Monday, April 23, 2018
The verdict is in: yes! Ralph is going home, too. Well, I mean his photo, that is. I heard from the Pollock descendant who gave me all that fascinating detail about Ralph's life after he left his childhood home in Colorado, so now I have directions on where to send young Ralph's photograph.
Out of all the photographs marked "Thirza," I have yet to track down a Van Noate descendant for the hundred year old picture of baby Louise. I mentioned the other day about posting baby Louise's photograph on our local genealogical society's Facebook group, and I did get a few general suggestions, and one member sent me a rather complete copy of the family's tree. But as for how to contact a living descendant, well, the best suggestion was to try poking around on Facebook.
So I did. And found someone. The problem is, no matter where I look, I can only find rather distant relatives. The same went for the trees on Ancestry.com. There were about six different Ancestry subscribers who had Louise in their family tree, but every one of those trees was posted by someone who must be much like me—a little bit too enthusiastic about their genealogy. And what I'm seeking is a close relative, not a seventh cousin twice removed. But, using another tactic, I found that possibility.
The nexus is a grandchild of Louise's husband's brother. At least, I think that's the connection—and, trusting that the trees where I found the family line are actually accurate, it looks like that's the closest I'll get to contacting someone who might know how to get in touch with Louise's grandchildren.
Of course, that leaves the squishy part of contacting a stranger, out of the blue. It is definitely so much easier to research dead people. Even sending an email to a living descendant of a dead person isn't too difficult. But going straight to a relative of a relative of a relative—who doesn't even show the slightest interest in genealogy—well, that's a challenge I'm not sure I'm up to. Yet.
Give me a couple days and we'll see whether I chicken out. Baby Louise may just have to remain in that folder on my desk until a closer relative stumbles upon this post via our research assistant, Google.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
I've been dealing, lately, with a mind obsessed with crossed paths. What I uncovered this week, in my relentless pursuit of ancestors, grabbed me with this notion even tighter.
It's only because I've been bombarded with distant cousin matches on all my DNA tests—yes, I've been that obsessed researcher who has tested at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and MyHeritage—that I've been left with the quandary of wondering, "Who are all these people?"
My solution was to spruce up my family tree a bit: go back to my ancestors and enter all their children, not just my direct line. And then, enter all those children's children. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
I call it quits on a line when I reach seventh cousin, mostly because some companies will show matching cousins up to the level of fifth or sixth cousin (and one goes up to eighth). Reliably, of course, some paper cousins won't show at those levels on DNA tests, even if they are blood relatives because some genetic material from our third great grandparents may simply not make it down all the generations to reach us. Since we don't know, ahead of time, which relatives that involves, I decided to trace them all—and then some.
All that to say, there are a lot of cousins out there, still needing to be added to my family tree. So I plod onwards.
This week on the paper trail, I ran into some cousins who actually ended up living in the same city as I do, and at the same time that I've been here. I had no idea at the time, of course—but then, I'm talking about sixth cousins. One could hardly be expected to keep tabs on that extended relational reach...until the advent of genetic genealogy.
That brings me back to my occasional obsession: wondering, whenever I travel, what the chances would be that I would cross paths unknowingly with someone who turns out to be a seventh cousin. Forget that, maybe even a third cousin. It might be the person sitting next to me on the plane, or the one behind me in line to buy coffee. I am awed at the possibilities of how we all relate—and how we don't even realize it.
So, I keep working on those descendants of my multiple-great-grandparents. And those trees grow bigger. Not because I'm pushing back to incredible reaches in history, but because I'm throwing my net wide and capturing all those distant cousins, in hopes I'll recognize them when they show up in my DNA matches—maybe even if they show up at the dinner table at my next genealogy conference.
The past two weeks surprisingly yielded some research progress, considering how difficult the time has been. Perhaps there's a solace in the routine research of adding names to a family tree. There sure is that family-talking-to-family sort of gathering, when we lose a loved one, just comparing family notes and reminiscing—and remembering that we forgot to add that new baby, or that new spouse.
For my mom's tree, that meant jumping 172 entries to land at a tree size of 12,903. For my mother-in-law, that gained her tree of 14,746 another 107 entries. For my dad's tree and my father-in-law's tree, each gained only one entry apiece, but they now stand at 501 and 1425, respectively.
Yet, as fast as I try to build those trees, the DNA matches seem to roll in faster. I'm up to 2,989 at Family Tree DNA and 4,305 at MyHeritage. AncestryDNA seems to have given up counting, once the matches exceed 1,000, so I don't even know how many I have there—and those are just counting fourth cousin and closer. As for 23andMe, it's a rare biweekly count when I don't lose matches from my count, but this is one of those times: I now am up five to 1,036. And I really can't complain there, since one of the new matches actually contacted me—now, that's a switch!—and the bonus is that she is apparently related to my on my father's side. Perhaps it will even be on my paternal grandfather's side—that man who claimed he was an orphan and unofficially changed his name and zipped his lips concerning the reasons why.
My husband's matches are piling up almost as fast as mine. He's got 1,915 at Family Tree DNA and 3,007 at MyHeritage. He hasn't hit that thousand-mark ceiling at AncestryDNA yet, but he's over halfway there at 549. For once (can you tell I'm jealous?) he actually saw his count go backwards at 23andMe, dropping six to level off at 1,072. But because I have his mother's tree so full of cousins, it seems much easier to figure out the matches to his DNA cousins.
As I travel this research pathway, I'm constantly surprised to spot coincidences and crossed paths—everything from distant cousins marrying, to relatives moving from their home turf in Ohio or Alabama or Florida, all the way out to the corner of the country where I thought my own family was well hidden away. And yet, we have ended up driving down the same streets where our ancestors' descendants decided to live. How does that happen? More to the point, how does that happen and we don't even realize it? Our invisible networks and connections, once brought to light, can indeed be unexpected and fascinating.
Saturday, April 21, 2018
It's high time to do some volunteer work, giving back with appreciation for all the help of those countless—and nameless—others whose efforts have made possible the ease of online research. I headed to the indexing tab at FamilySearch.org with good intentions, but apparently today was a technology and tantrums day for our good friends with the enormous digital data collection. Try as I might, I just couldn't get any indexing projects to open for me. I'd scroll through the choices, select one—I try to stick with naturalization records in either New York or Chicago, my two research interests right now—and with that click came...nothing.
Well, take that back. I did get an error message. Something about that batch not being able to be opened; try again.
Rinse and repeat may work for shampoo, but it wasn't working for selecting a new batch to index at my favorite online place to volunteer. Out of desperation, I started looking for anything...anything...which was in English and featured a record set in my home country. It's been a long time since I last volunteered to do any indexing—too long—and I didn't want another day to pass without helping out.
Finally, success: I got a file to open for county records of marriages in Indiana. Well, my father-in-law's line did have some family in Indiana, so at least I have a vested interest in this project, after all. The surprise was: the records weren't really all that old. One set out of the two I did actually bore dates in the late 1980s. So much for privacy of living individuals. And here I thought only California had that blatant disregard for further publicizing their "public" records.
