Anna Balthasar's Family Album

This photo album was assembled by my great-grandmother, Anna Regina Balthasar, whose married name was Anna Voegele. The album has 36 pages with 52 photographs. The first 30 pages have one large photograph per page, and the last six pages have up to four smaller photographs each. Most of the people pictured are members of the Balthasar family: Anna's aunts, uncles, and cousins.

The album features photographs from the 1860's through the 1890's. The earliest photographs that can be precisely dated are pictures of Anna and her sister Mary with their parents (photo 34c and photo 34d). Because Anna and Mary appear to be about three and five years old, respectively, in these pictures, these photos must have been taken in about 1867. Several other small photographs from the last six pages of the album appear to be even older. In particular, one of them (photo 35c), a picture of four unidentified people who look very much like four immigrants, appears to be from about 1860 or maybe even earlier. The elderly couple in that photograph might be Anna's grandparents.

The latest photos in the album may be the two pictures of Anna's eldest son, Joseph Henry Voegele, as a baby (photo 18 and photo 19). Joseph was born in 1896 and appears to be less than one year old in these pictures.

In addition to the 52 photos mounted within the album's pages, there are six photographs lying loose inside the album's cover. At least one of these photos (photo F4) shows Anna's son Joseph Henry Voegele as a young man, and so this picture is a couple decades more recent than the other photos. Another of the loose pictures, showing the Ott and Voegele families (photo F2), is dated as 1902.

Anna Regina Balthasar was born on 17-Mar-1864 in Buffalo, New York. She was one of six or seven children of German immigrant parents, William Balthasar and Elizabeth Clemens. Of the six or seven children, only Anna and her older sister Mary lived beyond infancy or early childhood. In addition to the loss of all of these young children, further tragedy struck the family in 1870 and 1871, when both Anna's parents, William and Elizabeth, died. Anna had not yet turned seven years old by the time she lost her parents. After their death, Anna and Mary were raised by relatives.

On 11-Jun-1890, Anna married Joseph Voegele (1862-1934) of Lancaster, New York. For many years, Joseph and Anna lived on West Main Street in Lancaster, in the building that housed Joseph's company, the Voegele Bottling Works. Later the couple moved to 18 St. Mary's Street in Lancaster, a house built in architectural style of California homes, from designs the Voegeles had brought back from their travels to the west coast.

Anna and Joseph Voegele had five children, including my grandmother, Josephine Regina Voegele Staebell. Anna's grandchildren referred to her as "Mother Voegele." Anna passed away in Lancaster on 07-Nov-1937. She and her husband are buried in the cemetery of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Lancaster. For the next half century, Anna's photo album remained in the possession of her eldest daughter, Josephine.

My grandmother, Josephine Voegele Staebell (left), with her mother, Anna Regina Balthasar Voegele, in 1917.

In 1967, when I was twelve years old, during a visit by my family to our relatives in Lancaster, I became interested in the history of our family. One day during this trip, after I had spent the morning walking through the St. Mary's Cemetery with my mother and my Uncle Jim, looking at the graves of our ancestors, my grandmother (Josephine Staebell, whom we called "Munner") offered to show me something that she said I would find very interesting. It was her mother Anna's photo album. I was fascinated by the pictures in this book, and to be able to look at the faces of ancestors and relatives from a century earlier. Until seeing the album, I had assumed that photography was a twentieth-century invention, so I did not believe that such an album was possible. Ever since that day, I have considered Anna Balthasar's Family Album to be the most valuable record that our family possesses of our history.

I did not see the album for a second time until many years later, when I was an adult. During the intervening years, I came to have two concerns about the album: (1) Although Munner could identify most of the people in the pictures, not one of photographs was labeled. If Munner were to pass away and take her knowledge with her, no one would be left who could attach names to the faces. (2) No copies of the album existed, so if the book were ever lost or destroyed, its images would be lost forever.

To address the first concern, I spent an afternoon with Munner during a visit to Lancaster in the summer of 1980, and together she and I went through the album. As she named the people in the pictures, and explained how they were related to us, I took notes. Although there were some people whom Munner could not identify, I was amazed at how many of them she was able to name. In fact, I confess that I was a little bit skeptical, since Munner was 83 years old at this time, and all of the pictures were taken before she was born. To check the accuracy of her information, I spent some time later that day, while Munner napped, removing each photograph from its page holder, and turning it over to see if there were any writing on the backs. Only two of them have writing on the back, other than the occasional photography studio logo, and both of those two notations identified the subjects as exactly the people whom Munner had named. Because of that, I completely trust the accuracy of the information that Munner had given me, and it is the information that I received from her that appears with each photograph, in the annotated version of the collection that you are now viewing. You can view the original notes from that 1980 session here.

When I next saw the album, which was in June, 2003, many of the photos had notations written underneath them, identifying the subjects in the pictures. Perhaps these notes were written by Munner herself, sometime after our 1980 discussion. Munner passed away in 1991, and thereafter the album was in the possession of her son, my Uncle Jim (Reverend James E. Staebell).

Last month, during yet another visit to Lancaster, I was finally able to make copies of the album's contents. I have made high-quality computer-scanned images of each of the photographs. By reproducing those images onto computer CD-ROM disks and distributing the disks to many of my relatives, and also by placing the images on an internet website, I hope to ensure the survival of these rare and valuable photographs, so that they can be enjoyed by future generations of our family.

Few families have such a beautiful and extensive collection of pictures of their ancestors. For this unique treasure, we should be deeply grateful to Anna Regina Balthasar Voegele and her daughter Josephine.

--- Written by Brian J. Smith
     Poway, California, 19-Jul-2003


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