Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Evidence Revisited

I spent some time this morning drinking a few cups of coffee and reading the latest issue of the “Shades of the Departed” online magazine – it took several cups of coffee because the articles are so inspiring that I find myself sidetracked frequently.  After reading Joe Bott’s article, “Celebrating Dead Fred,” I had to pause to re-search his site for any new family photos, and then got as far as footnoteMaven’s “Photography & Mourning” article before being motivated once again.
Her article featured photos of mourning brooches – small pins or brooches that may have originally been created for other purposes, later being a mourning/remembrance keepsake, or may have been created specifically out of the death of a loved one.  I immediately thought of a lovely little pin that was the subject of a recent blog post.
To quote Elizabeth Shown Mills in her book Evidence Explained, “The case is never closed on a historical conclusion.  Just as scientists revise their theories in the wake of new discoveries, so do historians.  Any decision we make today could be changed tomorrow by the discovery of previously unknown information.”  With that quote in mind, I dug out the tiny little keepsake box containing the pin, a baby’s hairbrush, a tiny child’s thimble, and a small glass vial that originally had a screw-top of some sort, long since gone.  It reminded me of one of those necklaces filled with holy water, or a empty, to hold a remembrance item, similar to this one being sold online:
As a whole, it looks as if the items in the box are keepsakes of a specific person’s life, which I had originally assumed to be true, and still believe.  However, *which* person specifically, may be up for debate.

The note reads: “The little baby’s hair brush belonged to Myrtle Lair age 1 in 1889.  The photo pin is her at the age of 10 or 12.”  These things very well could be Myrtle Lair’s, but Myrtle had a little sister, Allie May Lair, who died at the age of 11.  Finding the article in Shades this morning made me wonder if this pin was indeed a mourning brooch, and these items the only remaining keepsakes from her short life.
As I looked through the box once again, I realized that these articles, with the exception of the vial, are specific to a child’s life.  The vial could be representative of either a child or an adult.  The box itself, in very old lettering, says “Birth Announcement.”  Myrtle Lair lived to be 52 years old.  Allie Lair died at the age of 11.   And who authored the note?  To answer that question, I had to imagine who possessed this box over the years.  Myrtle and Allie May’s sister Nettie was my great-great grandmother, and oldest daughter in the family, and their mother died young.  She had many items that belonged to her parents.  She lived her last years with her daughter Lulu, who seemed to have been the recipient of most of the family heirlooms.  Lulu died as a spinster in 1986.  My aunt, Lulu’s niece, likely got this box from her, and then it came to me.  I do not believe this is Nettie’s handwriting, but could have been Lulu’s.    Allie May died 18 years before Lulu was born, and there was quite a geographical distance as well.  Perhaps Lulu knew these items belonged to her mother’s sister, and Myrtle was the only one she knew of.  Or perhaps she was right in stating that these things were Myrtle’s.
Myrtle, however, outlived her older sister Nettie by six years, which makes me wonder how her baby keepsakes would have ended up so far away, in Lulu’s possession, when there were nieces and nephews still in Myrtle’s area?  In contrast, little Allie May, as well as their mother, died while Nettie was still in the immediate vicinity. 
I have a copy of a portrait of little Allie May at the age of 3, and I also have a picture of Myrtle as a young woman.  I think the photo pin resembles Allie May much more than it does Myrtle, but the girl in the photo pin has an outwardly wandering left eye, as does Myrtle.  However, with the portrait of Allie May being a painting rather than a photo, I could understand if any particular imperfections might have been altered, especially if this painting was done from a photo after her death.  I know of no paintings of the other children.

Above, Allie May Lair at the age of three
Above: photo pin of Myrtle?
Above: Myrtle Lair, as a young woman
Of course, all this is nowhere near sufficient to say that the girl in the photo pin is Allie May Lair, but it does cause me to wonder, and to go back and take a look at the evidence once again.   Now, coming up with a plan for further research is in order, but this task might be difficult if not impossible.
So, in the meantime, it’s back to Shades of the Departed.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown.  Evidence Explained.  Baltimore, Maryland: 2007.  p. 27               Shades of the Departed, Oct. 4, 2010 issue                                                                    Pendant photo (sold at): http://www.thisnext.com/topic-empty-silver-vial-pendants


  1. What an interesting mystery, or rather several mysteries. Hope something comes up that leads to a solution.

  2. Fascinating analysis. I hope you come up with a new lead that can give you a more definitive answer.