Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Last One in the Stack — For Now

Well, I took another look at the stack of photos from that expedition, half a year ago, to the antique shops of northern California's Gold Country. It appears there is only one photograph left to share. Once I introduce you to our last subjects, you'll see why I saved this one until the end: there isn't much of a hint to go by in determining just who these people are.

Once the photograph was scanned, however, some details popped out. Scanning photographs can help immensely, especially when dealing with a faint or sloppy hand; the ability to "blow up" a picture to take in minute details can be quite revealing. In this case, the photo had left me starved for any viable hints, and at least I could, with this assistance, glean a location to couple with the first names provided by the label on the reverse of the picture.

So here, once again, we'll start the process. Tomorrow, we'll see how far we can get in this guessing game. I'm afraid we won't make much progress. Still, one clue can build upon another, so here's hoping that chain reaction of discovery will yield us something to go by.

Meet our mystery couple for this week:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Still Waiting

If I had to hold my breath in anticipation of a stranger responding to my cold-calling email message, don't think I'm frozen in position, blue-faced, this far into the process. Though I sent a message to the possible granddaughter of our mystery Hazel from Aberdeen, Washington, last Thursday evening, I have yet to hear anything back. Not via Facebook Messenger. And not even through the Ancestry messaging system I used, a week ago, in trying to contact another Ancestry subscriber researching the Dawson line.

Nobody, it seems, is interested in talking back, at least about genealogy.

When I don't seem to make any progress contacting possible relatives for one of the hundred year old photographs I've found, my only option is to set the picture aside and hope someone shows up in the future to claim the family treasure.

In the meantime, I'm down to only a couple more photographs, if even that, in my stash rescued from the antique store in Jackson, California, that place deep in the midst of California Gold Country. I met with my co-conspirator last week, and we are planning another rescue mission.

This time, we'll start at the other end of the corridor formed by the foothills highway that passes through Jackson. Sonora will be our starting location for the next expedition. We don't have a date yet, but it will likely be some time before the end of the month. Hopefully, we'll find another stash as full of labeled hundred year old photographs as we found in our last trip to Jackson. We've already seen how the Gold Country managed to draw people from all over the world. Surely we'll meet new genealogy friends on this second expedition, just like we discovered on our first trip up to the foothills. Places full of history are good for that sort of discovery.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Genealogist's Tree is Never Done

You would think that with the 13,635 individuals listed in my mother's tree, I would soon be pulling in to the station after this genealogical expedition. Likewise, when you take a look at my mother-in-law's tree (the count is up to 15,441 there). So what if I only have 512 in my father's tree. Or 1,490 in my father-in-law's tree. In the aggregate, to the uninitiated, numbers like those seem like overkill.

I am far from done, in case you are wondering. I have specific goals I'm chasing. Mainly, I want to trace all the descendants of my ancestors down to current times and to about fifth to sixth cousin level. I'm doing this specifically to help sort out all those mystery matches on my DNA tests from AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage, andsoon to join the biweekly countLiving DNA.

However, in the past week or so, a few changes have taken place. For one thing, 23andMe announced that, as of June 15, they were removing any records marked as anonymous from the matches provided to their customers. In a matter of days, my matches slipped by thirty four to give me a final count of 984 matches. My husband's drop was even steeper: sixty two lost, resulting in a new tally of 966 matches.

Meanwhile, over at MyHeritage, a recently-discovered security breach, involving access to customers' passwords, caused that company to require password updates and to offer two-step authentication to those choosing the extra layer of security. As for our DNA matches, though, the numbers keep zooming ahead. I now have 4,781 matches at MyHeritage, and my husband has 3,330.

It's business as usual at the other testing sites. At Ancestry, my husband's numbers edged up ten to reach 591, and though Ancestry caps their count at 1,000 (which I've exceeded for weeks now) keeping me from knowing my true amount of matches, I'm sure my count has gone up as well.

