Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Not Finding Alta

Let's face it: if I had been able to find any more useful information on Alta Barnes, the littlest sister in the photo post card I found in a northern California antique shop, this post would have been called, "Finding Alta."

Now you know that I haven't.


What I did discover about Alta was that she was born in 1909 in a little town called Newkirk in Oklahoma. Why the family moved from their residence in Cowley County, Kansas, I'm not sure, but for the brief time between the birth of her next oldest sister, Nellie, in 1904, and the loss of her oldest sister Hattie in 1911, the family had shown up in Oklahoma for Alta's 1909 arrival.

Back in Kansas, Alta's family welcomed in two more childrenyounger sister Helen in 1915 and baby brother James in 1920before Alta became a married woman, herself. Not quite seventeen, Alta married Webster Wayne Williams in 1925, a man over ten years her senior.

By the time of the 1930 census, she and her husband had moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where Webster worked as a mail clerk for the railroad. There they stayed for the next five years, and there they welcomed their first childa soninto the world.

When their daughter was born in 1936, however, the family was back in Kansas. The 1940 census showed them residing in Johnson County, where Webster was still working as a railroad mail clerk, only this time in the employment of the U.S. Postal Service.

From that point, there was little I could find on Alta Barnes Williams. I learned, thanks to the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, that her middle name was Delila, and that she lived to be eighty nine years of age. I also saw that, in a strange sort of full circle, Alta had returned to the land of her birth, dyingin 1998in the state of Oklahoma.

In trying to trace what became of her childrenin hopes of returning the photograph to family membersI couldn't find much. In fact, I couldn't even locate an obituary for Altasomething not surprising, considering her last residence was in a place with a population less than three thousand people.

After several false hopesWilliams is, after all, a fairly common surnameI did locate a small entry in a Kansas newspaper which was most certainly Alta's obituary. In the process, I was reminded of all the resources available onlineboth free and fee-basedfor searching through newspaper archives, a list which may come in handy for anyone on the same sort of pursuit. This, along with the few facts I gleaned about Alta's family through her obituary, I'll bring up tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Few More Thoughts

Alta Barnes must have been in a chatty mood when she wrote the explanation that accompanied her photographthe one I found abandoned in an antique shop in Jackson, California. Besides naming the three sisters from Kansasstanding with Alta, there were Mollie and Nellieand explaining her stomach woes, Alta, or perhaps someone else in the family, had more to say.

What I find to be an unusual remark to include in the label for a family picture was the addition someoneI'm not sure this is the same handwriting as that of the blue inked "stomach ache" comment—had scrawled diagonally across the card:
Aunt Nellie had just got over pneumonia fever. Her hair had fallen out and was growing back.

Sure enough, taking a closer look at the girl Alta had labeled as Nellie, you can see her hair was shortuncharacteristically so for that time period. I'm not sure what, exactly, "pneumonia fever" might have been, nor can I think of any fever so serious as to cause one's hair to fall out. Then again, I'm not a medical expert. Perhaps someone else will knowalthough, for reasons I explained yesterday, I doubt the malady had anything to do with the flu epidemic that occurred around 1918.

What would have helped even more, in puzzling over this added note, would be to know just who wrote that note. The handwriting wasn't quite the same as the blue inked lines which provided the girls' names. It could have been penned by another relative, or it could have just been a case of the same person's handwriting, many years later.

Whoever it was, either the person writing the note was a niece or nephew of Nellie, or the one being addressed was the niece or nephew. At any rate, we can probably rule out any children of Nellie from the list of possibilities, which is good for one main reason: I can't find any details about Nellie following her entry in the 1920 census.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Meet Nellie, Alta and Mollie

"Seems like I always had the stomach ache," complained the youngest of the three girls posing in a post card from one hundred years ago. If we can trust the handwriting on the back of that post card to be listing the trio from left to right, it was likely Alta Barnes who wrote that note, much later in her life. Just from the looks of it, I'd say the girl on the right was the oldest of the three, and Alta's key confirms that would be Mollie.

Sure enough, from the 1920 census, we can see that the Barnes household of Silverdale township in Cowley County, Kansas, had a daughter Mollie who was born about 1902. Nellie, the next oldest Barnes daughter, would have been born around 1904. And little Alta arrived in 1909—her eleventh birthday was less than a month away when the 1920 census was taken in January.

Not only was there a significant age gap between Alta and her older sisters, but there was another span of almost seven years before the arrival of the next child. Helen Naomi Barnes was born in November of 1915, making me wonder whether the photograph of the three girls below might have been taken before their baby sister's arrivalor at least within the following year or two, before the toddler could photobomb the scene.

The photograph would also have been taken after 1911, the year in which the girls' oldest sister, Hattie Pauline Barnes, had diedelse, presumably, Hattie would also have been included in the grouping. Earlier than that date, of course, would also have been unlikely, just based on the appearance of little Alta in the photograph; while she looked young, she was definitely beyond toddler stage, herself, which she wouldn't have been, had the picture been taken while Hattie was still alive.

There was another child who had arrived in the family just after that 1920 census: Forrest and Clara Barnes' son, James. Making his appearance just two weeks after the enumerator stopped by the Barnes household, he not only missed being in this photograph, but also didn't gain himself an entry in the federal census for that decade.

Between those five Barnes childrenMollie, Nellie, Alta, Helen and JamesI hoped to trace their descendants onward toward the present to reveal whatever connection there might have been to the antique shop in Jackson, California, where I found the photograph late last year.

That, as it's turning out to be, was too simplistic an expectation.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Working on
Today's Family History Happenings

Leave it to the birth of a baby to help me add to the more current side of our family's story. Every time I get a birth announcement, I have to be quick to add that information to our family tree, or it's doomed to be forgotten.

Sometimes, we are so preoccupied with telling the stories of family long gone that we neglect to keep current on the family events happening right under our noses. We forget that someday, these brand new babies will become the great grandparents listed in some distant descendant's family history records. What if we cause them as much research grief as our great-greats cause us?

So when I spotted my cousin announcing, on social media, the arrival of her brand new granddaughter, I opened up my genealogy database and made sure to insert the particulars.

Since this happens to be on my paternal treeone of two trees in which I've not made any progress in months, despite good intentionsI decided to spruce things up while I was there. As it turns out, that inspired me to add a total of six namesbaby plus five others. That tree isn't standing still anymore; we now have 458 family members listed. That's a start. And each week, I need to make an effort to do something on that tree, to keep that tiny start rolling.

The effort rubbed off on another tree where I'm stuck: my father-in-law's family. No new babies to coo over here, at the moment, but I still managed to add ten more names. That tree is now up to 1,402 peopleand counting, I keep telling myself.

Being away at the Salt Lake Genealogical Institute cut into my research time in the past two weeks, of course. It isn't every day that working on genealogy results in an expanded family tree. In this case, I'm certainly willing to cut myself some slack. My mother's tree didn't move one single name in the past two weeks, so I'm stuck at 12,002 in that tree. However, I had a wonderful opportunity to network with a fellow SLIG classmate who happens to live close to the place in Tennessee where my mother's paternal line once lived, and she was kind enough to offer to check some things for me when she returned home. Who knows? It would be encouraging to break through some difficult stretches in that family's line.

