Friday, February 16, 2018
Whose Cousins Were Those Two Cousins?
Sometimes, notes added after the fact can help identify the faces in old family photographs. Other times, they only muddy the family tree.
When I found the note on the back of that fifth Barnes family photograph abandoned in a northern California antique shop, I thought it would be quite helpful. After all, the other four pictures had enough information to piece together the family of Alta Barnes and her siblings Mollie, Nellie, Helen and Jimmie from Silverdale, Kansas. From there, it was a quick jump on Ancestry to locate census records showing me their parents were Forrest and Clara Tousley Barnes.
Thus, the trust element was high for the remarks entered on this fifth photograph. Naturally, when I read the comment, "Clara Tousley, girl standing between two cousins," I figured those two young men flanking her would naturally be her cousins.
Now, I'm not so sure. I've gone through many a family's photographs and read notes penned in the shaky hand of a desperate near-ninety-something great-grandmother, hoping to preserve the memory of her ancestors for those young ones she was about to say goodbye to for the final time. Whether in the rush of an urgent errand, or the fog of a fading memory, sometimes the notes left behind turn out to be, well, not exactly accurate.
Which gives me cause to ask, "Whose cousins?" Were they Clara's cousins? Or the unknown writer's cousins?
Or were they cousins at all?
Finding Clara's cousins would mean stepping back a generation to find the siblings of Clara's mother or her father. Clara's mother, Harriet, had a surname often rendered by alternate spellings, so it could have been Hager, or the alternate version, Hagar. Clara's father was Isaac Tousley, a name occasioning spelling woes of its own.
Neither appeared to have siblings who married and had children—at least, not that I could find. That, of course, means only that...I couldn't find them.
While I kept plying every trick I knew to flesh out the rest of the family trees for the Hagars and the Tousleys, a nagging question kept eating at me: why would Clara be standing in a picture of someone else's family in the first place? What happened to her own father and mother?
Clara's mother lived to be a relatively young forty years of age at her passing, it's true. But it was the loss of Clara's father that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to take the inevitable detour down the rabbit trail. It wasn't that he was sixty three years at his death, or that he passed only a few years after his wife. It was the unusual recounting in the local newspaper of what happened that made me take a second look.