Tuesday, March 19, 2013

How did access to roads or railroads shape your ancestors' lives?

This early 20th century view of the Wilmer, Alabama, community shows a car coming up the road toward the Wilmer Store Company. The car is in the distance at the middle left side of the photo.

We tend to forget how much the coming of the automobile changed life in rural America. Before cars, any travel to major markets took a lot of time and effort. Storms turned dirt roads into rivers of mud. The rain flooded stream crossings and, if there were no bridge, travelers had to stop until the streams lowered enough to cross.

People traveling outside their own neighborhoods often had to move along poorly located roads that wound without apparent direction from farm to farm.

Where farmers lived within a short distance of a railroad, navigable river or good roads, they found they could make a lot more money by specializing. This means they devoted most of their acreage to growing a single crop for sale in the market rather than raising all the grains and meat they needed. They no longer had to provide everything they needed by their own hand.
Wilmer and other towns in western Mobile County sprouted up along a major road from Mobile to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. At one time the road was called Moffett's Ferry Road, named after the family who ran a ferry across the Escatawpa River near the state line. The name was eventually shortened to Moffett Road. The road later became a part of the federal highway system as U.S. Highway 98. The road name had different spellings, such as Moffatt, until 1986 when the Alabama Legislature declared "Moffett" to be the correct one.

Wilmer became an incorporated town in 1970. But 24 years later, Wilmer’s citizens grew tired of local political tomfoolery and voted to dissolve the incorporation.

In the 19th century and for most of the 20th century, Wilmer was a small farming town that served families with names such as Brannan, Moody, Pierce, Stringfellow, and Tanner. Today it is increasingly becoming a bedroom community for the city of Mobile and other areas.

Did your ancestors live near good transportation? How did access to roads or railroads shape their lives?

Wilmer Store Company image courtesy of the Erik Overbey Collection, University of South Alabama Archives (http://www.southalabama.edu/archives).

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Any thoughts on how to identify family photo from about 1907?

Here is a cautionary tale.

I decided to use a move across country 20 years ago to clean out things I thought I didn't need anymore. Unfortunately, that included some family photos.

Many of those were photos were so out of focus or badly developed that they were totally unrecognizable by anyone. But it did include a few small  head-shoulder photos of unidentified people. All of the relatives who could have identified them were dead. So out they went.

At the time I didn't have a computer and the Internet was something that people called the Information Superhighway but didn't know much about.

Today, the Internet lets us connect to relatives we didn't know we had and who may be able to identify those unidentified photos.

Above is one of the many photos I did save. The family is not identified. But the photo is printed on a postal card stock with places on the back for a message, address, and stamp. After about 1907, this was a popular way to have photos made. They could be mailed or they could also be handed out to friends and family. Many of the photos from the Pierce side of my family were printed this way. But it also could be from my Poore side.

Although the people remain unidentified, I am hopeful they will be some day.

Have you been able to use the Internet to identify one of your old photos? Any thoughts on what other steps I can take to get this photo identified?
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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

How often does a car appear in the photos of your ancestors? What did it mean to them?

Ina Mae Pierce (1903-1977), right, poses with two of her friends in front of a large car. Ina Mae appears to be a teenager in this photo, making the date no later than around 1921. The young women's clothes and hairstyles make it clear that 1920s fashions had made their way to rural Wilmer.

Note the camera being held by the young woman in the middle. This camera, or one very much like it, belonged to the Pierce family and probably took many of their family photos. It is a simple box camera with a range viewfinder on the side. It required 120 film and still took good photos into the 1950s and '60s. I own this camera today.

Cars in the 1920s were more than just a prop for photos. They liberated young women, and men for that matter, from the restrictions of parents and their neighborhoods.

Cars were symbols of freedom of all kinds.

No longer did you have to take the time to hitch a horse up to a wagon. You could jump behind the wheel of a car, turn on the ignition and be off. Trips to the local stores could be made faster, providing more free time for having fun.

Cars were easy to operate and reliable. And fast. With speed came excitement.

Authorities and parents worried that young people, especially women, were finding the wrong kind of freedom and excitement in cars. More than one official fretted aloud that unmarried young men and women used cars to have sex.

How often does a car appear in the photos of your ancestors? How important was the car to their lives?

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