Cars allowed our forebears a measure of freedom. They were able to visit further afield and move around the country. They could find work that was more distant from where they lived and the daily commute was born. Owning a car was a source of pride for many; a status symbol for some, an extension of their style for others. If you are lucky, you may find a picture or pictures of your relatives with their cars.
This is a picture of my grandmother behind the wheel. The car looks like it is from the 1910s, with its fold down windshield and open sides. But I would say that the style of hat and clothing that my grandmother is wearing fits the late 1920s or early 1930s. From this picture, it looks like my grandmother was a progressive woman for her times. Or so I thought.
After attending a recent genealogy seminar, I had cause to rethink my conclusions about the photo. One of the sessions that I attended that day was given by Dave Obee, a genealogist and historian. He presented a case study about the research he had done on a family connection whose stories about himself turned out to be largely fiction. Among the records this man had left behind were photos posed in front of various cars. Turns out he didn’t own any of the cars. He didn’t even drive. He just liked getting his photo taken in front of vehicles.
So not even the photographic records can be taken a face value. After thinking about that for a while, I started to rethink the photo of my grandmother behind the wheel. Searching my memory, I realized that I never saw her drive. My mother used to pick my grandmother up and drive her to different places. So was she just striking a pose for the camera in the photo or did she drive at one time and give it up? Whichever it was, the moral of the story is to never take a photograph as absolute proof of anything beyond the basics that the car and the person were there at the same time as the camera.
Obee, Dave. “The Search for Frank Liddell: Case Close”, Finding Your Roots Seminar, Surrey, October 15, 2016