Category: <span>Genealogy</span>

Great Grandma’s Photo Album

This was another find from grandpa’s house, and times like these are when  I’m SO SO SO glad he kept everything.  This is the photo album of Olga (Powis) Kitko (b. 27 Aug 1900, d. 29 July 1987) who lived in Clearfield County, PA.  She’s my great grandmother, and I know I’ve blogged about her before on here, but just in case you’re new, that’s her.  My grandpa was her son, born to Olga and Joseph Kitko (b. 9 Dec 1905 in Madera, PA and d. 11 Oct 1978 in Xenia Ohio)  in 1933.  Joseph skipped town shortly after and went to Ohio, leaving my great grandma with a young child and a lot of anger.  I’m not here to get into the drama and personal background, but it helps to support the rest of the story.  As a genealogist, my main focus is on the facts, trying to stay as far away from the personal drama that surrounds them – what happened, happened, and I can’t change it now, so getting upset and dwelling on it does no one any good.  The facts are that Joseph left, moved to Ohio, remarried twice.  My great grandma was reportedly very angry, and I’m told she tore up every photo of him that she ever had (there are a few spots in the album were photos were obviously torn from the pages).  I think I *may* have a few existing photos of him in this album, but no way to confirm that since none of the photos are labelled.  The album itself has a paperboard cover and is tied together with a string.  The pages feel basically like black, heavyish construction paper, and the photos are all glued to the pages, 33 sides filled with a bunch of blanks at the back.  This drives me absolutely crazy and brings me to a conundrum.  Salvage the pictures from the album or leave the album intact as a unit?  Which is best for preservation of this neat little album?  Thoughts?  Anyway, on to the photos! albumcover page1 On this page, top left, looks to be a photo of the Creber family, perhaps on a visit to their home.  Olga’s aunt Mary Jane Battin married John Samuel Creber and moved from England to Canada.  Top right is what looks to be Olga’s Aunt Kate Battin and George Thomas Rowe who stayed in England.  Bottom right is Olga Powis.  Bottom Left is a really neat photo since it lifted out of the album fairly easily and had something written on the back.  Written on the back is, “Left to right, Anna Shranko, Goldie Powis, Helen Somerville, Kathleen Troland, and Mary Shranko. The Shranko sisters are from Osceola Mills, PA. Four Budds and one bloom from Williamsport, PA. Taken May 15, 1932”  Goldie (Patchin) Powis was Olga’s oldest brother’s wife.  Alfred Herbert Powis died relatively young, allegedly of an illness he brought back with him from WWI.  They had one child together who died in infancy.  After “Herb” died, Goldie never remarried, but apparently remained close friends with Olga and the family.  Three of the ladies, Mary, Helen, and Kathleen, show up on the 1930 census living in Williamsport, PA together with Bertha Johnson.  All the ladies were  employed in various jobs from Machine Operator at a Rubber Factory to Sales Lady at a Five & Ten, and Stenographer, and in their early twenties.  Pretty neat to see industrious gals striking out on their own! page2 Yet another page – I picked out two of my favorites just to show you what kind of stuff is in here.  Top L to R: Olga Powis on the left and a friend, Olga Powis on the left and a friend, unknown woman in a car, Olga Powis on the right and a man who I believe to be Joseph Kitko.  That same car appears in other photos that are labelled as, “Me and Joe’s Car,” so I have to believe that at some point, “Me and Joe,” were standing in front of that car, the me here being Olga.  On the bottom row L to R, unknown woman and Olga (in front of Joe’s car, this photo is duplicated and appears in the collection of loose photos as well), unknown woman in front of a car, and a photo that I believe is of Joseph Kitko and his son Leon (my grandpa).  This is the same man as the above far right photo, but there’s no label to prove my hunch.


Finally, we have just this single photo which was the only one on its page, and the glue had pretty well loosened so that it was falling out of the album.  In the back standing up is Olga Powis who was a teacher briefly at a local school in Rosebud, PA.  The date on the chalkboard up front is 1919 which means she would’ve been 19 when this was taken.  Check out the boy in the front right with the hole in his stockings!  I really REALLY love these old school photos and need to put together a separate post on them some day.

The lesson I’m taking away from all this work with old photos?  LABEL YOUR PHOTOS.  Label them, all of them, use acid-free/lignin-free storage methods and use a pencil to label.  You just never know who might be looking at them 100 years later wondering who’s in that photo.

