Friday, March 23, 2018

Connecting Two Sisters—
no, Make That Three

Obituaries, as much as they mark sadoften tragicevents, provide family history researchers with the intel to fill in the gaps in the family constellation. When we found a transcription of the obituaries for the young couple, Ralph and Pauline Lee, posted on their Find A Grave memorials, we gained a valuable clue: Pauline had an aunt.

We already know that Pauline Lee's parents were William and Thirza Cole. It was Thirza's family photographseach of them, no matter who the subject, marked with her namewhich had started me on this quest to research the Cole family in hopes of returning the hundred-plus-year-old photographs I had found to family members.

Despite knowing Pauline's parents' names, we still had a problem: I could not locate the family unit in the 1910 census. Thankfully, when we had found the family all living together for the 1920 census, Pauline's father's name had been clearly spelled out as William E. Cole, but by the time of her death a few years later, his identity had reverted to the more formal Mr. W. E. Cole. With a name as commonand enigmaticas that, it would be a challenge to locate the right family unit, especially if Thirza went by a middle name at the same time.

Moving back in time to locate the 1900 censuswhen Pauline would have been just three years of ageI did manage to find the Cole family in the enumeration, but no longer in California. By 1900, they were living in Colorado, in the newly-created Teller County on the western slopes of Pike's Peak. Young Pauline and her parents, Thirza and William, were living with his brother and mother. At that time, William's occupation was listed as "gold miner," apparently a hot pursuit on the minds of many men in that region during the turn of the century.

But who was Pauline's aunt, Nellie Yates? Was she one of the Cole siblings? Or related to Thirza's as-yet-unnamed side of the family? Thirza's husband, William Cole, was one of six siblings, as we could tell from the 1900 census, but those siblings turned out to all be brothers. Yates wouldn't fit tidily into that picture.

The hunt was on to locate the connection between Thirza and Nellie. This is one of those parts of the pursuit where I simply cannot recreate the sequence of how I uncovered the details to solve this question, but fortunately, I did locate two marriage records in Colorado which helped push the margin back another generation.

Yates turned out to be Nellie's married name. I did find her in Colorado for three consecutive census enumerations, beginning with 1910, where I learned that Nellie's husband was named William D. Yates. Together with their four year old daughter Eleanor, they lived in Chaffee County, where William worked as a locomotive engineer.

By the time of the 1920 census, the Yates family had a helpful addition: William's sister-in-law, Mable C. Browns, was living with them.

The 1910 census had indicated that William and Nellie had married in 1897, and the 1900 census had reported that the Coles had married in 1895, so I gambled on the sisters' maiden name being the same as that of William Yates' sister-in-law Mable, and tried my hand at locating some Colorado marriage records. Sure enough, William Yates had married one Nellie B. Browne on September 18, 1902, and William Cole had wed a Thirza M. Brown on September 28, 1895.

With that discovery, my next step would be to locate a Brown or Browne family with daughters named Thirza, Nellie and Mable.


  1. And how did the Browne family manage to come up with 2 common names and 1 unique one for the girls? Was there a Thirza grandmother or aunt?

  2. Replies
    1. Yes! And to celebrate even the little ones! Every step forward helps!

  3. Replies
    1. That bit of luck is always welcome, Far Side...and I'll need it to piece together the rest of this family line!


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