Tattered Past

Tattered Past: My ongoing journey through genealogy, history, writing, self-exploration and art. ~~~ Rita Ackerman

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesdays With Rita: Family Stories

Study this picture for a few minutes. What do the faces tell you?
What do their clothes and the pose tell you?

This is John and Mattie (Hinsdale) Keith and their daughter, Dottie. They were cousins of my great grandmother Nellie Keith Martin who I have written about many times.

John was born in Illinois in 1863; near the beginning of the Civil War. He moved with other members of the family to Southwestern Kansas in about 1883. John was a store owner, farmer, school master and later the superintendent of the school. John and Mattie were married in 1898 and had two children: Clyde born in 1899 and Rena Dottie born in 1909. When Clyde was two years old he was bitten by a rattlesnake and died. John and Mattie both died in 1950.

After I began doing genealogy research around 1977 I managed to locate Dottie and wrote to her a few times. She was very proud of her father who was well respected in the area. She obviously loved her mother and thought she was beautiful. She told me about the brother she had never known.

Settlers on the prairie had so many things to worry about. Crop failure, fires, drought, outlaws, Indians, small pox... and rattlesnakes. I look at Hattie's face and see the worry, the loss, but also a bit of pride as she surely loved her little girl. John looks wistful. Was he thinking about his son?

I lost touch with Dottie. I wish I'd gotten to know her better. I even wish I had visited her. She was family. I often look at these pictures and think about the people in them. I try to learn as much as I can about my ancestors. Who they were and what they did. I hope, one day, to have all the stories written down so they won't be forgotten. So the family that follows will understand, at least a little bit, why they look worried, sad, or wistful.

Have you tried to find out who your ancestors or family members Really were? Are you preserving their stories. It's never too late to start.


  1. I love your curiousity, wonder, and questioning. Hardly ever see a smile in old photos but I've decided it was because they had to sit perfectly still for so long for the picture to be taken.

  2. I love hearing your stories and especially the Kansas connection. I bet if we followed the six degrees of separation theory that your relatives and mine knew each other--my sister is our family geneologist--she could tell you all the names--like reciting the "begats" in the Bible!!

  3. Since you asked us to look at the photo (what a great prompt) I did - I looked at them closely. How interesting that Mattie was looking directly into the camera, while John and Dottie were looking at the photographer off to the side. She knew exactly what she was there for and wasn't being distracted by his presence. Very focused lady.

  4. Getting a photo was a serious business. Their faces are so smooth though - and solemn. I am working on the genealogy of my family. My mother died last Nov and suddenly we can't just say "ask Mom." So the entire clan all the way out to cousins on both sides are bringing in stories and pictures not shared before and figuring out dates and places by group think. It is very interesting and fun. Thanks for the prompt.


Please leave a comment so I know you were here. Comments are like Internet hugs.