My grandmother, Laura Fraser, was a woman who knew her own mind. She chose to marry Tom Kirven, a South Carolina farmer who lived two counties away from her family. Their wedding was in 1897, and she gave birth to six children before 1907.

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura Fraser, Tom Kirven

Laura Fraser in the 1890s. Property of Mariann S. Regan

In 1908 a deranged tenant farmer ambushed her husband and blasted him with a shotgun. Tom survived only because a thick memo pad, in the left pocket of his jacket, blocked enough of the shot to keep him alive – but not in good health. Laura saw Tom through his recurrent “bad spells.”

In the years after the shooting, Laura endured two miscarriages and several months in a TB sanatorium before she and Tom had one last child in 1915 (my mother). When Tom died prematurely in 1921, Laura and her oldest son teamed up to manage the family farm.

Yet it was Laura alone who decided in 1933, when the Depression hit Sumter County full force, to yield their farm to the bank. All those now living on that farm (Laura’s son, his wife and children, and Laura herself) had to move 30 miles to Eastover and sharecrop another man’s land. It was a hard blow to the family—a kind of exile. Those were hard times. I have Laura’s account book for the first year of that Eastover period.

Laura died in 1935, before she could know that the family would be able to regain their original farm and finally move back home in 1943.

Let’s try recognizing Laura over the years. Here is a photo from the 1880s of four siblings. One of them is Laura, but I don’t know which one. Their names, in alphabetical order, are Donald, Harriett, Laura, and Miller. Can you see Laura?

Fraser, Sumter, South Carolina

Four Children of Ladson L. Fraser, c.1885. Property of Mariann S. Regan.

The two boys have “Little Lord Fauntleroy” decorative collars, and the two girls do look rather fearless, especially with their short haircuts. Did the family choose a reverse-gender gamin look for the girls, just for fun? Here is Manet’s 1862 sketch of a boy, “le gamin au chien,” meaning “the urchin with a dog.” (It was well into the 1900s before Audrey Hepburn and others popularized the female gamine style.)

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina

Edouard Manet, "Le gamin au chien." Wikipedia commons.

You may recall my earlier post of Coit and Marion, two of Laura and Tom’s sons, with bows on their hair. Well, my family did like practical jokes.

Finally, here are the sisters (in alphabetical order) Harriett and Laura, years later, when they were both grandmothers. I’ve been told that this photograph was staged as a joke. Harriett’s nickname was “Hat,” and that’s why each woman is sporting a silly hat.

Fraser, Kirven, Sumter, South Carolina, Laura and Harriett Fraser

Two Sisters in the 1930s. Property of Mariann S. Regan

Can you tell which one is Laura? (This time, I do know.)

How difficult is it to see Laura through the years as a child, young woman, and grandmother?

What about your own ancestors? Can you identify them through the years?

Your thoughts are welcome!