Thursday, February 28, 2013

Seeking the House That Leon Built

If Leon Bean were a builder, he would build buildings, right? And those buildings—at least some of them—should be visible, some place where I can find them, right?

Some place like Palo Alto, for instance, since several newspaper entries list the contracts he received to build houses there.

After all, if newspaper reports are to be believed, 1906 would have been a busy year for Leon. Among other projects in Palo Alto, those newspapers tell me, Leon:

  • built a home for H. M. V. Fowler at an estimated cost of $8000 in April
  • supervised construction of a two story home for E. E. Peck on “one of the finest residence streets” for $8065 in the same month, with design by architects Wolfe and McKenzie
  • constructed a residence, at an undisclosed price, for “Professor Drew” somewhere near the corner of Waverley and Melville.

Since I have the opportunity to head in the direction of the Bay Area this weekend, I thought it might be interesting to locate some of these buildings—if any were still standing. We are, after all, talking about buildings completed over one hundred years ago.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I cannot locate actual addresses for any of these homes—with the exception of the approximate location of the third project near Waverley and Melville. Even that one, though, is not readily observable through Google™ Maps, as a few buildings visible there could possibly have also been built at that time.

Oh, how it would help to have found some addresses.

With visions of convoluted research efforts break-dancing in my head, I shudder to think of how I can actually achieve that goal.

Clue: it probably won’t by happening by this Saturday.

Clue number two: it probably will entail a weekday visit to some governmental office. Groan. Read: red tape. Read: long waits.

How much do I want to see this?

Though I’ve reconsidered the cost, I still think it would be cool to find a house that Leon built. It won’t happen this weekend, but someday, it will.

If, of course, the building is still standing. The year of these contracts, after all, was 1906. And everyone who knows anything about the Bay Area knows what happened in 1906.

earthquake damage 1906

Photograph: Damage to houses from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; from a 1906 stereopticon card; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Going Up Rocket, Coming Down Stick

woman dressed in coat with fur trim and hat with bow northern California 1890s
One thing about pursuing family history research via historic newspapers: you can gain a sense of the changes in expression over a span of one hundred years or so. Looking at all the newspaper entries while researching the surnames associated with the Samuel Bean family of Redwood City, California, I certainly noticed that. Language changes.

You might think English is English is English, but it simply is not so.

So while I pored over entry after entry at the California Digital Newspaper Collection, I soaked in the ambience of life, the way these ancestors expressed it.

In one of the many false starts I encountered along the way—the multiple entries for a Harry Watrous not our own—I ran across one particular expression that I thought fitting for what I was experiencing right at that moment.

I have no idea what the expression might have meant to residents of northern California in 1883, but I’ll let you have a look at it and see if you take away the same message I do.

From the front page of the Sacramento Daily Union on November 21, a Lucy Harper—supposedly writing from the very art capital of the time, Paris—analyzed her new-found artistic sensation, the Harry Watrous that turned out not to be part of my Bean family’s line.

An excerpt from her observations:
I am always glad to signalize the advent of any new American star on the horizon of art, and it is my pleasing task to-day to tell of some very admirable work just executed by a young American painter, Harry Watrous…. He is still very young, and has not been studying long, but he is not only exceptionally talented, but he is an earnest, conscientious worker, and his progress within the last year or two has been something to marvel at. His success has not been the case of “going up rocket,” with the chance of “coming down stick,” but it has been achieved by steady, patient study and persevering work, joined to great natural gifts.
Despite my disappointment that this Harry Watrous wasn’t my Harry Watrous—well, Blanche Bean’s Harry, to be precise—I couldn’t help but notice the aptness of the expression for exactly what was happening to me in this research quest.

Sometimes, the hits keep coming at us, fast and furious, and we think we are rolling in the data riches of a research jackpot—only to discover that what we first thought wasn’t exactly how things turned out in the end.

It’s not just that “what goes up must come down.” It’s a matter of recognizing that, even when something seems like it will be not only a sure thing but the next best thing ever, it might not end up that way.

Sometimes, no matter how wonderful the exponential increase of all these online resources might be, there still is the need for archives that hold records that we may touch. We still must have those repositories where the original documents can be preserved and referred back to, if need be. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the research race.

That’s the kind of reminder that makes me glad I’ve got a research trip to the Bay Area lined up for the near future. Yeah, it means I’ll have to get in my car, time things just right to miss the rush hour traffic, and somehow jive with the individual schedules of all the libraries and cemeteries I’ll need to visit. But at least that’s the kind of Plan B I can keep in my back pocket for when such things happen.

Sometimes, those new options do “go up rocket” yet “come down stick.”

Photograph above: Unidentified woman in hat, possibly from 1890s, from the collection of Bill Bean. As I received it, the photograph was hand trimmed--a hallmark of Bill's sister, Leona Bean Grant--from card stock, apparently removed from a gray backing, of which traces still adhered to the glue. There was no label on the back.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What a Difference One Letter Can Make

So, here I am, flying along in my genealogy research with the aid of my bright shiny new toys—several newspaper archives with effective search engines (ahem)—and, just to supercharge the thrill, I decide to work on a surname sure to produce viable results.

I zero in on Watrous. That’s the surname of the man Leon Bean’s sister Blanche married in 1888. With a name like that, there couldn’t be too many false hits, right?

To tell the truth, I’m doing this particular search because I’m trying to find background information on why Mrs. Harry Watrous has a cousin from Wisconsin. That would be her husband’s old stomping ground, not hers. But that blip of a news article I mentioned yesterday said it was her cousin, not his, who passed away in Oakland, California; I’m desperately trying to find out who this Laura Carrier from Wisconsin might be. After all, I’m certainly open to discovering a whole new branch of the Bean or Hankerson families.

With a first name like Harry, I’m thinking this Mister Watrous couldn’t be too elusive. After all, my other bright shiny research toy—the name website I found the other day—says that Harry is a name currently considered “rare.”

But now is not when Harry Watrous was in his heyday. Born in 1862 in Wisconsin, Harry was in his prime by the time my what-to-name-the-baby database picks up on the history of name popularity.

