What You Find in the Tall Grass

Photograph taken 1903, Holcomb home, Vermont. Left to right. Dr. Luman Holcomb 1865 – 1950, Elma Holcomb Deuel 1863 – 1946, Cyrus Holcomb 1824 – 1907. Photograph from the Carl Gonya collection


Here is one more example of what I call front porch pictures family photographs taken outside. The people shown in the above photograph are members of the Holcomb family from Isle LaMotte, Vermont.  Sandy, my wife, and I were going through boxes of pictures that we obtained from her parent’s photograph collection. We noticed some had the name, Holcomb. We had no idea who or what these people were in relation to her family.

I started an investigation into the Holcomb family, and one of the first things I did was to speak with Sandy’s cousin Carl Gonya. Carl has spent years researching family history. We were to find out many details of the Holcomb’s, namely how they were related to my wife, Sandy. The people in the above picture are my wife’s 2nd cousins four times removed. I did a little more research and found even more interesting facts.

Cyrus Holcomb is the gentleman sitting on the chair. He is the father to the other people in this photograph. Like many people of his times, Cyrus wore many hats in life. He was for five years the postmaster of Isle LaMotte, Vermont and even served in the Vermont Legislature. But throughout his life he was a carpenter and a fruit farmer, having 700 apple trees in 1882.

The man relaxed on the grass is Dr. Luman Holcomb, a well known local physician. Dr. Luman received his education at the University of Vermont. I read numerous accounts in the newspapers of his time, regarding his many community activities. He was a well-liked and respected doctor who was mourned by many upon his death in 1950. 

The lady in the picture with her father and brother is Elma Holcomb Deuel. She was a remarkable lady not only in her time but even by today’s standards. She married George Deuel, a Methodist Minister. Elma went with her husband to the Garrett Biblical Institute and received the same degree as her husband. While not herself a minister Elma would fill in for her husband on occasion. She was an accomplished musician and president of the Women’s Missionary Society. Elma was also a teacher who worked with children of former slaves teaching basic reading and writing skills.

I also found out something interesting about the Holcomb’s. They are my 7th cousins three times removed. That makes my wife and I cousins. I guess with both our family lines going back to the 1600s in America, they were bound to become acquainted. While this was the first time we were to learn that our family lines crossed, I have since found two more common sets of grandparents.

So my advice is to go through some old photographs and do some research. Not just on your direct ancestors but also your cousins. You never know what you will learn.

On the left is Elma Holcomb Deuel. Date of picture unknown. Photograph from the Carl Gonya Collection
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27 Responses to What You Find in the Tall Grass

  1. Eilene Lyon says:

    I haven’t yet found the connection between my husband’s tree and mine, but feel sure it will turn up someday! I have an ancestor buried very close to where he grew up. Just a matter of time.

  2. Amy says:

    Great post, Charles. What an accomplished family. I am particularly impressed by Elma and her work with African-American children.

  3. What an interesting family and what fun that you found a connection with your wife’s family.

  4. dlpedit says:

    Interesting information, and it all began with a photo of apparent strangers. The distant “cousin connection” is a feature of American life that is more common than many people think. (Example: FDR and Eleanor.)

    • chmjr2 says:

      I agree it is much more common than most people think. I find the loner the two families have been in the country the better the chance. My wife’s family and mine were here in the 1600s.

  5. The family photo is really quite lovely. A very peaceful composition. Love the home in the background with the ivy. With the distant cousin relation to wife it’s amazing she had the photo. I really enjoyed the post. Is there any information on the photo of Elma and what she was doing and where she was in the 2nd photo ?

    • chmjr2 says:

      I wish I did have more info on her. I have much on Dr. Luman her brother that I did not go into detail on. Elma was the one who left home and traveled to many places. My wife’s mother’s family were close to the Holcomb family. That is why they had the photographs. However it was Carl Gonya’s photographs I used in this blog post.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    An amazing photo at the end. Christian missionary work did much good.

  7. True Lewis says:

    Beautiful Post!

  8. KerryCan says:

    You make me wonder if you and I could be related! Both sides of my family have been in the North Country for many years, too, and in the US since well before it was the US. This is such an interesting post!

  9. Treasure upon treasure has come to you thanks to the photos! I’m happy you had help and discovered the lives of those in the photo and their relationships to you and your wife.

  10. Averyl says:

    Is it bad that the first thing I thought of was CHECK FOR TICKS! 😀 But then again they were all dressed in full elegance so I’m sure they were protected. Also, 700 (even) apple trees fascinates me. Elma’s mission work with children of former slaves to teach them basic reading and writing skills combined with her smile in that second photo is very heart-warming.

    • chmjr2 says:

      The sad truth is ticks were not a problem back in those days here in the north east. It was in the 1990s when they started to make head way into the Adirondacks. Some say it is climate change that has caused the spread. Today I know too many people who have suffered from the result of a tick bite.

  11. Charles – I love your stories and the value you place on a person’s legacy

    • chmjr2 says:

      Thank you so much. I try to tell their story’s in a honest manner that also gives us a little history lesson on the family level and perhaps on a general level also.

  12. chattykerry says:

    All I can think about is ants and mosquitoes…

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