Thursday, June 30, 2011

No Photographs of the Photographer

My mother talked about her grandparents quite a bit, all except for her paternal grandfather, Robert Noah Runyan. Mom never knew him and neither did her dad. Mom's grandmother divorced Robert when her youngest child, my grandfather Lawrence, was three years old. The older children knew their father a little bit though and there are the one about him getting caught photographing a nude model when his oldest daughter came by the studio to bring him lunch. Of course she ran home and told. You can see that story by clicking on this link.

I hate it that I don't have a photograph of him. I'm pretty positive none of his children had any to pass down. I think my great grandmother, Mary Darling Runyan, tore them all up. I wish she hadn't done that but I can't say that I really blame her. Alas, he's the only recent ancestor that I don't have an image of.

William N. Runyan
A distant cousin sent me two photos of Robert's only sibling Willie who died at the age of 25. Willie never married or had children so Robert's four children (there was a fifth who died in infancy) were the only descendants of Robert's parents, Michael and Frances Ann Whitley Runyan. William is buried in the Spiceland Friends Cemetery in Spiceland, Indiana.

Robert and Mary divorced in 1896 and Robert left for Indianapolis not long afterward and set up his photography shop there. I was able to find him listed in several of the city's directories. According to the 1902 directory his widowed mother was living with him in this tiny little house on Elm St. which we were able to photograph on June 3, 2011. 

I find that a little odd since his mother died in May of 1902 in Spiceland, however, the listing was probably from the year before and hadn't been changed.

The same day we were also able to find and photograph the building Robert worked out of and now I know why the address changed to the next residence from one year to was a single building with two shops, two entry doors, two addresses, so I guess he was in one side part of the time and either moved to the other side or used both...maybe. 

Photography shop was in this red duplex
brick building on Prospect St. for quite a few years.
Robert remarried in 1907 to Celia B. White. He was her third husband. As far as we know, they had no children.

When he died in 1915, Robert's body was donated to the Indiana College of Medicine, but when his son Lawrence (my grandfather) married in 1917 the marriage records state his father was living in Indianapolis.

Apparently none of his family even knew he had died.

*Update! Correction: Robert resided at the house on Elm in 1907. His mother is listed at his place of business in 1902.
1902 Indianapolis City Directory



  1. Well, he is an interesting one to research! The bad boys usually are. :-)

  2. Your mother and her grandfather had artistic traits, so it must be in the genes. It's too bad that there was the divorce tho. Very interesting story.

  3. Ain't it the truth Carol? And Barbara, sadly I didn't get a drop of those artistic traits in my genes...not a drop!

  4. The stories that were probably most embarrassing at the time the occurred -- the ones everyone in the family tried to hush up, are the ones that give us some of the greatest pleasure today-- because they show us how very human our ancestors were. Great photo -- and how sad that Robert died without anyone in the family knowing! But now you do -- and great details too. Thanks for the comment on my Carnival of Genealogy post. You're Johnny-on-the-spot as it just got posted!

  5. That's true Linda...the mysteries and the secrets kept by the family always hold our attention! And you are welcome, the comment came from the was a really nice post!

  6. What an intereting post reading family history matter whose history it is .

  7. Very interesting post, Lisa! So sad that he died all alone. It amazing how much you can glean, tho', from public record, isn't it?! Wish you could find a photo of him somewhere. Did you try the public library? Is Robert's store front in the Fountain Square area?
    I'm going to go read more of your posts. Thanks for your comment on mine.

  8. OMG Joy! Yes the store front is very close to Fountain Square! I had to look it up on Google Earth because, even though I was born in Indianapolis, I was a baby when we moved to Florida so I am not familiar with the city. You could probably throw a rock from Fountain Square and hit that building, it's that close! You must know Indianapolis well!