What Was In Her Mind?

Blogging is the best social environment available online. The positive give and take has been more than I could have ever dreamed.  The support I get for my writing from you has been like food that nourishes me. And the caring I’ve received about my father feels like sunlight streaming through the trees.

Sometimes blogging gives tangible information. I have received a surprising amount of information on my family history blog, The Family Kalamazoo. I don’t talk about it too much over here because I have a lot of other stuff to yap about, but that blog started as a way to share old photos, family stories, and genealogical research results with my family. I soon found a wonderful genealogy blogger community. Sometimes non-bloggers who have an interest in one of my tag words drop by and share knowledge that adds beautifully to my research. I mentioned before here about the antique scrapbook that fell into my lap this way.

Now something else happened that I think is so cool I want to share it with you. I haven’t been very active over there lately because, as you know, I’ve had a few other things on my plate lately (understatement!). So I’ve been posting antique photos from my family that are unidentified. Sometimes bloggers give me tips that help me narrow down to a time period or even a branch of the family.

Last Wednesday I posted this photo. It might be my favorite because of the unusual clothing of the woman that reminds me of Pilgrims or Puritans. And because of her sweet expression.


I didn’t have a time period or a family branch, other than that it had to be from my grandfather’s family. Notice that the photographer is based out of The Hague and Utrecht. My family didn’t live in those areas of the Netherlands, although one 2x great grandmother was born in an area south of Utrecht.

Imagine my surprise when I got this response from a new reader:

The photographer, Cornelis Johannes Lodewicus Vermeulen, was born in Utrecht 18.11.1861 and died in Hilversum 05.01.1936. Photographs from the period 1886-1915 can be found at https://rkd.nl/nl/explore/portraits#query=cjl+vermeulen&start=0&filters%5Bcollectienaam%5D%5B%5D=RKD%20%28Collectie%20Iconografisch%20Bureau%29

If you click on the link above and take a look at these cool old photos you will see that most of them are from a period later than my photograph–and the people look early 20th century. But there are a few that are 1890s and more traditional, like mine.

Then he wrote this:

In the Dutch province of Zeeland there is a society for the preservation of traditional costumes. The secretary of that society identified the traditional costume as the traditional costume of Cadzand, a small town in the Dutch province of Zeeland. In 2007 Cadzand had about 800 inhabitants. I believe this information may be useful to you.

I’m so excited to know that this lady who was somehow part of my family is from a small town that is distinguished by its own traditional costume. Who knew?!

So here is what I keep thinking about. The woman sitting there smiling for the photographer, probably excited that she will see a photograph of herself when all is said and done. She’s wearing clothing her family has worn for generations. And she’s holding . . .  what else, but a book?! What kind of book is it? It doesn’t look like a Bible to me. What could it be? What if she could have known that one day her photograph would be on something called the internet with the potential (OK, I’m being a “little” dramatic here) of being seen by millions of people? How would she have felt? Would it have boggled her mind? Would she have been thrilled to think of her image captured “forever”? Would she have wondered about her future descendents/relatives like me and what our lives are like?

I feel connected with her across the years. And I want to know what her life was like. Have you ever felt that way about someone from long ago?


Filed under Blogging, Essay, History, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs

41 responses to “What Was In Her Mind?

  1. The older I get, the more interested I become in my ancestors. My great great uncle is Leonard Woolf (married to Virginia Woolf). Very exciting to me. I have some great photos of my great grandmother and her family – when she had a group of 6 children (and was relatively young) and later with her group of 14 children (!).

    • That actually makes me so jealous that you’re related to Leonard Woolf! How cool is that–a literary connection!!! I’m so happy for you to have photos of your ggma’s family. I know that those of us with those windows into the past are blessed. But 14 children–I cannot even imagine!!

  2. So very cool, Luanne! Maybe, if she was reading Jules Verne she might have imagined the internet!

    • Hahaha, I love it! I just looked him up to find his years. I had no idea he was French! Why did I not know that? Anyway, yes, maybe she did! I wonder if his books were published in Dutch? Of course, today everybody in the Netherlands speaks and reads English as well as Dutch, but I kind of doubt that was the case back then!

