Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sepia Saturday: The Slade Family Tree

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

For every family historian and genealogist, this week’s Sepia Saturday photo of a tree is the iconic symbol of “the family tree” with its roots to the past holding firm, its numerous branches spreading out in all directions, and its individual leaves added anew every year. The title of this post might then make you think you’re in for a snoozefest through the Slade lineage. Not so.

Here is the only photo I have of my father’s paternal grandmother, Mary Morrison Slade. She is standing in front of a Weeping Willow tree in the front yard of my grandparents’ home in the community called Cradock in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Mary Morris Slade Portsmouth, Virginia
Great Grandmother Mary Morrison Slade mid-1940s
Portsmouth, Virginia
Even though she died when I was 8, I have no memory of her. She was probably extremely debilitated by dementia and therefore my parents kept me from her. Apparently she had been that way for many years. My dad said that even as a young man he often had to break a date to go look for his grandmother when she wandered and got lost. 

Mary Morrison Slade was widowed at the age of 49 in 1928, the same year my dad was born. Often I have wondered how widows managed in the days before it was common for women to work and have their own income. In 1930, Grandma Slade was the head of household in a house she rented on Henry Street. One son, two daughters and one son-in-law were there too. The only one with a job was the son-in-law.  

In 1940 Mary was living at 416 Randolph Street. According to the 1940 census, this was the same house where she lived in 1935, which tells me she had moved there between 1930 and 1935. Maybe the move was driven by finances because the house she rented in 1930, just a street away, was $20 a month. The “new” house, which she rented for $11 a month, was next door to her sister Effie and her husband Henry Hanrahan. 
from Wikimedia Commons
This is NOT where Mary Slade worked, but it is a typical 
sewing project factory or workroom.
Grandma Slade, born in Tennessee, had completed 5 years of school. During her married life, she was always the wife of a farmer, but now she was a working woman employed in the government-sponsored WPA sewing project. The specific job appears to be “Iron lady,” but the handwriting in the 1940 census is unclear. Her statement that she was unemployed for 65 weeks prior to March 1940 contradicts the statement that she worked 52 weeks in 1939 earning $780. She claimed no other source of income.

The Work Project Administration (WPA) was part of the New Deal effort to put people to work. The sewing project was specifically designed for women who were considered unemployed heads of household either because they were widowed, abandoned, or disabled. The sewing project was the lowest paid position, but women received training in using sewing machines. They made clothing, bedding, and supplies for hospitals and orphanages. Grandma Slade is the first ancestor I’ve found who was employed under the New Deal. 

I do not know where Grandma Slade was living when she posed in front of the tree in my grandparents’ yard. The Weeping Willow certainly made a nice backdrop for photos though. On the evening of my Aunt Betty’s music recital, she and her friend Jackie posed there too.

Beverly Slade and Jackie Shearidan Portsmouth, Virginia 1940s
Jackie and Betty

Don’t weep. There are many more stories and old photos of trees at Sepia Saturday.

© 2017, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Yes, a wonderful backdrop for photos.The weeping willow in our first house was killed by a storm and the garden never looked the same again. Life certainly was hard for women like your great grandmother in those days.

  2. The weeping willow tree in your photos reminded me of a friend, years ago, who had a weeping willow in her backyard. It was huge & its draping branches touched the ground all around making it a sort of playhouse. In fact, my friend had it set up thus and I loved to visit her and play in her willow tree house. Your post brings back some lovely old memories. Thank you. :)

  3. The weeping willow tree in your post reminds me of a friend, years ago, who had a huge weeping willow in her backyard. Its draping branches touched the ground all around making it a sort of playhouse inside. In fact, she had it set up as such. I used to love to visit her and play in her weeping willow house. Your post has brought back some lovely old memories. Thank you. :)

  4. Great to hear about a woman who made her way with needle and thread. My grandmother (2 times a widow) also did. The WPA helped many women support themselves and their families. What I also love is the beautiful work that these seemstresses created, much of which is lost to history now. I have a great appreciation of beautiful fiber work.

  5. I haven't seen a weeping willow for a long time. I remember being amused by the "weeping" name when I was a child.

  6. What a sad story of Mary, struggling under her widowed circumstances and then hit by a debilitating illness. I had not heard about the WPA project and it reminded me of my mother using her talents to work from home as a dressmaker in our small, cold spare bedroom.

  7. I didn't know the WPA had a sewing program. To think that this country used to actually care about its citizens. There would be nothing like it today. Even with the aid she seems to have had a rough life. That's the part of history that keeps cropping up when you're doing genalogy research.

  8. A sad story in view of this lady's dementia in the end. Perhaps the willow is weeping for her.

  9. It's lovely you have a picture of Mary. Dementia is such an awful disease, so confusing for the sufferer and so hard for their loved ones to witness. It must have been worrying for your Dad to have to go look for his Grandma, not knowing if she'd got herself into trouble.

  10. I love that you have several photos with the tree as a backdrop. Our backdrop at my parents' home was always this ugly bi-fold lattice type door - every prom picture had us in front of the door. When we sold the house a few years ago we thought about taking the door with us!