Once I got into the record set, the indexing system worked like a charm. I was done with my first set in no time, leaving me quite willing to spring for a second go-round. It's times like these which encourage me to delve into doing more volunteer work like this. Painless, the minimal effort is amplified by setting up searchable records that can then be easily accessed by countless others, as long as the FamilySearch website still makes these records available.
That sure beats the old way of individually having to contact each government entity with a snail-mail plea to look up a document. I don't think there would be many of us researchers boasting trees numbering in the thousands if we were still resigned to the crawl of such a research fate. And that makes it all the more worthwhile to expend this minuscule amount of effort to get those records prepared to be accessed online.
Friday, April 20, 2018
Gradually, the photograph collection of Thirza Browne Cole is finding its way home—or, at least, finding its way closer to descendants who are interested in receiving one of these hundred year old pictures. The only thing I lack, in one case, is an address. In another case, I still need to locate the descendant.
I still have resources, of course. In the case of baby Louise, since she lived in a city near my own home, I posted a request on our local genealogical society's Facebook page. Hopefully, someone on that site will know someone who knows someone—and that six-degrees-of-separation shuffle will serve up a possible recipient. In a best-case scenario, that is. If not, I'm sure our prolific Cole researcher, Karen, would be happy to add it to her family history collection.
The behind the scenes news about Ralph C. Pollock, however, is different. Ralph is the young man from Greeley who, after the loss of his mother, was raised by an uncle and aunt. As far as we could see from census records and other documents, Ralph attended college, receiving a degree in chemistry which led him to research positions in California.
This was all confirmed when, thanks to Ancestry.com, I located a researcher of the Pollock line who turned out to be a direct descendant. This researcher was kind enough to send me photos and news clippings explaining some of Ralph's later accomplishments and interests—Ralph apparently was still able to do handstands, walking on his hands and doing series of pushups, at age eighty. A plus was the discovery that Ralph had a "deep interest" in his family's history, and had left handwritten notes of his research.
While all this is encouraging to hear, it still doesn't resolve one tiny detail: where to send the photograph. And so, I wait. Such a small detail that stands between Ralph's abandoned photograph and his return to family who knew and cared about him. But I'm patient. After all, it's been well over one hundred years since these families last held these photographs. What's a few more days' wait?
Above: Photograph of a young Ralph C. Pollock of Greeley, Colorado, possibly dated prior to 1900.
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Just a baby whose infant photograph taken in Greeley, Colorado, somehow ended up in California, Mildred "Rigg" turns out to be someone whose descendants live not far from me. And thankfully, now that I've corresponded with two of those family members, Mildred is heading on her way home.
Mildred's picture was one of several added to the photograph collection of Thirza Browne Cole, another Greeley resident who moved, eventually, to northern California. I'm still not sure what the connection was between Thirza and the family of baby Mildred—even after puzzling over it with her descendants—but I think it's safe to say it was just another token of how much Thirza seemed to care for those she met along the way in life.
As I've done for the other abandoned family photographs sent home, I first looked for descendants among those posting their family trees on Ancestry.com. With a little time and an eye to detail, it is fairly easy to determine those who have put in a lot of time on their research, as opposed to those for whom genealogy is just a passing fancy. I like to look for those for whom this means a great deal. I also like to seek out the closer relatives, rather than those over-zealous researchers (like me) who have constructed enormous trees with multiple branches of very distant cousins.
The researcher I found to make first contact with, in Mildred's case, deferred to a closer relative, and forwarded my information along to this person. I am happy to say this recipient is apparently one who has had a longstanding history of researching family, for he mentioned using Ancestral Quest as his genealogical software, a program first developed in 1994 and most often associated with the Personal Ancestral File program formerly provided by FamilySearch.
I'm always encouraged when I discover that an effort in "giving back" actually goes to benefit those who helped newbies like me, decades ago, because I recall that time period as an era in which there were so many who freely gave of their time and expertise to help others develop their genealogical research skills. This little token of rescuing abandoned family photographs is my way of giving back, in memory of folks like those, back in the 1990s, who helped me when I first tried to bridge the gap between the hand-to-hand combat of wrestling with real, live—and dusty!—documents in archives to viewing their pristine facsimile in virtual format online.
So today, off goes Mildred to a descendant who understands the efforts of genealogical research and values remembering the inter-generational connections between family.
Above: Photograph of Mildred "Rigg" from Greeley, Colorado, dated about 1898; picture currently on its way home to one of Mildred's descendants.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
There is one additional detail about Thirza Browne Cole, the woman whose photograph collection ended up abandoned in a northern California antique shop. You may have picked up on it, back when I discussed finding Thirza's obituary from 1979: the obituary made mention of a daughter.
She is survived by her daughter, June Buck of Lodi, and two grandchildren.
The confusing thing about that mention is that we had already seen that Thirza and William Cole's only daughter had died young in 1923. Who was this other daughter?
In order to discover anything further on this mystery person, it helps to go back to the earlier obituary of Thirza's husband, William Cole, who passed away in 1947. There, we notice a mention of someone with the same surname, Buck:
In addition to his wife, the deceased leaves a foster son, Geo. I. Buck of Lodi...
Other than that, for descendants, the same obituary mentioned only his deceased daughter, "the late Mrs. Pauline B. Lee."
So who were George and June Buck?
Going back to the 1940 census where William and Thirza Cole lived—in Lodi, California—there were two entries in their household which may help tell the tale. Although the enumerator seemed confused about how to properly report the relationships, he did include two names of interest in our current question. While there was an entry for a George I. Buck, Junior, there was also a name immediately above his in the Cole household for a single woman also bearing the surname Buck.
She, however, was not June. Her name was entered as Burnis Pauline—or possibly a sloppily written Caroline. Burnis was twenty two, and George was twenty. At first, the entry for Burnis' relationship seemed to be "relative" with a question mark included. Then, penciled in above was the word, foster, again followed by a question mark. George's entry was equally unclear, seeming first to say "son" which was lined out and replaced with the word "foster."
Checking the previous census record in 1930, George—then a ten year old boy—had again been listed in the Cole household, although then, the listing was simply as a lodger. There was no sign of Burnis, nor any hint about who June might have been.
This, of course, calls for further explanation. You know I couldn't just let it sit there. I noticed there was a record of George's World War II draft card, listing Thirza Cole as his next of kin. Yet, Thirza was not technically his closest relative. At about the same time, there was a 1940 census entry for the elder George I. Buck (remember, our George was a junior) which included a "Bernice P." Buck of the exact same age as our "Burnis" in his household.
Looking back through the years, the 1920 census offered a potential Buck household, complete with father George I. Buck, wife Althea, and including two year old "Burnis E." and infant George.
As for June, my guess was that she had married George, the Coles' foster son, though I couldn't find any marriage record online. What I did find was a sad Find A Grave memorial for George, dated years later—but during the years in which Thirza was still alive—noting that his wife was named June.
After George was gone, June must have continued maintaining the connection with Thirza. Perhaps their children grew up knowing Thirza as their grandmother, just as Thirza's obituary had listed them.
