Reader Shirleen Reese shared this most unusual photograph in a past 7 Day Challenge: Identify Your Ancestor in That Photo!. She graciously allowed me to share with you! (Thanks, Shirleen!)
Photographs can tell an individual’s story.
A photograph can lead the researcher to look for previously unknown details about your ancestor’s life. Shirleen’s photo above piqued my curiosity when she shared on the 7 Day Challenge Facebook page.
Shirleen was searching to identify all the individuals in her photograph. The only identity she knew was the Cissy, the young girl with the facial disfigurement (second from the right).
The family’s oral history reported Cissy had eaten or swallowed something like lye as a child and that caused her facial deformity. Shirleen’s elderly relative actually solved the mystery. Cissy “salivated calomel” as a child.
What is Calomel?
Calomel is a mercury compound that was used widely as medicine at one time.
Scary thought, isn’t it?!
It was commonly used in teething powders for babies and also used to treat vomiting and digestive issues in children. Side effects included excess salivation and deformity and loss of teeth and jaw bone. Often the jaw would only open a small amount. These are symptoms of mercury poisoning! Among other things, if a child survived severe facial deformities, dietary intake issues resulted for those children. Cissy became a victim of mercury poisoning! Many children (and adults) actually died from mercury poisoning during its use.
By the Civil War and into the late 1800’s, calomel begin to decline in use. It was, however, still in use by “country doctors” as late as the early 1900’s.
The medical care available to our ancestors is an interesting (frightening) subject. The impact of treatment for the common complaint of teething had a major impact on her life. If you are interested, read more about calomel here.
Have you found any photographs in your family collection of ancestors with a facial deformity or missing limb? Is there any oral history to go along with the photograph?