Archive for category Photography

Oil in them there hills!

There has always been the family myth about where the money went. Cousins have wondered who the lucky one that got it all was. With all my research I couldn’t find who even had the mystery money.

My third great grandfather Zuver had been an oil producer when crude oil barrel prices would rocket to $120.00 (today’s value) a barrel in the early 1860s. He would also experience the bottom dropping out of the value as it plummeted to $23.00 (today’s value) just 10 years later. By the time of his death, his obituary headline would read “Was Once Wealthy,” having had close to a million dollars of today’s money in value. The money was long gone before his death in 1911 and he was living off of the mother’s pension of the son he lost in the civil war.

My second great grandfather has turned out to be another option for having had some wealth, but not to the same extent as my third great grandfather Zuver. Jacob West, known for his photography skills, was also involved in oil production. My latest research has been turning up information on his ventures.

About 1889 Jacob was venturing into oil production and got into a fight with Joseph E. Brownyear over ownership of oil property. By 1890 Jacob had leased land on the Mitchell and Van Vleck farm in Limestone, New York and was drilling wells. The Van Vleck family were very prosperous in the oil production business and had been involved for many years. Jacob’s number 1 well, drilled on the farm just outside of Limestone, would produce 10 barrels of crude oil an hour. After more than 30 years of production in the area, barrels per hour production had dropped considerably, this well’s production made newspaper headlines.

Prices for crude oil had dropped considerably by this time and would fluctuate from $16 to $35 (today’s value) dollars a barrel during 1890 – 1905. From newspaper reports, I noticed that Jacob had wells in Limestone, New York and in Lafferty Hollow, Pennsylvania. Jacob would lose 500 barrels of crude in two separate fire incidents. His crude tanks would catch on during electrical storms, burning his profit up in dense black smoke.

When Jacob died, he left his wife with over $30,000 in debt. In the bills you can tell he had a taste for fine made clothing and lived well from his profits in oil. It would take her 5 years to settle all of the accounts and was taken to court to settle some of his oil production cost debts.

Money may have been in the family from time to time, but it didn’t seem to outlast the maker to be passed on to any family member.

Photos taken by Mary Melissa Zuver West, Jacob's wife.



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Photographic Archeology

As a child I wanted to be an archeologist. At some point I changed my mind and decided that becoming an artist of some sort was more in line with what I really wanted to do for a living. I think it had to do with there being a lot less science, math and dirt involved.

Instead in my spare time I do genealogical archeology. Since inheriting my great-great grandmother, Mary Zuver West’s glass negatives, I have been doing a lot more digging around for clues to who the people in her photographs were. From my grandfather, Chester West’s photographs I can accurately determine his siblings in photos and his parents. Every one else is taking more time to determine.

The family would vacation at a camp at Chautauqua Lake during the summer. Here they would boat, relax and enjoy each others company.

zuver_west4th of july circa 1907

I have been trying to determine who the other members of the family are in this photo. Using images from family trees on ancestry, I have come up with a few guesses on some of the people in this photograph.

leander zuver

This is an image of Leander L Zuver, also known as Dick. He was a younger brother to my great-great grandmother and was a photographer in western Pennsylvania. Early in his career he worked for my great-great grandmother and her husband Jacob. I am pretty sure I have him identified correctly in the photograph.

agnes braniff 1867_1949


Leander’s wife was Agnes Braniff. This is a photo of Agnes from an ancestry tree. An educated guess would say she would be in this family photo. I am guess that I may have her identified correctly.


nellie ives zuvercropped

This is a photo of Nellie C Ives Zuver. Her husband was Thomas Wellington Zuver. I am pretty sure that Thomas is in this photo also.



vern leslie zuvercropped

This is photo of Vern Leslie Zuver. Son of Thomas Wellington Zuver and Nellie C Ives Zuver. If father and son resembled each other I am pretty sure that I have Thomas correctly identified in the photograph above. Thomas would have been about 47 years old in the photo above.



George Quincy and Lewis Wilbert are guess by the look of their age. Hopefully someone has photos that can be compared!



The 115 Year Old Collaboration


I wonder what my great-great grandmother would think about, had she known 115 years ago, that her great-great granddaughter would one day be carefully scanning her glass negatives on to her computer. We take pictures, share them with friends and relatives and usually give very little thought to generations in the future rummaging through stacks of unmarked photos, trying to learn a bit more about us and our daily life.

platesI have learned a lot about her, a glimpse into her personality and snapshots into the way she lived. Without a doubt, her skill and eye for photography comes through in the shots I assume she took for her own pleasure and experimentation. She loved light and texture and traveled by train to many locations to take landscape photos that pull you into the image. She was known in town as an experienced photographer of women and children. She adored her son, his wife and her grandchildren and their images show in many of the existing glass negatives.

