Thursday, January 31, 2013

Taking Another Look

I found another picture. And I changed my mind. I don’t think it’s a picture of a mother; I think she’s a grandmother.

Remember the mystery family whose photograph I found the other day? The one with the label on the back—helpfully listing each child’s name and age…but never mentioning their surname?

I need to revisit that photo. And compare it with another one.

On the photo I posted on Sunday, I mentioned that the names listed were for siblings Peggy, Ricky and Brad. Naturally, I had presumed that the two adults in the picture with these children were their own parents.

young children with family

Now that I look back on that scene, it has me wondering. Would the dad of a seven year old have such a pronounced receding hairline? Granted, I went to college with a guy who started going bald when he was nineteen, but I think that’s unusual.

And the woman? Maybe I’m letting the hairstyles of the fifties fool me into thinking this was just a young mom with an old-fashioned hairdo. Maybe the case really was one of a grandmother with a then-currently-fashionable fifties style.

Context is everything. If I’m looking at a 1950s photo, I need to approach viewing it with 1950s eyes.

unidentified faces from family photographs
Here’s the photo I just found. Unless I’m mistaken, it is a snapshot of the same woman as was in the photograph I posted on Sunday. I dunno…could it be the same outfit, even? Maybe taken that very same day?

Taking a look at her appearance in this individual portrait, I suddenly don’t think “young mom.” I start sliding towards “proud Grandma.” Of course, I don’t know the history of hair coloring (even though I’m old enough to remember the tag line “Only her hairdresser knows for sure"). Then again, this is a black and white photograph, so maybe even the photography can fill in the blanks when it comes to hair color.

I once again wonder who this woman is. Although the photographs I’ve received—all jumbled into one box—were actually from two families, I tend to feel that this one might have come from Bill Bean’s collection, rather than his sister Leona’s. My tendency is to think this might be a relation of Bill’s first wife, Ellen—whom I’ve not yet introduced to you.

The difficulty in forging any link to Ellen’s family is that I know virtually nothing about her except her name, and what she looked like in family photos. I never met her. I don’t even know what her maiden name was. And I’m sure not having any luck finding such rudimentary facts in all the usual research places.

So Ellen will have to remain a mystery person, even though I’ll be posting some pictures that include her in the next few days.

And as long as Bill’s Ellen remains a mystery to me, this other woman—whether mom or grandma—will have to remain anonymous, too.

And you know how I just can’t abide mysteries…

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another Clue Adds Another Dot

On a torn photograph destined for the trash bin, I found an inked-in mark that hardly even resembled the arrow it was intended to be. Most likely, in her later years, Leona Bean Grant was trying to leave explanations of the highlights of her life, using old photographs as prompts to scrawl notes on the reverse in her open, shaky hand.

Perhaps it was her failing eyesight that shaped the handwriting. The arrow added to the picture barely even looked like an arrow. Some of the ink had smeared on the face of the photo. And the photo itself seemed so non-descript.

This time, though, I was looking at it with fresh eyes. I had just yesterday posted a group snapshot of an event, in which I had paid close attention to the faces. The event seemed like a party, with everyone having a grand time. So grand, in fact, that I was having trouble determining the identity of the faces. One woman, though, had stood out, having been featured in another photo I posted alongside this one—according to the legend on the reverse, named either Hazel or Nibs. Let’s say she’s Hazel.

Though the picture I’m looking at today, with its smeared ink and shaky arrow, seems so poorly framed as to nearly leave out the subjects of the photo—almost cut out of the bottom of the picture entirely—this time, I spot something that is now familiar: Hazel’s face.

Yes, this crazy picture, looking more like the misfiring of the camera than a thoughtfully-composed photograph, belongs with the one from yesterday’s post.

Which is a good thing to know, for on the reverse, it contains an explanation:

Leona Bean
Rented for $15.00 per mo. Our group of friends had a party here once a mo. Was used by other members.
Since I have been able to tell, thanks to city directories posted online at, that Leona lived in San Francisco during the 1920s, it is very possible that this party rental was situated in the hills in San Francisco, itself. While it might not be evident in this scanned copy of the photo, in the original, I can see some of the contour of the land and the types of greenery one would expect to see toward the west side of the city.

While the photography was abysmal, and the legend scant and barely legible, once paired with the other, better-composed, snapshot, provides a fuller explanation. Whether Leona was a party girl in her San Francisco years, or just a socially-inclined young urban professional, she certainly ran with a large group of friends.

What a different sense this leaves of a personality that I recall only as an eccentric old lady.

Leona Grant California

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Rollicking Good Time

Frankly, I have to say Leona keeps me guessing. I can’t ever be sure whether to search for “Leona Bean” or “Leona Grant” in the various databases designed to help us piece together our family history. She’s led me on a merry chase, home in Alameda, California, with mom—that’s Ella Shields Bean—as a single student in 1916, then home again with mom by 1934 as a “Mrs.” Somewhere in between (mostly in the 1920s), she shows up in city directories in San Francisco, listed by the surname Grant, but with no husband in sight, and with her own occupation listed as “trained nurse.”

