Camp Sherman

October 14, 1971. Looks like a visit from Anna.

October 14, 1917. Looks like a visit from Anna.

Reflecting a shift from Quaker faith to a more mainstream denomination, Leroy Hodson was the first of my Hodson family to enlist in military service since its arrival in America, as far as I can tell. His mother, however, who lost her only Bahill uncle in the Civil War, may have held other opinions. I imagine the decision led to family tensions.

Examining old photos

Photography can be its own genealogical specialty. Some workshops I’ve seen offered emphasize clothing styles as a way to interpret the family’s social status or regional placement or even to date the particular photograph.

I did something similar in examining a 1916 Ehrstine family reunion group shot presented on this blog, where members who were continuing the Plain dress of the faith posed at the edge of the group. Those of the more progressive styles of clothing and religion tended to cluster toward the center.

The kinds of photos themselves can help. Tintypes, for instance were popular in the 1860s and 1870s but lingered to the beginning of the 20th century. Commercial studio photography, presumably using large-format glass-plate negatives, thrived in the last decades of the 19th century. And then there are the snapshots, which became readily available once George Eastman launched his Brownie camera in 1900. (Once we’ve digitalized the images, though, we lose that hands-on awareness of the object itself — we’re often left to guess.)

With the commercial studio portraits, I find the folders useful in naming the photographer and location. Was the subject living in the same town? Or did the family travel to the city for something more prestigious? A local historian might have a lot to say about a particular photographer or the time span his studio was open. In trying to sort out one collection, I found the kind of chair used in the shot — to keep the subject still as much as to add an artistic touch — could provide a tentative connection for individuals.

In snapshots, I find the poses themselves can relate emotional content. Who’s looking at whom, how far apart are they standing or sitting, what’s the body language?


You get the idea. Have you done anything with family photos? Any insights you’d like to share? Have you ever attended one of these workshops? And what did you learn?

Courtship takes a turn

We have no clue who they were, but they obviously knew each other. We're left what other secrets they were keeping.

We have no clue who they were, but they obviously knew each other. We’re left what other secrets they were keeping.

Earlier family photos of courtship are more subdued. I’ll need to go back to see if there was any touching. Sometimes the young couple was accompanied by a horse, too – including our illustrious Prince. Maybe the introduction of the automobile changed everything.

My triangulation process

Working a relatively recent period in my ancestry allowed me to interview a few surviving family members but raised the curious problem of what to do when their memories clashed or, in some cases, were simply blank. These were good stories, often augmented by other materials such as letters, newspaper clippings, maps, and photos.

I decided to do what forest-fire lookouts do: triangulate, which means drawing visual lines across the landscape from each observation tower to the pillar of smoke itself. Something was going on there, and this is what each one saw.

In terms of the genealogy, different observers had their own biases to consider. And conditions and responses might vary along a timeline, so that what one remembered had changed drastically by the time another detailed.

The result (still unpublished and deeply personal) is, from my point of view, deliciously ambiguous in places. If anything, it makes the subjects more real and quirky.


How do you handle source materials that conflict? Do you give precedence to one over another? Do you accept them both? Do you play them off each other?

Vera before she was an aunt and great-aunt

These were originally part of a strip of five snapshots.

These were originally part of a strip of five snapshots.

My grandfather’s sister Vera provided some delightful commentary early in my genealogical research, and she’d already given Floyd enough to help give us a foundation of our project. The big lament, though, was the loss of her childhood correspondence from her grandparents, Pleasant and Eunice, in North Carolina. Their letters disappeared in her move to a smaller residence shortly before we launched in our research.

They show sides of Vera Hodson I'd not expected.

They show sides of Vera Hodson I’d not expected.

Go ahead, introduce yourself!

Now that you’ve found your way to this site, I’d love to hear of your interest. Are you one of my kin, waiting to be introduced? Or a history buff, perhaps living along my family’s trail? Something else altogether? Maybe you’re interested in the religious ways that Plain People like my Quaker and Dunker (Brethren) ancestors upheld? (There are also some Mennonites, way back, as well as more worldly Lutherans and Irish Catholics.)

If you’re doing research, you’re especially welcome. What I’ve posted here is essentially all of my findings. If there’s something that helps you in your own genealogical pursuit, I’m happy to add a piece or two in working your own puzzle. If you have something large or small to contribute here, please pipe up in the comments and we’ll see where it leads. As you’ve already learned, every answer raises a host of new questions. Genealogy research is never really done, even if I’ve essentially retired from this pursuit after three obsessive decades. (Or think I have.)

One of the delights in undertaking a project like this comes in meeting others along the way and swapping material. Many earlier researchers have been quite generous in their willingness to provide detailed answers. I feel a duty to them, especially, in making their work as widely available as possible. Yes, we can place copies of our work in libraries, as I have, but a blog like this makes the material available worldwide. It not only beats having dust collect on drawers of old files, it opens a club for others to join. I hope you’ll be among its members.

Consider the chair

Sometimes a baby sat in it, although it helped to have armrests to stead them. And sometimes adults used them for balance. Sometimes they had fringes, like this. Here's one detail.

Sometimes a baby sat in them during the session, although an armrest to steady them helped. And sometimes adults used them for balance. Sometimes they had fringes, like this. Here’s one in detail.

Sometimes a subject sat in it. Sometimes a subject simply stood elegantly beside it.

Sorting through family photos, I’ve noticed the same chair just might remain in a photographer’s studio for years.

Notice the mantel, too.

Notice the mantel, too.

And the way it moved.

And the way it moved. Is it the same girl, years apart?