I enjoy those negatives she might have thrown out, one showed her slender fingers imprinted on the negative, making me wonder if she caught the negative before it had slipped to the ground and broke. Others show her shadow, boater hat firmly planted on her head, which she would have cropped out when printing. You get a quick glimpse of her in another negative, her tall thin reflection appearing in the window behind her grandson.

To get the images scanned onto my computer would require the purchase of a professional scanner and hours of careful scanning. Internet research turned up a supplier for archival negative holders and boxes. Adobe Bridge let me catalogue the negatives for research and grouping. Each bit of research gave a sharper picture of this creative multi-faceted lady and the locations around where I grew up.scanning

After scanning and cataloguing slides I determined that I wanted to frame one for the house. The hard part was then to decide which one. I played with multiple images, cropping and sizing and purchased a wide format photo printer to see the results of the collaboration. The detail from the small 4 by 4 inch glass negative surprised me, and it held up when enlarged to images over 13 by 22 inches.

I chose a photo of the Olean, New York boat launch taken around 1900. The water on the river was so still that it perfectly reflected all that surrounded its banks. Mounted and framed it now hangs where it can be enjoyed by the next generation, a 115 year old collaboration of two related artistic personalities. Priceless.



The Daily Dig

When I was little I thought that being an archaeologist would be a really neat thing to do. Then I learned about how much math and science was needed and being hot, dirty, frustrated and tired and decided maybe archaeology wasn’t for me. What I didn’t realize then was how many different ways there were to do historical research.

kids in yard

Now that I am older and completely fascinated with genealogy, I am feeding that enthusiastic archaeologist child in me with digging in my families’ historical dirt. I have been scanning glass slides that my great great photographer grandmother, Mrs. West, took, digging for clues to her life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She adored her grandchildren, especially the ones that lived locally, which is evident in the number and creativity of the slides including them.

One photo stood out to me, begging for location identification. There were the grandchildren, playing in the front yard of a house, in what I was guessing was Bradford, Pennsylvania.

294 e main 2015 across street

I looked up the address of the children’s mother and entered it into Google earth. From the street view, I located the address and looked across the street to see if the houses matched the ones in the photograph. I had found the location, even though a couple of the houses had been torn down and a street inserted, three of the five houses still stood in the same place.294 e main 2015

I spun the Google street view around to see where the children would have been standing. With my mother’s memory of her grandmother’s house, we had the location. Even the electric pole was still in the same spot as it was in 1907, 108 years ago. From Mom’s memory, even the yellow paint on the enclosed sun porch has never been changed through all of the owners of the house. The sidewalk has been changed from wood to concrete and a railing added to the steps to the street.


She must have taken the photo from the enclosed sun porch of her daughter-in-laws house from the angle of the photograph, I can’t match the buildings exactly using the Google earth image..


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Mount Alton School, 1912, Lafayette, Pennsylvania

Documents and photos scatter repeatedly with the death of each generation. What was once a treasured bit of history becomes an unknown piece of historical data tossed in the bottom of a drawer, eventually to be thrown away in a housecleaning.

Leah Van Houtte, top row on right Amos Van Houtte, front row, second on left John Van Houtte, front row, second on left

I remember it being suggested that I write the names of classmates down on the back of school photos. I also remember thinking, why that was necessary, I know who they are and could name them all off. Looking back now, 45 years later, no one seems to remember who that one little blonde in the photo was or that shy looking kid in the back.

I have been gathering information for a family book on my Van Houtte ancestors. I asked my cousins if they had any photos that I could include in the book. One cousin shared with me a photo of the Mt. Alton School children in 1912. The Mt. Alton School was located in Lafayette, Pennsylvania, an area now that is dominated by the Bradford Regional Airport. Property that my great grandfather owned is now a part of the airport property. My grandfather, great uncle and great aunt are in the photo, along with 30 other nameless children.

I am pretty sure among those children are the children of Peter DePrater. Peter was my great grandfather’s sponsor. The DePraters were from Belgium and had lived in Tourcoing, France, where my great grandmother’s family also had lived. Immigrants had to have someone state side that would be responsible for them and their integration into America. Peter and his wife Adele had been living in Pennsylvania for almost 15 years before my great grandfather and his family decided to try their luck in the United States. Peter and Adele would have 11 children, 8 of which were born in New York or Pennsylvania.

Of the 11 children, there is a great possibility that five of the DePrater children could be in this picture. Mary Margaret, 14 years old, Victor, 12 years old, Madeline, 10 years old, Fanny, 8 years old and Anna at 5 years.

Leah Van Houtte, top row on right
Amos Van Houtte, front row, second on left
John Van Houtte, front row, second on right

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Blog Bug

I couldn’t imagine myself with the care and feeding of 2 infant blogs, as many bloggers do, but I have gone and done it. The part of me that is creative has been bugging me for a blog of its own. I finally gave in.
My new blog feeds the creative part of my soul that my dead ancestors have yet to commandeer.

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