Thursday, June 14, 2018

In Search of Some Dawsons

It may seem a taboo subject, in genealogy circles, to discuss using material from someone else's family tree. Do I copy other people's trees? Of course not. But I'm not afraid to take a peek.

Normally, when I'm in search of a potential candidate to receive a photograph I've rescued from an antique shop, one of the places I consult is the very one rich with other people's family trees: So, now that we're wondering just who that Hazel from Aberdeen, Washington, might have been, I've been trawling through all the family trees of parents who had five year olds in the 1900 census.

For this search, there is one requirement: that five year old needed to be a girl named Hazel. And she had to live close enough to Aberdeen to have her picture taken at the Finch studio in town.

Once I narrowed the search down to just a few possibilities, the next task is to take a long, hard look at just one of the candidates. That's the hypothesis-testing phase.

For that, I chose to focus on a little girl born in 1894 named Hazel Dawson. As we've already seen, her parents were fairly well situated, as her father, William, served as "city street commissioner." Her mother's Canadian heritage may have given her just the right dose of a sense of "proper" decorum.

Once I made that choice, I was off to see what could be found in the family trees posted on Ancestry. Unfortunately, in this instance there weren't that many choices. I found one well-sourced tree, but learned almost instantly that I couldn't pursue that resource; it was a private tree. Though I sent a carefully worded request, I haven't heard back from the researcher. Yet.

The other treesbelieve me, there were very few of themwere either unsourced or had other signs indicating the researcher may not have been as careful as I would like to see.

Unless I hear back from the researcher of the private tree, it is likely this route will not provide any answers. With that realization, I needed to head in a different direction. My choice, at that point, was to consult the various newspaper collections I subscribe to.

I went first to GenealogyBank, unsure whether that would be a resource for newspapers from a town as tiny as Aberdeen in the early 1900s. Fortunately, in the manner of newspapers of that era, the larger city papers often carried news from the towns in the vicinity, in columns under subheadings bearing the name of each town. Thus, the Holquiam local news made its way into the Tacoma Daily Ledger, including an entry from Hazel Dawson's hometown on a social event in its January 12, 1908, edition. (If you are a GenealogyBank subscriber, you can view the entry here.)
The Girls' Swastika club of Holquiam, comprising the members of Mrs. McDonnel's Sunday school class, were entertained at her home on Karr avenue Saturday afternoon. After a short business meeting the afternoon was pleasantly spent in playing games, after which refreshments were served. 

That small entry was followed by a list naming the ten girls in attendance that day, with Hazel Dawson's name the last entry.

Hazel not only spent her childhood in Holquiam, that city right next to Aberdeen, but she had been married in Holquiam, as well. I had hoped to at least find some articles on her engagement or wedding, but nothing further showed up searching in that newspaper collection.

Switching search terms to locate Hazel by her married name, Giles, led to only one result: an obituary for Hazel and Harold Giles' daughter. The couple had had two children, a son and a daughter, but they had lost their son during the massive casualties inflicted during the Battle of the Bulge.

It was somewhat eerie reading the details in Hazel's daughter's recent obituary, especially with the thought heavy on my mind about last weekend's devastating loss of local history back in the county of Hazel's birth. The obituary was careful to mention the woman's grandfather, William Dawson, as "an early Washington State pioneer who settled in Axford Prairie near the Humptulips River in 1883." (Yes, there really is a river called by that name.)

The obituary also mentioned that this granddaughter had "many interests" including genealogy. It particularly struck methinking again of the recent loss of Aberdeen's many historic artifacts and documentsthat she worked for a "library for local history" in Boulder, Colorado, where she and her family had settled, and that one of her projects there was "archiving photographs from Boulder's early days." How ironic if that woman turns out to have been the daughter of the child in the photograph I have from Aberdeen's "early days."

If only I could have asked her about it. Given her interest in such subjects, surely she would have knownor at least tried to find the answer for me.


  1. Oh wow! It gave me chills to read that she was involved in genealogy and archiving. I agree with you that if she was still alive, she would have helped you find the answer. Hopefully the owner of the private tree feels a similar feeling and allows you see their tree.

    1. Kathleen, you and I are on the same wavelength on this one. Yeah, chills. Of course, that's only provided I've got the right guess as to which Hazel is the right one. Still, it was interesting to run into a mention of someone who cared very much about the same things we think are so important.

  2. Swastika Club?! Well there you go. Certainly didn’t see that coming.

    I wouldn’t discount unsourced trees. That doesn’t mean shoddy research. It could mean they just didn’t link the research.

    1. Yeah, I wondered about providing a bit more of an explanation on that one, Wendy. Getting into the nitty gritty of history can reveal some real surprises. I had run across things like this before, thanks to researching family history via newspapers--like the Swastika baseball team I saw mentioned in turn-of-the-century Fort Wayne news. We miss those little details if we don't have our noses in the news from 100 years ago. Apparently, public sentiment about such details was far different than we assume nowadays.

      Good point about the unsourced trees. I probably won't contact those researchers, though, since it appears the relationship to direct line descendants of Hazel is much more distant in those trees. One of them turns out to be a huge tree which includes a lot of British royalty. Makes me wonder more about Hazel Dawson's mother's Canadian roots, but not enough to permit the curiosity to get the best of me. I do still have some other options--and that is only provided Hazel Dawson is the right Hazel. She might not be...


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