Thursday, August 1, 2019

On to Oregon?

Is it possible to locate a specific large family with four sons and two daughters, if the surname is as common as Tucker?

When I first found this abandoned hundred year old photograph in an antique store in northern California, I thought the answer might be yes. There were two solid reasons for this answer. The first was that the photographer for this family portrait was located in a sparsely populated county in Nebraska. Even if the surname was Tucker, how many could there be in a town big enough to hold barely two thousand people?

The second reason I jumped for the chance to rescue this orphan photo was that someone had carefully provided the names of six of the seven people in the portrait: Jim, Ernie—er, Evie, as we've since realized—Maud, Annie, Frank, Elmer, and baby Ralph. The ample supply of given names upped our chances of zeroing in on the right Tucker family, even if they did move away from their home in Wahoo, Nebraska—or wherever they used to live in Saunders County.

As it turned out, there was a Tucker family with many of those same names, but rather than being located in Nebraska, these Tuckers were living in Oregon at the time of the 1900 census. While that meant a trip of nearly twelve hundred miles from the point at which they had posed for their family portrait, the encouraging sign, at least in this census record, was that all but the oldest two Tucker children in this household were born in Nebraska—all the way down to "Baby," who was born in July of 1899.

If this was the right Tucker family, it wasn't exactly a perfect match. There were some discrepancies. For one thing, whoever labeled the photo expressly indicated that it was baby Ralph who was seated on his father's knee. Since Ralph looked old enough to be a toddler, rather than an infant, that would date the photograph some time after 1901, which seems a little on the modern side for the appearance of the picture frame and style of setting.

But there was another problem. If you size up the list of children in the 1900 census for the Oregon Tucker family, there is an extra child mentioned. His name was Karl, and he was born in 1896, yet there was no mention of both Ralph ("Baby" in the 1900 census) and Karl on the picture's label. Could the person labeling the photo—obviously well after the fact, seeing the mention of young daughter Maud identified as "Mom B's mother"—have forgotten about Karl? Or could Karl have died at a young age?

There are a couple problems with assuming Karl was out of the picture due to an early demise. One would be to mess up the obvious stair-step appearance of this family constellation; the age difference between Elmer (whose year of birth was entered incorrectly) and "Baby" would have been six years, if "Baby" in the census was actually the child called Ralph in the photo. More obvious would be to check the fate of the missing Karl—and sure enough, there he was in the 1910 census, still quite part of the family, as he was, also, in 1920.

Could it be that the label on the photo incorrectly identified that toddler as Ralph, when he actually was Karl? That would place the date of the family portrait as late in 1897 or possibly in early 1898, rather than 1901 or 1902. Still, it seems rather late for that style of photograph, making me wonder about the possibility that a photographer setting up his studio in a town of only two thousand people might not have been able to turn his stock over quite as quickly as if he were located in a more thriving location.

Before we grasp as straws like that business conjecture, let's look at some other ways this Tucker family might well have been the right one.

Above: The Samuel Tucker family, as listed in the 1900 U.S. Census for Malheur County, Oregon; image courtesy


  1. "Labelled well after the fact" indeed. One clue to this is the mention of WW1, a term dating from 1939 at the earliest. My guess is that it is indeed Carl rather than Ralph sitting in the fathers lap. With your 1901 guess based on the apparent age of the little one if it was Ralph, the family would then have travelled BACK from their 1900 census location just to take the portrait, which I find somewhat unlikely.

    1. Oh, definitely unlikely, Per, even if they took the train to travel. Just too long a distance--plus too uncomfortable a journey and too expensive, as well. And the date seems off to me, too, so thanks for your vote of confidence concerning Carl.


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