Monday, July 29, 2013

A Family Treasure: a Photo of an early Tennessee LDS Family

One of the treasures from the Church Family Reunion was a photograph. I had been told about the photo before and knew it existed, but I had not been in the right place at the right time to get a copy. I knew one copy was framed on the wall of someone's home. But she lived a ways off and I never got around to inviting myself over to take a photo out of a frame and make a copy. It always seemed like an odd thing to do, anyway.

Two members of the Church family, brothers about my age, approached me on a Thursday night fireside during a LDS/BSA Encampment. Both suggested I should come to a family Reunion being held that Sunday. I figured I probably should go. Two days before I was invited to the reunion, Elizabeth, a friend and blog reader, emailed me asking if I had been successful at getting a copy of the photo I described above. It was perfect timing. The next day the two brothers' mother called me with the same invitation (she had no idea her sons had seen me the night before) I suggested that perhaps the reunion would be a perfect place to bring the photos. She readily agreed.

The reunion was great. There were lots of people, and as promised, a box of framed photos. We dug through the box, removing the pictures from their frames, one by one. We checked the back for labeling and were rewarded most of the time. Some descriptions were detailed; full name, how they were related to the person doing the labeling, even the location in one case. But the photo I wanted the most was not labeled. Tradition said it was the sons of Abraham Church. But he had several sons, and this photo appeared to only show two of them. There were some younger people in the photo too, obviously not sons, but perhaps a grandson and granddaughters. We passed the photo around asking if others knew who the people in the photo was, but without success.

I made a copy, along with copies of the other photos, and when I got home I sent it off to Elizabeth, the friend who had asked for a copy. Twenty four hours later I got an email with a surprise. She had passed the photo along to some other descendants of the Church family and had received back a better copy of the same image. As a bonus it was labeled too.

The original owner, who wrote the label, was Mary Bond McClanahan (nee Shelby), a great granddaughter of Abraham Church. Mary has since passed away. Elizabeth also added her suggestion for a clearer identification of the people in the photo. All four in the back are grandchildren children of Abraham Church.

Phobe Church [Hicks] (1861-1929)
[Robert] Hayden Church (1849-1868)?
Paralee Church [Gerber] (1864-1924)
Mary Ellen "Mollie" Nichols [Anderson] (1859-1941) (grandmother of Mary Bond McClanahan)
[Isaac] Emmons Church (1820-1898)
George Brown Church (1822-1915)

But was the labeling correct? I thought I would start with the assumption that it was and see if the pieces all fit. I started collecting dates (I added them above) to see if the supposed subjects were all alive at the same time. We might also - cautiously - assume that Mary would know her own grandmother. Mary was born in 1915 (and died in 1998) and would have been old enough to have known her grandmother well.

Phoebe and Paralee were sisters, and daughters of Emmons Church. But Hayden has me baffled. It was a commonly used name in the Church family. In fact Emmons had a son named Robert Hayden Church. But he died in 1868, at the age of 19. That man does not look 19 to me. And if the others are who the label says they are, then the two in front would have to have been no more than 46 & 48 years old, and the women in the back would be ages 7, 4 and 9. I'm not buying it.

There were other Haydens in the family. George had a son named Haden Church, but he passed away in 1884 at the age of 21. And Haden Wells Church had a son named Haden Wells Church (1848-1922), but he lived in Utah.

Other options? Well, Phoebe and Paralee had another brother William L. L. Church (1858-1929) who would have been the right age and who lived in the area at least until 1898 (when Emmons passed away).
In 1892 Phoebe married Joel Hicks. The man in the back might have been her new husband. They are standing a bit close, but this doesn't seem like a wedding photo to me.

And why are there people from a wide variety of the family. George and Emmons weren't the last two sons of Abraham. Paralee and Phoebe had other siblings who were alive and well. Mollies mother passed away in 1882, but if you are gathering around some relative, why just these six?  A funeral? Maybe one of the people in the photo no longer lived nearby and came for a visit, and these were the only relatives around. To know that I would have to research biographic information on all of them.

Comparing the image to other images hasn't given me any great revelations. I really have no other photos of the people named on the photo, and my photos of others in the Church family don't compare.

Ultimately this puzzle will have to wait on more research. And it will have to be sooner rather than later. The vast majority of the people at the reunion looked like they had great grandchildren.


Matthew R. Lee said...

Congratulations on the find.

Chante said...

This is cool!