Photographs and memories

By Melanie Shingledecker Parker

Clarion

I thoroughly enjoyed the feature story about the search for Grace McElhatten written by Rodney Sherman (CLARION NEWS editor) that appeared in the April 1 edition.

He discovered Grace was a teacher, as was Gertrude, about whom I wrote a few weeks ago, and I immediately felt a common bond with both of these long-forgotten women.

After I retired from teaching in 2011, my interests changed from mathematics to history. I started by researching the history of my home in Clarion, which was built in 1890. Having done that, I moved on to discover various historical tidbits and stories from Clarion County. The details that I have uncovered are fascinating not only to me but to many others with whom I have shared these stories.

I hope that one of the people who read Mr. Sherman's article will come forward to identify the people who appeared in the wonderful photographs that he included with his article. This has motivated me to share some interesting things about my mom, Patricia Shingledecker Barr.

My mom researched our family history back in the 1960s by going to courthouses, plodding through cemeteries, and driving to remote areas to visit with many people, most of whom were elderly, to get and document their first-hand accounts.

For Mom, this was a labor of love that preserved forever valuable historical accounts that would have been lost had it not been for her persistence in completing her mission.

Her passion extended far beyond our family history. Many years ago, mom and her second husband, Chet, went to a small cabin in the mountains of West Virginia to visit Chet's mother, who was 102 years old, still lived alone, was mentally sharp as a tack, and totally blind!

The subject of family photos came up, and his mother sent my mom up into the attic to retrieve a box of old family photos. Mom was once again on a mission!

She brought the box downstairs and described a photo to Chet's mother, who was able to identify not only who was in the photograph, but in most cases, where it was taken and when. One by one, Mom documented every photo in that box, thus preserving the family's precious history.

I am finally getting to my intent in writing this letter a point that Mr. Sherman also made at the end of his article. Don't let another day go by without starting the process of identifying any family photographs that you have in a box, album, or drawer. I feel sad each time I come upon a collection of old sepia-toned (or even tintype) photographs being sold in antique shops.

I always wonder, "Who is this? What is their story? Do they have grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are still living?"

In most cases, these questions can never be answered.

Please don't let photos of your ancestors end up in a bargain basket at a flea market or antique store. Start identifying them today so that you can pass them down to your children or grandchildren.

Make digital copies for sure, but don't discard the originals. The photographer in me would much rather hold an old tintype photo in my hand rather than look at the image on a computer screen.

I know that I am not alone in that regard; my teenage granddaughter much prefers to sit with one of my dozens of albums and look at the pictures.

Editor's note: A family member of Grace McElhattan did indeed see the feature about her and the photo album. John Mason, of Knox, a great-nephew of Grace, planned to view the photo album featured in the story to determine if he could identify any of the people in the old photographs.