I don’t know why I find long-dead relatives intriguing, but investigating my own personal history becomes a lot more interesting on the rare occasions in which I find pictures. I stumbled upon this pic when I was actually looking for pics of my relatives’ grave markers of all things. This picture is of my great-grandfather, Wert, his first wife, Ethel (who died at the age of 31, in 1910, several years before he married my great-grandmother) and their daughter, Nellie (I would assume she would have been considered by great-aunt?), who died just a few days before her sixteenth birthday in 1913. They also had a son, Harold, (born in 1907) who died at four years old in 1911. They were married when he was 22 and she was 16. I’ve not been able to figure out what they all died of. I’d always thought there’d been some sort of epidemic or something- but not when the deaths are a year or more apart- unless they had TB or some other condition that doesn’t kill you right away. In the early 20th century you could die from stuff that is generally curable today, and I know there were several cholera and diphtheria epidemics in Marion County back then- along with all the common stuff like strep or pneumonia that people get all the time but can get a script for and get rid of today. I know full well I would have been dead many years ago (probably in infancy, considering I was born with pneumonia) had it not been for antibiotics and modern surgical technology. I guess I could figure it out if I were willing to pay the state of Ohio $16 for each death certificate, but I don’t have that kind of money just floating about. If I had to take a guess though, I would probably bet on the contagious disease du jour.
My great-grandfather died in 1942 at the age of 69. He and my great-grandmother had four kids including my grandfather. Anna, my great-grandmother, had five kids already from her first husband, who died young- so there was a house full of kids. Anna died in 1970 at the age of 88. Grandpa outlived all of his brothers and sisters and half-siblings by many years. I think he had one brother- Maurice- who made to 1997. Maurice was younger than him too, but Grandpa was 91 when he died.
I don’t know how bad it would screw with your head to lose your spouse and two kids in the span of three years, but I would have to believe it would be a serious blow to one’s sanity.
Pictures of long-dead people are fascinating even when you don’t have any background information on them. The pics become even more interesting when you can put a name with the face and even a bit of history to go along with it. I would estimate that the above pic was probably taken in or around 1898. Nellie looks as if she is about a year old or so. It’s kind of sad, really, to look at that pic knowing she never made it to her sixteenth birthday. What is even more sobering is realizing that her mother was only 17 when that pic was taken. They had been married over a year before Nellie was born. I was too young to get married when I was 21 and for that matter, too young the second time I got married at 26. Hindsight being 20/20 I’d have been better off to remain an old maid living quite happily in the company of dogs.
I am glad that Nellie was very much alive when the pic was taken. In that time period photography was extremely expensive, so they must have been somewhat affluent. From the clothing I gather they weren’t exactly poor. In that era, pics were often only taken of children when they died. There is an entire category on E-Bay: postmortem photography dedicated to (primarily) Victorian-era dead people pics. They go for big money, too, even if the seller has no clue who the dead person is, which is sort of macabre when you think about it. Some of the postmortem pics are pretty graphic, especially when you can tell they painted on the eyes or that the body has started to rot in places. In high summer, without benefit of embalming, I would assume dead bodies wouldn’t stay terribly fresh for long.
Being that it is February, and the weather is a major contributor to the February funk right now, death and dead relatives are appropriate topics. Oddly enough, none of the relatives for whom I know their date of death died in February, even though there are more deaths on average in February than in every other month.
It bothers me sometimes the lack of information I have on my relatives. Some of what I do have is rather frightening, some of it enlightening, and some of it downright sad.
So much gets forgotten over time. Then again, if some descendant of mine happens upon my name and statistics a hundred years from now, I wonder how they would see me? Would they see my pictures and then realize why they’re coyote ugly? Would I be regarded as one of those shithouse rat crazy skeletons in the closet?
Then again, I don’t think I’ll be here to care.