Whatever Leona was, whether married or not, she was an independent woman.

Perhaps the marked absence of any photos of Mr. Grant—whoever he might have been—is telling in its own right.

Leona Grant
In his place, though, are a few photographs of Leona with friends. In one sedate pose with two other women, the vignette is captured in what appears to be a forest-like setting, and yet, each of the women seems dressed for an occasion that doesn’t quite fit the surroundings.

Thankfully, Leona saw fit to mark the photograph with some names—although which name belongs to which woman, I can’t tell. I do know for sure that Leona was in the center of this threesome. But I can’t guarantee that she didn’t get struck with a stubborn streak at that very moment of inscribing the names. Is it left to right—Hazel, Leona, Nibs—or could it have been right to left?

Whichever of the three was pictured on the right, she has a memorable face that shows up in a delightful group photograph, possibly taken at that same woodland retreat. Does that mean that she is Hazel? That name shows up in both photos, but would mean the first snapshot was not labeled in the traditional left-to-right format. And who is Nibs? What would Nibs be the nickname for?

When I see that picture, I wonder if it had been taken during a break in a work convention of some sort. The names on the back of this photo are not of Bean family surnames, making me wonder if they are coworkers. Unfortunately, again, there seems to be no order in the labeling of the photo. Actually, several faces go nameless—but which ones? Perhaps the ones with only first names listed are either really good friends, sure to never be forgotten like Hazel, or people who have just been met at the event, for whom full names were not obtained at such short notice.

Whoever they were, Leona wanted to remember: Hazel, Nel Gates, Edna Swaney (or Sweeney?), Judy, Viola, and Ann Hughes.

Listing her own name last does not guarantee that Leona is the last in the lineup, however.

Come to think of it, I can’t even find Leona’s face anywhere. Is she the photographer this time? Or just laughing so hard, she doesn’t even look like her familiar self?

Whoever they all are, they each are having just the most wonderful time.

possible northern California work meeting Leona Grant

Monday, January 28, 2013

Connecting the Dots

Sometimes, a box full of unidentified photographs, handed over to the keeper of the family history archives after a relative’s passing, can seem a hopeless task to address. Whose faces are those? Who is left to tell us the names?

I know that feeling all too well, having taken one long look at the jumbled stacks of old pictures from family members one-generation-removed. That was the case for me in receiving the boxes of photos from Leona Bean Grant after her passing in 1977—and then again when her brother William Bean died in 1982.

It’s taken a couple of go-rounds—or maybe more—before I could find any clues to help guide me through the maze of unidentified faces. And, truth be told, I’ve taken quite a few years’ hiatus from the task, as you can see.

Bit by bit, though, I notice patterns, like similar faces from one picture surfacing in another photograph. And, thankfully, there were notes written—some by Leona’s mother, Ella Shields Bean, and some by Leona, herself.

California circa 1910
Remember this photograph of a young Leona, sitting next to an unidentified young woman, with her brother Sam and another young friend, in front of their home in Alameda, California?

I found another picture with what looks like the same mystery man.

Thankfully, that second photo included an inscription, written most likely by Leona’s mother, providing additional information.

Say Leona do you remember this picture of you + Ray Burke I think it was taken about 1909 or 1910—Don’t loose this picture + that the only one I have of you in your youth—I think it’s lovely.

California friends
So could that mean that the mystery person in the first photo was also Ray Burke? He seemed to have that same playful personality. And since the foursome included Leona and her brother, could that mean that the missing identity belongs to the sister of this Ray Burke?

While that only provides a bit of a hint, it gives me a name to keep an eye out for, should any more pictures show up with that face. Though I don’t yet know who Ray Burke is, I can take a glance at the Alameda census records for 1910 and see if there is anyone with that name and age listed near the “Beanery” on Santa Clara Avenue. Or, who knows…maybe Ray Burke will even turn out to be family, himself.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Fifty Seven Years Ago, Today

unidentified surname California family picture
Brad, Ricky and Peggy: where are you?

Do you know that I have a photo of your family from this exact date in 1956, complete with a note on the back of the snapshot—probably written by your mom—listing your ages at the time?

Peggy, you were still a babe in arms, propped up on your mother’s lap for this photo. Your oldest brother Brad—nearly seven at the time—sat casually on your dad’s lap, while brother Ricky sat on the arm of the sofa, looking nonchalantly in the other direction while the camera snapped the picture.

I have no idea whose living room provided the backdrop for this informal portrait, but my guess involves someone from the Bean family. Since this photo was passed along to me via either Bill Bean of Alameda, California, or his sister Leona Bean Grant—I can’t tell which, now that the whole collection is in one jumbled pile—I almost wonder if you are family, in one way or another.

Or perhaps you are family-of-family, that tortuous web of relationships to which my own family preferred to assign the short-hand tag of “outlaws.” Could you be related to Bill’s wife Ellen—a woman I know little about, other than her first name? I can recognize Ellen in some of the pictures Bill passed along, but I hardly know anything else about her. But neither of your parents look much like Ellen, so maybe you are related to someone else.

