Friday, February 24, 2012

Family Friday: A Calmer Story

            Today’s family history is a much calmer and less violent story than was last week’s story.  This week I want to talk about my mother’s great-grandfather, John Henry Tasker.  John Henry didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in his life; he didn’t invent anything, or fight in any wars, or perform some deed of heroism.  He was just a man who lived his life.
            With the exception of the “insider knowledge” that James Edgar’s house burned down soon after the death of his wife, all of the information below is excerpted from the US Census or other publicly-available documents.
            John Henry was born to John F. and Frances Reese Tasker on the 28th of November 1851 in Hampshire County of what today is West Virginia.  But because he was born prior to the Civil War, his birth was in the state of Virginia.  (A chunk of Virginia seceded from the state at the start of the Civil War and formed a new state, loyal to the Union.)  At his birth there were already several Tasker children:  11-year-old James W., 8-year-old Benjamin, Margaret who was 6, 4-year-old Mary, and Hiram, aged 2.  Father John and brother James were both listed as farmers in the 1860 US Census, and the three children just older than John Henry were noted as students. 
            By 1880 John Henry was a married man with a family.  His wife was Mary “Molly” Logston, the sister of Sarah “Sallie” Logston who was the wife of John Henry’s brother, Hiram.  Molly was somehwat older than John Henry, the 1880 Census noting her age as 36 while John Henry was 29.  Their children were William (5 years), Icy May (4 years), James Edgar (2 years old, and my direct ancestor), and Minnie M. just a month shy of her first birthday.  John Henry’s occupation was listed as “Farm laborer”.
            Due to the destruction of the 1890 Census we lose 20 years again from the life of John Henry, and next find him in the 1900 US Census.  By now the 48-year-old man is a widower, living in his home with his children Icy, James, Minnie, 18-year-old John and 15-year-old Anna “Annie” Elizabeth.  John Henry is listed as a farmer and James and John are recorded as farm laborers.  Everyone in the family could read and write English, and John Henry owned his farm with no mortgage attached to the land.
            The 1910 US Census notes that tragedy had struck the Tasker family once again.  James Edgar and his three children were living with John Henry.  James Edgar’s wife, Ida Miller Tasker (a very distant relation to her husband’s side of the Tasker family) had died in February of the preceding year.  A fire soon after Ida’s death deprived the grieving family of a home, so James, Austin Cecil (my 6-year-old grandfather), 4-year-old Arthur F. and 3-year-old Lola S. had moved in with John Henry.  John Henry and James were farmers on John Henry’s farm while the youngest son of John Henry, John Jr., also lived at home, and his occupation was listed as “odd jobs”.
            By 1920 John Henry was no longer living on his farm.  Instead he resided with his daughter Minnie, now married to Thomas Cannon. 
            1930 found John Henry still living with Minnie and Thomas and their family.  Thomas had risen to the manager of the ice plant, and although the family owned a radio (a  peculiarity of the 1930 census), they were renting their home 156 Mozelle St. in Keyser, WVA.
            John Henry Tasker died at the home of Minnie and Thomas on 180 Maple Ave on November 21, 1934, one week before his 83rd birthday of “hypertrophy of Prostate” (an enlarged prostate, not associated with prostate cancer) and “Chronic Nephritis” (chronic inflammation of the tissues of the kidney, associated with a slow, progressive loss of kidney function).  I feel sympathy for John Henry who must have been in a certain amount of discomfort if not outright pain.  His death certificate indicates he underwent surgery to drain an “impacted thyroid gland” six days prior to his death, and three days before he died he was diagnosed with uremia (kidney failure).
            The only photo I have of John Henry must have been taken near the end of his life, probably at the home of Minnie and Thomas.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dating Old Photos - you can do it!

Below is my reply to a conversation recently held on a genealogical forum.  The topic was how to date two photos.  I offered to try my hand and was able to do so pretty easily.  But folks continued to post to the discussion explaining which "professional" was better, and why we mere mortals couldn't possibly date photographs.  
I believe that any one of us can accurately date photos.  As I mention in my post, we are only talking about 160ish years of photographic history.  If we subtract the years that you and your "elders" were alive, and thus can offer more specific dates for most photos in your collection, you need to be able to date photos from 1850 - 1950.
Read the rest of my posting and let me know if you have questions.  I bet you can figure out those undated photos on your own!