Family Tree DNA also is advancingalbeit at a modest rate now, making me look forward to a match spike following their Father's Day sale. I now show 3,128 matches (up thirty one) and my husband has 1,986 (up sixteen).

Considering I added 108 names to my mother-in-law's tree and 293 to my own mom's treenot to mention managing to find another thirteen to add to my father-in-law's slow-growing treeyou'd think this was a race to the finish. But noit's barely the start. With all the branches of these family lines, there are still plenty of ancestors from the 1700s awaiting the completion of their lines of descent to connect them with our present day. I may feel good about keeping up a pace of adding two or three hundred for each report, but that is only chipping away at an enormous boulder of a task.

Still, there's no other way to go about it than to keep up a manageable, moderate pace. It's the steady pace in moderation that will enable me to get this job doneeventually. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Wish for a Local Archives

Watching in horror the newsreels of the Aberdeen fire, just one week ago, which caused one hundred years of local history to go up in flames reminded me of one thing: at least Aberdeen had an archives of historic material to lose. Some counties don't even have the luxuryor the foresightto lose such a collection. Count my hometown among those without a county archives.

The first time I turned green over such a dilemma wasn't last week, of course. It was when two of my genealogy friends returned from a road trip up to the foothills to check into some family history in Calaveras County. If you are not familiar with California territory, Calaveras was the place made famous by Mark Twain and his yarn about a "celebrated jumping frog." It's considered part of Gold Country, though it is a tiny county which even now has less than forty six thousand residents.

When my friends arrived in Calaveras County, they had already arranged for an appointment to view some documents at the county archives. Note, incidentally, that a county of forty six thousand residents can actually get their act together to preserve their county's history through an archival collection. I can hardly say that for my own county, though the city I live nearest boasts a population of three hundred thousandfar more than the entire county of Calaveras.

Their visit came complete with exactly the documentation they were seeking. What more could a researcher ask? Besides, as tiny as the county may have been, their archivist was thoroughly professional and was a great support in the process of obtaining the required documents.

Perhaps, you may be thinking, this is an aberration. Not all small counties will necessarily have such a will to preserve their historic local documentation, you may be thinking.

Not so, if we take a look at another neighboring county archives. This time, let's look to Amador County, just north of Calaveras in northern California. Amador County happens to be even smaller than Calaveras County, having a population less than forty thousand. And yet they, too, manage to provide an archivesthough admittedly, theirs is staffed by volunteers.

Amador, in case you are not from around here, is the county in the heart of Gold Country, and its county seat is Jackson, the place where I found the photograph of Hazel, the mystery girl from Aberdeen, which got this whole thing started about checking into resources for the local scoop on county history up there.

But both of these counties in Gold Country are admittedly small places. What about midsized counties in our state? Yolo County, to the west of our state's capital, has a population above two hundred fifteen thousand, and they have an archives. Perhaps their facility is made possible by the formation of the Friends of the Yolo County Archives, a nonprofit group founded in 1987 to support the services and the facility.

If the population of Yolo County is around two hundred fifteen thousand, that is about the same count as the population for my own cityback in the 1990s. Now, the population of our entire county is pushing toward seven hundred fifty thousand, a far cry from tiny Amador or Calaveras. And yet, where is our county archives? I'm afraid much of the material that could benefit from archival standards is tucked away in boxes in basements of county offices and other repositories, inaccessible to the public other than through great forbearance.

If the mission of local genealogical societies is to be an advocateor perhaps even a catalystfor the preservation of material aiding historical research, how can we as societies be an advocate in support of proper archiving of the stuff of local history? In our case, we may have to start with a fresh inventory of who the players arethose individuals with a keen desire to make these treasures of history accessible to all. It may not be an easy quest, but it sure needs to be a process that is started, not merely talked about. While history may not seem an important budget item for some, it is a foundational pursuit for the benefit of our future.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Part That Makes me Hold my Breath

Well, I did it. I got to the part that always makes me hesitate. And I didn't let it stop me.

