Wednesday, September 19, 2018
In order to explain just how a wedding photograph from West Point, Nebraska, might have ended up in the foothills of northern California, it is perhaps easiest to step back and take in the big picture. The big family picture, that is.
Thankfully, the wedding photograph I found in an antique store in Sonora, California, was labeled. We know that the subjects were Adolph Brockman and his wife Verna. We've since found them in census records and discovered that their only daughter, though long-lived, died in 2009 having left no descendants.
Of course, the question in my mind is always, "How did the picture get to the place where I found it?" In the case of the Brockmans' wedding photo, it may very well be a case of family passing along the photo from generation to generation until there was no one to pass it to. That, at least, is the conjecture of one Brockman relative, who shared with me his theory as to how the Brockmans' wedding portrait ended up in Sonora, California.
Before I explain, let's first take a detour to see the big picture of the Brockman family tree. Adolph was the oldest of eleven siblings, ten of whom made it to adulthood. Adolph, born in 1889, had siblings stretching from 1892 when his sister Mathilda was born all the way to 1916 when the caboose of the family, youngest sister Ruth, was born.
Keeping in mind that Adolph and Vernie were married about 1911, all but his youngest sister were already born, true, but at the time of the wedding, half of those siblings were ten years of age or younger. At that point, the distance in age might have rendered the family connection less informal than one would expect from a sibling relationship.
To further increase that sense of distance, after 1916, Adolph's parents—William and Augusta Brockman—moved from Nebraska, where all the children had been born, to Fort Morgan in Colorado, while Adolph and his wife set up housekeeping only one county away from their West Point home, back in Nebraska.
In every family, the rules regarding who gets to keep "the stuff"—those coveted family heirlooms and keepsakes—can be different. Often it is the oldest who is designated to receive many of those treasures. In the case of this photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman, however, it may have been one of the youngest sons who passed along the wedding picture of big brother Adolph.
Whether this was so or not, we can't be sure. But one thing I have been advised—through correspondence with a descendant of the next-to-youngest Brockman child—is that youngest brother Edward married a woman by the name of Corinne Bernice Purkey in Bannock, Idaho, and eventually passed away in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Like his big brother Adolph, Edward Brockman left just one child—in Edward's case, a son. And that son, curiously enough, ended up living in...you guessed it...Sonora, California.
Above: The family of William and Augusta Brockman of West Point, Nebraska, including nine of their eleven children—missing Ruth, born in 1916, and Ernst, who died in infancy. Photograph courtesy of Brockman descendant Jeff in Oregon; used by permission.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
I've often talked about how I pay attention to what I call "voice"—the way one person might address another. In the case of the photograph I'm about to reunite with a family member—the photograph of Adolph and Verna Brockman, taken in West Point, Nebraska, around 1911—I think it will be important to consider the "voice" used in labeling the reverse of the photograph.
As you may have seen in the comments to yesterday's post, I have found a Brockman family member, and we are working out the arrangements so I may mail Adolph and Vernie back to relatives. That family member—as is often the case, someone who cares greatly for carefully researching family history—mentioned a likely scenario for how the Nebraska photograph ended up in the foothills of northern California.
The possible trail does involve family members moving far from Nebraska. While I'm happy to know the likely story, something is also nudging me to remember that concept of voice.
Consider, for a moment, how you might label a photograph of your family members. Would you, for instance, write something like "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" on the back of a photo of your uncle and aunt? More likely, you'd write at least their first names: "Al and Sally." If you were being very conscientious of the family members tasked, long after you'd be gone, with figuring out just who all those people were, you might add a surname, even though everyone already knew the identity of Al and Sally. To be even more helpful, you might write something like Uncle Al and Aunt Sally, just to make sure your grandkids knew they were looking at relatives.
It would, possibly, take something far afield of kinship to label a photograph, "Adolph Brockman + wife." That, in my humble estimation, might be something included with a wedding announcement sent to a family acquaintance (or worse, merely a business associate) who hadn't actually been invited to the wedding.
But then, the key really is: what did people back in 1911 do when sending photographs of their special family occasions? Perhaps they were more formal. Perhaps this seemed more proper. But I'm not sure it would be something one did when sending a photograph to a sibling's family.
The other problem, though, is that we don't really know when the photograph was actually labeled. There are two different handwritings showing on the back of the Brockman photograph. One may have been entered as a way to tell family, much after the fact, just who that married couple had been. Or perhaps that is the label that mentioned Adolph and Vernie Brockman, including the hint of familiarity of the wife's nickname. But the more formal entry on the top of the photo makes me wonder who would have used that tone of voice in labeling the picture; there seems to be no recognition of family connection at all—at the very least, only a connection to Adolph, but certainly not Vernie.
