Sunday, September 30, 2018
One of the things I clearly remember from those first days when I was old enough to start doing family history research on my own was finding published genealogies in the Sutro library. Back then, if I pulled a book down off the shelf at Sutro, I could be fairly certain its title would specify a surname and include the phrase, "the descendants of."
Now, things are different, and the general instructions seem to be, "start with me"—and then work your way backwards in time. While that is fine—and gives a researcher a wonderful perspective on all the ancestors of one given person—I miss the ability to take in the view from the reverse. I like, also, to be able to learn of all the people who are related to a specific ancestral couple from two, three, or more centuries ago.
Given that fascination, I suppose it will be no surprise to learn that that is one of my specific projects: to create what people now call the "reverse genealogy" of my ancestors. Of course, this is not all owing to simple flights of fancy. I have a secondary reason for doing that type of research: I want to be prepared to connect my thousands of DNA matches to the right branches on my family tree.
Admittedly, that type of task has its fill of grunt work, routinely going from branch to branch, adding every descendant of a couple, then moving to that couple's siblings, one by one, and doing the same for those descendants. It's a wearying process, one that must be painstakingly administered lest an entire branch be inadvertently omitted.
In the process, though, I run across some fascinating discoveries about my distant cousins. Yesterday, for instance, I learned that my fourth cousin once removed turned out to be a journalist with the newspaper of record for a major metropolitan area—who just so happened to be instrumental in that publication's receipt of a Pulitzer prize, back in 1966.
I probably would have glossed right over that tidbit, if it weren't for keeping a close eye on the obituaries for each of those relatives I was adding to my own exhaustive "reverse genealogy" project. In this particular branch of the extended family, I needed all the help I could find, for the surname in question was...oh, groan...Jones. And the man in question—the one where I was stuck—happened to have the handy first name of John.
Of course, this was not the first I had struggled to find some details on this family; his father's name was also John Jones. Their appearance in those regularly-issued governmental documents we genealogists come to rely on so heavily was, to say the least, spotty. The family seemed to move about often (okay, I admit: if you leave it to me, I'd say they outright disappeared).
Finding information on the younger John Jones' sister wasn't much of a help, either. Her obituary was vague, but I noticed there were no descendants for her branch of this line, leaving me no clues or resources with which to garner more details.
For some reason, last night I decided to go back and tackle the problem again. I went, step by step, over each person in the family, starting with the previous generation, as if to work up a running start to leap into this generation. And then, I re-read the lone obituary I had been able to find for this family—the one for that sister of John Jones.
This time, I noticed one tiny detail: her obituary mentioned the one survivor, her brother. But it didn't call him by his given name. The text had called him by a nickname: Jack.
While my brain automatically searches, when cued with nicknames, for the proper version of that moniker, this time I didn't fall into that trap. I tried searching specifically for the name as Jack Jones. I already had a date of death—presumably for the right John Jones—thanks to the California Death Index provided on Ancestry.com. This time, I looked to see if I could find an obituary for a Jack Jones with that date of death.
I found one.
Actually—and you know this is how it goes when researching a common surname like Jones—I found more than one with similar obituary dates in the search results for the subscription newspaper archives I use. But one in particular stood out.
This instance was one of those articles which was not the standard format for an obituary, but rather a report on someone of significance to the community. I found the details first in a transcription of the obituary at GenealogyBank. I followed up by looking up his entry at Wikipedia—using the name he was known by in his line of work—as well as what I could find on his second wife. It was at the Wikipedia entry that I found the link to the original article at the Los Angeles Times.
What I discovered about this man was that he was a journalist who had worked for the Los Angeles Times during the tumultuous 1960s. At the time of the Watts riots in L.A., Jack Jones covered the story, and in the aftermath, provided the byline for a series of articles on how the community fared, drawing from the reports of several fellow Times staffers working on the same detail. It was that October series that netted the newspaper the 1966 Pulitzer Prize in the "local general or spot news reporting" category.
Of course, as exceptional as that experience must have been, it was one moment in a man's lifetime. Jones was also a novelist, a World War II veteran, and had the unusual claim to fame of having his wedding to actress Barbara Stewart paid for by Jack Webb of Dragnet.
All that from a stubborn dash that didn't want to give up its secrets to a fourth cousin, once removed, who really wanted to know.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
Sometimes, we get so absorbed with finding the vital details about an ancestor that we forget the little dash in the middle is the key to understanding just who those people were. The date of birth followed by the inevitable date of death become the bookends of a person's life, at least on a pedigree chart. We take great care in documenting each ancestor with those two identifiers—adding to that the date of a wedding and the increases in a family with the dates of each child born—until our pedigree charts look quite complete. What's missing, though, is the very detail that adds color to our family's picture.
I was reminded of that little dash between the vital dates while working on a behind-the-scenes project this week. Right now, I may be blogging about those family photos I've rescued from antique shops in Gold Rush country, but in the meantime, I'm piling on the details as I build my mother's southern family tree. Names, dates, documentation, for one and for all—and then I'm on to the next generation.
Somewhere while slogging through all this minutiae in my own family tree, I ran across an entry that caught my eye. It wasn't something that would fit nicely into a category of birth, marriage, or death, but I wondered about that detail and wanted to follow through.
The item was a simple mention of an occupation, listed in the census record. Admittedly, that is one of those "dash" kinds of details that help us learn more about what our ancestors were actually like, but I often give that entry just a cursory glance—in some cases, simply to make sure I have the right person by that name, instead of a mistaken identity.
In this case, the occupation listed was executor for an estate. In my mind, serving as executor is something we do for those dearly departed who held a significant relationship: a family member or close friend. Not exactly what I'd call an occupation, though all told, the effort can consume a great amount of time.
In this particular example, not only was the occupation listed, but for the column requesting the kind of business this service might have been classified under, this relative reported the actual name of the deceased.
Working back through the years, checking this relative's entries for each decade's enumeration, I realized the estate that consumed his time in the more recent census records was one and the same as the individual for whom he had worked, when the man was still alive. It became apparent that the reporting party expected that the name would be widely recognized—which made me curious to learn just who this man was, myself. He seemed to be involved in the oil industry in Houston, Texas.
Finally, the call of the dash—at least for this relative's story—got the best of me, and I succumbed to that nagging thought that I should at least look up my relative's name in some newspaper archives. Imagine my surprise to learn that at least this one person's dash—that tiny horizontal line separating his date of birth and date of death—filled the headlines in Houston newspapers, where he was being tried for complicity in what was billed as one of Houston's most notorious murder cases in memory.
Who would have known? Nothing in his routine documentation indicated anything of the sort. Other than the fact that he died relatively young, there was no birth, marriage, census or death record to lead me to suspect he was anything other than yet another "normal" American citizen.
After stumbling upon a detail like that, you can be sure I spent a lot of time reading up on the news from 1930s Houston. I wanted to know if he really "did it" and whether he got off free. I wanted to know what happened to his wife, his daughter—and what the rest of his family thought about it. And, barring restrictions of my own schedule, I can find out quite a bit of the proceedings, as the newspaper reporting was continuous and delved into the minute-by-minute details of each court session.
