Like most Americans, my awareness of my own genealogical roots is much too limited. My mother came to America from Germany as a small child and her German/Polish roots are mostly lost to us now. My father's roots can be traced to my great-great grandparents, Horace and Esther Beach, who relocated to St. Joseph, Michigan from Wallingford, Connecticut in 1854. He was the foreman of the first foundry in St. Joseph. He later moved to Royalton Township where he served as highway commissioner until his death. Their daughter, Edith, married John Freborg, a man from Sweden, and they lived in the Grand Mere area of Stevensville, Michigan Census records indicate that he was a farmer (cranberry bog) and did that work until his death in 1909. Their daughter, Bessie, married my grandfather, John Rogers--about whose early history little is known--and they resided in Stevensville all of their remaining lives. The photographs below represent the same northwest facing view of the main commercial block of Stevensville taken from the front of the building that was my home for four years of my childhood. The first is from the time of my grandmother's childhood. The second is from the time of my own childhood. The third is as it exists today.
My involvement in the Adventure of the American Mind-a program of the Library of Congress designed to stimulate teachers' appropriate use of the more than eight million digitized primary source items on line and freely available to teachers-has drawn me into my own adventures of the American mind as I have rediscovered my family's long forgotten primary source materials.
It has been fun to organize materials-including a lot of century-old street scene postcards of towns in southwestern Michigan. A good bit of the pleasure of digitizing such things is that one can both keep them and give them away. Thus, I've also enjoyed finding others who might enjoy such pictures and providing them.
For example, consider the street scene below from Stevensville, Michigan from a picture postcard postmarked 1909-five years before my father was born here in Stevensville. His family home was right about where this picture was taken from and the physician who delivered him, "Doc Sorby," lived immediately across the street.
|This is St. Joseph Avenue looking north from Kimmel Avenue. Corrigan's Store is in the immediate left foreground. The hotel balcony can be seen in about the middle of the picture. That hotel, built when Stevensville was on the main road from Detroit to Chicago, was moved west onto the new highway (currently called Red Arrow Highway) when that was built bypassing Stevensville. The highway has a contemporary design with curves following land features. The road that passed through Stevensville is still identified in some of its parts as "old M-11." Its design is interesting because it retains ninety degree angles instead of gentle curves. The road was build to follow section lines rather than natural contours.|
The same view photographed in 2004 is reproduced below.
The changes are interesting ones to observe. The same street light (center of picture) appears to have remained from fifty years ago. The more modern cars and the greatly increased amount of pavement are immediately apparent, but the trees-that my mother fought unsuccessfully to save-have never been replaced. The town of 1950 seemed very self-sufficient to my child's eyes, but towns have changed and this is certainly not the only one bypassed in favor of enormous supermarkets, home centers, and fast food shops. I feel very privileged to have enjoyed a childhood in such a time and place!
Individuals and communities interested in thinking about their own histories can get started with the primary resources in their own attics, local historical societies, community libraries, and-of course-in the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress. All of these resources, when pooled together, empower people to look at changes in the community's life over time. It is a wonderful opportunity to share images of our own youth for those youth in later generations who may wish to capture parts of their own heritage through glimpses of "the way we were."