Monday, September 24, 2018

Examining Another Possibility

There are some states which provide genealogists with exactly the information they are seeking: scans of documents with full information on, say, the two parties who are about to say, "I do." As I'm finding out, Nebraska is not one of those states.

It would be handy to be able to look up the marriage record for Adolph Brockman and Verna Niemanor, in some cases, the spelling shows up as Neimanbut, barring a quick trip to the brisk clime at Nebraska at the start of autumn, we have no other recourse.

Yes, it would be helpful to know the exact date when Adolph and Vernie tied the knot, but it would be even more helpful if we could browse through the records in Cuming County, Nebraska, to see if, by chance, any other Brockmans had gotten married at about the same time. More to the point, it might also be helpful if we could peruse any entries for the Nieman family, too.

Here's why. Let's revisit the wedding photograph shared with us by Jeff in Oregon, labeled with Adolph and Vernie's names. Remember when we first saw that and realized the Adolph in Jeff's picture wasn't quite the same as the man whom our label had told us was Adolph Brockman? The young gentleman in our photo looked similar to the man standing to the far right in the wedding party for Jeff's photo.

That man was Adolph's brother William. The only problem was: I can find no marriage records for William Brockman. He is listed as single in the 1920 census, the 1930 census (as W. E. Brockman), and the 1940 census. Besides, he reported himself to be single in the draft registration for the first world war, and for the second world war, we can infer the same from his listing his mother's name and address as closest contact, rather than a wife or child. Even at his burial place at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, I don't see any indication that his headstone also bears an entry for a spouse.

To complicate matters, there was another William Brockman in Nebraska. Born in Cuming County, Nebraska, a little over a year before our William, this William did get marriedto Verda, a name almost too similar to our Adolph's wife Verna's nameand was living, by the time he registered for the draft, in Pilger, Nebraska.

However, following the whereabouts of our Brockman family, we know the parents and the younger Brockman children moved from Nebraska to Morgan County, Coloradoand that our William ended up in the same location, as well. Whoever that other William Brockman wasand he could likely be another relativewe can be certain our singleton William was a different person.

When I brought that photo identity puzzle up to Jeffafter all, he is a Brockman, and should know a little bit more about his family than a stranger like I amhe suggested an alternate identity. You see, Adolph married a woman from a neighboring family in Cuming County, whose surname I've seen spelled, alternately, Nieman or Neiman. By the time of the 1910 census, Verna Neiman had two older brothers and two younger sisters.

If you notice from the wedding photo Jeff shared with us, there were some Niemans listed in that wedding party, namely one unidentified sister, and Verna's brother Frank. Jeff posited that perhaps the wedding photo I found in that antique store in northern California might have actually been that of Verna's brother's wedding, rather than her own. That may be a possibilityor perhaps Verna's other brother might have been the one. We'll take a closer look at that, tomorrow.

Above: Wedding photo of Adolph and Vernie Nieman Brockman of Nebraska, shared by Jeff in Oregon, a Brockman descendant; used by permission.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Counting the Days 'til
the Next Holiday DNA Sale

It's not the change of the season that puts me in the mood for Christmas, it's the need for another good holiday DNA sale. I've been looking over the count in DNA matches for the various tests I manage, and if there was a good turnout for the summer sales promotions, I can't tell.

Of course, I say that just as an anomaly strikes: I've finally gotten a contact from someone else. Rather than being the one who reaches out to my matches, last week, someone had contacted me. It was concerning my husband's results, but I'll be happy with any communication someone else initiates on this topic. The funny thing was...the only surnames I recognized in this match's tree were surnames belonging to me. I promise I've run our results through the one-to-one GEDmatch utility, and there is no sign we inadvertently married our own cousin, so these reoccurring surnames in his tree certainly have me puzzled.

Perhaps I'm wasting too much angst on such a tiny problem, something which I suspect comes from too little action on the DNA match front. I've noticed, lately, that in every two week period, each of our tests garners ten matches or less. Of course, there are exceptions. We're back to shrinking results at the ever-disappearing 23andMe, and on the other end of the spectrum, suspecting "funny money" status at MyHeritage, where my match count jumped 193 in just the past two weeks, and my husband's leapt by 163.

It would be nice if matches hadn't slowed to such a tricklewell, everywhere but at MyHeritagewhich makes me long for a good holiday sale again. It's those descendants of elusive ancestors that I would most like to match up with. Doesn't everyone...

