|Priceless, Not Obvious
By Candice Lynn Buchanan
In the season of yard sales and cleaning out attics, don't be too quick to get rid of family items that seem irrelevant. A little digging may show a deep family tie, long forgotten.
In 2003, a Maryland Historical Society received a donation that might have rated as insignificant to their collection and been lost among their archives, had not former Waynesburg residents John & Betty Hartman been the volunteers to accept the box of unwanted family items. In a journal dated 1857 they found the frequent mention of Waynesburg, catching their attention. After a little investigation they discovered the journal was written be 23 year old, Leroy W. Cleavenger. Born about 1833 in Greene County, Leroy was the son of Samuel & Martha (Lindsey) Cleavenger, and for a short time a student at Waynesburg College. They soon realized that the “Maggie” he spoke so affectionately of throughout was Margaret Leonice Needham, a Waynesburg College senior in 1857 and, in fact, one of the first three women eventually to graduate Waynesburg College with a bachelor’s degree rather than a female seminary diploma. Genealogy reveals that Leroy died young in late 1859, only about 26 years of age. However, his crush on Miss Needham must have panned out because it was actually her great-granddaughter who donated the journal totally unaware of a family connection. A final page in the journal reveals a warm tribute to Leroy written by Margaret, who was possibly his fiancé at the time of his death. Margaret married and moved to Maryland keeping the diary with her, but over the generations its secret was forgotten. Amazingly in reassembling these lives in order to make since of the journal, Margaret's youthful photograph was found in the Waynesburg College museum. Once compiled, the genealogy and history of this young couple was presented to the great-granddaughter who had given away the journal. After realizing the connection she asked that the journal be returned to her. An act graciously performed.
Unidentified photos, while incredibly frustrating, may be solvable mysteries – most pictures were not printed as a single copy, you may have an unidentified version, but another relative may have a version with names clearly marked.
A large group family photograph, picturing 17 people and dating to the early 1900s was locally owned by Watson descendants. The Watson relative in the picture and his wife could be identified by living relatives, but everyone else was nameless. Family members suspected that the photo was of the wife's relatives, making it a Phillips family photograph. Less than 24 hours after inquiring about the photo on the Greene County genealogy email list, a Phillips relative sent a note to say that he had an original of the same photo with all 17 individuals’ names clearly noted.
If you come across an item or photo you want to know more about, start by asking family members about it. Try to compile a record of who it most recently belonged to and trace that connection back. Which side of your family does it come from? Does it list any family names or geographic locations, for example photographs often have a studio mark on them that notes town and state. If you can determine a name or place to start, then you can begin to search.
Heirlooms such as journals and letters that concern people will require some basic genealogy digging into census records, courthouse records (marriages, deeds, wills, etc.), newspaper obituaries, county histories and, the key piece in the Cleavenger project, alumni directories.
If you are looking for photos there are many books available to help date a photograph, a good first step. Dating the picture can tell you what generation of the family you are looking at. Seeking out relatives of the family you suspect to be pictured is the best way to find identified pictures to compare yours with. Even common ownership among several cousins of the same unidentified photograph may help you determine which family the photograph connects to. Checking genealogy and historical societies for scrapbooks of identified photos is another good way to start making comparisons. Local histories, old yearbooks and old newspapers also often provide identified photos to check yours against.
All material within this
web site has been compiled by Candice Buchanan <email@example.com>
(63 W. Franklin St.; Waynesburg, PA 15370).
Data sources documented whenever possible. Contributors credited for shared information. Questions, feedback and contributions welcome.
Copyright © 2003-2008 Candice Buchanan. All rights reserved.