Thursday, February 22, 2018
My attention has been kidnapped lately by a hundred-year-old postcard addressed to a Mrs. Henry Keefe in Red House, Nevada. Other than the space dedicated to inscribing that simple three line address, the entire card was crammed with details about the charming baby whose photograph was featured on the reverse of the Azo postcard.
It's true that I've given up on my previous pursuit, trying to find a descendant for the last series of photo postcards I had worked on—well, given up for the time being, at least. Hopefully, someone will eventually answer my emailed pleas and connect me with a likely prospect. For now, we need to set aside the five photographs from the Barnes family of Kansas, and see what else can be found in the collection of abandoned photographs I found in that antique shop in the foothills of northern California. I really want to send another one home.
With this old postcard, the one addressed to Mrs. Keefe, it was meant to go to a place so tiny, it isn't really even an official location on the map. Lately, Red House is categorized—at least in some places—as a "census designated place" in Humboldt County, Nevada. If you aren't familiar with that county, I'm not surprised; the only city the place contains is Winnemucca, the county seat.
But I'm not so sure the postcard ever got mailed. For one thing, it didn't look like it had suffered a run through the mail system, though perhaps it was sent, enclosed inside an envelope. However, if it did actually get mailed, I'm not sure how it would have arrived at its intended destination; looking at the closest census year (1920), it doesn't appear that there was anyone by that name living anywhere in Humboldt County, Nevada—Red House or elsewhere. Not even in the thriving metropolis of Winnemucca.
Above: Address written on the reverse of a hundred-year-old Azo photo postcard; photograph currently in possession of the author.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
While I've been struggling to identify the members of Alta Barnes' grandparents' generation—in hopes of identifying just who those tall cousins were flanking Alta's mom, Clara, on that fifth orphaned photograph I found in northern California—I've been stalling for a second reason: the photograph itself is too faded to see well.
All that tap dancing around Clara's parents' family trees have been of no use. It made more sense to me that Clara would be standing with cousins from her mother's side of the family, but no one else on Harriet Hagar's side of the family had children—at least that I could tell.
Harriet's siblings—Lucy, Henry, and Charity—weren't that easy to trace, themselves. I could find the oldest three children as part of the Hagar family in Kansas as recently as the state's 1865 census, taken in June of that year. The baby of the family, Charity, arrived that September, thus missing the official record by a matter of only a few months.
September likely was the last anyone would see of Charity's mom—also named Charity—and I suspect she died during or right after the baby was born. The reason I suspect that is because, after that point, I can find the other children scattered about in other homes, but not with their parents. Their brother Henry—at least if I have the right one—was listed in a family by a different surname until joining his by-then-married oldest sister, Harriet, in the Tousley home in time for the 1880 census. Likewise for baby Charity.
Lucy, on the other hand, seemed to have disappeared entirely—perhaps succumbing to an illness which might also have taken her mom, or by marrying and forever disguising her maiden name so thoroughly as to never be found again. Who knows? Perhaps in her married years, she was the source of the mysterious cousins, though I doubt it at this point.
Youngest sibling Charity also couldn't have been the source of the unnamed cousins, as we've already discovered in pursuing the events in her life through the local newspaper reports.
Yet someone apparently knew who those mystery cousins were, for the faded photograph—though undated, possibly taken as early as 1893, the year of Harriet's death—was lugged all the way from the family's Kansas home to some place in the foothills of northern California. Faded from view as well as from memory, the portrait of four women and two men reveals some details of the clothing, but only the barest of outlines of facial features.
What I was hoping for was that our photo manipulation program would help clear up the scan, at least enough to make out the facial details. Unfortunately, though the program in past versions would do that, it no longer includes that easy fix. With thanks to my daughter for her best effort, we can catch a glimpse of what these folks once looked like, but only the faintest glimpse.
For what it's worth, I'll post it here anyhow. The photo manipulation did bring out some interesting details no longer visible in the original. If nothing else, it's a visceral reminder of how easily our memories can fade from view—sometimes, even with our constant effort to revive and restore those life moments we've tried to capture for future generations.