In the meantime, I keep at the more practical work of adding to our family trees. Remembering my focus on the southern roots in my mother's line, that's where the majority of my efforts have focused for two months, now, as I prepare for my southern research class at SLIG next January. So it comes as no surprise to realize that I added 145 names to my mom's tree in the past two weeks. The total there now stands at 14,886, and I'm finding lots of McClellan cousins that I had no idea even existedespecially in Texas!

As for my mother-in-law's tree, it has frozen at 15,703 individuals, and will likely stay that way for another half year. My father-in-law's tree managed to increase by a count of one, and I can't even remember why. It was likely on account of accidentally opening that tree, spotting a hint, and dispatching it before I realized I wasn't sticking to my resolution. Oh, well...that's the tree I really wish I could get back to, so I'm sure one more name won't hurt for now. Besides, nothing has happened on my own dad's tree, so I really am trying to stick to my resolve.

Sometimes, the routine work of genealogy can get dreary. It's simply a matter of finding documents to link to each person I add on that southern line, verifying each fact, then moving on to the next person. In the meantime, though, I am keeping a running list of questions that pop up and things I want to delve into, once I get to class next January. I figure I can't manage to ask any good questions if I don't let myself get stumped beforehand, so I am working my hardest to find a few stumbling blocks on this southern road of research. In the meantime, I'm finding some good stories...and busting a few other family legends in the process.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Against the Flow

It seems to be a great time to be involved in genealogical research. No more crawling around on dusty floors to retrieve the book we wanted that just happened to be on the bottom shelf. No more gingerly balancing that fully-extended card catalog, just to read the card we wanted that turned out to be the next to last card in the drawer. Andmore important than anything else I can think ofno more waiting for six weeks (or longer) to get back that stamped, self-addressed envelope we sent off with hopes of receiving the all-important certificate that would solve all our family mysteries...and then discovering that nothing could be found in the records, after all.

Now, we have webinars. Podcasts. Digitized records on websites. With a mere click, we can conjure up documents that once took six weeks or longeror neverto retrieve. With research luxuries like that, who needs to step out the door to do genealogy anymore?

Sadly, that has had its impact on what used to be the staple of the family history pursuit: the gathering together of groups of like-minded researchers. You remember those, don't you? We used to call them genealogical societies. Likely, there was such a group that gathered somewhere near you. With the advent of all these wonderful research utilities, some people have observed that genealogical society memberships correspondingly dwindled.

Of course, there are those who are quite happy to bring up other reasons for the demise of societies. I call them the detractors. You know the routine. Meetings are too far away. At inconvenient times. Run by grumpy autocrats. Or research Luddites. Yeah, yeah. I'd rather have Take Two: just how can we switch this up so we meet needs, instead of just complain about how they aren't being met?

This past week, our local society started up its fall meeting sequence. We take the summer off because, well, summer. Time for vacationsor at least genea-travels to distant research centers or spots of family significance. But with September, it's back to "school" for those of us who wish to polish our research skills.

Though ours is not the biggest of local societies, we certainly have the energy of a thriving group. And that's what makes me realize that getting together with like-minded people still has its place, even in our virtual-reality world. Maybe it's just that, once people see what we are up to, they want to be a part of it. I sometimes wonder if they realize what it is that they've been missing, once they get to rub shoulders with it, once again.

That type of discovery makes me realize that perhaps we, as genealogy groups, need to band together to explore ways to become more pertinent to the needs of individual genealogistsand not only genealogists who are professionals, but avocational researchers, as well. Just being able to reframe the viewpoint from "what are we doing wrong?" to "what can we do to become more relevant to today's researchers?" will point us in a more promising direction.

I hope to initiate that conversation in my own local area, and I'm wondering whether anyone else is testing these same waters in other locations. Do any other genealogy enthusiasts get together to specifically discuss just that: how we can best get together? While I realize there is supposed to be a conference for this very reasonthe Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual conferencesometimes, this sort of discussion is better suited to a round table and people with like local interests.

