Thursday, May 12, 2022

happy 240th birthday

Every picture tells a story No. 37

Some time last week I came across a photo on twitter claiming to show the earliest born human to have had their photo taken while alive. While I have since found out that there are several claims to this record, the person in question was Conrad Heyer, born in 1749, who had his Daguerrotype portrait taken in 1852 a the age of 103. (He was born in the New World, but his parents hailed from the Rhineland, so I really should find his family tree to compare notes.)

You can kind of see how you achieve this record: get ridiculously old and be around at the time when photography is still a newfangled thing. Logically, any assiduous practicioner of the new technology would consider documenting for future generations things and people that might not be around much longer, so a centenarian fits just fine. The younger people will still be around in a few years time when the prices for the equipment and consumables have settled down a bit (Old Conrad did live to 106 though, so no desperate hurry).

Which then begs the question, do I have any ancestors who were ridiculously old in the mid 19th century and had their photo taken? Well, we can't quite compete with dear old Conrad Heyer, but there is one senior citizen who misses Heyer's record by just three decades.

Christian Gottlieb Weiß, maternal grandfather of the station master of Adamsweiler, was born 12.5.1782. When I looked him up his birthday was just a week away, and falling on a Thursday, so I pushed back the queued entries to celebrate this occasion today. He became a teacher at Hellenthal, Raversbeuren, and finally the village school in Simmern u. Dhaun (not to be confused with the town and former capital city of Simmern, which perished in the Palatinate Succession War and never really recovered after that).

He married Anna Gertrude Keuert from Hellenthal at Kirschseiffen in 1806. They had eight children and more than 16 grandchildren (one of whom married the inn keeper Ferdinand Weirich). One of the daughters emigrated to North America with her husband Friedrich Dick and "a stable full of children" as the 19th century chronicles of the Weiss family note.

In 1852, when he was 70 and getting a bit forgetful, the Prussian government put it to him that he should perhaps retire, and he did in November 1853. He received a decent pension and was able to celebrate his golden wedding anniversary in 1856. His wife died in 1858. So when his portrait was taken in 1866, he was retired, widowed, and a little bit forgetful, but otherwise fine, I guess. He died in December 1867, aged 85.

In the same album (curated by his great-granddaughter Johanna Kauer, oldest of the five daughters of the station master), we find photos from the same sort of time, showing his son in law, Mathias Kauer (* 1813), and his grandson Christoph Gottlieb Kauer. So this may have been a concerted effort, but at this point there is no trace of the women in the family.

Mathias Kauer may well be in second place for the ranking of earliest born person of whom we have a photo. He was the firstborn in his family, so even if there were more photos taken of his siblings, they wouldn't affect his result. Which is why I'm showing him too (although I have used his photo before as I just realised):

Bronze medal may go to Carl Düsselmann from the Krefeld Clan, although he and his twin sister are only 6th/7th in the sibling sequence, so there is every possibility that photos exist of his older siblings. Doesn't matter too much, as for the generation born in the 1840s, it becomes quite commonplace to have portrait photos taken on all sorts of occasions, so no records to be chased there, and by this point the women are also well represented in the photographic archives.

This photo is also on flickr.

Every picture tells a story series so far:

  1. string quartet Wuppertal Elberfeld 1927
  2. greetings from Adamsweiler
  3. Gastwirthschaft Ferd. Weirich
  4. quartet times three
  5. Neumühl 1923
  6. Tangermünde railway station 1889
  7. a singing lesson
  8. bei Wilhelm Geppert
  9. a bakery at Lorsch 1900
  10. Consumgeschäft von Julius Düsselmann
  11. Hanna and Ruth
  12. a young chemist
  13. school's out at Reichenstein, 1886
  14. a patchwork family in East Prussia
  15. the case of the missing grandmother
  16. checkpoint Glaner Brücke 1929(ish)
  17. finding Mimi
  18. five sisters, five decades
  19. happy at home
  20. gone milking
  21. steel workers
  22. field work
  23. what to wear at Porta Westfalica
  24. a classic convertible
  25. at the bottom of the steps
  26. a forester's family
  27. the Kaiser visits Allenburg
  28. teaching the 'deaf-mute'
  29. a guard dog called Schluck
  30. party like it's 1956
  31. the case of the mysterious uncle
  32. three Hedwigs and a baby
  33. a lost generation
  34. lost illusions
  35. pursued by a bear
  36. three daughters
  37. happy 240th birthday

Alternatively, you can use this twitter thread as an illustrated table of contents.

In a somewhat roundabout way, this series relates to my research for the family history music memoir I have now completed in a first version.

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