Family history

Narcissa at Northwestern

An opportunity to experience history can be as close as a family scrapbook.  While my sister and I were visiting our Mom’s house, we pulled out a scrapbook, an album created by our grandmother, Narcissa Pickrell, during her college days at Northwestern University from about 1916 to 1920. Her collection, combined with letters she had written, gave us a glimpse of her personality and her life. She was clever, pretty, spunky, and talented. While growing up near Springfield, Illinois, she was popular and creative. Life was full of gossip about boyfriends, cleverly written with a sense of humor. Her cluster of girlfriends enjoyed creating outfits to wear and making hats. Their ongoing quest was to create the perfect stylish hat. Meanwhile, her schooling continued. She enrolled in the oratory program as a theater major at Northwestern University near Chicago. Her interest in costuming was no doubt useful to her theater study, and her popularity escalated when she embraced social life in a college sorority.

Narcissa's Scrapbook
Narcissa’s Scrapbook

Then came World War I. The tone of the album became more somber with letters from boys she knew who were stationed in Europe. The frivolous tone was replaced by serious portraits of friends along with announcements of marriages and graduations. One might be left to wonder which of her beaus she married, or how her life turned out. We were left to fill in those blanks with all we knew. Rather than one of her college suitors, she married a young farmer, the brother of a close friend, back home in central Illinois. The bright, energetic young woman would not live long. In spite of extensive medical treatment, she succumbed to TB a few days before her thirtieth birthday. Although her life ended early, it was not before she married my grandfather, and gave birth to a little girl, my mother. Of course, this event made life as we know it possible for myself and my sister. I am so grateful for a glimpse of the grandmother I never knew through her scrapbook.

Thanks goodness for digital cameras. Rather than remove photos and pages to be photocopied or scanned at a print shop, I copied all images I needed by taking close-up photographs. I highly recommend this method for making copies of precious family artifacts, leaving primary documents in place, intact, and out of harms way.

Joyce B. Lohse

Coming Soon — July 13, 2011, 7 p.m.
Pikes Peak Genealogical Society
my “Pioneer Voices” presentation