When a beginning family historian comes into the North Carolina Room, the first thing we do is give them one of our Genealogical Starter Kits. The kit is a booklet that gives helpful hints on doing family research and includes a number of sample forms for organizing family data.

We tell them to begin gathering information from family members…names, dates…birth, marriage, death…whatever they can find. Then they can bring that data to the NC Room and we will help them use our multitude of resources to expand that information.

But we also remind them to ask family members about pictures. Our own Forsyth County Public Library picture collection is enormous, yet is unlikely to have any pictures relating to a particular family. We warn them that the answer will often be that there are no pictures.

But almost every family has pictures somewhere, often forgotten. So we urge them not to give up, to ask about long neglected boxes in attics and basements. More often than not, eventually, some pictures show up.

But that is just the beginning, because once pictures are found, other questions crop up. Who is this? When and where was this picture taken? By whom? What is that in the background? And on and on. Sometimes there are answers. And sometimes there are not. Deciphering pictures takes a bit of imagination and creative thinking. Reading a picture properly can tell a story. Here is an example.

I am working on a future blog post about the second most important event, after the arrival of the Moravians in Wachovia in 1753, in our fair city’s history…the building of the railroad spur from Greensboro to the towns of Winston and Salem in the early 1870s. I will explain in that post why that event was so important.

We know who was involved in that project. I wanted pictures of those men for the blog post, and found most of them right away. But a couple of the most important players, including the president of the corporation that built the railroad, were missing.

So the president, Edward Belo, became the object of my search. He was one of the most successful and powerful men in Salem, yet none of the usual sources would yield a portrait of him. Then I remembered two pictures, obviously taken on the same day, sometime just before or during the American Civil War. These pictures are well known in the local history community. But as far as I know, no one has ever asked who the people in the pictures are.

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This is the Belo House in Salem, built over a period of about thirty years in the early to mid-19th century. But for the moment we’re not really interested in the building itself.

Since one of the pictures is labeled “war time”, we can figure that both were taken just before or during the Civil War. But when? At first glance, the only time clue is the trees. They are pretty bare, but seem to be budding, especially the ones at the left along Main Street. So let’s say early spring. But what year? Probably not 1861, because North Carolina did not secede from the Union until late May, by which time the trees would no longer be budding. So that would not qualify as “war time”, would it?

Of course, it is possible that Edward Belo, being a smart man, realized earlier than most, that there was going to be a war, and decided that he wanted to record his family before it started. But somehow that doesn’t ring true to me…yet.

For other reasons, which I will explain later, I will eliminate 1864 and 1865 as well. So, for the moment, let’s say 1862 or 1863.

What else do we see in the picture? There is a covered wagon at the extreme left, facing north on Main Street. Near the center is another wagon parked at the curb. Unfortunately, the horse moved its head too fast for the film speed, so we cannot see its pretty face.

At the right are some interesting items. Near the stairs is a brick and lathe structure, which is one of the cisterns that make up the Salem water system. The tower housed a pumping mechanism which had a spout at the bottom where the water came out.

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Beyond that, next to the stairs, are some cast iron animals, a lion and two dogs, and beyond them an intricate wrought iron fence. You could buy such items in the mid-19th century, but we happen to know that Edward Belo owned a foundry located less than a mile and a half north of here where all of these items were almost certainly made. We may even know the name of the man who made them. But again, that can wait for another time. Remember, we are looking for a picture of Edward Belo himself. So our real interest must be focused on the people in the picture.

At the left, arrayed along the sidewalk, we find seven men. Who are they? We know that the center section of the Belo House contained the main source of Belo’s wealth, “E. Belo’s Leviathan”, the largest general merchandise store in Forsyth County at that time. So it is reasonable to guess that the seven men are the clerks who worked in the Leviathan.

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We know that most of the clerks lived on the top floor of the building. And the 1860 US Census lists six of them. So we know their names, but may never be able to match names to faces. The census lists the clerks as John L. Belo, 38 (not one of Edward’s sons); Frank C. Hauser, 24; Thomas Hunter, 23; James Kern, 21; John Reid, 18; and John W. Bitting, 17.

Their number alone is yet another reason why I disregard 1864-65, because by then, most of the Leviathan employees had gone off to war and the business was operating with a skeleton crew.

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To the right, we have three groups of people. First let’s look at the women on the top balcony. This is the same level on which the clerks lived. Are the women wives of the clerks? Or are they servants? The 1860 census is no help here, because no women other than Belo women are listed. A mystery for another time.

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On the main level, behind the wrought iron fence, we find two more women. Almost certainly, these are Belo women. Those included Caroline Amanda Fries Belo (Edward Belo’s wife, the daughter of Francis Levin Fries, b. 1817), Ellen Elizabeth Belo (b. 1841), Bertha Catherine Belo (b. 1850) and Agnes Cornelia Belo (b. 1852).

So it would make sense to say that the older woman at the right is Edward Belo’s wife, Caroline Amanda Fries Belo, age about 43 or so. And that the younger woman at the left is their daughter Ellen Elizabeth Belo, age about 19 or so. Where are the younger girls? We shall see in part 2.

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Then, standing on the stairs in front of the fence, we find three men. There is a strong temptation to say right off the bat that the man in the top hat is Edward Belo. As obvious as that is, that would raise a howl in the halls of professional history, so I won’t go there…yet.

For the moment, there is a more interesting question. Who are the other two men? Edward and Amanda Belo had four sons: Alfred Horatio (b. 1841), Robert W, (b. 1843), Henry Augustus (b. 1845) and Arthur F. (b. 1848).

But if this is the Belo family, only two of the Belo sons are shown. If the picture was taken in1861-63, Henry would have been 16-18 and Arthur would have been 13-15.

Both of these men look older than that, so I am inclined to guess that they are the two older sons, Alfred Horatio and Robert W. Since we know that Alfred Horatio had a full beard, I’m even going to say that he is the one in the center of the picture. But I could be wrong. Find out in part 2 of this post.

As the Kingston Trio used to sing:

“I think we better call this the end of this song ’cause it’s a-getting’ too d..n long. Honey, let me be your salty dog.”

It’s not the end yet. But take a break before viewing part 2 of this long, long post.

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