The hardest part about wanting to rescue abandoned photos and send them home to family members is the barrier that stands between researching the dead and researching the living. Researching history is easy: just look at all the documents generated in any given lifetime and you can find details about almost anyone. Not rich details in every case, mind yousome people leave more of a paper trail than othersbut at least enough of a smattering to follow any given individual's timeline from start to finish (or, in a researcher's case, usually backwards in time, from finish to start).

But researching those who are still among us is a different matter. It doesn't matter that the instigating reason is that we are still tracing someone's long-gone grandmother. When it comes to reaching out and touching a sheer stranger, there's always that element of doubtat least in our current age of fakes, scams and other feats of fraudulent means. And I can't blame someone else for thinking that about me.

Just think about it: how would you feel if someone contacted youpersonallyout of the blue and acted like they knew enough of your life's story to almost border on the side of stalking? I know I'd have questions.

Yes, I know there are media which almost invite people to connect, even with strangers. Facebook is a prime example. You can ask to "friend" almost anyone. That "anyone" has the right to either reciprocate or ignore friend requests. And that is the one tool I've taken to using in my quest to reunite family with abandoned photographs of their aunts, uncles, great-grandmothers and other assorted relatives.

Yet I still feel creepy when I do it. Maybe creepy enough to not want to continue doing this project. Researching the dead is easy; they offer no objections. Researching the living? It's a matter of personal choice and individual privacy. You never know when you are going to cross the line...until you have already crossed it.

Perhaps I'm not thick-skinned enough. I agonize over this too much. The folks who have received their relative's photo, long-lost for nearly a century, have for the most part been incredibly grateful. I have received wonderful thank you notes from many of them (which, since they are from living people with rights to remain anonymous, I seldom mention in such a public forum as this blog). But I still wonder if someone will not take as kindly to this project as I hope.

On the other hand, I have to remind myself of the original reason for beginning this quest: I'd be overjoyed if someone contacted me and told me they had found a photograph of any of my ancestors. I have little to nothing, when it comes to family memorabilia.

So, with these thoughts staging a knock-down-drag-out fight in my mind, I opened up my Facebook account yesterday to send yet another private message. This time, it was sent to the possible granddaughter of a possible Hazel from Aberdeen. The multiplied levels of doubt don't help in this matter. But if I don't take a first step, I'll never know whether I can send Hazel back home to be with family.

If I can't find a way to send Hazel home to the right descendants, who knows? Perhaps, in the wake of Aberdeen's horrific loss of "a hundred years of history" in last weekend's fire, instead of restoring the lost records of Aberdeen's fathers (and mothers), I can donate Hazel's picture to that city's rebuilding of their collective memory with this initiating token of Aberdeen's children.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

In Search of Some Dawsons

It may seem a taboo subject, in genealogy circles, to discuss using material from someone else's family tree. Do I copy other people's trees? Of course not. But I'm not afraid to take a peek.

Normally, when I'm in search of a potential candidate to receive a photograph I've rescued from an antique shop, one of the places I consult is the very one rich with other people's family trees: Ancestry.com. So, now that we're wondering just who that Hazel from Aberdeen, Washington, might have been, I've been trawling through all the family trees of parents who had five year olds in the 1900 census.

For this search, there is one requirement: that five year old needed to be a girl named Hazel. And she had to live close enough to Aberdeen to have her picture taken at the Finch studio in town.

Once I narrowed the search down to just a few possibilities, the next task is to take a long, hard look at just one of the candidates. That's the hypothesis-testing phase.

For that, I chose to focus on a little girl born in 1894 named Hazel Dawson. As we've already seen, her parents were fairly well situated, as her father, William, served as "city street commissioner." Her mother's Canadian heritage may have given her just the right dose of a sense of "proper" decorum.

Once I made that choice, I was off to see what could be found in the family trees posted on Ancestry. Unfortunately, in this instance there weren't that many choices. I found one well-sourced tree, but learned almost instantly that I couldn't pursue that resource; it was a private tree. Though I sent a carefully worded request, I haven't heard back from the researcher. Yet.