While I could puzzle over this in endless iterations, I'm glad we now have a family member on hand to discuss an educated guess—and to keep me from going too far astray on these doubtful dissertations.
Above: The various entries of names on the reverse of the 1911 wedding photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman of West Point, Nebraska.
Monday, September 17, 2018
One of the ways that help me return abandoned photographs to family members is by tracing what became of the subject's descendants. In the case of the project I'm working on right now, though, the only daughter of Adolph and Vernie Brockman of Nebraska has been introduced to us with two different names. In the 1920 census, we learned that the Brockmans' daughter was named Velva—at least, if we can trust the enumerator's handwriting. But in the 1930 census, she was listed as Viola.
The obvious answer was to look for her in the 1940 census, but that was only an option if she remained in the same town in Nebraska with either of two names: Velva Brockman or Viola Brockman. By 1940, the Brockmans' daughter would have been at least twenty six years of age, very possibly a married woman.
It was in our favor that we looked first for her father's entry in the 1940 census. In a reversal of what often becomes the pattern, it was Adolph's wife who had passed away first, dying at the age of forty six in 1938. Adolph was not to follow her until four years later, in 1942—allowing just enough time for us to spot him in the 1940 census.
Along with Adolph, we find his daughter was still living at home. That is good news on two accounts. First, we confirm that her given name was actually Viola, not the overwritten "Velva" of the 1920 census. Second, we get the bonus of discovering Viola's married name, for in the Brockman household were two additional people: a lodger, and Viola's husband, Owen Blair.
Unlike her parents, Viola was long-lived, according to her memorial on Find A Grave. Based on the only obituary I could find for Viola, she may not have had any children—or, if she did, they predeceased her. There was no mention of descendants in the brief newspaper entry.
That presents me with a problem. Apparently, not only did Adolph and Verna Brockman spend their entire lives in the same region in Nebraska, but their daughter Viola did, as well. Gone are any conjectures that the Brockmans' wedding photo was carried off to California by their grandchildren. Though it may certainly be the case that the Brockmans—or perhaps either set of their parents—had mailed a copy of their wedding portrait to friends and distant relatives, it will be unlikely that we'll discover the link that landed the picture in my hands.
In the meantime, there is one more search in this quest: the search for a family member who would be interested in receiving Adolph and Vernie's photograph. While it obviously won't be a grandchild to receive the keepsake, there are still other options. As it turns out, Adolph came from a family with at least seven siblings, and Vernie from a family of seven or more children. Even if none of them removed to northern California, there might be someone who would be interested in receiving this photograph.
Above: Wedding photo of Adolph and Vernie Brockman, taken circa 1911 in West Point, Nebraska; currently in possession of author until claimed by a family member.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
We chuckle, in my family, when the topic comes up about the seemingly contradictory reply that goes somewhat like this: "Yeah...no."
It turns out this is considered a typically Californian thing to say. Little did I know, transplanted New Yorker that I am, steeped in California-isms for only the past few decades. Subsequently, like the frog lounging in the once-cool pot of water, I hardly realized the temperature was rising among language nazis. Answering someone in a friendly conversation with something along the lines of "Yeah, no" makes perfect sense when you fill in the rest of the blanks: that the other person in the conversation has just made a statement about something with a negative connotation; you, in turn, first agree with that negative statement, and then go on to confirm that negative assessment. Like, "Yeah, no."
While that may make perfect sense to a Californian—native or adopted—when it comes to my feelings about my next genealogy trip, that same phrase strikes me today much the same as most people actually translate that Californian figure of speech. Yes, I do want to get up and go, but no, I don't. I'm still tired from the last genealogy conference I attended. And following that one, there will be another.
I can't help it if I like my learning to be social. To me, learning is essentially interactive. It is so much more than just taking in the information blurted out by a talking head. I want two way communication. Questions. Responses building on added information. Connections. Networking. Building on possibilities. But sometimes, the effort to achieve that learning state can, in itself, be exhausting.
So, if you are talking to me and make a two-part comment like, "I don't think you learn as much from a session if you just sit at home and take it in by live-streaming—do you?" I can provide my corresponding two-part response: "Yeah, no that isn't my best way of learning, either."
But that is a moot point anyhow, if we are considering attending the October conference hosted in Kansas City by the Association of Professional Genealogists, for this year, they won't be live streaming or recording their sessions. No virtual attendance. If you want to be there, you simply must actually, you know, be there. Like, deciding to go, before the online registration deadline on Wednesday, September 26. Or another week before that, if you don't want to pay a king's ransom for airfare.