What I wonder is whether it was June who provided all the detail about Thirza's life for the newspaper article after Thirza's passing in 1979. The obituary was so full of minute details of Thirza's younger years, yet by that time, there were none of her peers to have provided that much information (unless it was from Karen's own parents, who, despite the distance between their two households, had kept in touch with Thirza since at least the 1940s).
All this may seem like a diversion from the true goal of finding Thirza's roots as we prepare to send her photographs home, but I don't think it is. Family is sometimes a concept that is more fluid than we may make it out to be. Sometimes, it just doesn't fly to tell the census enumerator, "It's complicated," about relationships. We're left reading between the lines.
Just this vignette of Thirza and William Cole's longstanding relationship to two—later three—young people who were not actually their kin reveals something about the personality of the couple we have been observing. They seem to be people who were willing to reach out to others in need, regardless of whether those others were family, friends, or lost souls desperately in need of love.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
No, T is not for Tax Time, though I can certainly understand such a guess on a day like today.
T, in this case, is for Thirza, and just as I was preparing to send Thirza's picture home to a Cole descendant, its intended recipient, Karen, sent me a little interesting clue.
Remember Thiega? That scrawled name with the spelling which caused me so much doubt? How's this for a possibility? Wouldn't you think this handwriting said "Aunt Thiega" instead of Thirza?
That happens to be Thirza Cole's signature on a letter to Karen's parents, back in the 1940s. You can see how a beleaguered researcher might feel confused.
But that's not the only thing about that handwriting sample. There was something else. Remember that much older photograph I stumbled upon, from that same expedition up to California Gold Country to rescue some more abandoned family photos? The one of the elderly couple, Grandfather and Grandmother Browne from Grand Rapids, Michigan? It didn't have Thirza's name on it—as had all the other photographs I found from her collection—but it did have one other detail.
See if this handwriting looks familiar to you.
Just in case you think that T might have been a fluke, here's another handwriting sample received by Thirza's nephew and niece—subsequently passed to their daughter, Karen.
In my opinion, the handwriting on the reverse of the Browne grandparents' photograph is that of someone in her later years, but no matter when it occurred, the curious flourish over the T in both the Thirza signatures and the T in Timothy remain consistent. Whether Timothy and Caroline were indeed the names of Thirza's paternal grandparents or simply the grandparents of whoever wrote the original entry remains to be uncovered by additional research. But it's an encouraging clue. One that couldn't possibly have been discovered without input from another genealogist intent on collecting everything available about her family history.
Monday, April 16, 2018
It may seem like I've been in a tailspin the past week or so, but behind the scenes has been some activity. This week will be the time—at last!—to start sharing how some of the photographs in the Thirza Cole collection will be going home.
But before I unwind the stories of the connections—remember, this was a collection of pictures of unrelated (as far as I can tell) individuals—I wanted to get permission to share one thing: a picture.
No, this is not another photograph rescued from an antique store in the foothills of northern California. This picture already has its home. But I think, once you see it, you will appreciate having had the chance to see it too.
The picture, you see, comes from the very person who will soon be receiving the photo of Thirza Browne Cole, herself. I am very glad to be able to send Thirza's picture home to this researcher, someone I found through her thorough family tree posted at Ancestry.com. What a collector of family photos this woman is! You can understand why it's a reassuring feeling to be able to add to her collection: family photos evidently mean much to this person, and she is willing to share them on her family tree at Ancestry.
Look carefully at the composition below, and you will see as the little girl in the center, none other than Thirza's only daughter, Pauline, the one who, widowed, died in her early twenties. Pauline's parents, Thirza and William Cole, stand behind her. Will's brother Howard and his wife Bertha complete the picture.
The picture affords us a wonderful snapshot in time for Thirza and her family—an earlier version of the woman whose picture I found, plus a glimpse at what her husband and daughter looked like, too. Of all the ones in Karen Cole Eaton's many uploaded photographs on Ancestry, I think I'm drawn to this one the most.
Thank you, Karen, for sharing so many of the Cole family memories in picture form. It's such a treat to know that Thirza's photograph is going to a family history keeper who cares so deeply about preserving the family story!
Above: Photograph of Thirza and William Cole and their daughter Pauline, standing behind William's brother Howard Cole and his wife, Bertha. Photograph courtesy of Karen Cole Eaton; used by permission.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
The somber mood of last week has brought up several unexpected thoughts and memories. Seeing that gift of a Facebook video of my brother—taped a couple years ago, saying he knew he wouldn't always be here and giving his advice for that inevitable day, along with his goodbyes in advance—reminded me of a book I'd read long ago.
It was a book by a dad, trying to figure out what he could leave "of lasting value" to his children. Called Letters from Dad, author Greg Vaughn's book didn't necessarily mean to imply that that dad was about to be "no longer with us," but that possibility always lurks in the back of some minds.
What it did convey was a message urging dads—probably every parent would apply here—to send messages to their children in writing, on paper as keepsakes to be pulled out of wraps over the years, read again and again...and remembered.
I certainly can relate to that sentiment. After having sifted through the letters of generations of my husband's Stevens and Tully families to glean details of their lives, and having examined every word in my own mother's journals from her later years, I know I was grateful for having been gifted with these artifacts of loved ones' lives.
Of course now, we hardly pick up a pen and paper to write a grocery list, let alone a letter. Everything is electronic in format. When the message is no longer pertinent, then—poof!—it disappears. "Delete" stands in opposition to history preserved.
Just to have that brief film clip of my brother saying goodbye made such an impact. And that is to say nothing of having stacks of letters over the years of a deepening relationship. That was the kind of treasure in which people from bygone ages were rich that we are bereft of in our "modern" times.
Almost makes me want to sit down and write a letter. Just in case. One never knows what tomorrow may bring...
Saturday, April 14, 2018
Well, it's the weekend.
And we made it this far.
Family holding family up as no other can in such times, it's been a week of connecting with relatives over the tiniest of memories. The memories are what help.
But you have to be careful about memories. You never know when they can trigger an unexpected sequel. Memories sometimes have partners. Twins. They can come with company.
A friend of my brother posted a sweet video memorial of him on Facebook from a documentary this man and another creative had taped, a few years ago. Bit by bit, members of the family spotted it and shared it. Though the production itself was well done and thoughtfully framed for the current situation, it was the tiniest of details that got people talking.
A daughter of one of my cousins told me the gestures in my brother's goodbye wave reminded her exactly of her grandmother—my father's sister—and then...triggered those tears...again.
When I think of my brother, I naturally think of my dad. Since I lost my dad pretty early in my adult life, I learned quickly that if I went to see my brother, I somehow could feel like I still had my dad.
That's been years ago now, of course, so the passage of time tricked me into thinking I was free of needing a daddy fix.
Until the daddy fix was gone, too.
A month ago—having no premonition that this family loss was about to befall us—I had started reading a book called Option B. My original reason for that choice was that I had been inspired to read every book I could get my hands on by Adam Grant—though once I got the thing in my hand, discovered to my horror that it was co-authored by Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame, the one women's author* sure to elicit paroxysms of criticism from my business-exec sister.
That didn't stop me from reading the book, however. Something else did. The reason the book even exists at all is that Ms. Sandberg had the type of awful experience you wouldn't want to wish on anyone: in an idyllic setting where she, her husband and some friends had taken a respite from their surely hectic work lives, she discovered him dead from a massive heart attack only moments after she had last spoken with him.