Above: Undated photograph from the studio of J. L. Cusick in Arkansas City, Kansas, with a handwritten label on the reverse: "Clara Tousley, girl standing between two cousins." Photograph currently in the possession of the author.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Sometimes, wandering through old newspapers can give a researcher more than she bargained for. I was simply looking for an obituary for Alta Barnes' maternal grandfather, in hopes of finding a listing of possible relatives of this Kansas family. This I needed to explain why Clara Tousley, Alta's mom, had been included in a photograph with the unnamed family of her cousins.
Nothing is ever simple. From one step, I slid into another step, then another step, each one luring me farther away from my original goal to determine the names of those family members and locate a possible relative who brought the photograph from Kansas to California, where I found it.
So now, I've stumbled upon a newspaper report that Clara Tousley's father had died suddenly. Apparently, the family didn't take that report so well, despite the fact that Isaac Tousley was, by then, at least sixty three years of age. According to the local paper, the Arkansas City Daily Traveler, on November 15, 1900, Isaac had been
on the road near his home and stopped at one of the neighbors where he complained of being cold and they gave him something warm to drink. He laid down on the bed and apparently fell asleep. A little later it was discovered that he was dead.
I realize that, back then, it could be possible, if someone needed to go somewhere, that walking to his destination would be considered an acceptable mode of transportation. However, to just drop by a neighbor's home to ask for something warm to drink, and then just make one's self at home and take a nap on said neighbor's bed, well...that's just a tad bit too neighborly, I'd think.
The Tousley family evidently thought so, as well. Perhaps it was no surprise to learn, in the next day's paper, the report headlined, "Relatives of Isaac Tousley Will Have Inquest Held."
Of course, the same story was repeated in that newspaper on November 16, adding the name of the unfortunate neighbor—a Mr. Humbert—to the details of the preceding day. The warm drink, it turned out, was simply hot tea. The nap, supposedly, lasted about an hour or so—although when you do the math, it seems Isaac Tousley slipped away almost immediately after drinking his tea.
But there were a few other details added in that second report. Among other considerations,
[Isaac] has lived here for many years and is well known. He has accumulated considerable wealth and has not been troubled by sickness. He has not complained of feeling sick until just a short time before his death.
These were a few of the considerations causing Isaac Tousley's relatives to call for an inquest. This turn of events led me to believe I'd find much more on the incident in the following days' reports, but scouring the newspaper led to nothing further. Whether it was foul play against a local government official or an unfortunate case of sudden heart problems, I'll never know—at least, without sending for a copy of his death certificate and perhaps even the inquest paperwork.
That, however, I'll leave for avid genealogists among Isaac Tousley's descendants. For me, it's back to my original purpose: to track down who the cousins were in that photograph so I can see if they were the ones bringing the photograph of Isaac's daughter Clara out west to California.
Monday, February 19, 2018
With the last of five hundred-year-old family photographs I found in an antique shop, I was hoping to figure out how these pictures of the Barnes family from Kansas ended up in northern California. That last photograph, after all, was the oldest of them all, featuring the mother of the family as a young girl standing "between two cousins."
It seemed the more I saw in the pictures, the more questions they left me with. Of course, I had tried to figure out who those two strapping young men were in the photo—the two who were supposed to be Clara Tousley Barnes' cousins. I still can't find any likely explanation.
Then, I began wondering why Clara would have been included in a family photograph with a family other than her own. Though the picture was horribly faded, I could tell, of the six people included in the portrait, that at least one of the women seated in the front row was likely a member of the previous generation. Perhaps this was the cousins' mother.
Why, then, would Clara be included in this other family's photograph? That question prompted me to look at Clara's own timeline. Could she have lost her parents at an early age, and been raised by an aunt or uncle?
As it turned out, Clara's mother did die relatively young. Harriet Hagar Tousley had just turned forty when she passed away in 1893. At that point, Clara was fourteen—a possible reason why she would have been living with another relative.
But her father, Isaac Tousley, was still alive. Though he was a farmer, by the time he lost his wife, his only two children were of an age in which they could take care of themselves. Granted, farming could take a man away from child care duties, but such requirements would hardly be necessary for teenagers, who at that time might be out working in the fields, themselves.