The 1880s, while not even near the year of Harry’s birth, saw the name’s popularity hold steady at a rank of twelve, moving into the top ten most popular boys’ names by the first half of the 1890s. By the time Blanche and Harry named their own son in 1903 (Harry, of course), that name had settled back down to thirteenth place in the popularity race.

I should have gotten that clue. There were a lot of Harrys out there in this Harry’s heyday.

That, by the way, is why they invented middle initials. So that one won’t confuse this Harry Watrous with that Harry Watrous.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

I, however, have been blithely ignorant of that fact, so enamored am I of my newfound bright shiny newspaper research toys.

I’m finding stuff like:
Mrs. Harry Watrous talked on the life of Clara Barton…
Mrs. Harry Watrous, special field worker for the Y.W.C.A…
Prominent among the women workers were Mrs. Harry Watrous…
Then I come to an entry mentioning admirable work just executed by a young American painter, Harry Watrous…and I think I’ve hit the jackpot. Fame! Fortune! Recognition!

This genealogy stuff is fun!

I make a beeline to Wikipedia, my favorite online place to look up stuff.

Like: “Who is Harry Watrous?”

There was an artist named Harry Watrous. Only, to learn anything about him from his Wikipedia entry, I’d have to know how to read Dutch. Why only the Dutch would be interested in Harry Watrous of San Francisco, I don’t know, but I suppose Google™ Translate is always there to assist me, if I get that curious.

In the meantime, it isn’t dawning on me that Harry is such a popular name, until I hit a news clipping telling me
Mrs. John E. Ortlieb and son from Jamestown, N.Y., are passing the winter in California and were Christmas guests of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Watrous at the family reunion of Mrs. Watrous family, the Farwells of Berkeley, eight of whom were present.
Wait! Farwells? Um…that’s not Blanche’s maiden name.

And that’s when it dawned on me that middle initials can become very important.

I went back and took a look at a lot of other newspaper articles. Some were just mentions of “Harry Watrous.” But many others included a middle initial.

Can you believe, in just the San Jose newspaper, I found not only a Harry W. Watrous—and I have no doubt that this is in addition to the Harry Willson Watrous who was the artist I already mentioned—but a Harry A. Watrous, in addition to my Harry G. Watrous?

Admittedly, by 1900, San Jose’s population was over 21,000. But three Harry Watrouses in a city of that size is still incredible to me.

All I can say is: thank goodness for middle initials. Better yet—make that middle names. At least, I hope a name like Harry Griswold Watrous will give our man enough space to differentiate himself from all those other Harry Watrouses out there in San Jose.

Above right: Harry Willson Watrous, "Sophistication," oil on canvas, originally entitled by the artist, "A Cup of Tea, A Cigarette, and She" for a 1908 National Academy of Design exhibition. One has got to love an artist whose talents include not only a way with words, but the ingenuity of devising the Lake George Monster Hoax. From the collection of the Haggin Museum, Stockton, California, via Wikipedia; in the public domain in the United States, European Union, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years or less.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Crying “Uncle!”

Have you ever had everything coming your way so fast and furiously that you found yourself reverting back to childhood mode and crying, “Uncle!!!”?

After my comments yesterday on trying to trace a distant branch of the Samuel Bean family in San Mateo County, California, I was left with no less than ten—yes, count them, ten—obituaries that I needed to find in order to uncover the fates of Sam’s daughter Blanche Bean Watrous’ family members. Still.

Needless to say, I wasn’t having much luck.

For one thing, I am still bemoaning the search capabilities of’s historic newspaper collection. I find it rather tedious. And clunky—if you can use that adjective to describe a computer database’s search engine.

Not that I’m a one trick pony. I do have subscriptions to other historic newspaper outlets (although, admittedly, I haven’t yet paid much attention to Ancestry’s newest bright shiny spin-off, Let’s just say they don’t have what I’m looking for.

What I am looking for is a resource that will give me a portal to the Wild West—or, at least, its semi-tamed version in northern California in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Not colonial New England. Not east coast cities. All I’m asking for is access to a consistent stretch of dates for the main places around the Bay Area. How hard can that be?

I know I sound spoiled. After all, wasn’t it a few years ago (well, okay, twenty) when I had to drive to the state capital and pick my way through dusty index files, myself? Researching from the comfort of home, using nothing more than a computer screen and keyboard, would have been such a dream only a couple decades ago.

The trick, of course, is finding the online resource that provides access to newspapers for the geographic location I’m seeking—during the years I need them.

Thanks to a device as simple as Twitter (you are on Twitter, aren’t you?) and the audience pull of a few dedicated genealogy researchers, it turns out I found my answer in a postscript to last week’s “GenChat” with co-hosts Jen Baldwin, Stephanie Pilcher Fishman, and Terri O’Connell.

Last Friday night’s GenChat was focused on Researching Newspapers, a timely topic for me—although not a good time for my schedule. Thankfully, I saw Jen tweet a follow-up to let everyone know that she had posted a transcript of the evening’s chat on Storify.

I’m not much of a speed reader, but flipping through 140-character Tweets can turn anyone into a fast reader. I started scrolling through the transcript, and stopped still when I got to @JLRoessler’s entry about a great California newspaper resource:
I've used a great one for California I heard from on google+ but being on my phone, no link sorry.
I’m thankful I read all the way to the end of the transcript, because Jodi Roessler came back with just the thing I needed: a link! Better yet, a free link!
Found it! California Digital Newspaper Collection - FREE
I wasted no time loading that link in my browser. Opening up my genealogy database, I began honing in on those Bean and Watrous family names.

That’s when I started getting that overwhelming feeling that I’ve gone from being the proverbial kid in the candy shoppe to being the kid on the short end of an impromptu wrestling match: I felt like hollering, “Uncle!”

I’m finding all sorts of articles that will round out my understanding of the dynamics in the extended Bean family—and, tantalizingly enough, I’m locating mentions of family members I had no idea even existed.

