Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Same Kid Look
In Hundred Year Old School Photos

The hair bows may not look the same, but the idea hasn't really changed that much: line up the class in front of the school building, stick the teacher to one side, and snap the picture. Never mind that this photo is over a hundred years old, or that it took place in Florida instead of my own New York, or my daughter's California. I can see in my fair complected maternal grandmother's squinty expression the same struggle I still face in the sunlight. That DNA runs strong.

The minute we saw this photograph for the first time—it arrived via email this week from the Fort Meade Historical Society and Museum—we laughed to see the pixel-y replica of the same in-the-sunlight facial expression we knew so well from my mother and my aunt. If the photo had been more clear, perhaps it would have been a snap to see the same in photos from my own school days. It's amazing how these details stay so constant, generation after generation.

The reminder is quite timely, in fact. It was this past weekend that I resolved to dig out all my work, pondering the connection with my mystery cousin—the adoptee whose mtDNA test fixed him with me at an exact matching level. Somehow, he and I share a mother's mother's mother—somewhere back there through who knows how many generations—that is our most recent common ancestor.

Only we can't yet find that supposed common ancestor. We've checked, believe me. We're both back to the early 1800s in our independent reckoning, and neither of us has turned up a surname that connects with the other's matrilineal line.

Yet, if the science is right—and it sure seems to be gathering convincing evidence that it is—the two of us are connected. Somewhere, that is, between now and, oh, about a thousand years' worth of genealogical calculations.

Just like that squinty expression shared by my maternal line, the ability to focus intensely on a project may be another shared genetic trait—and it may just be a trait shared back through several more generations, too. Thanks to that persistence, this week may have provided a breakthrough, for him and for me.

Promising myself to focus on those matrilineal lines, I've been working on branches for which I had only question marks before—but thankfully am now finding further clues.

And my mystery cousin? He is right now on a trip to meet the extended family of his birth mother, the woman he met, incredibly, back at the beginning of this year. Along with the people he's meeting, he's gathering family histories and data passed down through the family. Some of the details he's finding are actually gaining him some genealogical traction. There's that laser-like focus showing. Hopefully, when he returns home and we compare notes on our latest finds, it will soon reveal that name we share in our family's trees.

Above: The Fort Meade, Florida, grade school class, circa 1910, which included my grandmother, Rubie McClellan (top row, third from left) and her brother Charles (front row, third from left). 


  1. It's interesting how uniform the tucked shirts are.

    Your mystery cousin seems to be doing so well in his search. He gives hope to other adoptees, I'm sure.

    1. Not only does his experience give hope to others, but he has been very generous with his time, helping others to do the same. After his days' work in a position with significant responsibilities, he spends his evenings and weekends volunteering to help adoptees and birth parents make connections. He blogs on a regular basis to share his experiences at Search Angels.

      There are a lot of others in his position, as well. I've heard stories of such endeavors when I attend DNA conferences. When I teach beginning genealogy classes, that is a regular question there, too. It does, however, take a fairly solid commitment and sense of focus to be successful, though--something not everyone is suited for, unfortunately.

  2. Great old photo! What a family treasure...I am so glad you have it! :)

    1. Yes, definitely! I don't have very many photos of my mother's childhood years, let alone treasures like this from my grandmother's school days. I guess some families are really into saving and passing down photos, and some aren't.

  3. Hard to imagine being able to walk upright with a huge bow like that hanging from one's head!

    1. No kidding, Iggy! Aren't they outlandish? But they must have been all the rage. I spot several of them in just this class photo.


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