The book unwinds her torrent of emotions as she attempted to piece together her life—and her children's—in the aftermath.
It wasn't far into that scenario when I realized there was a backstory chattering away at me from inside my own mind. It was that internal narrative, shouting so loud inside my own head, that distracted me from the words on the page. Uncomfortable, I had to lay the book down.
Why? It reminded me of my own husband's death. Decades ago.
Yeah, those kinds of memories don't go away.
And so a book triggers a memory of life's earlier episodes, and the sense of loss comes back anew. A wave of the hand, a nod of the head or the blink of an eye, and a three minute video transports us from the presence of the one we know, to the one we remembered. It's as if they were here—and then, once more, gone—all over again.
Of course, some of us take the less pragmatic, more hopeful long view of a life beyond life. And there has been plenty of talk about that among us, this past week. But I'm starting to see how life lives on in another way, as well. When I saw my cousin's comment about the video on Facebook—about how a wave of my brother's hand was so exactly like her grandmother's mannerisms—I realized what we were both observing wasn't her grandmother, or my father, but someone neither of us had ever met: their parents, my grandmother Sophie and that Polish mystery immigrant, my grandfather, whom we only knew as John T. McCann.
After all, where do we get those mannerisms from? Aren't they indwelt from the genetic makeup we inherit? The microhistory we share with family members, witnessed minute by minute over a lifetime?
And if Sophie and John would have seen the same film clip, some of those gestures might have reminded them of the generation preceding them—people my father's generation never got to meet, but ancestors just as much.
Some people take sides on the argument about nature versus nurture. Environment versus inheritance. Whatever it turns out to be, we've got it—and we're surely going to pass it on.
And—whatever "it" is—it will become that part of us that lives on after we, ourselves, are gone. And we, while we're still here, become the gift of remembrance to those who do recall that older generation and can recognize it in our eyes, our voice, our gestures. In a way—is it through our DNA?—those who have gone before us do live on. And gift us with that one way of remembering them.
I have no idea how that works, but I'm glad it does.
*To her credit, a surely kinder, gentler Sheryl Sandberg went on to found the nonprofit organization of the same name, OptionB.org, building a community of sharing and advocating for resilience in the face of many kinds of adversity.
Friday, April 13, 2018
Whatever technical glitch locked up my longstanding account at Ancestry, I'm not sure, but I do know—at least after ninety minutes of phone conversation—that it is a problem which will take at least another day to resolve, if not more. I can guess about the source of my difficulties, but hey, I'm not the tech expert.
So I wait.
Meanwhile, Thirza's father Thomas Browne continues to elude me. It didn't help, of course, that he didn't quite make it to the 1900 census. But it wouldn't have hurt, either, if those other census records could have provided a consistent report. Right now, I'm not sure which one to believe.
I already knew something was suspect with the 1880 census. Granted, the Brownes were nearly newlyweds, with their daughter Thirza only one year of age, as reported in that census year. And yes, their home in Weld County, Colorado was home to a town—Greeley—which had been established only eleven years earlier as an experimental utopian society and didn't gain official city status until 1886. With a history like that, it would not be surprising to learn that residents had come from all over.
Thomas Browne's entry, however, seems to have been left blank in the original. The handwriting for the report of his place of birth—as well as that for each of his parents—seems to be quite different from that of the rest of the enumeration sheet. All three blanks were entered in a different hand than the rest of the form, with the abbreviation "Ill." Yet, for both his daughters, the spot for their father's birthplace was left blank. One wonders what the case actually was for this scenario.
Waiting to verify with the next census does us no good, as we've already discovered Thomas' likely demise by 1892. And trying to find him in the previous census, as a single man with the oft-bemoaned common surname Brown would be next to impossible. Even taking the presumptive move of searching for a Thomas Brown with parents Timothy and Caroline brought up nothing of use.
There was one other solution, though—and one I'd already begun exploring. Remember the 1885 Colorado state census? The one where I got baited by the 1880 discovery of next-door neighbors Harvey and "Baby" Pollock and went off on a rabbit trail to discover whether "Baby" was Ralph? Well, I forgot to go back and see if I could find Thirza's family whereabouts in 1885.
So now's the time to check that out.
With this one document, I now have the only other resource upon which I can pin the birth location of our specific Thomas Browne. Hopefully, this one was a more accurate report. Whether it was or not, though, one thing is certain: neither Thomas' father nor mother were reported born in Michigan. The verdict on this pursuit, according to the 1885 tally?
Thomas was from Ohio, and both his parents from Pennsylvania.
While it doesn't cement any connections between the younger Browne and his (potential) parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this 1885 record at least provides us a picture of the entire Browne family—sans the one child lost in infancy—in one place.
Above: Excerpt of 1885 Colorado state census for the city of Denver in Arapahoe County, showing Thirza Browne Cole's childhood household. Image courtesy FamilySearch.org.
Thursday, April 12, 2018
Hmmmm...as if being in a holding pattern, waiting for the funeral of a sibling to be planned and subsequently coming down with the flu isn't enough...you'd think hauling my miserable self out of bed for a few minutes to write a sorry excuse for a post would at least go smoothly. After all, what was I going to write? That I am still having problems locating Thirza Browne's father—let alone his parents?
Thanks to a fluke of technology, apparently, I can't even access my account at Ancestry.com to refer to the few details I've parked there in a private, unsearchable tree which I use for my genealogical sandbox. And no, it isn't because I failed to renew my account. What I'm wondering is if my antiquated user name—assigned to me during those halcyon days when Rootsweb used to be its own entity—is the sticking point.
All that, however, will have to be resolved later in the morning, not in the wee hours when my far west time zone works against me. Everything—even a Utah-based company—runs on east coast time.
There are, however, other resources, all which will have to be considered without the ability to refer back to the research I've already done on the family. Online tools are great—but only when they're accessible.
That search effort, however, didn't yield much. I tried FamilySearch, looking for a Timothy and Caroline Brown or Browne who might have lived—or died—in Kent County, Michigan, home of Grand Rapids, the place where the photograph I found was originally taken. I tried burial records via Find A Grave, but the only Caroline I found was someone married to a William, not a Timothy. Checking out Seeking Michigan wouldn't work, because the dates are too recent for tracking down my mystery Brownes.
Sometimes, it just helps to know when to quit. I'm getting the clue that now would be an opportune time.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
It doesn't help, when researching a family's history, when even the family members can't be sure which way to spell their own surname. Especially with a name like Brown. How hard can that be?
In the case we brought up yesterday, the size of the original photograph leads me to believe it was actually a carte de visite. It measures approximately two and a half by a little over four inches, much smaller than the cabinet cards which supplanted that earlier format.
If so, that dates the picture to approximately the 1860s. That, if it is indeed a picture belonging in Thirza Cole's photograph collection, would be a reasonable time to place her grandparents—if we can trust her father's 1880 report that he was born about 1848. If Thirza's father Thomas Browne was the oldest child of this parents, that might put the unknown couple's dates of birth around the mid 1820s. Perhaps they would look that "seasoned" by the time this photo was taken.
