Some little girls like getting all dressed up in stiff crinoline skirts and fancy velveteen dresses, with bows in their hair and shiny new shoes. Let me say for the record right here that I wasn’t one of those girls. Apparently, I gave my mother quite a hard time when she tried to make my little toddler self look appropriately elegant for a once-in-a-lifetime family photograph. I was not impressed. Then.
But I am now.
The idea to take a five-generation picture started with my grandma, Wilma Steele Herrel. She wanted a photograph that included her own grandmother, Minnie King Steele, as well as her young granddaughter. It was timed around some family occasion—perhaps her own September birthday—in 1961. My mother remembers that on the appointed day, everyone gathered at the home of Wilma’s father, Homer Steele, in Columbus, Ohio. She thinks Wilma’s brother-in-law, Merle Rhoten, a professional photographer, most likely took the picture.
And so, a moment in time was captured. Five Generations, 1961: from left to right, my mother, holding me; my grandmother, Wilma Lucille Steele Herrel; my great-great-grandmother, Minnie L. King Steele; and my great-grandfather, Homer Burdell Steele.
I have no memory of my great-great-grandmother, but clearly she knew me, and today I marvel that our lives overlapped. Minnie L. King was born November 23, 1873, in the town of Cheshire in Gallia County, Ohio.1 Her father, Newel King, was a Civil War veteran, having served in the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company B. Her mother, Electa Roush King, was descended from a line of Roush patriots from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Minnie King grew up in Cheshire, along the Ohio River in the southernmost part of the state. She had many Roush aunts, uncles, and cousins on the West Virginia side of the river, in Mason County. That may have been where she met her husband, George Phelps Steele, who lived in Mason County. She married George on 17 January 1893 in Meigs County, Ohio, when she was 19 years old.2
Minnie and George had two sons, Homer (in the picture) and Walden Steele. By 1900, the family had moved north to Columbus, where they rented a home on the city’s south side and George worked at a steel mill.3 George passed away in 1925, and Minnie lived the rest of her life as a widow. During her later years, she lived with her sister, Bella King Stickelman, in Dayton. Because of this, my mother called her “Grandma Dayton.”
Mom remembers Minnie as being a really nice person, always friendly, cheerful, and optimistic. She was an impeccable and fashionable dresser, with a good sense of style. A cute little black terrier was her constant companion.
Minnie was 87 years old when the five-generation picture was taken in the fall of 1961, and turned 88 in November. I don’t know whether she had been showing signs of not doing well, but it’s good that my grandma insisted on getting the picture when she did. Minnie died shortly afterwards, on December 13, 1961.4
To think that I was held and loved by someone born in 1873, the daughter of a Civil War soldier, amazes me now. Minnie is the oldest ancestor in any of my family lines that I've actually known. She was the only great-great-grandparent still alive when I was born. At the time, of course, I had no inkling of the family history that one photograph could represent, or how much it could mean to me decades later.
I just wanted out of that stiff, scratchy skirt.
- Gallia County, Ohio, Birth Records, v. 1: 117, no. 13, Minnie King (born 1873); Probate Court Office, Gallipolis.
- Meigs County, Ohio, Marriage Records, v. 9: 102, George Steel and Minnie King (1893); Meigs County Museum, Pomeroy.
- 1910 U.S. census, Columbus Ward 1, Franklin County, Ohio, population schedule, ED 37, p. 2B, dwelling 40, family 41, George P. Steele; digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 18 August 2009); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1180.
- Ohio Department of Health, death certificate no. 86054 (1961), Minnie L. Steele; Office of Vital Statistics, Columbus.
© Shelley Ballenger Bishop 2014
This is one of a series of family history stories written for “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks,” coordinated by Amy Johnson Crow, CG, author of No Story Too Small.