Old family

I’m not from Minnesota, but my mother’s side of the family is, and my sister just posted this antique photograph of my ancestors living in Fertile, Minnesota in the early 1900s.


I knew that tall young man in the center at the back — that’s my great-grandfather, Peter Westad, and I recall him as a tall, lean, very old man with a thick Scandinavian accent and a magnificent mustache, apparently inherited from his father, Jens, the wonderfully bearded fellow sitting in front with his wife, Marit. I can see a bit of a family resemblance, but mostly I want to get a suit just like old Jens’.

This reminiscence brought to you by a brief break in my current grading/teaching hell. We’re in the last two weeks of class. I have to stuff so much stuff in their heads, and there is all this administrative stuff rising to destroy me, too. The life of a Minnesota farmer is looking awfully appealing right now…


  1. blf says

    “They” did “photoshoping” in prehistoric times? I mean, where’s the tentacles, eyestalk mount lasers (and eyestalks), horns, forked scaly venomous tongues, and other typical characteristics of the Meyers© family…?

  2. Rob says

    PZ, that’s a fine looking family group. My Grandfather was born in 1901 and the earlier photos remind me very much of this.
    starfleetdude, same deal world over. The government here recently gave our H&S legislation a much needed overhaul and controversially gave sweeping exemptions to much farming, agriculture and horticulture (from whence their power base comes) by the simple act of giving those activities a lower risk category than lavender growing or butterfly farming. Seriously! Shameful, naked self interest and widely seen as such. Neoliberals, fuck them all.
    part four of the article you linked too explains exactly why our governments approach sucks so much.

  3. stillacrazycanuck says

    I wonder when professional photographers started telling their subjects to smile? I’ve seen old photos of my and other families from that era, and everyone looks so solemn. Of course, this sort of thing was a big deal back then, so many it was seen as too serious an occasion for frivolity.

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @6:
    FYI (As I understand it): the lack of smiles was due to the long exposure times required (several minutes). Genuine Smiles are difficult to hold for more than a few seconds, without turning into an loony grin. Being a “no time for frivolity” also played a part, but the low speed of the plates was also a big issue. As I understand it.

  5. sigurd jorsalfar says

    #6 I’ve been told that the reason people didn’t smile in old photographs is because exposure times were long so the photographer’s emphasis was on telling everyone to hold still.

  6. Rich Woods says

    That’s a proper family photo, smiles or no. The oldest ones I’ve got are from the early 1930s, where I can recognise my Grandma and my Great Aunt Mary (mostly by the glasses) and then there’s a huge gap before that. We have one photo c.1880 of my Great-Great Grandad in military uniform, where he looks like he’s just got back from conquering the Sudan. And probably had, if the insignia are clear, but nobody now knows for certain. Anyway, it seems he settled down as a chandler once the Empire had been set to rights. Farming was left to the other side of the family.

  7. says

    No, I’m the seated guy, and except for a little graying of the beard, I seem to have aged relatively little in over a century.

    You should worry.

  8. dianne says

    You should worry.

    I am worried. Why have you not written yourself up as a case report yet? Disgraceful!

  9. says

    I have a picture of my grandma from the mid 1930s as a young woman (you’d call her a teenager but those didn’t exist back then)
    I scanned that picture and sometimes used it as a profile picture. One thing that happened was that people asked me where they could get their photo taken “old times style”, too, as they misstook me for her.

    BTW, she smiles in that picture