It doesn’t help that I know even less about Leona’s husband’s family. I only discovered a picture of him the other day. And his first name—or is that his nickname?—but no sign of him in any records or documents. With such a scant bit of information on him, how could I even begin to know if you are related to Bob Grant?

Perhaps you are just friends. Or, to be more correct about this relationship, maybe it was your parents who knew Bill and Ellen Bean, or Bob and Leona Grant. Could your parents have been neighbors? Or business associates?

I’ll never know—that is, I’ll never know unless the Internet once again works its magic through the devices of those many search engines out there. Hopefully, at some point, one of you, or your children, or maybe even your grandchildren, will sit down at a computer and wonder what would come up by just entering those names. Brad. Ricky. Peggy.

Maybe then, the same names I’m now wondering about will become real people, reaching out to connect and fill in the rest of the story.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cars: Not Just For the Guys

Throughout the history of automobiles in this country, the plethora of car photographs may have led some to believe this was just the focus of the male of the species. Not so. The women—at least in the Bean family—liked to have their picture taken with their favorite vehicle, too.

Dressed for the occasion, two women and an unidentified man pose in front of their car in an undisclosed location. Why is that location undisclosed? Heaven knows—although if either Bill or his sister Leona would have thought to tag the back of the snapshot, I’d be telling you about it today.

Wherever this photo was taken, I can only suppose the man might be Bill Bean. The woman next to him might be his sister Leona. Or not. And I have no clue who the thin lady completing the trio might be.

The cafĂ© they are standing in front of has a southwestern feel, but I can’t say for sure. All I can figure from the photo is that it is three doors down from the post office. Which post office, I don’t know.

A photograph of a woman in an old car parked in an untilled field next to a two story house does have a label, thankfully. It is dated 1935, but the names provided tell me absolutely nothing. First, in a penciled hand much different from any in this Bean family, a name is written: Martha Darneal. Then, underneath—whether to contradict the earlier information, I can’t tell—the name Leona Grant is penned in, in a handwriting that I recognize as Leona’s own.

woman in car 1935
Enlarging the photo sufficiently to discern details on the woman’s face doesn’t help much. I can only imagine that it doesn’t seem to resemble Leona. Perhaps it is Martha sitting in that contraption, after all.

I take to the usual genealogy websites to see if I can find anything on Martha Darneal. Unfortunately, while there are several Darnells and Darnalls, there are precious few Darneals listed with the first name Martha. I do find some entries in city directories for Bakersfield, California—explaining the dry and barren look of the land—in the mid 1950s. Some of the entries mention that her husband’s name is Earl.

Eventually, I locate Martha’s data in the 1940 U.S. census. There she is, with husband Earl, son Robert and daughter Jerry—not in Bakersfield, but in Hobbs, New Mexico.

However, since the photograph was labeled for 1935, not 1940, I take a look at where the census handily lists Martha’s residence for that earlier date. In 1935, she was a resident of Fullerton in Orange County, California.

Another thing about Martha. The 1940 census shows her age as twenty. That means in 1935, she would have only been fifteen years of age.

The more I look at the details, the more I wonder if either the photograph was mislabeled, or this census entry is for the wrong person.

Thinking this Martha Darneal would be more likely a friend than a relative, I decide to set the whole mystery aside and let it simmer for another day’s attempt at resolution. Maybe sometime later, I’ll run across that name again, and I can then connect the dots.

Leona Grant Alameda California
For the third photograph, though, I have little doubt as to the subject’s identity. The only writing on the back of the snapshot is the date: 1950. Standing in front of what must have been—for the time, at least—an impressive automobile was Leona Bean Grant, herself. The car might have been her brother Bill’s latest wheels, or perhaps the pride of her husband, Bob Grant.

However, knowing Leona and her independent ways, I kind of think this one’s her own.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lifestyles and Their Cars

The ad people may just have gotten it right, after all: when it comes to cars, each model comes with its own ambience. Each one creates its own style.

For Bill Bean, that freedom that his wheels brought included not only a business life, but a private life. Cars got him where he wanted to go—whether that was to greater success, or to a greater fishing spot.

Now that the automobile has been on the scene for so many decades, I wonder what we can infer from our ancestors’ choice of vehicles. After all, once we got past the proverbial age of Ford—you can have your car in any color you want, just so long as it is black—there were so many choices. What did that say about the chooser in our family in each of the generations behind us?

De Soto Plymouth Bill Bean 1930s
From the Bean & Cavanaugh dealership in Alameda, California, there was plenty to choose from, for those who wanted style and had the pocketbook to support that taste in cars.

As for Bill’s own preferences, I can tell from the many photos in his collection that he liked his cars taking him wherever he wished to go—whether for business or pleasure.

Bill Bean collection Alameda California
I have no idea who the man is, enjoying the set-up this automobile afforded him, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a fishing buddy of Bill’s. No doubt, it was Bill taking the picture, himself. The only thing I know for sure about this photo is that it was developed on August 30, 1941, for that is what the date stamp reveals on the reverse.