Despite lacking progress in my research for the past two weeks, I did, surprisingly, manage to add seventy one names to my mother-in-law's tree. That line now has a count of 14,101. I often wonder why some family lines are more easily found than others, but as long as I can make research progress, I guess I shouldn't fuss over such trivial concerns too much.

It appears the holiday sales results are hitting the DNA match counts. At least for our family, the relative number of matches has increased almost double the usual amount for this two week time period. I managed to gain forty five matches at Family Tree DNA and thirty six at AncestryDNA. My husband gained thirty at FTDNA and fifteen at AncestryDNA. (You know we lost a handful each at the puzzling 23andMe.) And this coming week will begin the addition of stats for a fourth DNA testing company: MyHeritage.

There are some key areas I'll want to focus on in my research this year, which may divert my attention from the DNA-based goal of broadening each family's universal database of descendants, so my progress may slow over the next few months.

On the other hand, I want to put more effort into my father's tree and my father-in-law's tree. These are trees of our families' most recent immigrants, so the progress will be much slower than I've seen in my colonial family lines. But that work cannot be ignored. Every challenging branch of the tree, once conquered, opens up possibilities for those who are coincidentally researching lines which are contiguous to mine. We are all working as one invisibly-bound-together team, sorting through pieces in a gigantic human puzzle. Each piece one of us puts in its rightful place may enable someone else to subsequently break out of a stuck position and take a step forward, as well. That step, taken, may open up a path for yet another researcher in a chain reaction that benefits us all, as we crowdsource our discoveries.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Life's Too Short; Ask Questions Sooner

A week packed with genealogical instruction may seem like an enormous amount of time to bask in such a luxuryat least for those of us who relish such family history opportunities. All too soon, though, the week is over, and while much learning was accomplished, it often leads to even more questions.

I spent the past week at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, specifically selecting John Philip Colletta's class on researching at archives and other repositories because I have some unfinished homework yet to complete. Namely, that outrageous story of John Syme Hogue and his international crime spree calls to me to give it voice in something more expansive than blog form. Several world-shaping events and trends converged over his unsuspecting head at the very time at which his family sought to save his unworthy neck. The project takes on a magnitude beyond my current resources, and I find myself wanting further direction. Maybe even a few well-educated, experienced hands to hold.

The last session in Friday's class perhaps encapsulates my viewpoint as we wrapped up the week. Dr. Colletta called that particular lecture "Seventeen Repositories, One Life," and while he likely meant to infer a sentiment much different than mine at the moment, that was exactly how I was feeling. Sometimes, when we size up the research we need to do to tell The Story, we begin to realize the scope of the venture seems far beyond the grasp of what a researcher can accomplish in one brief lifetime.

On the one hand, the class has become my springboard to launch intoor at least rev up my enthusiasm forgetting on the road and heading to the repositories which hold the answers to my many questions about John Syme Hogue. It is all well and good to have such questions; it is unbearable to just sit there and stew over the fact that I am here on the west coast and my answers lie hidden in the archives across the continentsome, in fact, across an international border.

As it turns out, though, the class brought me to realize there is much more that I can accomplish in beginning that research than just waiting until the right time and price to hop on a plane and get to the source of the answers. For that, I am grateful. In fact, once I realized that, I had the antsy feelinglike, "What am I doing, still sitting here?! Get out and start researching!"that I should just stop listening and start getting busy.

In some ways, I wish I had known to ask questions soonerquestions of the surviving relatives of John Syme Hogue, of the officials who might have remembered the incident, even of the instructors addressing our class this week. Time moves on, and there is no sense wasting precious minutes over such regrets.

On the flip side, I realize I'm now better equipped to move aheadhopefully, rapidlyto collect what information I'd need to wrap up the narrative. I can't let my current impatience to apply what I've been learning hamper my chance to gain even more direction. Asking questionsespecially research questionsneeds to happen as soon as possible. And I'm game to jump right in and pick up the task again.

Learning by example helps immensely, and I couldn't resist adding yet another book to my home library: the updated edition of Dr. Colletta's book, Only a Few Bones. Of course, the murder mystery theme aligns well with what I am hoping to accomplish with the Hogue story, but the plus is that the author includes not only the story, but an appendix containing explanation of his research process, something I find to be instructive. I'll surely be learning long after this class is overnot to mention, continuing this learning process with question after question. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Barnes Family in Kansas

I always consider it surprising that the photographs I find abandoned in antique shops which lack much identification still lead me to eager recipients among their descendants. In contrast, I'm concerned that this week's photograph, complete with the full names of its three subjects, may offer up more of a challenge. Who would have expected that when we began this search?

As I guessed, finding the right Barnes family wasn't too difficult, considering that a note on the back of the photo postcard included three sisters' names. Despite having no indication of ages, dates, or location, all I had to do was look for a family which included the three sisters' names: Mollie, Nellie and Altaand hope there was only one such candidate.

If the search engine at can be trusted, there was only one answer: the daughters of Forrest and Clara Barnes of Cowley County, Kansas. Forrest, a carpenter from Missouri, had married a wife from Kansas, and, except for a brief foray into Oklahoma with his family around 1910, had settled back in Cowley County where he remained for the rest of his life.

All told, Forrest and Clara had at least seven children, though only five of them survived into adulthood. One, a daughter by the name of Hattie Pauline, died as a teenager, ominouslyat least for her sister Alta and her "stomach ache" complaintssuccumbing (if we can believe the newspaper report) to "inflammation of the bowels."

If this was indeed the only Barnes family in America which included three sisters named Mollie, Nellie and Alta, the two older sisters were separated in age by only two years, while their younger sister Alta trailed behind the oldest by eight years. While I am not a good guesser when it comes to ages, I'd say that age spread looks about right, judging from the picturewhich you'll see, come next Monday morning.

Above: The Forrest Barnes household of Cowley County, Kansas, in the 1920 census; excerpt of the digitized enumeration courtesy

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Handwriting on the Back

Unlike most abandoned family photographs I've found, this one from a northern California antique shop was preserved by a chatty ancestor who felt the need to explain herself. Not only did she feel compelled to defend her childish pose from an earlier part of her life, but she managed to include that vital piece so important to family historians: the names of the three subjects.

The three girls, captured in film on a postcard surely one hundred years ago or more, were identified as Nellie, Alta, and Mollie Barnes. Since two of the girls towered aboveand somewhat behindthe little cutie with the big bow, I wasn't sure whether the order of names represented back row to front row, oldest to youngest, or the more traditional left to right style of labeling.

The biggest drawback was the fact that the girls had a fairly common surname: Barnes. Not quite as pervasive as Smith or Johnson, the surname Barnesperhaps owing to its English, Irish or Norse originsstill ranked as the seventy-ninth most popular surname in America as recently as 1990. Moving closer to the era in which the Barnes girls' photograph was taken, the 1920 census showed over eighty nine thousand individuals reported with the surname Barnes, with greatest concentration spread across the states from east to midwest, with a jump to the west coast. So we have our work cut out for us if we hope to find a family for these three girls in the picture found in the foothills of California.

