Monday, August 22, 2011

Not All Pictures Are Left Nameless

Oh, the temptation when a procrastinator such as myself encounters the chance handwritten note hastily scribbled on the back of a century-old photograph. I do confess: I followed the bunny trail.

The scene was thus: on the afternoon of the tedium of scanning countless photographs, I came upon the coffee-stained portrait of a dignified gentleman. Not quite smiling, not quite frowning, but with an air of success to his profile, he fairly expected me to take note.

He was the customer of the establishment of Klein A. Guttenstein, photographer, of Milwaukee, it was evident to see. But I know more about him, thankfully owing to a handwritten tale on the reverse.

“Dr. Chas. Dockery of So. Milwaukee,” the inscription explained, “Grandma Ryan’s sister Julia’s son.”

Oh, how glad I am to already know that the two sets of Ryans who married into our Tully clan are not related (at least to my knowledge so far). That easily saved me from fruitless searching up the wrong branch of this family tree. “Grandma Ryan” was the former Mary Ann Sullivan, widow of Samuel Swanton—a man who died just after his two girls were born. With two young children—one of whom was Sarah Swanton who eventually married my Tully connection—this mother soon remarried, to an Irish immigrant in Valparaiso, Indiana, named Edward X. Ryan.

What I hadn’t yet discovered was that “Grandma Ryan” had a sister named Julia. While RootsWeb didn’t have any promising entries linked to the Sullivan family that sister Julia haled from, I was fortunate to still be able to access the beta version produced by the labs, which provided me with more information. There, I pulled up the 1880 United States Census for a town called Meguon in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, which showed “Juliane” and her husband Michael “Dockry” with six of their children: Mary, Ellen, Juliane, Michael, Sarah and baby Charles.

By the time of the 1900 census, Julia Dockery was a widow who had been married for forty eight years, and who had by then also lost three of her nine children.

It didn’t take long to find out a few things about this Charles Dockery, physician. A Charles A. Dockery was listed as having married a Margaret Kenney of nearby Cedarburg, Wisconsin, in November, 1905. By the time of the 1910 census, Charles and his bride had moved to Milwaukee, and instead of the “bicycle shop” occupation the 1900 census had attributed to him, he was now holding the proud title of doctor.

Life seemed to be going well for the young doctor by the time of the 1920 census. He had moved his family from their first home on 1229 Rawson Avenue to a larger residence more suitable for a family of seven children. Francis, Morris, Robert, Gordon, John, Margaret and Thomas were joined by siblings Joseph and Kathleen by 1930, but the times also brought, perhaps, some dissonance. It may take more reading between the lines to fathom the reason behind the two separate households set up by the good doctor and his busy wife, both claiming their status as “married” though living apart.

Yet, the story all started to unfold for me by the quick scribble of a note on the back of a stained old photograph. And I am certain that the hand that inked that explanation had no notion that that message would unlock so much information for a mere stranger such as I.

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