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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Mom's Immediate Ancestors (1880-1910)

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/20/2023
Occurred: 1/1/1880
Posted: 3/25/2022
Page Views: 394
Topics: #EdnaMaeBrown #EdnaMaeCilwa #PhotoColorization #PhotoRestoration
Photos and narrative of my mom, Edna Mae Brown Cilwa's, parentage, from 1890 up to her birth in 1912.
(1890) Nelson Brown and Dr. Davis

Mom's paternal grandfather was Nelson Brown. Here you can see him with his friend, one Dr. Davis, in a photo taken in 1890. Nelson is the heavyset man. The stiffness of the poses, of course, is due to the long exposure times required in those days—as long as two minutes.

(1897) Vernon Brown…with hair!

In 1890, Mom's dad, my grandfather, Vernon Brown, was still a little kid. But by 1897, he was well on his way to becoming a dapper young man. Enjoy that hair, Grampa; you wouldn't get to keep it for long!

Rarely, one gets to look at a photo taken in past decades and marvel at how contemporary someone looks. Grandpa's hair and outfit are too 19th Century to mistake him for a modern-day youth. But his expression of youthful optimism, unsuppressed even by the necessity of keeping still for a long exposure time, shines through the years. I was that young, once!

Grampa was one of five siblings. Here he is with three of them, in a group portrait also taken in 1897:

Brown Family siblings

The two in the lower right are Edna, and her first husband, Len. Grandpa is in the upper right. Many years later, after Len and his three successors had died, Great Aunt Edna came to live with us.

(1900) Great-grandfather Nelson has caught some fish!

By 1900, Great-grandfather Nelson had lost his hair and eerily become the very image of the man his son Vernon would eventually become. At right you can see him showing off a rack of fish he may have caught…though it would be completely in keeping with the Brown family sense of humor to have purchased the fish.

(1900) Vernon Brown

Likewise, Vernon now presented a more sober demeanor. By now, he had been married, albeit briefly, to a young lady named Mary Wilson. My mom died completely unaware of this first, childless, marriage; it took a genealogical study to turn it up. Grampa and Mary were married in 1900; he married Mom's mother, Mary Virginia Chapman, in 1907. We have not been able to find a death record for Mary, suggesting their marriage ended in divorce (and that she is immortal).

Meanwhile, in a 1902 portrait, we can see Aunt Edna and her beloved, Uncle Len. Despite Len's slightly dated haircut, to me he has the most contemporary face of all these relatives.

Aunt Edna, on the other hand, could at best be described in the parlance of the times as a "handsome woman." And, bless her heart, she didn't age well as far as looks were concerned. She had a big heart, though, and certainly loved us kids—perhaps because, despite four husbands, she never had any children of her own.

This photo of Aunt Edna was taken a year earlier, in 1901, in her Bloomfield, New Jersey apartment. Notice all the requirements of Victorian era luxury living: a piano, heavily framed paintings, lacy drapes.

(1901) Great-Aunt Edna in her Victorian apartment.

His first marriage out of the way, Grandpa married Mary Virginia Chapman, who had been a proofreader in New York at the Harry Smith Printing Company. Mary Virginia remained best friends with her former boss, Kate Zabriskie, for the rest of her life.

And then, on June 18, 1912, my mom, Edna Mae Brown, was born. She was the second child to Vernon and Mary Virginia Brown. Edna Mae's older brother had been stillborn, but was nevertheless a presence in the household as her parents spoke of him often. He had been named "Walter."

Decades later, Mom would marry a man whose name was Walter.