Friday, September 18, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Julia's Cousins

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is of a woman hanging laundry. Laundry was never the focus of any of the old photos passed down to me. However, glimpses of mundane chores were caught in several photos, albeit not as artistic as the prompt unfortunately. The laundress appears almost to be floating in the dark, hovering between basket and line.

That same description can be applied to me. When it comes to learning more about my Irish great-grandmother’s sisters and families in New York, I continue to float in the dark, hovering between a “basket” of unidentifiable photos and no strong family “line” to hang them on.

Julia Walsh Slade, Catherine Walsh Baraney, Tate Walsh about 1913 Portsmouth, VA
from top to bottom:  Walsh sisters Julia, Catherine, Teresa (Tate)
about 1913 or 1914
Now admittedly, I do know SOME of the players. The day someone snapped this picture of my paternal grandmother and her two sisters Cat and Tate was the same day someone washed clothes. (Do you suppose it was a Monday?) Is that long-legged underwear on the line?

A later photo of my grandmother and some cousins captures a neighbor’s laundry hanging from an upstairs window on what appears to be a retractable clothesline.

Elmira Christian, Julia Walsh, Raymond Christian
Torn photo of Elmira, Julia, and Raymond
I wonder who is missing.

As interesting as that contraption is to me now, the real interest is the children and who might have been in the photo in its original condition.

Since the photo is of my grandmother with her cousin Elmira Christian, daughter of Delia Sheehan and William Christian, I can guess the little boy is Elmira’s brother Raymond, IF I’m correct in guessing the ages of the girls to be about 10-12 and the little boy about 2-3.

Grace Christian, Julia Walsh, Elmira Christian about 1917-1918
What is that cloth? A sheet drying on a rack?
from left to right
: Probably Grace Christian,
Julia Walsh, and Elmira Christian
Adding this photo to another one of my grandmother and her cousins almost completes the Christian children. Missing is the baby of the family, William, who was perhaps either a newborn or not yet born at the time.

Another cousin photo was taken the same day, it seems, judging by my grandmother’s dress. It is Julia with Sadie Burns/Byrnes, daughter of Elizabeth Sheehan Burns/Byrnes. The rickety fence, perhaps an extension of the fence in the photo of Julia and the Christian girls, makes me think they were all there together at one time, wherever “there” was – maybe Sadie’s house in New York, maybe Elmira’s house, but would that have been in New Jersey or New York?

Julia Walsh and Sadie Burns about 1917-1918
Julia Walsh and Sadie Burns

There is so much more to learn about my great-grandmother’s family. Yet the clues are limited. I have found only two descendants, both Delia’s grandchildren. However, neither one seems to know anything at all about their grandmother, not even her maiden name.

Or maybe they know more than they let on but just don’t want to “air the dirty laundry.”

It’s laundry day on Sepia Saturday. See who else is hanging out at the line.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. I had to laugh about airing the dirty laundry! That's one thing my mother always used to say about the ladies in the neighborhood. They didn't just hang out their clean clothes but they loved to gather and gossip over coffee immediately after!

  2. I have often heard the expression about "airing the dirty laundry," but I have never thought about how it might have gotten started. (Something for me to Google)

  3. I’m amazed by how many images we’re coming up with between us, that show the laundry hanging in the background. These are great, and the torn photo asks so many questions. Was it the only copy and so they divided it up, or did someone do something so awful that they had to be removed?

  4. This is kind of a good reminder to make sure people know their grandmother's maiden names and the spouses too knowing their in-law's mother's/grandmother's maiden names just in case down the road. Also good reminder to maybe take pictures of the mundane because future generations might want to know how laundry or cooking meals were like more than 50 or so years ago.


  5. I love your metaphor of hovering in the dark between basket and line.

    I know well your struggles looking at old photographs of unknown relatives. I call them UFOs (Unidentified Family phOtos.)

  6. Ah...dirty laundry. And skeletons in the closet. What I love about this prompt is the fact that most of the laundry in our old photos is in the background and we have to hunt for it. The metaphor is splendid.

  7. Guess we will have to call this group of photos "Laundry Bombed". So interesting how the background scenery can be a plethora of information. Hovering metaphor...brilliant. Well done!

  8. I'm always amazed at how you take one little picture and tie it in to so many of your own photos. It took me a long time to see the long legged underwear.

  9. Nothing is so sweet as clean sheets on the bed that were dried on the clothes line...stiff and sweet smelling...I miss that from my childhood!

    I love your the laundry in the background. My daughter's room looked down on our neighbor's yard and every Monday underwear was strung on the line. We always joked about it when she went to college I took and photo and sent it to her....just in case she was homesick :)

  10. I don't see long underwear at all! I see an older version of today's "onesie" outfits (perhaps for the youngest Walsh--Tate?). But it's true that I hardly see washing on a line today -- it used to be so commonplace; now it's hardly at all!

  11. Clearly whoever these people were, they weren't too fussy about what was in the background of the photos they took. I don't see many washing lines, but that's maining because I don't see many people's back gardens, and if people visit me, they wouldn't notice washing either, because it's generally hidden around the side of the house.

  12. Your metaphors are most apt...aren't you lucky though to have so many naturally posed photos of your grandmother's siblings and cousins when they were young...I don't have anything like that for either of my grandmothers.

  13. The laundry on the line was once the background to most family activities. Try finding a recent photo with someone posed in front of the electric dryer!

  14. If you weren't looking for washing your eye would probably ignore it in the photos and it is very interesting that you have a torn photograph, wonder who was in the other part of the photo, a mystery that will probably never be solved.

  15. Precious old family photographs. Loved your accompanying descriptions too!

  16. Isn't it funny how people used to accept everyone having their laundry hanging out and these days people find it offensive. Great photos.

  17. Such a clever post Wendy! I have many memories of running through the clothes hanging on the line and of standing and talking to my mom while she hung laundry (don't judge, I was too little to reach!) Now most places have as part of their covenants for the neighborhood that clotheslines are not allowed. Like "Tattered and Lost" said, I find it funny that at one point it was an accepted part of life and now there are rules to prohibit it.