Take this entry, found in the San Francisco Call on October 6, 1895:

CARRIER--In Oakland, October 4, 1895, Laura Carrier, cousin of Mrs. Harry G. Watrous, a native of Wisconsin, aged 26 years 4 months and 26 days. Friends and acquaintances are respectfully invited to attend the funeral THIS DAY (Sunday), at 10:45 a.m., from the parlors of Halsted & Co., 948 Mission street. Interment Cypress Lawn Cemetery, by train leaving Third and Townsend streets at 11:45 o'clock a.m.
Unless there is another Mrs. Harry G. Watrous in the Bay Area, that would be Leon Bean’s sister, Blanche. Which leads me to question: what cousin Laura?!

With all these newspaper articles coming fast and furious in my direction, I’ve got my work cut out!

And I’m quite okay with that.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Family Big Enough For Cousins

Bean family relative 1920s California
One hope all genealogy bloggers share in common is that of finding newly-discovered distant cousins also smitten with the obsession of family history research.

In a family as small as the Bean family of Redwood City, there was no branch even approximating a size making it eligible to contain distant cousins—except for one: the family line of Leon’s sister, Blanche Bean Watrous.

Blanche’s beau was a young man from Wisconsin. How he got to San Francisco, I’ve yet to discover. But Harry Griswold Watrous arrived in enough time to meet and marry Blanche in the parlor of her widowed mother’s home just after New Year’s Day in 1888.

By August of that same year, their first daughter arrived. Named after her maternal grandmother as well as her own mother, baby Celia’s name was the exact reversal of her mother’s own full name.

Another daughter followed in March of 1890. Named Clyde—for whom, or for what special purpose or custom I’m curious to learn—she will henceforth be the instigator of confusion for anyone researching this Watrous-Bean line. Indeed, I’ve seen documentation already asserting that this “she” was a “he.”

Yet again, Harry and Blanche announced the arrival of a daughter on November 27, 1896. And seven years later—almost to the day—the proud parents were finally able to announce the arrival of a son, whom they promptly named after his father (Harry) and his paternal grandfather (Orlando Watrous).

This mystery branch of the Bean family—of whom not a word was mentioned in all the years I’ve known Leona, Bill, and their grand-niece and grand-nephew—in their own time went on to marry and have children of their own. I’d like to think this would be a good sign for any hopeful connections of a genealogical kind—but I can’t for the life of me manage to trace these lines forward to the current generations. I seem to lose track way back in the early 1900s.

I do know the names of these Watrous children’s spouses, and even the names of some of their children. Yet, after that point, the trail seems to turn invisible.

I know oldest daughter Celia married a man in Marin County named Arthur Morwood Dodge, and that this couple had a daughter named after her maternal grandmother (the reversal of her mom’s name, to once again revert to Blanche Celia), and a son named mostly after his father (with a middle initial “W” for—I’m guessing—his mother’s maiden name). I can trace this family through the 1930 census, but lose track after that point. My best hope, at this point, for cousin connecting will be to obtain Celia’s obituary from a San Ramon area newspaper shortly after her Christmas day passing in 1977.

I had a bit better luck finding second-born Clyde in census records—mainly for the sad turn of events in which her marriage to an unknown Mr. Lane ended in divorce, requiring her to seek residence for herself and her two daughters back in her parents’ household by the time of the 1920 census. A later marriage to Albert Edward Harrison brought her back to the family hometown, where she died in 1976. Once again, a search through Bay Area newspapers may yield more information for those elusive distant cousins.

Like her older sister Celia, Elise married a man named Arthur. She married Arthur Morrell Thompson in 1918, and—as far as I can tell at this point—was the mother of one child: Wallace Thompson, born October 18, 1919. This child is the one for whom I can find the most recent information. Once again, if I can get my hands on an obituary, I’ll very possibly find names of some cousins.

The youngest child of Harry and Blanche—their son Harry Orlando—has proven to be the most difficult to track. While I’ve had no problem discovering his marriage record, apparently he and his wife divorced only a few years later. I’ve been able to find some very complimentary articles on Harry junior’s former wife, but no mention of whether the two had any children. Nor can I find any mention of a subsequent marriage. Come to think of it, until I find a copy of his 1971 obituary from a San Mateo County newspaper, there is little else I can say about the baby of the Watrous family.

Which all goes to show you that, standing between me and finding a whole passel of cousins—or, perhaps, a more modest amount of relatives—is nothing but three or four slips of newspaper.

Can it all come down to something as simple as that?

rural California 1920 family outdoors genealogy of Bill Bean

Photographs both from the private collection of Bill Bean; both of unidentified family members--very possibly of some of Bill's cousins. The picture at the top right is dated September 12, 1920, and the woman's facial features seem to resemble those of the young women in the group picture below. No labels on these photographs, other than the one date, leave these as mystery relatives unless a distant cousin shows up to help identify some faces.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Families: Large or Small?

Anyone who has researched ancestors in the United States during the 1800s or before has surely noticed the one inherent characteristic of the listings of those times: the families were generally larger. Much larger.

For whichever of the litany of supposed reasons why family size seems to have fallen off a sheer cliff upon entrance into the twentieth century, the Bean family apparently opted to be an early adopter: they took to that new “style” before it even became fashionable. In the 1860s, Leon Bean found himself sharing any potential sibling rivalries with only one partner: his younger sister Blanche.

Leon and Blanche spent their youth in their family home in Redwood City. Their parents, however, were not native Californians. As you can imagine, in the years post-Gold Rush, California became a magnet for boatloads of immigrants—both from abroad, and also from points east in the United States.

Leon’s parents were a case in point. Samuel Bean, born somewhere in Maine around 1825, arrived by boat in San Francisco some time around 1850. Leon’s mother made the same journey as a single woman, leaving Maine bound for San Francisco.

Samuel married Celia W. Hankerson on July 5, 1861, in Redwood City, where the carpenter and his bride established their home. Leon, the oldest of the two children, arrived in May, 1863. His sister Blanche Celia followed on June 4, 1865.

Dates like those would qualify this Bean family to be designated by the San Mateo County Genealogical Society as Founding Families in the First Families of San Mateo County Project—if there were any descendants currently alive today.

Think of it: while we’ve read about states conducting First Families projects, this county designation would flag Samuel Bean’s family as one of a mere 3,214 residents in 1860.

However, because all the Bean family descendants I’ve known—or have been able to find—have all passed away, there is no mechanism in place with which to recognize this family’s place in San Mateo County history.

