Friday, May 5, 2017

Finding a Way Up North

Sometimes, we can't possibly find documentation to justify our theories about family history details. In such cases, we sometimes must satisfy ourselves with noting our recollections and hoping for the best that those stories are made as accurate as possible.

How can you document the journey made by a parcel sent in the mail? In the case of the mystery photo album I found in a northern California antique shop, all I know is that I found the thing in Lodi, California. How it got there is a tale sans documentation.

We do, however, have a family member's memories. We've met Rita, a niece of the couple—Harry and Alice Reid—who sent this photo album from Cork, Ireland, as a Christmas greeting in 1936.

When I questioned Rita about her hypothesis concerning the route taken by this photo album to arrive in northern California, she was quite certain about a few things. For one, as a young girl living in the family home in Buffalo, New York, she had taken to exchanging letters with her aunt and uncle in Ireland. Because of the family's connection—Harry's brother Richard was Rita's father—Rita was also sure that hers would have been the family most likely to have received the holiday gift from Ireland.

However, the 1936 album—if it was sent to Richard Reid and family—would have been addressed to their home in Buffalo, New York. Granted, the family later moved from Buffalo to California, but they moved to southern California, not the northern portion of the state. That is a difference of hundreds of miles.

As she had mentioned to me, Rita herself left California after the war—that being the second World War. She is fairly certain the photo album would have remained with her mom at their home in San Bernardino, California.

But then, her mom eventually left California, herself, moving to Arizona. Because the by-then deceased Richard Reid had only one son, Rita feels it is likely that her mother had left the album with her father's namesake. And that is where we need to pick up the chase, even though this post-1940 time period leaves us without the usual genealogical documentation we are accustomed to relying upon in our ancestor searches.

While I can't be quite sure, it seems this younger bearer of the Reid surname may have been a military man. I was able to find a transcription of a World War II enlistment record for someone by the same name, with same year of birth as our Richard. A promising detail: the place of birth indicated on the enlistment record happens to align with the blip of time the Reid family had moved from New York to Michigan—could that mean this was our Richard Reid? Additional details included the fact that, at the time of his enlistment, this man lived in the same county in California as our Reid family.

Interestingly, a person who seems to be this same man—the brother Rita thinks may have received the album—later surfaced at a residence in a place called Contra Costa County.

When you learn the meaning of the county's designation—basically, in Spanish, the name means "opposite coast"—you realize its northern California location on the other side of the San Francisco Bay puts it quite reasonably within a range to reach its final stop in a long journey at that antique store in Lodi. This county is so close to that Lodi location that its most prominent landmark—a set of peaks known as Mount Diablo—is clearly visible from the western edges of the city of Lodi.

While I can't yet determine whether Richard, the son, was ever married or had children of his own, I do know he passed away in that northern California county. However, he died in 1985, making it doubtful that a subsequent estate sale would have been the impetus putting that photo album on sale in an antique store. It's my guess that there might have been a wife or other family member who then inherited his personal papers, and held on to all the memorabilia until that person eventually passed from the scene.

If that is indeed the route the Reid family's photo album took—from County Cork to Buffalo to Riverside and San Bernardino to Contra Costa County—there is one additional observation that occurred to me about the album's long journey. At the beginning of this series on the photo album, I mentioned I started this quest because I was inspired by a blogger who has made it her mission to rescue what she calls "orphan photographs."

That is only part of the story. What really happened was that, through our research efforts, I and another of her readers had helped her return a particular portrait to a descendant of that subject. In gratitude, that descendant had sent my blogging friend a gift to help support her purchase of even more photographs to reunite with family. She, in turn, decided to share that gift with her readers who had helped make that return possible—including me.

Thus, cash in hand, when I made my first foray into an antique shop in emulation of my mentor, I was spending money provided by a person who happened to live in Contra Costa County. The photographs I found to buy—the mystery album we've been discussing here—may have traveled all the way from Ireland to the very same county in California from which the funds later originated, provided by a total stranger, to make the purchase.


  1. Replies
    1. Really, Connie, the whole thing has me shaking my head. It does seem like the thing was "meant to be"...but then I find myself asking "so why was it meant to be?"

    2. Sometimes we don't know why connections are made or why they are made at a certain time...pre destination maybe. Sometimes I will have a photo for a year and not use it then a few days after I use it relatives so up! :)


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