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Memory Album of Alvira Ball

Memory Album of Alvira Ball

When Alvira Ball died in Sandusky County, Ohio at the family homestead north of Fremont in 1914, she was the last surviving member of her father’s prominent pioneering family. In 1818, her father, Lysander Ball, had walked the entire way from Vermont to settle in Sandusky County. A few years later, he married Evaline Patterson. In addition to Alvira, there were six more children.

Alvira remained at home, caring for her parents in their final years as they had cared for her as a child. She had also cared for her sister, Evaline, who had died just a earlier. Alvira Ball’s devotion to her family was not unusual for those who came of age during the Civil War. Family was viewed as the source of strength, security, love, and trust.

This generation expressed the importance of the family circle in numerous ways. Perhaps one of the most common was preserving a lock of hair of a family member or loved one. The practice may seem strange in the 21st century, but for generations Americans had looked upon a loved one’s lock of hair as a “physical and unchanging connection,” to a family member, particularly one who had passed away.

These mementoes of love and remembrance took on an even greater symbolic meaning with the Civil War’s extraordinary slaughter. The massive death toll that reached more than 600,000 shocked the nation. All too frequently, families never learned how their loved ones died or where their bodies lay. Many sought psychological comfort through photographs and an enduring link to those who were forever lost to them.

After the carnage ended, the use of hair in rings, brooches, necklaces, earrings, and watch fobs soared. Their meaning began to change from symbols of family remembrance to tokens of friendship. So popular was hair jewelry that companies began mass-production. They combined pearls and beads with intricately braided and interlaced strands of hair, creating a myriad of delicate patterns. Jewelers displayed them in their shops. Advertisements appeared in nearly every newspaper and fashion catalogue.

Yet, there were those who lived out their lives as Alvira Ball had. The strong family values learned in childhood never wavered. They served as a guide throughout their lives. For them, the family would always be the source of trust and strength. More than 150 years later, evidence of Alvira Ball’s beliefs is preserved in the pages of her memory album. There, she arranged the locks of hair from her parents and siblings in a circle. In the center of each lock, Alvira wrote the name, age, and birth date of each family member. Just outside the circle are locks of two of her aunts and an uncle, showing that extended family mattered deeply to her as well.