A Somber Celebration

A group portrait which I found after searching for a picture of Adam or Elizabeth (Shuler) VanMeter on Ancestry.com, gave no details about the special occasion it commemorated, though I was sure there had to be one.

The people in the photo are clearly related to one another.  About half of them apparently inherited the pattern of their mother’s furrowed brow, with lines that radiate like the branches of a tree.  Most of the males seem to favor their patriarch’s preference for a few wisps of hair on the cranium.

As for the occasion, the picture surely wasn't snapped by someone who happened to bring a recently-purchased Kodak Brownie to a family gathering.  The level of detail  in the photograph points to a large-format camera and a tripod.  Everyone in the picture has been directed to gaze towards the same side of the camera lens.  It’s an excellent photographic record of something that seemed important, taken by a professional who knew what he was doing.

An explanation for the photo might be contained in a news item from the Lovewell area which was printed in the Formoso New Era, on June 3, 1915. 

Sunday, May 30th, being the seventy-fifth birthday of Adam VanMeter, his children reminded him of the fact by taking their dinners and spending the day with him.

It’s possible that another, more recent event had underscored the need for a photographic record of the remaining members of the VanMeter family.

According to Gloria Lovewell’s The Lovewell Family, Adam and Elizabeth VanMeter had fifteen children (Genealogical websites say it was sixteen), a few of whom died young.  At least ten made it to the threshold of the 20th Century.  Two of the VanMeter girls who reached adulthood, Villa Viola and Lulu Mae, married Thomas Lovewell’s sons Stephen and William Frank, respectively.  

Almost exactly three years before the picture on this page was taken, Villa Viola (VanMeter) Lovewell died in the arms of her husband Stephen.  Her death at thirty-two was mourned as a poignant loss for the family and the entire community.

A faithful, loving wife and mother, she lived among us, peacefully she passed from us, entering into the mysteries of beyond.

When she knew her last hour had come, she asked for her little ones and bade them good bye, telling them to “be good,” then, bidding her husband, mother, brothers and sisters farewell, she lay quietly in her husband’s arms and drifted from us.  The blessed memory of a life spent in making others happy.

Formoso New Era

A decade would pass before Stephen Lovewell remarried.  When he did, Alta Kershner Mann Lovewell would add six more children to their household, the last of which, Rhoda Claudine Lovewell, would take up the mantle of family historian, which she wears to this day.

Another of Adam and Elizabeth VanMeter's daughters, Emma Alice, married Lovewell farmer and contractor Will Simmons.  Emma and Will Simmons' daughter Sarah married Jacob Switzer, setting the stage for her to become my paternal grandmother.

I’ve never seen a photo that was identified as a likeness of Grandmother Emma, whose name is usually rendered as “Emmie,” and who was apparently called “Emmie Alice,” although her gravesite lists her full name as Alice Amelia “Emma” VanMeter Simmons.  Confusion about the naming of children apparently ran in the family.  The younger VanMeter sister on the left side of the photograph may be William Frank Lovewell’s wife Lulu Mae, who reportedly discovered as a grown woman that her given name had been "Lucinda May."  She went by “Lulu Mae" for the rest of her days.  

The daughter on the extreme right-hand side looks like a good candidate for the youngest of the VanMeter girls, Edith, who would have been twenty-six the year her father turned seventy-five.

All throughout The Lovewell Family and on some genealogical websites, “Vanmeter” is spelled as two words.  The space between the words disappeared at some point while both words remained capitalized, until the name congealed into one word with a single capital letter.  

Judging from the family tree listed on familysearch.com, each of the children of Adam and Elizabeth VanMeter may have felt free to take their pick from all available versions of the family name.

Oh, by the way, I’m afraid I recognized a disturbing family resemblance in the VanMeter photo.  Elizabeth (Shuler) VanMeter looks uncomfortably like my dad in drag.

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com