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, August 30, 2012

WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY'S PHOTO - Four Little Babies (1869)

Quadruplets born to George & Mary Frisz
Washington, Indiana - 1869
Let me warn you up front - this is not your not your typical "wonderful" family photograph. Not by our current standards anyway. But for a time in the 1800's, taking such a picture was done to keep the memory of loved ones. This is the only such picture anywhere in my extended family so it is unique for that reason. These are the only quads that I know of in my family. And this photograph was taken over 150 years ago, but can be shared with you through the internet, so that you might remember these little family members, too. First, let me tell you about the family behind the photograph.

George Frisz (1829-1909) is my great-great-great-uncle. He is the brother of my great-great-great-grandmother Barbara Frisse Brunett (1822-1893). [See below for where the Frisse/Brunett connection is in the tree.] Their parents, my 4x-great-grandparents, were Joseph Frise (1796-1864) and Marguerite Lang (1802-1868), Barbara, George, their 7 other siblings and their parents were all born in Seingbouse, Moselle, France and immigrated to America, arriving in the port of New Orleans, Louisiana, on July 20, 1846. They travelled up the Mississippi River to Indiana and settled in St. Anne's Village (now North Vernon) in Jennings County.

On October 9, 1858, George married Mary Brentner at St. Anne's Catholic Church. Mary, an immigrant from Bavaria, was born August 15, 1842,  At the time of their wedding he was 29, she was 16. It wasn't until ten years later that they started their family. Daughter Mary Ursula was born March 6, 1868. In the 1870 Census, the young family was living in Washington, Morgan County, Indiana. George is listed as an "Ale Merchant" with real estate valued at $14,000 and his personal estate valued at $8,000. In 1880, George listed himself in the Census as a "Saloonist".  At this time they were living in Martinsville, Indiana.
Framed and Labelled Photograph

In 1869, Mary gave birth to quadruplets - three girls and a boy. They were named Borgia, Johnnie, Lena, and Maggie. They didn't survive; if they had been born alive and survived for any time is unknown. But they were obviously loved. Because in 1869, with photography still in its infancy, they had a picture taken of their four babies. They were dressed in white gowns, laid down next to each other and photographed. It is known as post-mortem photography [see below]. The photo has since been passed down through the Frisz family. [NOTE: 'Frisz is pronounced "freese" and rhymes with grease.]

Quadruplet births are rare, even with the recent increase in the number of multiple births since IVF treatments began. Since 1989, there have been an average of 102 sets of quadruplets born in the United States each year. In the U.S., between 1915 and 1948, 114 sets of quads were born; just 27 sets were born between 1947 and 1958. In the 19th century, few babies born as quads survived the neonatal period. No higher order multiple sets survived in total past the neonatal period until 1847. The first recorded set of quadruplets surviving to adulthood was in Switzerland in 1880. So the birth of four babies, even though they didn't survive, must have been a real story in the city of Martinsville, Indiana.

George and Mary would have five more children: Elizabeth Agnes, born February 21, 1871; John Maurice, born January 21, 1873; twins Joseph Henry and  Katie, born March 26, 1875; and Antoinette Rose, born January 27, 1878. Mary Frisz died on April 9, 1882, at the age of 39. George soon married Mary Oftering, a 30-year-old German immigrant. It was common at the time for widowed fathers with young children to marry a young woman who would be helpful in raising his children.

George died on January 16, 1909, at the age of 80. The only further record I have on Mary is the 1920 U.S. Census. Here she was the housekeeper for the parish priest in Indianapolis, Indiana. On May 30, 1941, Mary died; she was 89 years old. She and George are buried side-by-side at the St. Francis Cemetery in Teutopolis, Illinois.

Post-Mortem Photography
[taken from Wikipedia]
"Post-mortem photography (also known as memorial portraiture or memento mori) is the practice of photographing the recently deceased. Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as "Remember your mortality", "Remember you must die" or "Remember you will die. It refers to a genre of artworks that vary widely but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their mortality, an artistic theme dating back to antiquity.
The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839 made portraiture much more commonplace, as many of those who were unable to afford the commission of a painted portrait could afford to sit for a photography session. This cheaper and quicker method also provided the middle class with a means for memorializing dead loved ones.
These photographs served less as a reminder of mortality than as a keepsake to remember the deceased. This was especially common with infants and young children; Victorian era childhood mortality rates were extremely high, and a post-mortem photograph might have been the only image of the child the family ever had. The later invention of the carte de visite, which allowed multiple prints to be made from a single negative, meant that copies of the image could be mailed to relatives.
The practice eventually peaked in popularity around the end of the 19th century and died out as "snapshot" photography became more commonplace, although a few examples of formal memorial portraits were still being produced well into the 20th century.
The earliest post-mortem photographs are usually close-ups of the face or shots of the full body and rarely include the coffin. The subject is usually depicted so as to seem in a deep sleep, or else arranged to appear more lifelike. Children were often shown in repose on a couch or in a crib, sometimes posed with a favorite toy or other plaything. It was not uncommon to photograph very young children with a family member, most frequently the mother. Adults were more commonly posed in chairs. Flowers were also a common prop in post-mortem photography of all types.
The effect of life was sometimes enhanced by either propping the subject's eyes open or painting pupils onto the photographic print, and many early images (especially tintypes and ambrotypes) have a rosy tint added to the cheeks of the corpse.
Later examples show less effort at a lifelike appearance, and often show the subject in a coffin. Some very late examples show the deceased in a coffin with a large group of funeral attendees; this type of photograph was especially popular in Europe and less common in the United States.
Post-mortem photography is still practiced in some areas of the world, such as Eastern Europe. Photographs, especially depicting persons who were considered to be very holy lying in their coffins are still circulated among faithful Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians.
A variation of the memorial portrait involves photographing the family with a shrine (usually including a living portrait) dedicated to the deceased.
As the common practice of post-mortem photography in North America and Western Europe has largely ceased, the portrayal of such images has become increasingly seen as vulgar, sensationalistic and taboo. This is in marked contrast to the beauty and sensitivity perceived in the older tradition, indicating a cultural shift that may reflect wider social discomfort with death."
What's the Relationship?  Barbara Frisse married John Michel Baptiste Brunett (1816-1863) from France soon after arriving in the country. They had 10 children, including my great-great-grandmother Barbara Brunett (1852-1896). Barbara married Phillip Huber (1847-1901), an immigrant from Germany, in 1871. Together they had 7 children, including my great-grandmother Mary Bertha Huber (1873-1913). Mayme, as she was called, married John Martin O'Donnell (1865-1937) in 1904. Together they had four children, including the oldest John Huber O'Donnell (1905-1965), my grandfather. In 1929, he married my grandmother Susan Elizabeth Flemming (1909-1999). They would have eight children, including my mother.


  1. Susan, this is beautiful and touching. How frightening it must have been to have so different a pregnancy in 1869, and ultimately how sad. But if Wikipedia thinks that post-mortem photography is no longer a practice, they need to take in some funerals in the rural South. If the casket is open, the cameras are out -- at least the funerals I've attended. Creepy to me, but apparently meaningful to someone.

  2. Hello. If for some reason this image ever becomes available, we would love to give it a home in our Archive at Please feel free to contact me any time at -- Thank you, Jack