William Bean
I don’t know much about this other photo, either—except that I’m pretty sure it was Bill in the driver’s seat. Who knows what the story behind this vignette was. My guess—seeing the passenger door left open, too—is that Bill turned to his passenger and said, “Why don’t you hop out and take my picture?”

Again, no date—as was the case in so many of the photographs in this collection. Maddening that the guess work was left to others—but then, Bill probably had no idea anyone would be sifting through his stash of photographic memories, wondering about the back stories, after he was gone.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Can You Know a Man By the Cars He Keeps?

What can you find out about a person through the hundreds of unidentified photographs he has left behind? Not much, I used to think. However, now that I’ve reconsidered those many photos in the case of Bill Bean of Alameda, California, I’m beginning to connect those dots. Unbelievably, a picture is emerging. The big picture, that is.

The process does take time. It sometimes takes lots of breaks, so I can come back to the task with fresh eyes. I’ve left this stash alone for years—forgotten about it, actually—and yet, when the same-old-same-old wore off my eyes, the pictures started telling me a fresh story.

In Bill’s case, cars figured prominently in his life’s story. The very fact that he left so many unmarked snapshots of automobiles behind—visible memories he held onto all those years—was a monument to what was important in his life. This fascination with cars wasn’t just a business for him—it was a way of life.

William Bean California cars 1920s
Of the many pictures in his collection, one thankfully retained a date. Though faded, a date stamp still shows on the reverse of this first photo: August 29, 1920. My best guess is that this is actually Bill Bean in the photo, in the driver’s seat, parked curbside along a residential street looking much like the one in Alameda he called home.

I have no idea whether he was just showing off a new acquisition, or—who knows? I don’t even know enough to tell what make of vehicle it was that he was driving. But I did notice that the car parked behind him bore an insignia resembling that of the product of one of his competitors: Chevrolet.

Esso gas station 1930s car 1920s car
I wish I had a date or other identifying mark for this next photo. Clearly, we’ve moved on from the 1920s into modern times. Parked next to a larger car, looking like it’s packed for an excursion, is a model from earlier days. I don’t know if the couple just hopped in to snap the picture for memories’ sake, or whether they were still actually driving that thing. There's really not that much I can tell about them, for unfortunately, I have no label to guide me in identifying the twosome.

Wherever it was parked, it was by the Phil Foster Esso station. I just wish I had an idea whether this was a stop on a trip from Redwood City to Fresno to visit Bill's mother's Shields relatives, or to Mendocino, or to another town where family lived.

Yes, cars told the stories of Bill’s life. It’s an incomplete story—so far, at least—for I have no idea who the people are sitting in those many contraptions, where they were going, and what events filled their lives.

If nothing else, though, I can tell that cars figured prominently in Bill Bean’s life—and that some of those times were spent doing the very thing cars were meant to do: get people to the places where they wanted to be.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More Cars

Bill Bean took his youthful admiration of the automobile and turned it into a lifelong business proposition.

I still want to do more research on the Bean and Cavanaugh dealership in Alameda, California. That will all come in due time.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few photos of his business that he had saved over the years. These pictures are stored memories of a generation quickly fading off the scene. If anyone is going to remember these times now, it must be those to whom such pictures and stories have been passed.

While I’m familiar with the automaker Plymouth, the name DeSoto is just a blip on my memory’s radar. I couldn’t point one out to you if I saw one on the street—and that’s probably the key. If anyone saw one on the street nowadays, it would certainly be a collector’s item.

Can you imagine getting your hands on a model in the same pristine condition as some of these showroom specials from years ago?

Taking a look at the many photographs of this dealership and its cars stored in the "mystery photo box" from this family's heritage, there’s no doubt Bill Bean was as proud of his business as he was of his cars.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cars: You Knew This Was Coming

It’s one thing for a young man to be in love with his car. It’s another thing when that young man decides to make cars his life calling.

That’s pretty much what Bill Bean did. Starting from that age which conjures up some sort of magnetism between cars and guys, Bill was always headed in whatever direction would lead him closer to the subject he loved.

There are quite a few photographs in the Bean family photo box that have proved to be absolutely no mystery to me, for I’ve always known about the car dealership in Alameda that Bill owned, along with his partner. While in the later days when I knew him, the only car it was permissible for anyone in the family to drive was a Chrysler, what I didn’t know was that Bean and Cavanaugh got their start not as a Chrysler dealership, but with Plymouths and DeSotos.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Some Guesses Are Better Than Others

Alameda California possible Lincoln
I mentioned yesterday that, once I discover the identity of one mystery person in my heritage box of unlabeled family photos, I can begin the process of connecting the dots and getting names and faces put together.

That worked so nicely for yesterday’s photographs, where I was able to place the identity of a mystery man from 1923. It turned out to be the photographs of one Bob Grant, the husband of Leona Bean, the older sister of twins Sam and Bill.

