My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Thursday, May 10, 2012

WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY'S PHOTO - Sitting on Train Tracks, ca 1921-22

Sitting on Train Tracks
Birmingham, Alabama
ca. 1921-1922
I love this photograph - just a simple picture of four young girls, laughing and being silly and enjoying a long day together. One is smiling with such spirit her whole body smiles, throwing her head back with pure joy. Another sits quietly, taking it all in, enjoying the lollipop she brought with her on the girls' adventure on Birmingham's Southside neighborhood.

It could almost be set when I was a young girl, spending all day outside with my friends or my sisters. But I never set out through endless fields with no homes in sight, or crawled up an embankment to rest on railroad tracks. The lollipop looks familiar; playing outside wearing dresses does not.

What makes the photograph even more special is knowing that my grandmother, Susie Elizabeth Flemming O'Donnell (1909-1999) is the young girl laughing in the center of the picture. She looks to me to be about 12-13 years old, but I'm not sure. Next to her is one of her best friends, Adelaide Atkins, looking at Susie laughing, no doubt at something silly that one of the other girls just said.

Standing behind Susie is Agnes Marie O'Brien (1908-1979); to her left (our right) sits her youngest sister Helen (1911-1988). Marie, as the older sister was called, and Helen are the children of Edward Joseph O'Brien (1867-1922) and Agnes Gertrude McCaffrey (1879-1919). The sisters' mother Agnes was the youngest surviving child of thirteen children, and the youngest sister of my great-great-grandmother Charlotte Agnes "Lizzie" McCaffrey Flemming (1858-1922). This makes Susie a "first cousin-once removed" of Helen and Marie. [Susie's mother Pearl Alphonsine Horst (1864-1861) was Marie and Helen's first-cousin.]

The photograph seems to have been taken around 1921-22. Two short years prior to this picture being taken Helen and Marie had lost their mother to uterine cancer - she was just 40 years old. When she died her husband was left to care for their six children, ranging in age from eight to eighteen years old. Only three years later their father Edward also died; he was 55-years-old.

So it seems that Marie and Helen were probably visiting their mother's niece, Susie, who was the perfect age for them to play with. After the death of their father, around the time the photo was snapped, the girls and their older siblings moved to Elizabethton, Tennessee (for the exact reason I don't know). Susie, Marie and Adelaide would each marry within the next decade and have children; Helen would remain unmarried, living to be seventy-seven.

But leaving home, having husbands and children, was all for another day, another time. This day was for laughing and dreaming, sitting on train tracks until the sound of a whistle blew. It was for enjoying a lollipop and talking with good friends. It was a day to escape. And lucky for us, someone had a camera nearby to capture it all, so that we could enjoy the day, too.

[NOTE: This post has been corrected from its original form after it was pointed out to me that I had two of the girls incorrectly identified - Adelaide is on the far left and Susie is laughing in the middle. Thanks to Adelaide's granddaughter for letting me know!]


  1. Hello, you have done a great job with this wonderful family tribute. I googled up my grandmothers name Adelaide Atkins and this picture came up. My grandmother was born in 1909 in Birmingham and grew up in Homewood. Certainly, this would have to be her? You have the girl on the far left as being your grandmother but I think she looks just like mine! I would love to share a picture of her with you. I dont think it would be possible for her to be the girl in the middle.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words! You're right - your grandmother's on the far left and mine is laughing in the middle. I've corrected the post. It's such a great picture; I want to make sure to get the details right. I've heard about your grandmother since I was a little girl - mostly tied to the story of the young man who loved your grandmother but wasn't able to date her...with a terrible ending. Do you know the story? I would love to see your picture!

  2. Adelaide Atkins is my grandmother too. I'd love to hear the details on that story :-)