Deciphering An Archival Mystery

A photograph of the Swezey family reunion in 1905, along with the large ledger book in which the minutes of the many family reunions are recorded.

In the collection of the Fenton History Center is a photograph labeled “34th Swezey Reunion 1905” and added in pencil is “Skinner’s Grove.” There are 54 people in the photograph ranging in age from approximately two years to their 70s. The grouping has the ones who seem to be older in the middle, including two women seated in a horse drawn vehicle. Like many of our photographs, we wish their names were included on the back!

Looking in the local newspaper for 1905, there are notices that the Swezey reunion would be held, but only a couple of names are mentioned. These notices were in the columns for news from Sherman or Waits Corners. One notice mentions Skinner’s Grove near Sherman and the other says the grove of Frank Thomas, also near Sherman. The event itself was held on Aug. 23. We would love to have someone do the genealogy of the family — they may be able to come up with a list of possible family members who could have been at the reunion in 1905. With such a list, and based on estimates of the ages of the people in the photograph, it might be possible to identify a few of them, or at least make an educated guess.

Anyone researching this photo at the Fenton’s Research Center will have a head start — there is a family file on the Swezey family with genealogical information. There is also a large ledger book with some records of the family reunions. From the handwriting, it appears that many of the beginning pages have been copied into the book from another source, along with newspaper clippings. The first reunion was held in 1872. There are lists of the people who attended and their addresses for a number of the early reunions. Histories of the families are included for some years giving who died, who was married, and any births since the last reunion. By 1900, it seems to have only the minutes of the reunions, with no lists of attendees or of life events in the families. Depending on the year being looked at, the information changes, and fortunately some later years again include lists of attendees. Any one doing research on this family would be happy to find this much information despite the fact that not every year was reported in the same way. The last reunion recorded is 1977.

There was no list for the 1905 reunion, so it would probably take a family historian many hours to guess who may have been in the photograph. If a researcher is fortunate, there may be other copies of this photograph, in the hands of other descendants, which have at least some people identified. That is one reason for family historians to reach out to cousins who may have additional information on the family.

Beyond family information, the photograph also tells us a bit about the fashion of the day. The older women are dressed in black or dark dresses, while most of the younger women are wearing white or light colored dresses or skirts and white or light colored blouses. All the men and young boys are dressed in suits and ties, mostly in black or dark colors.

As we get together with family and friends during this holiday season, there will be many photographs taken. Be sure to identify who is who in these photographs. A good idea is to print a few of them and give copies to others with the names and other information, such as place taken and the date. This way the paper copy may survive longer than the digital ones as computers crash, software changes, and we forget names and other facts about pictures from a number of years ago!