I have a set of photos—one of which I’ve already shared here quite a while ago—which I started wondering about in just the same way. The set includes two subjects which remain the same: an older woman, and—of course!—a car. The angles for each of the photos shifts a bit, but I’m certain it is the same car and the same fence line.

I don’t really know much about photography, but in looking over these two pictures more closely, I also realize that one of these outdoor shots is more nicely framed, zoomed in on the subject, and not over-exposed.

Alameda California Lincoln
My guess is that the man in one of the pictures swaps with the man in the other picture to take turns serving as photographer.

I already know the man in the over-exposed shot is Bill Bean. His mother, Ella Shields Bean, is the older woman—but just in case you doubt me, rest assured that the second picture includes a label, “Mother.” And a date, 1926.

The label on that other photo also includes another name, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t the name of that other man. It says, simply, “Lincoln.”

How much ya wanna bet that’s the car he’s talking about?!

My first inclination, in trying to identify the other man—the one in the photo labeled “Lincoln”—is to think of male relatives about the same generation as Bill Bean. Who else would be traveling with Bill to visit his mother—and probably show off his car—than another relative?

Who could this relative be? Well, for one thing, it wouldn’t be Bill’s twin. Sam, his brother, by now was afflicted with the side affects of the injury that brought about his blindness. The only other male relative would be Leona’s husband, Bob Grant.

Bob Grant it was, in my mind…until just the other day, when I re-examined those photos of Bob. While the few firmly identified photos I have of him aren’t sufficient to grant me the confidence of correctly matching his face with other pictures, I had thought that I was right. Now…I’m not so sure.

There’s the matter of the hairline, for one thing. And the glasses. Well, granted, we all can age and start needing help where we hadn’t, before.

A third photograph had once given me the idea that these dots could be connected. It’s a shot of a man who looks like he is halfway between the looks of Bob Grant and the mystery man in the photo with Ella Bean. Sometimes, I stare at that photo and think I have a match.

And sometimes I think I don’t.

Maybe it’s all become a matter of too much staring. I may have to just tuck a few of these photos back in the box and see what they look like again in a couple more years.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

An Enigma Begins Taking Shape

Joice Terrace possibly Alameda California
As much as I don’t know about Leona Bean Grant’s husband, I think an idea starts taking shape in my mind as I begin to find other photographs of the man. All it took was that one key, identifying the face and linking it to a name, and now I’m equipped to start putting the photographic puzzle pieces together.

A secondary theme also begins to emerge in this family puzzle: the family’s love affair with that newfangled contraption, the automobile. I’d be tempted to say it’s the men’s domain, but Leona has her fair share of photographs next to some impressive vehicles through the years, too. Perhaps, thinking of my own sister-in-law, Leona’s grand-niece, this trait is genetic…

Alameda California Amos and Andy Ford 1919
This fascination with cars spanned the generations, too, judging by a couple old photographs I found of the once-unknown Bob and a young companion. Both photos are labeled, “Bob and Sammie” and bear the date, 1923. Each of them also spells out the address where the Grants lived at that time: 48 Joice Terrace. No city is included, but I assume it was Alameda, California, where Leona’s brothers and mother also lived. One photo includes the note, “nr Fairmont Hotel.” Another photo states, “Amos + Andy Ford 1919.” (Whether that designates a particular version or car model, or the name of a specific shop, I don’t know.)

The “Sammie” referred to in each of the photos—at least I’m assuming as much—is Leona’s brother Sam’s oldest boy. Sammie junior was born in 1921, which fits right in with the appearance of the little tyke in the pictures. Looks like he and his uncle make great companions, whether at work or at play.

Actually, for this family, when it comes to cars, even work becomes play.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I Should Have Guessed It

One of the things most frustrating about researching Leona Bean Grant is the source of her married name. Well, yes, I realize one gets one’s married name from one’s husband.

What I mean to say is that I’ve never come upon any information about just who Leona’s husband might have been. Other than the obvious—yes, his last name was Grant—I have come up empty-handed from any plunges into data-rich online environments.

Until, of course, I encountered one slip of a photo in the trash-collection-turned-treasure-box that contained all those unmarked Bean family photos.

I nearly missed the photograph. The face was one I didn’t recognize, and I must have passed it over in the several other times I’ve been through this box. But this time, I didn’t miss the note on the back, despite the faded ink.

The photo was marked:
Bob Grant, 1914.
Alameda CA Leona Bean Grant
The photo itself was cut up at odd angles, as if to fit in some sort of ancient scrap book.

I’m not even sure I’d want to find out what the story behind this photo might have been—or what the man was holding in his left hand. Knowing Leona’s strong personality, though, whoever she chose as husband would have had to be either bland as vanilla, or a real character in his own right.

Even though I was now armed with the man’s actual name, I haven’t made any further progress in discovering more about his identity than I had in searching for “First Name Unknown” Grant. None of the “Bob”—or even “Robert”—entries in all the usual databases seem to be a viable match.

It doesn’t help that “Grant” happens to be a fairly common surname. This quest has certainly tried my patience. Sometimes I’m inclined to give up the search because, after all, Leona never had any children of her own. There’s not really anyone left who might care about this line.