The photos that Don sent to me were "candid" outdoor shots.  The first of a group of women in front of a house, the second depicted three ladies outdoors on a walkway or esplanade in front of a body of water.  Both contained the same female relative at different stages of her life.
I was able to date the first one as circa 1912 because the ladies were wearing dark high-waisted, gored skirts that appeared to widen as they lengthened with white shirtwaists (what we call a blouse today) with narrow sleeves, high collars, and elaborate embroidery.  Their hairstyles were loosely upswept, not severely combined.  Further indication of the time period was offered by the tantalizing bit of the house in the background - gingerbread work around the roof of a rounded porch.
The second suggested a 1927-1929 date.  The hats were the big giveaway smaller and less ornamented cloches.  Their above-the-ankle dresses were of the 20s very straight style, with no emphasis on the waist.  One lady sported the popular drop-waisted style and another had sheer sleeves on her dress - also very popular as bare arms during the day was just becoming acceptable for the first time in about one hundred years.
There is no secret to dating photos.  Attention to details and solid research are the only skills needed and anyone can quickly gain those.  I encourage anyone to pick out one of their undated photographs and try to determine the date.  The relative youth of photography helps greatly.  Photography was invented in 1822, and didn't become popular until the invention of the wet-plate process, so you only need to know styles of clothing from the late 1840s to the present.  (If the photo is in color, it is most likely from 1935 or more recent - but there are color photos from as early as 1907).  From there look at clothing and hairstyles.
(As a Civil War re-enactor who wears and lives in the clothing of the period for days at a time I have learned to notice the intricacies of dress, hair, ornaments, and accessories.  My many years of work as a historian have taught me to pay close attention to details and have taught me how to do proper research.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

No Regrets!

            Someone asked me why I started HF Video, the branch of my family history business that creates documentaries of our families, helps people create Legacy Letters, and celebrates the lives of those we love and know that we are soon to lose.  I started this venture because I hate regrets.  And I have a huge regret that I can never redress.  But there was no good reason for regrets like mine.  And with HF Video, no one has to face those regrets.  Here is my story:
I have sat with someone as they heard their death sentence. 
In early May of 2006 I was with my dad as he read the latest lab results out loud.  The cancer had metastasized and spread from his liver to his entire body—including an “uncountable” number of specks of cancer in his lungs.  It was an eerie thing to listen to him calmly reading the words that screamed “Your days are over!  You’re going to die!”
          Just a few months later my sisters called to tell me that if I wanted to see him, now was the time to travel across the country for my last visit.  The prophecy of the spring had turned into the reality of the summer.  My father was truly dying.  “I want to hear him sing my song one more time,” I thought.
          I am the oldest of four girls, with all of the pain and privilege that entails.  One of the benefits was “my” song.  The one Dad wrote for me soon after I was born.  He wrote a song for each of us, but mine was the least derivative and the most original.  And, of course, in my mind, the best.  I had grown up hearing him sing it – at bedtime, in the car, at my request, at random moments.  But it had been years since I moved across the country, and still longer since I heard him sing it for me.  This was going to be my last opportunity to hear my Dad sing my song.
Dad was still Dad when I arrived—talking, laughing, telling jokes, picking on us one by one or as a group.  Although confined to his bed, too tired and weak to allow his faithful friend and caregiver to help him get into his wheelchair, he seemed like the same larger-than-life man I had known all of my life.  His appetite for all of the good Pittsburgh foods hadn’t diminished as he ate stuffed cabbage and kielbasa and coconut cream pie.
On the night of the fourth of July my sisters and my son sat around his bed and watched the fireworks on TV, singing the patriotic songs together.   What an incredible memory that was – to sing with my father one last time.  That was the perfect time to ask him to sing my song, the one he wrote for me when I was born, but the thought of making that request seemed too melodramatic and final.
          My sisters and I planned his funeral.  My son began to create the tribute video to show.  We called family and friends.  We kept some members of the family from pillaging the house.  We spent every moment possible with my dad, talking to him, adjusting his bed clothes, bringing him food and water and his “Kickapoo Joy Juice” an herbal tea he swore has staved off his cancer for years.
          One sister taught us to never leave his presence without saying “I love you” since we didn’t know when he would die, and to causally leave without a final “I love you” would be sad beyond words.
         On the 7th of July, my dad gently passed away in his sleep.  I’ll skip past the now-comic scene of my youngest sister and me trying to determine if he was truly dead or simply sleeping.  And the heartbreak of calling my two sisters and Dad’s friend and caregiver to come say their goodbyes.  We buried him in the National Cemetery three days later among other men and women who served the country he loved so well, and began to learn how to live our lives without a Dad.
         I never did ask him to sing my song for me.   All of those opportunities wasted.  I know that he would have done it had I asked him.  Sure, we would have both dissolved into blubbering messes, but I would have had that one last song.   And now I can never hear his rich tenor voice crooning the words he wrote for me.
         I regret that loss almost every day.  It seems such a little thing to miss, and yet I do.
         I hate regrets.  I miss my Dad.
“You’re our own little girl, and we love you so much.  We love you, yes, we love you so much.”