The other treesbelieve me, there were very few of themwere either unsourced or had other signs indicating the researcher may not have been as careful as I would like to see.

Unless I hear back from the researcher of the private tree, it is likely this route will not provide any answers. With that realization, I needed to head in a different direction. My choice, at that point, was to consult the various newspaper collections I subscribe to.

I went first to GenealogyBank, unsure whether that would be a resource for newspapers from a town as tiny as Aberdeen in the early 1900s. Fortunately, in the manner of newspapers of that era, the larger city papers often carried news from the towns in the vicinity, in columns under subheadings bearing the name of each town. Thus, the Holquiam local news made its way into the Tacoma Daily Ledger, including an entry from Hazel Dawson's hometown on a social event in its January 12, 1908, edition. (If you are a GenealogyBank subscriber, you can view the entry here.)
The Girls' Swastika club of Holquiam, comprising the members of Mrs. McDonnel's Sunday school class, were entertained at her home on Karr avenue Saturday afternoon. After a short business meeting the afternoon was pleasantly spent in playing games, after which refreshments were served. 

That small entry was followed by a list naming the ten girls in attendance that day, with Hazel Dawson's name the last entry.

Hazel not only spent her childhood in Holquiam, that city right next to Aberdeen, but she had been married in Holquiam, as well. I had hoped to at least find some articles on her engagement or wedding, but nothing further showed up searching in that newspaper collection.

Switching search terms to locate Hazel by her married name, Giles, led to only one result: an obituary for Hazel and Harold Giles' daughter. The couple had had two children, a son and a daughter, but they had lost their son during the massive casualties inflicted during the Battle of the Bulge.

It was somewhat eerie reading the details in Hazel's daughter's recent obituary, especially with the thought heavy on my mind about last weekend's devastating loss of local history back in the county of Hazel's birth. The obituary was careful to mention the woman's grandfather, William Dawson, as "an early Washington State pioneer who settled in Axford Prairie near the Humptulips River in 1883." (Yes, there really is a river called by that name.)

The obituary also mentioned that this granddaughter had "many interests" including genealogy. It particularly struck methinking again of the recent loss of Aberdeen's many historic artifacts and documentsthat she worked for a "library for local history" in Boulder, Colorado, where she and her family had settled, and that one of her projects there was "archiving photographs from Boulder's early days." How ironic if that woman turns out to have been the daughter of the child in the photograph I have from Aberdeen's "early days."

If only I could have asked her about it. Given her interest in such subjects, surely she would have knownor at least tried to find the answer for me.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Current Events
Collide With Genealogical History

I had just sent off an email following up on my original inquiry to the local public library in Aberdeen, Washington, when it occurred to me that another avenue in researching just who our mystery Hazel of that hundred year old photograph might have been could be to access online resources for their genealogical society. After all, despite the decreased usage of genealogy forums, in their place we now have groups and pages for societies on Facebook.

Sure enough, there is a Facebook page for the Grays Harbor Genealogical Society in Washington. Encouraged to find that resource, I clicked over to that page to take a look. After all, some well-meaning societies are energetic about setting up social media outlets, but the enthusiasm sometimes falls by the wayside over the long haul.

What I saw when I landed on their page took all thoughts about Hazel out of my mind. In fact, what I saw was enough to take my breath away: in one day, a devastating fire wiped out the facility housing several nonprofit organizational offices, including that of the Grays Harbor Genealogical Society, as well as the Aberdeen Museum of History, which, in addition to other local history artifacts, housed a collection dedicated to Aberdeen native Kurt Cobain and his band, Nirvana.

While news of this event likely didn't make national headlines, thanks to the Internet, those of us not in the area can still see what this event means to those who are concerned with preserving local history. You can see reports here. And here. And here. Sobering.

In that one event, over one hundred years of local history was incinerated, a devastating thought. And here I was, coincidentally just trying to locate any photographs that could match up with the one token of Aberdeen history I hold in my own hands: the hundred year old photograph of a young girl named Hazel.

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