Documenting my family's past for future generations. My family tree includes the Smith/Mansell families of Alabama and Oklahoma, the Castle/Day families of Kentucky and Oklahoma, the Wheat/Ming families of Texas and Oklahoma, and the Bell/Roberts families of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


If you had time to save something from your house in a disaster, what would it be? A lot of people would answer, "Photographs." Judging from the news coverage of several recent disasters in Oklahoma, photographs are the first possessions that people search for in the wreckage of their homes. I know they are the first things that I would grab if I had a chance. It is a little reassuring to me to know that I have saved a lot of them on various computers, flash drives, and on this blog. If, heaven forbid, I should ever lose the originals in a disaster, I still have access to the most precious of them.

Why are our photographs so precious to us? There are lots of reasons. They connect us to our past. They help us remember those we loved who are now gone, and good times that we shared together. In the case of our own children, we can see their progress from gap-toothed first grader to high school graduate to happy groom or bride. Maybe we can even see ourselves in old photographs of our grands and greats. I remember the first time I ever saw early photos of my maternal grandmother, Cora Bell, and realized how much I resembled her. In some cases, if we are lucky enough, we can even meet an ancestor through a photograph.

That's why I was thrilled this spring to receive a letter from my "new" cousin, Paul Ming, that included some photographs. One was a picture of our common ancestor, William Frederick Ming.

William Frederick Ming 1824-1911

The other came with this explanation: "I have enclosed a picture post-card. My aunt Josephine Ming Waterfield gave it to me not long before she died. It was sent to her when she was young obviously by an older person. My aunt was in her 80's when she gave it to me and didn't remember who it was from. She wrote 'John William Wheat, year 1908' on the card but didn't remember who his parents were. Do you know who he is?"

John William Wheat (2nd from left), photo taken 1908

Oh, boy, did I! He was my grandfather, John William Wheat, and this is the only picture I have of him in which he is identified. Among this group of dapper young men, he is the second from the left, pointed out by a big arrow drawn on the photo. What a priceless thing to know what my grandfather looked like! The only other picture of him that I have ever had was of a large group of oil field workers in Seminole OK, posed on and in front of a big flat-bed truck. My aunt Marie thought he was one of the men standing in front of the truck, but she wasn't sure herself which one he was. 

Oil field workers, Seminole OK, about 1927

Another gift from my cousin Paul came in the mail after we finally met in person this March. This one is even more precious because I didn't expect there to even be a picture of my great-grandmother, Cynthia Francis Ming Wheat Rhodes, mother of John William Wheat. In this photo, taken around 1900, she poses with her second husband, Tom Rhodes, who was 30 years older than she was. I don't know why I couldn't have inherited her tiny little figure!

Cynthia Francis Ming Wheat Rhodes
and second husband, Tom Rhodes

Just last week I was the recipient of more photos--this time from my Castle cousin, Linda. I have a lot of Castle and Day family photos, since I inherited both my grandmother's and my great-grandmother's, but I had never seen these. Linda has been going through her parents' photo albums and brought along several when we met for dinner. She was nice enough to scan these photos of Grandpa and Grandma Day; one of the Castle boys with my grandfather, Weaver Smith; and a group shot of the Castle family, including my grandfather and grandmother, in front of Big Mom's house. Talking about inheriting physical features, it's easy to see that the Smith boys--my dad and my brother--inherited their beautiful hair from my grandfather. I can sure see what my grandmother saw in him!

Grandpa and Grandma Day with great-granddaughter Marilou
(L to R) My grandfather Weaver Smith,
Goldman, Warner, and Forrest Castle

Castle family in front of Big Mom's house
My grandparents are in the back row, framed between the two pillars

Want a project to work on that will really make a difference to you and your descendants? 

  • If your family photos are in one of those old magnetic or adhesive photo albums, take them out now! Put them in archival albums or boxes.
  • Being careful not to damage photos, list the people depicted on the back. Someday you will be gone, and nobody will know who these people were.
  • Scan your most precious photos and save them somewhere that will be safe in a disaster. In these days of ever-changing technology, it's hard to know what that is. Computer hard drive, flash drive, the cloud? Use your best judgment.
  • Check out an online photo archive like Look for photos of your family, or better yet, post some of your photos there.
  • If you are a subscriber to, post photos there and make them accessible to the Ancestry community.
  • Print those vacation photos that are still on a photo disk and put them in an album.
  • It's great to have a photo album in your purse or pocket, i.e. your cell phone, but what happens when something happens to your phone? Find a permanent way to save those priceless photos!

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