Monthly Archives: April 2011

William Shew (1820-1903) – Photographer & Daguerreotype Innovator

W.P. & H. Wolfinger

I came across this picture of a pair of distinguished looking brothers named W.P & H. Wolfinger and wanted to research them to tell their story… but my ADHD kicked in and I was distracted by the photographer’s name on the back of the cabinet card instead… Wm Shew’s new Photographic Establishment, 145 Kearny Street, San Francisco. 

What caught my eye were the words Photographic Establishment. Normally, on cabinet cards, the photographer only has the word “photographer” after his name but William Shew went all out and that intrigued me. I had to know more about him.

I came across a blog by Michael Colbruno called Lives of the Dead: Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland. Michael has researched William Shew since he is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. I’ve taken the liberty to add a few pictures and some additional information… It’s a great story and history lesson.

William Shew was born on a farm in Waterton, New York on March 1820. At the age of 20 he read an article by the inventor Samuel F.B. Morse about the daguerrotype process and, along with his three brothers, moved to New York City to study with Morse. His brothers Jacob, Myron and Trueman were also photographers, but not attained the stature of William Shew. Morse would become more famous as the inventor of the telegraph.

After completing his studies, Shew worked briefly in upstate New York before becoming the supervisor at John Plumbe’s gallery in Boston. Three years later he opened John Shew and Company in Boston, where he manufactured his own dyes and created daguerrotypes with wooden frames, thin vaneer backings and embossed paper coverings. In 1846, Shew married Elizabeth Marie Studley and had a daughter they named Theodora Alice, born in Feb. 1848. He also became and active member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society.

William Shew's passport application applied for on Jan. 27, 1851

In 1851, he sold his business and sailed on the steamer Tennessee to San Francisco, where he joined his brother Jacob who arrived in 1849. It is believed that Shew set up a gallery shortly after arriving in San Francisco, which may have been destroyed by the 1851 fire that swept the city. After the fire he set up “Shew’s Daguerreian Saloon.”

The wagon drew the attention of the neighboring Alta California newspaper, which wrote, “A good deal of curiosity has been expressed in regard to the object and intention of the big wagon which fills up a large portion of the plaza, and which was yesterday being covered with a frame. Some suppose that ‘the elephant’ which so many people come here to see was to be caged up in it and exhibited to greenhorns at a quarter a sight. . .It seems, however, that it is to be a traveling daguerreotype establishment, with which the proprietor intends to travel around the city and country, taking views and portraits.” 

That same year, John Wesly Jones hired Jacob and William Shew to take dagurrotypes for the California portion of his moving panorama “Great Pantoscope of California, the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City, Nebraska and Kansas.” In 1852 the brothers expanded the business, selling portraits and pictures of buildings, as well as daguerrotype materials.

During this period he continued his interest in the anti-slavery movement and is believed to have hosted the first Free-Soil convention held in San Francisco on October 8, 1852. His interest in politics expanded beyond slavery and Shew went on to serve on the San Francisco Board of Education and he hosted meetings of the Temperance Society at his office. He also became an active member of a number of photographic associations and societies.

By 1854, he was operating his business at the corner of Montgomery and Sacramento in San Francisco, later moving to a “fire-proof building” at Clay and Montgomery. His brother, who had been his shop supervisor, opening a competing business named Hamilton & Shew located directly across the street. William Shew expanded his business to include photographs and ambrotypes (positive photographic images printed on glass).

In 1864, he entered a competition at the Mechanics’ Institute Exhibition where he displayed pictures of Thomas Starr King, Edwin Sumner, Gen. John Sutter and Sam Houston. In 1878, his only daughter, Theodora “Dora” married Calvert Meade.

On Oct. 11, 1889, Shew’s wife of approximately 43 years died of typhoid fever along with his youngest grand daughter, Edith Dora Meade. In 1892, at the age of 72, Shew married his second wife Annie Katherine. She was 26.

By 1902, the octagenarian was still operating his studio. A year later he died and was buried at Mountain View Cemetery. His wife continued to operate his studio after his death. Tragically, most of his work was destroyed in the 1906 fire and earthquake. However, many of his works can still be found in history books and major collections, including at the Smithsonian Institution, California Historical Society, Bancroft Library in Berkeley and the Wells Fargo Bank Historical Room.