  3. I often look at pictures of my grandmother and think about what a hard life she had (compared with mine). It’s a good thing she didn’t know it because she is smiling in most of the pictures. As for your pictures, that costume does not look comfortable (said by a person who loves jeans and a tee-shirt). I wonder if decades from now someone will look at my picture and comment on what a hard life I had and how uncomfortable my clothes look. My family history is scattered. No one took the time to lock it down and now the people who know are dead. I envy people who have knowledge and photos of that time long ago.

    • Kate, I love what you say about how your grandmother was smiling despite her hard life. She just thought that was the way life was. So true. I do often think about how hard things were for most women everywhere in the past (and obviously today in some areas of the world). It’s funny that you say that about in the future and how you wear jeans and tee-shirt: I wear yoga pants around the house all the time now and when I have to put on JEANS I think, ugh, how uncomfortable and yet I remember when they were my go-to comfort clothes! I guess the point is that it’s all relative! I’m really sorry that you don’t have the knowledge and photos of your family’s past. When I see collections of old photos at antique stores I am sad thinking of they ended up there and that there are no doubt people related to those photos that don’t have them and don’t even know they exist there at the antique store.

      • I am moving to yoga pants. They just aren’t warm enough for the winter! I have several pair for summer and I wear them for dressy occasions with a nice top. Love the good fitting flexible waists!

  4. Oh my gosh, Luanne–it’s like you were in my head! Those are exactly the types of things I think about all the time. 🙂 I’ve had imaginary conversations with people from the past–you know, showing our indoor plumbing and online books to Benjamin Franklin and others. Perfectly normal, right?

    But that photo is amazing–and to find out that info, too. WOW!

    • Merril, you have no idea how much I LOVE what you wrote! The perfect person to show those things to! I can imagine that he was very interested in figuring out how they worked and would say something like “Oh, I almost got to this at one point, but I had trouble with this one aspect.” blah blah blah hahaha
      Yes, the photo and its info just blew me away!

  5. That is so cool, Luanne! I love that this man took the time to respond with some useful and interesting information. I must say, that woman has the sweetest face…reminds me of someone I know…someone who’s writing her memoir. 🙂

    • Jill, and THEN he found another old post about an ancestor who was born in France and married into the Dutch family and lived in Goes. And this man has a relative who married into the same French family surname and lived in Goes! So we’re likely somewhat related. I am starting to think everybody with roots in Zeeland are a little related LOL!

  6. What a great story. Yes, that lady has a wise look…as if she knows any and all viewers.

    A picture of my great-aunt is so dreamy that it has had a profound effect on me. I described it in a work of fiction. (Which goes to show that fiction is made up of bits and pieces of reality.)

    • WJ, a wise look, yes. I would have loved to have known her because she seems as if she would be someone worth knowing.
      Ah, what a wonderful connection with a relative! Yes, fiction is definitely bits and pieces of reality. I wonder if I’ve ever read a novel that is completely and utterly “new cloth” to the writer.

  7. This is truly amazing, and it does make you think. I recall when my grandmother was first introduced to a microwave oven. She thought it was just magical. She cooked for so many and always froze meats and veggies. The thought that you could thaw meat out in five minutes and not burn the meat or the wrapper just blew her mind.

    My transient life in childhood resulted in me losing so many old photos. It makes me so sad. The ones that followed me to adulthood were ruined in a plumbing catastrophe. There were so many my grandchildren will never see. Makes me sad.

    • Aw, SK, I’m so sorry it makes you sad to think of the loss of your photos. Plumbing is responsible for the loss of so many old documents, photos, etc. I had a near disaster very recently, in fact. But I love how your wonderful book Red Clay & Roses works with the history of women and creates its own way of documenting their lives.
      Love the story about your grandmother with the microwave!