And it’s partly owing to the fact that this family has been so small.

Perhaps that’s why researching this line has resonated so much with me over the years. I’ve had a particular sensitivity to the state of having a family so small, it lacks even the sense of family-ness.

You may remember my small-family screed from last Thanksgiving—the post where I bemoaned that lack of sense of family. In researching the Bean family, I may have transferred some of that lonely sense from my own family to that of this Samuel Bean and his own “Us Four, No More.”

Lacking in this family were any of the usual photographs of the time, depicting ample family life busting from the seams of the homestead. Think about it: if it weren’t for Leon and Ella having twin boys, they, too, would have carried on the two child tradition. Moving through the next generation, neither Leona nor Bill had any children; it was blind-and-deaf twin Sam who became the sole provider of grandchildren for Leon and Ella. And of those two boys born to Sam and Maud, only the younger went on to have any children. In that generation? You guessed it: Earle had two children, too. And, as of last November, not a one of the whole bunch of them is with us, today.

Oh, I can reach back three generations to Leon’s sister and find an exception to that rule: Blanche and her husband actually had four children. Of course, I never met Blanche, nor did any of the family I did know ever mention her—the connection must have been lost decades before. Now, however, I can use some of those hard-earned genealogical research skills to see if there is anyone left of that branch of the original family that started with Samuel and Celia.

What makes me want to look so hard for someone with whom I have no remaining connection? Oh, maybe it’s just that same yearning felt as the kid sitting out in the cold on a lonely Thanksgiving morning, wishing there were family coming over for dinner.

Photograph: Around the dinner table, undated and unlabeled photograph from Bill Bean collection. Bill's wife, Ellen Danielson Bean, sits to the back of the left side of the table. Closest to the front of that side of the table may possibly be Bill's nephew, Sam Bean, junior.

Friday, February 22, 2013

More Than a Process Break

Have you ever spent hours in genealogical research, only to come up with…nothing? I may have talked about the need to occasionally hit the reset button and reorient to that original set of research goals. Evidently, I fell far too short of what was actually needed. I don’t need a reset button; I need a serious process break.

Maybe even more than that.

Take today. All I wanted to do was find a few, simple details on the family of Ella Shields Bean’s husband, Leon. Sounds easy, right?


You may be envisioning experiences of ancestors dropping from sight, going AWOL from the obligatory census records. Or changing names. Or having one of those impossible-to-spell-right surnames.

While I sympathize with you if that is your lot in genealogical research life, none of that is my case. After all, I’m researching a name spelled B-E-A-N. How hard can that be?!

Besides, I know exactly where this family lived: Redwood City in San Mateo County, California. And, for Leon’s sister, once she got married, life entailed a move to nearby San Francisco. Nothing convoluted. Nothing mysterious.

But aggravating enough to frustrate me. In fact, I’m shouting right now…I’m just sparing you the drama of reading it in all caps.

Hear me out, now: I’ve paid my research dues. I’ve cranked those old, broken-down microfilm readers. I’ve sneezed my way through tissue boxes accompanying my trips to dusty archives. I’ve…

Well, let’s put it this way: I’ve paid my dues trying to circumvent the kinds of search results you get when you are researching surnames like “Flowers,” for instance. I get that. Looking for John Flowers’ obituary got every florist’s ad in the entire historic newspaper collection. And every funeral notice that began, "In lieu of flowers...." Getting to pay dirt takes persistence when your relatives have names that just happen to be real words in English. Never mind Search Engine Optimized words in English.

And today? I’m looking for the Bean family. Am I making any headway? Of course not!

Yes, yes, I admit that researching a first name like Leon helps eliminate some of those thousands of worthless hits in the search results. But this time, I’m not looking for Leon; I’m looking for his family.

Think about it: when searching for Leon Bean’s sister, how many false leads do you think you’d get, if his sister’s first name was Blanche?

I rest my case.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pushing the Genealogy Reset Button

Do you ever feel mired in the sheer weight of your own genealogical research? Do you yearn for a way to get all the twisted leads and false starts sorted out? Do you wish someone would emblazon the answer to your most pressing question out on the horizon, so you’d be left with no doubt about your mystery’s answer?

Yeah…I do, too. (You didn’t expect me to offer you a solution now, did you?!)

Enough jokes have been made about the Hillary Clinton “reset button” gesture to guarantee the thing its own niche in the history of the absurd. But I’m not so sure I’m ready to chuck that 2009 gaffe. It could come in handy in the midst of genealogical wilderness wanderings.

I need to take stock of where I am, and where I’m going with this current strand of my research. Let’s do a recap:

  • I’ve introduced the Bean family, starting with the most recent descendants
  • You’ve met Sam and his younger brother, Earle
  • You’ve met the boys’ parents, Sam and Maude (Woodworth) Bean
  • You’ve gotten to know Sam’s twin brother Bill and his love for cars
  • You’ve joined with me as I finally uncovered Bill’s wife’s maiden name
  • You’ve met Leona and her mystery husband, “Bob” Grant
  • You’ve gotten to know their mother, Ella Shields Bean, and all her challenges of raising three rambunctious children and being married to a successful businessman
  • You’ve shared Ella’s everyday life—and her greatest disappointments
  • We’ve traced the Shields family back from Ella Shields Bean through her father’s line
  • We’ve met some of Ella’s siblings and heard a few details of their lives

While that never-ending genealogical quest beckons me to keep moving backwards in time, I have to remember I’m leaving something out: the other side of the story.

So, before I find myself slipping away at hundred-year leaps and bounds, I propose we grab the Genealogy Reset Button and press it. Let’s roll this Shields family litany back to the point where Ella met Leon, and start again.

William S Bean Alameda CaliforniaThis time, we’ll look at Leon’s story.

Granted, there is so much I have yet to uncover. But I want to push that Reset Button, anyway. In the next few days, we’ll look at Leon’s family: his sister and what I’ve discovered about her so far; his parents; and what more can be uncovered about his home in Maine.

Then, looking back to that recap list, let’s tie up a few other loose strands. I need to look closer at Maude and her Woodworth clan—possibly examine any signs of where the Marfan syndrome gene might have manifested itself in the rest of her extended family.