Networking, brainstorming, crowdsourcing: when these all have an element of local interest attached to them, perhaps the results become more practicaland applicableto the organization we originally were concerned about, the local genealogical society. I know my quest is to see ours thrive. Surely, I am not alone in that goal.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Considerations, Side by Side

To begin with, the photos we've had the privilege to seethanks to Jeff in Oregon, the Brockman descendant who has sent them to meall have been labeled according to the information he received from older members of the Brockman family. Now that I've seen other family pictures of Adolph Brockmanthe groom in the wedding portrait I found in an antique store in Sonora, CaliforniaI'm not so sure the label on the back of the abandoned photo was correct. Perhaps my wedding photo wasn't really representing the event people thought it was.

So that you can see what I'm noticing, let's start with the comparison of Adolph Brockman from his family photograph and Adolph from the wedding photo provided to me by Jeff. As I'm sure you'll agree, we are talking about the same person in both shots.

Next, let's take a look at the Adolph Brockman from Jeff's version of his wedding photo and put it side by side with the "Adolph" from the wedding photo I found in Sonorathe one labeled with Adolph's name.

Granted, lighting differences and maturing of features as young people age will render a slightly different perspective, as will changing fashions and hair styles. But there is a little bit too much of a difference between these two likenesses for me to be satisfied with calling them different versions of the same face.

There was, however, another face in the portraits which made me wonder whether that might have been the true identity of the groom in the wedding portrait I found in California. If we use Jeff's copy of the Brockman family photo as our genealogical "Rosetta Stone," I spy someone else who has somewhat similar eyes, eyebrows, hairline, and ears. Yes, the ears.

See if these two photos don't look similar to you:

On the left is our mystery groom, and flanking him is the picture of Adolph's brother William, from the family photograph. And just in case the details were too fuzzy or poorly lit in that version of William's likeness, here's a comparison of William's family photo with that of his face in the confirmed wedding photo for Adolph and Verna.

So naturally, I began to wonder whether I had found the wedding photo for William Brockman, rather than that for Adolph and Vernie. Jeff, however, informed me of one glitch: William never got married.

Above: All side by side photographs arranged, courtesy of Chris Stevens, from copies of original Brockman photographs taken in Nebraska, provided by family member Jeff in Oregon, plus the misidentified photograph labeled Adolph Brockman found in Sonora, California.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Uh - Oh . . .

One of the things I love about this project to reunite abandoned family photos with descendants, a hundred years later, is all the correspondence that occurs with the recipient. From those emails, I often learn much more about the subject whose photo I am returning.

In the case of the wedding photo labeled "Adolph Brockman + wife," I've been privileged to see several other family photos, courtesy of the Brockman descendant to whom I'll be sending that picture I found in Sonora, California. It's taken me a while to look through all the details, so don't be surprised that it wasn't until last night that something struck me wrong about what I was seeing. I'll start unwinding my thoughts today, but I certainly welcome your input over the next few days as I share with you what I'm seeing. I am wondering whether we are witnessing a case of a photograph being mislabeled.

If you saw the family portrait I posted yesterday, shared courtesy of my Brockman correspondent, you probably were able to pick out Adolph. Not only was he the oldest of the Brockman children, he also appeared to be the tallest. His hairstyle, in particular, seemed to stand out.

So it was no surprise to subsequently discover, among the photos sent to me by Jeff (the Brockman descendant), another wedding picture of Adolph and Vernie. I'll share that belowwith his permission, of course. You can see quickly how much Adolph resembled the eldest son in the photograph shared yesterday. If you remember the original portrait I had found in California, however, the comparison begins to pale. Either Adolph got a radically different hair stylenot to mention a new set of earsor we are seeing two different people.

Just in case I'm getting things wrong, I'll provide some side-by-side comparisons tomorrow, along with a few guesses as to what might have happened. I'm sure you will have a few ideas of your own, as well...

Above: Wedding photo of Adolph and Vernie Nieman Brockman, shared by Jeff in Oregon, a Brockman descendant; used by permission.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Bigger Picture

In order to explain just how a wedding photograph from West Point, Nebraska, might have ended up in the foothills of northern California, it is perhaps easiest to step back and take in the big picture. The big family picture, that is.

Thankfully, the wedding photograph I found in an antique store in Sonora, California, was labeled. We know that the subjects were Adolph Brockman and his wife Verna. We've since found them in census records and discovered that their only daughter, though long-lived, died in 2009 having left no descendants.

Of course, the question in my mind is always, "How did the picture get to the place where I found it?" In the case of the Brockmans' wedding photo, it may very well be a case of family passing along the photo from generation to generation until there was no one to pass it to. That, at least, is the conjecture of one Brockman relative, who shared with me his theory as to how the Brockmans' wedding portrait ended up in Sonora, California.