What Genealogical Records Might be Hiding in Your House?

There are many places you can find family history information. As you search for valuable records in your home, think about looking at some of these sources. 

Florence Nightengales birth certificate

Bibles. Old Bibles may contain a few pages devoted to genealogical records of the family (births, marriages, and deaths). Information found in a family Bible should be carefully evaluated and, where possible, confirmed by other sources.

Diaries and Journals.  Study journal entries for genealogical data.

Biographies. Unpublished biographies are often found among loose family papers. Although a biography may be unscholarly and poorly written, it will be a treasure to the family historian.

Letters. Old letters are the most informal and intimate family sources. Addresses, names of correspondents, postmarks, and dates are useful information to a genealogist.

Memorial Cards and Funeral Programs. Genealogical data on funeral memorabilia include date of birth, place of birth, date of death, place of burial, and age at death.

Church Records. Certificates of birth, baptism (or christening), marriage, death, and funeral notices are often found in church records.

Civil Records. Competent civil recorders prepared birth, marriage, and death certificates usually near the date of the event.

Citizenship Records. Records of immigrant ancestors may include citizenship papers, date of arrival in the United States, port of embarkation and debarkation, and other details.

Fraternal Records. The Masonic Lodge, Elks, Knights of Columbus, etc., have preserved biographical sketches of their membership. If your ancestor joined a fraternal society, you may procure a biographical sketch.

Genealogical Records. Other family members may have compiled genealogical records, such as family group records and pedigree charts. Photocopying these records will save you many hours of research time.

Histories. Specific local histories describe the geography, political atmosphere, economic trends, etc., of ancestral residences.

Credit to BYU Independent Study course

Understanding the Basic Research Process

There are five steps to this process:

  1. Write down what you know
  2. Decide what you want to learn
  3. Choose a source of information
  4. Learn from your source
  5. Use what you learn

When you complete the fifth step, you start over again. Systematically you can fill in all the gaps. After you organize and design a system for yourself, you will find that step one is easily accomplished. 

If you examine a pedigree chart, it’s easy to see the missing puzzle pieces and determine what you need to learn. From there you can choose a source of information, review the source, and record new information. Then the process starts over as you identify new holes in your puzzle.


The residents of Quarter Rd. Cemetery…part 1

Last week, a couple of friends found an old and forgotten cemetery in the woods in Stanton, Haywood County, Tennessee. Long forgotten by the town and family members, their markers dirty and in disrepair, five individuals sleep the among the trees and critters aching to be discovered and remembered once more. Who were these people and why were they buried in the woods. Was it once the former location of a church that has lost it members and now only the cemetery marks its former existence? Or is it simply the hands of time that have enveloped the land and works to obliterate their memories? This was a mystery that is screaming to be solved! I’ll write my findings for each story… each mystery that I can uncover. We begin with the tale of Herman Sales.

Herman Sales May 12, 1895-Aug. 1, 1920

Young Herman Sales was born on May 12, 1895 in Shelby County, Tennessee to John and Letha Sales. He is their firstborn.

During the next five years, many changes occur in young Herman’s life. His mother has three more children and his father abandons the family. On the evening of June 27, 1900, the twelfth US Federal census was taken and found 5-year-old Herman, his mother Letha, brothers Raney and Billy and sister Hollie living with John’s parents, Albert and Mandy Sales and their three minor children still living at home. It’s an extremely crowed home with 10 people sharing the small space and everyone of age helps out on the family farm. Herman’s mother Letha is shown as being 38 years old and divorced. None of the family has gone to school and no one can read or write.

The 1910 US Federal Census was taken on Apr. 28, 1910 finds Herman’s parents back together once again and more children have been added to the household. Fourteen-year-old Herman is living with his parents, John and Letha and seven siblings in a rented home in Shelby County, TN on Central College and Kerrville Rd. His parents have been married for more than 16 years and in addition to the eight children living, his mother has lost two of her babies. Herman’s mother age is still shown as 38. She is 10 years older than her husband and I imagine it’s vanity that leads her to tell the enumerator the small fib.  Herman’s father is a farmer in his own right and needs the assistance of his oldest sons, so Herman and his 12-year-old brother Raney work the farm as laborers with their father. Neither one can read or write and have not attended school at all during the year. In fact, none of the Sales children have attended school in 1920 and out of his entire family, only his father John is shown as knowing how to read or write.

