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.