Today I’m going through old photos that I’ll include in my next book. These are pictures I took in 2002 with my camera, of old portraits that were in my great uncle’s chest of family history. Now—eleven years later— I’m scanning, cropping and figuring out where to put in my book, The Kansas Quilter.
As I sort them by family, and study the photos with a magnifying glass, I’m finding clues to my ancestors’ pasts.
For example here’s a photo of Robert Pieratt, probably taken when he enlisted in 1862. He died on Feb. 19, 1863—at the age of 17.
Here’s how I wrote his death in the letter, Feb. 26, 1863 in Stitch of Courage.
“Robert died at Fort Scott on February 19. He had the measles, then succumbed to pneumonia. We barely knew he was sick until Mr. Pieratt got word that he was dead and buried. I curse this war! If it hadn’t been for the Secession, Robert would have been home, alive and well. I can’t stand to think what conditions Robert lived in and must have died in without his family around him in his last hours. In my mind I picture him lying in a spindly cot without enough blankets, no one to bathe his fevered brow, all alone. Did he still have my quilt with him? Did he lose it, or wasn’t it thick enough to keep him warm and safe? Questions keep haunting me, along with his friendly face. I saw it only two months ago!”
(Excerpt from Stitch of Courage © Linda K. Hubalek)
Now look at the photo again and think how bittersweet it would be to have a picture of your son as he’s ready to go to war, and then to hear you’ll never see him again.
And then there’s more in this letter in Stitch of Courage, and you realize…
“The word of Robert’s passing came after his stepmother, Nancy, died of bronchitis on the 20th. She hadn’t been well for the last month but turned worse quickly at the end. The Pieratt children have lost two mothers. I feel their pain as I relive my own loss. Life can be so hard on children. “
The father, John Pieratt (from Trail of Thread) lost a son on the 19th and his wife on the 20th.
These are the emotions I try to portray for my books, because they were real—especially when you find an old photo like this one and know the story behind it…