Old family photos are the best — if you're looking at photos of your family. Someone else's kin? That can be another matter, like looking through a yearbook from Name Your High School High. When you don't know the folks involved, all the photos look unremarkably similar.
So I'm putting myself to the test, picking through pictures I've corralled through my genealogy research to find the shots that I think have wide appeal. I did not know or barely met most of the nearly 2,000 people in my database, so I figure that must make me something of an unbiased arbiter.
Here are this week's photos:
5. Backstage with no pants on
OK, actually, I know this fella pretty well. That's me in the early 1970s, standing in the living room of my family's home in Springfield, Ohio. I like beer and women (only one woman these days, of course), and never could play that guitar strapped around my neck — all of which made me a great candidate to be a punk-rock pioneer. Alas, I was born a bit too late and never caught up.
I don't know what ever happened to that guitar. Or that stylish couch in the background, either.
4. Brothers of the Brush
This is not what my Uncle Whitey usually looked like. (Actually, Raymond "Whitey" Jennings was a cousin, but I always thought of him as an uncle.) This photo was taken in 1956, as Rowan County celebrated its centennial. Whitey, clean-shaven in my memories and in every other photo I've ever seen of him, was participating in the Brothers of the Brush.
The organization was formed six weeks before the May 20-26 centennial celebration to promote the occasion. Any man caught clean-shaven was subject to the stockade in front of the county courthouse (in jest, I think), unless they had the proper credentials — a certificate of excuse, plus a button that "pointed out they were chicken," according to the centennial edition of the Rowan County News.
After the announcement, beards began springing from the chins of men young and old. "There are now more than 800 bearded men in the county, and Centennial visitors will see them all," the newspaper reported.
The brothers made visits all over Kentucky and other states to promote the centennial. A kangaroo court rounded up violators and put them in a stockade. The Sisters of Swish were started as a companion organization. Only women who belonged to the organization were allowed to wear make-up in public. Offenders were arrested by Ye Female Keystone Kops.
3. Grandma, shining as she rises
This is my maternal grandmother, Leona Williams Wilson, in one of the most striking photos I've ever seen of her. Taken outside her childhood home on Williams Branch, near Elliottville, Ky., the photo is hand-tinted and shows great detail of the quilting on her robe. (Women, correct me if there's another term for wht she's wearing.) I wish I knew more about the circumstances in which the photo was taken and who did the tinting work. I happened upon the photo a few years ago while rummaging a box of old pictures at my aunt's house.
2. Doesn't he just look like he's about to be up to something?
This is perhaps my all-time favorite photos, of anyone or anything. It's my Uncle Kenny Wilson, now in his 60s, as a little boy. He's one of the biggest characters I know, a great storyteller and one of the reasons I got so interested in family history. He's standing here in front of the farmhouse where he, my mother and three other siblings spent all or part of their childhoods — one of my favorite places in the world, by the way. If you look in the background, walking toward the porch is my Aunt Vada, who I think was displeased that she wouldn't be posing with her older brother.
1. The butt or the teller of a joke?
I'm not sure what is going on this photo, but it looks like a lot of fun. Is William Washington Williams — one of my maternal great-great-grandfathers — about to fall over backwards in his rocker? Did someone startle him from a nap? Or is he slapping his knee after telling a big whopper? I don't know, but I love this old photo.
Click here to see earlier posts about awesome photos from my family tree.