One day, however—and you knew this would have to happen—I stumbled upon a hint. I’m not sure I even remember where I saw this note. It was something I found while catching a spare moment’s look online. One of those snatched moments that vaporizes when a more pressing matter (read crisis) pops up.

The hint was: try “Bob” as a middle name.

Of course! Hadn’t my own family been rife with those middle name issues? I should have thought of that.

But what to do with “Bob”? Was it short for Robert? Or assumed as a nickname to substitute for another, less popular name.

I played around with what I could find online. It didn’t take long to do what the online social media crowd now calls “head desk.” Yep, *slams palm to forehead*—why did I not think of this?

As a first name for Mr. Grant: try Ulysses.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Like Mother, Like Daughter?

As I sift through the photographs left to me by the Bean family, I have to keep in mind that not all the labels I find on the reverse were written at the time the pictures were taken. Case in point: the photos I’m going to share with you today.

I admit: at first glance, I thought these were two pictures of the same person. I also thought that each photograph was taken at the same time. After all, both bear the legend:
ENGLE, Redwood City, Cal.
The one photo, showing three young girls, has a date handwritten on the reverse: 1900. I’m pretty sure one of these three girls is Leona Bean, so that date would make her about nine years of age.

Leona Grant

The other photo, bearing the same photographer’s imprint on cardstock slightly varied from the first, seems to also include Leona as one of the subjects.

Redwood City CA photographer Engle

I used to think these were photographs of Leona and her various cousins. I also thought the square-cornered portrait was of an older Leona and possibly one of the very cousins featured in the rounded-corner photograph.

That’s what I thought, that is, until I considered what was written on the reverse of the photo of the “older girls.”

Admittedly, the explanation written on that photograph was most likely added much later—if not all of the note, at least part of it. The handwriting seems to get a bit more shaky, and the ink appears to be of a different color on some of the notes. Besides, there is the obvious slip of the date—indicating 1965 when what was most likely meant was 1865.

Otherwise, if the memory of the inscriber is to be trusted, here’s what we can learn from these two similar photographs from the legend on the reverse:

Born Peoria Ill. 1965 Apr 22, Ella Shields later Bean with cousin Mabel Dorland El Centro. Born California (Alice the oldest Shields daughter was mother—Mabel oldest, Marie Ross + Lilly McD. Died 1976—94 yrs.
Trying desperately to race some sort of Life’s Clock, someone—I suspect Leona—wanted to pass along, in writing, everything she knew about her family links. Gushing out like an enormous data dump, the names, dates and details all scrambled onto the page in disarray.

I’m quite sure, when I take the time to verify—or disprove—what Leona had to say about her relations in other parts of the state of California, that this scrawl will somehow convert into a treasure map on my hunt for family gems.

In the meantime, as I gaze at the faces in each of these photographs, I’m still not convinced that a picture that looks so much like the young Leona in 1900 could resemble so closely her very own mother.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Leona’s Mystery Cousin

damaged photo girl with long hair San Mateo county
Seeming like a mystery relative, herself, Leona Bean Grant hasn’t left much of a trail for me to follow in pursuit of her family history. Although I cherish the sweet photograph of Leona as a young girl, its torn condition—wrenched from a black-paged scrapbook, I suspect, by the ailing elderly Leona herself, in her near-blind condition years later, to label as “Leona, 7 years”—requires observers to, quite literally, fill in the blanks.

I have precious little else with which to define who Leona was in her younger years. But I do have one other photo—two copies, actually—representing her childhood. Unfortunately, that very picture introduces yet another mystery about this woman.

The photo, taken with a “glaze finish” according to the card to which the print was affixed, was the work of P. F. Adelsback, 1822 Mariposa Street, in Fresno, California. The paper version of the print was labeled “Ethel and Leona.” The card version bore the note, “Leona + Ethel.” Two mothers labeled two pictures, I assume. How did both copies make their way back to Leona?

The card also bore the legend, “long clothes,” which, I thought, was rather redundant. Aggravating, also, was the age, written in ink as either “3” or “5”—the one precisely overwriting the other in such a manner as to disguise which of the two numbers should be correctly heeded.

All that, however, is superseded by one question: Who’s Ethel?

I am presuming that Ethel represents one of Leona’s cousins. I’m not sure why I think so. Redwood City is worlds apart—at least in California topography—from the central valley city of Fresno. However, I do know that Leona’s mother, the former Ella May Shields, had family connections in Fresno—the very street name there of Shields Avenue being named after her own father.

I haven’t yet, however, been able to trace that branch of the family tree. I had, over the months after re-discovering this box of photos in the far corner of my closet, attempted to find any sign of a cousin Ethel. With no luck.

Now armed with several online resources, I thought I’d try my hand at finding Ethel once again. However, one glance at and I knew I’d not have any quick finds. The complicating factor is that the two girls were born after 1890—which, as you know, became the black hole decade, as far as census records go.