Most of all, I can’t finish this journey into the Bean and related lines without looking further at Sammie junior’s own story—a story of the persistence of a teenager, struck with the tragic news that he would no longer be able to see or hear what surrounded him in his youthful world.

Part of my purpose in blogging all this information, as I go from family to family, is to get the research out in the open. I want to provide a place to aggregate what I’ve found so far, so that others working on the same lines may benefit from the material.

That, in itself, demonstrates a keen faith in the power of Internet search engines to bring others with the same questions to this site. It also confesses the belief that many hands make light work—even in the genealogy field. Whether crowdsourcing answers (or even guesses) to the dilemmas I’m most stumped with, or finding distant cousins with whom to collaborate, having the mechanism with which to be transparent in my research progress helps bring together those who are focused on the same pursuits.

And even if you, as a reader, are not pursuing those same surnames, you certainly provide the encouragement to continue the work. I hope that sometimes, what’s written here—or shown here, such as my mystery photographs—will encourage others to look for the story hidden within their families’ vital statistics.

Sometimes, being so engrossed in the multiple trails and myriad documents makes genealogy feel like wandering through an endless maze. Isn’t it refreshing to have a Reset Button to magically transport you back to Research Headquarters—to get a fresh start, to refocus, to reframe the question, to regain your footing, or just redirect the efforts?

It’s okay to press the Reset Button.

Leona Grant of Alameda California fishing trip with car

Photograph, above right: Bill Bean in an undated snapshot; his hand is resting on a boat painted with the name, "Empress."
Below: Possibly Leona Bean Grant; back of photograph bears date, August 30, 1941.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Postscript on a Divorce:
No Trophy Wife Here

Poking around in old newspapers, census records, and online indexes, I’m trying to pick up on a part of the Bean family history that I had never heard mentioned before. The fact that Leon S. Bean, the successful Palo Alto builder, had not only stepped past the late stages of the prim and proper Victorian era to be involved in a divorce, but then to remarry, was something never mentioned among the Bean family members that I knew personally.

I wanted to find out something more about just who this woman was that Leon married. Who was Emma Bement? That was the name listed in the San Jose newspaper that carried the marriage announcement. And yet, I couldn’t find any further—or even previous—mention of that name.

Though joining those symbiotic genealogy partners, and, I couldn’t come up with any results—not even a death record online for her as Emma Bean.

As is often the case, it took a lot of bouncing around between several online resources—testing all the possibilities, tracing them back several decades to insure the right information was captured—before I could feel secure in what I discovered.

At least I had “Square One” to start from. The marriage announcement did include ages, which helped—microscopically.

As for Emma’s “maiden” name—Bement—it turned out to be a false lead. Emma had evidently been married before. But at this point, how was I to know?

So the fifty-seven year old Leon takes a second wife. She, at that point is fifty, herself. Not exactly what one would call a trophy wife, but who’s counting? Leon barely outlives the wedding…well, I exaggerate…passing on a mere eight years later.

What, then, becomes of Emma and the “considerable fortune” Leon has amassed?

The clumsiness with which both and stumble over common names such as Emma Bean did not help matters. I followed up with searches in the various databases for Emma Bement, her former name, with no success either. It took going back a second time to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society website before I found some hints.

My first possibility was that Emma Bean had remained in Palo Alto or Redwood City. The 1930 census did show a widowed Emma Bean with her sister, Clemma Epperley, at 537 Addison Street.

Because I had not been able to find any death information for Emma Bean, I thought perhaps the surname Bement was what was preventing productive search results. Next step: use Emma’s sister, Clemma, to discover what their maiden name might be.

While a first name like Clemma might cause one to anticipate gleaning from search results might be akin to cherry picking, let me disabuse you of that notion. Clemma, herself, evidently was married more than once. Thanks to various local indexes on the website for the San Mateo County Genealogical Society, I did piece together the story for Clemma: married to an Epperley—no, here’s a different record, so make that an Epperly—she was previously known as Mrs. Tully, wife of Frank.

But no maiden name.

It took a lot of dodging in and out of databases and online resources to find the one listing—by now, I’ve forgotten for which of the sisters it was—that showed the maiden name to be Green.

Oh, great: Green. Nothing like making the search easier!

Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I did find a listing suggesting that their father’s name was Leo. Checking an 1880 census record from Watsonville in Santa Cruz County—a little off course, admittedly, for the Santa Clara sisters in Palo Alto—I was able to determine that this was a solid possibility. Well, solid, that is, as long as the name Clemma is not that common a name. The 1880 family grouping did, however, coincidentally include sisters Clemma and Emma.

I couldn’t find any death records, though, for either Clemma or Emma—and that’s why I had pursued that maiden name. I wanted to move from date of death to find an obituary.

It was, once again, thanks to a small, local database, that I found Emma’s date—ironically, the small and agile once again trumps the genealogy powerhouses. From there—that tiny local website database—I moved back to, holding my breath all along in hopes that their newspaper collection would include the dates that might hold Emma’s obituary. So often, those gaps in the collection seem to be strategically placed to obliterate all my hopes.

There, however, in the San Mateo Times—and not even missing out on the obligatory journalistic errors—was a remembrance of the former city resident.

Redwood City--Mrs. Emma Bean, 93, a former long-time resident of Redwood City, died yesterday at a Santa Clara county hospital. A native of Watsonville, Mrs. Bean resided in Redwood City for 35 years before she and her husband, the late Leon Bean, moved to Palo Alto in 1946 to make their home at 537 Addison avenue.
Surviving are a sister, Mrs. William Jefford, and a niece, Mrs. Alma Smith, both of Salinas.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday from Crippen and Flynn chapel. Entombment will be in Alta Mesa Memorial park, Los Altos.
It was such a small mention. Same old address, though. But with a strange twist. Unless I can chalk this up to yet another newspaper error, Emma was not even buried in the same cemetery as her husband. Let me amend that even further: not buried, entombed.

