Monday, April 05, 2010

Faces Without a Name...

One of the reasons I have been so conspicuously absent these last couple of weeks is that I'm on another genealogical binge. Having failed to find hide nor hair of my George Perkins I had to find another line to work on which would cause less frustration.

So I decided to finally enter the information I have on Tony's family into the family tree program. I got into the "dead ancestors" box and dug out the family group sheets that I filled out while interviewing Tony's Mom (Kinette) in the spring of 1982. Mom's been gone for 20 years now, hardly seems possible. She and I were good friends and had a lot of fun together, even though we butted heads a good many times too.

Mom knew a great deal about her own family history, and I've been able to expand on what she knew (with help from a professional genealogist in Belgium some 10 years ago.)

But sadly she knew very little about Tony's father's family. George died within a few months of Tony's and my wedding, and I really only got to spend a short time with him. His parents had sent him off to England to a boarding school when he was five, which was what all the prosperous families with great ambitions for their only sons did. He resented the separation and was not particularly interested in talking about his family, and we didn't anticipate losing him so quickly.

When Kinette died I inherited a stack of old pictures with no names on them, and an even larger stack of questions. Who were these people? Bit by bit I figured out the relationships, but that gives me no help at all on the names.

The surnames I am wrestling with at the moment are Greant and van der Elst. Both families were wealthy. Tony's grandfather Camille's nickname in school was "the golden brick" because the family owned so much property in Brussels. (Alas, the depression and WWII took care of the family fortune.)

Margaret van der Elst (on the right with dark hair) married Camille Greant in 1902. They are Tony's paternal grandparents. This photo shows her as a composed young lady of about 14, with her younger sister (whose name I do not know). Her hair is up, and she has all the fresh beauty of a girl on the threshold of womanhood.

The other two photos were taken probably about 1916. These are contact prints, probably made with glass negatives. They are too fragile to display, lest they fade.
But they convey a sense of warmth and pride seldom seen in old photos.

I love the van der Elst grandparents, so proud of the grandchildren lined up with them. I see a distinct resemblance between Grandfather van der Elst and my own dear husband. In this photo Tony's father George is the small boy in a dark suit with the large white collar, second from the right. George's sister Simone is the tallest girl, holding a baby cousin.

The second van der Elst family photo was taken one or two years later, on a charming bridge which Kinette says was on their estate. It includes the two grandparents and their adult children and families.

It appears there are two daughters and a son, their spouses and a child or two. Tony's grandfather Camille stands with crossed arms, the only one who appears ill-at-ease. His wife Margaret stands with her elbow on the bridge railing. Their daughter Simone stands by her mother and George is at the foot of the bridge. There is also an extra woman, who appears to be the grandmother's sister, seen in the earlier photo, when they were 12 and 14.

These are treasures, but they bring with them a deep longing to know these people, to give them names and their place in the family history. For your family's sake, sit down soon and write the names on the back of your family photos. All it takes is one memory less to lose a connection that may never be forged again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Isn't it frustrating to not be able to put names to the faces. I have a few of Ernie's family photos that no-one seems able to ID the folks. Most of mine, Mother had made notes on while she was working on the geneaology. Too bad she didn't get any further along than her grandparents. I've had the dickens of a time trying to find any info on the Grandmothers (both sides) families and beyond them.

Miss your little blog posts, but understand the need to nail those folks down!