To which I still can't help but think, "Yeah, no." Yeah, I want to be part of the action. But no, I'm not looking forward to all the effort of getting there. In my case, it's not the 1,720 mile journey that I'm looking forward to. If anything will carry me away to Kansas City, it will be the anticipation of all the great meetings and classes that are in store for those who made the effort to get there.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
I'm often reminded of the importance of studying the milieu surrounding our ancestors' lives. This past month, while I've put on the public "game face" at A Family Tapestry of puzzling over how to return abandoned family photographs to long-lost family members, behind the scenes, I've had a delightful time helping a family member navigate the challenges of DNA testing to discover the true identity of her maternal grandfather.
The wonderful surprise was learning that he was certainly Italian in origin—an unexpected turn of events for this Irish-American and Eastern-European descendant. With a steep learning curve ahead of her, this inquisitive budding genealogist had no hesitation in diving right in and immersing herself in the research.
Doing the documentation dance was no problem at first. Reconstructing the paper trail of this man and his Chicago-area family seemed to make sense at first. But pushing back through the decades, coming perilously close to the date of his parents' arrivals in their New World, she hit a stumbling block: spelling.
Apparently, the Chicago family she learned about had always spelled their surname with a final "a"—the sound of a good Italian surname, I suppose. Then came the point of discovering that the family hadn't come straight from Italy to Chicago, but had originally landed in New York. And stayed there for a while.
When I found some documentation of this detail and showed it to her, the immediate response was, "That can't be my family; they spell their name differently." This surname, according to the records, concluded with an "i," not an "a."
Of course, that was the 1890s and it was New York, home of the indifferent bureaucrat. But it was also home of some large Catholic churches, as well—not to mention the thousands upon thousands of fellow immigrant Italians. Perhaps it was they who got it right and the Chicago contingent who were mistaken.
It took a while for this new researcher to warm to the idea that not everyone takes spelling as seriously as twenty-first century teachers. But eventually the wonder that is genetic genealogy opened her eyes to the possibility that, yes, this New York contingent might well be related to her—after all, there was a link to a descendant of that very New York family showing up in her matches!
It is quite circumspectly that we approach the puzzles of spelling "creativity." What could be simply a case of liberality in one's spelling habits might, on the other hand, represent a rabbit trail leading to false conclusions. Oh, that everyone understood the need for standardization in spelling as we "enlightened" modern people do—or, perhaps, we just need to get over ourselves and realize that things were different in bygone eras.
In the meantime, it is perhaps for our research protection that we have this parallel way to test our spelling assumptions—a way to test everything from wondering whether two Fullers were descendants of the same Mayflower ancestors to examining whether two people having differently spelled versions of the same surname could actually be related.
Friday, September 14, 2018
Even small towns can present their research pitfalls, if one knows how to find them. I am talented at stumbling upon such difficulties.
My quest started out innocently enough: I wanted to see if Adolph Brockman's wife was a hometown girl from the same place where Adolph grew up. Since West Point, Nebraska, was such a tiny place, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to combine a reasonable online search with a modernized version of that pre-Internet habit of flipping through the pages by the place where I found my target person.
As we already discovered, Adolph—the groom in the hundred year old wedding photo I found in an antique store in California—was still living in his parents' home in 1910, when the census reported his age as twenty. What were the chances, I wondered, that his bride-to-be would be living nearby?
Though I hadn't found any entries for a "Vernie"—as her name had been given on the back of the photograph—I had located a family with an unmarried Verna in the 1910 census, living in the same township in the same county in Nebraska. Granted, she wasn't exactly the girl next door—Adolph was on page 8A and this Verna was on page 4A of Elkhorn Township—but I decided to flip back through the pages to see if I could find her by hand.
That's where I got confused.
It turns out that, flipping backwards through the pages, I discovered there was another Verna living nearby, too. Only this Verna was listed on page 6A. I was beginning to wonder if those codes so handily scrawled over the by-then-completed enumeration had tricked me into reading the wrong thing, once again. I took another look. And a second one. Bit by bit, the details emerged. One Verna was a marriageable eighteen years of age; the other was only two. One was in the household of John and Anna Neiman; the other was the child of Albert and Rosia Lierman.
The Neiman and Lierman surnames, in the same handwriting—complete with the now-expected overwritten letters—kept me toggling back and forth between them, wondering if there were really two versions of the same census. That's what comes from working on research after a brain-mangling day working at one's desk.
