Frances (Nelson) Merrill has always been one of my most elusive “brick wall” ancestors, but little by little, I’ve found clues to her larger story. Frances, my 3rd great-grandmother, was born on November 3, 1856 in Potter County, Pennsylvania to Leroy and Melvina Sarah (Baker) Nelson. Her mother, Melvina, died when she was only seven years old, and it’s here that the paper trail begins to scatter. Each new find has been a milestone in my research: it took years to discover Frances’ obituary, to learn her middle name–Annabelle–and to piece together her siblings’ names. And a few years ago, I finally found a photograph of her.
My grandfather and I were sifting through old photos he’s inherited over the years, and we found this one in a broken metal frame at the bottom of the pile. In the photo, Frances is seated in front of two of her granddaughters–Frances Caroline (Peterson) Will and Matilda Alvina (Peterson) Yonkers–and is holding her great-grandson, Frederick “Fritz” Will, on her lap. She has the kindest smile, and she looks like a wonderful grandmother (and great-grandmother)–just like Mrs. Claus. The photo, though, has water damage along the bottom edge from a basement flood decades ago, and my scanner made rivets to the family’s right. I decided to take Patricia Greber’s suggestion and post the photo to the Random Acts of Photo Restoration group on Facebook.
The photo was a hit, and I received twelve restorations from the group’s kind volunteers. I cannot thank them enough: this is one of my favorite family photos–to know what my great-great-great-grandmother looked like and to see her smile is priceless–and each artist’s take is absolutely beautiful. The time and effort that went into each restoration must have been substantial, and the results have brought me to tears–the perfect Christmas gift. Frances’ story is a little more complete, and it’s all thanks to the work of these dedicated artists:
Thank you to Dale Conrad, for sharpening the image (and for the fun version in yellow and purple); to George Wellman, for highlighting the family, not the background; to Marjorie Hayes Keeler, for the beautiful sepia tone; to Jean Hooks, for emphasizing the strengths of the original photo; to Camella Camenzuli, for softening the image; to Carole Ann Farber, for the autumn shades on the family’s dresses; to John Wilson, for his attention to detail (highlighting the necklaces and aprons, in particular); and to Ted Altizer–your versions have brought me to tears.