Recently I came across a blog by author/historian Joe Manning called Mornings on Maple Street that, among other things, looks at the history behind the work of Lewis Hines. Hines was a photographer who documented the plight of child laborers in the United States from 1908 until 1924. He photographed children in coal mines and in factories, children working on the streets selling papers, and children on farms picking fruits and vegetables.
On a day off last month when I should have been writing case notes, I got lost in Manning’s site and spent considerable time reading his research on the Catherine Young family (pictured above in January 1909).
Catherine Young was a widow with eleven children living in Tifton, GA. Only nine of her children are pictured above because the eldest two were married and living away from the family. The five oldest children in the picture — from the girl in the plaid dress, on up — were all working in the mills, as was Catherine.
Manning had trouble tracking the family down — digging through census records and stumbling over red herrings — before finally being contacted by a family member who was able to help him put all of the pieces together.
By the time he was done with his research, Manning had talked to many of the children’s descendants, followed and recorded the stories of each child pictured above, and could finally add this caption to the photograph: “Catherine Young (40 years old), with her children (L-R): Mell (14 years, 10 months), Mattie (just turned 14), Mary (just turned 11), Alex (9 years, 8 months), Eddie Lou (8 years, 5 months), Elzy (about 6 years), Seaborn (about 5 years), Elizabeth (2 years, 9 months), and son Jesse (1 year, 8 months)”
In considering the history that Manning put together of Catherine Young’s family, we can examine the different ways that people process similar childhood experiences. Why do some family members sail through hard times while others get stuck? Why does adversary cripple some people and give others heroic strength? How can different people from the same family remember things so differently?
Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to use Manning’s research to illustrate answers to these big questions. For those of you who grew up in families impacted by trauma, I hope this will give you insight into your extended experiences and how it’s shaped your family culture in general and your own life specifically.