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Week 7 - Using

            I always tell people that “FREE” is my favorite price to pay.  This week your task has multiple steps to it, and the first one is to find a place that offers you free access to  You might try your public library.  Many of them have access to various memberships for the public’s use.  But sadly, many are slashing budgets just to keep the building open and have cut out their accounts to these places.
            Another place to try is your local Family History Center.  The one closest to you can be found by going to and typing in your zip code.  Most Family History Centers are located within the building of a local congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  These good people welcome anyone who is researching their family, free of charge, no need to be a member of their faith.  Simply walk in, sign in, take a tour if they offer one, and then settle down at a computer.
            Oh, and in case you are wondering, I am affiliate with neither public libraries nor the LDS church.  Like I said to start, “FREE” is my favorite price to pay, and a membership to is nearly $300 per year for access to all of their documents world-wide.
            Wherever you find access to, be sure to bring a flash drive and your Pedigree Charts with you.  You might want to print out and bring this along with you, because I am going to walk you through the step-by-step process of setting up your family tree since your task this week is to use’s family tree builder to start tracking and researching your family tree online.
            WARNING:  Taking this step could prove to be disastrous – you, too may become a genealogy and family history addict!
            Once you get signed in (you won’t be setting up your own account, but logging in as the place where you are using the program – don’t worry, someone there can tell you the name and password if you need it) you want to click on the FAMILY TREES tab and then in the drop-down menu click on START A NEW TREE.  You will see something that looks like this:

            I recommend that you check the box “I AM STARTING WITH MYSELF” and then do just that.  Start with you.  Enter your first and middle name in the first box and your last name in the second box.  Use the names you were born with, not married names or nicknames.  Married names will be added in later.  Nicknames can be added like this:  William Albert “Will” or William “Will” Albert.  Choose the way that makes the most sense to you and stick with that.  You are starting to create your own “style sheet” – the preferred way of entering and storing information for your family history research.
            Click the appropriate box for gender and then enter your birthdate.  This is another opportunity to continue working on your style sheet.  How will you enter the dates from here on in?  April 29, 1963 or 29 April 1963 or 4/29/1963 or 04291963?  There is no right or wrong way.  But there are ways that work better.  The 29 April 1963 format is my personal choice because it is simply how I have been writing dates for years and years.  You decide what style you want to use.  There is no right or wrong way as long as the information is clear.  You WILL want to use all four digits of the year, because quickly you will be moving to the 1800s, and then you start having multiple people with the same name, so keeping the dates accurate is very important!
            While we are talking dates, let’s discuss situations when you don’t know the whole date or are unsure of the exact date or only know it was before or after this time.  My advice to you is to include what you do know.  “May 1778” is better than “1778”, but “1778” is a lot better than “before 1780”.  However, “before 1780” still gives us more information than a big fat blank space.  So as you work your way back in time and you find a grandparent or great grandparent with an iffy date, include what you know and see what turns up.  You may need to change it in the future, but it’s the best you have for now. 
            Now move on to place of birth.  Again, more stylistic choices for you – do you want to simply include states?  City and state?  Counties?  Countries?  I prefer the city, county, state format, so mine would look like this:  Somerset, Somerset, PA.  You will note that I don’t write “city” or “county” and I abbreviate the state.  Mostly that’s because I am also lazy and with so many of my family from PA, I would be writing PENNSYLVANIA too many times!  When it comes to countries other than the US I include the country name thus:  Ballintoy, Connor, Antrim, Ireland.  This tells me the parish, the diocese, the county, and the country.  Or I might have a simpler location such as Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany or Fife, Scotland. 
            And just as I mentioned regarding dates, SOME information on place is better than none.  If you know she was born in Russia, add “Russia” for the place.  You can home in on the exact part of Russia later.  You might even discover that what was “Russia” then is “Moldova” now.  Same is true here for Virginia and West Virginia.  Then you decide if you are writing the name of the place as THEY knew it or as YOU know it.  I go with both – I write “Keyser, Virginia (present day West Virginia)”.
            Click “CONTINUE” and you get this screen:

            You will notice that your information is on the far right box and now you are adding your father’s information.  Fill in the blanks and move on to do the same thing for your mother.  Again, enter as much information as you have and use your mother’s maiden name.
            Next you get this screen which asks you to name your family tree – your maiden name is always a good choice as in “The James Family Tree” but you can go with your name “Kate’s Family Tree” or whatever you want to call it!