There was one plus to this photograph, at least if the assumption that the three girls were sisters turns out to be correct. I could force a search at to include a family with all three names represented. Though a search for each child individuallyone for Nellie Barnes, one for Alta Barnes, and yet another one for Mollie Barnesyielded several hits, without knowing a residence location or even the ages of the children, searching for them together as one family unit yielded one promising result: the family of Forrest and Clara Barnes in Cowley County, Kansas.

Above: Notation from the back of a photograph postcard, "Nellie, Alta, + Mollie Barnes - Seems like I always had the stomach ache." Photograph currently in the possession of the author.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Five Dots and a Squiggle

When I was a kid, growing up in the New York metropolitan area, there was a series of three or four children's programs that aired during weekday afternoons. Perhaps strategically scheduled to captivate that generation's latchkey children as a public service to their blue-collar parents, the shows were each a blend of cartoons and live personalities.

Though I do remember the names of some of the show hostshey, one of them was my brother who, of course, I would knowthe one actor I don't remember happens to be the one whose simple on-air challenge forever captivated my imagination.

The star of the showwhoever he washad a simple proposition. It was something like this: send me five dots and a line and tell me what you want me to draw. I'll produce the results in five minutes or less.

It was connect-the-dots on live camera. Each week, this intrepid artist would open one piece of fan mail, read the letter aloud, have the camera zoom in on the sketch of the five dots and the crazy line, and produce the requested drawing. Sometimes, it was a simple order, like "draw me a pony" or "make a clown." Sometimes, the letter sought a more complicated creation.

Most of the time, the desired object was drawn to specifications within the allotted time, but every once in a while, the contestant stumped the star, resulting in the award of a special prize.

While I've long forgotten who that man wasthus leaving me forever wondering what he did for a living after the show no longer airedI've always prized the challenge to pull something out of chaos and transform it into recognizable permanence.

Let's just say I've taken on that orphaned photograph challenge as my five-dots-and-a-squiggle.

So far, with the help of my good friends at A Family Tapestry, I've managed to transform three first names and a blue-ribbon-winning West Highland Terrier into a Christmas photograph album that found its way from northern California to County Cork, Ireland. A memorial photograph of a man struck by a train one hundred ten years ago in Kansas to a granddaughter in southern California who had never met him. And a century-old photo of a successful young couple in Kentucky to an appreciative family historian now in Minnesota.

All of these photographs I found in an antique shop near my home in the Central Valley of northern California, a city once considered a jumping-off place for Gold Rush speculators from all over the worldand, later, a refuge from the ravages of the Dust Bowl for farmers devastated in the region around Oklahoma, Kansas and northern Texas.

I've now moved to a new resource for found photographs: up to the northern California foothills, the very settlements where the gold was actually found. Those who stayed thereor, perhaps, wised up to the fact that they'd likely fare better by doing businesses with the ones seeking treasure in those hillshad relatives all across the country, not to mention the world, who could only keep in touch by writing letters and sending photographs.

Now, those captured faces stare out from hundred year old photographs to strangers at antique shops. Gone are the people who once cherished these mementos. Gone, in fact, are the grandchildren of some of those recipients.

Estate sales can be unkind venues for pictures once sent with that tacit "remember me" sentiment. They become, for all intents, faces forgotten by everyone. But for the namesand sometimes even dates and locationsthey would be forsaken by me, as well. Fortunately, those few elements are transformed into the family history equivalent of five-dots-and-a-squiggle, and I take on the challenge and buy them.

One photographnot quite as old as the others I foundcaught my attention despite the rather plain composition of what surely is three sisters, backs up to the outside wall of what looks like a shack. The littlest girlclearly years younger than the two who flanked her sideshas a big white bow in her hair. Perhaps it was she who, years later, sent the photograph to another relative. Whoever it was who took the time to label the picture was chatty enough to include the memory, "Seems like I always had the stomach ache."

Sure enough, with her sisters towering over her, this little one is forever captured on film with her hands holding her belly.

Thankfully, she also remembered to include the names of all three of the girls. We'll take a closer look at them during the rest of the week.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Value of a SLIG Experience

There are ample reasons to opt for the experience of a genealogical institute. While some might think, "Conference? Institute? What's the difference?" I can say from experience that venue and schedule make a difference.

There are, of course, conference junkies out there. True confessions (in poorly-paraphrased form): but for the minor detail of a limited pocketbook, there would go I. I love conferences because I love learning. Added bonus: conferences mean people, and I love connecting with interesting people.

The down side: conference can only go so far as a learning opportunity. Conferences demand a business model that clears a profit by posing as all things to all people. Alas, conferences are not college semesters in length; the end result is a learning smorgasbord. Lots of topics times lots of speakers means many crowd pleasers. But that can't, at the same time, equate with in-depth learning.

Limit the number of topics offered, and there are less speakers to pay, but also a shift in the type of audience played to. Instead of people flitting from one lecture morsel to another, grazing the learning smorgasbord, this different learning model enables participants to broaden their understanding and deepen their expertise.

This learning model is not for everyone. A beginner might find the conference model suffices, much as a freshman benefits from taking prerequisites before declaring a college major. After a point, a learner reaches a level where conference fare loses its luster.

That second model of learning, of course, is the model upon which the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogyor SLIGis based. In a genealogical institutetaking more time than a conference, but providing a learning venue at roughly the same proportion of expensea participant takes five days to focus on, say, land records. Or, in my case, archives research.

Not to say we don't have fun. The SLIG committee is forever adding touches to transform the week into something as enjoyable as conference-going. We are pampered with ample breaks, receptions, banquet dinner, networking time and cushy buses to chauffeur us to the country's premier genealogical library, lest we dash our snow-laden foot against a frozen curb. What more could a genealogy enthusiast ask?

I hear at length from nationally-respected leaders. The main instructor for the class I'm attending is John Philip Collettaresearcher and author, true, but also popular lecturer. Since courses are team taught, I learn from other luminaries in the field, like Thomas W. Jones, who spoke to our class yesterday. To have the chance to connect with these instructors in person, through questions in class or conversation during breaks, is so much more convenient when not under pressure, as in conference settings, to rush off to the next one-hour sampler.

There are several genealogical institutes offered across the United States, but with a short flight, I can land in Salt Lake City, grab a ten buck shuttle to the host hotel, and spend the week with my favorite kind of people. Yes, I'll still attend conferences, but for true learning opportunities, nothing comes close to a genealogical institute experience.

Monday, January 22, 2018

SLIG Time!

If you have no idea what I mean by "SLIG Time," let me give you a hint: I'm not in California right now; I'm in Utah. In Salt Lake City, to be precise. At an Institute of Genealogy.

Now, you go put those pieces together. (Didya give up and click the link?)

This year, unlike my previous class forays into genetic genealogy, I chose to take a different learning route: I wanted to soak in every word of a favorite conference speaker and instructor. I'll be spending the week, sitting at the feet (so to speak) of Library of Congress and National Archives veteran, John Philip Colletta, PhD.

The reason I opted to take his course"Beyond the Library: Using Original Source Repositories"was because my original game plan was to leave at the end of the week and head straight for Florida, where I've had some research tasks put on hold until I could spend some time at the state archives. I had wanted to delve into the details of just what role my third great grandfather, George Edmund McClellan, played in drawing up and signing the original constitution for the state of Florida.

The planned research trip, alas, fell through owing to other business scheduling conflicts, but I'm still enrolled in the class, and looking forward to a week of furious note-taking. If I have time, I'll post a few of the details as they emerge this week, but if not, the plan is to introduce you to the next subject of my quest to reunite orphaned antique photographs with descendants of the family members shown in the pictures I've found.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Moving on Up

Well...last Thursday evening, I made the move. I am officially no longer the vice president of our local genealogical society. Now, I'm the president. The buck, as a very different kind of president once said, stops here.

In this success-crazy culture of ours in modern America, it seems that moving up the ladder is always seen as a good thing, a goal worth achieving. Once the move is made, however, there are a few of us who end up saying, "What was I thinking?" Now that Thursday evening's installment dinner has come and gone, a part of me is asking the same question.

Although our local genealogical society has been in existence for sixty six years, in some ways, we've always seemed to see ourselves in a small way. For years, this group only met every other monthand, oh, they took time off for the summer months and the winter holidays. Though they started off with twenty four charter members, it wasn't until this year that we finally climbed back up to the one hundred members we haven't had since the advent of big online genealogical companies knocked the wind out of local, in-person family history organizations' sails.

All of this began to changeand for the better, I assure youwith the arrival of a new president who, as she admitted herself, came to the office kicking and screaming. I owe it to my "genealogy angel" and mentor, Sheri Fenley, that when I stepped into office last Thursday evening, I assumed the helm of an organization which now has official status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which now sports a shiny new website, which now presents a strong monthly program of qualified genealogical speakers, which facilitates a closed Facebook group open to anyone for the asking—members and non-members alike—who are interested in genealogy within our county, which now gives back to our community fifteen hours a month in free beginners' genealogical training at our community college and libraries across the county and six hours of one-on-one consultation for library patrons at our main library. All this happened in the four years of her watch.

Of course, I hope to continue this tradition, as well as add to it. Thankfully, this will be a team effort, and I have a board of directors with which to collaborate as we guide the progress of our society and guard the ground we have already gained. It's my hope to see this organization flourish, growing into its now-official nonprofit status with a more visible home center from which we can offer more special interest groups, more educational offerings, more collaborative programs in which we partner with like-minded community organizations. With all of us pulling together, such goalsand moreare possible.

There is something so compelling about seeing the light bulb go off in a new researcher's mind when she realizes that the digitized document she is viewing, for instance, contains the very signature of her own great grandfather. The faces of people making these discoveries for the first time are priceless to see. The experience is palpable. While almost anyone can now go to a library and tap into a genealogical website and bring up such pictures, it takes a societythat group of people who become the interface where the rubber meets the novice's roadto become the midwives who bring that love of research to life.

That's why it's such an awesome duty to facilitate the development of an organization like a local genealogical society. No one person can do it all. And no one person steps into the role, knowing exactly what to do from the beginning. That's why we need each otherto share the burden of the mission, and to beckon each other to grow in shared responsibility as our organization matures.

And we couldn't get where we arenor move from this point forwardwithout the care and mentoring of those who took the reins before us. For every momentary thought like, "What was I thinking?" I have the steadying hand of my (now) Immediate Past President, for which I am grateful, and stabilizing influence of a supportive board, along with the willing participation of our membership.

It is, after all, teamworkin which case, it is not really "moving on up," but dancing this promenade, together, that will advance us to the next step in the process. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

When It's Time to Pass it On

Learning the story of family historian Alice Sharp Greer sounds a somber note for those who fear they may find themselves in the same situation as she did. Without family to whom we can pass along our work, we have no idea what will become of it.

Many of us have devoted years to compiling the story of our family's past, and may currently house multiple binders, photograph albums, books, working papers (you know, those "notes to self" about discoveries that never panned out) and miscellaneous keepsakes of both relatives beloved and never-met. These documents and ephemera are precious in our sight...but maybe not in the eyes of others.

The question becomes: what happens to our research when we're gone?

That's a question we almost wince to answer. Some of the bravest of us, however, have tackled the question.

In answering that question, my "genealogy angel" and mentor, Sheri Fenley, observed in her blog, The Educated Genealogist, "What happens to my research when I am gone? Well, this is all up to you. Yes, you can have it your way, but you have to have a way to let [your family] know." Sheri suggested the route of drafting a codicil, specific to genealogical materials, to attach to one's will.

Prolific genealogy commentator Dick Eastman grappled with this subject last year in his Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter, reminding us that "Someday, somebody will have to dispose of all that material." Perhaps the bluntness of that remark is what is needed to prod us to not only realistically face the fact, but take action.

For those lacking the direction on what specific action to take, Thomas MacEntee went to lengths to prepare the useful e-book, After You're Gone: Future Proofing Your Genealogy Research, urging his readers to take action now. (He also offers a one hour presentation by this same title.)

You know there are horror stories out there. In James Tanner's Genealogy's Star blog, nearly five years ago, he shared the story of his great-grandmother, who, like Alice Greer,
spent a good part of her life doing genealogy, but when I started my own genealogical research, years after her death, I could find almost no evidence of her activity. After years of research, I finally found that all of her files had been my Aunt's basement

Stories like that are what prompted Arlene Eakle of Tremonton, Utah, to take action. As she tells it on the website for The Genealogy Library Center, Inc.,
Several years ago, after speaking at the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree, my associate...and I stopped at a Safeway get some food for lunch. Instead of re-entering traffic on such a busy street, we drove around the back of the store to use a side street. In the middle of the alley in front of the dumpster, there was a large plastic bag. I stopped to move it out of the way rather than drive over it. The bag was full of someone’s genealogy manuscripts and family recordsa handwritten diary, family letters, original photographs, family history notes. I felt a cold shiver!

When other "cold shiver" incidents of the same type kept happening to her, Arlene found a way to buy a building to house these genealogical cast-offs, giving them a home and a way to be found by family members who do care about such material. And she continues to accept material from others whose life work is not gladly claimed by their own family.

There are other options for finding a home for your research, of course. Many people have considered approaching the country's prime genealogical library, as Dick Eastman mentioned, but material accepted into the collection at the Family History Library at Salt Lake City must meet stringent requirements. Likewise, especially for those living farther east, an option might be the Genealogy Center at the Allen County Public Libraryagain, a prime destination for genealogical researchers—yet donations to their collection will likely go through a vetting process before being accepted.

Some have prudently narrowed their scope and focused on more local repositories. But, as James Tanner mentioned in his post on the topic, even local genealogical societies, historical societies and public libraries have limitations on the size and standards of their collection.

About the most lucid thinking I've come across on resolving this dilemmafor all those finding themselves headed toward the same predicament as family historian Alice Greercame in the form of a five year old post on the blog of researcher Michael Tormey. Michael fingered the root of the problem as a misdirected focus when sharing our research with family members.
One way to improve the odds that your research materials will survive is to change the focus of your research. The reason many family members see genealogy as boring is because family group sheets, pedigree charts, birth certificates and death certificates ARE boring.

His advice?
If you really want others to see value in your research efforts, you need to bring your research to life. This means that you need to flesh out the details of not just when your ancestors were born and when they died, but how the lived, why they made the decisions they did, what their beliefs and values were, etc. These are the things that make one’s ancestry a heritage or a legacy.

In other words,
make sure that others understand the value you place on your genealogy and historical records and to take proactive steps to preserve them before they meet a similar fate at the hands of a family member who simply sees them as redundant and useless records of the past.

Granted, while you can exert a certain amount of control over what becomes of your life's work when you, yourself, are the one who is prudently downsizing, there is no way you can control what happens after you are gone. True, with even the best of efforts, your files may be counted as "personal effects" of no monetary value and tossed, along with the other collectibles of sentimental value to no one but yourself. But there are options that, with the same research prowess you invested into breaking through those impenetrable brick walls, you can tailor to match your genealogical donation with the right placeor persondesignated to be their recipient.

Friday, January 19, 2018

More to This Story . . .

It all started because someone took the time to write the names on the back of a photo.

And so it is that the story of William and Kate Hopkins' photograph became the story of Alice Sharp Greer, and eventually also the story of Lee, the current researcher who is picking up the pieces passed along of the Hopkins family history.

In reflecting over this whole experiencethe photograph in California that connected me with Lee in Minnesota about a couple from KentuckyLee made the observation at the beginning of this post.

You may have been wondering about a gap in this story of Alice Sharp Greer's family history records, considering that she died in 1966 and this is now 2018. What happened to all of Alice's carefully compiled records in the interim?

That, in itself, is another story. Lee's mother-in-law was downsizing and needed help with the process of getting everything ready to move into a smaller apartment. As Lee remembers it,
I pulled a large box out of a closet and asked what to do with it. She couldn't even remember what was in it. Opening it was like opening a time capsule. It was a box full of family treasures handed down from another Hopkins ancestor who had no children and each object had a carefully written note attached to it explaining what it was and who had owned it. Lots of names, dates, photos, Alice Greer's 1931 letter and a one-page genealogy of the family were in the box. For someone who loves antiques and old photos as I do, it was a gold mine. This family came to life for me out of the box and I felt it my calling to keep their memory alive.

We gain encouragement from others as we learn their story. We certainly can empathize with Alice's situation, one in which there was no one to whom the treasured family discoveries could be entrusted. As it turned out in Alice's case, there was a gap of years before that treasure was rediscovereda hiatus enough to make us genealogists hold our breath, if not give up hope entirely for recovery. But somehow, in the end, things did turn out differently and the family's story was rescued.

This sort of experience, once shared, gives us the faith that, in the end, things will work out. As Lee reflected in an email to me after yesterday's post,
I will leave a box twenty or thirty years from now in a closet and hope for the right person to find it.

Some of us already know who will take up our research after we are no longer able to do it. But for those who struggle with the possibility of seeing that life's work abandoned to an unknown fate, it certainly is encouraging to know that sometimesmaybe more often than we realizethere will be someone to take up the call and continue our work.

After all, a family's story is never done.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Being the Bridge
to Connect Past with Future

From time to time, I run across fellow genealogy enthusiasts who share their one disappointment with me: that they have no one to whom they can pass their decades worth of family history research. Here they have invested multiple hours of a lifetime, devoting it to the premise that the family's multi-generational story is too valuable to loseand yet, due to various circumstances, that is precisely what threatens to happen.

There are reasons for the threat of such a loss. For some, no one else in the family is even remotely interested in those relatives of a bygone era whom they had never met and never cared to know. For other, though, there is no family to take an interest in the researcher's life work.

Such was the case of Alice Sharp Greer, niece of the subject of the abandoned family photograph I found in an antique shop in northern California. When I learned about her from Lee, the family history researcher to whom I offered to send William and Kate Hopkins' found photograph from Kentucky, I began to see Alice take shape as an encouragement for all those who are in the same position.

As Lee mentioned to me in our ongoing email correspondence, Alice had no children of her own. Granted, she had some nieces and nephews, but as many of us discover, that is no guarantee that those members of the next generation will take up the mantle we feel so strongly about.

Alicethe "family genealogist," as Lee put ithad a unique opportunity to pursue her calling over the years. It was thanks to her husband's business, coupled with her ability to travel with him on his rounds, while she detoured during business hours to conduct some research of her own. According to Lee,
Alice Greer's husband was a traveling salesman from Kansas City whose territory was western U.S. On his letterhead it says Materials Equipment EngineerCasters, Trucks, Lift-Trucks, Pallet Lift-Trucks, Conveyors.

While John Harry Greer was busy at his occupation, Alice was busy sending out letters of inquiry in that era far removed from today's online conveniences. Relentlessly, it seems, at least from Lee's description:
Alice sent out many letters of inquiry on the family history on her husband's business letterheadJ. Harry Greer. I have one of these letters from 1931 and amazingly enough, a woman found another one from 1951 in her mother's papers and sent it to me, providing me a great deal of new information about the Hopkins [family], which I have been relentlessly researching ever since.

Those letters Alice sent out in 1931 and 1951 were only two examples of the many she wrote in her pursuit of the family's history. Just like the one from 1951 that a woman found and returned to Lee, there are many more of Alice's letters out thereand Lee would love to find them. That plea is even posted on Alice's Find A Grave memorial. (You knew a researcher as dedicated as Lee would include volunteering for Find A Grave in a genealogical to-do list, didn't you?)

Eventually, despite surely still having some questions unanswered, it became time to pass that genealogical baton to someone else. Alice Sharp Greer passed away October 26, 1966, in Concord, Californiayes, in Contra Costa County, that place we've got our eye onand all her research came to a halt.

With no children to step up and continue Alice's legacy, that might have been the end of the story. But whether Alice knew this all along, or whether it was a circumstance that evolved after her passing, there was someone who turned out to be more than interested in taking up Alice's mantle: it was Lee. All the pedigree charts, all the family group sheetsand more important, all those irreplaceable letters from Alice to relatives, and Alice's extended family to each otherwere eventually passed along to someone who would take up where Alice left off.

And that is the encouragement Alice gifts us with, too, with her story. There will be someone to preserve our work, and to carry it forward. It just doesn't always come from the direction we'd expect. But however it comes to us, it transforms usand those who are willing to step up and take our placefrom a research dead end to a bridge that connects the treasures of our past with the family members in our future. 


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Crowdsourcing Our Research:
How We Sharpen Each Other's Skills

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

There are some things we "know" as researchersbut then go right on, acting as if we had forgotten what we know. That's when it helps to have a fellow researcher gently remind us to reach back into that store of what we need to remember.

That's how it was when I first connected with Lee in Minnesota, the Hopkins researcher who shared the old photograph of William Hopkins' drug store with us yesterday. In piecing together the possible story of how William and Kate Hopkins' photograph ended up in northern California, Lee offered a reasonable hypothesis: look for the connection one generation up and on the other side of the family.

As Lee explained,
We inherited a good deal of info on [the Hopkins family] from Alice Sharp Greer who was the family genealogist. She was the daughter of Adelia Hopkins Sharp who was William Bernard Hopkins' sister. Alice's last known residence was in Concord, Contra Costa County.

The minute Lee mentioned looking at William's siblings, I saw the error of my ways. I had presumed that the only family members who might have passed down a photograph of William and Kate would be relatives from Kate's side of the family. After all, Kate had died young, and William went on to raise a family with his second wife. While I should have known better than to remove anyone from my "suspects" list, I had prematurely narrowed my searchand thus, my results.

If, the minute you saw Lee's explanation that the Hopkins family genealogist Alice Sharp Greer had moved to Contra Costa County, bells went off in your mind, you are on the right track. However, we need not rush to conclusions on just whom the recipient of the Hopkins photograph was; as it turned out, there were other descendants who headed west to the same neighborhood, as well.

I was careful to heed that prompt by Lee, and built out a Hopkins family tree which provided a few other possibilities. Not only had Alice Sharp Greer moved to northern California, but so did her older sister Ruth and their brother William. Admittedly, these were descendants of only one of William Hopkins' siblings, but those nieces and nephew of William Hopkins introduced enough possibilities to explain how a photograph of a Kentucky couple would have made its way to California.

There is only one glitch in that assumption, though: Alice Sharp Greer had no children of her own. If she was the recipient of William and Kate Hopkins' photograph, who kept it between the time of Alice's passing in 1966 and the date, decades later, at which it ended up in the antique shop where I found it in Lodi, California?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

What I Learned from Lee

It's always a delight to meet another researcher who shares that passion for genealogy. It's even better when I discover that researcher will truly value the orphaned photograph now being sent on its way home.

In the process of meeting and talking with Lee from Minnesotathe family history researcher whose tree on convinced me this was the right person to receive the photograph of William and Katie HopkinsI learned a few things about that Hopkins couple that, with Lee's permission, I'd like to share.

The first time I encountered Lee's tree was through a hint on Ancestry. It was not for the ubiquitous shaky-leaf reminder to look at the other trees on the website, but it led me to a picture of William Hopkins in front of his drugstore.

Let me amend that: one of his drugstores. Thankfully, Lee had appended an explanation at alongside the photograph (which you can see below):
William B. Hopkins owned drugstores in five states, but I believe this photo was taken in Kentucky around 1923. William B. Hopkins is the portly gentleman standing between the two women. I believe the younger woman on the left is his wife Katie Seeger Allen and the woman on the right is LeNorah (Dixon) Thornburg who became his second wife after Katie died in 1928. The young girl and older boy next to LeNorah are her Thornburg children, Ellen R. & John V.

Drugstores in five states? When I first saw that, I tried to do a search on the newspaper archive services I use, but nothing substantive came up, other than the Merck wedding mention that "Iggy" found for me a few days back. Now that Lee and I have connected, I wanted to ask a few more questions about the Hopkins businesses.

It was apparent from census records that William and Kate moved to locations other than Kate's home in Louisville. Could this have been due to William building his business? According to family members, William may also have had a store in Piqua, Ohio. In fact, at first, Lee was not sure whether the store photo was from Louisville or Piqua, but resolved the puzzle this way:
I got the brilliant idea to check the name (Denhard) on the side of the drug store building with names in Louisville and Piqua, Ohio. No Denhards in Ohio and lots of them in Louisville. Found a court case for Brooks Denhard who owned a surgical instrument company in Louisville. Makes sense to advertise on the side of a drug store. So I've decided the building in the photo is William's drug store in Louisville and not the one in Ohio.

It pays to pay attention to all the "superfluous" details you can find in a photograph. Not to mention, I'm sure it paidat least in William Hopkins' caseto have those ads put up on the side of his building. A clever businessman, indeed.

I picked up a few more ideas from Lee while we were discussing the Hopkins familylike where to look for the likely nexus that resulted in finding William and Kate Hopkins' photograph in Californiawhich we'll take a look at tomorrow.

In the meantime, off that photograph goes, on its way home to Minnesota!

Above: Photograph, circa 1923, of William Bernard Hopkins' Drugstore in Louisville, Kentucky; photograph in the possession of Hopkins family member Lee in Minnesota; used by permission.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Making its Way to California

As I repeat this process of rescuing orphaned photographs once again, I'm beginning to learn the patterns that shape these now-familiar results. First of all, for the three original mystery photographs I foundthe photo album from Ireland, the portrait of the Kansas salesman, and now, the picture of the young couple from Louisville, Kentuckyeach was sold by the same northern California antique shop. No matter where the item originated, its final resting place was in the city of Lodi, California.

Apparently, the place where the shopkeeper got each of these photographs was also a consistent location. I discovered that fact when I was first puzzling over how the Irish photo album ended up in a place as small as Lodi. The shop owner explained the process: hers was a consignment store, and she kept track of the various sellers through a simple code placed on the back of each item for sale.

Sure enough, looking on the back of the photo album, alongside the price was another entry: "#51." I cropped the image I used on this blog so as to cut the tag off the back of the photo for William and Kate Hopkins, but if you look closely, you can see the top of its slight mark just below the "g" in Seegar. Number 51, as it turned out, was the code for an antique distributor with whom our shopkeeper did businessand that dealer happened to live in the Bay area around Contra Costa County.

The trick is, of course, to find the nexus between the supplier's range of services and the extended Hopkins family's descendants. Somehow, that dealer number 51 needed to have come across an estate sale within (I suspect) driving range of the Bay area in northern California.

The catch is, as we've already mentioned, that William and Kate apparently had no children of their own. Furthermore, Kate's brother William Allen had no children who ventured out west, and it seemed unlikely that her half-siblings' descendants did, either. Since William Hopkins, after Kate's passing, had married a woman with children of her own, it seemed unlikely that that would be the line to cherish and pass down a photograph of William's previous wife. I wasn't sure which way to turn next in unraveling this puzzle.

However, someone popped up over the weekend to remind me that I neglected another obvious resource: the siblings of William Bernard Hopkins, himself.

That someone was named Leethe researcher in Minnesota whose Ancestry tree contained so much documentation on this entire family line. In addition, Lee passed along a few stories of the family in an email I received on Saturday, which prompted me to do some more searching on my own.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Leap Into a New Year

It wasn't on account of any special planning that I concluded my final biweekly review of 2017 on the very last day of the year; it just happened that way. Still, I wrapped up the year with 11,967 people in my mother's tree, 13,930 in my mother-in-law's tree, a puny 452 in my father's tree and 1,392 in my father-in-law's tree.

And then, I had to wait an entire two weeks before the next count. With that, the first month of the year is halfway over before I got to sit down and see where I was for my first tally of 2018.

There was a bit of paperwork to attend to, of course. I had to revamp my charts with this year's dates for each of those biweekly reports to come. And I needed to add columns to make provisions for my latest new project: DNA tests for both my husband and myself at MyHeritage. I bought the test kits during the company's Black Friday sale$49 per kit if I bought at least two of themso the results are not quite ready yet, but they will be, by the time I do my next report.

Since our family's holiday celebrations startedand thus, endedlater than usual, I wasn't exactly the most diligent of researchers for the past two weeks. I increased the count in my mother's tree by thirty five to reach 12,002, and my mother-in-law's tree by an even one hundred to reach 14,030. Once again, absolutely nothing of substance showed up on either my father's tree or my father-in-law's treea problem I'm determined to rectify this year.