Two additional problems complicate things further. First, none of the Shields family had arrived yet in Fresno county for the preceding census, keeping me from quickly confirming who all the players in this Shields mystery might be. And second, Ella’s father had the rather common given name of William—that’s who the twins got one part of their own names from—and he met a rather tragic end just two years after the 1900 census. At any rate, by then, Ella’s siblings, now also married adults, would more than likely be in their own households for that census and beyond.

I left my pursuit at—there were other family trees displaying, but one quick glance was enough of a hint that maybe data wasn’t totally complete there—and headed to

I have a trick that I use at that website when I’m uncertain about the full name of the person I’m pursuing: I leave out a lot of the data I already know. In this case, I searched for Ethel with no surname. Instead, I added “Shields” as a surname of one of the parents—I opted to start with a mother’s maiden name as Shields—and searched for death records. I was hoping that one of the Shields cousins—all of whom are now surely gone—would surface with information on a parent’s surname.

Well, my guess of a maternal Shields connection turned out wrong. Handily, the FamilySearch mechanism provided some alternatives—and there she was. Young Ethel turned out to be the daughter of Ella’s older brother Adolphus and his wife, Elsie. Ethel B. Shields was born in May, 1891, just two months shy of her cousin Leona’s own birthday, giving both sets of parents the makings of an adorable portrait of the “twin” cousins just a few years later.

Leona Grant of Redwood City as child

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Leona and the Twins

Just as the proverbial iceberg—submerged for the greatest percentage of its mass under water—so is childhood in its ability to camouflage the very essence of what makes the adult.

In reviewing the story of Samuel W. Bean and his twin, William S. Bean, I’ve discovered some things about their big sister that I hadn’t known, even after those few years I knew Leona. I suppose, in visiting Leona in her senior years, I could have asked her, myself. But then, assuming her blood relatives would have said something, I never spoke up to do so.

Come to find out, it may be that Leona’s own niece and nephew didn’t know some of the things I’m discovering about her now.

Leona Bean Grant was born July 28, 1891, which is a good thing—it gave her a nearly five year lead on her twin brothers.

On the other hand, given the mores of the time, I suppose it put her in the position of surrogate mother whenever Ella Shields Bean felt overwhelmed.

Whatever the case may have been, Leona turned out to have a strong personality and snappy temperament. I imagine keeping two kid brothers in line might have helped develop her take-charge affect.

I’ve been fortunate, in receiving the box of a lifetime’s worth of family photographs, to have found the Bean children’s few pictures well-labeled. In some cases, not only were their names affixed to the reverse of the photograph, but often, so were their ages—or at least the date—and occasionally even the location of the picture.

On the other hand, I must give three cheers for the “auto-fix” and “enhance” features on Adobe PhotoShop, which helped my attempts at making these small, torn, scuffed and faded likenesses become just a bit more visible. A bit, I said.

Try your eyes on what I’ve found.

Redwood City family on vacation Mendocino county
First, what seems like a nondescript snapshot of greenery at water’s edge actually reveals Leona perched on a rock—and reflected in the water below. Above her and to her left, behind some wisps of plant life, are the two bare-legged twins, appearing ready for action. Miraculously, their sun bonnets are still perched on their heads—but, I suspect, not for long.

Thankfully, one of their parents labeled the reverse of the picture. Though there isn’t a date, I’d guess from their sizes that this would be the summer of 1899 or 1900, since the boys were born in March, 1896.

For those who love beautiful nature scenes and want to know the location, someone was thoughtful enough to post that: the picture was taken at Noyo River. Though I’ve lived in California for years, I had never heard of that river, so I had to look it up. It is evidently a northern California river, flowing through Mendocino County out to the Pacific at Fort Bragg. Since that would be quite a distance from the Bean residence in Redwood City, this photograph must have served as a reminder of a relaxing summer vacation.

Samuel Bean William Bean Leona Grant Ella Shields Bean front porch of home
Back home in Redwood City, another snapshot was taken, supposedly on the front porch of the Bean home there. Leona and the twins, dressed for a special occasion, appear rather somber in this one. A woman off to the shadows on the left may actually be Ella Shields Bean, their mother, but the photo doesn’t provide any names.

Remember my guess for the date of the summertime excursion above? Well, count me wrong on that one, if the date on this second photo is correct. Marked “Redwood City 1898,” it puts Leona at the age of seven, and the twins at two. Somehow, I just don’t buy that scenario. Those boys look taller than two to me. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sam’s Siblings

In order to explain more about the story of Sam and Maud, it will help to first take a step back a generation and introduce you to Samuel Bean’s brother and sister.

Today, I’ll take the opportunity for those first introductions to be made via photographs—albeit photos that include a few unidentified companions. In the following few days, I’ll include some more details to round out these introductions, then jump back into Sam’s own story.

Sam was born to Leon S. Bean and his wife, the former Ella May Shields. You’ve already seen a couple photos of Ella Bean from her grandmotherly years. Sam’s arrival in the Bean family—most likely in or near Redwood City in San Mateo County, California, though I don’t yet have that confirmed—occurred on March 5, 1896.