            You are also asked if you want to make your tree public.  This is completely up to you.  The advantages of making it public are that others can see what you are doing and contact you to ask questions, offer help, or introduce themselves as long-lost relatives.  The downside is the same – people can see it and contact you.  HOWEVER, information on living people is suppressed, so no worries about stalkers finding you or your kids.  I think making the tress available to others is a good idea – sharing information and knowledge is helpful.  And I discovered some McConahy cousins who have a quarterly newsletter by sharing my tree on
            Once you make that decision you’ll get something like this:

            TRY to ignore the shaking leaves in the corner of the boxes (assuming you get any) and move on to adding your parents’ parents.  We will talk about those leaves next week and what to do with them (they are very useful) but for now, let’s focus on entering the information we have.
            To add someone to the tree from here, click on the “ADD FATHER” or “ADD MOTHER” box.  You’ll get this screen and you know what to do from here.  Leave the “EMAIL” and “SHARE TREE WITH THIS PERSON” boxes blank for now.  Again, we will talk about this topic another week. 

            Be sure to hit “SAVE” and then move on.
            If you select the “+ADD RELATIVE” button (like the one under my name) you get this screen, which allows you to add your siblings, spouses, and children.

            Continue from there until you have entered all of the family members you have on your Pedigree Charts.  You might end up with something relatively small when you are finished, but fear not.  We will keep on working until your family tree looks like this:

            (Currently my family tree has 848 people in it – I tend to be very picky and only add people who I am 100% certain are related to me, so I don’t have a tree that goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.   It is more important to me to be right than to have the biggest and baddest tree out there!)
            So enjoy putting your tree together.  Be sure to save it to your flash drive before you leave, and remember, you can only access the information via the program.  So you’ll be making a lot of trips to the library or the Family History Center the next few weeks!
            Next week we will talk about how to actually use the plethora of documents and records available to you on

Friday, February 10, 2012

Suicide or Murder?

          Today I want to talk about a mystery in my family.  I’ve mentioned this one before, but I want to really write out the whole thing today.  It’s partially a love story, and there is a bloody death in it, allegations of a cover-up, allegations of insanity, some honest-to-goodness madness, and a lot of grief.
          William Albert James was born on June 8th of 1872, the only child of John William and Rebecca Catherine Ritchey James.  (John, suffering from PTSD after serving in the Union cavalry during the Civil War, abandoned his family early in William’s life, yet remained in close enough contact with his son that they ended up living in the same house for most of the latter half of John’s life.)
          William, or “Will”, met and married Amanda Elmira Gray, known as “Ellen” in 1892.  They eventually had six children:  Mary Rebecca, Robert Dewey, Florence Elizabeth, Grace Viola, Melvin Chester (my grandfather), and Pearl, who died in infancy. 
          Will worked as a farmer in Coal Run, Pennsylvania and relieved the stresses of the day with music and poetry, playing tunes on his fiddle, reciting stories and poems (including some that he wrote and had published in the local paper), and singing songs gathered together with his family.
          When farming failed to adequately provide for his family, Will turned to the local industry – coal mining.  Exhibiting a characteristic that is still found in the James clan today, Will became concerned about the safety of the miners and the fairness of the working contracts, and joined the union.  Eventually he became a steward and worked to both improve the working conditions as well as the pay for the local miners.
          A few years later the family made one final move, this time to Meyersdale, where Will and Ellen purchased a 2 bedroom house and remained until the end of their days.  The children grew up, married, and moved away, and Will’s father, John, came to live with them and Ellen cared for him until his death in 1934.  For the next four years Will and Ellen were happy together, enjoying retirement and the visits of their grandchildren.

