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.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Our task for today: find out whether the "Baby" Pollock of the household next door to Thirza Brown's family was one and the same as the Ralph Pollock whose picture was included in Thirza's photo collection, years later.
I'm not sure why people would actually name their baby something as obvious as "Baby" but that, apparently, is what some people did in the old census records. In our case, however—trying to locate the true identity of one Baby Pollock in the 1880 census for Weld County, Colorado—the frustration of not knowing will impel us on a chase through a few census records to determine not only who Baby really was, but what became of his father, Harvey Pollock.
Not only had we already discovered this Baby Pollock next door to the Browns in 1880, but we had located a Ralph Pollock in the 1900 census. Only problem: that Ralph was living in the home of his uncle Franklin Pollock. If Ralph was really "Baby," what happened to his dad Harvey? And if Ralph wasn't "Baby," then whose son was he?
Let's first take a look at the household of Harvey, father of "Baby." This family included Harvey's wife, Mary M. Pollock, two daughters and four sons, including "Baby." In case something horrible did befall Harvey before the 1900 census, that meant we'd be searching for a family constellation including at least the latter part of the string of names of the children: Lawrence, Florence, Alvin, Franklin, Baby, and Rosa May.
Thankfully, the state of Colorado had taken a census in 1885—a much more helpful gap than having to wait the twenty year span to 1900. I began searching that record set, using the names of the oldest children first. While I couldn't find anything for the eldest, Lawrence, I did locate a Florence Pollock in that census and pulled up the result.
The census taker hadn't done this page justice. Besides applying occasionally abysmal handwriting—prime example being the head of household for the Pollocks—he had mixed a boarder right into the midst of the family entry, and then, hadn't even written the names down in age order. Still, that result left us with a Lawrence, a Florence, a Franklin and a Rose. Close enough for me.
Upon a second look, I realized that the 1885 entry for Wilbur might have been the same as the 1880 entry for Alvin W. Pollock, so it seemed we located the right family—all except for one discrepancy. The wife of the missing Harvey—whom I noted was reported as a widow by this point—was not listed as Mary M., as she had been identified in 1880, but as Margaret. Well, at least I think the handwriting said Margaret. Perhaps it was wishful thinking.
Still, how many Mary Ms do you know who turn out to be Mary Margarets? All the family's ages seemed to be in the right ballpark for this to be the late Harvey Pollock's family.
And the one who would have been the right age to be Baby? The one listed as a two year old son in the 1880 census would have been seven years old in the 1885 Colorado state census. There was a seven year old in this household, too: his name was Harvey, the perfect explanation for why the family preferred to call him Baby, back in 1880. He was named after his dad, who had apparently died in 1883.
If Baby wasn't Ralph, then who was Ralph's dad? Not Franklin Pollock—we already know that Franklin was his uncle. Not the deceased Harvey, either. Not any of the brothers, as we determined yesterday, based on where those brothers' wives were born. Something was not adding up here.
Since only one of the Pollock wives had come even close to being born in Maine—as Ralph's mother was reported to have been, according to the 1900 census—I decided to try my hand at locating other documents which could reveal anything further on that suspect wife, Flora, wife of John. As it turned out, John and Flora were married on New Year's day, 1882. He was thirty two at the time; she was seventeen and required her parents' consent.
This pointed out a problem: our Ralph—at least, if we can believe the documents we'd already reviewed—was born in 1881, according to the 1900 census. Forget the problem about Flora coming from Connecticut instead of Maine. She was likely not Ralph's mother, simply according to the dates. In fact, the oldest child in John and Flora's household in 1900 was a daughter named Marion, born in May, 1884.
Where was the mother of Ralph Pollock? My guess was that, since all the Pollock men from the previous generation—except, obviously, for the late Harvey—were still living by 1900, it wasn't Ralph's father who had had a tragic demise, but his mother. Perhaps the sudden need for a wife to serve as surrogate mother of his baby had impelled one of the Pollock men to marry again—quickly. My guess was that that would be John, and that the 1882 wedding was marriage number two for him.
Looking back at the marriage records for Weld County, Colorado, sure enough, I found that there was an entry for the 1879 wedding of John M. Pollock and Emma J. Carleton. This would be the one.
But wait! If they were married in 1879, wouldn't they have shown up as a couple in the 1880 census?
Looking back to that census record, sure enough—and even on the same page as his brother Harvey's household and the family of our Thirza Brown—there was the entry for the young John and his wife Emma, way on the bottom of the page.
Added bonus: notice where she said she was born. Yep. It's Maine.
Above: Excerpt from the 1885 Colorado state census for Weld County, showing the household of widow Mary Margaret Pollock. Image courtesy Ancestry.com.
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Possibly discovering yet another photograph subject from Thirza Brown Cole's collection right next door to her own family in her childhood hometown was too great a coincidence for me. I had to check it out.
I decided not to go the route of "too good to be true" skepticism, but to play a research game of "what if."
What if the two year old child labeled simply "Baby Pollock" in the 1880 census turned out to be Ralph Pollock, the young man in Thirza's photograph collection? The census entry, right next door to the Thomas Brown household, put his age as two. I decided to play along and see if I could find a Ralph Pollock, born 1878 in Colorado, listed in the next census for Weld County, Colorado. Just in case the previous enumerator might have gotten Baby Pollock's age wrong, I built in some wiggle room with a two year range, plus or minus, from 1880.
As it turned out, I did find such a Ralph Pollock, but he wasn't in the home of Harvey and Mary Pollock, as he—the presumed Ralph—had been in 1880. This time, he was included in the household of someone named Franklin B. Pollock.
At least we got the Pollock right.
There, Ralph was listed as a nephew of Franklin and Susan Pollock. This being the 1900 census, I could also tell that, other than Ralph, this was a childless household; Susan had reported having no children of her own.
One other thing I discovered: this Ralph wasn't born in 1878 like Baby was. Ralph was listed as having been born about 1881.
So...who was Baby? And what happened to Ralph's parents?
I began imagining horrible scenarios befalling the hapless Ralph. We've seen these tragedies before, in family history research. Life wasn't exactly perfect in pioneer territory.
My task, first of all, would be to find both Franklin and Harvey Pollock in a previous census—hopefully even in the household of their own parents, assuming they were related to each other. Then, check all the brothers in that Pollock household to see who would be the actual father of the presumed orphan, Ralph Pollock.
Fortunately, it didn't take too long to locate a Pollock family with both a son named Franklin and a son named Harvey. Because I had already seen that Harvey's oldest son was born in Indiana, it was no surprise to locate the 1860 household of Robert and Fanny Pollock in Fulton County, Indiana, complete with sons Franklin, Hiram, Harvey, and John, as well as lone daughter Mary.
