Thursday, August 26, 2010

Family Ghosts

My grandmother Dorothy Scott passed on in the early 1990s. While her last few years were spent in a demented Alzheimer's fog, she he had lived a good long life, born in southern Michigan and died after thirty years in Mill Valley, California. I belatedly inherited a box of family photos from her just a couple years ago, passed on to a friend and set aside for those many years before they finally got to me. It's an odd collection of photos; many of them older than any visual evidence of my family I'd ever seen before. They range from 19th-century tintypes through 1970s snapshots. Most of them are not labelled, and I have no idea who many of the people in these photos are; many are my ancestors, many lost distant cousins, many I have no idea whatsoever. I met several of my grandmother's sisters when I was a child so there is some familiarity: but she came from a very large family, even though the genes she passed down to my father seem not to have included that trait. There's a magic quality to these pictures, and yet also, something vaguely sad. Although I hope that other forks of the Scott and Kimble and Decker families have revered and remembered their ancestors better than mine has, it makes me melancholic to consider these faces and figures so full of life in these photos to be now so randomly anonymous.

The beautiful photo above shows my grandmother's older sisters Ruth and Flo Scott wading in Lake Michigan, probably with their father--my great grandfather--probably about 1900.

This one shows my grandmother's grandfather William Scott with his sister Clara Scott, his wife, nee Decker, and his mother in law "great grandmother Decker" and a cousin whose name I can't read, sitting around their dining room table in Michigan, Marcellus or Vicksburg; it's not dated but it's probably the 1880s or 1890s. He's the hero of the family who served in the Union Army.

This is the Kimble house in Vicksburg, Michigan, undated but probably from the 1870s. These are the Kimble women; the child is my grandmother's mother Eudora Kimble, later Scott. It's Dora's mother, grandmother and great grandmother in the photo with her. This one really needs to be seen larger; click on it to see these people in better detail.

I feel like I owe these people some immortality, especially since I'm not passing on my genepool to anybody. It seems impossible but without all of them I wouldn't be here; and these are only a handful of my ancestors, the ones from my father's mother's line. They're like ghosts now, long gone to their rest, but they're also, well, still here, peering out from these photos.

Welcome, ancestors, to the internet.


  1. awesome photos! the unidentified people in old family photos fascinate me. I have so many that must be relatives, but there is no one left that could possibly know. Occasionally I'll "recognize" someone in a second or third photo and can sort of deduce who they might be, but it's all a cosmic crap shoot, lol.

    Yes, Welcome to the 21st century, Ish's relatives! Put your monitor in the sun for a minute or two, Ish, the like the sun on their faces after all this time! : )

  2. I'm gonna do that, Casey. :)

    I have some more really interesting ones. Stay tuned...some cars you'll like. A really odd one with either giants or a midget. Some pics of my lesbian great aunt.

  3. You're so lucky to have family photos that go so far back. I know who my relatives are at least this long ago, but the photos don't start until a generation later. It's great to have the visuals to associate with the names of long-dead relatives, most of whom you probably never met. I can imagine them looking on from the great beyond, and getting a kick that their descendant has given them new life via technology that was unimaginable in their day!

    That first photo is really beautiful - it's more like a simple work of art than a photograph.

  4. I do feel lucky...and I was so surprised to be given these so recently; my grandmother has quite consistently been sending me things from the beyond, no kidding! I had seen some pictures from the 1920s and 1930s of various relatives but these were a revelation.

    And yes, that first one is special.