Now that the holiday DNA sales results have started making their appearance on the tallies for the three companies where we've already tested, I'm hoping for some significant connections in the weeks ahead. As usual, we once again saw a decline in the numbers at 23andMethe ongoing mysteryso I now have 1,107 matches (down ten) and my husband has 1,164 (down seven). I'm up twenty six at Family Tree DNA and twenty three at DNA, giving me 2,638 and 820 matches, respectively. My husband's tests jumped nineteen and thirteen to yield 1,682 at FTDNA and 420 at Ancestry. I expect those increases will hold steady for another few weeks. Here's hoping they include some significant connections.

January being a month in which people's thoughts often turn to new year's resolutions and plans, I can't really say I have any special projects waiting in the wings. My overall goal of fleshing out the details on each of the descendants of my third great grandparents (and my husband's, as well) is a massive endeavor and I am far from completing that. It may take me another year before I can declare that one anywhere close to being  accomplished. Even then, I may miss several dozen of our contemporaries. Before I take on any other research commitments, I want to do a thorough combing through all available documentation to insure that this goal has gotten the diligent attention it deserves. We have too much invested in all these DNA tests. If nothing else, we owe it to ourselves to do so.

That, however, doesn't mean I don't have other research dreams. Put on hold by recurrent issues, I still want to get to Florida to research my McClellan ancestors in tiny Wellborn, a trip which will require time spent at the state archives. I also want to follow up on the incredible story of John Syme Hogue, my grandmother's fourth cousinthe man with several alias and a rap sheet full of crimes committed throughout the mid-western United States and Canada. And I want to revisit the saga of that lost family photo album which recently found its way back home to Cork, Ireland.

With a research platter as full as this one, who needs to add any new projects? I think I'll have enough to keep me busy as it is for 2018.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Now Indexing: Illinois Church Records

It's the start of a new year, and I just realized I fell off the genealogical record indexing resolution bandwagon last month. I guess I was just having too much fun in December to remember my promises to myself.

Now, I'm back on track to start the year afresh. For a change of paceand, to be honest, I was looking for something I could race through with only half a brain engagedI decided to switch tracks. Instead of working on naturalization paperwork in the New York home of my paternal roots as I have for the past few months, I headed west to Chicago to see if I could provide a boost to research on my father-in-law's ancestors.

Of course, that brought on a steep learning curve. It seemed like there were pages and pages of instruction to read before I could even get started. And while clerks hired in the 1800s to work in government positions generally could be expected to display some semblance of neat handwriting, I haven't been able to say the same for clerics in the religious world. This, I found out, was bound to come back and slap me out of the running, just when I thought I was on a roll.

Lesson number one in this month's installment of indexing education: church records that qualify for indexing include births and baptisms, marriages, and deaths or burials. Not confirmations. Nor church business meetings.

So what do I encounter on my first page up? Confirmation records. Question: "Should this image be indexed?" Answer: "No." Boom! That wiped out an entire record, and the automatic confetti started falling from the top of my computer screen. Easy peasy. I felt so good about that one, I sprung for a repeat.

The next record set was for marriages. Despite the format asking for all sorts of details genealogists would love to get their hands onnames of parents for both bride and groom, not to mention even the city in which the ceremony was to take placedo you think the record provided any information so I could fill in those blanks? No. And so it repeated, times twelve, until I was able to submit that batch in record time, as well.

Figuring I was really on a roll now, perhaps I got a bit too cocky. I went for a third batch. That was my mistake. Bringing up a page of chicken scratch that looked vaguely like German, not Englishremember, this was in Illinois, the kind of good, flat farm country a German immigrant could pay good money forI took one look at the prospect in front of me and chickened out. Perhaps I had, after all, bitten off more than I could chew. Or at least process on FamilySearch's handy web-based indexing system.

Perhaps another time.

In the meanwhile, at least I'm back in the groove, reintroducing myself to the useful habit of regularly giving back to the genealogy community which has, for so many years, been so helpful to me in all my early attempts to discover my family's stories through the documents holding their names.

Above: "Winter Getaway," oil on canvas by Norwegian artist Axel Ender (1853 - 1920); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, January 12, 2018

No Children = No Grandchildren

It may seem like a no-brainer of a statement, but the fact that William and Kate Hopkins had no childrenat least none that any online documents revealedmeant that they had no grandchildren. In other words, there were no descendants who, upon their passing, had their belongings heaped into a pile which subsequently was disposed of by estate sale where they'd be distributed to those who might purchase on a whim a trifling token like an old photograph.

William did have step-children from a subsequent marriage, and Kate's brother and half-siblings also had children. But in none of their descendants did I find a path from their Kentucky location to any home near northern California, the place where I found the Hopkins photograph.

The easy part, of course, would have been if William and Kate, married in 1899, had children who, by the 1920s, would have had children of their own. These, easily, would have lived until perhaps the last ten years, when a quick search of the many now-online obituaries would have helped pinpoint which grandchild's estate might have included the very family photograph I'm now holding in my own hands. But it isn't working out that way.

Not that I have another ten to twenty mystery photographs burning a hole in my genealogical pocket, but I decided to take the quick-and-easy way out: I looked up the other Ancestry subscribers who are researching this couple. From that resource, I looked at their publicly-displayed trees and selected the one which seemed to evidence the most meticulous research style.

And then, I wrote a letter.

The message was simple: Hi, I'm a fellow researcher, and I found this photo you might be interested in. If it's your family, I'd be happy to send it to you. Just let me know.

Easy. All except for the waiting part. I really want to talk to this particular researcher, who happens to have posted another photograph of William and Kate that I would love to be able to share with you.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Getting Here From There

If the subjects of that photograph I found in a northern California antique store lived and died in Kentucky, how did their picture get here? Before I can find an appropriate (and unsuspecting) candidate upon whom to bestow the rescued photograph, I need to figure out just how William and Kate Hopkins' relativesor maybe friendshad come to be its recipient.

There are, I have noticed, several subscribers who include either William Bernard Hopkins or his wife, Kate Seegar Smith-Allen Hopkins, in their family tree. Some, however, use that company's less-than-helpful device of affixing other tree entries into their own, thus preventing me from discovering the true source of their information. I prefer to look for someone who has done their own homeworkthus, someone whose paper trail helps me see the documented connection from the present to the past.

Barring enough leads from these other trees to see the connection from Kentucky to California, the next best thing is to build out a tree of our own.

Looking at the Hopkins family from the point of their marriagein Louisville in 1899through the rest of their brief lives, one thing was clear: according to census records, they moved at least once every decade. A wedding announcement in a business publicationbrought to my attention through the research prowess of one of our readers, "Intense Guy"mentioned briefly that
William Berbard [sic] Hopkins, a well-known young druggist of Louisville, and Miss Katie Smith Allen, of Lagrange, were recently married at the home of the bride's parents. Mr. Hopkins has opened a store at Smithland, Ky., and the young people will go there to live.

That was according to Merck's Report for December, 1899, one month after the Hopkins wedding. Less than a year later, however, the 1900 census counted them as residents of New Albany, Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, a good two hundred miles from Smithland.

Long commute.