Or not. That's a lot of ifs.
There's one other thing. Perhaps you already noticed it yesterday. The front of the photograph bears the words, "Jackson,"—presumably the studio's name—and "Grand Rapids, Mich."
In 1880, Thomas Browne reported his birth being in Illinois, not Michigan. His daughters' subsequent own reports of where their father was born do indeed vary from enumeration to enumeration, but they never seem to settle on Michigan as the reported location.
A cursory glance at records in Grand Rapids for that time period didn't seem to reveal much information linked to that name, either.
But there's one constant in all this. Just like all the records I've seen on Thirza's family, even on the back of this photograph, family members were undecided about which way to spell their ancestors' names.
One entry, the first, presuming from the order of appearance, gave the name in a tight, neat hand: "Grandfather + grandmother Browne." Following that entry was a scrawl much like the one causing me the grief of hesitating between the name as "Thirza" or "Thiega."
Perhaps this was the one whose handiwork we've already observed on others of Thirza's photo collection. Whoever it was, it was someone who decided the spelling should be "Timothy and Caroline Brown."
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Working with common surnames—like Brown, for instance, no matter whether it has that fancy "e" at the end or not—can be frustrating.
We've already discovered that the photograph stash marked with the name Thirza Cole belonged to a woman whose maiden name was Browne. Finding out much about her early years has been a challenge. Had it not been for the unusual detail preserved in her own obituary, I'd likely not have been able to trace her whereabouts during that twenty-year span between the 1880 census and the next surviving enumeration.
But before that point? Even after wrestling with this family's history for weeks now, I am no closer to uncovering something fresh and new.
And then, reaching back to that stash of photographs I rescued from an antique store up in California gold country, I pull out another photograph and notice the names written on the back: Timothy and Caroline Browne.
Could they be Thirza's grandparents? Or just a coincidence, merely owing to such a common surname?
Monday, April 9, 2018
...is when it goes from the sweet baby pictures of those innocent first years...
...to the other end of the story.
While that has just happened for my brother, thankfully the outpouring of love and encouragement helps hold us all up.
With all that he accomplished over the years, the one vignette I remember the most, when thinking of my brother, is his theme song from those early years in NYC. If you know him, you may remember...
Sunday, April 8, 2018
Perhaps it's high time I got frustrated over not confirming more than a handful of my umpteen thousand DNA matches. I mean, look at this: I have over one thousand matches—fourth cousin and closer—at AncestryDNA. They won't even count the number anymore. Just "1000+."
That's not all. I have 2,946 at Family Tree DNA. Besides 4,072 at MyHeritage. We won't even go into how I'm losing matches at 23andMe and still managing to stay above the thousand mark for matches there.
Who are all these people?!
Oh, yeah: and I have 532 to work on at Ancestry for my husband. Plus a measly 1,879 at FTDNA, a mere 2,859 at MyHeritage and an irksome 1,078 at 23andMe (the only place where he bests me on DNA matches).
I had heard about DNA Painter, the chromosome mapping tool sweeping the grand prize at this year's RootsTech DNA Innovation Contest. Created by London web developer Jonny Perl, it was a beta app which he revealed he had "launched by mistake." Users didn't think so; the visual display simplifies identifying which matches align with which family lines, streamlining the hunt and peck method of searching for identical surnames in enormous pedigree charts.
Once all the hype about RootsTech itself had subsided, more details began to emerge about DNA Painter. Roberta Estes began a helpful—and thorough—blog series on using DNA Painter. Part One was all I needed, and I leaped for the chance to add my name to the long list of beta testers. I started "painting" this week, adding the details for the few DNA matches I've already confirmed. Soon, I'll have a colorful patchwork framework of my own genetic material—and a separate one for my husband's family—upon which to hang those aggravatingly enigmatic matches which have, heretofore, stubbornly resisted identification.
Hah! Take that, mystery matches!
Meanwhile, I'm still plugging away at my quixotic quest to document all the descendants on all my ancestors' pedigrees. At least to the level of seventh cousin, I'm tracing all my colonial ancestors' families. And yes, I have a long way to go. But at least I can say, in the past two weeks, I've added 124 additional relatives to my mother's tree and 164 to my mother-in-law's tree. Even though I've only added one each to my father's tree and my father-in-law's tree, that still leaves me with 12,731 in my mother's tree, 14,639 in my mother-in-law's tree, 500 in my dad's tree, and 1424 in my father-in-law's tree.
One way or another, I'm finding ways to discover just how those thousands of people whose DNA somehow aligns with mine are actually connected. And in the meantime, I get to paint everything in brilliant colors. Not bad for a research perk.
Saturday, April 7, 2018
It's high time for all genealogical-conference goers headed to Jamboree to stop procrastinating and complete their registration before the early bird deadline flies by.
Yes, that means me, the guilty procrastinator extraordinaire. I have until April 14—don't blink; you'll miss it—to decide what to do about my registration.
I know, I know: the conference isn't happening until May 31 through June 2. But that's not what gets you your ticket into the front door. Registration is. And the best price for that can only be gained through an early-bird window that will shut tight April 14. Leaving me stymied by indecision.
Not that I don't plan on going; totally the opposite. The problem is: there are even more offerings. But in less time.
This year, the Southern California Genealogical Society responded to feedback about holding their event through Sunday. So this time—their forty ninth year—they decided to break with tradition and eliminate their Sunday offerings.
No problem for me with that change. We usually duck out early anyhow, since we face a nearly eight hour drive home. Now we can do it on Sunday at a more leisurely pace and get home a bit earlier in the evening.
But the other change...now that's the one causing me problems. You see, Jamboree for many of us traditional attendees was not one event, but two. Coupled with the usual conference was a pre-session known as DNA Day. Thankfully, that event is not going away, which I'm relieved to learn. But what is changing is that the conference is adding yet another special focus: a one day writers' conference.
On the same day. Which one to choose? (Can't I have both?)
Faced with the dilemma of wanting to attend some of the DNA sessions, but some of the writers' ones, too, I'm stalled with the indecision.
An added problem, which I'm sure many repeat attendees have realized, is that conferences tend to focus on the many topics which can satisfy the learning requirements of beginners. That is probably why I opt for attending weeklong genealogical institutes, where a learner can feast on a specialty topic in depth, rather than cherry pick from a smorgasbord of hour-long appetizers.
To counterbalance that attendee's dilemma, to their credit, the Jamboree team offers their own version of in-depth learning with half-day seminars. If, for instance, my procrastination hasn't gotten the best of me and kept me from signing up before the class becomes full, I hope to register for Blaine Bettinger's Visual Phasing workshop. I've read his five-part tutorial on his website, but still feel like I want to pelt him with questions; this will be the perfect opportunity.
All that comes, of course, with cutting out all the indecision and registering. Before April 14.
If you're like me—loving the learning environment of a successful conference like Jamboree—hopefully, you'll find your way to the Jamboree registration page before April 14 as well. And then we can look each other up, once we get to southern California for the May 31 through June 2 event.
Friday, April 6, 2018
Remember back last month, when I was wondering how to find Thirza—that woman whose abandoned family photographs I found in a northern California antique shop—and opted for searching in census records for her name plus parents, instead of looking for the younger siblings with the more common given names?
