Thursday, August 4, 2011


With so much hope for unlocking at least a bit of the secrets of our family's past, we've traveled this week to Indiana. That's where my husband's Stevens line originates in this country, with the arrival of John Stevens from his native County Mayo in Ireland. Via the port of New Orleans, up the mighty Mississippi and tributaries until he reached the Wabash River port of Lafayette, Indiana, this great-great grandfather was now ready to call this destination home. We're hoping to reach him here--or at least some shred of evidence of his life here--one hundred sixty years afterward.

Although our actual research time at the library in Lafayette is not to happen until Friday, we've already made some stops along the way. Our first stop was to visit Stevens relatives in Chicago area, hoping to gain some insight into a collection of century-old photographs. In particular was one portrait of a distinguished elderly gentleman in what may have been either a military uniform or that of a police department. I am so utterly uninformed about uniform design of the turn of the last century (not to mention, unaware of the actual date of this particular photograph) that I am not sure I have the right person at the right time.

I was hoping to discover that the photogenic subject of this portrait was John Tully, father-in-law of the branch of the Stevens family that moved from Indiana to Chicago. Unfortunately, in showing the portrait to my husband's aunt, who already owns photographs of the man, the reaction was negative, or at least inconclusive. We will need to do some comparisons with other photographs of the man. John Tully served with the South Park Police for many years, and family oral tradition held that he also served in the Civil War in his younger years. The photo is definitely of an older man. The uniform doesn't appear to be of the type worn by police personnel of the time, but appears more like military garb. It just might be that we will have to face up to the fact that we don't, after all, know who the photograph portrays.

Looking through old photographs has its predictable effect on those interested in such memorabilia. Seated around the kitchen table the other night were three Stevens cousins, two spouses, and a beloved aunt married to a now-departed member of the previous generation of this Stevens line. I daresay every one present had a love for history, including a now-retired college professor who has devoted years of his life to preserving one specific sliver of "modern" culture through meticulously-documented collections. But no matter how hard we wished to discover something of significance in this collection of photographs, those turn-of-the-century mementos did not represent anyone we could identify.

Research journeys are full of hope, and we have days of potential discoveries ahead us of us yet. But it is hard to relinquish the hope that this treasure trove I've been loaned would produce a research breakthrough. How I wanted it to work. Whoever those hundred-year-old likenesses belong to, they do not, at this point, appear to lead to our immediate family lines. Genealogy requires a careful, documented, logical approach to research. My heart wishes for my wildest dream's discoveries to be now. While my mind tells me to let it go and move on, my heart wishes I had made the connection.

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