

My dad had guessed that the picture was taken the summer before he was born. There are a bunch of clues about this. There are leaves on the trees and the people look like they're wearing light-weight clothes. In particular, Herbert Arnold's suit looks like a summer print, and Fannie (Arnold) Smith is wearing a sleeveless dress. From this, Dad inferred that the picture was taken sometime between late Spring and early Fall. Dad's sister, my Aunt Jane, was born on November 6, 1929. In the summer before Dad was born (1931), she would have been a few months shy of her second birthday, and that looks like the age of the girl in the picture. Possibly, the picture could have been taken the following summer, in 1932, after Dad was born, but then where is he in this picture? It seems unlikely that in a portrait that clearly includes all the family he would have been left out.

A couple years ago, after I got started in genealogy, I was doing some research about Dad's family in Silver Creek. I was reading some of the area newspapers, searching for references to Dad's father—a somewhat arduous task since "Harry Smith" is a rather common name.  In the Dunkirk Evening Observer from August 1, 1931, I found the following in the news from Hanover Center:
Mrs Harry Smith has been entertaining her father and mother from Oberlin, Ohio.
Hanover Center was the cross-roads village near Harry Smith's farm, a couple miles outside of Silver Creek.  Dunkirk is the nearest large town. In 1930 it's population was over 17,000 (compared to about 3,000 in Silver Creek).

Putting it all together, that must have been the visit when the picture was taken.

One thing I still wonder about the picture is who took it? The one person who isn't in the picture is my great-aunt Hazel Smith (Harry's younger sister). She was a schoolteacher in Buffalo (about 35 miles from Silver Creek). Since it was summer, school would have been out. According to Dad she liked to take pictures and often had a camera with her. So it seems like a reasonable guess that she was the photographer.

If you're like me, it's probably easier to keep track of who's who with a chart or pedigree showing how everyone connects to each other. So here's a snippet of my pedigree showing the people in this photo.

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