As a descendant I am of course detached from the ancestors I never met. I’ve undoubtedly inherited their physical characteristics and probably even their mannerisms. My history is somehow connected to them. I am their future. We also share a common future, one none of us has lived, or will live, to see.
Thus I think it’s fun to see what once was, and what it has become. I inherited this sense from my mother, Ruth (Stewart) Voisin, who always took time to connect the present to the past. Here she is as a twenty-year old standing with a friend in Pensacola, Florida and later, at the exact same spot, in her late fifties. It is not the plaque she is revisiting, it is a particular moment from her past, a memory of who she was, and who she had become. It is a connection in time at an ordinary place she went out of her way to revisit.
As much as I might want to meet my ancestors, it is only possible through a similar connection in time, and a visit to a particular place. Take for instance the homestead of my great-grandparents, Joseph and Mary (Yuncker) Voisin. They had a 40-acre farm near Beal City, Michigan. Today, nothing remains of the home where they cleared the forest, made a farm, and raised eleven children.
These aerial views from 1981 show buildings that have since been demolished.1
Both the house and barn were built in 1900. The porch on the house was added in 1907.
Old photographs reveal the house and barn shown in the aerial views are indeed the original structures. Below is a view of the house showing the same porch.
Next is a postcard photograph showing the house from a distance, and some of the outbuildings on the site. Outbuildings included a dairy barn, grain barn, tool shed, root cellar, garage, hen house, chicken coop, and wood shed.2
The barn, and probably an attached dairy barn (rear) and garage (left).
So much for the buildings. It is the life of this family that happened here. Joseph and Mary Voisin pose on their front porch, which was probably newly constructed.
A few years later, another family photograph. Joseph died in 1916.
Here the boys of the family line up in birth-order near the front door. Such a small house for a large family.
A family get-together, posing on the porch.
The dashing George Voisin with his Model-T Coupe in front of the homestead. They always had to fix a flat, here with his brother Willie.
Great-grandmother Mary Voisin in her kitchen.
Here is Mary Voisin in the parlor, perhaps with one of her daughters. Grandson Harold Voisin said kids were not allowed in the parlor.
Willie Voisin was home for a visit.
The grandchildren come to visit, here in front of the barn. Notice the Model-T Coupe.
My father Jack Voisin said chicken dinners were held Sundays on the farm. Imagine the photographs in that family album, now probably lost to history.
The family continued to meet even as the kids were grown.
The war interrupts the family.
The family matriarch, Mary Ann (Yuncker) Voisin at her 75th birthday. Her grandson Donald Voisin remembers that she spoke with a heavy German accent, saying “Ja” for “Yes.” She died in 1943.
The happiness and sadness that was here, the toil and laughs, the birthdays and weddings, and the babies who grew up at this place are all no more. Just a connection in time remains, in the shadow of what was.
- Vintage Aerial Ltd., “Vintage Aerial,” database, Vintage Aerial (http://vintageaerial.com/: downloaded 11 February 2016), Michigan, Isabella County, 1981, photos 045-ZIS-06 and 045-ZIS-07 and 045-ZIS-10.
- “WPA Property Inventories,” database, Michigan History Foundation, Seeking Michigan (http://seekingmichigan.org: downloaded 20 April 2013), 15N 05W 22, Pages 15-16, Record Group 72-76, http://seekingmichigan.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p129401coll0/id/89113; citing Michigan Department of Treasury; Works Progress Administration.