I took my question to that handy newspaper archive hosted by the Arkansas City public library. The first clue I found only added to my questions. It was a brief entry in the Arkansas City Daily Traveler on December 5, 1900:
J. C. Alsip has been appointed trustee of Silverdale township by the county commissioners, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Isaac Tousley.
J. C. Alsip, as it turned out years later, became the father-in-law of Clara's brother John, but that's getting ahead of our story. We also learn from this brief mention in the paper that Isaac Tousley had been serving as a trustee in the local government of his Kansas community. But the main point, of course, was that he was dead. And death meant there should have been an obituary. Of course, I had to look further.
Expecting to simply find a memorial entry regarding the family of the dearly departed, I was somewhat surprised to discover, in the same newspaper on the earlier date of November 15, the following:
Word was received here this morning of the death of Isaac Tousley, a farmer living about fourteen miles northeast of the city. The deceased was well known in the city. His death was very sudden.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Most of the time, genealogists believe they are preoccupied with the details of lives lived centuries ago—or at least decades ago. The things that shaped our ancestors, redirected them to the places where they lived or the occupations they filled or even the people they married, those are the details we search to uncover. In the process, we sometimes uncover those hard truths that dashed their dreams or broke their hearts.
Sometimes, that process of discovery is so removed from our present that we are immune to the experience that enveloped the ones who endured the event. The crisis becomes, for us, an unusual story, not a painful memory. We forget that, in the moment it unfolded, it evoked strong feelings and perhaps even redirected outcomes for families. We can only relate by remembering similar events that may have happened in our own lives.
When those events do happen to us, we sometimes get knocked from our role as the family historian, the keeper of the family narrative. Enveloped in the pain of the tragedy, we drop our pen to participate, abandoning our narration of what is currently unfolding, forgetting that, in the future, this very experience will become our history.
That, I can attest, is a natural outcome, given the circumstances. Here I am, having done the very same thing these past few months. While the whole world, it seems, joined in to celebrate holidays from November through January, our own extended family was rocked with devastating news: the four year old granddaughter of my husband's cousin was diagnosed with cancer. A brain tumor manifested itself around Thanksgiving time, needing immediate surgery. The procedure revealed that not all of the tumor could be safely removed, requiring a sequence of chemotherapy treatments for the next half year.
For three weeks out of every month, this little one needs to remain in the hospital, not just for the chemo, but on account of how it also impairs her immune system. For one week out of every month, little Bea gets to return home to her family—a family which recently moved to a different house, and into which a brand new baby was just welcomed. Life goes on for the family, but how different is the direction now taken.
Events like this, remembered years later by siblings, demonstrate how life-changing are the marks we leave on each other. Sacrificial choices, made to help out, shape us in ways we may not realize as we are going through the process. Invisibly but indelibly they constitute the person we become. Afterwards.
In one way, such changes are so stressful as to suck all the verve out of the activities we usually take joy in. For those of us who consider journaling, or recording reflections on, our daily activities to be essential, we may suddenly lose all desire to write down the minutiae of a process which could, in the end, turn tragic. Yet, in many ways, keeping up that writing habit could turn out to be therapeutic—while, if preserved, could provide a history for the family in generations to come.
Right now, there is no doubt that the experience is full of strong feelings—and yet, it is coupled with that stoic determination to just get through life, doing what can be done, and leaving the miraculous to those for whom such touches are meant. And yet, in such trauma, it sets the stage for those who can rise to the occasion to do selfless, sometimes heroic, acts. Sometimes, those selfless acts of kindness are small—like the friend of the family who set up a GoFundMe account for Bea's medical expenses—and sometimes they are the kinds of sacrifices that no family member would think twice about doing, like the grandparents who take turns flying across the country to watch the rest of the grandkids while dad is at work and mom is at the hospital.
Stuff like this may not be considered family history. It isn't—yet. But what we do every day will eventually become part of the history our descendants will someday wish they could find about us.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Right now, many people are enjoying a three day weekend. The holiday, at least to the federal government, is still officially known as Washington's Birthday, though that designation used to be pinned, less conveniently, on the stationary date of February 22. Now, serendipitously for some employees, it has become the movable target attached to the far end of a weekend. Bank employees and civil servants celebrate. Everyone else goes out and shops, keeping captive the rest of the work world.
