Friday, March 15, 2013

Sepia Saturday: To Mercersburg and Beyond


Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.





This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt depicts the world’s leaders at the Potsdam Conference.  Those men in their dark suits gathered around the peace table at the end of World War II make for an imposing presence.   What a contrast to my merry band of vacationers in white gathered around a picnic table 17 years earlier. 

Woodring and Williams 1928
August 1928
I don't know what that mark is all about.
Velma Wooding and her friends are on a picnic.
I wonder what is in that jug - tea?  lemonade? 

These same people appear in a number of photos dated August 1928 in a scrapbook that belonged to my great-aunt Velma Davis Woodring.



Olive Williams August 1928
Olive Williams


Velma’s good friend Olive is identified in one photo and featured prominently in others, 














Robert Williams of Martinsburg, WV August 1928
Mr. Williams






and one photo identifies a lone subject as “Mr. Williams.” 




I cleverly deduced that this must be the same Olive Williams who visited Velma for a week in 1925, the same Olive Williams who wrote to Velma’s mother begging her to allow Velma to extend her visit with them so that Mr. Williams could take the girls to Gettysburg.


Letter from Olive Williams to Mary Frances Jollett Davis 1925




Daddy and Mother wants to take the girls to Gettsburg [sic] next week and so I am writting [sic] and asking you if Velma might stay another week.  Daddy has already planned 

Letter from Olive Williams to Mary Frances Jollett Davis 1925

the trip for them.  That isn’t any longer than I stayed with Velma.  So please let her stay.  Mother and daddy both wants her and Virginia to stay so we can take them on that trip.
Closing, hoping to hear from you in a  favorably reply to my question.
With love,
Olive









The purpose of the visit in 1928 appears to be a simple vacation.  Velma and Woody had been married little more than a year.  Summer was quickly coming to a close and Velma would no doubt start teaching school in the fall.  So why not go for the gusto and take a road trip to see her old pal Olive in Martinsburg, West Virginia. 

It appears Mr. Williams had planned another trip for the girls – this time to Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania.

Velma Davis Woodring and Olive Williams, Mercersburg, PA August 1928
Left: Velma Davis Woodring
Right:  Olive Williams


But why Mercersburg Academy?  I have no clue.  It was not Velma’s alma mater, nor Olive’s.  Velma’s husband had attended college, but I believe he went to Shepherd College (now University), not Mercersburg.  
















Mercersburg Academy Chapel 1928
Mercersburg Academy Chapel
1928







Maybe the beautiful chapel simply attracted tourists just as visitors to Colonial Williamsburg enjoy a stroll through the campus of William & Mary despite having no ties to the school.




Whatever the reason, it’s quite clear that Velma was excited about seeing Olive again, and she wanted to remember the day with lots of pictures. 

Just studying the photos to make sense of them increased my curiosity about Olive Williams.  So I did what any amateur genealogist would do:  I plugged her name into Ancestry, guessed at a birth date of 1908, same as Velma’s, and entered Martinsburg, West Virginia as a residence.  A family tree appeared.  And there it was - a picture of Olive.  Those dark eyes are so distinctive that I was fairly certain I had found her. 

Olive Williams 1908 - 2001 Martinsburg, WV
Olive Williams
photo courtesy Candi Keiter Johnson

Census records for the Williams family showed three girls, a match to one of the August 1928 photos. 

The Williams family August 1928
The Williams Family
Olive, her father Robert, her mother Rosie,
and sisters Helen and Mary

The contributor is still active on Ancestry, so I sent an email seeking confirmation that I had found my great-aunt’s good friend. 

Bingo!  As it turns out Olive’s granddaughter did not recognize Velma’s name, but she called her aunt who actually remembered Velma as Olive’s “great friend.”  She even has the elephant teapot that Velma gave Olive for her wedding to Harry “Moe” Keiter in 1930.  (Elephant teapot!  That sounds like Velma.  I wonder if the tea flowed through the trunk.) 

Through the miracle of our “virtual roundtable,” faces once hidden from the camera turned to reveal themselves more clearly.


Woodring and Williams families picnic August 1928
Helen Williams, Mr. Robert Williams, Velma Davis Woodring,
Mary Williams, Olive Williams,
Unknown, Mrs. Rosie Williams


Please gather at the Sepia Saturday roundtable of blogs.  We promise not to turn our backs on you.

38 comments:

  1. You do have some wonderful family photographs and it is so great to be able to piece together a piece of social history. Do you know where the picnic took place or if it was in honour of a birthday or just a nice summer's day?

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    1. I can only guess at the location. Since they were visiting that school, I think it might be near there.

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  2. Olive is certainly a striking-looking young woman; well done on the detective work. I love the idea of an elephant teapot and I bet you're righ tabout the spout!

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    1. It's just something about those dark, mysterious eyes.

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  3. Great job with the sleuthing! How fun to be able to piece history together like that. :)

    As I was reading your post, I was saddened by the fact that people don't write letters anymore. E-mail it is, I guess...

