Friday, October 8, 2010

Twins Run in the Family

I was 6 or 7 when I first saw this photograph of my father, Lee Doyle. I didn't know anything about double exposures or playing with negatives. I also didn't know anything about my father's childhood.

I exclaimed, "But Dad's not a twin!"

Someone older than me said, "Yes, he is."

"No, he's not," I said. "If he's a twin how come I've never met his twin?"

"Just because you haven't met his twin doesn't mean he doesn't have one."

My dad, or possibly my mother, chimed in at that point and said that yes, indeed, Dad was a twin, but his twin was a sister and she had died when she was only a few days old.

My father's grandmother, Elvira (Bartley) Gerner, had twins, Alonzo and Alfonzo Gerner. They were born in July, 1874. They are identical and family members who knew them say it was impossible to tell them apart in photographs. Alfonzo and his brothers were the focus of a recent post. Alfonzo was 20 or 30 years older in that post than in this photograph.

I know it's common for mothers to dress twins in identical outfits. I think in the photo of these twins, they are dressed alike, but also dresssed like all the other sons in the family. I doubt Elvira concerned herself about making sure their clothes were the same especially considering that she had 14 other children to clothe. In this photograph I think they look similar but not identical -- except for the pose.

Elvira had twins, Alonzo and Alfonzo.
Elvira's daughter, Beulah, had twins, Lee and Leila.

And Lee's daughter, my sister, had twins. Of all of the twins on that side of the family, only one set is identical.

My sister was double-barreled when it came to having twins: there are twins on my mother's side, too. Mom's grandfather, Edward Jesse Bickerstaff, was a twin. He and his sister, Alice, were born in April, 1871. Alice died less than a month later.

These days both twins generally survive, but a hundred or more years ago it was more common that one would survive but not both. In the case of Alonzo and Alfonzo, it's amazing that both survived infancy, childhood, and lived to adulthood.

Do you have twins in your living family or among your ancestors?

About the photo of my father: How do you suppose it was made? Do you think it is a double exposure? How could he have positioned himself so perfectly?

You can find links to more old photos and thoughts about them at Sepia Saturday.


  1. Interesting! I have no clue as to how double exposures work...I'm curious to see what others have to say about it.

    I don't have direct twins on my side of the family but one of my grandmother's sisters had as many as 3 sets of twins. I remember putting them into my PAF program but will have to go through to figure it out. There are also duplicate sets of twins born to those down the line. I'll be researching and posting.

  2. Mary, your comment just reminded me that one of Edward Jesse's grandsons had 2 sets of twins. It will be interesting to see your twins.

  3. That photograph of your father is a neat trick although, I'm not sure how it was done, before the age of digital manipulation.

    My grandmother was a twin and we have identical twin granddaughters, too.

  4. Wow! Had me fooled, that's for sure.

    There are no twins in my family at all. I always thought it would be neat to be a twin (probably as a result of "The Parent Trap" with Hayley Mills).

    My best friend, next-door had twin sisters, Jill and Joanne. Their mom dressed all three of them the same for a while. Poor Jane!


  5. My mother's grandmother was a Clayton and the Clayton family had a really high rate of twinning. One of my great-great grandfather's sisters had, if I recall, three or four sets of twins, almost all of whom survived to adulthood. My great-grandmother (Emmy Clayton Lile) was herself a fraternal twin, though she didn't have twins herself. One of my mother's cousins had twins, but luckily I escaped that bounty. It's a good thing, as I had problems with premature labor with only one baby "in the oven" at a time.

  6. My great grandmother, Bridget Naughton Dowd, was an identical twin. As the story goes by my father. He told me he could not tell them apart. I would love to find her sister.

    They would have been living in North Braddock PA. My dad was twenty one when she died, and the twin sighting was confirmed by another cousin.

    I just have to search harder, or better.

  7. An interesting twin story! The only twins I can think of in my family are my cousin's twin boys.

  8. What an interesting twinny post. Great pic of your dad twice over. My father was a twin and my sister and brother both have a set of twins.

  9. That would explain why Jack has a set of twin sisters and a set of twin brothers.

  10. I'm Not Sure How Your Dad's Photo could have been made? Yes, the pose is identical, but the background isnt?
    What A Lot Of Twins!
    I have no knowledge of twins in my own family.I am jealous! Although it must make Family Investigation twice as hard!

  11. There must have been an amateur photographer at work here. This could be done manually
    in the darkroom during the printing process, but it might take a couple of tries!
    Very nice post!

  12. Martin and Joan - I've heard that twins skip a generation, as in grandfather is twin, children are not twins, one of grandfather's childred bears twins. It seems like that's how it happened in both of your families -- and in ours, too. I think the carrier of the gene is nearly always a male, but maybe not....

    Oh, yes, Kat -- poor your friend Jane. I suppose if twins themselves wanted to dress alike it might not be so bad. The identical aspect of twinship that always appealed to me was the fun one could have pretending to be the other (or not being yourself).

    Meri, can you imagine how worn out that mother of 3 or 4 sets of twins would have been?! Good woman to keep having babies! It IS good that you weren't carrying twins with a problem like premature labor.

    Claudia, how would know if you found a photograph of the twin unless she were identified on the back? She would look just like your grandmother! Can you find her in census records at all?

    Jimmie - yes, that's exactly right: they are grandchildren of Edward Jesse.

    Tony, do you think the faces look identical? I think the pose is really close to symmetrical but I think the angle of his head, plus the nose and eyebrows, don't look symmetrical enough to be a flipped image. Too bad I didn't find this photo 15 years ago or I could have asked him how it was made.

    Cece, I don't think we had any family members familiar with a darkroom when this was snapped.... It must be a double exposure -- it's just that it's so "accurate."

    Thank you all for visiting and commenting. I love reading your comments.

  13. my mom's sister had twins, but that must have come from the "other" side...
    in other words, guys dating the women in your family should be warned of the likelyhood they may have a big family "fast!!!"....
    with the old cameras, you had to crank the film by hand, nothing was automatic, so, just open the shutter again on the same frame, and voila!! but the one who took the picture had a good eye to find a reference point, like the post on the corner of the porch...

  14. Great photographs but what a lovely post overall as well. So many twins. I knew that there was a tendency for them to run in families, but not to that extent.

  15. Yes there were twins in my father's side. He had twin sister and brother, then his mother lost another set of twins. Interesting blog as you had many sets of twins.

  16. Oh look -it appears to be Sepia Monday! I was out of town and tried viewing and commenting on this from my iPhone. It was not as easy as I had hoped and I couldn't see the photos well. I am stunned by the first photo. How did they do that! We have never had any twins in our family, so the whole concept is both fascinating and unreal for me.

  17. No twins in my family either - and I'm very curious about the "twin" pic too :-)

  18. Oh yes, a very clever double exposure! I can't quite figure it out because of the way the pillow ghosts the elbow. Really quite fun! The camera was obviously sitting on something so that it didn't move. Most likely your dad ran around and repositioned himself, but it could also have been done in the darkroom, but doubtful since the background is so clear. And it obviously isn't an image of him simply flopped because they are slightly different. Yes, very clever.

  19. Thank you, Tattered and Lost, for giving your expert opinion. I wish I'd asked about this photo when my mom and dad were living.


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