Because the 1900 census entry for Ralph Pollock had indicated that his mother was born in Maine, I fervently hoped that wasn't an enumerator error and began searching for which one of the older generation Pollock brothers married a wife from the Pine Tree State. I already knew Franklin's wife, Susan, wouldn't be the right one, but just for the record, she was born in Ohio. Hiram married another Ohio gal, Rebecca Zimmerman, as had his brother Harvey, as we'd already noticed from the 1880 census.
That left the baby of the older family, John. According to the 1900 census, John's wife, Flora, had been born in Connecticut. Could someone just have gotten their New England states mixed up, when it came time to provide those pesky details to the census taker?
As far as I could tell, there were no other Pollock sons from the older generation available to include in the tally. Taking a look at all the sons' sons before that 1900 census entry revealed that there weren't any named Ralph. The only Ralph I could find at any time was the nephew in the home of Uncle Franklin and Aunt Susan. Besides, if Ralph were actually born in 1881, he wouldn't have been showing in the 1880 census, anyhow.
But what about Baby Pollock? Who was he? I had to take a closer look at the family of Harvey and Mary, the ones we had originally spotted in the household next to Thirza's parents, Thomas and Ellen Brown. Could Baby Pollock also have been a Ralph? If so, where was the Harvey Pollock family? After 1880, I couldn't find him in any census records.
Above: Excerpt from the Weld County, Colorado, U.S. Census for 1900, showing the household of Franklin Pollock, including his nephew, Ralph C. Pollock. Image courtesy Ancestry.com.
Monday, March 26, 2018
Searching for Brown. Or is it Browne? Or Browns? Time to activate the wildcard search technique.
Thirza may have been just the right touch of unusual as a given name, but its coupling with a surname as simple as Brown—or whatever spelling permutation it had taken over the years of governmental documentation—complicated the matter.
In order to find a descendant interested in receiving the family photographs I had rescued from an antique store up in California gold rush country, it was beginning to look like I'd need to push back another generation.
We had already discovered that Thirza and William Cole's only child, Pauline, had died in the 1920s. Of the other photos linked to Thirza's collection by her telltale first name affixed to the reverse, I had yet to figure out the identity of Baby Louise of Salida or Mildred Rigg from Greeley, Colorado—to say nothing of Ralph Pollock, the young man from who knows where.
That left me with Thirza and her two sisters—Nellie and Mable—and a surname as common as Brown. To find the sisters in a census record all in the household of their parents was going to be a challenge. For one thing, the 1920 census revealed that Thirza was born about 1879 in Colorado—hopefully, an accurate enough report to place her in the 1880 census. As for her sisters, though, the soonest they would be enumerated would be in the 1900 census, as Nellie was born about 1883, and Mable in 1886.
Problem: by 1900, Thirza was married with a daughter of her own. I'd either have to opt for a Brown household with daughters claiming names as common as Nellie or Mable, or look for Thirza the one-year-old.
I went with Thirza.
This was one of the reasons I became thankful for that unusual given name. There aren't too many Thirzas around—not even Thirza Browns.
Remember the baby photo Thirza had in her collection from Greeley, Colorado? Well, it turns out that there was a Brown family, complete with one-year-old daughter named Thirza, in the very county for which Greeley serves as county seat. The parents, according to the 1880 census, were Thomas, a thirty two year old farmer from Illinois, and Ellen, his twenty seven year old wife from Indiana.
This Brown household was not just a family of three, however. There was another daughter, an infant born in October of the previous year, 1879—making Thirza's age in the census rather suspect. This second child was listed as a daughter, and also happened to sport an unusual name (at least for a girl): Adelbert.
What caught my eye even more than that, though, was the entry which came directly beneath the line containing baby Adelbert's information. Remember Thirza's photograph of young Ralph Pollock? Just below the Brown household's entry came that of a family named Pollock. More than that, the family included a two year old son whose entry contained only the interesting place holder as "Baby."
I couldn't help but wonder whether "Baby" was actually Ralph—wouldn't you? To answer that, though, would take some more searching.
Above: The Weld County, Colorado, enumeration from the 1880 U.S. Census, containing the information on Thirza's family just next door to a Pollock family. Image courtesy FamilySearch.org.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
...or blame it on the flu. Either way, I haven't felt up to doing much this past week, other than poking around online and plugging names into family trees.
That's probably a good thing in the long run, considering it's time once again to do my biweekly tally. Admittedly, some of the results will seem lopsided—am I playing catch-up on my mother's side of the equation?—but anything is progress, and I'm willing to accept that.
I made a few connections this week that were unexpected, and they all had to do with DNA matches. These, in turn, spurred some record-checking and updating, which meant that, thankfully, I made some progress on the two trees suffering the most neglect over the years: my father's tree and my father-in-law's tree.
I got a surprise email from my husband's cousin—also a genetic genealogy aficionado—who had taken her DNA match results, downloaded them into a spreadsheet and, in a "what do you think of this?" mode, cc'd me on the readout. Just like I've noticed on my more-Irish-than-you sister-in-law (whose test results I administer), this cousin had some particularly interesting family connections. One, in fact, was a distant cousin I had researched on paper years ago but had never thought to re-contact and ask to do a DNA test. Apparently, he had—and shown up as a match to this cousin, but not to my husband. Always nice to discover those confirmations.
Reviewing our new matches the other night, I also spotted another distant cousin's name on a different company's readout. I had been particularly proud of figuring out this family connection—on paper, that is—but this cousin had been reticent about testing. Apparently, all objections had been addressed, and there sat the results in my husband's match readout: third cousin once removed, just as I had projected so long ago.
With encouraging successes like these, I felt like I was on a roll when I received a new match on my side of the family. While this was one of those "second to fourth cousin" ranges, I noticed the person's family was mostly from one of the states where my mother's ancestors had settled. Thinking I could bag this one with little effort—perhaps a little too encouraged by those other DNA discoveries of the past week—I took the better part of an afternoon to discover...that I don't have the foggiest notion how the two of us connect.
No matter. Bottom line was that several new names got added to the family trees, which is always helpful for future reference. A couple email contacts from researching cousins provided me additional family information, which got added to the trees, as well.
So here, after two weeks of work despite flu and other setbacks, is the tally. For my mother's tree, the count is up 294 to total 12,598. My mother-in-law's tree suffered from lack of attention during that rally on my side of the family: up six to 14, 475—but she and all her Catholic forebears are still ahead by nearly two thousand...not that this is a race or anything...
But the best news: contact with cousins helps grow that family tree, especially on the dads' sides. My father's tree managed to grow by eleven to total 499, a welcome improvement after languishing for so long. And my father-in-law's tree is now at 1,423, up thirteen.
With all these connections in the past week, I am looking forward to doing some chromosome mapping to help with this overwhelming amount of unconnectable DNA matches. When I have a distant cousin who doesn't seem to fit into the picture at any of my trees, I try to see which chromosome segment we have in common (easier done at Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage, or 23andMe). Then, I jump to GEDmatch.com to do a Tier One search to isolate all my matches with roughly the same segment on that same chromosome. I want to have a simple way to document some of these discoveries, and I believe the chromosome mapping program at DNA Painter will be a good way to achieve this.
The number of DNA matches that both I and my husband have keep going up—in most cases. It's clear that several others have opted out of sharing, not only at 23andMe, where the ever-shrinking number of matches is glaring evidence of this on a weekly basis, but also at AncestryDNA, where our matches are about two hundred less than this time last year, and at Family Tree DNA, where our matches have gone down by almost five hundred each from our results a year ago. Still, the trend for this year is again upward, though the resultant bulge from holiday sales has slacked, making me wish for a rally around another holiday event.
I've got 2,899 matches at FTDNA, 973 at AncestryDNA, 1,050 at 23andMe, and an unbelievable 3,980 at MyHeritage. As for my husband's matches, he has 1,853 at FTDNA, 511 at AncestryDNA, 1,095 at 23andMe, and 2,784 at MyHeritage. You'd think that would be plenty of DNA matches to play with, but no...most of them are rather distant connections, and I had to make the decision to not pursue matches below a certain threshold. I draw the line at the fourth cousin level, mainly for the sake of not overreaching my pedigree, but also because the smaller number of centiMorgans in common can push us into doubtful territory. There's still plenty of work to do with just those, of course—more puzzles than I care to wrestle with, right now. It's always nice when the science provides a confirmation of a guess on a brick wall research enigma, though, so I keep at it.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
It's Saturday. This is the day I often spend teaching beginning genealogy workshops for local organizations. That often turns out to be a symbiotic relationship for both the group I'm representing—our county's genealogical society—and the organization hosting the event. The host group provides the administrative legwork of promotion, computer and classroom set-up, registration, and sometimes even the niceties of refreshments. And I show up and talk for two hours.
What more could anyone want?
Actually, as it turns out, there could be quite a bit more. When the roles are reversed and it is our organization hosting an event (read: we are bringing in speakers for our own group's benefit), we find ourselves being quite attentive to the needs of our guest speaker. Being concerned about microphone, podium, screen, projector, backup laptop, and (working) remote is only the beginning. When I was vice president of our local genealogical society (and thus, also the program director tasked with bringing in guest speakers), I guess I became highly sensitized to what a speaker might require to insure his or her successful presentation.
One Saturday, recently, I found those concerns coming to mind as I waited for the coordinator at a new presentation site to return to the classroom with some missing technical items for my presentation to their group.
Hello? Hello? I felt myself thinking. The clock didn't seem to be jiving with the amount of progress that had been made on the setup. Tick, tick, tick. The class needed to start soon. And the site coordinator was nowhere to be found.
In that moment of solitary reflection, I thought about just what it takes to make a speaker feel like the team effort of the day's presentation would include one hundred percent participation from all the administrators involved. What makes a speaker feel abandoned? What demonstrates that the hosting organization has done that due diligence to make the event a success?
I realize there are always going to be glitches when a group sets up for a special event, especially if it is not something that occurs on a regular basis. This doesn't necessarily happen only in big occasions—nor only in small ones. We've heard of logistics nightmares at some of our most vaunted national conferences, and, come to think of it, run across small seminars struggling with unanticipated eruptions, as well.
But with this episode, I started thinking about what a speaker would like to see in the organization which has extended the invitation to speak. What makes a speaker feel at home, ready to do his or her best in a new venue? What allows a speaker to relax in the confidence of being supplied with anything needed (think: creature comforts for speakers)—but without the side effect of a helicopter-host whirlwind?
I certainly thought of a few things this particular organization could have done better to prepare—but if I return for a next time, should I intervene ahead of time to insure that administrative duties on their part are being taken care of? Partner to provide better publicity?
I know what I feel about this situation, and how I will seek a cooperative effort for future successes, but I'm curious to know how others see this type of situation. For one thing, a discussion like this might help organizations see such experiences in a new light—these are, after all, considerations necessary for groups to put on successful events. But reflecting on these questions also has helped me reshape a proactive approach to future engagements, as well. Our society is, after all, a group which needs to see things both ways: an organization willing to go out and teach our communities ways to research their heritage and a society whose meetings' mainstay is hosting educational presentations for our own members.
It is vitally important that we make our speakers happy at our own events; we want to have our best speakers happy to return for future engagements. But when we go out into the community at the invitation of other organizations, it would be optimal if those organizations would have a sense of how their interactions at their events can augment the successful presentation we wish to provide their members, as well.
Friday, March 23, 2018
Obituaries, as much as they mark sad—often tragic—events, provide family history researchers with the intel to fill in the gaps in the family constellation. When we found a transcription of the obituaries for the young couple, Ralph and Pauline Lee, posted on their Find A Grave memorials, we gained a valuable clue: Pauline had an aunt.
We already know that Pauline Lee's parents were William and Thirza Cole. It was Thirza's family photographs—each of them, no matter who the subject, marked with her name—which had started me on this quest to research the Cole family in hopes of returning the hundred-plus-year-old photographs I had found to family members.
Despite knowing Pauline's parents' names, we still had a problem: I could not locate the family unit in the 1910 census. Thankfully, when we had found the family all living together for the 1920 census, Pauline's father's name had been clearly spelled out as William E. Cole, but by the time of her death a few years later, his identity had reverted to the more formal Mr. W. E. Cole. With a name as common—and enigmatic—as that, it would be a challenge to locate the right family unit, especially if Thirza went by a middle name at the same time.
Moving back in time to locate the 1900 census—when Pauline would have been just three years of age—I did manage to find the Cole family in the enumeration, but no longer in California. By 1900, they were living in Colorado, in the newly-created Teller County on the western slopes of Pike's Peak. Young Pauline and her parents, Thirza and William, were living with his brother and mother. At that time, William's occupation was listed as "gold miner," apparently a hot pursuit on the minds of many men in that region during the turn of the century.
But who was Pauline's aunt, Nellie Yates? Was she one of the Cole siblings? Or related to Thirza's as-yet-unnamed side of the family? Thirza's husband, William Cole, was one of six siblings, as we could tell from the 1900 census, but those siblings turned out to all be brothers. Yates wouldn't fit tidily into that picture.
The hunt was on to locate the connection between Thirza and Nellie. This is one of those parts of the pursuit where I simply cannot recreate the sequence of how I uncovered the details to solve this question, but fortunately, I did locate two marriage records in Colorado which helped push the margin back another generation.
Yates turned out to be Nellie's married name. I did find her in Colorado for three consecutive census enumerations, beginning with 1910, where I learned that Nellie's husband was named William D. Yates. Together with their four year old daughter Eleanor, they lived in Chaffee County, where William worked as a locomotive engineer.
By the time of the 1920 census, the Yates family had a helpful addition: William's sister-in-law, Mable C. Browns, was living with them.
The 1910 census had indicated that William and Nellie had married in 1897, and the 1900 census had reported that the Coles had married in 1895, so I gambled on the sisters' maiden name being the same as that of William Yates' sister-in-law Mable, and tried my hand at locating some Colorado marriage records. Sure enough, William Yates had married one Nellie B. Browne on September 18, 1902, and William Cole had wed a Thirza M. Brown on September 28, 1895.
With that discovery, my next step would be to locate a Brown or Browne family with daughters named Thirza, Nellie and Mable.
Thursday, March 22, 2018
When troubles over the great World War escalated enough to call all able-bodied American men to register for military service, by 1917, Ralph Howard Lee was among them. Then single and just about to turn twenty five, Ralph was actually a native of Lyn, Ontario, but this Canadian had come to California as a boy with his parents and subsequently became a naturalized citizen. He was ready to serve.
Apparently, by the end of the war, Ralph had returned to his adopted home of Lodi, California, as a war hero. Respected as a "rising young business man," by the time of the 1920 census, he was newly married and living in Fresno, about a two hour drive south of his childhood home. That's where we found him yesterday, when we stumbled upon his identity while searching for our photograph collector, Thirza Cole. Ralph, as you remember, had married Thirza and William Cole's only daughter, Pauline.
Unfortunately, the only reason I know Ralph's community considered him to be a rising young business man was that that was what he was called in his obituary. I might even have missed any mention of his passing, had it not been for a Find A Grave volunteer posting a transcription of the June 7, 1921, article from the Lodi News Sentinel.
According to the news report, Ralph Lee had, some time before his June 5, 1921, passing, decided to undergo surgery for removal of his tonsils. An abscess subsequently formed in his lungs, which, in an era predating use of penicillin, became the cause of his untimely death.
It was barely over two years later when Ralph's young widow joined him. Pauline succumbed to unknown causes on the morning of June 23, 1923, at the Mason hospital, a local medical facility in Lodi. Her deceased veteran husband's comrades served as her pallbearers, and she was laid to rest next to Ralph Lee in the Lodi Memorial Cemetery, leaving behind her parents, her in-laws, and an aunt, Mrs. Nellie B. Yates—all, presumably, still living in Lodi.
The California Chapter of the "Rainbow Division," the 42nd Infantry Division, left a marker at the Lee grave site to commemorate Ralph Lee's service during the Great War, and a respectable monument was erected in memory of the young couple—in a spot on the cemetery grounds which I have undoubtedly walked past, unknowingly, several times.
All told, though, the Coles' and the Lees' residence in Lodi was a recent occurrence. It was just in 1920 that we had found them in Fresno. Before that, Pauline was not even living in California. Finding the name of that one aunt, Nellie Yates, in Pauline's obituary thus becomes our next clue in tracing the Coles—and especially Thirza—back to their origin.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Despite all the mother-in-law jokes which ever provided fodder for comedians' acts throughout the ages, I was certainly glad to find, in the 1920 census, one particular mother-in-law in the Fresno, California, household of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph H. Lee.
Ralph, a twenty seven year old immigrant from Canada, was working in California's agricultural "Big Valley" as a buyer specializing in fruit.
Ralph's wife, Pauline, was reported in this same census to have been born twenty two years earlier, somewhere in Colorado. Besides Ralph and Pauline, there were no children in the home, but there were two other people living there: a man who was a farmer, and his wife, a "trained nurse" working in a private home in the area.
This, of course, was not just any Pauline—as I'm sure you've suspected—but the very one I've been looking for since finding the baby picture dedicated to "Thirza and Pauline." The couple living with the Lees was none other than Thirza Cole and her husband, William. Conveniently listed for us by an unsuspecting census enumerator nearly one hundred years ago, the Coles were specifically identified to be mother-in-law and father-in-law to the head of the household, Ralph Lee.
In other words, the Pauline listed in Louise Van Noate's baby photo was Thirza's own daughter.
With that discovery came others. For one thing, I learned Pauline's married name, as well as her approximate date and location of birth. I learned her father's full name—and thus, one and the same, the name of Thirza's husband.
In case, in subsequent records, the parents and daughter were to maintain separate households, I could now trace Pauline—and any potential descendants who might be interested in the photographs I've found—through the information shown here in the 1920 census about her husband's identity. Best of all, I learned that Thirza was indeed named Thirza, and not Thiega or Thieza or any other name permutation which difficult handwriting on the photos might have led me to pursue.
I happened upon this 1920 census record quite by accident. You know how it is: you open up an online service and tap in the name of the person you are seeking, and voila!, there she is in multitudes of entries. Which one to choose first? I picked at random, and am now so thankful that the haphazard choice I made was the 1920 census.
You see, that was the last census record where I'd find Pauline listed—not just as a member of the same household as Thirza, but as an entry in any record whatsoever. By the time of the 1930 census, neither Pauline or her husband were anywhere to be found.
Above: Thirza Cole, her husband William, daughter Pauline and son-in-law Ralph H. Lee, itemized in the Fresno, California, Lee household for the 1920 census. Image courtesy Ancestry.com.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Genealogy is always presented in a neatly-tied package when a researcher can ably articulate how she got from square one to the final conclusion.
When it comes to how I found the connection between some of the names in this collection of abandoned photographs from a northern California antique shop, don't count on me to supply such a tidy explanation. Yes, it was wonderful to realize I was gifted with a full name, Thirza Cole—or was it Thiega Cole?—for one of the pictures in the set. But that didn't help me connect the dots between Thirza and the other people identified in the collection bearing her name.
With the picture of baby Louise, however, I did get a viable hint. There was an inscription on the back of the photograph.
Let's face it: baby pictures are pretty nondescript. If you've seen one baby picture, you've seen them all—at least, this is how some people feel. The receipt of a baby photograph is really just a gesture of inclusion from some pretty proud parents. So this photo of baby Louise could have been from anybody—close family, distant relative, army buddy, college chum.
Thankfully, it wasn't, as I found out. Still, it took a lot of wandering about, poking through files, forming hypotheses and then seeing them dashed to the ground, crashing and burning with the discovery of subsequent documentation. I wasn't kidding when I said this search is not following any logical, linear pattern.
The note on the back of baby Louise's darling picture began, "For Thirza + Pauline" and was signed off, innocuously, "With love from the Baby."
I realize that doesn't tell us much—in my head, I'm screaming, "Whose baby?!?!"—but it did introduce a possibility. Who was Pauline, I wondered—a much more rational (not to mention, sedately-uttered) question that started my research in a solid direction. My first goal was to find a nexus between Thirza Cole and someone named Pauline.
Someone, presumably much later, had added in a different hand and color of ink, "Louise Van Noate," which will turn out to be another useful hint.
Between these two names and the one I already knew—Thirza Cole—I was ready to hunt and peck my way through online documents to see if any possibilities popped up.
Above: Reverse of photograph of baby Louise, bearing the inscription, "For Thirza + Pauline, With love from the Baby." The name, Louise Van Noate, appears to have been added later. Photograph currently in possession of the author.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Having collected several photographs from one antique store in northern California, all bearing some form of the inscription, "To Thirza," I thought my task, in returning these abandoned photographs to appreciative family members, would be fairly easy. Surely, I thought, these would all be relatives somehow linked to the Thirza Cole whose photograph I also had rescued.
The more I tried to make the connection, though, the less likely it seemed that these photograph subjects were linked to each other—even remotely. With that, I was left with the 1920s photograph of Thirza Cole, an 1880s vintage likeness of Ralph Pollock, and a turn-of-the-century baby picture of Mildred Rigg.
But no connection.
There is, however, one more photograph listing Thirza's name—this time, with more than just her name, for the reverse of the baby picture contains a brief note. Better yet, it includes a full name.
For today, I'll introduce you to this baby, as well as a small detail I just noticed from the front of the photograph. Since it involves a convoluted explanation, I won't share how I figured out the connection just yet. We'll begin with that tomorrow.
As it turns out, the name on the back isn't exactly the baby's name, but just knowing the name came in handy, once I started researching what could be found about Thirza. The inscription served, later on, to confirm I was on the right track as I thrashed about, unsure of which of several research avenues to pursue.
And that small detail I just noticed? It was the imprint of the studio where the photograph was taken, but even that, at first, wouldn't have been much help to me. It was such a tiny mark as to make it difficult to read. In fact, even now, I'm not sure that it says, "F. L. Ray," but that is not what matters. The real clue is what is listed underneath the nearly illegible studio name: the studio's location in Salida.
If you think that clinches the matter, guess again. The city was given, all right, but not the state. My first thought was that it referred to a community in northern California, close to my own home. As I found out in my research, though, there is also a small town by that name in Colorado—a tip which turns out to be an encouraging lead.
So, for now, here's baby Louise. Tomorrow, we'll begin the tale of how the names on the reverse of this picture helped secure certain puzzle pieces in the right place in Thirza's bigger picture.
Above: Was that name affixed to the top of the baby picture really Louise? The handwriting made me question my own eyes. Thankfully, there was an accompanying note on the back to confirm it really was baby Louise. And the studio imprint? Salida? Nearly obliterated by the stain in the bottom right corner. Photograph currently in possession of the author.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Lately, it turns out that I am teaching beginning genealogy classes at various locations about twice weekly. After doing this for a few years, one thing has become clear to me: people come into these classes with one question in mind. Something happens during the class process, though, that turns them around, leaving with several concepts in mind. I've realized that genealogy can do that.
People often come into my classes thinking that finally, they'll learn how to prove the story that their mother's family really did have Native American roots. Or that Papa came from Tuscany. Or Alsace-Lorraine.
Once they learn the basic techniques for starting their own genealogical research, though, they realize how many other areas they need to learn, in order to fully comprehend just what it was like to be that person from Tuscany. Or that Chickamauga native. They gain an appreciation for the impact of those key historic events which may now be mere murky memories from high school history class. Now, for instance, the Civil War—or the Chinese Exclusion Act, or westward expansion—gets seen in a whole different light: events which had made a difference in their great-great grandparents' lives.
Of course, an experience like that can turn even the most reticent student of history (like me in my high school years) into an avid pursuer of the truth of the matter.
High school history classes, at least the ones I had to endure, were often taught in a linear format: first, this thing happened on this date, then it was followed by that event. Names blended into dates into wars or elections or inventions or newspaper headlines in one big blur of so what?! For me, it became a matter of how well I could memorize facts—and remember them long enough to spill them out on paper at exam time.
Fast forward another generation, and I became part of the homeschooling movement in our country. Homeschoolers have a name for a particular approach that was much different than my own high school experience. They called it "unit studies." That meant, for any topic they studied, students learned everything there was to know about that one subject.
If they wished to learn about, say, sugar, they would examine it as a commodity, but they would learn about its chemical composition, its impact on diet and health, its origins, and its role in history and even economics. While learning about a simple topic like sugar, students would end up exploring a world of other topics as well—a learning odyssey similar to that traced in the Sidney Mintz book, Sweetness and Power, taking in everything from the history of sugar's position as treat for kings to its place as a "slave crop" to its more commonplace modern role as the additive on more foods on our table than we care to admit.
It's surprising what one can learn from taking an in-depth look at one single topic, like sugar.
Genealogy becomes the catalyst to learn the universe of everything there is to know about the 1920s, just so you can understand what drove grandpa to do what he did. Or discover the angst of the 1930s. Or 1890s.
I have class members coming away from sessions, amazed at how much they have learned about the Civil War, for instance, just because they discovered a family member fought for the Union. Or shocked to learn what their immigrant ancestors endured, just in the process of boarding a ship—or worse, arriving on American shores. There is a universe of learning out there, waiting to be discovered, just for having taken that first step of wanting to discover one's family history.
Genealogy has become the gateway to learning history. In a personal way—and yet, a universal way. And that has made all the difference for people.
And yet, we are surprised to make that discovery.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
It's Saint Patrick's Day. Whether you're Irish or not, I imagine you've found a way to wear the green—or be obstinate and don some orange—but I don't know if you've noticed something I've been seeing in the days leading up to today.
I know the saying is that "everybody's Irish" for a day like today—and chances are, the average American (not to mention a good number of the Aussies and New Zealanders and even the folks in jolly olde England) sports at least a tiny percentage of Irish ethnicity—but that is not what I've been noticing this week. What I'm seeing, reading between the lines in those DNA commercials and Saint Patrick's Day DNA sales, is the possibility that "everyone's doing it" when it comes to testing for ethnicity percentages and researching their Irish roots.
Find My Past is reminding everyone of the free research resources they offer from Ireland. Family Tree DNA urges you to "share the luck o' the Irish" with others among your family and friends through their own DNA sale. Ancestry.com, also boasting loads of Irish records, offers you free access to their Irish collections this weekend, as well as a DNA sale of their own.
The genealogy buzz is not limited to all things Irish, however. Lately, there's been public notices on everything from MyHeritage's pro bono offer to help reunite financially-challenged adoptees and their birth parents through DNA testing, to social media commentary on using genealogy in politics. Yes, politics: a freelance writer has figured out how to use her skills as an avocational genealogist to disrupt America's current congressional debate over immigration with "resistance genealogy."
It seems as if all eyes are on the genealogy world lately. If not all eyes, at least a significant portion of people in North America have wondered "what if...." What if, for instance, they can trace their family story back to the country of their immigrant ancestor's origin?
With that widespread interest comes the chance for those of us who already know we are fascinated with genealogy to become the catalysts to help launch others into this pursuit of our roots. It is far easier to invite others, say, to attend a genealogical society meeting, or participate in a family history day, or spit into a tube for a DNA test, even, than ever before.
No more of this grousing about how our societies are "dying" from lack of participation in the wake of "competition" from online giants. People all over are clamoring for a real, live person to help show them the ropes—how to get started on their own journey of discovering their roots. The online resources may be a boon for our research, but they can't take the place of person-to-person guidance, encouragement, sharing, crowdsourcing, and general cheering-on when it's time for the Genealogy Happy Dance.
This is genealogy's day. All this talk about being Irish, or pinning our ethnicity report to our social media pages isn't just about DNA testing. It's about people realizing how fascinating genealogy can really be. We may as well seize the opportunity. One never knows whether the newbie we are helping will turn out to be that distant cousin descendant of our brick wall ancestor.
Friday, March 16, 2018
In researching the identities of the photographs in Thirza's collection, it would be quite handy if each of these people grew up to marry each other, or turned out to be cousins, or some other convenient and handy resolution to my research problem.
Apparently, that is not the case. The only nexus that I've been able to find, so far, is a link to the state of Colorado. Neighbors in Greeley, perhaps, but nothing more.
I can't help but think, though, that surely there is a story line weaving its way in and out of the three families we've discovered so far in this odyssey through Thirza's photograph collection. Perhaps at some point we'll discover it, but for now, it's a well-kept secret.
So we'll move on to the next photograph. Today's picture is the faded photograph I referred to the other day, one which makes me think it was taken much earlier than that of baby Mildred. This one, of the head and shoulders of a young man, bears no date or location. Though I don't know enough about photograph trends to date the style of the composition, I had thought this was an earlier type of photograph, perhaps from the 1880s, as opposed to the turn of the century date for Mildred's picture.
In a hand similar to the writing on the front of Mildred's photograph, someone had inked in the name Ralph Pollock. Just having a full name was a great help. However, trying my hand at locating a suitable census entry for someone with this man's name brought up too many possibilities. For one thing, the handwriting on the face of the card made it difficult to tell if the surname was Pollack or Pollock.
Time for a fuzzy search, I tried my hand at some guess work: what if Ralph was from the same town as Mildred? Figuring out Ralph's age and the date of the picture might make a big difference in finding the right Ralph, but it was worth a try.
Of course, to explain how I stumbled upon what I found, finally, will take another post, for there was another step in between these two that landed me on a page in a census record with a clue that nearly reached out to slap me in the face. Besides that, we have one more baby picture to examine before we arrive at that step.
In the meantime, let me introduce to you a young Ralph Pollock—yet another person whose likeness was sent with Thirza's name written on the reverse.
Above: Photograph of a young Ralph Pollock, from the collection of Thirza Cole. Undated and without any indication of location, this photograph is currently in possession of the author.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
How to explain the winding path I followed from my research question to the answers I've found...
This project I've taken on to send the pictures of Thirza Cole and her (presumed) relatives back home to family has turned out to be more complicated than I thought it would be at first. Granted, despite having found her photograph in an antique store in Jackson, California, I already knew it would be unlikely that she was a resident of that area. Besides, one of the pictures I found along with hers, clearly marked "To Thirza," came from Greeley, Colorado. Whoever Thirza was, I figured she had relatives back in the then-tiny town of Greeley.
My first step, once purchasing all these photographs containing Thirza's name, was to research each of the identities indicated on the front of each picture. I tried to locate the name on the Greeley photograph, for instance, in the census records for Greeley. Some of the other photographs, though, didn't even have geographic indicators anywhere on the photograph, so I'd try searching for the name, then seek out a family connection with Thirza.
When those attempts failed me miserably, I tried another approach: just build a family tree for Thirza, herself. This was a challenge for two reasons: for one, thanks to handwriting difficulties, I wasn't sure whether her name was Thirza or Thiega; and secondly, I still had to verify whether Cole was her maiden or married name.
With all those challenges, I just kept poking through documents in several directions, grasping at any possibilities and noting them, just in case.
Now, to try and reconstruct how I found out what I've discovered about Thirza—or at least a likely candidate for her identity—I'm not sure I can replicate the search, step by step. Complicating the matter—at least for those needing a straightforward explanation—is the fact that my mind does not work like the sequential path of a reasoned outline with step one leading to step two and only then moving to step three.
My mind, unfortunately, works more in a scattershot mode. It's similar to the technique known as mind-mapping, a process co-opted by genealogist Ron Arons in his recent book, Mind Maps for Genealogy, but I assure you, I've been following that process for much longer than Ron has been teaching the method.
The challenge is to translate my haphazard mind-mapping discoveries into a logical, blow-by-blow explanation. I'm not sure I can adequately complete that task. So for the next few days, I'll just give you the splat on each of the photographs in Thirza's collection, but just be aware that I've not yet uncovered the nexus. There are still many unanswered questions.
Today, we'll start with Thirza's copy of a baby picture. The photograph, as I mentioned, is from Greeley, Colorado. It was taken by photographer F. E. Baker—although checking in Greeley publications for any indication of that studio, all I could find, much later than the time of this photograph, was an ad for F. E. Baker, the realtor and land investor. Perhaps photography as a business just didn't work out for him.
The picture's subject was named Mildred Rigg. At least, that's what the handwriting seems to say. It also looks as if the name were either over-written, or erased and then redone, or that the ink was possibly not working well on the pen. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to locate a Mildred Riggs in the 1900 census and the 1910 census, both of them in the same county—Weld County—as the town of Greeley.
This Mildred was the daughter of Millard and Josephine Riggs, and happened to be born, according to the 1900 census, in January of 1898. Thanks to some online newspaper editions of the Greeley newspaper, plus some other documents found at Ancestry.com, I was able to locate a few more details about this Mildred, but not anything to sufficiently explain her link to our Thirza. Of course, that is provided that Mildred Rigg and Mildred Riggs are one and the same Greeley resident.
Above: Undated photograph of baby Mildred Rigg of Greeley, Colorado; photograph currently in possession of author.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
In seeking to return abandoned photographs to family members who will cherish them, I try to pay attention to all the details clustered around that photograph. Any names or locations mentioned or indicated, of course, would be prime items to research, but in the case of Thirza—or Thiega—Cole, I not only have the clues from the back of her portrait, but a welcome cache of other pictures with at least her first name attached to them. I suspect what I have is a part of her collection of family photographs—which, for our purposes, is a good thing.
Today, I'd like to introduce the main characters from this collection, as best I can read their names from the various handwriting samples found on their pictures. Some of them are part of this collection for sure, guaranteed by the name "Thirza" added to the reverse of each picture. One, at least, is likely part of Thirza's family, though I can't tell for sure; the name is so common, and besides, her name isn't added to the back.
Only one of those photographs has a studio imprint affixed to the front. It happens to also be the picture with the name that I have the most difficulty reading. It's a baby picture taken in Greeley, Colorado by the photographer F. E. Baker. The name above the baby's head looks like Mildred Rigg.
Another baby picture, this one without any mention of a location or studio imprint, simply bears the name Louise, though there is a note on the reverse for Thirza.
Yet another photograph looks to be the oldest of the three. It's a faded image of a young man, with the handwritten name above his head reading Ralph Pollack.
The only thing the three of these photographs have in common is the fact that the name Thirza is handwritten on the back. At first, I hoped that these were three individuals related to our Thirza, but now that I've been thrashing around the Internet's vast array of genealogical records, I'm not finding any such connections.
I'll begin by introducing each photograph in turn, one each day, and noting any possibilities for subjects. Of course, if a link to Thirza manifests itself in this cursory review, I'll make note of that as well. Meanwhile, I have plenty of work to do to prepare the rest of the story about Thirza, herself. If I have the right person, she is turning out to have an interesting life, indeed.
Above: Inscription from the back of one of the baby photos I found at a northern California antique shop. This is the clearest handwriting of all those pictures which include that name, which in this case is clearly Thirza, not Thiega. This inscription was written on the back of a photograph from Greeley, Colorado; the front has the name Mildred Rigg written above the baby's head in a different hand.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
There is a lot of guesswork involved in returning an orphaned photograph back to family. And, in juggling the information attached to multiple possibilities, the search also requires a way to organize all the findings. But to shelter those potentially false leads from a gullible genealogy public, the search also needs to proceed under cover—somewhere hidden so that others won't be tempted to copy those false leads as if they were verified truth.
In other words, I need a hiding place to park my trees-in-progress.
I learned this tactic from my mystery cousin, the adoptee who turned out to be an exact match to my matriline. If you remember, shortly after this cousin contacted me three years ago, thanks to our mutual mitochondrial DNA test results at Family Tree DNA, he was able to figure out—and subsequently meet—his birth mother. He explained to me what he learned from the volunteer "search angels" who helped him with his research: adoptees build several tentative family trees, actually plugging into a pedigree chart several possible, though not yet proven, names.
For the most part, this hypothesis-testing process serves to trigger "hints" for Ancestry trees, which then can be evaluated for plausibility. Obviously, more hypotheses end up being discarded than kept. But because they are not true family trees, all this guesswork needs to be done under cover. That's why adoptees—and the search angels who help them—often set up private trees, rather than public ones, on Ancestry. To add one more layer of protection, they change the privacy setting on the tentative tree so that it can't even be found in search results.
Taking my cue from my mystery cousin—who has since gone on to help many other adoptees, himself—when I work on sending an abandoned photograph home to family, I use the same process. So, for Thirza Cole—or whoever she turns out to be—I set up a private, unsearchable tree on Ancestry and started building her pedigree. In addition, I set up a file folder in my computer for pictures, and another file folder under documents for any auxiliary material I find on the family. That way, as I chase after all the possibilities, I have a place to park the photos and documents I run across.
As it turns out, there was someone by the name of Thirza Cole. The surprising first discovery about Thirza was that, despite my traveling to the foothills of northern California to find her, she turned out to live in the same town as the first antique store where I had begun my quest to reunite orphaned photographs with family. Since that place is so close to my home, I've had ample opportunities to head to the very place where Thirza lived and worked for most of her adult life.
Not to put a wet blanket over that enthusiastic discovery, but just in case, I also did a search for the alternate name I found on the photographs—Thiega. If you, as I did, thought that there would surely be no such name, think again. Apparently, Thiega is a thing. There were several hits for that term as a given name, both in the United States and in the United Kingdom. To do a thorough search, I'll need to attend to that due diligence requirement to ascertain which of the two names this really turns out to be—or whether I should be looking for two women instead of one.
Monday, March 12, 2018
We're about to explore the possibilities for identifying another mystery photograph subject. This time, our task will not be simply to return one old photograph back to family members, but four—and possibly more. The key will be to determine whether the name added to the back of each of these photographs is one and the same, and whether several different handwriting samples were all referring to the same woman.
There's no way to gradually introduce the suspected subject of this search, so I will start out with the splat: the photograph of the one woman which included not only that unusual given name—Thirza—but a surname as well. As I mentioned last Friday, I suspect the name which links each of these photographs will either refer to one person or to two. The handwriting on some clearly spelled out Thirza. The shaky hand on the others sometimes looked like Thiega.
I found all of these photographs in an antique shop in Jackson, California, a northern California town sometimes remembered for its former glory days as part of California gold rush country. One of the photographs came with the imprint of a studio in Greeley, Colorado; the others had no geographic location specified. The time span represented by these pictures likely included more than one generation of a family—if, indeed, these are photographs from the same extended family. The earliest one I'd guess to be from the 1870s or possibly earlier. The most recent one was a portrait of Thirza with a handwritten note on the reverse, "about 1920."
That, unfortunately, was one of the pictures with the name that looked more like Thiega than Thirza, but the handy thing about it was that it came with a surname: Cole.
I decided my first attempt at identifying the subject was to go with the name from the majority of the other photographs, and start out with the assumption that the person I want to research was named Thirza Cole. Whether that will turn out to be a false lead, we'll soon find out. Kept in balance by the handwritten names affixed to the front of the other photos, I'm going to trust in the FAN principle—Friends, Associates and Neighbors—to either corroborate my assumptions or rule them out entirely.
Above: Photograph of a woman named either Thiega or Thirza Cole, with the added notation, "about 1920." Found in a northern California antique store, the photograph was evidently removed from a frame to which it had been taped. The photograph as shown here is cropped from its original size. The damage visible at the top of this scan of the original was mild, compared to the damage across the lower border. Photograph currently in possession of the author.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
I've realized something, now that I've taken to pursuing other people's family trees: I don't get so much done on my own.
I've heard others mention the same thing, particularly those members of my local genealogical society's board. It's those on the board who've volunteered to help others get their family tree started that seldom find enough time to work on their own. I dream of finding an office for our society, in part, so our board and committee volunteers can have a place to gather for coffee and work on our own family histories, collectively. If we're going to leave the comfort of our homes to help others with their genealogy, we may as well do the same to spend time on our own research.
In my case, I get the strange feeling that the time I spend searching for the ancestors of the orphaned photographs I find in antique stores results in taking less time to pursue my own history, as well. Thankfully, I've instilled the habit of checking, every two weeks, on my research progress. Though I feel like I haven't done as much on my own family, that apparently is not the case.
Over the last two weeks, in addition to figuring out the family line of Baby Fay and her mother—as well as taking a sneak peek at the upcoming story of Thirza and her collection of photographs—I did manage to make progress on my own lines. For instance, on my mother's line, I added 154 names to her tree of 12,304 individuals. On my mother-in-law's line, 115 names brought the total for her tree to 14,469. While I didn't gain any on my father's tree this time, I added three more names to my father-in-law's tree to bring it to 1410 relatives.
One thing I did neglect, over the past two weeks, was to check out any of the DNA matches our family has gotten in this time period. We are still getting a significant number of matches at most of the testing companies, which I presume are the tail end of the holiday sales still coming in, or perhaps a second bump in results from the leading edge of the Valentine's Day sales.
I saw an increase of thirty four matches for my results at AncestryDNA, seventy at Family Tree DNA, and a whopping 197 at my newest test site, MyHeritage DNA. The only decrease, as usual, was at 23andMe. That leaves me with 945 matches at Ancestry, 2,881 at FTDNA, 3,715 at MyHeritage, and 1,060 at 23andMe.
The increases were similar for my husband. He had a jump of twenty one at AncestryDNA to total 496 matches (at fourth cousin or closer), an increase of forty five at FTDNA for 1,836, and 154 more at MyHeritage for 2,555 total matches. This time, he also lost twenty two matches at 23andMe, where he now totals 1,113 matches.
The oft-worn phrase, "The cobbler's children have no shoes," is usually meant to point a warning finger at those who, being so taken with their professional duties, forget their other, more vital, responsibilities to family. Even with an avocation such as genealogy—which can absorb so much of our attention—I can see this as being possible. Ask any researcher engrossed in the pursuit of the elusive ancestor about suddenly realizing, still seated at the computer, that it is three in the morning.
Perhaps the cobbler's syndrome can apply to us. I'm glad to realize, after this biweekly recap, that though I felt that might have been the case, it wasn't. I think progress in the last two weeks has still kept pace with what I was able to do, prior to taking on this latest research interest on behalf of other families.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Collaboration. Influence. Leadership. These are all concepts held high by business experts. Indeed, "success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others," as the cover notes state for the book I'm reading this month. This, however, is not only the key to success in business, but "an approach...that has the power to transform not just individuals and groups, but entire organizations and communities."
While I've always kept an eye on those skills which can lead to success in business, what I've been focusing on lately has been success in other types of organizations—and of communities. In particular, stepping into my new role as president of our local genealogical society this month, I'm keen to examine what can help our group grow. More than that, I want to explore how we can build a community around the value of respecting our heritage.
I feel that, in our current decade, we've seen organizations build resources that are not only particularly helpful to genealogists, but have also fostered an interest in beginning to learn about family history. Thanks to everything from direct-to-consumer DNA test commercials to television mini-series exploring the roots of favorite celebrities, the concept that anybody can learn about his or her family heritage has become so widespread as to create a groundswell of demand for genealogical education.
Our local genealogical societies are uniquely situated to step in and be the boots-on-the-ground for this training mission. But we can't just work ourselves to the bone, trying to repeat the same time-worn tactics used in past decades.
That's where the book I'm reading, Adam Grant's Give and Take, comes in. A specialist in organizational psychology and a leading professor at the Wharton School of Business, Adam Grant zeroes in on one aspect of interpersonal working style that, in the long run, leads to successful outcomes. That aspect is what he calls giving.
There are givers, the author explains, and there are takers. Those who contribute to the success of others—through their help, their advice, their recommendations—while not expecting anything in return he calls givers. Givers don't operate on a zero-sum-game paradigm. They are willing to do what it takes for the benefit of the group's success.
The more I read of Adam Grant's book, the more I see his recommendations—backed up by a broad spectrum of research results—as applicable to us in genealogical societies. Everything from our overarching organizational mission to the nitty-gritty of our daily operational efforts has the fingerprints of giving embedded in it. Though I'm only halfway through the book at this point, I've found inspiration for re-envisioning our society efforts as a team building adventure. What we do as a society enables us to guide others, new to genealogy, in such a way as to encourage them to pass those lessons along to others in the community.
There is so much that genealogy can give to a community—a sense of who we are, of the value of our heritage, of a purpose for that to be carried forward into the future. The time seems more right than ever before to seize the opportunity to give back to our local communities with the gift of genealogy.
In order to do that, though, we need to equip ourselves with foundational concepts of how to develop such an organization. Adam Grant's Give and Take has sparked several thoughts in my mind about how to reshape our board and our entire organization to face the challenge of meeting this greater demand for training and coaching new researchers.
Several years ago, my predecessor, Sheri Fenley, had commented that there were many more people out there in our county interested in genealogy than attended our meetings and events. Perhaps that was her unscientific assessment, but her conviction that it was so is now becoming more visible to me, as well. They are out there, those people who yearn to know more about their family's saga. Somehow, we need to connect with them, to work together with them so they will be their most successful at digging for those answers. It would do us well, even as small and local nonprofit organizations, to learn from the work of authors and instructors such as Adam Grant. What this book contains is advice that reaches far beyond the realm of the business world. It speaks to us, too.