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    1. I have to admit, I don't like to write a letter because my handwriting has gotten so poor, probably from lack of practice. It's a Catch 22.

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  4. Fine family photos and great sleuthing again. It must be great to have someone else confirm your results.

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    1. It was thrilling to get confirmation, especially during the week I was preparing the post.

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  5. I'll bet that tea did pour through the trunk, and it certainly would have been a tea pot my mother would have had if she could have. Amazing fun isn't it when you get confirmation of your family's history. A fine collection too, it's always fun to see your family and read your stories about them. I like your opening photo, and so happy that you went this light-hearted and fun way for your post!

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    1. Being lighthearted has its benefits, that's for sure, the main one being free from pressure to be profound. HA!

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    2. Absolutely! It's funny at the start of this week I told myself I'd visit all the posts as they first came in, yours was one, and I also saw Peter's but I managed again to let far too many slip by! I started that tradition of not wanting to view any posts until mine was complete, (so others didn't blur into my own post!) but our Sepia posts are really building up by Saturday!

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  6. Another splendid example of Sepian sleuthing, Wendy. I agree, the eyes are a dead giveaway. Those photographs serve to keep that great friendship alive, and it's a perfect example of how snapshots of "unidentified" people in a family album can turn out to be most important to putting the flesh on our ancestors' lives. I think this sort of research, and the documentation that accompanies it, is so important, and applaud your efforts. Thanks for sharing the story.

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    1. You are so kind. Thank-you. Now that I've identified Olive, I'm suddenly seeing her everywhere in Velma's album.

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  7. It's nice that they turned to reveal themselves in the last photo.

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  8. Wonderful! I love finding an ancestry tree that has a good photo of someone I'm looking for and even more, I love finding someone who can verify and add to the story.

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  9. I remember the snapbook, these snapshots from nearly a century ago provide a fascinating insight of everyday's life. I'm used to see only single old photos, your series of pics are way more interesting. Love the pic of Velma and Olive with the 1920s hats in front of the chapel.

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    1. I like that picture too, but I wish it weren't so washed out so we could see the details of their dresses more clearly.

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  10. The very essence of what Sepia Saturday is all about. Fabulous old pictures and as a bonus a family history detective tale. the kind of post that makes SS fun to be a part of.

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    1. That's what I enjoy too - the different interpretations and applications of the prompt.

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  11. Retracing their steps and,yes,Bingo ! Well Done Detective Wendy!Great Photo& Photographs.

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  12. I add my Bravo! to your detective work, Wendy. It's inspiring to read about solving a family riddle and in a way re-awakening an old friendship across generations and time.

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    1. Every time I gain a little ground, I'm motivated to keep moving forward.

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  13. What a great piece of detective work and a fascinating story to go with it. Lovely to have made contact with a grand daughter of a family friend.

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    1. It's amazing to me too -- who would have thought that over 40 years after my great-aunt's death, I'd be corresponding with her best friend's granddaughter! We live in a wonderful age!

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  14. What a wonderful amount of information you have gathered about Olive, a superb bit of super sleuthing and rewarded with the contact.

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    1. The contact was indeed a reward! It made my day!

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  15. Thanks for dropping by, Wendy!!
    You mentioned Kevin's socks, LOL, I wanted to mention them as well but didn't. My cousin mentioned to me that it looks like her father, man on the right, is boring everyone as usual!!!!

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    1. Doesn't it figure - you go to the trouble of finding an appropriate photo and telling a good story about the family friends and their famous daughter, and what do we notice? A toothbrush and a pair of socks!

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  16. What a great and interesting post. Isn't the internet wonderful? You could never have found Olive's relatives without it. It was so nice to put those pieces together.
    Nancy

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    1. The Internet is definitely my favorite invention.

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  17. Wendy, this is so cool! Congrats on finding Olive's granddaughter. Now of course comes the question...does she or anyone else in her family have photos of Velma? Wouldn't that be a treat?

    And I love the letter Olive wrote to Velma's mom asking permission for Velma to stay just a little bit longer. Can't you just hear Velma and Olive's conversation beforehand? Velma to Olive: "If I ask my mom, she'll say no. If you ask her she'll say yes." And so, Olive was off to write a letter. :)

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    1. My favorite part of Olive's argument is that the extra time would be equal to the length of time she stayed with Velma. A precedence had been set. How can anyone argue with that?

      I'm still waiting to hear from Candi as to whether she has pictures of Velma, but she did make the remark that maybe Velma was one of her "unknowns."

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    2. Isn't Grandma Mollie's response on the back? I always thought it was so funny-to the point and Olive's argument was won. Good job sista girl!

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  18. Olive Williams was strikingly beautiful. Wendy, the ancestry sleuth.

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  19. I've much enjoyed spending time at THIS table!!
    Glad for you for making a connection through Ancestry.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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