That goes for the far end of the weekend. On the near end of this celebration weekend, as our local genealogical society was reminded at our meeting last Thursday night, Friday ushered in the Chinese New Year. For those of my neighbors who, upon awaking with a start at midnight and grumbling about it online at our neighborhood's NextDoor social media, not a thought was given to that celebration; people were wondering about all the "gunshots." It didn't matter that nearly fourteen percent of our county is comprised of Asian-Americans, or that fireworks are a popular way to usher in the new year. Perhaps the rest of us didn't get the memo.
For those of us attending that small genealogical society meeting last Thursday, we were treated to an excellent presentation by the immediate past president of the California Genealogical Society, Linda Harms Okazaki. Linda traveled out to spend the evening with us for a reason: I wanted to launch my first term as president of the society with a reminder that an organization only grows as it meets the needs of its surrounding community. And, as you can tell if you happen to read through our county's regional growth analysis, we're presented with an ethnically diverse set of research challenges.
Though I'm barely flexing my own presidential muscles at this point, I have spent a few years working in other capacities for our society, mainly in teaching genealogy classes for beginners. One of the situations I face constantly is the question, "Is there any resource for researching my ancestors from...[fill in the blank with a distant, non-European country]?" I've had immigrants from Pakistan, India, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and other countries ask me that question. And while, yes, the answer can always be FamilySearch, sometimes that response is a facile cop out. Especially for a location like our county.
The key is that those people also wish to research their ancestry. At the beginning, the path to connect with their ancestors will generally follow the same pattern as anyone else's research, but the particulars eventually will be quite different, especially the farther back in time any immigrant American cares to trace his or her roots.
The genealogical organization in a community such as ours—rich in our diversity—should be prepared to answer such beginners' research questions. That's why I like Linda's new presentation, "Who's in Your Neighborhood? Meeting the Diverse Research Needs of Your Community." With increasing numbers of people taking an interest in family history—thanks to everything from the much maligned "lederhosen" DNA commercial to TV programs by spokespersons like Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—we have a ready-made local audience primed for our services. We just have to find the best way to connect. Trust me, the people are out there.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Sometimes, notes added after the fact can help identify the faces in old family photographs. Other times, they only muddy the family tree.
When I found the note on the back of that fifth Barnes family photograph abandoned in a northern California antique shop, I thought it would be quite helpful. After all, the other four pictures had enough information to piece together the family of Alta Barnes and her siblings Mollie, Nellie, Helen and Jimmie from Silverdale, Kansas. From there, it was a quick jump on Ancestry to locate census records showing me their parents were Forrest and Clara Tousley Barnes.
Thus, the trust element was high for the remarks entered on this fifth photograph. Naturally, when I read the comment, "Clara Tousley, girl standing between two cousins," I figured those two young men flanking her would naturally be her cousins.
Now, I'm not so sure. I've gone through many a family's photographs and read notes penned in the shaky hand of a desperate near-ninety-something great-grandmother, hoping to preserve the memory of her ancestors for those young ones she was about to say goodbye to for the final time. Whether in the rush of an urgent errand, or the fog of a fading memory, sometimes the notes left behind turn out to be, well, not exactly accurate.
Which gives me cause to ask, "Whose cousins?" Were they Clara's cousins? Or the unknown writer's cousins?
Or were they cousins at all?
Finding Clara's cousins would mean stepping back a generation to find the siblings of Clara's mother or her father. Clara's mother, Harriet, had a surname often rendered by alternate spellings, so it could have been Hager, or the alternate version, Hagar. Clara's father was Isaac Tousley, a name occasioning spelling woes of its own.
Neither appeared to have siblings who married and had children—at least, not that I could find. That, of course, means only that...I couldn't find them.
While I kept plying every trick I knew to flesh out the rest of the family trees for the Hagars and the Tousleys, a nagging question kept eating at me: why would Clara be standing in a picture of someone else's family in the first place? What happened to her own father and mother?
Clara's mother lived to be a relatively young forty years of age at her passing, it's true. But it was the loss of Clara's father that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to take the inevitable detour down the rabbit trail. It wasn't that he was sixty three years at his death, or that he passed only a few years after his wife. It was the unusual recounting in the local newspaper of what happened that made me take a second look.