Friday, January 9, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Reading Faces

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



This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt at first glance is amusing, but it depicts a condition that is anything but:  hypertrichosis or “werewolf syndrome.”  It’s a distinct look – you know it when you see it.  Another easily identifiable medical condition is Down’s Syndrome.  Sixteen years ago my cousin gave birth to a boy with Down’s.  Hers was not a high risk pregnancy; she ate right and stayed healthy.  Even the doctor was surprised because my cousin had not exhibited any signs of a problem.

But apparently the potential exists somewhere in our family’s DNA.  In 2012, I wrote about this mystery child:

Unknown child 1919 probably in New York  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Unknown child 1919

That is definitely the typical appearance associated with Down's Syndrome. I do not know who he was or how he is related, but I have some theories.

THEORY 1
My first thought was that he was a child of my great-grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh.  Maybe he died young.  No one ever spoke of him, and maybe that is why we never knew of him. However, he was not in any census with the family, so probably he was not hers.

THEORY 2
In St. Paul’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Portsmouth where my Killeen and Walsh family are buried is a tombstone for a boy named John Walsh, 1905-1919.  Those dates seem to fit the picture of this child.  He is buried with his parents, Thomas and Delia Walsh.  Surely they must be related somehow to my great grandfather John F. Walsh, but I have not been able to prove it.

THEORY 3
Then there’s the matter of this photo:

Lillie Killeen and 2 unknowns 1932, probably New York  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
1932
Lillie Killeen on the left with 2 unknowns
probably cousins in New York

This picture was taken in 1932.  The ears on this young man look much like the ears on the boy from 1919.  If it’s the same person, then that negates Theory 2. 

Right now my latest and greatest theory is that this young man was one of the New York cousins.  My great grandmother’s sisters lived and died there, and judging by the collection of photos, my grandaunts visited their aunts and cousins often.  

The woman on the right in the 1932 photo might be this woman from 1919:

Unknown woman 1919  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com










Then when I compare the porches in these two photos, I’m convinced the boy and the young woman are related to one another.

Comparison of porches 1919  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Both photos are dated 1919

Unknown woman 1919 possibly in New York  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
1919


She is the same woman in this photo with what might be a New York skyline in the faded background.

Admittedly, the skyline could be any skyline.  But the architecture of the tall building, the combination of brick and clapboard, does not resemble architecture in Portsmouth, Virginia.  It does, however, look very New York-ish. 

One more reason to think this family is part of the New York cousins is my recent tenuous connection with the granddaughter of my great grandmother’s sister.  My newfound cousin has shared photos on Facebook of a young woman – a daughter – who appears to suffer some sort of physical and mental handicap.  If only I could get this cousin to open up, I might be able to check one more mystery off my list.

If only . . . .



For more stories of medical conditions and unflattering photos, Sepia Saturday is the place to go.


© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


28 comments:

  1. If only, and it may take some time, but perhaps you'll get some answers. I wonder if much of the back story to this lad was kept private,a s it seems folks back then kept these kinds of things to themselves. Good luck on this mystery. I'm hoping that little boy lived beyond 1919.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I know many families hid such children or institutionalized them. Sad really.

      Delete
  2. Hope you solve your puzzle.

    According to information on the Mayo Clinic website, only a small percentage of Down's syndrome is related to heredity.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Institutionalization isn't always a bad choice. It depends on the place & the situation. A relative's child was born deaf & blind & the family did everything they could, but it was overwhelming & finally on the advice of a counselor, took her to a caring place where, after 3 months when they went to see the child, discovered her laughing & playing happily with other the other children there. They had never seen her smile before - let alone laugh & play! Relieved, they realized they had made the right choice &, of course, they saw her often &, no longer overwhelmed with the whole of it, learned to laugh & play with her. It was a win-win situation in that case.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh I agree. I certainly didn't mean to sound judgmental. Thanks for sharing a personal story of the other view.

      Delete
  4. It seems we all are thinking the same thing: the possibility of institutionalization. I was just reading, in my own family history, of a child who survived polio, only to be smitten with deafness--who was subsequently institutionalized by the family. If that were the case in your scenario, it would explain not being able to locate a possible entry for such a child in the family's census records.

    When seeing the original prompt, using the photo about that rare disease, it first brought to mind the story of Beauty and the Beast...how difficult a burden that must have been for those who, in real life, had to bear that illness.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't even imagine how hard life must be for people with hypertrichosis. The first time I heard of it was when I read Patricia Cornwell's novel "Black Notice" in which the suspect in a string of murders was the son of a wealthy family who kept their son in hiding due to this condition.

      Delete
  5. A fascinating post. I hope your research bears fruit. So many families hid their'mistakes' away and often there was no record of their birth and death. In that respect times have changed for the better, I think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I always hear about throw-away kids, but I've seen a number of children labeled as deaf or "dumb" in the census records. I wonder if they were kept in the home because the family couldn't afford to send them away or if they kept them out of love and parental obligation.

      Delete
  6. I love the photos... and your detective work! Hope you can continue to uncover more!

    ReplyDelete
  7. My cousin's son is a very special young man (but with Down's). I think that this is the first time that I have seen Down Syndrome in earlier times. I thought maybe that babies may have been euthanaised but perhaps it was just that photo's weren't taken very often?

    I very interesting and enjoyable post. I hope that you can solve the mystery one day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Believe me, I was really surprised when I first saw the photos. In fact, I kept questioning myself about whether my assumptions could be right.

      Delete
  8. You have done well coming this close to learning about our ancestor with Downs Syndrome!

    I suppose you have asked our NYC cousins about this young guy?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks.

      And they never know anybody. But most recently they don't respond.

      Delete
  9. Good detective work here, and it's not finished by a long shot. Yes, in times when people cared for "special" relatives, many went through their lives behind closed doors.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, there's more to learn, that's for sure.

      Delete
  10. I have a distant ancestor with Down Syndrome; his smiling face appears in ALL the family portraits; he lived in Wisconsin, and lived to be nearly 25.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like the typical life span years ago.

      Delete
  11. Many doors that were once closed have now opened for those with special needs and their families. Education, understanding and society have come a long way in changing ideals and opportunities for all concerned. Your photos show, and your Theories give us a look at how one family handled their sons place in the family over time. For me, the photo of him sitting on the porch is a very significant as to how the person behind the camera felt about him.
    Sue at CollectInTexas Gal

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What an interesting point. I imagine the cousins' side of the family in New York must have had even more pictures.

      Delete
  12. Whata lot of detective work has gone on here; I hope you get some answers. My experience of Downs children is that they are very sweet, kind and loving and should not be dismissed easily. I hope this litle boy had a happy life, even if it was a short one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope it was a happy life too. The family seems to have dressed him rather well.

      Delete
  13. Gosh this was a great post, Wendy. I agree with your match of faces, even with the hats there is strong similarity. Your story of a secret family child who is lost from memory, reminded me of a British film called "The Lost Prince" about the life of' Prince John, the youngest child of King George V and Queen Mary, who was autistic and an epileptic. He died in 1919 at age 13.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for reinforcing my conclusions about the photos -- I hoped I wasn't just hoping beyond hope.

      Delete