In the meantime, in all that staring, I noticed one further detail: the enumerator for Elkhorn Township was none other than Albert's father, William Brockman.
Supposing that Verna was the true name of William Brockman's future daughter-in-law, I tried my hand at placing Adolph and Verna—rather than Vernie—together. The first stop at the next census—for 1920—was a rocky road, as well, thanks to the enumerator in neighboring Pierce County having a shaky hand. The entry for Adolph was rather unreadable, though I could find Verna—and their daughter, listed as six year old Velva—living in the very county where I had found the World War I draft registration card for a married Adolph Brockman, born on August 25, 1889. Things were beginning to look up.
It's a good thing I didn't stop there. Of course, I was curious to see whether Adolph and Vernie had any other children, but I think the name change in the 1930 census for their daughter was more likely owing to correct enumeration than one child replacing another. In 1930, the Brockmans' sixteen year old daughter was listed as Viola.
Whether Velva or Viola, I had to know, mainly for one reason: I needed to figure out just how the wedding photo I had rescued in the northern California antique shop had arrived at its unlikely destination from Nebraska. Did Viola—or Velva—inherit the photograph, then move to California? Or was someone else the recipient of the Brockmans' wedding portrait? My next step is to trace Adolph and Vernie's daughter.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Even if the dates don't line up quite the way I'd like them to, if we have found an Adolph in West Point, Nebraska—location of the photography studio which had captured the wedding memory of a young Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman which I found, one hundred years later, in California—then, I'll at least take a good look.
Admittedly, I'm no expert at dating photographs. I try my hand at following the advice of those who really know their stuff, but there's a wide berth for mistakes in such attempts. I wasn't really sure the boy Adolph I found in the 1900 census would be one and the same as the well-dressed man appearing in his wedding portrait quite a few years later. But with a town as tiny as West Point, what were my chances?
The one candidate that I could find for our Adolph was the first of five children in the Brockman family of West Point. According to the 1900 census, his father's name was entered as "Wm," so naturally my first assumption was that dad's name was William, but when I looked closer, it seemed the enumerator had written the "m" so purposefully with an exaggerated connector from the "W" that I couldn't be certain that the entry didn't signify the initials, "W. M." (As it turned out, I had been thrown off by some codes later entered by census officials which had overwritten the man's name.)
Mr. Brockman—whoever he was—was married to Augusta, mother of the five Brockman children of which Adolph was the oldest. Following Adolph were his seven year old sister Matilda, his five year old brother Willie, his three year old sister Anna, and the baby of the family, a one year old girl whose name the enumerator rendered as "Loesa."
Adolph's father had come from Wisconsin but evidently moved westward—perhaps with his parents—where he eventually met his future bride, Augusta. She had been born in Nebraska. Both sets of Adolph's grandparents, though, were born in Germany.
Comparing that 1900 census listing with other such records turned out to be helpful, for in the 1910 census, we receive confirmation that dad's name was really William, after all, and that Adolph's baby sister's name was more likely Louise. By 1910, the family had been joined by Ida, "Helna" and Edward, and we become aware of another child—unnamed—who was born and died sometime during that decade.
By that point, this Adolph was still single and now twenty years of age. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I had been tricked into following the wrong family, simply because of the small size of the town.
I did have one more trick up my sleeve: on the photograph I found, someone had inserted the name of Adolph's wife. It was penned in on a white label someone had stuck on the back of the photograph, and it didn't appear to even be in the same handwriting as the original written entry. I couldn't be sure of the source, so of course, I couldn't be certain that this was really her name, but it was worth testing out as a hypothesis, if nothing else. Perhaps this would line up as a match for the "wife and child" listed in the World War I draft registration card for the Adolph I found in nearby Pierce County, Nebraska.
What were my chances? Pierce County was, at that time, a little smaller than Cuming County. Plainview, the draft registrant Adolph's home in Pierce County, was certainly close enough to West Point in Cuming County to make this a reasonable stretch. Besides, we now had another clue to help us determine whether these Adolphs were one and the same.
That other clue was only a name—the name of Adolph's wife—but every bit helps. Her name was Vernie.
Above: Label affixed to the reverse of the photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman of West Point, Nebraska. At the antique shop where I found the picture, the store clerk assured me it was added by the store's owner when, upon acquiring such photographs, she would remove them from their annotated albums. In future weeks, I'll be sharing several other such labeled photographs—some which, confusingly, also happen to be of subjects related to those in other photographs. In this case, though, I believe this is the only Brockman family photograph I was able to find in that store.