Saturday, June 7, 2014

Photographs of the Unknowns





Sometimes you never know where something as simple as a photograph will lead you. Among old photographs given to me by my father is the one pictured above. There are no markings on the back, which is solidly tannish-brown in color. The photo itself is actually a thin piece of paper adhered to a thick sturdy gray frame. I have no idea who these people are; there is no one still living in my family who knows who they are. The only clue may lie in the provenance of the photos. They belonged to my father's only sister, his half-sister, who was twenty-two years older than he was.

During birthdays and holidays, my aunts and uncles and cousins would often gather together to celebrate. These celebrations would often wind down with a slide presentation of family photos and even some of the old photographs would make a showing. I suspect the photographs of the unkowns may have been from Aunt Edna's family because everytime I asked about who they were, she would quickly respond that they were "old family friends" and change the subject.  For some reason, no one in our family was supposed to know that my Aunt Edna was only our half-aunt; it was very hush-hush. Even later when I learned my grandmother had been a young widow and was remarried to my grandfather, it didn't make sense why it was never talked about. Even my father learned that his sister was his half-sister accidentally. He was about 8 years old and snooping through his parents' things looking for something when he found his sister's birth certificate hidden away. He had noticed there was a different last name—Outhouse, not Pastoor— but he didn't think much about it, and it was never discussed. It wasn't until I was about twelve or thirteen and became interested in learning about family history that the family "secret" was revealed, but only to me. I don't recall thinking it was much of a bombshell. Aunt Edna was my favorite relative and learning she was only "half" related didn't change anything.

Well, I guess almost anything. That revelation opened up a door to learning about her family history. I learned that there had been extensive research done on the Outhouse family, and that her family—and mine, since we shared a relative on her mother's side—could be traced back to The Netherlands, into the 1600s. But the real bombshell was learning that my grandmother, Edna (Baisley) Pastoor,  was not only my Aunt Edna's mother, but that they were also third cousins! Aunt Edna's 2nd great-grandparents were James Outhouse and Esther "Hetty" Tompins through her father, Lester Outhouse. But Aunt Edna was also related to them through her mother whose 2nd great-grandparents were also James Outhouse and Hetty Tompkins.

Learning this, it doesn't take much imagining to think that these old photographs may have something to do with the Outhouse family and were probably taken around Peekskill, Westchester county, New York. So I'm posting them here just in case some long-lost cousins recognize them. Please, if you know any of these people, contact me or post a comment below! I'd love to finally put a name to the faces and learn more about their lives. If nothing else, these photos have taught me the importance of sharing our photos and passing along our family stories to the next generation. Otherwise, how long before our faces become the faces of the unknown?

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