Zula Lucrece Fisher | 1913 Senior Yearbook
One of the sad side effects to genealogical research, and — let’s admit — the limitations of the space-time continuum, the laws of physics, an unclear itinerary of the afterlife, etc. and etc. is that as much as you come to know of those in your family who came before, you’ll never truly know them.
Never hear them speak or laugh, never see them smile. Never listen to them tell a story, or a joke. Never share a meal with them, reel in a fish with them, kneel to pray with them.
You can pore over the dates, photographs, the documents, the details endlessly. Not a single one takes the place of sitting awhile, in the flesh, with them.
Still, cobbling together the bits of narrative that make up the life of a beloved ancestor is one way of understanding them — and yourself — a bit better. And preserving their memory for others.
I’ll admit, for most of my life knowledge of my great-grandmother Zula Lucrece Fisher was limited to tragic facts and my mind’s loose imagining of them.
I knew that my grandfather, Robert Earl Ley Jr., had lost his mother when he was not yet two. That he had been sent to live in the care of his maternal grandparents for awhile, and later rejoined his father, stepmother and young half-brother, Dickie.
I think, in my childhood subconscious, I saw all this playing out in an early 20th-century edition of my grandfather’s dental office in downtown Dover. And all resolved in a short matter of time. When in fact the locales and the length of time and the circumstances were all quite different.
In an early series of posts in this blog, I already recounted Zula Fisher’s tragic death of pneumonia and resulting miscarriage, and the places Grandpa Ley called home as a boy. Other posts have documented Zula’s obituary, as well as the life and times of all the particulars: her parents, John William and Addie May (Smith) Fisher, Great-Grandpa Robert Earl Ley Sr., grandpa’s stepmother Florence Wilma (Jones) Ley, even where the Leys could be found in the 1940 census.
Chalk up more details to help us get to know those who came before.
But I was delighted in recent weeks to discover more source material out there that shined an even more lively light on Zula’s spark back then. Before its all too early extinction.
There are an increasing number of sites online that are stockpiling scanned yearbooks, from high schools, colleges. A lot of ’em are out to bilk you, charge you $80 and up for a reproduction copy. All entrepreneurship aside, my goals in this blog have been simple, and cheap: share all I know, make it freely available.
Some of the stunning possessions I’ve been able to inherit have brought Zula to life like no census document ever could. The pictures of her family when she was a girl. The portrait of her clad in virginal garb, cradling my infant grandfather. A teacher’s textbook of hers I was fortunate to inherit, with her handwriting inside, noting students’ names and the gifts they were to receive, assignments for her to complete, her own signed name.
The fact of her birthdate — Dec. 24, 1895 — brings to mind joyful Christmas and birth celebrations, bedecked in 19th century traditional finery. Ah, but there my imagination revs up again.
This week — a nice anchoring for more images of forever youthful Zula. Her senior portrait and entry in the 1913 Clover yearbook of New Philadelphia High School, and her team portrait as senior player on the women’s basketball squad.
Yes — quaint detail — the 1913 yearbook for crosstown Phila was not yet called the Delphian. But more dear is how they preserved the graduating seniors in their own mini-odes. Zula’s, for your pleasure:
Basket Ball ’13. Class Play.
“All the beauty of the place
Is in thy smile and on thy face.”
Her beautiful blue eyes first gazed upon this world on December 24, 1895. Her smiles would certainly drive the blues from the bluest and she has proved to be a wonder in the English Class.
Bittersweet it is, then, to understand the entry in the 1922 yearbook, which, like those before, including Zula’s 1913 edition, caught up with every single class of alumni to that point. Bittersweet, then, to know such promise would flower without fruition, that we would be deprived of knowing her.
But maybe it’s enough to know her as she was then. And smile at all she gave us, in our ancestry, in who came after. And be thankful for the gift of knowing.