  8. Luanne, this is amazing! I agree, this woman does have such a sweet face…just like you 🙂 Isn’t blogging wonderful the way it connects us and the way someone completely random takes the time to give this kind of information? Thanks so much for sharing this, what a thrill for you 🙂 xo

  9. Oh I so do. I long to have conversations with generations who’ve gone before I arrived.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one (because that might be lonely and a little scary LOL)! I want to talk to all my great-grandmothers going all the way back and find out what their lives were like!!!

  10. Luanne, how fascinating! To reach across the years to only imagine what her life was like! How wonderful someone wrote in and filled you in with dates, the place and all the other details. She must have been photographed when the photographer was just starting out.

    • I think it’s true that she was one of his earlier people. And I wonder how she came to be photographed by a photographer from Utrecht when she was from Zeeland–and judging by her outfit maybe still lived in her hometown. Maybe he was even trying to capture these traditional costumes. Too bad I don’t have the patience to write historical novels LOL! I wonder if any of these early photographers considered themselves artists . . . .

      • Undoubtedly they did. They were putting their image in a format for an audience to see. Even if they were not planning to be in galleries, their own artistic-ness made them able to take a good photograph. Even if you have an audience of one, an artist/ photographer/ all the disciplines are catering to it even if it’s subconscious. I have spoken. 🙂

  11. What an amazing discovery! I love it when things like that happen. And that photo has so many stories in it.

  12. Luanne, what a wonderful story – I swear you discover the coolest things from your genealogy and related areas of research! I do love the woman’s expression and wouldn’t she have loved to known you? I have recently read about time’s not being linear but that we experience the present and the past as one – I think I believe that more when I see pictures like this one of yours.

    • Sheila, I am really surprised how many wonderful people have contacted me with information on TFK. That scrapbook that belonged to my great-great-grandfather’s sister’s daughter was such a “windfall.” And then all the information that has been shared with me!
      What you are saying about time not being linear, I have had that thought before. I am not yet sure, but it does seem that what you say might be true. I love books and movies that play with time for that very reason. I never got over reading Jack Finney’s Time and Again . . . .

  13. This is so neat, Luanne. The book in her hands looks like a notebook – perhaps a book of her poems. Oh, what if they exist somewhere in Cadzand?

    • Carol, hah, I love your imagination. But who knows?! How many women wrote poems and stories that no one else ever read?

      • Exactly.
        I received Doll God yesterday and started reading it. Funny thing happened. After I put it down and went back to my novel, I found I was reading it with the rhythm of your poetry. I also very much liked how it evoked memories of my childhood and my dolls that I had long forgotten about. It’s a wonderful book, Luanne. There’s so much tenderness in what I’ve read so far.

  14. So amazing to connect with someone who not only had great info about your relative but took the time to share it with you. What a precious gift! Apparently, one that keeps on giving! I hope you continue to enjoy this journey/adventure!

    • Shel, it’s so astonishing! A Dutch museum wants me to get a professional copy made of this photo so they can put it on their site. This is all through this kind reader.

  15. My sister has a photograph of our father’s parents, perhaps their wedding photo. My dad was born in 1919 and he wasn’t the oldest so … somewhere I have the date when my grandparents married. Anyway, one of my nephews is the spitting image of my grandfather and, according to my sister, I look like my grandmother. Funny, I can’t quite see the resemblance but I think that’s because I only remember her as a blind, unsmiling old woman who seemed to tolerate her family. She died when I was 8 so so much for my memory.
    One of the wonderful things about these old photos is that they do stimulate your imagination. The little bit I know about my dad’s parents makes their photograph poignant for me because they look so young and innocent in it. But they had a hard life. The lady in your photo looks like she was quite content, although I wonder if she wanted the photographer to hurry up so she could get back to her book 🙂

    • Marie, I loved hearing this story about your family. You must have looked like a young version of your grandmother! I’m so sorry she passed away while you were so young.

  16. What a great unexpected surprise, Luanne. I love that technology opens up so many avenues to connect with history.

    • Rudri, it’s truly amazing. A Dutch museum wants the photo for their website! I need to call you. It’s been super hectic this week!

  17. She looks so interesting! So much going on behind those eyes. I bet she was a hoot!

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