When archives get personal

The scrapbook of Lise Mary Magdalen Tallant is a delightful object to peruse. Assembled when Ms. Tallant, who lived from 1888-1972, was a girl, it is full of images that caught a young girl’s fancy at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth: pictures of flowers, children, animals, and fashionable young women abound. While the book itself is quite fragile, the items that are pasted in have been well preserved, and the colors have maintained their luster.  [The entire scrapbook has been digitized and can viewed here.]

When I first examined the book the inscription of the creator struck me. Tallant is my mother-in-law’s maiden name. I’ve never met another Tallant in New Orleans. Could they be related?

When I told my mother-in-law about my find, she thought so. She had a great-aunt Lise. The scrapbook contained Lise’s address: 727 Lowerline Street in New Orleans. A check of the census records revealed that the Tallant family that resided there was indeed my mother-in-law’s family. Her grandfather Walter is listed on the 1900 census alongside Lise – they were brother and sister.

From my mother-in-law I know just a little bit about Lise. She never married and lived her entire life in the family home on Lowerline Street, along with another unmarried  sister, Mary.  So much about Lise is unknown to me, but her scrapbook remains. I can only assume that it was an object she treasured.  It came to Special Collections and Archives as a part of a donation of New Orleans related material collected by Ben C. Toledano. What Mr. Toledano saw in it, and why he donated it to Loyola is not clear, although he may have been influenced by the fact that Lise was Aunt to well known New Orleans writer Robert Tallant, author of Voodoo in New Orleans, Gumbo-Ya-Ya, and others. (Robert Tallant’s extensive archive is held by the New Orleans Public Library.)

When I first saw the Lise Tallant scrapbook, I saw it simply as an historical object: What does it tell us about American girlhood in the late nineteenth century? What does it contain of interest in the field of graphic arts and design?  Does it tell us anything about New Orleans of 1900? All of those interests remain, but now that I know its place in my family when I hold the book in my hands it means so much more.  It means that one day I can I say to my now two-year-old son, “You had a great-great-great-aunt Lise. When she was a little girl she kept a scrapbook. Would you like to see it?”

-Trish Nugent, Special Collections and Archives Coordinator

Found in the Archives is a recurring series of crazy cool stuff found in the Monroe Library’s Special Collections & Archives.

Leave a Reply