Another interesting detail emerged. William, whose report in the 1900 census appeared on the page preceding his wife's entry, was indeed shown as a "druggist." However, by the time of the subsequent enumeration, William and Kate were living farther away from Kentucky in a boarding home in Seymour, Indiana, where he was shown as merely a clerk in a drug store. Another ten years later, the couple was finally back home in Louisville, where things seemed to be looking up: William was now listed as a pharmacist in a drug store, and Kate was working alongside him as a "sales lady," presumably at the same establishment.

By the time of the 1940 census, neither William nor Kate showed in the records. Kate was long gone by that point, having died in 1928. William, married again by the time of the 1930 census, subsequently passed away in 1935

There was one more detail about that sprint through the decades of census records: in none of those reports did the Hopkins couple report any dependents. Scratch that chance to trace any children from Kentucky to California. If the picture arrived in my hands via a family member, it would have to be through a more distant relationship.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Coming to a Consensus

I'm never quite sure of the information I find on death certificates, so what do I do? Look for other death certificates to verify the details of the earlier ones.

While this doesn't seem to make sense, there is a certain comfort in finding agreement between records that otherwise would have no connection—at least by sequence or by location, for instance. The only connection would be that the two people mentioned in these disparate documents would be linked by common parents.

Remembering that our Kate Seegar Smith-Allen Hopkins (phew, what a mouthful!) had an older brother, that is exactly who I went looking up next. Since the detail I wanted to confirm was that Kate's parents were Charles L. Allen and his wife, Elizabethnot Addieher brother William, four years her senior, should likely display the same names for his parents. Right?

We already saw from the 1880 censusprovided, of course, that we found the right household of their father Charles Allenthat Kate's brother William was born in Kentucky around 1876. However, when we rush to the other end of brother William's life, we find that his death certificate is of no help in confirming the names of the siblings' parents. For William's father, we do find a reassuring confirmation of his middle initial, if nothing elseL, not Abut perhaps since his mother died when he was so young, it is not surprising to learn that there was nothing on that line for the form, other than "not known."

Ah, the dreaded unknown. I have faced off with that foe before. I'm not ready to quit yet.

And so it was that, poking through every other document I could find, I eventually came across a December 28, 1897, marriage record for young William and his bride, Martha B. Tillman. Listing himself as W. H. Allen, the twenty one year old merchant, by then living in Oldham County, Kentucky, revealed that his father was indeed Charles Allen, and his mother was Elizabeth Smithyes, Smith without that awkward Smidth spelling that had appeared in his sister Kate's death certificate so many years later.

Just to make sure I really, really, did have the right family named, I swung by the Find A Grave record for Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, where I found there was really no doubt who the parents were for Kate and her older brother. Though the memorial for Charles had a note inserted which explained that his wife's name was "Adelaine," if you look closely at the impressive monument erected in the family plot, it is quite clear which wife was acknowledged there. It was "Lizzie, wife of C. L. Allen." 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On the Far End of a Short Life

Now that we've found a baby Kate Allen in the 1880 Louisville household of one Charles Allenand discovered his wife's name, at least at that time, was ElizabethI wanted to rush to the other end of Kate's life to see whether our Kate, the one now married to William Bernard Hopkins, was the same Kate who claimed these parents. Perhaps I've attended one too many lectures on exhaustive searches, but somehow the research paranoia has become ingrained in me.

It wasn't too far into Kate's future that it took to find my document goal. Kate apparently suffered from hypertensive heart disease and had suffered two bouts of cerebral hemorrhage. The second attack took her life.

She was laid to rest in an unidentified cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, shortly after her passing on March 28, 1928. She was forty eight years of age.

Fortunately for our search, Kate's death certificate was easily located on, showing that the informant was her husband, William B. Hopkins. Even so, I've found that the closest of relatives can often make the greatest of mistakes in completing the information to be used in a death certificatehence, my drive to find additional confirmation of any detail noted in such a record. While I am certainly willing to concede that family members are often under the greatest of emotional stress at the timeand understandably can make mistakesI still prefer to find supporting records for each assertion built into my tree.

As it turns out, the report on Kate's death certificate provided the mother's maiden name we are seekingand it wasn't Addie's, as we suspected, but Elizabeth's name. While Kate's mother's maiden name may explain the source of Kate's own hyphenated (or at least appended) maiden name of Smith-Allen, the odd thing was that the certificate provided an unusual spelling: Smidth.

Now I know spelling was not the big deal it is today, and that prior centuries certainly took their liberties with spelling creativity. But Smidth? Really? I mean, after all, what more common surname could you come up with than Smith?!

That may have tipped my concern when I looked up to the previous line and realized that Kate's father wasn't Charles L. Allen, as we had been told in other records, but Charles A. Allen. Frustrating. My future research path was now sealed: I had to look for another confirmation of Kate's parentsjust in case I had the wrong Kate or Charles Allen.

Above: Excerpt from Kate Smith-Allen Hopkins' Pike County, Kentucky, 1928 death certificate showing the curious spelling of her mother's maiden name, and the small discrepancy of her father's middle initial; image courtesy

Monday, January 8, 2018

An Earlier Glimpse of Kate

In searching for information on the couple featured in a photograph I found in a northern California antique shop, I'm still at the early stages of confirming the identity given on the back of the cabinet card. We can presume the photograph was taken in Louisville, Kentucky, and thanks to someone's thoughtful thoroughness, the names of the two subjects were handwritten on the reverse. We've already located a marriage record which seems likely to belong to that named couple, William Bernard and Kate Allen-Smith Hopkins, including names of the two witnesses.

Those witnesses may have been a husband and wife living in Louisville at the time, named Charles and Addie Allen. They were of an age, according to the 1900 census, to be more likely Kate's parents than a married sibling, except for one detail: Addie had only been married to Charles for twelve years, but Kate was already twenty years of age.

Had I located the wrong C. L. and Addie Allen?

I decided to take the easiest of two possible routes as my first attempt to verifyor rule outthis Charles Allen as Kate's father. I looked for an earlier record that would contain both Charles and a daughter named Kate in Louisville.

Moving backwards in time from the 1900 census, of course, lands us in that murky twenty year gap between two existing federal enumerations. But in 1880—our next option, as well as the very date the married Kate Hopkins declared as the year she was bornthere was a household containing a Charles Allen with a baby daughter named Kate. True to the later report, that earlier census record indicated the baby was born in February. And Charles declared the same occupation in both records, that of carpenter.

In the household, besides baby Kate, we find an older brother named William, who was born four years prior.

Most important, we learn that Charles' wife's name, in 1880, was not Addie, but Elizabeth. If we have the right household, that would mean that Elizabeth was likely the one who was Kate's mother.

Genealogy being genealogyand I being the doubtful researcher that I amI can't just leave it at that, though. What if I have the wrong C. L. Allen? After all, his name could have been Carl. Or Calvin. There are any number of possibilities. And we all know how perennially popular a name like Kate has been.

With that in mind, as I mentioned the other day, not only was it likely that I would pursue both of my research options, but it is precisely what I will do next. And, that done, I have a funny feeling I might want even more verification than that.

Next step: fast forward to the other end of Kate's life.

Above: Excerpt from the 1880 U.S. Census for Louisville, Kentucky, courtesy of
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