Here is an amazing photograph. There are almost certainly four generations of my mother’s family represented here. The darn thing is, I can name with confidence everyone in it except the figure in the center around whom the entire group is gathered. My mother, who is and was the child standing middle right, is certain the woman is one of her great grandmothers, and she is fairly certain which one. But there is the smallest doubt.
My mother’s mother, Wilma Caroline (Rohde) Dowell, is at the back on the left. Wilma’s sister Betty (Rohde) Wheeler is at the back on the right. Between them stands their mother, Edna May (Wells) Rohde — that’s my mother’s grandmother. My mother, as I said, is in the middle row on the right, standing in front of her aunt Betty. The boy opposite her is Bobby Wheeler, Betty’s son, standing in front of his Aunt Wilma. My mother’s baby brother Jack is on the ground, as is Bobby’s little sister Joyce (Clara Joyce, to be exact). In the center of all of them is a matriarch, whom we believe to be Edna May’s mother, Laura Phoebe (Gridley) Wells. It could also be Edna May’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Ann Weike, but Mom remembers her as being a very short, petite woman. So we think this is my great great grandmother Laura Wells.
A good companion to that photo is the one below, taken (by me, I think) in 1984 in front of the house where I and my siblings grew up. Here again are four generations of our family’s womenfolk, and there is overlap with the image taken more than forty years earlier, for two of the faces in the above photo are also in this one: Wilma Caroline (Rohde) Dowell, this time on the right, and Barbara Lee (Dowell) Fleagle, my mother, center. My sister Jenifer Carole (Fleagle) Merilatt is at left, holding her first child, my mother’s first grandchild, my grandmother’s first great grandchild: Joelle Merilatt.
Wilma, whom my siblings and I called Grandma but who became Nana as Jeni’s children grew, passed away in March of 2009, and my sister died in April of 2013. Barbara, my mother, is at this write strong and vital, and the baby in this photo, Joelle, is grown now and has a baby of her own.
My sister’s death at such a young age was a grief on many levels, but one of the lesser hardships visited upon us by her death is that we won’t have more four-generation photos like these for a good while. Maybe never again; they require short generational intervals, and women tend to start families later in life these days. Jeni continued the older tradition and had her first child at age 24. Barbara had also had Jeni at age 24. And Wilma had had Barbara at age 22.
What I love to contemplate is that Joelle’s child, who just entered the world last Fall, can look at these two photographs together and visually trace her family back through her infant mother, her grandmother, her great grandmother, her great great grandmother, her great great great grandmother, and her great great great great grandmother. The equivalent for me, in terms of the male lineage, would be seeing photographs of my fathers’ fathers back to the son of the first Fleagle immigrant to America. But I was born long enough ago — and to a family of males who traditionally sired much later in life — that for me an ancestor of even three greats, to say nothing of four, would have been of an era when men were not pausing to stand for photographs like these. – mdf
Image archive ID
About the physical photograph:
Written on back:
Mom supplied info, mdf wrote:
“Wilma C. (Rohde) Dowell, Edna May (Wells) Rohde, Betty (Rohde) Wheeler,
Bob Wheeler, ?
Barbara Lee Dowell, Clara Joyce Wheeler, John Lewis Dowell II (Jack)”