Almost makes me want to go look up a couple wills.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Genealogy Research:
My Two Trusty Friends

Leona Grant and friend or cousin
Think, for a minute, of the long-standing relationship between two close friends. They have a lot in common, but they also find that where one is weak, the other often compensates for that lack. They may find themselves operating in complementary roles, forming a close-knit partnership where each one shines at his or her own specialty—but each contributing toward the benefit of their association.

Sometimes, my online research tools seem to fall into those two symbiotic roles.

I love, but it has its weak spots. Sometimes, I feel as if those shaking-leaf “hints” only show up after I point out the information to that vigilant search engine. What’s up with that?! I thought was supposed to do the grunt work so I can collect all their search results and plug them into the correct spots.

Wouldn’t it be sweet if it did work that way? But it doesn’t.

That’s why I find myself sometimes operating two windows in tandem: one for, where I plug in my findings as I go; the other for a search engine that actually does some searching, like

Together, we bounce back and forth between documents found and data already listed, to evaluate the rightness of suggested matches.

With the search prowess of (or other programs, whether free or subscription-based), I sometimes unearth unexpected discoveries that way.

Take Leon S. Bean’s mother, the former Celia W. Hankerson of Maine. I had no idea she had married a second time, after the relatively early death of her husband, Samuel Bean. However, in playing around with data in the various fields (I sometimes deliberately leave some fields blank to see what else might rise to the surface), I came across a revelation: Celia W. Bean married a David E. Costellow of Sacramento, California, in 1896. Cross-checking with other databases, I saw notice of Celia Costello’s death in 1905, back in Redwood City, thanks to the local records of the San Mateo County Genealogical Society’s website. And that led me to the matching Find-A-Grave entry for Celia at Redwood City’s Union Cemetery—listed with that same new surname.

Yesterday, I mentioned discovering the maiden name of Celia’s grandson’s wife, Ellen. That discovery was owing to a small database—thanks again to the San Mateo County group—but you can be sure that, once I made that discovery, I was off and running, checking out everything I could about it.

Once again, I returned to my two trusty genealogical friends, and Bouncing back and forth, I worked that family line as far as I could, comparing notes between the two websites before entering any records in my online tree. Yet even then,—like some demure damsel on a first date—was hesitant in offering up any hints until after I added more data. Frustrating.

I sometimes force the program’s hand by entering guesses in some of the fields. For instance, state of death. Even though I’m not one hundred percent sure, I’ll make an informed guess and see if it pokes in the ribs. Sometimes, the ruse works, and I’ll be offered a suggestion of a specific record—which I can then examine by cross-checking on—and decide whether to accept or reject. Surprisingly, the suggestions are quite accurate, even if I instigated the discovery myself by feeding those fields my guesses instead of solid evidence.

I’m not sure whether just needs to beef up its search mechanism or what the case may be. But I’ve learned that when it comes to—as much as I appreciate what it has to offer—I’ve got to find a secondary program which will form a good partnership. Once that symbiotic relationship is on a roll, though, I can make some real headway in new family discoveries.

Photograph, above right, of two unidentified women; the woman to the left in the darker suit possibly Leona Bean Grant of Alameda, California, and a friend or cousin; from the private collection of William S. Bean.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Found It!

Eureka! And that’s not the city in northern California I’m talking about.

While that may all be Greek to you, for me—as well as to Archimedes—the exclamation means I’m ready to celebrate. I’ve found something I’ve long been looking for.

Remember a while back, when I mentioned that, try as I might, I have never been able to locate the maiden name of the woman Bill Bean—the source of all my mystery photographs—had first married?

Well, I found it.

It took some poking around online.

Not in any of those big, overwhelming, one-stop-shopping kinds of genealogy websites. I found my answer in one of those local online hideaways I wrote about a few days ago.

I had gone back to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society’s website to check on some other details on the Leon Bean family I’ve been researching. While there, I realized I had only been utilizing one of the several online databases of material transcribed by this local society.

So I took the liberty of looking around.

Of course, I kept that focus on the Bean surname, since that is the family line I’m currently studying. I saw that the San Mateo group had transcribed a number of marriage records, so I thought I’d take a look at what might be available under the Bean heading.

At the time, I was puzzling over Leon Bean’s second marriage—the one to Emma, after his divorce from first wife Ella. While I had found a newspaper entry announcing the issuance of the marriage license, I still hadn’t found any confirmation that the wedding had actually taken place.

There must be some type of law—kind of like Murphy’s Law—that when you are looking for one specific thing, you will, instead, actually end up finding something else you needed, but weren’t looking for.

That’s what happened on my quest to find the actual marriage record for Leon and Emma: I found Bill and Ellen.

And Ellen’s maiden name.

From the San Mateo County Genealogical Society website, clicking on the “database” choice in the left margin, the screen brought me to a page full of hyperlinked headings. When I selected “San Mateo County Marriages” and clicked on the alpha choice for my target surname, then scrolled down through the enormous page of listings for every “B” groom’s surname, I found the entry for William Samuel Bean.

Holding my breath and sincerely hoping this would be no genealogical doppelganger, I scanned from left to right, trying hard not to go cross-eyed from the densely packed page of data, until I saw my prize.

Ellen? Check! Actually, make that Ellen Marie. She was thirty five when she got married. She was from Kingsburg, a small town in Fresno County. Made sense—after all, that’s where Bill’s many Shields cousins lived.

The wedding date was March 9, 1929. The occasion was celebrated in Redwood City—odd, since Ellen’s family was still in the Central Valley, far removed from the south Bay Area location of the ceremony. Besides, Bill’s dad, Leon—the link back to Redwood City—was already passed away. And Bill’s mom, Ella, lived in the east Bay, in Alameda.

But I’m not going to trifle with such details now. I have a discovery to celebrate. And while I won’t leap from my desk and run through my city like Archimedes, I’m still excited to break through that brick wall. Maybe now, I can piece together a family tree and see if I can locate the identities of the faces in some of these mystery photos.

Ellen’s maiden name: Danielson. Ellen's parents, john W. Danielson and his wife, Jennie S. Carlson Danielson, both came from Sweden to settle in Fresno County, California.

I don’t know how to say “Eureka” in Swedish, but just the same, I’m jumping up and down: I found it!