Well, I should have looked for Nellie and Mabel Browne, too—because they were the ones who held the key to figuring out what happened to Thirza's parents.
Amend that: I still don't know. Not really. Not the whole story. But I did find some convincing records, based on Nellie and Mabel being in the same household as someone named Ophelia. Only she wasn't still called Ophelia Browne. She had gotten married again.
It was the timeline in Thirza's own obituary, years later, which told me I might have the right family. After all, according to Thirza's obituary, she had moved to Sargents, Colorado, in 1892—"with her parents," the obituary had stated. And there, eight years later in the 1900 census, was a family with a Nellie and a Mabel "Brown" listed.
Only thing was, they were labeled as step-daughters to the head of the household, someone named Henry C. Allen. It would be logical to assume, then, that Henry's wife, Ophelia Allen, would be the mother of those two teenagers.
If Ophelia was the former wife of Thomas Browne, Thirza's father, then what happened to Thomas? The 1900 census said Henry and Ophelia were married for seven years, giving us an approximate year of 1893 as the date of their wedding. As it turns out, there was a marriage performed by a judge in Cañon City, the county seat of Fremont County, Colorado, on January 18, 1893. The two parties, aggravatingly, were listed simply as H. C. Allen and O. E. Brown, but their respective ages of fifty four and thirty seven seem to line up with the ages in the census seven years later.
Thanks to my brilliant deductive powers, that leads me to believe something must have happened to Thomas Browne during the year of 1892. As for proving that assertion, I have nothing yet to go by: no record that I can find—at least online—of his death or burial. All I have is the presumption that, since his wife remarried, she had been left a widow. Back in that time period, such logic could sometimes be held up—though not always.
As for Ophelia Ellen, formerly Browne, now Allen, there was a better "paper" trail. With a headstone boldly proclaiming her name as Ophelia Ellen Allen, Thirza's mother was buried, back home in Greeley, Colorado, in June, 1908.
Thursday, April 5, 2018
Granted, not every obituary contains as much detail as the one we read yesterday for Thirza Browne Cole, the woman whose photographs I found abandoned in a northern California antique store. Someone must have provided all that information in Thirza's obituary; the question is: who? By the time of Thirza's death in 1979, she had turned 101. Obviously, she outlasted her parents, but not only that: she long outlived her siblings, as well. In addition, she had already lost her only daughter through a tragic event in the 1920s. Who was still around to tell Thirza's story—especially with that type of detail?
The story, if it is correct, does help fill in some gaps in Thirza's history. To help place these events in date order, let's reconstruct her life's timeline. Here's what we now know about Thirza:
- She was born in Greeley, Colorado, on 27 June, 1877.
- In 1892, she moved to Sargents, Colorado, with her parents, Thomas and Ophelia Browne.
- At an unknown date soon after, she moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado.
- Soon after that, she attended the Red Cross hospital school in Salida, Colorado.
- On 28 September, 1895, she married William E. Cole in Denver, Colorado.
- In March of 1897, Will and Thirza's daughter Pauline was born in Colorado.
- By the time of the 1900 census, the Coles were back in Teller County, location of Cripple Creek.
- In 1915, she "first came to Lodi" California.
- According to the 1920 census, she was living in her son-in-law's household in Fresno, California.
- Around 1921, Thirza and her sister Nellie Yates purchased the Mason Hospital in Lodi, California, presumably after her son-in-law, Ralph Lee, passed away in June.
From that point on, Thirza remained in Lodi. That's the easy part to find, since she was listed clearly in the 1930 and 1940 census, as well as city directories.
What I still have questions about are the whereabouts of her family members. As much as her sister Nellie was mentioned as her business partner in buying the hospital, the woman remained in Colorado, as far as I can tell, through at least the 1940 census. And then, there's that small question about whatever happened to their sister Mable. And that other sibling named Adelbert.
More than that, though, is the question of what became of their parents. Thomas Browne seemed to have dropped out of the picture early. And his wife? Named Ellen in one record (the 1880 census), she is called Ophelia in her daughter Thirza's obituary. Is one of those two names her middle name? Or are we talking about two different women?
This is not simply an academic question. There is another reason why I want to know what became of the Brownes. You see, there is a matter of one more photograph. And the name on the back involves the surname Browne. I'm hoping the details from Thirza's own obituary will help lead me to her parents' whereabouts when they had their own obituaries drawn up.
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
Among genealogical researchers, a well-written obituary, once found, may be considered a blessing. Not only does the article contain the essentials of the deceased's parents' and siblings' names, but it includes highlights of the person's own life.
While Thirza Cole's obituary didn't appear on the front page of the Lodi News-Sentinel, as had her husband's back in 1947, it certainly bested his in length and detail. Since our primary interest in the Cole family centers on Thirza herself, that's a good thing; we've got quite a bit more to learn about this woman whose photo collection ended up in my possession by default.
Because of the length of Thirza's obituary—which ran in the Sentinel on Monday, January 29, 1979, buried on page seventeen—I'll save most of my commentary on this obituary for tomorrow's post, with the exception, of course, of noting that yes, she did live to be 101 years of age.
Thirza M. ColeThirza M. Cole, 101, of 207 Pleasant Ave., died Saturday morning in a local hospital following an extended illness. A native of Greeley, Colo., she was the daughter of the late Thomas and Ophelia Browne who were pioneers of that area.At age 15, she and her parents moved to Sargent, Colo., and then to Cripple Creek and then to Salida, Colo. She graduated from the Red Cross hospital school in Salida and later became the superintendent for several years.In 1915 she came to Lodi and six years later, she and her sister, the late Nellie B. Yates, purchased the Mason Hospital in Lodi and operated it for a number of years.She was the wife of the late W. C. [sic] Cole and mother of the late Pauline B. Lee.She was a member of the First Congregational Church of Lodi and a charter member of the Lodi Business and Professional Club of Lodi. She was an honorary member of the Lodi Womens Club and Circle Seven of the First Congregational Church.She is survived by her daughter, June Buck of Lodi, and two grandchildren.Services will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the Gierhart & Wells Funeral Home with the Rev. Paul Donovan and the Rev. Vernon V. Robertson officiating. Private committal will be in the Lodi Cemetery.Friends may donate in her memory to the First Congregational Church, Grace Presbyterian Church or to their favorite charity.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
An indispensable tool of the genealogist's trade is the obituary—as long as it is, hopefully, the micro-biography we expect it to be. There, we learn about a person's occupations, interests and family. It is in that obituary that we gain clues perhaps not found anywhere else in our family history pursuit.
As far as my search for the story of the woman whose photograph collection I've stumbled upon, we've yet to touch on that research tool. So far, thanks to clues I've found on those hundred-year-old photographs from a Jackson, California, antique shop, I've learned more about their owner's friends and neighbors than I have about the person who owned those photos, herself. It's about time we take a moment to learn more about Thirza Browne Cole and her husband, William.