Italian Letter 16 Feb 1947

So, it might seem a little odd that I’m posting these letters to the public.  Two of the people referenced in the letter (Angelina’s daughters) may still be alive and what a thrill it would be to have the internet somehow connect us.  You hear that Thia Guerrini, Rina Guerrini?  If you’re reading this, I would absolutely love to hear from you.  We’re related by marriage, and my cousins would get a real kick out of hearing from long-lost cousins in Italy.  If they were alive, they’d be in their 80s this year (2014).  It’s a long shot, but hey, you never know.

Moving on!  The letters are also interesting for their historical information.  Nellie Gasparri, (my first cousin, once removed) apparently sent a package along with her letter to her aunt Angelina.  The reply letter from Angelina is what I’ve got posted here – she enclosed a separate, smaller piece of paper thanking Nellie very specifically for the coffee since, she explains, it was something they hadn’t seen in Italy for many years since the war.  She also mentions that they’re missing many things, and that her daughters appreciated the clothes Nellie sent.  Basic living supplies seem to have been pretty scarce in San Valentino (Sorano).  There’s also mention of Nellie’s Aunt who I can assume is her mother’s sister, my grandmother, Norma Innocenti.  Just like the last letter, the same grammatical/spelling errors persist (penziero instead of pensiero, “ai” and “o” instead of hai and ho for the verb avere, and a couple various misspellings).  It’s slowly making these easier to read since the handwriting is becoming more familiar.  At the end, Angelina writes a little blurb to also thank the friend (of Nellie’s I assume?) who wrote the letter, Gina Canali.  In my translation, I added some punctuation to help with flow and took a few liberties with some of the not-easily-translated Italian phrases.  I love perfectly literal translations, but it never flows well.  Without further babble, here’s the translation, and images of the letter.  Click any image to enlarge.

February 16, 1947.
Dearest Niece,
Days ago I received your letter and even the package that you sent. I just received it and it was delivered in good condition. I can only thank you for the thought that you had for us. Your cousins Thia and Rina thank you for the clothes that we really needed because in Italy we are lacking clothes and many other things after the war. Your cousins are ages Thia 18 and Rina 17.
Dear Niece, if it’s easier for you to write American, write that way since there is someone who reads to me. As for the letter that I wrote to your aunt, I hope that she has received it and my greetings and if she writes to me again it would make me happy. I’m glad that you are in good health. As for us, my daughters and my husband are well, but for a while I haven’t felt well but don’t worry that it’s serious.
Dear Nellie I would like to know so much about you all. Make your brothers write to me too and tell me how you’re doing now that you’re left without your father. I have so much sorrow for you all. We are far away and I cannot give you any comfort. I would like to have a memory of my brother if it’s possible (a photograph of yours); it would be much appreciated. For this time, I can only greet you and kiss you, united to my family. I tell you that your aunt thinks of you always,
Angelina Guerrini.

Don’t ever forget that my address is only this:
S. Valentino di Sorano
Pro di Grosseto
Only So
Do you understand?
Greetings again to your friend that wrote the letter,
Gina Canali

(enclosure, on green paper)
Dear Niece,
I thank you so much for the coffee, here it’s been many years and you don’t see it any more and I tell you again there are many things we’re lacking here in Italy. Nellie in as much as I remember your address it’s not as it was before. Did you move? It’s been a while since your aunti wrote to me the other time where she is. I want to tell you many other things and ask you many things but I’m afraid I’ll bore you. Write to me at length and tell me many things. Again, many kisses, your aunt,
Angelina Guerrini

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Memories Matter

Leon and Romayne, 1963

Earlier this year, my grandma Romayne passed away.  Step-grandmother if we’re getting technical, but she had been my grandfather’s second wife since well before I was born.  Her husband Leon, my grandfather, passed on about a year and a half before, and while I’m sure it was difficult, Romayne carried on, and kept herself busy working around the house, cleaning up, sorting through box after box of who-knows-what that Leon left behind, all while going through treatment for cancer (Multiple Myeloma).  Grandma started to share things she’d found that none of us, including my father, had ever seen.  The first find, that Red Velvet Victorian Photo Album  I’d blogged about before, sparked a new interest in genealogy and family history which launched a bigger and ever ongoing family tree project.  Grandma was willing to share stories and would answer any questions we had about family history, and we were finally starting to ask.

No one had done this before.

It was understood that you didn’t ask questions about family history because they wouldn’t be answered.  There were some touchy subjects involved, and it was generally considered a good idea to keep your questions to yourself.  The amount of data that I now realize I’ve missed out on, the stories that won’t ever be told… it’s really hard to fathom.  I don’t think I’ll ever understand the reasons behind not wanting to talk about the past, but I bet the truth isn’t nearly as salacious as the fog and mystery.  On top of that I really didn’t have the desire to even bother digging until that photo album came out of hiding.