        But more sorrow was in store for Will.  Ellen became ill with a chronic kidney disease and died seventy-eight years ago this week, on February 3, 1934.  
         Will was sad and lonely, and looking for a replacement for his beloved Ellen he remarried.  His second wife’s name was Ida, and I have been unable to find any additional information about her.  I only know her name because it is listed in a few newspaper stories surrounding Will’s death.  The family never spoke her name, and my own father would not tell me her name even when pressed.  The reason for this reticence, open dislike, and even hatred is explained by Will’s death.
          On Tuesday, May 30, 1944 Ida is reported to have returned home after calling on a neighbor and found Will dead on the floor of the bathroom, an apparent suicide, his throat cut with a knife.  In a small item found in the local paper, and no doubt published the day of his death, Will is reported to have “been ill nearly nine months and for the last month had been acting strangely it was said.”  Interestingly, in the larger article printed the following day the opposite is reported:  “Less than an hour before he [Will] died one of his neighbors was conversing with him and he was said to have been in the best of spirits.  He was looking over his garden and did not seem to have a care in the world.”  The newspaper also reported that Dr. P.C. Dosch, county coroner, pronounced Will dead, giving his approximate time of death an hour earlier, issued the verdict of suicide and “deemed an inquest unnecessary”.
          The family story presents an interesting counterpoint to the official story.  According to the family, Will quickly repented his second marriage and did not get on well with Ida, nor she with him.  As to his death, the family story is that the knife was found flushed down the toilet, the old-fashioned chain-pull kind, requiring Will to have cut his jugular vein then tossed the knife into the toilet and remain standing long enough to pull the chain before falling to the ground.  The family alleges that Ida murdered Will, threw the knife in the toilet, then “found” him dead. 
          There are as many facts to back the family’s allegations as there are the coroner’s findings. 
          Besides the initial story, with facts no doubt drawn from Ida, there is no evidence that Will had been ill, nor that he had been “acting strangely”.  Instead, there is the evidence of a neighbor to Will’s good spirits less than an hour before Ida reported his death. 
Will had made a will, bequeathing his various personal items “sacred to me” to his son, Melvin in March of 1943, over a year before his death, not days prior to it.
It seems a ridiculous and almost Herculean thing for Will to have flushed the knife after cutting his throat.  But it does make sense to imagine Ida slashing her husband’s throat and then childishly attempting to get rid of the evidence.  I’ll speak to that more in a moment.
Although there is no official or public record of the knife being found in the toilet drains, there are some tantalizing clues in, of all places, the final settlement of Will’s estate.  Among the paid bills, burial expenses, and $500 widow’s exemption are 46 cents paid to Carl Clapper for sewer tile, and $9.11 paid to Bolden Plumbing Co.  Perhaps there simply was some plumbing needed to make the house sellable, but it does seem odd that this is the only household repair specified in the accounting beyond a general “L.E. Bauer, repair services, preparation for sale - $4.50”, less than half the cost of the plumbing work.
And finally there is Ida herself.  While not reported in the newspaper stories surrounding Will’s death, Ida checked into the nearby state mental hospital months later and remained there until her own death.
Murder or suicide?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Week Six - Time to Sort and Organize

          This week we combine the photos we have been collecting and the family tree that we have been writing.  The task is relatively easy, and doesn’t take any special tools or skills.  All you need are some envelopes.
          We’re playing the matching game!  Match each photo you have to a person on your family tree.  Make an envelope marked “John Henry Tasker” for instance.  Put every photo that you have of John Henry Tasker into that envelope.  Repeat for all of your photos.
          Simple, right?!
          If you have a photo with more than one person in it (and I suspect that you do) make an envelope marked “Group Photos” and put them in there.  If you find that you have a lot of these you might want to make an envelope for each branch of the family: “James Group Photos” and “Tasker Group Photos” would split my family into my dad’s side and my mom’s side.  A third envelope “John and Betty” would take care of those photos with both of them as subjects.
          The reason that we are doing this is two-fold.  One, to start organizing your photographs for making a family history book or a photo album or whatever you end up choosing as your way of preserving and showcasing your family history.  And two, it’s nice to see who these people are that you are writing and researching about.
          Actually, there is a third reason to do this – you might find that you have photos that do not match anyone on your tree.  Or at least the tree you have created so far. 
          Keep these photographs in an envelope labeled “Not There Yet” or “Still to Come” or “More Research Needed”.  You’ll be working on expanding your family tree next week, so soon this envelope should be empty.
          Finally, if you are starting to think about permanent storage of these photos, check out Family Tree Folk ( for a complete line of archival-quality products.  I am not affiliated with this company, but they sure do have everything you need.  Note – this is a British company, so the page sizes are European rather than US, which means paper will be slightly different in size.  If you choose to use their products, you will need to buy all products (paper, binders, photo holders, etc) from them or another UK-based company.
          Next week we start DIGGING into our past!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Other Side of My Family - the Pictorial Review, Part Two

