52 Ancestors – Week 2 – Favorite Photo

This week’s 52 ancestors challenge has been a struggle for me. To choose just one photo out of so many seems like an impossible chore.

The photo I chose is a unique one. Look closely.

My Photo Choice

Critchley and Brown family abt 1919 WV
Adults L to R Joe Critchley, Della Brown, James C. Brown, Unknown female friend, Minnie Brown, and Jennie Brown. Circa 1918-1920 West Virginia

There are so many things going on in this photo.

The first time I saw this photo I didn’t give it much thought. At a quick glance it is just a group of random people.

Odd Prop

With a closer look the next thing I noticed was the snake. Interesting photo prop but okay. I do come from a long line of interesting folks. To this day I have no clue what the deal is with the snake. I assume it made an appearance as they were trying to take their family photo and it wound up in the photo.

With even deeper examination and discussion with various relatives I learned even more about the photo.

Generations

This is a four-generation family photo, and one of the only photos that I have seen of my Great-Great Grandfather, James C. Brown. James is the tall guy in the dark suit jacket in the back row. The lady standing to his right, holding the snake on a stick, was a female friend.

The two younger women are Della, on the left, and Minnie on the right. They were James C. Brown’s daughters, my great grandmother’s (Lucy Brown) sisters.

Longevity

The elderly woman at the right end is Virginia Jane “Jennie” Osborn Brown, the mother of James C. Brown. “Mother Brown” as she was known locally would have been about 80 at the time of this photo. She went on to live nearly two decades after this photo. Her obituary boasted her ages as 105 at the time of her death but records show she was closer to 98. Still quite a longevity feat.

obit of Mrs Jennie Brown 105

The children belong to Della and Minnie either through birth or marriage. Judging by the ages of the children in this photo I date it to be between 1918-1920. The location is somewhere in West Virginia, likely Fayette County.

One child in this photo that really caught my eye was the little girl standing next to the snake. Just something about her and the way she seems to be watching that snake out of the corner of her eye. I made it a task one day to figure out who that girl was and learn about her life.

Life is fragile

Her name was Luella. She was born in 1915 to Della Brown and Joe Critchley. Sadly, not long after this photo was taken Luella died of diphtheria. She was 10 days shy of her 5th birthday at the time of her death.

Luella death certificate. Died 1920 of diphtheria.

I chose this photo as my favorite because I like how there is so much here that is noteworthy. I like the fact that it is a 100-year-old photo which shows 4 generations. I like the odd snake prop that makes no sense…yet at the same time makes complete sense. I like how when investigated this photo is such a great representation of both human longevity and fragility.

Matriarch Monday

If fathers are the foundation on which a family is built then it’s the mothers that are the backbone which keep it standing.  History is full of strong matriarchs who kept the home fires burning through adversity and hardships.  Though they are frequently lost to history, matriarchs play a huge part in any families’ heritage.

Virginia Osborn, also known as Jennie, or Mother Brown late in life, was likely born on Oct 15, 1839 in what was at the time Greenbrier County, Virginia[1]

Jennie Osborne Brown

Jennie Osborn is pictured here, sitting in the middle wearing black, surrounded by some of her female descendants

.

Jennie grew up in a time of turmoil for the young American county, and Greenbrier County sits on the dividing line between southern sympathizers who felt compassion for the southern cause and northern unionist who felt loyalty to the fledgling country.

The year of 1860 found young Jennie married to a man by the name of David Fox[2]  but the union was not one fated to stand the test of time

War broke out in the United States in 1861.  Virginia was a state of divided loyalties which led to the formation of West Virginia in 1863.  Greenbrier became part of the new state but many of its native sons felt the call to join their southern brothers and quickly joined the Confederate forces.

David Fox marched off to war[3], leaving a young bride and child behind.  David Fox was ultimately taken prisoner and held at Johnson’s Island before being returned to the south in a prisoner exchange.  After being returned to the south he was sent to Vicksburg, Mississippi where he died on Dec. 31, 1862[4].

Jennie Osborn Fox was left a widow with a young child to care for in an area that was still in the midst of a bloody civil war.  Jennie did what many women of her day did under her circumstances, she remarried.  As luck would have it Tinsley Brown was a neighbor man nearly twice her age that had also recently lost his spouse and was trying to raise kids on his own.  Tinsley Brown and Jennie Fox married on Mar 3, 1864.[5]

Life would once again throw a curve ball at Jennie only 18 year later when once again she was left a widow when Tinsley died on May 26, 1882.[6]  The couple had 9 children in their blended family; the youngest was only 2 when his father died.

Jennie was 42 the second time she found herself a widow.  Tinsley left her with a farm and she continued to live on and work the land he left her as she raised her family.  She never remarried and continued farming while raising her children, and later several grandchildren until she was in her nineties.

According to Jennie’s obituary she was 105 when she died on Jan 31, 1937.[7]  Historic documents place her age more accurately at 97 at the time of her death.

obit for jennie brown

During her life Jennie had a lot of amazing and adverse times.

  • She buried 2 husbands (Confederate Widow)
  • She buried 3 children (mother to 9 all who survived to adulthood)
  • Lived in the middle of a war torn region (Lived during the Civil War and WWI)
  • Witnessed the rise and fall of the Confederacy
  • Celebrated the creation of a new state
  • Experienced the marvel of the creation of things such as the automobile and electricity
  • Lived through southern reconstruction and the great depression

Virginia Jane “Jennie” Osborn Fox Brown was my Great-great-great grandmother.

[1] (Ancestry.com, US Federal Census Year: 1850; Census Place: District 18, Greenbrier, Virginia; Roll: M432_947; Page: 311B; Image: 309 , 2009)

[2] (Ancestry.com, West Virginia, Marriages Index, 1785-1971, 2011)

[3] (Ancestry.com, U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865, 2011)

[4] (Findagrave.com, 2006 http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=13180392&ref=acom)

[5] (Ancestry.com, Dodd, Jordan, Liahona Research, comp. Virginia Marriages, 1851-1929 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2000. )

[6] (Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:”West Virginia Deaths, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. From originals housed in county courthouses throughout West Virginia. “Death Records.”2011)

[7] (Ancestry.com. West Virginia, Deaths Index, 1853-1973 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data:”West Virginia Deaths, 1853–1970.” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. From originals housed in county courthouses throughout West Virginia. “Death Records.”2011)