DSC_4487sAfter grandma passed away, the family was left with a house full of treasures.  Every box we opened yielded another find – a drawing she’d saved 30 years ago from an 8 year old nephew, a letter from a niece, box after box of photos from grandpa, stacks of polaroids, negatives from film she’d shot as a girl, and the list goes on and on.  One trunk yielded 17 reels of super 8 film.  All those home movies and no projector!  The photos and negatives I could scan at home, no problem, but film movies?!  No one had any idea what was on the reels, only a few had labels, so I was chomping at the bit to see what was on them.  I started by checking ebay for a projector, thinking I could play the movies on a white sheet and then record the projected image with a camera I already have.  The cost of a projector and shipping was going to be upwards of $100, plus the time I’d be spending at the computer transferring and editing, and it was all stacking up to not be worth the bother.

My husband then found Southtree.  I checked out their site and found that not only did they seem to have an abundance of technical knowledge and all sorts of awesome equipment to do the conversion from film to digital, but they really cared.  They tweet with the tag, “#memoriesmatter” which I absolutely love.  I placed my order, packed up a box, and shipped the reels out.  Over the following weeks, Southtree emailed me to let me  know where my order was in their process and what they were doing in that step.

DSC_4484sWhat returned weeks later is.. I don’t even know what to call it.  SEVENTEEN reels of film, seventeen snippets of their life in movement instead of still images, seventeen memories of people who are now gone, seventeen incredible surprises converted into digital format on one DVD.  All the reels were returned to me along with a box that contained two DVDs – one for the movie, the other with the data file in mp4 format.  Given that these had probably been in a box in the attic for at least 20 years, I was shocked to see that the folks at Southtree managed to churn out something that was pretty well color correct, clear and sharp, and even looked good on our stupidly huge 65″ TV.  I shared the DVD with my parents and my grandmother’s niece who actually made an appearance in two clips.  There were some tears shed for the people who had passed, chortles for nostalgia, and some dust blown off memories long forgotten.  The real treat for me was seeing my great-grandmother on film – she passed away when I was 7, and while I have a random memory or two of her, it was really neat to see film of her when she was alive.  Then there was a film snippet of my mom and dad as teenagers.  They really were young once!

I’ve decided to post a clip here of grandma and grandpa at Christmas sometime in the 1970s.  They had no children together, but Christmas was grandma’s thing and she absolutely loved decorating and going all out for the holiday.  At one point, she opens a gift, a lighter, courtesy of grandpa’s prankster tendencies.  He apparently did this sort of thing every year – wrapped up some everyday sort of item as a gift to be silly.  There are a bunch of clips of various Christmases showing the two of them opening presents – it’s a really neat glimpse into their everyday life together.

Memories DO matter and I cannot thank Southtree enough for being around to carefully preserve and convert those memories.


We took a trip out to my grandparents’ place this weekend (Grandma passed away in January and Grandpa had passed away 1.5 years prior) and came home with yet another trunk full of photos.  My family was apparently a bunch of shutterbugs, and that love of cameras and photography was definitely passed down to me as well.  This batch is mostly from 1945 and upwards, taken mostly by grandpa.  I decided to scan all of them into the computer so that, should anyone want a photo, I can pull up the digital file (if the original was distributed to someone else) and forward that along.

Grandpa and (Step)Grandma never had children together, but they did have lots and lots of furbabies – cats and dogs.  I started the scanning effort with the huge batch of polaroid photographs (ranging from 1967 to 1996).  Most of these photos are of their cats and dogs, a few of eachother, two vacations, home improvement progress, and a couple of various family members.  There are some adorable consistencies – an annual photo of my grandfather with a cake grandma made for him on his birthday, the yearly Christmas tree, etc.  I sat here, scanning through the photos, thinking, “Well now, why did they take photos of this stuff?”  Then I realized what sort of photos are on my cell phone, and put that thought to rest.  Husband and I have no children (with no plans for any), so while we might have more vacation photos, the distribution beyond that is about the same.  Dog, dogs, new patio, dogs, dogs, painting the living room, dogs, dogs, flowers in the garden, and so on.

Something else to think about too, is that we have all these wonderful photos from my grandparents to look back on, and 50 years from now, what will we be looking at?  I can’t say I’ve actually printed a photo of mine (outside of photography jobs) in years.  Will the digital files survive like these polaroids have?  Will we be picking through SD cards and hard drives and flickr streams to see photos of family members or will they be lost to hard drive crashes?  It makes me wonder if I should be printing up more, assembling small printed albums of yearly highlights, or doing something creative like creating throw pillows from custom SpoonFlower fabric of our travels.  Lots of things to think about!  Here are a couple of my favorites from the batch of polaroids.

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