Cars Of Our Ancestors: Our Family Legacy in Car Pictures


Pictures of old cars often feature images of unfamiliar people.  The people in these car pictures are my ancestors.

I was inspired by Jim Grey’s “Imagining the Stories Behind Old Photographs of Cars That Weren’t That Old Yet”. With regard to car photography as history, I am lucky to have a mentor. My maternal grandmother’s uncle, William M. McCarthy (1876-1956) was an avid traveler and photographer. “Uncle Will” spent considerable time touring mostly the Western US from 1905-1938. He left almost 3000 high quality photographs of his travels.

Will McCarthy’s traveling companion was his wife, Grace. In a number of the photographs, she is posed in the driver’s seat of both the circa 1918 Dodge Bros. touring car, and in later shots a Studebaker two door sedan. My grandma told me these pictures were a running joke for Will and Grace—Grace never learned to drive!

I treasure these photos on several levels—My family looks to be having fun in interesting places, I am familiar with many of the locations, and I now know I am not the only one in my family to love cars! Here are a few of my favorites:

camp 1

My late grandmother told me that Will and Grace camped extensively in Yosemite and other National and State parks. Will modified the Dodge Bros. touring car into a makeshift RV. I am amazed at how formally Will and Grace dressed—a necktie for CAMPING?


As a native Californian, I have traveled extensively throughout the State.  I recognize many of the locations Will and Grace visited:


This stretch of road is now referred to as “Yolo Causeway”.  Here is how it looks today:


This particular hotel is long gone, but there are plenty of newer hotels along this beachfront drive:

It appears that after a decade or so of traveling in the Touring Car, Uncle Will saw fit to get a new Studebaker:

new stude

I have done some online research to learn more about this lovely two door sedan, but haven’t had much luck—best guess is 1927 Studebaker Light Six.  Any additional info from CC readers would be appreciated! The girl is my grandmother.


Yes…as in Del Monte fruit.  In Monterey, CA.  Gosh, I LOVE that car! Those hats aren’t bad either!


Anne Robinson, “Uncle Will” McCarthy, my late grandmother Leslie Robinson, and Grace McCarthy enjoying a summer afternoon.

dinner is served

Here is Uncle Will heating a meal using Studebaker accessory “hot pots” on the exhaust manifold. According to my late grandmother, Will (an engineer)  designed and fabricated the running board boxes and the fold out table. And I thought I was clever putting a foil wrapped burrito under my hood 80 years later!

Here are photos that might be of special interest to old car lovers and/or Californians:
SF Cliff House 1934

Approximate location today: click here

mugu rock

View today: click here (note how much erosion has taken place)

This stretch of road is US 1 south of Point Mugu Naval Air Station south/east of Oxnard, CA. This roadway is frequently used for both still and video photography for automobile advertising. I recently spotted a crew photographing a number of new Mercedes-Benz automobiles near the bend in the road on the point in the distance. I have also seen Cadillac advertising filmed here.  Jim Rockford’s Firebird made a few trips down this road as well.

Throughout my childhood in the early 70’s everyone on my mother’s side of the family would reminisce about Uncle Will. His jokes were repeated, and his road stories remembered. His love of life was recalled. He was the childless “Fun Uncle” that everyone wanted to spend time with.

Though he had been dead for more than 20 years the day I was born 1967, he was talked about so much that I wished I had met him. Once I discovered these photos, I felt I got to know him.

My mother donated the complete collection to the California State Archive in Sacramento. It is known as the William M. McCarthy Collection, and can be viewed for free if you are ever there on vacation. It is worth a look!  Here are the details.

These photos are treasured by my family. I hope you have enjoyed them too. Finding these albums was a great reminder that our printed photos will likely outlive us, and provide a lovely memento for our descendants. I am unsure if our digital photos will remain after we are gone.  Call me a Luddite, but I am going to print my treasured photos.  You should too!