Granted, we did stumble upon Thirza's childhood home in Greeley, Colorado, thanks to the inclusion of her name in the Browne household in the 1880 census. We also discovered the name of her siblings: Adelbert, Nellie and Mable. We managed to learn that the picture of baby Louise was actually a photo of Thirza's niece. But other than that, all we know is that Thirza was someone who grew up in Colorado, married, and eventually moved to northern California.
It's time to learn a bit more about Thirza, herself. Since we've yet to take a look at another traditional source of genealogical information—the obituary—we'll start with that, today and tomorrow.
Finding someone's obituary can sometimes be easy for researchers. Uncover the date of death, the location, and, thanks to the use of several newspaper archive subscription services—or, better yet, resources to find free access to old newspapers—pull up the very article as it was published.
Not so for people in Lodi, the California town where Thirza and her husband, William Cole, lived in their later years. Until the California Digital Newspaper Collection catches up with more recent dates, folks wishing to research ancestors from that modestly-sized city will either have to go there in person to crank through microfilm rolls, or be thankful that at least some of the editions of the Lodi News-Sentinel have been digitized through the auspices of Google News.
In the case of Thirza and her husband William, I looked up their dates of death, thanks to Ancestry's California Death Index, and then held my breath while seeing whether those would be my lucky dates on Google News.
In William Cole's case—the first of the Cole couple to pass away—I was indeed in luck and found the obituary quickly. William Edward Cole, the man who married Thirza Browne in Colorado, back in 1895, had lived in Lodi for thirty two years before his death on 13 July 1947. His obituary was published the very next day, Monday the fourteenth—on the front page.
During his almost seventy four years—William died two weeks before his birthday—he had seen the death of his only child, daughter Pauline Cole Lee in 1923, and her husband, Ralph Lee. Then, too, as one of six brothers, William had already lost the oldest and the youngest of his siblings. As obituaries often do, this brief article allows us to learn more about the Cole family constellation, and a bit about William's life—and his wife's interests—in the process.
William E. Cole, a native of Vermont, passed away on Sunday morning at the family home, 209 North School street. He was 74 years of age and death followed a short illness.
The deceased had made his home in Lodi for the past 32 years and is survived by his wife, Mrs. Thirza Cole, who has operated the Mason Hospital for the past 26 years. He was a member of the Salida, Colo., B.P.O.E. Lodge, having received his 25-year jewel.
In addition to his wife, the deceased leaves a foster son, Geo. I. Buck of Lodi and was the father of the late Mrs. Pauline B. Lee. Brothers surviving are Clifford C. Cole, Alberton, Montana; Howard H. Cole, Lodi, and Robert R. Cole, Oakland.
The funeral will be held Wednesday afternoon at 2 o'clock in the chapel of the Wells Funeral Home with Rev. A. R. Boone of the Congregational church officiating.
Monday, April 2, 2018
Bit by bit, we're working our way through the hundred-plus year old photograph collection of a woman named Thirza Browne Cole. Though I found the pictures in an antique store in Jackson, California, the origins seemed to be anything but from California. We've already observed the studio imprint on one baby picture was from Greeley, Colorado. That led to the accidental discovery that Thirza's childhood home was situated next to the household of an uncle of the young man in the second photograph.
With this last baby picture, we already had a few hints to work with in our search. First, the baby's full name was written on the back of the photograph. And second, there was a nearly-unreadable studio imprint that said—I think—"F. L. Ray" of Salida.
Salida, where? There were two possibilities: Salida in Colorado or Salida in California.
We can't be too fussy about this baby picture, though. At least it contains a full name: Louise Van Noate. So, opting for that first possibility—a baby in Salida, Colorado—off to the most recent census record I went to see how many people there were in 1940 who claimed that exact same name.
As it turned out, not many. No, actually...more than I could handle. It appears that the Ancestry.com search engine doesn't take kindly to two-part surnames. I got plenty of hits, alright, but they were for Louises with every surname imaginable starting with Van. I tried removing the space between the Van and the Noate, but that didn't help.
Well, scratch Colorado. Let's see if California produces any better results.
But don't expect it to be for a baby Louise Van Noate. Instead, Louise was married to a Van Noate. And she lived in Lodi, California.
Same place as Thirza.
In the 1940 census, this Louise was thirty four years of age, putting her year of birth around 1906, a believable date, considering the style and appearance of her baby picture. She was born in Colorado, thus telling us just where that town of Salida was where her photographer was located. We also learn from the census that she was married to Leon, owner of a retail drug store, and had a ten year old son named William.
The 1930 census basically agreed with all that information, minus the ten years' span in ages and a change in residence—the Van Noates had moved to Lodi from Vallejo in Solano County, California.
Pushing back another ten years to the 1920 census wouldn't help our quest, though, because by then, Louise would have been about fourteen years of age and obviously not married. So we had to snoop around for other ways to discover her identity. An entry in Ancestry's California Death Index and an obituary (thankfully) posted by a volunteer on her Find A Grave memorial gave us that one clue we were seeking: Louise Van Noate was born to William and Nellie Browne Yates. And Nellie was Thirza Cole's sister.
Thus, of all the photographs in Thirza Cole's collection, the only one I've found so far who was actually a relative to Thirza was this baby Louise. And Louise was born Eleanor Louise Yates, thus explaining why the census entry we found earlier for newlywed Nellie in Colorado hadn't rung any bells: her daughter was listed in the census as Eleanor, not Louise.
Those middle names can get you every time.
Above: Photograph, circa 1906, of baby Eleanor Louise Yates, daughter of William D. and Nellie Browne Yates of Salida, Colorado. Photograph currently in possession of author until claimed by a family member.
Sunday, April 1, 2018
Saturday, March 31, 2018
Spring has sprung on us suddenly, here in "sunny" California. We've been plunged from cloudy and—thankfully—rainy weather almost immediately into temperatures in the mid-eighties. Naturally, everyone has headed outdoors to take advantage of the welcome change. Those suddenly green open spaces are full of people walking, tanning, cycling—doing almost anything to soak up those desperately-missed rays of sunshine.
The other day, I drove past a corner with a patch of green upon which a young woman was sitting, face turned upward. I would have thought she was just luxuriating in the solar warmth, until I realized she was actually taking a selfie.
What is it about selfies? What compels people to constantly be taking—and posting—their own pictures?
That's what I was thinking, at first, when I glimpsed that social media tableau. And then I realized: this person was no different than any of us who have gone to a photography studio to pose for our portrait, or send our picture as our Christmas greeting card, or even include it in our business card. Think about all the years in which you have enclosed a picture—yours, solo, or flanked by family—with a letter. If we've done things like that over the years, it's really no different than the selfie-absorbed snapping their own digital likeness.
And no different than our tech-savvy ancestors who were the first to try out those snazzy carte de visite formats or their successor, the cabinet card. Surely, those folks sent out as many tokens of their forward-thinking remembrances as was budgetarily permissible.
Yet, in finding a home for the abandoned family photographs I've been rescuing from the back bins of antique shops, I sometimes encounter people who wonder, "How did you get a copy of this photo?" Of course, that's what I wonder, myself, and often try to retrace the path the photograph might have taken that landed it in such a forsaken position.