Herman Sales WWI draft Registration Card

In June of 1917, Herman registers for the WWI draft. He gave his year as birth as 1895 but did not give a month or day, perhaps because he didn’t know them. He told the registrar he worked for Earl Griffin in Fayette County and he was married. He was medium build, medium height with brown eyes and black hair. When it came time to sign his draft card, he could only make his mark because he still did not know how to read or write.

Just seven shorts months before his death, the 1920 US Federal Census was taken in Haywood County, TN and tells us he was black, married and the father of two babies. Herman’s wife Anna, 18-month old son Clifton and newborn daughter Lulu Bell lived with him in a rented shack on Hillville Road in Stanton where he farmed the land to make a living for his young family. His next door neighbors, Lee Powell and Edwin Moore, one black, one white, were also farmers and they worked the land together. His brother, Raney lived close by with his wife Rosie and their year-old daughter. A nephew, 7-year-old Roland Hamer also lived with them. Roland’s headstone was also found in the cemetery. His story will be next.

Although we don’t know the cause of Herman’s death, we do know that his headstone tells us he thought about the needs of his family in case of his death. The seal at the top of his stone is from the Masonic Templars of America, a black fraternal organization founded in 1883 by two former slaves, John Edward Bush and Chester W. Keatts, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The organization originally provided illness, death, and burial insurance, including a headstone for a small monthly membership fee during an era of segregation when few basic services were available to black people. By being a member of the MTA and paying his monthly dues, Herman ensured his family had the money for his burial and a stone in which to mark his grave. During  a difficult time, his pre-planning ensured the burden of his funeral cost did not fall to his family and enabled us to find his final resting place 90 years later to tell his story.


The Mosaic Templars of America

I am constantly learning something new about history when I look at the past. This past week a couple of new friends and budding genealogists and cemetery researchers found an old forgotten cemetery in the woods in Stanton, Haywood County, Tennessee.

We’re referring to the cemetery as Quarter Rd. Cemetery, well, because that’s where it’s located and we don’t know yet what it’s original name is. They’ve located the graves of five individuals in this long-forgotten final resting place. One child and four adults. One of the stones is the oldest stone I’ve come across in this area of West Tennessee…

John Bishop died Jan 1807 age 70

John Bishop died in January 1807 at the age of  70, putting the year of  his birth about 1737! Also located is Mahala Bishop, who was 54 years old when she died in 1921, Roland Hamer who passed at the tender age of 13 in 1925, Henry Clay Watkins who died on April 1, 1914 at the age of 62 and young Herman Sales who was just 25 years old when he died on August 1, 1920. More to come on them….

The most unusual aspect that was discovered in this cemetery was the markings on a couple of the headstones. It was a symbol that we had never run across before and it had the initials TMA 3vs engraved in the stone. But after a few hours of research I had discovered the answer.

The initials were really MTA which stood for the Mosaic Templars of America which was a famous black fraternal organization founded by two former slaves, John Edward Bush and Chester W. Keatts, in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1883. The organization originally provided illness, death, and burial insurance during an era of segregation when few basic services were available to black people. By 1900 Mosaic Templars’ industries grew to include an insurance company, a building and loan association, a publishing company, a business college, a nursing school, and a hospital. The  goal of the organization was to provide its members with various services but also to meet the needs of the black population in general by encouraging self-help measures.

By 1905 it had a number of lodges across the state with thousands of members. When the new headquarters were built in 1913, Booker T. Washington delivered the dedication speech. In the 1920s they claimed chapters in twenty-six states and six foreign countries, making it one of the largest black organizations in the world. However, in the 1930s the MTA began to feel the effects of the Great Depression and eventually ceased operations.

But today there is an organization struggling to keep that rich history alive.  The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is located in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is dedicated to the preservation of Arkansas’ African American history. Within the cultural center is a museum with hundreds of artifacts, a research facility which collects various types of artifacts related to Arkansas’s rich African American history from 1870 to the present. You can visit their website at http://www.mosaictemplarscenter.com/default.aspx.


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