What’s a picture worth?



The woman on your left is Catherine Donohue Martin.  In 1860 she married that good-looking guy on your right.  His name is Michael Martin.  They owned a large farm in Viola Township, Sac County, Iowa.  Late in life, they lived in  Carroll, Iowa.

My grandfather Charles, Catherine’s second son, told the story of how Michael Martin made his children do most of the housework because he didn’t want his wife to lose her beauty from working too hard.

Years ago I’d hear the story and think ‘well you wouldn’t know it to look at this picture’.  Then I grew older.  My perspective changed.  Catherine was probably over 70 years old when she posed for this picture.  In Catherine’s face, I now see traces of the delicate beauty her husband loved and wanted to preserve.

The photograph may date to the year of their 50th wedding anniversary.  We don’t know.  What we do know is that one fine day Catherine and Michael put on their serious faces and their best clothes and went to town to get their pictures taken.

Copies were given to each of their seven children.  My grandfather’s were displayed and then reproduced for his descendents.  When I visit siblings and cousins, there are Catherine and Michael.  Housed in antique gold or simple oak frames.  In hallways and family/living rooms.  Mounted in albums.  Unmistakably themselves.

Mike Martin died in 1913 and Catherine a year later.  At that time only two of the seven children had moved away — George to law school and legal practice in the Chicago area and Dan to farm and later to teach in Roswell New Mexico.  In the decades that followed, Francis and his wife remained in Sac County to farm and raise their daughter.  My grandparents and their four children moved to Ralston, Nebraska.  The two girls, Nora Kempker and Kitty Holland, raised families in Carroll, Iowa.  Clarence, a salesman, moved his wife and four children around.  They finally landed in Los Angeles.

Connections were lost.  Not all, but some.  My family, Charles’ descendents,  lost touch with the descendents of Dan and George and Nora and Kitty.

Today descendents of maybe five of Catherine and Michael’s seven children construct trees on Ancestry with the same picture at the top of their Martin/Donohue line.  It’s Catherine and Michael.  Unmistakably themselves.

Who needs a coat of arms or family crest or seal?  As certain as a DNA match, this photograph brands our branches.  Value?  Priceless.


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One Response to What’s a picture worth?

  1. Jeanne Brady says:

    Great story! It is amazing how pictures such as this one can help link people/families together in the ancestry search. Thanks.

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