Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sepia Saturday: Reunions in Sepia

There is nothing remarkable about the above image of my paternal grandparents, Acy and Cassie Biggs, on the left and right, and an unknown women in the middle taken in 1924. However, how it came to me is one of those things that makes me think the internet is not as evil and useless as I sometimes think.

My grandfather, born in 1885, was a child of the Oklahoma Territory land run of 1889, and my grandmother was born the following year. After marrying in 1910, they had a first daughter, Ruby Lucile, who died suddenly in a household accident that haunted them for the rest of their lives. Part of their recovery was having three sons, my father being the youngest, born in 1922. By then my grandfather, whose parents were something of drifters and always lived on the edge of poverty, was one of the most successful farmers in the county with over $50,000 in savings, a remarkable sum in that era.

One morning in 1925, he was on his way from the farm to the bank in town with blue prints of the family dream house he planned to build complete with three fireplaces, an enormous wrap-around porch, a smokehouse and turrets and dormer windows. Just as he pulled his horse drawn wagon out onto the road, the wagon tipped and trapped him under one of the wheels where he was not discovered for more than two hours.

The next five years were spent on futile trips to Mayo Clinic, an odd form of electroshock therapy intended to restore use of his legs, and countless specialists who all confirmed that he would never walk again. They were correct, but the family savings were depleted by the time the 1929 stock crash hit and teh Oklahoma dust bowl followed.

That era was difficult for an able bodied man to survive in Oklahoma, and most of his siblings were part of the mass migration to California. Several stayed in touch, but the separation was difficult as was their feeling that his physical challenges made it impossible to make the journey with them. My grandmother, my dad and his brothers managed to run the family farm through that horrific period and slowly inched their way out of poverty. My grandfather died in 1952.

When my mother died in 2004, I got a mysterious email from a man with my last name in Riverside, California, who said he was a second cousin who was intent on documenting the extended family, especially those who it seemed were "lost" seven decades after the mass migration West. He had made a habit of searching any obituary with the Biggs last name, and immediately connected the dots back to his grandfather and mine. We met a few months later for the first time, and over the course of the past six years, more of the family members separated by time and thousands of miles have also met and exchanged many photos and stories.

A couple of years he sent me the above photo saying that he knew I probably had several copies of it but that I might enjoy having an electronic copy. I let out a small gasp when I opened the file. Before my father died in 2006, as his confusion grew greater through Alzheimer's, he repeated that it was becoming harder for him to remember his father standing or walking since the accident happened when he was only three years old. And while we had many pictures of him after his accident, we had only a few of him before. All of them are either portraits or shots of him seated. While father and I both stood over six feet, we knew that his father and grandfather both stood at just over and just under five feet respectively. There were stories of them both being called "little Mr. Biggs", a name neither took to very kindly.

So finally seeing a shot of my grandfather standing was bittersweet since it came a year or so after my father died. There was some solace in finally seeing what I had never seen and what my father feared he might forget

UPDATE: And here is a video I did about much of this same story. I appear towards the end -- the little kid in glasses and the sock cap with my sister and cousin Glen.

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21 Comments:

At 2:14 AM, Blogger Alan Burnett said...

Wonderful post and a wonderful story of how the photo came to light. I disagree with your first sentence - there is something remarkable about the image as it gave birth to such an interesting post.

 
At 2:37 AM, Blogger Martin H. said...

I was gripped by this story. The fluctuating fortunes, the tragedy and the fact that your dad and his brothers managed to keep the farm going through the worst of times. For you, and for us, your story has been unlocked with the help of a photograph. Priceless.

 
At 4:56 AM, Blogger subby said...

You did well in your research here; a matter I've not yet started to grasp in my own ancestry( but trying )...wonderful story all round :)

 
At 5:47 AM, Blogger tony said...

Its like a big jigsaw & we all hold different peices.I agree with Alan, this is a remarkable Photo & Post.

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger Barry said...

What a fascinating story. And the remarkable background makes the photo fascinating as well.

 
At 7:09 AM, Blogger Poetikat said...

I read this with increasing interest, awe and amazement, Junk Thief.
What tragedy and hardship to overcome! So awful to have an accident strip your grandfather of his dreams and so sad that your father never got to see the photo.
Still, it is wonderful that you have reunited with long-lost family and regained a wealth of tangible memories.

Kat

 
At 7:51 AM, Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

ditto to all the comments that came before...wonderful story

au contraire there are soooo many things that make that photo so remarkable! i got caught up in all the details of the photo - so many stories there - the stroller or wheel-chair by your grandmother, the architecture of the house, the landscape, clothes - etc. etc.

are going to write a biggs family history one day? i have long been impressed with how much you know of your family!

 
At 8:07 AM, Blogger willow said...

What a wonderful online family reunion. Fascinating story!

I met a distant cousin online several years ago through my genealogical research. It was thrilling to connect with this branch of the famiy I knew nothing about, and as a bonus a treasure trove of old photos, as well.

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger Betsy said...

Oh, I think it's a great photo...and what a fascinating story that came from it! Welcome to SS! :)

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Leah said...

What a remarkable and dramatic post for Sepia Saturday! I enjoyed every poignant word.

And like others who commented, I think the photo, even out of context, is quite lovely.

 
At 12:05 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Everyone - Wow, who knew this post would generate so much interest. Thanks for all the great comments, and I look forward to checking out all the other sepia posts.

 
At 12:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Junk Thief - Check out Meri's post of Meri's Musings blog; she's referring to her family as "Biggs" as well!

Poetikat

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Bachelor said...

Ladron,
Great story here concerning your family history. My niece, Willow, is the ancestrial dynomite of my family. She has discovered wonderful stories along with pictures to match. I'm so thankful for her many hours of compling data. Nice to meet you Junk Thief!
Have a great Vatentine's Day! :)
The Bach

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger John Hayes said...

What a story! The dust bowl stories are of such great interest--& the slide show (as well as the photo itself) is great. Hey--I lived in San Francisco for about 10 years & spent a good deal of time in the Mission District!

 
At 6:04 PM, Blogger Poetikat said...

Really enjoyed the slideshow Ladron!

 
At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Pat said...

The dates in particular struck me. My mother died in 2004 and clearing her home I discovered lots of things about my father who was MIA in WWII 5 months before I enterd the planet. I am new to Seia Sat's and enjoyed your post

 
At 8:11 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Poetikat - Thanks. I have a video for next week too!

Pat - Thanks for dropping by. Part of the healing after losing my parents was going through the many amazing photos and items that held so much meaning.

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Fascinating story!

 
At 12:04 PM, Blogger Erin Wallace said...

What a fascinating story. I love to hear the stories of people's ancestry, to see and know the stories behind old family photos. I look forward to your Sepia Saturday posts.

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger L. D. Burgus said...

I really appreciate your reconnection with family. We have a family that split and never reunited. We know they are in Illinois and they have flourished. Their off spring are all over the internet but the uniting of the two histories has not been done. Ironically some one named a man the exact same name as me and he lives in Chicago. I am glad that you have the standing picture and it is so bittersweet. Great blog.

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

There are so many wonderful stories like this of people finding themselves through the internet and images play a part in many of these stories.
My husband found his biological father several years ago after seeing some of his artwork online. This led to him contacting several half-sisters. After his father<s death it also allowed others who knew him to pass on anecdotes about him and now our children have a better picture of the Italian nonno.
Evelyn in Montreal

 

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