Uncle Arlie

Arlie Binkley was Grandma’s brother-in-law, but he was also one of my grandfather’s two best friends. From everything I’ve learned, I’d say he’s the better of the two — which is saying something, considering that the other was the bishop.

The little I remember of Uncle Arlie was that he was a very kind and gentle man who welcomed us warmly to the farm. Sometimes I got to ride with him on the tractor. The last time, I think, was the year he tried to raise popcorn. Did we get to ride in the wagon while he drove down the rows with the harvester?

He got increasingly debilitated by the advance of ALS, and Dad was with him when he finally passed over.

Uncle Arlie’s death and funeral were the first in my awareness.

This portrait is stamped on the back, Studio of the Rike-Kumler Co., which was Dayton’s leading department store.


Plus Mom

Taken just a few years after the formal sitting presented last week, this full-length composition features my dad in his Army-Air Force uniform. His new bride stands at the far left, in the row with his sisters and mother. Well, T.J. gets to stand in the front row.

The lighting is front-on, and the backdrop eliminates any concern about shadows.

The back of a much smaller copy is dated April 15, 1944 – when Dad was on furlough.

Formal family portrait

The spread of formal photo studio sittings into middle-class families could make for an interesting study. The earliest portraits, of course, were individuals who had to hold still for the image to set. Getting two or more people to cooperate simultaneously could present a challenge, though I do have the photo of Amos and Mary Magdalene McSherry in front of their store and a later one of their daughter Alice and a group of sledding party friends, both taken a generation before this one.

Here, my dad is a serious looking teenager with his parents and sisters.

The dramatic lighting comes from both sides, and all eyeballs except little T.J.’s are riveted somewhere over the photographer’s right shoulder.

I am bothered by the profusion of shadows behind them, something I thought the photographer would have tried hiding. The technical excellence of this large-format camera work, though, is impressive.

Considering this comes from the late ’30s, I’m left with the impression that the hard times of the Great Depression are slipping behind them and that Grandpa’s plumbing business has taken root.

What’s your impression?


A shift in the focus

When it comes to doing genealogical research, I know I’m not alone in that feeling that the further back we go in history, the more valuable our findings. Or something like that.

My findings posted here reflect multiple stages of that drive.

First was to connect my Ohio Hodson lines to earlier Hodgsons and Hodgins in North Carolina. That concentrated on the early to mid-1800s.

And that led, second, to trying to determine Orphan George’s roots in Ireland and England. That involved the late 1600s.

Third came my maternal lines, especially regarding the Ehrstines. That ranged from the mid-1800s back to the early 1700s, mostly.

You’ve no doubt noticed that I’m not a names-and-dates type of researcher. I’m more interested in the broader story and the alternative histories these findings turn up. In the case of the lines presented on this blog, religion plays a big part in their lives – Quaker, or Society of Friends, for the Hodgson/Hodson/Hodgin family and Dunker, or German Baptist Brethren and later Church of the Brethren, for the Ehrstines. Each has a distinctive culture that would have shaped their lives, with advantages and disadvantages. Remember, these had strictures.

Do you ever wonder about people who tell us they have their family history all worked out, thanks to earlier researchers who published fat genealogical accounts? Are you ever envious, or do you think they’re missing something? I lean toward the latter and even wonder about any scandals that may have been sanitized.

Concentrating on the deep past, meanwhile, can lead to overlooking more recent family lore before it vanishes, and I’ll have to admit to being remiss there.

For one thing, growing up I never really understood the family stuff of aunts, uncles, and cousins – it was all a fog. Who were these people? The son of Grandpa’s mother’s brother, for instance? Eh? We certainly weren’t close, in an affectionate sort of way, though I did get a neat World War I pup tent and backpack from said first-cousin of Grandpa. Two of my first cousins lived five hours away in the opposite corner of the state, while my other four were out in southern California. And I had none from my mother’s side, which was even more convoluted and remote.

So some of the story in our own time is the breakdown of family relations. It definitely is a theme running through my novel, What’s Left.

This year, the Orphan George blog will be presenting snapshots and a few formal portraits from my dad’s era. Hard to believe these are ancient history, from the perspective of today’s kids. Well, we are going back nearly a century now, in some of them.

For a comparison, that reminds me of wanting to hear more from my great-grandmother on Mom’s side, the one born a decade after the Civil War. I now realize that she didn’t have good stories and, more surprisingly, didn’t want to talk about growing up. She was more interested in baptism and criticizing just about everything.

So here we are, looking at one small stem of Orphan George’s descendants in Dayton, Ohio, from the 1920s into the ’70s.

Hard for me to think of this as history, but since so many of the figures I’ve known in the pictures have “passed over,” in the quaint Quaker expression, I’m now looking at these quite differently.

Here we go, then.