Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Labels I Love

There is nothing I love more, when attempting to return abandoned antique photos to family members, than to discover a picture with enough information provided to lead me merrily down a trail of discovery. Whether written on the front or the back of a picture, names, dates, and locations go a long way in helping a researcher pinpoint the subjects' identities.

So far, we've been exploring the several photos I found in a Sonora, California, antique store which all had to do with the family of William and Clara Alice Knapp. One was of William, himself. Another was of his young family. The one we viewed yesterday was a photo of one of his youngest children, a son given that same first name.

Today, though, we'll switch tracks and look at another photograph which I believe must have originally belonged to the same family to whom the other ones once belonged. This picture, too, is of Knapp family members, but to see where these two children fit into the Knapp family constellation, we'll have to step back another generation.

William Malphus Knapp, son of yet another William Knapp and his wife, Corintha White, was the eldest of several children. As we can see from the family's entry in the 1880 census, the next child in line to the eldestWilliam, himselfwas a boy named George Harlow Knapp. Born in 1871 during that sliver of time when the Knapp family had moved north from Indiana to Michigan, George eventually left the home where the family finally settled in Kansas, and headed west.

Whatever drew him to Washington, I'm not sure, but on January 26, 1890, in Tacoma, he married Lena M. Overacker. Ten years later, the couple boasted five childrenand a household full of lodgers, as well as listing, as his occupation, the position of "mill owner."

Thankfully, the census record for 1900 listed their children's names as those with which they were commonly called. If I had to rely on official designations, I might not have been able to pinpoint this Knapp family as the correct one for the subjects of the photo I was researching. You see, the photowith identification provided characteristically right on the frontwas of two children named Peter and Arthur. But to find Peter in any other records would be a task near impossible for a researcher outside the Knapp family, as we'll see tomorrow.

The portrait, taken at Hargrave's Studio in Kelso, Washingtonright where the 1900 census had indicated this family livedincluded a handwritten note identifying Peter Knapp "age 1 year" and Arthur Knapp "age 7 years."

Another notethis time thankfully on the reverse, rather than crowding out the composition of the picture itselfprovided more information.  From that note, we learn that the photograph of Arthur and Peter was taken in 1899, at which time Arthur was six years of age, and Peter was still an infant of one year of age.

This made it fairly easy to locate the family in the 1900 census, in Cowlitz County, Washington, where the tiny city of Kelso had barely been in existence for eleven years. By that time, the Knapp family was part of a city with a population of less than seven hundred peopleincluding, thankfully, a professional photographer.

By 1910, though, the family's story had begun to change. The familyslightly larger with the addition of two more childrenwas now living in Portland, Oregon. Though the Knapps were still taking in lodgers, George's occupation had changed from the lofty-sounding mill owner to teamster for an express delivery company. That, however, was according to the report provided to the census enumerator by George's wife.

In the meantime, separated from his family by Mount Hood, over one hundred miles to the southeast of Portland in a little encampment in Crook County called Lyle Gap, George Knapp was not living, as his wife reported, in Portland, but was himself a boarder in a railroad construction camp, along with his son, Arthur.

The 1920 census told a little bit more about the story, with Lena listed as a divorced woman, serving as a housekeeper in Linn County, Oregon. Her youngest child, fourteen year old daughter Dorothy, was the only Knapp family member still living with her. Her ex-husband George had likely moved, by then, to Florida. If that 1920 census entry is for the right George Knapp, none of his children had moved to join him there, either.

Tracking down what became of their son, the infant Peter Knapp from the photo I found, in particular, would have been the greatest challenge...until I discovered why that name wouldn't produce many answers.

We'll continue that discussion tomorrow, as well as introduce that photographic memory of George and Lena's two sons from 1899, back in Kelso, Oregon. But one thing is sure: I would never have been able to determine who those two boys from the picture actually were, if it hadn't been for the foresight of an unnamed someone who took the time to write a note explaining when and where the picture was taken, and who the subjects were. No matter how much of a scrawl the handwriting might be, those are the labels I most love to see.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, especially considering how many branches of this family all seemed to settle in the same location. Every little bit extra to zero in on the right person helps!


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