William Bean Ellen Marie Danielson Bean Leona Grant

Photographs: Bill and Ellen Bean with unidentified friends--or possibly even relatives--most likely at Yosemite National Park. Bill and Ellen are on the far left in each of these photos. Most likely, that is Bill's sister Leona in the second picture, clowning around and swiping the hat of the man just behind her and to her left. Perhaps Leona and the man at the far right in the upper picture were swapping photography duties. If so, Leona seems to have fared much better as life of the party than in judging lighting and composition as photographer.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What Surprises Me About Some Research

Have you ever been able to travel to the city or town where your ancestors once lived, and take a look around to gather more data for your research?

You know the routine. Check the cemeteries and photograph the headstones. Google™ the address you found on that 1920 census record and drive to the site to see if the house is still standing. Stop in at the town’s library and see if any local history books in their collection mention your people.

When you go through that routine, do you ever come away from that visit with more questions than when you started?

I shared with you, yesterday, the story I discovered about Ella Shields Bean and her former husband, Leon Samuel Bean. I had had that story in a newspaper clipping tucked away in my files for a long time. The story always struck me as odd—mainly because of the Reality TV burlesque aspect of publishing such minute details in a city newspaper, more than any concerns over Ella’s injury or the facts of the relative rareness of a divorce suit in that time period. Anyone who has gone through divorce (or even known of others’ experiences in that respect) is aware that things can get nasty—not to mention, melodramatic. And honestly, I couldn’t help but wonder if the appearance in court, complete with bandage, wasn’t just an episode of showmanship on Ella’s part. These were people of strong personalities, to say the very least.

Yet, knowing all that, when I did spend some time in the Bay Area—going to all the family cemeteries, checking out all the libraries, and trying to find those old homesteads—I still heard things that I should have questioned.


Because they would have told me the rest of the story.

Yes, I know: I already told you this was the rest of the story. But there’s a rest of the rest!

You see, after finding Leon S. Bean’s grave location, courtesy of the office at the cemetery where he was buried, one of the last comments I remembered hearing was, “That’s where Leon and Emma are buried.”


“No, you mean Ella,” I asserted. Must have been a typo, I thought to myself then. Even death certificates can get things wrong!

Off I went, out of the office and into the section where I could snap a picture of Leon’s headstone.

And promptly forgot all about that mention of Emma—for twenty years.

Fast forward to a few days ago, when I was finishing research on Leon to check a few details for yesterday’s post. Along with that modest referral to the divorce filing that I explained to you yesterday—the one appearing in the San Jose Evening News—there was another brief newspaper entry. This new line was just as short, and published almost exactly seven years after the first entry. The Wednesday evening copy of the January 14, 1920, edition announced:
Marriage license, Bean-Bement--Leon Samuel Bean, 57, Palo Alto, and Emma Bement, 50, Redwood City.
It was Emma! There she was, in that tiny announcement buried in the back pages of the San Jose newspaper.

Now that I had the explanation for that little irritating wisp of trivia that I should have picked up on more than twenty years ago, what could I do with it? I have no online access to the San Jose newspapers from that time period, nor do any libraries in my area carry them on microfilm. Online records for an Emma Bean seem overwhelming with “hits” that turn out to not be matches.

But I have virtually no knowledge of this woman, who she was, what she was like—nothing. If she was, indeed, the recipient of all that supposed wealth accumulated by the once-successful builder, Leon S. Bean, at least I could vicariously experience the benefit, one would think. Or wonder if she, too, came away from the experience with a bandaged forehead.

Perhaps I’ll need to chalk this one up to the “Round Tuit” list for a research trip to the Bay Area. Sometimes, that’s the only way to find these things out.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Small Town vs. Big City:
The Snark Factor

On Monday, January 13, 1913, an unassuming entry appeared in the San Jose Evening News:
A suit for divorce has been filed by Ella Bean against Leon S. Bean. The charges are cruelty. S. W. Williard is the attorney for Mrs. Bean.
One hundred years ago, that type of news report was certainly less common than it is today. In the case of Leon and Ella Bean, it would mean a family upheaval for their twin boys, who were still sixteen years of age—and possibly for their older sister, Leona, as well, though she had by then attained the age of majority and would shortly be a married woman, herself.

By this time, the Bean family had made the move from Redwood City—home for Leon’s family for two generations, and for Ella’s parents during her own teenage years. With the contracting business that had engaged Leon so much in the Palo Alto area, the family had evidently moved over the county line from San Mateo County to Santa Clara County by the time of the 1910 census, and were now settled in the small but respectable town of Palo Alto.

San Jose, the county seat for Santa Clara County, would of course be the newspaper of record for local court proceedings, and their city paper’s demure announcement was to be expected in such matters.

What was a surprise was the report subsequently found in another city’s newspaper just one week later. While I have no idea what the size of nearby San Francisco might have been one hundred years ago, it surely represented one of the sizeable cities of our country even at that point. Yet, the tone of the reporting could be taken for the style of a small town gossip column in the detail it provided.

Picture the setting of a breakfast nook in a Victorian-style home in a fashionable Bay Area neighborhood as you read what the San Francisco Call saw fit to print on January 31, 1913:

Romance of Old Days
Ends in Divorce Suit

Mrs. Ella Bean Charges Husband With Hitting Her; He Says She Scalded Him.

(Special Dispatch to The Call)

PALO ALTO, Jan. 30.—Mrs. Ella Bean, who, as Ella Shields of Redwood City, furnished San Mateo county with a topic for gossip a quarter of a century ago by her romantic elopement to Fresno with Leon S. Bean, a young contractor, has brought suit for divorce in the San Jose courts this week, charging extreme cruelty.
            For some time rumors have been prevalent that an estrangement existed, but as both husband and wife have continued to live at the family home no hint was given of the probability of a divorce.
            Despite the secrecy maintained by both the complainant and her husband, it is known that Mrs. Bean charges her better half with sudden outbursts of temper. Recently, she says, he hurled a cup at her head and the flying missile struck her above the eyes, inflicting a deep cut. She exhibits a bandaged forehead as evidence. Bean declares that he threw the cup only after his wife had poured hot water over him.
            Bean has been engaged in the contracting business in Palo Alto for eight years, and is said to have amassed a considerable fortune.
While I’m not entirely sure of the accuracy of all the details divulged in the newspaper’s breathless report, the story does open my mind up to some additional possibilities. For one thing, remember that Leon and Ella had twin boys. With a few glimpses here of the twins in their younger days, the couple fleeting reports of twin Samuel’s blind-and-deaf condition need to be revisited.

