We all have bucket lists — and prominent on mine is to scan, preserve and share the large photo archive passed down from both sides of my family.
My maternal ancestors in particular — Italian and German immigrants and their descendants — sat for studio portraits in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which they likely sent to family back home as a way of staying connected.
Later, as popular photography emerged, casual portraits of my maternal and paternal ancestors at work and play also began to fill family albums.
These photographs meant something to my ancestors. So perhaps the time has come to let ancestral photos guide the narrative rather than the other way around — starting with a photograph of my great-grandfather Peter Laurence [di Lorenzo]
Portrait of Peter Laurence [di Lorenzo]
For decades, a large studio portrait of my maternal Italian immigrant great-grandfather Peter Laurence hung on the dining room wall of my parents’ home. It was a colorized photo in a rectangular frame, and showed him sitting proudly in his Italian army uniform.
One of my siblings now has the large portrait, while I have a smaller black and white version of the same photograph — which happily contains some valuable notations.
My maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — who married Peter’s oldest son Antonio — thoughtfully wrote Peter’s name on the front.
There is also a photographer’s mark — W. L. Havens, Gloversville — which does not appear on the larger, colorized portrait.
I had long assumed that the photograph was taken in Italy and that Peter brought it with him — but here is the proof that the photo was taken in the U.S.
The back of the photo also contains details that help place Peter’s photo in context.
My great-grandfather’s name is printed in the center of the back as “Peter D. Laurence.” He was born Pietro di Lorenzo — and in this anglicized version of his name, he included a middle initial D in an apparent bow to his birth name.
The back of the photo also includes a crucial date, Oct. 21, 1899 — which means it was taken three years after my great-grandfather’s 1896 arrival in the U.S. and the year before he first appeared in a U.S. census in 1900.
Peter appears confident and forward looking in this photograph, which may be the first one taken of him in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. — his new U.S. home.
Yet he nostalgically hearkens back to his country of origin by posing in his Italian army uniform — which, incidentally, still fit him pretty well.
Amazing how much information can be contained in just one ancestral photograph! What will subsequent photos reveal?
Up next: More on Peter Laurence [di Lorenzo]. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here. Then head on over to the June 2021 Genealogy Blog Party: “How You Did It” for valuable family history research techniques.
© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.