            This week I continue my review of family photos in my possession – this time my dad’s side of the family.
            My Dad’s parents were Melvin Chester James and Mary May McConahy James.  This is, I admit, a difficult generation for me to deal with.  My father and my grandmother appeared to revere my grandfather, but as I have tried to look objectively at his life and behaviors, it seems that at best Melvin was a dreamer and at worst he was a self-centered drunk who took advantage of his wife’s love.  He was an alcoholic who died leaving his wife and the three youngest of their children without means of support.  But Mary was accustomed to being left alone while Melvin went traipsing about – most famously when he left her to study to be a Native American shaman in the midst of the Great Depression.  I know, I need to refer to my own code of family research on this one, however, I think that because I knew and loved the people he hurt, I just am not able to look on Melvin with affection or humor.
            But enough of my failings as an objective historian!  On to the rest of the family.
            I like this photo of Mary May McConahy – she's the one on the right.  I understand that she wore her hair in two braids like this long into her adulthood.  When I knew her she always sported the traditional grandmother haircut.
            This photo is of William Albert James and Amanda Elmira Gray.  Amanda Elmira was affectionately known as “Ellen” in that inscrutable way that people have of creating nicknames.  William and Ellen were deeply in love, and William was hear-broken when she died.  But like many who find married life wonderful, William soon remarried and lived to regret it.  Well, lived and possibly died.  We know that William met a bloody end, and his second wife spent the end of her life as a voluntarily committed inmate of a state hospital.  The sheriff ruled William’s death a suicide, but the facts do not seem to support such an allegation.  But that is all fodder for another time.
            While this is a photograph of a document, not a picture, I still count it among my family portraits.  This is the Union Army discharge for John William James, the father of William Albert.  John William appears to be one of many men who suffered from PTSD after the war, and when I tell you the stories of the things he lived through and witnessed, you will understand why I believe it was PTSD that led to him one day simply leaving his wife and child and returning to live with his parents.  Interestingly, he maintained a good relationship with William Albert, and moved in with his son later in his life.
            Here is one of the most unfortunate photographs in my collection.  I say “unfortunate” because one look at this haggard woman and most say “I would have left her if she was my wife”.  This is Rebecca Catherine Ritchey James Hicks.  After John William left her Rebecca petitioned the courts for and received dissolution of their marriage, freeing her to remarry.  Her second husband, Matthew Hicks, was proof that today’s blended families are nothing new.  The grandchildren of Rebecca and John knew both grandparents and Matthew Hicks, whom they referred to as “Uncle Matt” and no one ever seemed too concerned with the odd family arrangements of the older generation.
            Back to the McConahy side of the family, first, to look at a photograph of my grandma’s brother, Braden McConahy.  I met Braden once, back oh-so-many years ago, and all that I remember was that he was just another old man who I had to be polite to and endure several boring hours in his boring house while he and Grandma talked.  How sad that I was too young to realize what a potential treasure trove he represented.
Next we have two truly beautiful people:  Thomas Braden McConahy (above) and his wife Mary Rachel Fletcher McConahy, the parents of Braden and Mary (and more).  These photos were taken around the time of their wedding.  Mary is a wonderful example of what a stylish lady wore in her days, and Thomas seems so young and healthy that it is hard to imagine he literally worked himself to death in a tin mill before he turned 39.
I have written about the tragedy of Thomas “Big Tom” McConahy’s life already, so there is nothing more to say at this time, except that he was the father of Thomas Braden and left Pennsylvania before his granddaughter, Mary, ever knew him.  This image is particularly dear to me because the handwriting is that of my Grandma James.
I have also included a photograph of the headstone of his wife, Minerva Ward McConahy.  This lady is amazing to me - she had to put up with the most foul accusations from Big Tom (he accused her of openly living with other men, and of trying to foist her illegitimate children off on him).  Her marker also offers more clues into Big Tom's behavior:  note that Mary Bell died at age 4, and Sadie at age 16.  Death and tragedy seemed to stalk Big Tom.
My last two photos also appear to have been taken together, although not on their wedding day.  Perhaps an anniversary or maybe it was simply an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.  These are Mary Rachel’s parents Hugh and Sarah McElheny Fletcher.  Hugh represents a Civil War mystery – was he the same Hugh Fletcher who deserted the Army?  And Sarah provides a challenge in her last name, which, like McConahy, can have about a dozen different spellings!
So there you have it – my family photo album.  With some hints and sneak peeks.  I’ll start telling the stories next week!