Alma Ratz Hanley (1894-1979): A Photo Essay

Alma Ratz Hanley (1894-1979) was one of my paternal great grandmothers. She is also the subject of this 49th installment of my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks family history blogging challenge. I hope you enjoy this photo essay about her life.

This photo of Alma was the one most familiar to me before I started researching her life. I am guessing it was a professional photo portrait taken sometime in the 1950s or 1960s.

Alma Ratz Hanley (1894-1979)

Alma Ratz Hanley (1894-1979)

Alma was born on March 10th, 1894 in Houghton County, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her parents, Henry Peter Ratz (1867-1934) and Fannie Schmidt Ratz (1870-1944) were German immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. Alma married my great grandfather, Michael John Hanley (1890-1964) in 1919 and had 5 children, including my grandfather Michael John Hanley Jr. (1924-2015) by 1932. For reasons that are still unclear to me they eloped in Wisconsin. To my knowledge there are no surviving photos of their wedding.

One of the earliest photos I have been able to find of Alma appears to be this one. It looks like a school class or church group. I think Alma is sitting directly to the right of the beard man (teacher?) in the center.

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Here’s a close up. I put this photo up as an “are they the same” post on The Psychogenealogist Facebook page and most everyone agreed it was Alma, when compared to another known photo of her.

What do you think? She looks to be like a teenager in this photo.


Here is a photo of Alma dressed in a nursing outfit.

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My great aunt and Alma’s daughter, Beverly Hanley Mansour (1929-2009), had this to say about the photo:

“She started to study to become a nurse. She developed rheumatism and had to drop out. She was afflicted with this all her life. There was a time I’m told that when Joyce [Alma’s youngest child] was born there was a period that she could only pick up Joyce with her wrists. She also had problems with her feet. She said when they were young there was only one general store where they lived and when it came to shoes you had to buy whatever was there. Buy a pair of shoes that fitted you closest. It didn’t stop her from taking care of five children, taking care of the two apartments, sewing our clothes (making coats, school uniforms, etc.)—canning food (one year 7 bushels of tomatoes alone). She never drove a car. She said if she did that she wouldn’t get her work done.

Here is a stunning portrait of Alma I am guessing taken around the same time.

Alma Ratz Hanley (1894-1900)

Alma Ratz Hanley (1894-1900)

There are a couple of photos that appear to show Alma and her future husband, Michael, in their courting days. I love the expression on her face in this one. She is on the right with my great grandfather in the middle. I am not sure who the woman on the left is, but she is likely related to Alma.

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And here are my great grandparents sneaking a quiet romantic moment in the trees.

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By most accounts my great grandfather was a handsome man, as evidenced here in this photo of him looking quite dapper, probably wearing his Sunday Best.

Michael John Hanley (1890-1964)

Michael John Hanley (1890-1964)

Here is one of my all time favorite family history photos ever! Alma is seated with I believe her oldest child, Helen, on her lap. I think the other young women in the photo are possibly Alma’s cousins, or maybe even sisters.

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I took the liberty of hiring a very talented photograph colorization artist to retouch the photo and it produced this result. Which do you prefer?

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Here are Alma and Michael’s five children standing outside of their home in Flint, Michigan. My grandfather, the 2nd oldest and only boy, outlived his last surviving sister, Mary Ellen Hanley Topolinski (1927-2015) by about one week. There is a lovely video of Michael and Mary Ellen video chatting via FaceTime, both in their hospital or hospice beds on opposite sides of the State of Michigan just a few days before their deaths. Surrounded by their families, it would be the last conversation they would have together.

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Alma’s children, oldest to youngest, depicted in the above photo: Helen Hanley Toups (1922-1989), Michael John Hanley Jr. (1924-2015), Mary Ellen Hanley Topolinski (1927-2015), Beverly Hanley Mansour (1929-2009), and Joyce Hanley Schnelker (1932-1982).

All of Alma’s children married and had children of their own. Alma and Michael appeared to enjoy their senior years until Michael’s death in 1964. Here are Alma and Michael, fancily dressed, posing on a porch, probably in the late 1950s.

Alma and Michael Hanley

Alma and Michael Hanley

I was lucky enough to also find some film footage of Alma. This was likely after Michael’s death as he is not in the video. It was probably taken sometime in the mid to late 1960s. Alma is wearing the lighter purple sweater. You can see her getting in and out of the car. He son, my grandfather, Michael, is wearing a dark blue shirt as he greets his mother with a handshake and a kiss.

Here is Alma at my parents’ wedding shower in 1970. I love it because it combines two people that would not normally be seen together as they are from opposite sides of the family. My “Uncle Wally” (really a cousin) from my mom’s side joined all of the other male relatives who served and cleaned at the shower. They both seem to be having a great time!


And here are both of my paternal grandmothers. Alma on the right and Ida Rhoads Sears (1900-2002) on the left, I think at my parents or my uncle’s wedding.


Alma and Ida, at least in photos, seemed to have a very fun relationship. They both lived many years after their husbands died and both were extremely family oriented. Here is a great photo of the two of them at my grandfather’s 25th wedding anniversary party, sitting at the bar and hamming it up.

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And finally, here is one of the few (maybe only) photos of myself and Alma. I have no conscious memory of Alma, as she died when I was only 3. My older brother is sitting on her lap on the left. I am sitting on Ida’s lap on the right.

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I hope you have enjoyed getting to know my great grandmother just a bit through this photo essay. There is a great deal more I could say and research but sometimes the photos, once organized, do a good job of telling the story all on their own.

I would loved to hear what you think about Alma or about any of the people you care about in your family tree!

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