Friday, September 12, 2008

A Family Returns...

In the first week of August we were visited by a family with a connection to William H. Miner that stretches back to his childhood in the 1870s. Descendants of Carrie Eudora 'Dora' Oliver Simonds came to The Alice to tour the museum and reconnect with their ancestors. The family ties between Dora and Will are a little murky... but Dora was like a sister to Will.

Dora, Aunt Huldah, Will and Uncle John, ca. 1877

William H. Miner was orphaned by the time he was 10 years old. His step-mother wished to return to her native Scotland and take young Will with her, but his family feared losing him forever and he was sent to Chazy to be raised on the family farm. The couple who took him in - Aunt Huldah and Uncle John Miner, had no children of their own but were already raising their niece, Carrie Eudora Oliver. Dora and Will were close in age and kept in contact with each other throughout their lives.

When I began learning the story of Will Miner I heard about Dora and marveled at the kindness of Huldah and John, raising these two orphaned children with a combination of strong love and strong discipline. The only photo of Dora I knew of was the one shown above. I had no idea what she looked like, and did not know what became of her.

Through my work on the archives at Miner Institute I found unusual photos of the Simonds family. They stood out simply because they were portraits, with names written on the negatives. The majority of photos in the archives are of scenery, buildings and animals on Heart's Delight Farm. A very small percentage are photos of people, and even fewer of those actually name the persons pictured. But I did not know who the Simonds family were, or what connection they might have had to the Miner family.

A great-granddaughter of Dora, Diane, sent me three photos after she visited The Alice, along with some writings done by her grandmother, Anna Simonds and Anna's older sister Eva. These writings and photos have connected some seemingly unrelated fragments in the archives and have been very exciting for me! First, of course, is the name Simonds, Dora's married name. I had not known that I was looking at portraits of Dora's children (these two photos are from the Miner Institute archives)...

Diane sent three photos of Dora and a photograph of Huldah as a young woman. Finally I could see what Dora looked like! It was also wonderful to see Huldah when she was in her prime, I had only seen her photos taken after Will started building Heart's Delight Farm, when he was in his forties and Aunt Huldah was a gray haired senior.

Not only was that first photograph the only one I had ever seen (knowingly) of Dora, but also the only one I had seen of Uncle John, until this one sent by Diane:

Dora, Uncle John, and Aunt Huldah, ca. 1867

The photograph of Dora that really connected the dots for me is the one that gave me a first look at Dora's face. Note those pursed lips...

Carrie Eudora 'Dora' Oliver, ca. 1881

There was a portrait in the archives of a handsome family that I had been intrigued by... It did not show William and Alice, Aunt Huldah, or any of the few others I had seen formal portraits of... this was a family, perhaps three generations. But with no name on the negative... how frustrating to not know who they were! Until I looked closely at those pictured, and that is when I noticed Dora!
Dora is the woman seated on the left... and could that be Aunt Huldah next to her?

The Simonds family lived with Aunt Huldah for a few years and this portrait may have been taken at that time. Diane and I assumed that it was likely captured around 1893, based on the ages of the children. Anna Simonds had not yet been born (she was Diane's grandmother, born in 1902) but Eva is there, and she was born in 1889. Eva is the child sitting on Dora's lap.

One of the photos I shared with Diane was a real treat for her because she had known Eva Simonds, who lived well into her nineties, because Eva shared a home with Anna in their elder years. Diane and her siblings visited with them when they were children.

Eva & Anna Simonds

The last photograph to share is one of Dora Oliver Simonds taken in 1942. The way she held her mouth seems just the same in all three adult photographs. To me, the most important lesson in these discoveries is how necessary it is to write names on photographs, we cannot assume that later generations will know who everyone is by sight!

Dora Oliver Simonds, 1942

The narrative pieces Diane sent to me have also been incredibly valuable. Although some of the memories are faulty, there are a few wonderful insights into peoples lives. Anna Simonds seems to have had very accurate memories of William H. Miner and of the people who worked at Heart's Delight Farm. But it is Eva's recollection of the first time she met Alice T. Miner that I really enjoyed,

"I was about eight years old when I first remember seeing this boy now grown into fine manhood. My family was living with Aunt Huldah and he came to spend his honeymoon.

I think she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. Light golden hair, beautiful blue eyes the color of the sky and it was June, the year was about 1896. (Alice and William were married in 1895). I remember her blouse; the sleeves were large at the top and tight at the forearm and wrist. Her skirt was long and with wide gores like my mother's. She was the youngest of the four sisters Mathilda, Louisa, Bertha and Alice."


  1. Very interesting results of your detective work, and such nice use of photos in the archive that might otherwise not be seen except by staff.

    Fascinating breakdown of the book restoration process, as well.

    I really enjoy this added dimension that the blog gives to those of us interested in The Alice.

    Thank you, psp

  2. Thanks for sharing another fascinating story. The Rouses Point Historical Society recently visited The Alice and the Farm and then I had the privilege of touring the train station built by William. Chazy is fortunate to have had the Miner's leave such a wonderful legacy.

    Looking forward to the next mystery solved!!

  3. This is my first visit to the blog and I am really impressed and delighted. I look forward to a longer perusal when I have more time. Thank you Amanda