Happy 142nd birthday to Rosanna and happy 3rd birthday to this blog!
My great grandparents, George T. Swales and his wife, Rosanna Cuppello, have had a presence in my life for as long as I can remember. I never met the couple. They both died before I was born, but their images, possessions and stories have been part of my world since I was a child. I can thank their son, my grandfather, for my early knowledge of George and Rosanna. Even at the age of seventy he still kept a double hinged gold frame containing colorized portraits, George on the left and Rosanna on the right, on his dresser. Wooden clogs, miniature pewter jugs and small brass cups, treasures from a past life in another country, were proudly displayed on the corner curio shelves in his living room.
More of George and Rosanna’s belongings were relegated to the basement of my grandparents’ home. George’s favorite chair with its worn wooden arm rests and brittle leather cushions, did not fit the early American decor my grandmother furnished the rest of the house in. And her in-laws’ rusted cast iron French-fry cutter, which looked more like a medieval torture instrument than a kitchen appliance, had no place in my Grandma’s modern 1960’s kitchen. The remainder of George and Rosanna’s effects were stored in boxes on a steel shelving unit. The contents of one box in particular captivated me more than anything else, Rosanna’s postcard collection.
My great grandparents emigrated from England at the turn of the century and these postcards represented their communication with the relatives they left behind. There were hundreds of cards displayed in two albums, a very thick green one about 6 inches in depth and a thinner brown one. Though the fabric cover of the larger album was frayed and its binding was crumbling, the inner pages revealed an assortment of perfectly preserved postcards. Majestic castles and cathedrals, picturesque landscapes, and busy city scenes from all over England and Ireland filled the book. But my favorite cards were the ones that had a more personal tone, the cards sent to celebrate birthdays, holidays or just to express how much the recipient was missed at home. “Hands across the sea”, “Loves Longing”, it all seemed so sad.
Many years later, my father, George and Rosanna’s grandson, passed the box containing the postcard collection on to me. In addition to the postcards, the box also included half a dozen photo albums and a stack of cabinet cards, a type of photograph popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. All of the photos were blank on the back, no identification at all. The only clues were the imprint of the photographer’s name and city on the cabinet cards. I recognized George, Rosanna and my grandfather easily and my father was able to identify a few more individuals. But most of these pictures were taken thirty or more years before my dad was born and were of people he had never known. Rosanna had kept these photos for a reason and after she passed, my grandfather held on to them as well. The people in these photos meant a great deal to George, Rosanna and my grandfather. I was determined to put names to these faces.
I had started tracing our family history a few years earlier using Ancestry.com. There was a decent amount of information entered into my family tree including George and Rosanna’s siblings, most of whom were female. Finding these women once they married was where I ran into what genealogists refer to as a brick wall. I knew the surnames of George’s married sisters, but not Rosanna’s. Having access to the postcard collection changed all that. I inspected every card, noting names, addresses, dates and any other pertinent information. This literally opened up a whole new world. A card signed “from your cousin Joe Sutcliffe” and one from cousin Andrew Tomlinson meant that two of Rosanna’s sisters probably had married men named Sutcliffe and Tomlinson. My brick walls were about to be broken.
During this period, I also discovered that there were resources other than Ancestry.com available on-line. Familysearch.org, findmypast.com, the Lancashire Births, Marriages, and Deaths (http://www.lancashirebmd.org.uk) and the On Line Parish Clerks for the County of Lancashire (http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/) all contained different records not included on Ancestry.com. This new source of information, coupled with the tidbits gleaned from the postcards, produced exponential growth in my family tree. I found the sisters’ marriages, their husbands’ names, their children’s births and the deaths of young and old alike.
Based on the new data, I began to develop theories as to who the people in the photos were. As I learned more facts, sometimes my theories were strengthened, sometimes not. A destroyed theory meant I just had more work to do. In time, most of the nameless faces in that pile of photos had identities. And, thanks to all my research, I had compiled a tremendous amount of information on the Swales and Cuppello families covering the latter half of the 19th century and early 20th century. I shared my discoveries with my father. Sometimes the information would bring back a long forgotten childhood memory and he could confirm the fact. More often than not, I was unearthing pieces of the past that he had never known, some of which had been purposefully covered up.
My fascination with George, Rosanna and their families grew. I knew the people in these photos, knew their backgrounds, their losses, their secrets. None of these folks were famous and their tales had gone unrecorded in the history books. But these lives were important. They survived war, endured famines and economic depressions, and were participants in the industrial revolution and the great migration to the United States. These stories needed to be told and I needed to tell them. So, three years ago today, on the 139th anniversary of Rosanna’s birth, I launched the George & Rosanna blog as my outlet to share the postcards, photos and my knowledge of the Swales and Cuppello families.
In one way or another, we are all influenced by the successes and struggles of our ancestors. This blog is my way of saying thank you to George and Rosanna and all those who came before me. And if you’ve made it all the way through this long winded post dear reader, then thank you too for your support.
A people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants. - Lord Macaulay