Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reaching Back in Time

A series of photos from Minnie's family archives leads us back in time over 200 years. Like watching a film rolling backwards, we can reach back, first to a summer day 50 years ago:

August 1960

On a warm August afternoon in 1960, four generations of Minnie's family gathered for a family portrait on the side porch of the large house bought by Minnie's father in 1908. Minnie is in the top row, to the right. She is 70 years old in this photo. Her mother, Kittie Van Slyke Fineour (top left) is 92 years old. Two of Minnie's daughters sit in front of her, and son Bill is bottom right, with his family (wife Grace, and children) to the left.

At this time in history, Dwight Eisenhower's administration in the White House was winding down; in three months time, JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) would be elected the 35th President of the United States. The population of the U.S. was 180 million, and the Space Race with the Soviet Union was on. The USSR launched Sputnik 5, with dogs Belka ("Squirrel") and Strelka ("Little Arrow") the very month this photo was snapped. The space capsule, with its canine cargo intact and alive, was safely recovered the next day.

Let's roll the film back another 50 years:

Van Slyke-Fineour Extended Family, Summer 1912

This family portrait may have been taken only a few feet from the earlier one. Minnie and her husband Will stand at the left. They are newlyweds, having married in February of that year. Minnie is a young 22, and her husband is somewhat older, age 37 in 1912. Minnie's parents Kittie and Fred Fineour are the couple standing at the right end of the row. Kittie, born in 1868, is 44 in this picture, and Fred (born in 1862) is 50. Minnie's younger brother Frederic stands in front of his mother. Other cousins stand between the two couples in the back row.

Front and center sit Kittie's parents, Jonas Van Slyke and Margaret Colson. Their birth dates reach back to 1841 and 1840 respectively, and they were married in 1864, when the American Civil War was still raging. But by the time this photo was snapped, Jonas had reached the age when he sat and pondered a lot, and his wife Margaret often admonished him to "get up and air your pants," as family lore reports.

1912 was a busy year in politics, with developments in technology and social history as well. New Mexico and Arizona were admitted to the Union as respectively the 47th and 48th states; Woodrow Wilson would be elected the 28th President of the United States a few months later. It was also the year that Roald Amundsen reported reaching the South Pole. Tragically, the Titanic ocean liner sank on its maiden voyage, having been struck by an iceberg.

The woman's suffrage movement was actively demonstrating in both the US and Britain, but women would not get the vote in the US until several years later. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, the "bread and roses" strike  at the woolen mills was part of the movement for better wages and working conditions for both male and female mill workers.

In technology, the Ford Motor Company produced 26,000 cars that year, making the first modern electric traffic light, installed in Salt Lake City, a welcome piece of equipment to help regulate the increasing flow of traffic.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Harry Houdini, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall in turn captured the population's attention for their popular or shocking accomplishments, and the Mayor of Tokyo gifted the city of Washington, D.C. with 3,000 cherry trees to symbolize the friendship between the two nations.

Last but not least, chocolate lovers will be glad to know that the National Biscuit Company introduced the Oreo cookie the year this photo was taken.

Now let's roll the  film back about another 65 years:

Jonas and David D. Van Slyke

This daguerreotype was taken sometime in the second half of the 1840's. The little boy seen here leaning confidently on his father's shoulder is the bearded grandfather we saw in the last photograph. Jonas appears to be about five years old in the picture, but we're not exactly sure when it was taken. His father, David D. Van Slyke, was born August 28, 1813, and married his wife Sally Moyer in September 1840. David D. was in his early to mid-30's at this time.

In the latter half of the 1840's, the new science and art of photography was in its infancy. Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre first demonstrated his invention to the French Academie des Sciences in January 1839. This image was apparently taken within the next decade.

While young Jonas roamed the hillsides of the Mohawk Valley, President James K. Polk precipitated a war with Mexico, hoping to wrest a large swatch of territory from that country. There was drought on the Great Plains, which had seen sufficient rainfall in previous years. White hunters began to decimate the vast herds of bison that roamed the plains, eventually depriving the Native American hunters of their source of sustenance.

Other names in the news were Brigham Young, the charismatic Mormon leader who led his followers from western New York State beyond the western limits of United States territory; Henry David Thoreau, who was jailed in Concord, Massachusetts for refusing to pay a tax to support the Mexican War; Edgar Allan Poe, who published "The Cask of Amontillado" in the September issue of Godey's Lady's Book; and William Morton, a Boston dentist who pioneered  the use of ether as an anesthetic during tooth extractions. This invention also found immediate use in operations on casualties in the Mexican War, opening a new era in medicine.

One last image, also a daguerreotype, takes us back another generation in Minnie's family history:

David Van Slyke and Betsy Hellegas

This daguerreotype, probably taken at the same time as the previous one, shows us David D. Van Slyke's parents: David Van Slyke, born on Christmas Eve in 1787, and Elizabeth ("Betsy") Hellegas, born in May 1790. They were married about 1810. If the picture dates from the same era as the previous one, David would be 60-ish, and Betsy five years younger.

With this image, we can reach back to the year of David's birth, the year that the US Constitution was drafted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington. The Federalist Papers published after the Convention urged the States to ratify the Constitution. By the end of that year, three states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) had ratified it.

Three years later, the first US census in 1790 would count a population of 3.9 million.

David Van Slyke was the first of Minnie's ancestors to be born after the American Revolution. David's father, Nicholas Van Slyke, fought in the Battle of Oriskany as a young man. If we go back even further in time, we can trace Minnie's forbears to Cornelis Van Slyck, who came to New Netherland from Breukelen in the Netherlands in 1634. Cornelis married a Mohawk woman, with whom he had four children. We can clearly see the Native American heritage in David's features, even 200 years later.

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1 comment:

  1. You're so lucky to have these images of your family; they make the history so tangible!