Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who Are These People?

Flipping through the photos from a box pulled down from its hiding place, I stumble upon a déjà vu moment. A photo—the same one as before, but from a peopled perspective—tells the story: 
“Pamela Suzanne Gaither
Edward’s daughter
three years November 25, 1959
sitting on her great-great grandma Spencer’s love seat.”

Gaither? Spencer? Who is Edward? Pamela's father? Or is Edward a surname, too?

The names are new to me—not even in my database of over 12,000 distant family connections. But the furniture in the background is now familiar to me. It’s the heirloom my husband’s great-aunt Leona Grant bequeathed to her cousin—a mystery cousin I’ve yet to uncover.

I don’t even know what to call that piece of furniture. It is so foreign to me. I’ve never seen it, though I’ve visited its owner multiple times. I know the house it sat in, though I never knew that at the time. Is it a sideboard? Or a buffet? I know so little about antiques. But I do know one thing: while other families who don’t research their lineage may sport multiple antiques in their living room, I do know the names and stories of my families, but sadly have little tangible evidence of what they may have left behind.

I tried searching online for the name Pamela Suzanne Gaither. Hoping there might be a genealogy enthusiast in her life, I looked through the many online forums for any link. None showed that I could find. Google’s lack? Or do I need to do some heavy lifting on the Shields side of my family research? Who is this distant cousin of all the now-departed Bean family members in my life? What became of that three-year-old? Is she married? Is she a mother? A grandmother? Would her family like to know about their ancestors? Do they know the lineage of the childless woman who gifted them from another family’s heritage?

Strange how one picture can prompt so many questions.

I thought I was fairly well-versed in Leona's family lines. Her father, Leon Bean, though born in California, could claim that state as home only owing to the emigration of his parents, around the Horn, from Maine. Oral tradition held that the Bean family was of French origin, and the Maine connection lends the tale some credibility, though I've yet to document any evidence. Leon married a woman with an entirely different immigration story: Ella May Shields, born in Illinois, whose parents traveled cross-country to settle first in the San Francisco Bay Area, then ultimately heeding their farming roots and purchasing land in Fresno, California.

Regarding the descendants of that maternal Shields line, I evidently need a little more work.

Some genealogy researchers concentrate their efforts on discovering ancestors. While I seek the same information, I can’t help but succumb to the curiosity of what became of all those other family members, the descendants of those ancestors. While I delight in discovering clues about the past, I find myself searching also for the living.


  1. Couldn't help reading and then re-reading this post because of the name Leon Bean. Did you know that L.L. Bean (the famous Maine outfitters) stands for Leon Leonwood Bean? Distant cousins of mine. Their genealogy can be found online.

    1. Heather, I didn't know that! Interesting.

      I've had some family members tell me their Bean line was related to Judge Roy Bean...but you know how these anecdotal mentions go. I usually dismiss them out of hand--that is, until I turn up something that proves them right all along!

      I'll have to check into that little bit of information. I have traced this Leon Bean line back to Maine in the late 1840s, but then I ran into that proverbial brick wall (another anecdotal piece that turned out to be much more than just a figment of the researcher's imagination). Of course, that was decades ago. It will be interesting to pursue it further, now that so many resources are readily available. Who knows? We may be distant cousins by marriage!


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