The people who lived in that house

(They lived there for a short time, at least.)

A closer view of the family seen in this photo: Joe Lee Jameson and Amaryllis Routh Jameson (aka “Jamie”), my great-great-grandparents; Malcolm Routh Jameson, my great grandfather, and Vida Jameson (the first of two Vidas: there would be another in the next generation).

The top two photos are from about 1899. The bottom photo may be a year or two later, since MRJ is a little older. And since Vida isn’t there.

By 1905 their family portrait would look much different.

The first mystery: THAT HOUSE

You know how you when you’re growing up you’d hear things about your family from the older folks and you couldn’t make any sense of it all? There’d be some story about these Great-Grand Whoevers and you had no idea who they were, because of course you were a kid and you had no perspective. I knew Grandpa Mac’s family was from Texas, and if my grandmother’s stories were to be believed—and often they weren’t, because she was crazy and kind of awful— that side of the family once lived in the Texas governor’s mansion. Or something like that.

Grandpa Mac, my maternal grandfather, died in 1997. His wife, who we called Grandma Steve, died in 2002. When we cleaned out their house, reams of letters and photos and family albums were collected in some file boxes and a military footlocker trunk. My parents put the stuff into storage, first at one house and then another, meaning to go through it all eventually.

Years passed. My mother died in 2007. Then, during Christmas 2011, while visiting my dad and my aunt (my mom’s sister) in Albuquerque, we opened up the trunk and the boxes. And among all the old photos and letters, we found this photo:

(You can click to enlarge.) Among the first things we found out about this place is that it was just down the street from the governor’s mansion, and it was built by the same architect. So it wasn’t the governor’s mansion, but indeed “something like that.”

Pasted on the back of the photo is a typed, mimeographed letter, dated June 15, 1899, that tells us so much and not nearly enough. The letter is from my great-great grandfather, Joe Lee Jameson, who tells us who the people (and animals) are in the photo: To the left, “Black Joe” holds the saddle pony, “Duke;” “Bessie” is harnessed to the phaeton. The little boy at the far right, Joe Lee says, is “Master Malcolm Jameson”  “looking pleasant at the photographer.” The girl sitting with the housemaid on the veranda is Malcolm’s little sister, Vida, and to the right stand my great-great grandparents, Joe Lee and Amaryllis Routh Jameson. The letter mentions the servants’ building, the latticed cistern house, the way the elm trunks “are clothed with a rare variety of English Ivy.”

Or course, there’s plenty the letter doesn’t tell us. Is this house still standing? Did the family actually own it? Why don’t we live there now? What happened to us?