Sam wasn’t always that way. He wasn’t born blind and deaf. In fact, for most of his childhood, he and his brother carried on with the usual antics one would expect of lively twins. Family oral reports had one of two traditionally-recited causes for Sam’s handicap. One story was that he sustained injuries from a softball game, when a ball caught him in the eye, and a resulting infection spread to his ears.

The other story? That Sam was in a rock fight.

I don’t know which one was the correct rendering of the incident. But I do know that it was reported to have happened either when he was twelve, or when he was sixteen.

Either way, any injury that inflicts such a drastic impact on the life of a child is ripe to also become the cause of the unraveling of a marriage.

Now, seeing how snarky the report from a city newspaper like the San Francisco Call could have been, and wondering what the ripple effect might have been on the couple’s children, I see the perfect alignment of the age (sixteen) and the instigation (anger or embarrassment over one’s parents being the focus of a nasty journalistic smear, even in a small town like Palo Alto).

Maybe especially in a small town like Palo Alto.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Early Departures and Missing Documents

While Flora Shields Montague may have lived to see nearly ninety years of life—despite early newspaper reports seeming to indicate the contrary—some of her family members didn’t fare so well. Perhaps that is another wake up call to face reality in the early 1900s in rural America.

Flora’s sister Ella Shields Bean lived to squeak past the eighty year mark. Another Shields sister, Lillian Taylor, did likewise—though she did suffer the loss of a child at an early age.

But it’s those others that remind me of the harsh life that we no longer experience first hand.

Oldest Shields child, Alice Newell, lost her life before the youngest of her three daughters became a teenager—a loss of memories for a child growing up.

The Shields’ family’s second-born, son Adolphus, made it past the seventy year mark, but lost his own wife—or at least she disappeared from the records—before the 1920 census was taken.

And like her sister Alice, younger Josephine, wife of Wright Henry Spencer, passed away before her youngest child was even five years of age, if indications from the 1910 census prove to be correct.

The tricky part for the researcher is that these life events fell during a span of time in which documentation is not readily available online. With no sign of a death record to be found online, how can I be sure, then, that these departures weren’t disappearances owing to another cause? While divorce was not as common during those times, it is a possibility. However, the California Divorce Index on doesn’t begin its records until the year 1966—hardly helpful for someone trying to find missing wives prior to 1920.

Another option—that of searching for obituaries in local newspapers—is also impeded by lack of online resources for those specific dates.

It is as if that specific period of time has entered a Black Hole—or, if you prefer, a “Cone of Silence.” The frustrating lack of resources for the time period being sought—in the face of an apparent abundance of other digitized genealogical material—may seem just as inept as Get Smart Agent 86’s insistence on repeatedly going back to the same source of faulty coverage.

Sometimes, the only answer is to just get in the car and drive to the city where the real resources are kept.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Knowing The Rest of the Story

It occurred to me yesterday, after posting the newspaper article about young Flora Shields Montague’s devastating illness, that it might have suggested a tragic ending for the young bride.

Of course, I hadn’t thought of that at first—I know the rest of the story. Sometimes knowing something all too well does, indeed, constitute what some have called, “The Curse of Knowledge.”

If you aren’t familiar with that concept—“The Curse of Knowledge”—let me explain it by using some quotes from the people who coined the phrase, expanded upon its application, and use the concept in their professional efforts. Though these people work in fields not remotely associated with genealogy, I find the concept helpful in examining the difficulties we might encounter as we enthusiastically attempt to engage our friends and family with what we see as the fascinating topic of our family history. Perhaps it is partially because we are all too familiar with the stories we convey that we fail to engage our casual audiences.

“We are in deep denial about the difficulty of getting a thought out of our own heads and into the heads of others,” explain Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the book Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. “The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly.”

That’s why they call knowledge a “curse.”

Looking back to my post yesterday, in leaving poor Flora hanging between life and her anticipated demise, I can see now why it might have someone concerned. But I didn’t think much about it yesterday.


Because I knew the rest of the story.

Maybe you’ve experienced something similar, in trying to unpack a story you’ve discovered from your own family history. You know it’s a great story. But try telling your audience—whichever friend or relative you’ve happened to corner in your enthusiastic regaling of the intricate details. The missing link—the part you forgot to mention—might be just the key to help your listener grasp the significance of the event.

I wasn’t too worried about Flora, for instance, because of some very solid evidence I had found years ago. While I haven’t yet rescued it from my storage boxes of decades-old research notes, I do recall details indicating that it was Flora’s own husband, in a civil service capacity acquired much later in his professional standing, naming a new street—extending along the Shields property line, east and west from Blackstone Avenue in Fresno—after his father-in-law, William Shields. Every time I drive south, passing the Shields Avenue exit on California Highway 99, and know the instigator behind that sign’s origin, I am reminded that Flora and her husband did quite well in their long tenure in Fresno society.

I also knew that Flora’s name made it into two documents post-dating that 1897 newspaper report: the 1900 and 1910 census records for Fresno County.

There is no doubt in my mind, though, that something devastating happened to Flora and Frank. For one thing, they remained childless throughout their married life. In the 1900 census, Flora declared herself to have not been the mother of any children—though in 1910, she reversed that report to state that she had been the mother of one, though a child no longer alive. By 1920, Flora was listed having an occupation of Christian Science Practitioner.

Could some of the threatening health issues she surely endured throughout those decades have caused her not only physical trauma, but a crisis of faith as well?

That she survived the malady that prompted such dire newspaper reports as the one I shared with you yesterday is not only confirmed by the subsequent census reports, but also by the death record that demonstrated the age she attained at her passing. For someone assumed to not make it much past her twenties, Flora Shields Montague lived until March 3, 1963—giving her a lifespan of over eighty seven years.
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