Before I explain, let's first take a detour to see the big picture of the Brockman family tree. Adolph was the oldest of eleven siblings, ten of whom made it to adulthood. Adolph, born in 1889, had siblings stretching from 1892 when his sister Mathilda was born all the way to 1916 when the caboose of the family, youngest sister Ruth, was born.

Keeping in mind that Adolph and Vernie were married about 1911, all but his youngest sister were already born, true, but at the time of the wedding, half of those siblings were ten years of age or younger. At that point, the distance in age might have rendered the family connection less informal than one would expect from a sibling relationship.

To further increase that sense of distance, after 1916, Adolph's parentsWilliam and Augusta Brockmanmoved from Nebraska, where all the children had been born, to Fort Morgan in Colorado, while Adolph and his wife set up housekeeping only one county away from their West Point home, back in Nebraska.

In every family, the rules regarding who gets to keep "the stuff"those coveted family heirlooms and keepsakescan be different. Often it is the oldest who is designated to receive many of those treasures. In the case of this photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman, however, it may have been one of the youngest sons who passed along the wedding picture of big brother Adolph.

Whether this was so or not, we can't be sure. But one thing I have been advisedthrough correspondence with a descendant of the next-to-youngest Brockman childis that youngest brother Edward married a woman by the name of Corinne Bernice Purkey in Bannock, Idaho, and eventually passed away in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Like his big brother Adolph, Edward Brockman left just one childin Edward's case, a son. And that son, curiously enough, ended up living guessed it...Sonora, California.

Above: The family of William and Augusta Brockman of West Point, Nebraska, including nine of their eleven childrenmissing Ruth, born in 1916, and Ernst, who died in infancy. Photograph courtesy of Brockman descendant Jeff in Oregon; used by permission.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Just How to Address Them

I've often talked about how I pay attention to what I call "voice"the way one person might address another. In the case of the photograph I'm about to reunite with a family memberthe photograph of Adolph and Verna Brockman, taken in West Point, Nebraska, around 1911I think it will be important to consider the "voice" used in labeling the reverse of the photograph.

As you may have seen in the comments to yesterday's post, I have found a Brockman family member, and we are working out the arrangements so I may mail Adolph and Vernie back to relatives. That family memberas is often the case, someone who cares greatly for carefully researching family historymentioned a likely scenario for how the Nebraska photograph ended up in the foothills of northern California.

The possible trail does involve family members moving far from Nebraska. While I'm happy to know the likely story, something is also nudging me to remember that concept of voice.

Consider, for a moment, how you might label a photograph of your family members. Would you, for instance, write something like "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" on the back of a photo of your uncle and aunt? More likely, you'd write at least their first names: "Al and Sally." If you were being very conscientious of the family members tasked, long after you'd be gone, with figuring out just who all those people were, you might add a surname, even though everyone already knew the identity of Al and Sally. To be even more helpful, you might write something like Uncle Al and Aunt Sally, just to make sure your grandkids knew they were looking at relatives.

It would, possibly, take something far afield of kinship to label a photograph, "Adolph Brockman + wife." That, in my humble estimation, might be something included with a wedding announcement sent to a family acquaintance (or worse, merely a business associate) who hadn't actually been invited to the wedding.

But then, the key really is: what did people back in 1911 do when sending photographs of their special family occasions? Perhaps they were more formal. Perhaps this seemed more proper. But I'm not sure it would be something one did when sending a photograph to a sibling's family.

The other problem, though, is that we don't really know when the photograph was actually labeled. There are two different handwritings showing on the back of the Brockman photograph. One may have been entered as a way to tell family, much after the fact, just who that married couple had been. Or perhaps that is the label that mentioned Adolph and Vernie Brockman, including the hint of familiarity of the wife's nickname. But the more formal entry on the top of the photo makes me wonder who would have used that tone of voice in labeling the picture; there seems to be no recognition of family connection at allat the very least, only a connection to Adolph, but certainly not Vernie.

While I could puzzle over this in endless iterations, I'm glad we now have a family member on hand to discuss an educated guessand to keep me from going too far astray on these doubtful dissertations.

Above: The various entries of names on the reverse of the 1911 wedding photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman of West Point, Nebraska.
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