Friday, September 7, 2018
With Family to the Four Winds
One of the questions always in my mind when I rescue abandoned family photographs from antique stores is: how did that picture end up here? With the picture of Rachel Lewis Webb obviously taken in Chicago—and Rachel and her husband Francis spending their last days there in that city—the question naturally arises: what was that photograph doing in a town of less than five thousand people in northern California?
Tracing what became of Rachel's descendants doesn't give us a clear picture, though I'll rehearse the matter so you can judge for yourself. Francis and Rachel had five daughters, as we discussed yesterday. The oldest, Clara, was blind from childhood and stayed with her parents when they moved from Indiana to eventually reside in Chicago. The story for the other daughters, however, brings us in several different directions.
Second oldest daughter Edith married Charles Fink in her hometown in Marshall County, Indiana, long before her parents removed to Chicago. Not surprisingly, they raised their daughter in Indiana. Though that daughter, in turn, married someone in Michigan, she eventually ended up in Florida. Her daughter married a military man with all the moves one would expect with a military lifestyle.
After Edith came Susan Rosina, whom we first saw in the 1880 census, listed as Rosa. To tell this Webb daughter's story, we need to take a brief detour, back to the year after her parents, Francis and Rachel, were married in 1856. Apparently, Francis and another Webb relative—perhaps a brother—decided to move to what was then called Minnesota Territory. By 1857, they were settled next door to each other, along with their wives and firstborn children, in Goodhue County.
As we can tell from the 1860 census, that arrangement did not last long for Francis and Rachel, as they had returned to Indiana. But sometime between that 1860 federal census and the time after the 1880 census, the Webb family returned to Goodhue, where their daughter Susan eventually married a man from New York who had also settled in the same county. Though Susan's firstborn son died as a teenager, her daughter remained in Goodhue County until her death in her eighties.
Moving to the next daughter, though, brings a greater geographic distance. Fourth Webb daughter Eva, like Susan, had moved with her parents to Minnesota upon their return there in the 1880s. But by the time of the 1900 census, she was back in Chicago, like her parents. By that time, she had also married and given birth to a son, all while in Chicago. Not long after that, however, Eva and her family moved far away, to Los Angeles, California.
Perhaps you will suspect that would be the connection that brought Rachel's photograph eventually into my hands. But that would be too premature an assumption. After all, Los Angeles is a distance of over three hundred miles from where I found Rachel's photograph. And besides, though Eva died in Los Angeles—as did her only child—Eva's grandson ended up in Columbus, Ohio.
There was, however, one other California connection: the line of the youngest Webb daughter, Lula. Married and raising her family in Chicago, Lula's one surviving child had moved to Palm Desert in southern California. In her older years, this grandchild of Rachel and Francis moved to Ventura County to be near her only child.
Still miles from the northern California town where I found Rachel's photograph, Lula's descendant may be the key to how Rachel's picture ended up in California. That, at least, is the guess of Rachel's second great granddaughter, the one to whom I've mailed Rachel's now-found photograph.
Perhaps it was Lula's family who was the original recipient. Perhaps, alternately, it could have been someone from Lula's sister Eva's family, even though they moved out of the area in subsequent generations. Or perhaps it was thanks to another relative—or even a good family friend—to whom the photograph had been sent. It's likely we'll never know for sure. But one thing we do know: Rachel has found her way back home—ironically to southern California—and with that ending to her story's journey, we're satisfied.
Above: In what seems to be an earlier century's equivalent of Photoshop artistry, Rachel and Francis Webb appear side by side in what seems to be a mash-up of two family portraits. Photo scan courtesy of Cathleen, Rachel's great-great granddaughter; used by permission.