When Sam joined the family, there was already another child there to welcome him: his older sister, Leona. By now four years of age, herself, Leona was probably beyond the Green-Eyed-Monster stage of new big-sisterhood. Which was a good thing, because Sam did not arrive at this household alone.

He came with his brother. His mother surely would soon be needing an extra set of helping hands.

I’m not sure whether this is owing to a parental form of humor, or some other twinliness of the times, but Samuel William Bean’s brother was given a name which was exactly the reverse: William Samuel Bean.

Sharing the same names (though in reverse order) and the same birthday, these two active boys most likely engaged in all the escapades twins of that time period may have devised. It wasn’t until the two brothers arrived in their teens that differences became more marked for anyone just getting to know them.

Sam Bean Leona Grant possible cousins or friends
Both Sam and his older sister Leona can be seen in a casual snapshot taken just in front of their home in Alameda when they were most likely in—or nearing—their twenties.

Sam, with his thick dark glasses, stands on the right, next to a young man I am not yet equipped to identify, and in front of a seated young woman I also don’t know. Diagonally across from him, seated, is his sister Leona. I’m presuming that his brother Bill is taking the photograph.

Bill Bean
Because of Sam’s stern and rigid appearance, it’s hard to determine the closeness of the resemblance between these twins by comparing that photograph with one I found of his brother.

Bill, too, is standing in front of their house, but is assuming a much more casual stance in this snapshot.

Once again, I am not able to identify the companion in the photo. This time, though, there is a note on the back of the picture which helps me pin a name to this unknown woman.

The inscription reads:
In front of the house. Love to Leona. Bill + Ginny.
“Ginny” is news to me. Her name does not show up in any Bean family history. All I can do is presume she was a good friend and companion—they made a great couple in the pictures at least, don’t you think?—but not the one to whom Bill eventually promised, “I do.”

There is a lot I don’t know about the family pictures, such as these, which have been passed down to me. There is one thing I do know about this second photo, though: I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Sam who reciprocated to take his brother’s picture.

Monday, January 14, 2013

From Family Then to Family Now

tap dance Ohio 1940s
I have to admit: it’s been hard, lately, preparing daily posts for A Family Tapestry. Not that I have lost my zest for writing or anything. I love spending the time it takes to compose the daily review of the family material I’m researching.

The lack of writing verve has been due to something else, however, and I somehow was reminded that I’m really being unfair—to myself as well as others—by not saying anything and yet insisting on silently churning out daily posts.

I was reminded, today, that I went through much the same scenario last year. On the eve of traveling to visit a cousin in her last days, I found myself creating a week’s worth of blog entries ahead of time, so that I wouldn’t miss a beat. It took me several days after my return home—and only with some firm nudges from unknowing bystanders—before I could even write something about it all.

This year, thankfully, I’m not facing such dire circumstances. But I am facing a trip even longer than last year’s journey. And I will be spending quite a bit of time in a hospital. So I thought I’d learn my lesson from last year, and just be transparent this time.

While I’m away, I’ll select some of the mystery photos from the Bean family collection to share. Though I don’t know all the names to link to those faces, I think you’ll enjoy perusing the memories kept by this family from the turn of the last century. I sure do have a lot more research to complete before I feel confident about passing along the stories this family shared informally with me over the years. But this upcoming week’s posts will be a start at chipping away at this project.

In the meantime, I’ll be turning my attention from Family-History-of-the-Long-Past to Family-History-in-the-Making. Remember my aunt—the one I told you about last September? The one who was thinking about caving to public opinion and “acting her age” by capitulating to socially-mandated behavior for the “elderly”? Well, she reconsidered on her adamant stance to move to a “home” when she found out that she could still stay in her own home, cook her own meals, do her own housekeeping, and even drive to her job (yes, she still has a part time job!) and keep up her daily jogging routine. It was all but for the lack of a good set of arm muscles, we found out, that she had been thinking she’d need to kiss it all goodbye. All she needed was someone to shovel the snow for her each winter!

While family wholeheartedly supported her new decision to stay home, things do happen. In this case, that “thing” happened, oh, just two days before Christmas: in a rush to grab her suitcase and drive off with friends for a Christmas visit, she tripped on the door mat, couldn’t catch her balance and fell.

The bad news is that she broke her neck.

The thankful news is that I’m not talking about ancient family history. Family history-in-the-making in this millennium sure beats the outcome our ancestors of even a couple generations past might have faced. Surgery works miracles. Medical attention reverses dire circumstances, and sets us back on the path to recuperation.

So, I’m thankful that this year’s bedside visit will have a very different outcome than that of the past year.

In the meantime, I’ll share with you some stories and photographs of Sam and Maud Bean’s family.

Yet, by necessity, I’ll have my mind elsewhere in the next few days. I’m sure you’ll understand. After all, the importance instilled in the institution of the family is not just for those who lived in past ages. More than that, it is what we value right here and now.

Above right: For the obligatory dance lessons, my mother and aunt strike just the right recital pose.
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