If you will be spending the holidays with family this year, bring along your camera. No, your phone doesn’t count – dust off your real camera for a change, and, if you have the opportunity, plan on snapping a few two, three, or even four generation photographs.
Why? This is one of only two photographs that I have of my third great grandmother, Matilda (Hammond) Thoma of Clayton County, Iowa. Matilda was born in 1859, and spent most of her life in the same county. She married and raised five children, four of whom survived to adulthood.1
Matilda is pictured here with her daughter, Roselyn, center, and her granddaughter, Jacqueline, left, who links arms with her mother. The occasion may not have seemed important at the time – only Jacqueline is facing the camera, and Roselyn and Matilda seem to have been caught unaware – but not only is this a rare photograph of Matilda, it’s also the only picture that I have of her with her daughter and granddaughter. This priceless three-generation photograph seems to have been a casual snapshot, likely taken by a family member.
After her husband’s death, Matilda lived with Roselyn in Texas,2 and later with Jacqueline in Wisconsin,3 suggesting that she had a close relationship with both women. This photograph was probably taken at some point after 1940, when Jacqueline would have turned twenty.4 Both Roselyn and Matilda passed away in 1947, Roselyn at age fifty-four,5 and Matilda at age eighty-eight.6
Seeing Matilda here with her daughter and granddaughter gives a glimpse into what she may have been like as a younger woman. Matilda wears a comfortable pinafore over a striped dress, her white hair fixed in a bun high on her head. Roselyn looks very much like her mother, right down to her nose and ears. She wears a short-sleeved eyelet dress. Jacqueline wears the bright lipstick of the era and a smart buttoned dress. Her sleeves are rolled up; it must have been a warm day. Jacqueline, too, resembles her mother, and, in turn, her grandmother.
I, for one, am very happy that someone just so happened to take this photograph. I’m even happier that this relatively flimsy print managed to survive seventy years. Even a snapshot can become a treasured family photograph.
1 1910 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Guttenberg, enumeration district (ED) 209, sheet 4-B, p. 25 (penned), dwelling 76, family 77, Mathilda Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 397.
2 1930 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, population schedule, Houston, enumeration district (ED) 209, sheet 5-B, p. 7201 (penned), dwelling 82, family 107, Mathilda Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T626, roll 2349.
3 1940 U.S. census, Grant County, Wisconsin, population schedule, Wyalusing, enumeration district (ED) 22-56, sheet 1-A, p. 7201 (penned), dwelling 82, family 107, Matilda Thomas; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 20 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T627, roll 4481.
4 “Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935,” index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 20 November 2013), Jacquelin Thoma Cuzins, 1920.
5 “Texas, Deaths, 1890-1976,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 20 November 2013), Roselyn Bohringer, 19 May 1947; citing certificate number 19651, State Registrar Office, Austin; FHL microfilm 2218598.
6 Wisconsin State Board of Health, death certificate, Matilda H. Thoma (1947), Vital Records Office, Madison.