Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The First Sighting

Despite all the mother-in-law jokes which ever provided fodder for comedians' acts throughout the ages, I was certainly glad to find, in the 1920 census, one particular mother-in-law in the Fresno, California, household of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph H. Lee.

Ralph, a twenty seven year old immigrant from Canada, was working in California's agricultural "Big Valley" as a buyer specializing in fruit.

Ralph's wife, Pauline, was reported in this same census to have been born twenty two years earlier, somewhere in Colorado. Besides Ralph and Pauline, there were no children in the home, but there were two other people living there: a man who was a farmer, and his wife, a "trained nurse" working in a private home in the area.

This, of course, was not just any Paulineas I'm sure you've suspectedbut the very one I've been looking for since finding the baby picture dedicated to "Thirza and Pauline." The couple living with the Lees was none other than Thirza Cole and her husband, William. Conveniently listed for us by an unsuspecting census enumerator nearly one hundred years ago, the Coles were specifically identified to be mother-in-law and father-in-law to the head of the household, Ralph Lee.

In other words, the Pauline listed in Louise Van Noate's baby photo was Thirza's own daughter.

With that discovery came others. For one thing, I learned Pauline's married name, as well as her approximate date and location of birth. I learned her father's full nameand thus, one and the same, the name of Thirza's husband.

In case, in subsequent records, the parents and daughter were to maintain separate households, I could now trace Paulineand any potential descendants who might be interested in the photographs I've foundthrough the information shown here in the 1920 census about her husband's identity. Best of all, I learned that Thirza was indeed named Thirza, and not Thiega or Thieza or any other name permutation which difficult handwriting on the photos might have led me to pursue.

I happened upon this 1920 census record quite by accident. You know how it is: you open up an online service and tap in the name of the person you are seeking, and voila!, there she is in multitudes of entries. Which one to choose first? I picked at random, and am now so thankful that the haphazard choice I made was the 1920 census.

You see, that was the last census record where I'd find Pauline listed—not just as a member of the same household as Thirza, but as an entry in any record whatsoever. By the time of the 1930 census, neither Pauline or her husband were anywhere to be found.

Above: Thirza Cole, her husband William, daughter Pauline and son-in-law Ralph H. Lee, itemized in the Fresno, California, Lee household for the 1920 census. Image courtesy


  1. Replies
    1. Oh believe me, Miss Merry, I was delighted to stumble upon this one! It was the best discovery I could have found first.

  2. Well one mystery is solved which leads to another...where is Pauline after 1920?

    1. Isn't it like that, Far Side? One thing always seems to lead to another...problem...


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