Monday, November 29, 2010

Reflections on Annie Halls and Emma Tanton

A few days ago I found a picture from North Dakota that has Annie Halls, and (probably) her brother Philip Halls in it. I had been to the Digital Horizons site before and not found anything, but this time, poof! There is was. It was a group picture of ND pioneers taken back in July of 1939 during a picnic. To be honest, they all look rather wilted by the heat.

On the other side of the world, 29 years prior to that picnic in the summer of 1939 is a picture of Emma Tanton, widow of Samuel Halls. In this case it is a stone laying ceremony for the local Baptist manse in Dolton, Devon. The picture appears to be taken on a cool day, and there are leaves on the trees and bushes. In so many ways the complete opposite of the North Dakota picture. A secular vs religious gathering. Warm vs cold. England vs America. Sunset of empire vs dawn of empire.

It leads one to reflect on the lives of Annie and Emma. Both pictures are taken not long before the World Wars. Annie lived to know that the Allies had won both wars, but Emma died in January of 1918 while issue was still in doubt. Emma had the added burden of fearing for the life of a child. She never knew if William James Halls survived the Great War, though I know he did. Annie never married or had children, though she took in at least two foster children/orphans. One of them may have fought in the WWI, but I can't find him.

I wonder if they knew of each other, and what they might have thought of their respective lives if they did. I suspect there was some contact between the families, for long involved genealogical reasons I won't get into here. They were both, in their ways, successful. Most likely they were well thought of by their communities. Certainly they lived very different lives. Emma lead a life that was secure, as far as I can tell from my place 100 year later. She did all the things a good English middle class woman should have done. Married, had children, supported her church. Her husband Samuel appears to have done much the same. Married, had children, supported his church. He followed in his father's and grandfather's footsteps, becoming a mason and builder, and generally supporting English society.

Annie did not follow a life path like that of Emma, or her cousin Samuel. She left her home in Ontario about 1900 and went to North Dakota. In Ontario she could have married, had children, and lead a quiet, comfortable life, with minimal hardship. Instead she chose to leave for an area that was still largely unsettled. She became a farmer, and never married or had children. One wonders why she made the choices she did, what she thought of the world she lived to see. She was born before airplanes, and lived to see men go into space.

In the end, I suppose I will always wonder. The chances of finding letters that give me insight into their personalities are small. On the other hand, Charlotte Halls has a letter posted to the Canadian Letters and Images Project, so there is always hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment