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.