Granted, many of our ancestors led quiet (read: boring) lives, doing what they were supposed to do to raise a family and be a responsible member of their community. Such exemplary conduct seldom merits extensive coverage by the press. But for the occasional relative—and my maternal grandmother's line seemed to have more than their fair share of these black sheep—it is the newspaper records of past decades which can give us the detail we seek to fill in that little blank, that dash between the beginning and ending dates of our ancestors' lives.
Friday, September 28, 2018
How helpful it is to find corroborating evidence when puzzling over the identity of subjects in abandoned antique photographs. It is, at least, a good thing that the photo I shared with you yesterday contained both first and middle names for each of five Purkey children. Apparently, when reporting family details to census enumerators, their parents sometimes switched from one name to the other, making it a challenge, in retrospect, to piece together any documentation of their family constellation.
It didn't help that I had estimated the date of the photograph to be much earlier than it turned out to be. The worn appearance of the surface, complete with smudge marks and stains, made the picture look more time-weary than the truth of its years. The narrow margin, coupled with the lack of photographer's imprint, led me to think in the wrong direction.
I was, however, able to come up with a Purkey family containing the five children's names—or at least their variant for the 1900 census. That Purkey family was located in Pocatello, Idaho—an encouraging tip, considering our nexus with the Brockman family was an in-law who grew up in that same town.
But don't send me accolades for research heroism just yet. Remember, I have a second photograph of some of those same children—albeit at an earlier date—along with their parents. Thus, it was a snap to realize the parents of the children we saw in the photo yesterday were named Erastus and Olive Purkey.
Helpful, too, was the small detail on the lower margin of the second photo: the name of the photography studio and its location. Whoever the family of Erastus and Olive Purkey were, they moved to Pocatello from Menomonie, Wisconsin.
It is a really good thing that I had that second photograph to rely on for the Purkeys' whereabouts, for each of the Purkey children was born after the 1880 census—in that research black hole left by the near-total destruction of the 1890 census. How often we researchers are reminded of the depth of that loss.
In this case, without that second photograph, the trail—at least in Pocatello—would have gone cold quickly. But with the names of the parents, we can follow their path backwards in time to learn about some interesting connections to the subject of another abandoned photograph which has since made its way back home.
Above: Label from the lower margin of a second photograph which included some of the older Purkey children, along with their parents. The photographer's studio—if I am reading the writing correctly—seems to read "R. O. Helsom" in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Thankfully, the names of those in the picture were provided on its reverse.
Thursday, September 27, 2018
Most of the time, when I rescue abandoned photographs from their resting place at an antique shop, it is the one solitary picture amidst the collection which contains that particular surname. But when my project partner Sheri Fenley and I arrived at one of the antique stores in Sonora, California, the collection turned out to be different. Along with that photograph labeled "Adolph Brockman and wife," there were several others which came complete with names listed on the reverse. The good news in this case—at least for somebody out there who shares our fascination with family history—is that many of the names were from the same family.
At least one of those surnames, as I came to discover, was connected with the same Brockman descendant whose father was born in West Point, Nebraska, and who eventually moved to live in Sonora.
The Brockman father who was born in Nebraska was a younger brother of the Adolph Brockman whose wedding photo we've been struggling to properly identify. This brother, Edward, was eighteen years younger than Adolph. Unlike his older married brother, as a teenager, Edward moved with his family from Nebraska to Colorado, and when in his twenties, moved again to Pocatello, Idaho.
It was in Idaho that the younger Brockman was married to a young Pocatello woman named Corinne. When I discovered her maiden name was Purkey, I felt like I had just hit the genealogy jackpot; Purkey was the surname on the back of several of the photographs I had found in that Sonora antique shop.
Even though each of the Purkey pictures was labeled with names, it wasn't exactly self-evident just how these Purkey people were related to each other. While it seemed I was handed the answer sheet to this portion of my quest to reunite such hundred-year-old photographs with their family's descendants, it wasn't quite so simple to zoom straight to the conclusion.
Take this portrait, below, of what looks like five energetic Purkey children. I know from the label that the picture represents Burt Edward, Mabel Theresa, Myrtle Ivy, Lester Manford and Leslie Earl Purkey—but how, exactly, were these children related to our Brockman in-law Corinne Purkey?
It is this next adventure that will lead us through several photographs of the extended Purkey family, and examine the path that took the Purkeys to Pocatello, Idaho—and then, eventually, to Corinne and Edward Brockman's son in Sonora.
Above: Found in a Sonora, California, antique shop undated, with location unknown, this photograph of five children is labeled—hopefully correctly—with the names Burt Edward, Mabel Theresa, Myrtle Ivy, Lester Manford, and Leslie Earl Purkey; photograph currently in possession of author until claimed by a Purkey descendant.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
If the hundred year old wedding photograph I found in a northern California antique shop wasn't of a groom named Adolph Brockman—even though that's who the label said he was—then who was he? We're pretty sure, now that we've compared the pictures side by side, that the mystery groom wasn't Adolph's brother-in-law, either. But just in case this picture still ought to be kept in the same family, is there anything we can discover about the bride?
First, let's take a look at the bride from the photo I found in California, and compare her with the one in the photograph passed down through the Brockman family of Nebraska to our contact, Jeff in Oregon.
Just as we saw when comparing the grooms from each of the two wedding photos, these two people do not look alike. Of course, there's the dead giveaway of the bridal veils and gowns, but even the difference of the two hairstyles may provide guidance about differing time frames.
I wondered, just as we had for the comparison of the potential grooms, whether one of the two families might have contained an alternate family member for the bride. After all, we already know that Adolph Brockman's sister Mathilda married Vernie Nieman's brother Frank. Could there have been another such liaison?
I noticed, in the wedding photo provided by Brockman descendant Jeff, that there was another sibling in the wedding party. This young woman was partially unidentified, as she seemed to be a Nieman, but her first name was not listed. Could one of the Nieman sisters be the true bride from the photograph I found in California? Take a look and decide for yourself.
While the tilt of the head and the apparent age difference make it hard to adequately judge, the eyes and eyebrows do seem vaguely similar. But not totally convincing. I tried scouting out other photos to use for comparison on Nieman, Neiman, or Neimann family trees online without any success.
Of course, I happened to also notice that Vernie Nieman and her siblings also had an older sister—Rosa—who was already married and out of the home by the time of the 1910 census we had been looking at. (Interestingly, it turned out that while this Rosa and her husband remained in Nebraska, their oldest son ended up, during the war, working as a mechanic downtown in the same city where I now live in California—and was buried, in 1996, in a country cemetery in my county, though I doubt that had any bearing on how my photo ended up so far from the family's home in Nebraska.)
Could it be possible that the photo was actually of Vernie's older sister and her husband?
Could it be any of the other siblings on either the Brockman side or the Nieman side?
Or could it just be a mislabeled photograph tucked away in the collection of someone who is no longer with us to explain such an incorrect guess?
While it would be disappointing to just leave it at that, there might still be a way to figure this out—but it will take much more time. Remembering that, according to Jeff's hunch, the photo I found in California might have ended up there in the home of another Brockman descendant, I may have some other pictures on hand from that same Sonora antique shop that could help us determine that true identity of our mystery couple.
As it turns out, in researching the family of that Brockman descendant in Sonora, California, the other side of that generation's family included some surnames that are listed on the back of several of the pictures I rescued from that northern California antique shop. It will take some patience, as we go through the stack of photos I found, but perhaps...just perhaps...a clue will surface.
In the meantime, Adolph and Vernie—or whoever they turn out to be—will be headed to Brockman researcher Jeff in Oregon. If we can't figure out their true identity here, perhaps the Brockman family can some day weigh in with their own verdict.
Above: Side by side comparisons of the brides and with the one bridesmaid arranged, courtesy of Chris Stevens, from the misidentified photograph found in Sonora, California (on the left) and two of the women in the photograph of the actual Brockman wedding party taken in Nebraska, provided by Brockman family member Jeff in Oregon; used by permission.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
There was another possibility, in the puzzle of the true identity of the groom in that wedding photo I found in a northern California antique shop. Adolph Brockman—the one identified in both the photo I found and a very different wedding photo sent to me by Brockman descendant Jeff—had married Verna Nieman (or Neiman, depending on the source of the documentation). Like Adolph, Verna came from a large Nebraska family. In fact, if you recall the picture of the wedding party from yesterday's post, two of Verna's siblings were likely in her photograph.
One of the siblings we are not sure about, as the photo, provided by Jeff, left a question mark for the sister's first name, but according to the 1910 census entry for Verna's family, that sister might have been either Nancy or Mary.
The other sibling was Verna's older brother Frank.
In my conversations with Jeff about the possibility of a mistaken labeling of the photo I found, he had a suggestion for the now-unidentified groom in that picture. Since it turned out that Frank soon married his brother-in-law Adolph's sister Mathilda, the thinking might have been that this was the true identity of the couple. As it turned out that Adolph Brockman and Verna "Niemann" were married on Thursday, June 15, 1911 and, according to Jeff, their siblings Frank Nieman and Mathilda Brockman followed suit only a few months afterwards, it might seem logical to assume that was the cause of the switched identities in the photos.
But when we put pictures side by side from about the same time frame, I start to lose my enthusiasm for such a convenient hypothesis. See for yourself what I mean. Here, below, on the left is our mystery man, labeled in the California photo as Adolph Brockman. On the right is the photo of Frank Nieman, at least as he was listed in the photo of the wedding party from Jeff's family photograph collection. I don't think, in the course of only a few months, that Frank's appearance would have changed quite that much—if at all.
Above: Side by side comparison arranged, courtesy of Chris Stevens, from the misidentified photograph labeled Adolph Brockman found in Sonora, California (on the left) and the picture labeled "Frank Nieman" (on the right) from a copy of the original Brockman wedding photograph taken in Nebraska, provided by family member Jeff in Oregon. Even if taking into consideration that hairstyles do change over time, features of each man's face seem too different to conclude that they were one and the same person.
Monday, September 24, 2018
There are some states which provide genealogists with exactly the information they are seeking: scans of documents with full information on, say, the two parties who are about to say, "I do." As I'm finding out, Nebraska is not one of those states.
It would be handy to be able to look up the marriage record for Adolph Brockman and Verna Nieman—or, in some cases, the spelling shows up as Neiman—but, barring a quick trip to the brisk clime at Nebraska at the start of autumn, we have no other recourse.
Yes, it would be helpful to know the exact date when Adolph and Vernie tied the knot, but it would be even more helpful if we could browse through the records in Cuming County, Nebraska, to see if, by chance, any other Brockmans had gotten married at about the same time. More to the point, it might also be helpful if we could peruse any entries for the Nieman family, too.
Here's why. Let's revisit the wedding photograph shared with us by Jeff in Oregon, labeled with Adolph and Vernie's names. Remember when we first saw that and realized the Adolph in Jeff's picture wasn't quite the same as the man whom our label had told us was Adolph Brockman? The young gentleman in our photo looked similar to the man standing to the far right in the wedding party for Jeff's photo.
That man was Adolph's brother William. The only problem was: I can find no marriage records for William Brockman. He is listed as single in the 1920 census, the 1930 census (as W. E. Brockman), and the 1940 census. Besides, he reported himself to be single in the draft registration for the first world war, and for the second world war, we can infer the same from his listing his mother's name and address as closest contact, rather than a wife or child. Even at his burial place at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, I don't see any indication that his headstone also bears an entry for a spouse.
To complicate matters, there was another William Brockman in Nebraska. Born in Cuming County, Nebraska, a little over a year before our William, this William did get married—to Verda, a name almost too similar to our Adolph's wife Verna's name—and was living, by the time he registered for the draft, in Pilger, Nebraska.
However, following the whereabouts of our Brockman family, we know the parents and the younger Brockman children moved from Nebraska to Morgan County, Colorado—and that our William ended up in the same location, as well. Whoever that other William Brockman was—and he could likely be another relative—we can be certain our singleton William was a different person.
When I brought that photo identity puzzle up to Jeff—after all, he is a Brockman, and should know a little bit more about his family than a stranger like I am—he suggested an alternate identity. You see, Adolph married a woman from a neighboring family in Cuming County, whose surname I've seen spelled, alternately, Nieman or Neiman. By the time of the 1910 census, Verna Neiman had two older brothers and two younger sisters.
If you notice from the wedding photo Jeff shared with us, there were some Niemans listed in that wedding party, namely one unidentified sister, and Verna's brother Frank. Jeff posited that perhaps the wedding photo I found in that antique store in northern California might have actually been that of Verna's brother's wedding, rather than her own. That may be a possibility—or perhaps Verna's other brother might have been the one. We'll take a closer look at that, tomorrow.
Above: Wedding photo of Adolph and Vernie Nieman Brockman of Nebraska, shared by Jeff in Oregon, a Brockman descendant; used by permission.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
It's not the change of the season that puts me in the mood for Christmas, it's the need for another good holiday DNA sale. I've been looking over the count in DNA matches for the various tests I manage, and if there was a good turnout for the summer sales promotions, I can't tell.
Of course, I say that just as an anomaly strikes: I've finally gotten a contact from someone else. Rather than being the one who reaches out to my matches, last week, someone had contacted me. It was concerning my husband's results, but I'll be happy with any communication someone else initiates on this topic. The funny thing was...the only surnames I recognized in this match's tree were surnames belonging to me. I promise I've run our results through the one-to-one GEDmatch utility, and there is no sign we inadvertently married our own cousin, so these reoccurring surnames in his tree certainly have me puzzled.
Perhaps I'm wasting too much angst on such a tiny problem, something which I suspect comes from too little action on the DNA match front. I've noticed, lately, that in every two week period, each of our tests garners ten matches or less. Of course, there are exceptions. We're back to shrinking results at the ever-disappearing 23andMe, and on the other end of the spectrum, suspecting "funny money" status at MyHeritage, where my match count jumped 193 in just the past two weeks, and my husband's leapt by 163.
It would be nice if matches hadn't slowed to such a trickle—well, everywhere but at MyHeritage—which makes me long for a good holiday sale again. It's those descendants of elusive ancestors that I would most like to match up with. Doesn't everyone...
In the meantime, I keep at the more practical work of adding to our family trees. Remembering my focus on the southern roots in my mother's line, that's where the majority of my efforts have focused for two months, now, as I prepare for my southern research class at SLIG next January. So it comes as no surprise to realize that I added 145 names to my mom's tree in the past two weeks. The total there now stands at 14,886, and I'm finding lots of McClellan cousins that I had no idea even existed—especially in Texas!
As for my mother-in-law's tree, it has frozen at 15,703 individuals, and will likely stay that way for another half year. My father-in-law's tree managed to increase by a count of one, and I can't even remember why. It was likely on account of accidentally opening that tree, spotting a hint, and dispatching it before I realized I wasn't sticking to my resolution. Oh, well...that's the tree I really wish I could get back to, so I'm sure one more name won't hurt for now. Besides, nothing has happened on my own dad's tree, so I really am trying to stick to my resolve.
Sometimes, the routine work of genealogy can get dreary. It's simply a matter of finding documents to link to each person I add on that southern line, verifying each fact, then moving on to the next person. In the meantime, though, I am keeping a running list of questions that pop up and things I want to delve into, once I get to class next January. I figure I can't manage to ask any good questions if I don't let myself get stumped beforehand, so I am working my hardest to find a few stumbling blocks on this southern road of research. In the meantime, I'm finding some good stories...and busting a few other family legends in the process.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
It seems to be a great time to be involved in genealogical research. No more crawling around on dusty floors to retrieve the book we wanted that just happened to be on the bottom shelf. No more gingerly balancing that fully-extended card catalog, just to read the card we wanted that turned out to be the next to last card in the drawer. And—more important than anything else I can think of—no more waiting for six weeks (or longer) to get back that stamped, self-addressed envelope we sent off with hopes of receiving the all-important certificate that would solve all our family mysteries...and then discovering that nothing could be found in the records, after all.
Now, we have webinars. Podcasts. Digitized records on websites. With a mere click, we can conjure up documents that once took six weeks or longer—or never—to retrieve. With research luxuries like that, who needs to step out the door to do genealogy anymore?
Sadly, that has had its impact on what used to be the staple of the family history pursuit: the gathering together of groups of like-minded researchers. You remember those, don't you? We used to call them genealogical societies. Likely, there was such a group that gathered somewhere near you. With the advent of all these wonderful research utilities, some people have observed that genealogical society memberships correspondingly dwindled.
Of course, there are those who are quite happy to bring up other reasons for the demise of societies. I call them the detractors. You know the routine. Meetings are too far away. At inconvenient times. Run by grumpy autocrats. Or research Luddites. Yeah, yeah. I'd rather have Take Two: just how can we switch this up so we meet needs, instead of just complain about how they aren't being met?
This past week, our local society started up its fall meeting sequence. We take the summer off because, well, summer. Time for vacations—or at least genea-travels to distant research centers or spots of family significance. But with September, it's back to "school" for those of us who wish to polish our research skills.
Though ours is not the biggest of local societies, we certainly have the energy of a thriving group. And that's what makes me realize that getting together with like-minded people still has its place, even in our virtual-reality world. Maybe it's just that, once people see what we are up to, they want to be a part of it. I sometimes wonder if they realize what it is that they've been missing, once they get to rub shoulders with it, once again.
That type of discovery makes me realize that perhaps we, as genealogy groups, need to band together to explore ways to become more pertinent to the needs of individual genealogists—and not only genealogists who are professionals, but avocational researchers, as well. Just being able to reframe the viewpoint from "what are we doing wrong?" to "what can we do to become more relevant to today's researchers?" will point us in a more promising direction.
I hope to initiate that conversation in my own local area, and I'm wondering whether anyone else is testing these same waters in other locations. Do any other genealogy enthusiasts get together to specifically discuss just that: how we can best get together? While I realize there is supposed to be a conference for this very reason—the Federation of Genealogical Societies' annual conference—sometimes, this sort of discussion is better suited to a round table and people with like local interests.
Networking, brainstorming, crowdsourcing: when these all have an element of local interest attached to them, perhaps the results become more practical—and applicable—to the organization we originally were concerned about, the local genealogical society. I know my quest is to see ours thrive. Surely, I am not alone in that goal.
Friday, September 21, 2018
To begin with, the photos we've had the privilege to see—thanks to Jeff in Oregon, the Brockman descendant who has sent them to me—all have been labeled according to the information he received from older members of the Brockman family. Now that I've seen other family pictures of Adolph Brockman—the groom in the wedding portrait I found in an antique store in Sonora, California—I'm not so sure the label on the back of the abandoned photo was correct. Perhaps my wedding photo wasn't really representing the event people thought it was.
So that you can see what I'm noticing, let's start with the comparison of Adolph Brockman from his family photograph and Adolph from the wedding photo provided to me by Jeff. As I'm sure you'll agree, we are talking about the same person in both shots.
Next, let's take a look at the Adolph Brockman from Jeff's version of his wedding photo and put it side by side with the "Adolph" from the wedding photo I found in Sonora—the one labeled with Adolph's name.
Granted, lighting differences and maturing of features as young people age will render a slightly different perspective, as will changing fashions and hair styles. But there is a little bit too much of a difference between these two likenesses for me to be satisfied with calling them different versions of the same face.
There was, however, another face in the portraits which made me wonder whether that might have been the true identity of the groom in the wedding portrait I found in California. If we use Jeff's copy of the Brockman family photo as our genealogical "Rosetta Stone," I spy someone else who has somewhat similar eyes, eyebrows, hairline, and ears. Yes, the ears.
See if these two photos don't look similar to you:
On the left is our mystery groom, and flanking him is the picture of Adolph's brother William, from the family photograph. And just in case the details were too fuzzy or poorly lit in that version of William's likeness, here's a comparison of William's family photo with that of his face in the confirmed wedding photo for Adolph and Verna.
So naturally, I began to wonder whether I had found the wedding photo for William Brockman, rather than that for Adolph and Vernie. Jeff, however, informed me of one glitch: William never got married.
Above: All side by side photographs arranged, courtesy of Chris Stevens, from copies of original Brockman photographs taken in Nebraska, provided by family member Jeff in Oregon, plus the misidentified photograph labeled Adolph Brockman found in Sonora, California.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
One of the things I love about this project to reunite abandoned family photos with descendants, a hundred years later, is all the correspondence that occurs with the recipient. From those emails, I often learn much more about the subject whose photo I am returning.
In the case of the wedding photo labeled "Adolph Brockman + wife," I've been privileged to see several other family photos, courtesy of the Brockman descendant to whom I'll be sending that picture I found in Sonora, California. It's taken me a while to look through all the details, so don't be surprised that it wasn't until last night that something struck me wrong about what I was seeing. I'll start unwinding my thoughts today, but I certainly welcome your input over the next few days as I share with you what I'm seeing. I am wondering whether we are witnessing a case of a photograph being mislabeled.
If you saw the family portrait I posted yesterday, shared courtesy of my Brockman correspondent, you probably were able to pick out Adolph. Not only was he the oldest of the Brockman children, he also appeared to be the tallest. His hairstyle, in particular, seemed to stand out.
So it was no surprise to subsequently discover, among the photos sent to me by Jeff (the Brockman descendant), another wedding picture of Adolph and Vernie. I'll share that below—with his permission, of course. You can see quickly how much Adolph resembled the eldest son in the photograph shared yesterday. If you remember the original portrait I had found in California, however, the comparison begins to pale. Either Adolph got a radically different hair style—not to mention a new set of ears—or we are seeing two different people.
Just in case I'm getting things wrong, I'll provide some side-by-side comparisons tomorrow, along with a few guesses as to what might have happened. I'm sure you will have a few ideas of your own, as well...
Above: Wedding photo of Adolph and Vernie Nieman Brockman, shared by Jeff in Oregon, a Brockman descendant; used by permission.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
In order to explain just how a wedding photograph from West Point, Nebraska, might have ended up in the foothills of northern California, it is perhaps easiest to step back and take in the big picture. The big family picture, that is.
Thankfully, the wedding photograph I found in an antique store in Sonora, California, was labeled. We know that the subjects were Adolph Brockman and his wife Verna. We've since found them in census records and discovered that their only daughter, though long-lived, died in 2009 having left no descendants.
Of course, the question in my mind is always, "How did the picture get to the place where I found it?" In the case of the Brockmans' wedding photo, it may very well be a case of family passing along the photo from generation to generation until there was no one to pass it to. That, at least, is the conjecture of one Brockman relative, who shared with me his theory as to how the Brockmans' wedding portrait ended up in Sonora, California.
Before I explain, let's first take a detour to see the big picture of the Brockman family tree. Adolph was the oldest of eleven siblings, ten of whom made it to adulthood. Adolph, born in 1889, had siblings stretching from 1892 when his sister Mathilda was born all the way to 1916 when the caboose of the family, youngest sister Ruth, was born.
Keeping in mind that Adolph and Vernie were married about 1911, all but his youngest sister were already born, true, but at the time of the wedding, half of those siblings were ten years of age or younger. At that point, the distance in age might have rendered the family connection less informal than one would expect from a sibling relationship.
To further increase that sense of distance, after 1916, Adolph's parents—William and Augusta Brockman—moved from Nebraska, where all the children had been born, to Fort Morgan in Colorado, while Adolph and his wife set up housekeeping only one county away from their West Point home, back in Nebraska.
In every family, the rules regarding who gets to keep "the stuff"—those coveted family heirlooms and keepsakes—can be different. Often it is the oldest who is designated to receive many of those treasures. In the case of this photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman, however, it may have been one of the youngest sons who passed along the wedding picture of big brother Adolph.
Whether this was so or not, we can't be sure. But one thing I have been advised—through correspondence with a descendant of the next-to-youngest Brockman child—is that youngest brother Edward married a woman by the name of Corinne Bernice Purkey in Bannock, Idaho, and eventually passed away in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Like his big brother Adolph, Edward Brockman left just one child—in Edward's case, a son. And that son, curiously enough, ended up living in...you guessed it...Sonora, California.
Above: The family of William and Augusta Brockman of West Point, Nebraska, including nine of their eleven children—missing Ruth, born in 1916, and Ernst, who died in infancy. Photograph courtesy of Brockman descendant Jeff in Oregon; used by permission.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
I've often talked about how I pay attention to what I call "voice"—the way one person might address another. In the case of the photograph I'm about to reunite with a family member—the photograph of Adolph and Verna Brockman, taken in West Point, Nebraska, around 1911—I think it will be important to consider the "voice" used in labeling the reverse of the photograph.
As you may have seen in the comments to yesterday's post, I have found a Brockman family member, and we are working out the arrangements so I may mail Adolph and Vernie back to relatives. That family member—as is often the case, someone who cares greatly for carefully researching family history—mentioned a likely scenario for how the Nebraska photograph ended up in the foothills of northern California.
The possible trail does involve family members moving far from Nebraska. While I'm happy to know the likely story, something is also nudging me to remember that concept of voice.
Consider, for a moment, how you might label a photograph of your family members. Would you, for instance, write something like "Mr. and Mrs. Jones" on the back of a photo of your uncle and aunt? More likely, you'd write at least their first names: "Al and Sally." If you were being very conscientious of the family members tasked, long after you'd be gone, with figuring out just who all those people were, you might add a surname, even though everyone already knew the identity of Al and Sally. To be even more helpful, you might write something like Uncle Al and Aunt Sally, just to make sure your grandkids knew they were looking at relatives.
It would, possibly, take something far afield of kinship to label a photograph, "Adolph Brockman + wife." That, in my humble estimation, might be something included with a wedding announcement sent to a family acquaintance (or worse, merely a business associate) who hadn't actually been invited to the wedding.
But then, the key really is: what did people back in 1911 do when sending photographs of their special family occasions? Perhaps they were more formal. Perhaps this seemed more proper. But I'm not sure it would be something one did when sending a photograph to a sibling's family.
The other problem, though, is that we don't really know when the photograph was actually labeled. There are two different handwritings showing on the back of the Brockman photograph. One may have been entered as a way to tell family, much after the fact, just who that married couple had been. Or perhaps that is the label that mentioned Adolph and Vernie Brockman, including the hint of familiarity of the wife's nickname. But the more formal entry on the top of the photo makes me wonder who would have used that tone of voice in labeling the picture; there seems to be no recognition of family connection at all—at the very least, only a connection to Adolph, but certainly not Vernie.
While I could puzzle over this in endless iterations, I'm glad we now have a family member on hand to discuss an educated guess—and to keep me from going too far astray on these doubtful dissertations.
Above: The various entries of names on the reverse of the 1911 wedding photograph of Adolph and Vernie Brockman of West Point, Nebraska.
Monday, September 17, 2018
One of the ways that help me return abandoned photographs to family members is by tracing what became of the subject's descendants. In the case of the project I'm working on right now, though, the only daughter of Adolph and Vernie Brockman of Nebraska has been introduced to us with two different names. In the 1920 census, we learned that the Brockmans' daughter was named Velva—at least, if we can trust the enumerator's handwriting. But in the 1930 census, she was listed as Viola.
The obvious answer was to look for her in the 1940 census, but that was only an option if she remained in the same town in Nebraska with either of two names: Velva Brockman or Viola Brockman. By 1940, the Brockmans' daughter would have been at least twenty six years of age, very possibly a married woman.
It was in our favor that we looked first for her father's entry in the 1940 census. In a reversal of what often becomes the pattern, it was Adolph's wife who had passed away first, dying at the age of forty six in 1938. Adolph was not to follow her until four years later, in 1942—allowing just enough time for us to spot him in the 1940 census.
Along with Adolph, we find his daughter was still living at home. That is good news on two accounts. First, we confirm that her given name was actually Viola, not the overwritten "Velva" of the 1920 census. Second, we get the bonus of discovering Viola's married name, for in the Brockman household were two additional people: a lodger, and Viola's husband, Owen Blair.
Unlike her parents, Viola was long-lived, according to her memorial on Find A Grave. Based on the only obituary I could find for Viola, she may not have had any children—or, if she did, they predeceased her. There was no mention of descendants in the brief newspaper entry.
That presents me with a problem. Apparently, not only did Adolph and Verna Brockman spend their entire lives in the same region in Nebraska, but their daughter Viola did, as well. Gone are any conjectures that the Brockmans' wedding photo was carried off to California by their grandchildren. Though it may certainly be the case that the Brockmans—or perhaps either set of their parents—had mailed a copy of their wedding portrait to friends and distant relatives, it will be unlikely that we'll discover the link that landed the picture in my hands.
In the meantime, there is one more search in this quest: the search for a family member who would be interested in receiving Adolph and Vernie's photograph. While it obviously won't be a grandchild to receive the keepsake, there are still other options. As it turns out, Adolph came from a family with at least seven siblings, and Vernie from a family of seven or more children. Even if none of them removed to northern California, there might be someone who would be interested in receiving this photograph.
Above: Wedding photo of Adolph and Vernie Brockman, taken circa 1911 in West Point, Nebraska; currently in possession of author until claimed by a family member.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
We chuckle, in my family, when the topic comes up about the seemingly contradictory reply that goes somewhat like this: "Yeah...no."
It turns out this is considered a typically Californian thing to say. Little did I know, transplanted New Yorker that I am, steeped in California-isms for only the past few decades. Subsequently, like the frog lounging in the once-cool pot of water, I hardly realized the temperature was rising among language nazis. Answering someone in a friendly conversation with something along the lines of "Yeah, no" makes perfect sense when you fill in the rest of the blanks: that the other person in the conversation has just made a statement about something with a negative connotation; you, in turn, first agree with that negative statement, and then go on to confirm that negative assessment. Like, "Yeah, no."
While that may make perfect sense to a Californian—native or adopted—when it comes to my feelings about my next genealogy trip, that same phrase strikes me today much the same as most people actually translate that Californian figure of speech. Yes, I do want to get up and go, but no, I don't. I'm still tired from the last genealogy conference I attended. And following that one, there will be another.
I can't help it if I like my learning to be social. To me, learning is essentially interactive. It is so much more than just taking in the information blurted out by a talking head. I want two way communication. Questions. Responses building on added information. Connections. Networking. Building on possibilities. But sometimes, the effort to achieve that learning state can, in itself, be exhausting.
So, if you are talking to me and make a two-part comment like, "I don't think you learn as much from a session if you just sit at home and take it in by live-streaming—do you?" I can provide my corresponding two-part response: "Yeah, no that isn't my best way of learning, either."
But that is a moot point anyhow, if we are considering attending the October conference hosted in Kansas City by the Association of Professional Genealogists, for this year, they won't be live streaming or recording their sessions. No virtual attendance. If you want to be there, you simply must actually, you know, be there. Like, deciding to go, before the online registration deadline on Wednesday, September 26. Or another week before that, if you don't want to pay a king's ransom for airfare.
To which I still can't help but think, "Yeah, no." Yeah, I want to be part of the action. But no, I'm not looking forward to all the effort of getting there. In my case, it's not the 1,720 mile journey that I'm looking forward to. If anything will carry me away to Kansas City, it will be the anticipation of all the great meetings and classes that are in store for those who made the effort to get there.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
I'm often reminded of the importance of studying the milieu surrounding our ancestors' lives. This past month, while I've put on the public "game face" at A Family Tapestry of puzzling over how to return abandoned family photographs to long-lost family members, behind the scenes, I've had a delightful time helping a family member navigate the challenges of DNA testing to discover the true identity of her maternal grandfather.
The wonderful surprise was learning that he was certainly Italian in origin—an unexpected turn of events for this Irish-American and Eastern-European descendant. With a steep learning curve ahead of her, this inquisitive budding genealogist had no hesitation in diving right in and immersing herself in the research.
Doing the documentation dance was no problem at first. Reconstructing the paper trail of this man and his Chicago-area family seemed to make sense at first. But pushing back through the decades, coming perilously close to the date of his parents' arrivals in their New World, she hit a stumbling block: spelling.
Apparently, the Chicago family she learned about had always spelled their surname with a final "a"—the sound of a good Italian surname, I suppose. Then came the point of discovering that the family hadn't come straight from Italy to Chicago, but had originally landed in New York. And stayed there for a while.
When I found some documentation of this detail and showed it to her, the immediate response was, "That can't be my family; they spell their name differently." This surname, according to the records, concluded with an "i," not an "a."
Of course, that was the 1890s and it was New York, home of the indifferent bureaucrat. But it was also home of some large Catholic churches, as well—not to mention the thousands upon thousands of fellow immigrant Italians. Perhaps it was they who got it right and the Chicago contingent who were mistaken.
It took a while for this new researcher to warm to the idea that not everyone takes spelling as seriously as twenty-first century teachers. But eventually the wonder that is genetic genealogy opened her eyes to the possibility that, yes, this New York contingent might well be related to her—after all, there was a link to a descendant of that very New York family showing up in her matches!
It is quite circumspectly that we approach the puzzles of spelling "creativity." What could be simply a case of liberality in one's spelling habits might, on the other hand, represent a rabbit trail leading to false conclusions. Oh, that everyone understood the need for standardization in spelling as we "enlightened" modern people do—or, perhaps, we just need to get over ourselves and realize that things were different in bygone eras.
In the meantime, it is perhaps for our research protection that we have this parallel way to test our spelling assumptions—a way to test everything from wondering whether two Fullers were descendants of the same Mayflower ancestors to examining whether two people having differently spelled versions of the same surname could actually be related.
Friday, September 14, 2018
Even small towns can present their research pitfalls, if one knows how to find them. I am talented at stumbling upon such difficulties.
My quest started out innocently enough: I wanted to see if Adolph Brockman's wife was a hometown girl from the same place where Adolph grew up. Since West Point, Nebraska, was such a tiny place, I figured it wouldn't be too difficult to combine a reasonable online search with a modernized version of that pre-Internet habit of flipping through the pages by the place where I found my target person.
As we already discovered, Adolph—the groom in the hundred year old wedding photo I found in an antique store in California—was still living in his parents' home in 1910, when the census reported his age as twenty. What were the chances, I wondered, that his bride-to-be would be living nearby?
Though I hadn't found any entries for a "Vernie"—as her name had been given on the back of the photograph—I had located a family with an unmarried Verna in the 1910 census, living in the same township in the same county in Nebraska. Granted, she wasn't exactly the girl next door—Adolph was on page 8A and this Verna was on page 4A of Elkhorn Township—but I decided to flip back through the pages to see if I could find her by hand.
That's where I got confused.
It turns out that, flipping backwards through the pages, I discovered there was another Verna living nearby, too. Only this Verna was listed on page 6A. I was beginning to wonder if those codes so handily scrawled over the by-then-completed enumeration had tricked me into reading the wrong thing, once again. I took another look. And a second one. Bit by bit, the details emerged. One Verna was a marriageable eighteen years of age; the other was only two. One was in the household of John and Anna Neiman; the other was the child of Albert and Rosia Lierman.
The Neiman and Lierman surnames, in the same handwriting—complete with the now-expected overwritten letters—kept me toggling back and forth between them, wondering if there were really two versions of the same census. That's what comes from working on research after a brain-mangling day working at one's desk.
In the meantime, in all that staring, I noticed one further detail: the enumerator for Elkhorn Township was none other than Albert's father, William Brockman.
Supposing that Verna was the true name of William Brockman's future daughter-in-law, I tried my hand at placing Adolph and Verna—rather than Vernie—together. The first stop at the next census—for 1920—was a rocky road, as well, thanks to the enumerator in neighboring Pierce County having a shaky hand. The entry for Adolph was rather unreadable, though I could find Verna—and their daughter, listed as six year old Velva—living in the very county where I had found the World War I draft registration card for a married Adolph Brockman, born on August 25, 1889. Things were beginning to look up.
It's a good thing I didn't stop there. Of course, I was curious to see whether Adolph and Vernie had any other children, but I think the name change in the 1930 census for their daughter was more likely owing to correct enumeration than one child replacing another. In 1930, the Brockmans' sixteen year old daughter was listed as Viola.
Whether Velva or Viola, I had to know, mainly for one reason: I needed to figure out just how the wedding photo I had rescued in the northern California antique shop had arrived at its unlikely destination from Nebraska. Did Viola—or Velva—inherit the photograph, then move to California? Or was someone else the recipient of the Brockmans' wedding portrait? My next step is to trace Adolph and Vernie's daughter.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Even if the dates don't line up quite the way I'd like them to, if we have found an Adolph in West Point, Nebraska—location of the photography studio which had captured the wedding memory of a young Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman which I found, one hundred years later, in California—then, I'll at least take a good look.
Admittedly, I'm no expert at dating photographs. I try my hand at following the advice of those who really know their stuff, but there's a wide berth for mistakes in such attempts. I wasn't really sure the boy Adolph I found in the 1900 census would be one and the same as the well-dressed man appearing in his wedding portrait quite a few years later. But with a town as tiny as West Point, what were my chances?
The one candidate that I could find for our Adolph was the first of five children in the Brockman family of West Point. According to the 1900 census, his father's name was entered as "Wm," so naturally my first assumption was that dad's name was William, but when I looked closer, it seemed the enumerator had written the "m" so purposefully with an exaggerated connector from the "W" that I couldn't be certain that the entry didn't signify the initials, "W. M." (As it turned out, I had been thrown off by some codes later entered by census officials which had overwritten the man's name.)
Mr. Brockman—whoever he was—was married to Augusta, mother of the five Brockman children of which Adolph was the oldest. Following Adolph were his seven year old sister Matilda, his five year old brother Willie, his three year old sister Anna, and the baby of the family, a one year old girl whose name the enumerator rendered as "Loesa."
Adolph's father had come from Wisconsin but evidently moved westward—perhaps with his parents—where he eventually met his future bride, Augusta. She had been born in Nebraska. Both sets of Adolph's grandparents, though, were born in Germany.
Comparing that 1900 census listing with other such records turned out to be helpful, for in the 1910 census, we receive confirmation that dad's name was really William, after all, and that Adolph's baby sister's name was more likely Louise. By 1910, the family had been joined by Ida, "Helna" and Edward, and we become aware of another child—unnamed—who was born and died sometime during that decade.
By that point, this Adolph was still single and now twenty years of age. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I had been tricked into following the wrong family, simply because of the small size of the town.
I did have one more trick up my sleeve: on the photograph I found, someone had inserted the name of Adolph's wife. It was penned in on a white label someone had stuck on the back of the photograph, and it didn't appear to even be in the same handwriting as the original written entry. I couldn't be sure of the source, so of course, I couldn't be certain that this was really her name, but it was worth testing out as a hypothesis, if nothing else. Perhaps this would line up as a match for the "wife and child" listed in the World War I draft registration card for the Adolph I found in nearby Pierce County, Nebraska.
What were my chances? Pierce County was, at that time, a little smaller than Cuming County. Plainview, the draft registrant Adolph's home in Pierce County, was certainly close enough to West Point in Cuming County to make this a reasonable stretch. Besides, we now had another clue to help us determine whether these Adolphs were one and the same.
That other clue was only a name—the name of Adolph's wife—but every bit helps. Her name was Vernie.
Above: Label affixed to the reverse of the photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman of West Point, Nebraska. At the antique shop where I found the picture, the store clerk assured me it was added by the store's owner when, upon acquiring such photographs, she would remove them from their annotated albums. In future weeks, I'll be sharing several other such labeled photographs—some which, confusingly, also happen to be of subjects related to those in other photographs. In this case, though, I believe this is the only Brockman family photograph I was able to find in that store.
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
What do you do when you find a name attached to an abandoned photograph? You grab it and assume it's the right one. But what if the handwriting makes you second-guess yourself—and the name you were so sure was a keeper? Ah, there's the problem.
I've managed to find enough clues to send home several abandoned family photographs from one hundred years ago, but it's never too soon to learn that things may not appear entirely as they are. That, at least, is turning out to be the case with our latest photograph adventure, the wedding portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman of West Point, Nebraska.
At least, I think it's Adolph Brockman. Or is it Brochman? Or Brochmon?
Couple that with uncertainty about the date of the photograph, and it's no wonder I wasn't finding any leads in this identity puzzle.
I finally tossed all my presumptions to the wind and resorted to using the "*" wildcard symbol in my searches. And gave up on testing any dates at all. Better to find several hits for an Adolph born in, say, 1940 than to have zero results from a too-narrow date range.
It took some playing around with search terms, a generous helping of patience, and a mind open to possibilities that led me to a promising clue. It even took me somewhat afield of the county in which the photograph was taken—Cuming County, of which West Point serves as county seat.
Granted, I did find an Adolph Brockman in Cuming County, but he was in the 1900 census—as an eleven year old boy. At that rate, if this was his wedding picture, it wouldn't have been taken for another ten years, at the earliest.
But what if there were other Adolph Brockmans—or however his surname might have turn out to be spelled—in the state of Nebraska? I took a look and found a World War I draft registration card for someone named Adolph Brockman—or Brockmann, or maybe Brookmann, as the name was written over.
This Adolph was twenty seven years of age on the date in which he registered on June 5, 1917. He gave his birth date as August 25, 1889, and his current residence as a farm in Plainview, Nebraska, a town about seventy five miles northwest of West Point. An encouraging tidbit: this Adolph was married and had a child.
While it was good to see we now have a firm birth date with which to identify this Adolph, it was even better to find the detail on where he was born. Sure enough, it was back in the place we were hoping it was: West Point, Nebraska.
That was enough to make me want to go back and take a second look at that eleven year old boy Adolph Brockman—or however he spelled it—in the 1900 census, to learn more about that Adolph's family and life story. After all, we may not yet be certain about the man's true surname, but at least we have one candidate's exact date of birth.
Images above: "Adolph Brockmon and wife," as the label on the reverse of his wedding photograph was written is followed by the second image, courtesy FamilySearch.org, showing a section of the World War I draft registration card for a married Adolph in a nearby Nebraska town.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Found in an antique store in Sonora, California: the photograph of the newlywed Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman from West Point...Nebraska.
While there is a West Point in northern California—only an hour's drive north on state highway 49 from Sonora—that isn't the West Point this couple claimed as home. Theirs was a wedding celebration in West Point, Nebraska. And that makes all the difference in how we are going to find them.
The picture itself—we saw the photographer's imprint enlarged, yesterday—isn't quite the customary size for a portrait from that era. Cabinet cards generally measured about four and a quarter by six and a half inches. This specimen, in contrast, was set in a frame measuring about six by nine inches. The photograph alone measures three and seven eighths by five and a half inches.
What may have thrown me off, too, was my assumption that this photo was taken in the late 1800s—say, around 1890. Not just because of the measurements, but also because of the style of clothing, I now tend to think this was a commemoration of an event happening much later than that decade. My main clue, however, might have been the fact that searching for such a couple by name in the 1890s hasn't worked out too well for me. But that's a story for another day.
Above: Wedding photograph of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Brockman, taken in West Point, Nebraska. Photograph currently in possession of the author until claimed by a family member.
Monday, September 10, 2018
It isn't often that I run across a photographer's imprint from a place so tiny, I have to resort to googling its location. After all, the pictures ending up in antique stores in the northern California foothills region once known for its gold fever may come from all over, but they generally come from locations I recognize.
At first, the picture we'll be examining this week seemed like it would be a snap to return to family. After all, it came with a handwritten note which included a first name and a surname. Even better, it included the photographer's imprint.
That imprint, in my opinion, was next to illegible, so swoopy and swervy was the script used for the studio's name. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, since researchers have access to hundred-year-old city directories and even histories of local studios in that bygone era of photography. But this? I couldn't clearly make out the name—and it was of an enterprise in the thriving metropolis of West Point, a place whose city directories, if even in existence from that time period, might not be accessible to a researcher in far away California.
While you may easily recognize the name West Point, I suspect the number of people who know that location will be dramatically reduced when I include the qualifier that it must be the place known as West Point in Nebraska. This West Point, as it turns out, is a city—yes, officially a city—of barely over three thousand people. And West Point is the county seat for Cuming County, which in its own right only claims a total of nine thousand people.
To be fair, that is the county population as it stands today. Back at the turn of the century—yes, that other century of the type producing photographs I usually rescue—Cumings County hit its peak population of over fourteen thousand people. To give you an idea of how sparse Nebraska population was at the time, shortly after the county population had a second surge—to almost as much as that peak 1900 population of 14,584—the state devised a way in 1922 to code vehicle license plates by the number of vehicles eligible to be licensed; Cumings got assigned the number 24, meaning it came in 24th in number of vehicles registered in the state. Even in Nebraska, West Point was small change.
We're talking a not-big-hometown here, as you can imagine. So how hard would it be to find our not-so-mysterious man in the photo? It just depends on how common this subject's very German name was in a place claiming—even now—almost seventy percent of the population's ethnic heritage as German. And how accessible hundred-year-old records from a city of only—at the time—two thousand people might be for a researcher today.
As it is turning out, perhaps not as easy as it seems.
Above: Imprint, greatly enlarged, from the photography studio located in West Point, Nebraska, where the picture rescued from a Sonora, California, antique shop may have been taken in the early part of the 1900s. Koupab?Koupal?
Sunday, September 9, 2018
As much as I love delivering hundred-year-old family photos back to their rightful place—and we will return to that with a new episode tomorrow—behind the scenes, I am still chipping away at my own family mysteries. Still keeping my focus on my mother's southern lines, now that I'm home from my travels, I'm back at this project in earnest. After all, that SLIG class on southern research is drawing closer, and I want to be in the thick of things when it's time to pepper the instructor with questions.
Considering my return to work on this goal, it is likely no surprise to discover that, in the past two weeks, I've been able to add 236 names to my mother's family tree. Her tree now stands at 14,741 ancestors and related lines. I'm still working on the descendants from her McClellan ancestors, but after the Civil War, one branch had moved from their home in Florida to Texas, so I'm in a whole different kind of southern, now.
Despite my decision to focus my research on my mother's southern roots through next January, there are times in which I make a slight detour. In the past two weeks, that was again the case, only unlike the previous biweekly span, this time was owing to the discovery of the passing of a very distant relative on my mother-in-law's line. Thus, courtesy of a newly-discovered obituary, her tree expanded by thirty six people to total 15,703.
Wrapping up this two week period, it's no surprise to see that my dad's line is still stuck at 514—a number that likely won't change for a very long time—and my father-in-law's Irish-Chicago clan is still holding at 1,513.
I'm glad that the summer DNA sales at a number of the DNA companies will soon trickle down in the guise of an increased count in my DNA matches. Things have been progressing so slowly since the Father's Day sale wrapped up. It makes me wonder whether these companies have been conditioning their prospective customers to only buy when there is a sale. My match counts, as well as those for my husband, have increased by only a handful at each company in the past two weeks. And among those new names, most are distant cousins, at best.
Still, that's not to overlook the fact that AncestryDNA has quietly exceeded another ceiling, now having over ten million among those who have completed their DNA tests at Ancestry. And that's not to discount the thousands of DNA matches for which both I and my husband have already received notification. Furthermore, it's an encouraging sign for those I'm working with who are hoping to learn more about their family's past which has been obliterated by choices placing them in an uninformed position—unnamed parents whom they have never met are taking shape as real people, thanks to DNA, instead of the murky mysteries they previously had been. The more people who test, the greater the chance that these forsaken stories will be brought to light in the therapeutic way so desperately needed by those most impacted.
Meanwhile, besides these fun projects, I'm sticking to my goal: between now and my class in Salt Lake City in January, I'm working the southern angles on my mother's ancestry.