Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Just How to Address Them
I've often talked about how I pay attention to what I call "voice"—the way one person might address another. In the case of the photograph I'm about to reunite with a family member—the photograph of Adolph and Verna Brockman, taken in West Point, Nebraska, around 1911—I think it will be important to consider the "voice" used in labeling the reverse of the photograph.
As you may have seen in the comments to yesterday's post, I have found a Brockman family member, and we are working out the arrangements so I may mail Adolph and Vernie back to relatives. That family member—as is often the case, someone who cares greatly for carefully researching family history—mentioned a likely scenario for how the Nebraska photograph ended up in the foothills of northern California.
The possible trail does involve family members moving far from Nebraska. While I'm happy to know the likely story, something is also nudging me to remember that concept of voice.
Consider, for a moment, how you might label a photograph of your family members. Would you, for instance, write something like "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" on the back of a photo of your uncle and aunt? More likely, you'd write at least their first names: "Al and Sally." If you were being very conscientious of the family members tasked, long after you'd be gone, with figuring out just who all those people were, you might add a surname, even though everyone already knew the identity of Al and Sally. To be even more helpful, you might write something like Uncle Al and Aunt Sally, just to make sure your grandkids knew they were looking at relatives.
It would, possibly, take something far afield of kinship to label a photograph, "Adolph Brockman + wife." That, in my humble estimation, might be something included with a wedding announcement sent to a family acquaintance (or worse, merely a business associate) who hadn't actually been invited to the wedding.
But then, the key really is: what did people back in 1911 do when sending photographs of their special family occasions? Perhaps they were more formal. Perhaps this seemed more proper. But I'm not sure it would be something one did when sending a photograph to a sibling's family.
The other problem, though, is that we don't really know when the photograph was actually labeled. There are two different handwritings showing on the back of the Brockman photograph. One may have been entered as a way to tell family, much after the fact, just who that married couple had been. Or perhaps that is the label that mentioned Adolph and Vernie Brockman, including the hint of familiarity of the wife's nickname. But the more formal entry on the top of the photo makes me wonder who would have used that tone of voice in labeling the picture; there seems to be no recognition of family connection at all—at the very least, only a connection to Adolph, but certainly not Vernie.
While I could puzzle over this in endless iterations, I'm glad we now have a family member on hand to discuss an educated guess—and to keep me from going too far astray on these doubtful dissertations.
Above: The various entries of names on the reverse of the 1911 wedding photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman of West Point, Nebraska.