Saturday, 17 November 2012

Meet my great grandfather and great grandmother

Photographs do of course play a very important part in my life. I consistently take around 10,000 a year, and many of these record the pattern of my ordinary life. I'm certain that a psychologist would say they are necessary for my mental comfort, quite apart from any creative element. I like to regard my very large photo collection as an historical record that I can delve into to see how things really were. That's important to me. I don't live in the past, but I don't want to forget it.

Mum and Dad possessed very few photographs of their parents (one in Dad's case, two in Mum's case) and none at all of their grandparents. So it's been very hard to visualise anyone from that older generation, especially as the only grandparent who was actually alive during my childhood was (very briefly) Dad's father, everyone else having already died.

I can't remember much about Dad's father. I only have a vague personal memory of him in the late 1950s, when he was old and in poor health. I know that he was born in Devon around 1880, married when forty or so in 1920, and died around 1960 after being cared for in a sanitorium at Aberdare in South Wales. He was widowed in 1922, which meant he experienced a great personal loss halfway through his lfe. (It also meant that Dad was deprived of his mother when still a baby)

The one picture I have of Dad's father shows him in a garden around 1930, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, presumably earning some casual money. In his autobiography Dad explained how his father failed as a parent, placing Dad first with an aunt and uncle in London, and then with a rough farming family in the deep Devon countryside, paying them to bring Dad up. I can't say there is anything I know about Dad's father that commends him to me. However, he was part of my rather small family, so I do count him in as someone I want to remember. And I wish I knew more about him, and had a few more more pictures, to flesh him out and make him seem more real.

I promised Mum and Dad long ago that I would explore Dad's family tree, and set it all out for future generations. And over the years, I have indeed constructed a basic family tree, presently enshrined on a giant Excel spreadsheet with backup copies. But there are many gaps and many guesses. The trouble is that the Dommetts, so far as I can see, were mainly tenant farmers and itinerant labourers, and fond of calling their sons William, and the daughters Mary, so that there is endless confusion as to who's who, even if any records at all can be traced.

Some hard and clever work will sort it all out one day, but this remains a project waiting for the right moment to take it forward again. After all, I am unlikely to find out anything very interesting, nor establish that I am the rightful Duchess of Devonshire!

And I am equally unlikely to turn up any old photos. Ploughmen and dairy maids never had cameras or much reason to be in someone's photograph. Documenting the family in that way really only began once Mum and Dad married in 1946, but even so, apart from shots of myself and my brother as babies and young schoolchildren, and some holiday snaps, there is little to look at. Alas, comprehensive photo coverage, with exact dates and locations noted in a daily Photo Diary, and a properly organised collection, all begin with me. In a very real sense I am the Dommett Family Archivist!

On my Mum's side it is a different story. She was born in South Wales, but her people, the Carlsons, came from Sweden. Her mother, Eva, was the fifth child (born in 1894) of Carl Johan Adolph Carlson and Laura Amelia Gould. I have two photos of Eva, taken at my Mum and Dad's wedding in 1946. It was just two years before she died. I was born in 1952, so I never knew her. Which means, of course, that I have never known what it is to have a grandmother.

Carl (born 1857) and Laura (born 1860) were married in 1879, when he was 22 and she only 19. They had six children altogether, the first being born in 1880. This was my Auntie Lizzie, who I still remember fairly well. She died in 1971. One of her sons was my Uncle Laurie, whose funeral I attended in 2010 - my first funeral as Lucy. He had three daughters, all of them very clever and active people. The eldest, M---, has made herself the Carlson Family Archivist, and, my goodness, has she done it thoroughly! She has made many trips to Sweden to inspect old records, even learning Old Swedish to help her read the records in the original, and she has been assiduous in hunting down all kinds of other material, including portraits.

The other day, I was able to take copies of two prints that M--- had unearthed. Here they are. They are of that very Carl Carlson and Laura Gould, Eva's parents, and therefore my great grandparents:

I think these are hand-coloured photographs, taken after they were married in 1879 (because she has wedding and engagement rings on her finger), and her gathered sleeves suggest some date in the early 1880s. If 1884, she would already have given birth to my Auntie Lizzie (in 1880) and my Auntie Ada (in 1883), and yet somehow recovered her figure. Perhaps a corset helped. (Or is this unkind? She'd still be only 24 in 1884)

Carl was born at Arnäs, a smallish place in northern Sweden, not far from the coastal town of Örnsköldvik. Naturally, he went to sea, and it is surely not remarkable that he met Laura in Liverpool, then a most important English port. They both died in Newport, in South Wales, itself an important port in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I have to say that Carl looks quite a man of substance in his jacket, waistcoat and trousers, with the gold watch on a chain. And Laura has poise, presence, good looks and an eye for style. No wonder she caught Carl's attention. But the photos can't tell me whether they were madly in love, and devoted to each other. I hope they were. Carl died in 1932, Laura in 1946, so they had 53 years together.

I am delighted to have these two pictures. Now I can put faces to two of the people in my Carlson family tree. If only I could do the same for the Dommetts! 

I must have a look at present-day Arnäs on Google Street View, and if I ever take Fiona to Sweden, make a point of visiting the place.

1 comment:

  1. Even in our childhood a photograph was an event, remember how people would start a roll of 12 on holiday one year and perhaps finish it the next...

    It ha been calculated that 10% of all photographs made were made last year! What were we doing for 180 years?

    My mother promised on entering a nursing home to finally write names on the back of all the images in her box of photographs. She was only in there a week when she had a stroke and left a box of mostly unknown faces!

    Thankfully I have little interest in family history and I made sure that I was not responsible for any continuation of the line and name through me. had nature been less cruel I sometimes wonder if I might have thought differently...


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