What some people mean, though, when they ask that question is: how did this family's photo end up with a descendant of that family? Well...probably the same way our children's college graduation portraits ended up in the file cabinets of our former bosses, or their "save the date" engagement photos got tossed in a box when our next door neighbor packed up and moved to Florida.
Worse, while some of those pictures had names on them, some of them didn't, dooming generations of descendants to wonder: who was that gangly kid from Podunk U and how does he relate to me?
For my part, of course, I opt for the photos with at least a partial name and location, if not the full name, when I am searching for photo-rescue candidates. In the case of the photo collection I've stumbled across in a Jackson, California, antique store—all the possession of Thirza Browne Cole, though many, apparently, not her own relatives—they may be nothing more than the nineteenth century's equivalent of sharing one's selfie, a way to send a token in fond remembrance of the past, when the connection between two people was closer before Time and circumstances intervened.
Friday, March 30, 2018
With the explanation of who Ralph Pollock was—and a glimpse into how he might have been connected to Thirza Browne Cole, the woman whose photo collection included Ralph's young likeness—I'm ready to send young Ralph off to a waiting descendant. More on that next week.
In the meantime, we have two baby photos from Thirza's collection to dispatch to their rightful owners, as well. We haven't really talked much about one of them—labeled Mildred Rigg—so let's take a closer look at what can be found about her today.
Mildred's photo, if you remember, was the only one of Thirza's collection which included a studio imprint with location. That was our first and only hint that there was a family connection to Greeley, Colorado—helpful, since I had first found Thirza and her family in California.
A note on the back of Mildred's photograph said simply, "To Thirza," but I have yet to figure out just how the families were connected. For one thing, while the Riggs family did live in the same county as Thirza's parents—Weld County—the 1900 census showed them living in Crow Creek. In 1910, they were still in the same county, but this time listed in Lucerne. In contrast, I could only locate Thirza's parents—Thomas and Ellen Browne—in Weld County in the 1880 census. Where they went after that, I've yet to discover. So why did the Riggs family send Thirza Mildred's baby picture?
Mildred's parents, Millard Riggs and Josephine Miller, had married in Greeley in 1897. Mildred was their firstborn, arriving almost exactly a year later and followed by a brother and then a sister.
On August 7, 1918, Mildred married Earl Stanley in Greeley, and the couple could be found there in the subsequent census enumeration in 1920. The Greeley Daily Tribune recalled that wedding in a column entitled "Nineteen Years Ago" when it reprinted the newspaper's original announcement of the wedding:
A very charming childhood romance was that which culminated Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 7, in the wedding of Mildred Mercedes Riggs and Earl Stanley. The young couple had known each other since school days and the marriage was the happy result of a long friendship which ripened into love.
Baby Mildred was now about to have a baby daughter of her own: Mercedese Earline Stanley, who was born in 1925. Like Mildred's own childhood family, her daughter Mercedese in the next generation was followed by a son and then another daughter for Mildred and her husband Earl. But before that second baby could arrive in the Stanley household, the family moved from northern Colorado to southern California. By the time of the 1930 census, pipeline welder Earl Stanley had moved his family to Long Beach.
Finding the family now in California makes researching Mildred's descendants a bit easier, as any Ancestry.com subscriber who has searched for family in that state can attest. I was quite surprised to discover that one of Mildred's grandchildren had actually shown up in one of those Ancestry public records databases giving an address in the same city where I live. Of course, that was over twenty years ago, but what are the chances? Better yet, I also found out that same person is an Ancestry subscriber. You can be sure I sent that Riggs descendant a message!
Mildred, herself, lived eighty nine years, dying in Los Angeles in 1987. She was buried in a cemetery in Whittier, California, according to a memorial at Find A Grave, though there is no confirming picture accompanying the entry.
While I may never learn just what the connection was between Thirza Browne Cole and the Riggs family of Greeley, Colorado, there was obviously some reason why Millard and Josephine Riggs decided to send a photo of their newborn to Thirza. Perhaps that is an unspoken token of just what kind of person Thirza was. I am beginning to worry that I might never learn what the significance of such gestures actually meant, but I am seeing a person take shape in my mind who believed in keeping connections alive with those who meant something to her in her earlier years.
Above: Photograph of baby Mildred "Rigg"—actually, Riggs—from the photography studio of F. E. Baker in Greeley, Colorado. Based on Mildred's date of birth—26 January 1898—that makes this picture one hundred twenty years old. Photograph currently in possession of the author until claimed by a family member.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
In trying to learn about this young man portrayed in an abandoned photograph I found, figuring out who Ralph Pollock's parents were may have resolved one question, but that obviously led us to other questions. Mainly, if Ralph's father was still alive—not to mention, remarried—why wasn't Ralph still living at home? Why was he living with an aunt and uncle, even as early as the 1885 Colorado state census record for Greeley, just four years after he was born?
If Ralph's father, John Pollock, had been in such a rush to remarry, the presumption would be that he was seeking someone to serve as surrogate mother to his infant son. Yet, by the time John married Flora Forrest, Ralph was nearly a year old. Perhaps Ralph was already under the care of his aunt and uncle, long before John had remarried.
Then, too, there have been moments in history after a father remarries when the subsequent wife declares that she is not willing to raise the unfortunate step-children. Perhaps seventeen-year-old Flora was of that persuasion—though I doubt it.
Another possibility is that John Pollock's location might have been farther out in the country than would be of benefit to a bright young man interested in advancing his education. On the other hand, Franklin Pollock, Ralph's uncle, lived in the city of Greeley, at least in his later years.
In the 1900 census, when Ralph was nineteen years of age, he was listed as a student. Even later, he was still living with his aunt and uncle in Greeley and listed as a student in the 1906 city directory. By that time, Ralph would have been twenty five years of age. Since Greeley was home to the University of Northern Colorado, I suspect by that time, Ralph was well along in gaining an advanced degree from the then-seventeen-year-old college.
That may well have been the year in which Ralph graduated, for the next time we find him, he was exchanging wedding vows with one Irene Dorothy Gazelle in Alameda County, California. That was on February 18, 1909. By the time of the 1920 census, the couple was living in nearby Contra Costa County—strangely, the same place where many of my orphaned photographs originated—and Ralph was working as a chemist. The family had now grown to three, with five year old Carleton joining Ralph and Irene—although introducing a family mystery of his own with a listing showing his father to have been born in Spain, not Colorado.
From that point on, Ralph remained in California, though eventually moving to the southern part of the state, where he continued working as a chemist for a "research" organization, according to the 1930 census.
Long before that point, Ralph's father John had moved his second family from Greeley to Seattle, Washington—likely by 1904, judging from the birth of John's youngest son as given in the 1910 census—making me wonder whether Ralph even kept up much contact with his father.
Eventually, at the age of ninety three, Ralph Pollock passed away in San Bernardino County, California. As an interesting coda to Ralph's life song, I noticed he was not buried nearby, in one of southern California's many sprawling cemeteries, but was returned back to his hometown in Greeley Colorado. There, his headstone can be found in the Linn Grove cemetery, included in the family plot of the Pollock family.
Above: From an undated photograph in the collection of Thirza Browne Cole, labeled Ralph Pollock. Photograph currently in possession of the author.