|Delighted to back with Sepia Saturday after a long personal drought.|
The name of the town is familiar, Champion, Michigan. It is one of those towns of my childhood where what seemed like endless, long dusty car trips would result in the family pouring out of the back of a station wagon to set up a picnic. But if the town scrapes the cobwebs of my mind, the stern family etched in time, has no meaning for me. The photograph is one of several that were once mounted in a maroon velvet album, kept in my grandmother’s basement. As a child, I loved the smell of that musty thing, and even more, adored paging through the photos, imagining those people of old. It was silly of me to never have asked my grandmother for the names of these unknown family and friends. Now I struggle to put together the pieces. I show them to the 80 year-olds who squint and say, “Well, it could be a Millman or Richards,” and I wait for the soliloquy regarding facial features. But as I’ve continued my ancestor hunt, I find many of those supposed matches just do not fit. The child is too old for the time they spent in Vermont or the identified person did not live in the town during the year noted on the back of the photo. I sigh. And the only way to make up for my abject failure to quiz my grandmother is to write voraciously on the back of my own photos or to post them, heavily captioned, on a family website.
The cabinet photo in question seemed to hold many clues. Champion is and was always a small town. The name of the studio, scrolled at the bottom, should have been an easy find I reasoned. But a search of the city directories, on Ancestry.com revealed no L. Winsor Studio for the available years, 1894-1917, a reasonable time frame based on the clothing worn by the females. An Internet search indicates this photographer may have had a studio in Champion in the early 1890s but then moved westward. At least I had a date, but one that once more led me to curse the loss of those precious 1890 census records. I scoured my family tree for cousins with the requisite number of family members living in the area at the time. Coming up short, I got out my magnifying glass and studied facial features, hoping to identify family traits. Nothing worked. I returned to my tree and picked at families of families.
And then, an answer. It was that rush of joy that I had been missing since I last engaged in this exploration, so many months ago. But, as has been true with most of my genealogical investigations, the solution was not the one I had been seeking. No, I still do not know the identity of this family, lovingly saved in my grandmother’s basement. But the search of the siblings clarified a nagging question: the mystery of why my family had chosen Ishpeming, Michigan as their destination when the Ely/Vershire mining operation was beginning to fail. The Richards and Simons branches, united by the marriage of my great great grandparents in Ely, had pulled up their fragile roots in that waning mining town to journey for frigid northern Michigan. I had often wondered why the growing clan chose this spot to begin life anew. The photo search unintentionally revealed a Richards brother, long ignored by me, who had traveled directly from Gwinear, Cornwall with his wife and young son to the mines of Upper Michigan. I now had the name of that ancestor who was the impetus for the family move to “the Yoop,” the place where our roots would run strong and deep throughout the 20th century.
That brother? Matthew Richards - a coincidence my family will find amusing.
The journey we begin does not always bring us to the destination we intend.