Friday, September 28, 2018
The Purkeys in Pocatello—and Menomonie
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.