|Tintype photo of Jane Johnson
|Unidentified tintype photo, possibly
Laura Georgina Johnson
We pulled out the box (and a similar one that I inherited from my husband’s family). She was interested and even excited as we pored over each one. I saw some new clues to identify a couple of them. Looking more closely, we spotted some dark writing on a dark background on one picture. Another photo was one I had seen another copy of and I knew it was of my great-grandmother when she was younger. Then I found the one of the little boy labeled “Aunt Olive’s baby,” again very hard to read on a dark background. “Frank” was written on the front. “I wonder,” I said to my daughter, “if this is the little boy who was burned with hot coal oil? He and his mother were coming home just as his father threw some burning oil out the front door of their small Idaho home. Both Aunt Olive and the little boy died and Uncle Joe was devastated for years afterwards. “ We both paused a moment to consider this tragedy of long-ago.
Then we examined the prize pieces of my little collection. I had two small tintypes. “These are beautiful,” my daughter said. I thought so too. I had wished ever since I got them that I knew who they were. In fact, it was these two photos that prompted me to bring out the boxful to show her. I knew she would like them.
“I guess you could keep them to show students in a photography class,” I said. “They are good samples of a tintype, even though we can’t identify them.” I paused, thinking. “The only other family tintype I’ve seen is one that my mother’s cousin has of my great-great grandparents, Jens and Marie Jorgensen (James and Mary Johnson). They are the parents of James and Joseph Johnson, you know.” I was beginning another story, this one familiar. “Remember when they came across the plains in their handcart; Jens was lame, and the buffalo . . . Wait a minute.”
|Jens and Marie Jorgensen
(James and Mary Johnson)
The next morning I popped into my daughter’s room to wake her with the exciting news. I had received an email answer from the cousin with the website. Yes, she had seen the photo of that little girl before and did I notice the bead necklace that the Indians had given her? She was grateful to know who had the original of this valuable photograph. It was indeed her great-grandmother, Jane Johnson. My daughter’s pleasure and patience in looking at the photos and listening to my stories had yielded an astonishing serendipity. We had discovered the identity of an important piece of history.
PS A slide-show tribute to my grandmother Hazel Johnson Christensen is found here.