Saturday, July 21, 2012

Edna's lasting gift

Edna, right, with her husband Thomas Clark. 1920s or 1930s, around the time she likely began the massive family history project that inspired this blog.
I believe I owe Edna a great debt of gratitude. When Corinne passed away and all of these wonderful primary resources about my family came into my life, it took me several months just to wrap my head around everything I had. There were hundreds -- literally hundreds -- of old photographs, dating from as early as the 1860s. And as I started sifting through, I realized that about 50% of them were labeled, often with not only the person's name, but their relation to the family written next to it. Or, if there was no relation to the family, that is sometimes indicated as well. (My favorite is the photo that reads, "Dr. Goff, dentist.")

Even the dentist is carefully labeled

And as I sifted further, I began to realize that these hundreds of photos were most likely labeled by just one person, who had diligently undertaken a family history project. Then I found the incredible scrapbook I told you about, and I realized just how time-consuming and thorough this project must have been for the person completing it. Pasted carefully into this scrapbook are hundreds of newspaper clippings from small-town newspapers all over the country, from right here in Walworth County all the way to Kansas and California. Whoever undertook this enormous project must have written away to local newspapers asking for any archival clippings they had about people with the last names Vaughn, Brittain, Dike... And then that person must have waited weeks or months in the hopes that the newspaper would have time to do as she asked and return her envelope full of treasures. That same person must have commissioned the hand-painted portraits of my great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother, painted from photos in the collection.

Portraits of Otis Vaughn and Fannie Brittain Vaughn (Edna and Ora's parents) painted from old photographs

That is when I realized that this family history project must have been the all-consuming passion of one person. And that person was most likely Edna Vaughn Clark, who was doing all of this to honor her parents.

Alongside the family- and town-related clippings in the scrapbook, she sometimes pasted poems or articles from current newspapers, which helped me date the scrapbook to the 1930s. And it turns out that Fannie Brittain Vaughn, Edna's mother and my great-great-grandmother, died in 1931. So it seems like this massive family history project was perhaps a way for Edna to come to terms with her mother's death. And in doing so, she has unknowingly passed on to me a treasure trove of history about not just my immediate family, but the entire early settlement of Spring Prairie, Wis., and nearby Honey Creek, Wis. Without meaning to, she has launched me on a massive family history project of my own.

Such is the beauty of print. It persists, sometimes unnoticed for years, until the right person comes along to find it again. It connects human beings across generations. It keeps our history for us until we are ready for it.

1 comment:

  1. I am lucky to have an "Edna" on both of my main lines. I'm so thankful for all of their dedication and I hope that down the road the work I'm doing now will help someone else. Thank you for sharing!