Sunday, April 22, 2018

Crossing Paths With
Our Ancestors' Descendants

I've been dealing, lately, with a mind obsessed with crossed paths. What I uncovered this week, in my relentless pursuit of ancestors, grabbed me with this notion even tighter.

It's only because I've been bombarded with distant cousin matches on all my DNA testsyes, I've been that obsessed researcher who has tested at Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, 23andMe and MyHeritagethat I've been left with the quandary of wondering, "Who are all these people?"

My solution was to spruce up my family tree a bit: go back to my ancestors and enter all their children, not just my direct line. And then, enter all those children's children. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I call it quits on a line when I reach seventh cousin, mostly because some companies will show matching cousins up to the level of fifth or sixth cousin (and one goes up to eighth). Reliably, of course, some paper cousins won't show at those levels on DNA tests, even if they are blood relatives because some genetic material from our third great grandparents may simply not make it down all the generations to reach us. Since we don't know, ahead of time, which relatives that involves, I decided to trace them alland then some.

All that to say, there are a lot of cousins out there, still needing to be added to my family tree. So I plod onwards.

This week on the paper trail, I ran into some cousins who actually ended up living in the same city as I do, and at the same time that I've been here. I had no idea at the time, of coursebut then, I'm talking about sixth cousins. One could hardly be expected to keep tabs on that extended relational reach...until the advent of genetic genealogy.

That brings me back to my occasional obsession: wondering, whenever I travel, what the chances would be that I would cross paths unknowingly with someone who turns out to be a seventh cousin. Forget that, maybe even a third cousin. It might be the person sitting next to me on the plane, or the one behind me in line to buy coffee. I am awed at the possibilities of how we all relateand how we don't even realize it.

So, I keep working on those descendants of my multiple-great-grandparents. And those trees grow bigger. Not because I'm pushing back to incredible reaches in history, but because I'm throwing my net wide and capturing all those distant cousins, in hopes I'll recognize them when they show up in my DNA matchesmaybe even if they show up at the dinner table at my next genealogy conference.

The past two weeks surprisingly yielded some research progress, considering how difficult the time has been. Perhaps there's a solace in the routine research of adding names to a family tree. There sure is that family-talking-to-family sort of gathering, when we lose a loved one, just comparing family notes and reminiscingand remembering that we forgot to add that new baby, or that new spouse.

For my mom's tree, that meant jumping 172 entries to land at a tree size of 12,903. For my mother-in-law, that gained her tree of 14,746 another 107 entries. For my dad's tree and my father-in-law's tree, each gained only one entry apiece, but they now stand at 501 and 1425, respectively.

Yet, as fast as I try to build those trees, the DNA matches seem to roll in faster. I'm up to 2,989 at Family Tree DNA and 4,305 at MyHeritage. AncestryDNA seems to have given up counting, once the matches exceed 1,000, so I don't even know how many I have thereand those are just counting fourth cousin and closer. As for 23andMe, it's a rare biweekly count when I don't lose matches from my count, but this is one of those times: I now am up five to 1,036. And I really can't complain there, since one of the new matches actually contacted menow, that's a switch!and the bonus is that she is apparently related to my on my father's side. Perhaps it will even be on my paternal grandfather's sidethat man who claimed he was an orphan and unofficially changed his name and zipped his lips concerning the reasons why.

My husband's matches are piling up almost as fast as mine. He's got 1,915 at Family Tree DNA and 3,007 at MyHeritage. He hasn't hit that thousand-mark ceiling at AncestryDNA yet, but he's over halfway there at 549. For once (can you tell I'm jealous?) he actually saw his count go backwards at 23andMe, dropping six to level off at 1,072. But because I have his mother's tree so full of cousins, it seems much easier to figure out the matches to his DNA cousins.

As I travel this research pathway, I'm constantly surprised to spot coincidences and crossed pathseverything from distant cousins marrying, to relatives moving from their home turf in Ohio or Alabama or Florida, all the way out to the corner of the country where I thought my own family was well hidden away. And yet, we have ended up driving down the same streets where our ancestors' descendants decided to live. How does that happen? More to the point, how does that happen and we don't even realize it? Our invisible networks and connections, once brought to light, can indeed be unexpected and fascinating.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Now Indexing: Indiana Marriages

It's high time to do some volunteer work, giving back with appreciation for all the help of those countlessand namelessothers whose efforts have made possible the ease of online research. I headed to the indexing tab at with good intentions, but apparently today was a technology and tantrums day for our good friends with the enormous digital data collection. Try as I might, I just couldn't get any indexing projects to open for me. I'd scroll through the choices, select oneI try to stick with naturalization records in either New York or Chicago, my two research interests right nowand with that click came...nothing.

Well, take that back. I did get an error message. Something about that batch not being able to be opened; try again.

Rinse and repeat may work for shampoo, but it wasn't working for selecting a new batch to index at my favorite online place to volunteer. Out of desperation, I started looking for anything...anything...which was in English and featured a record set in my home country. It's been a long time since I last volunteered to do any indexingtoo longand I didn't want another day to pass without helping out.

Finally, success: I got a file to open for county records of marriages in Indiana. Well, my father-in-law's line did have some family in Indiana, so at least I have a vested interest in this project, after all. The surprise was: the records weren't really all that old. One set out of the two I did actually bore dates in the late 1980s. So much for privacy of living individuals. And here I thought only California had that blatant disregard for further publicizing their "public" records.

Once I got into the record set, the indexing system worked like a charm. I was done with my first set in no time, leaving me quite willing to spring for a second go-round. It's times like these which encourage me to delve into doing more volunteer work like this. Painless, the minimal effort is amplified by setting up searchable records that can then be easily accessed by countless others, as long as the FamilySearch website still makes these records available.

That sure beats the old way of individually having to contact each government entity with a snail-mail plea to look up a document. I don't think there would be many of us researchers boasting trees numbering in the thousands if we were still resigned to the crawl of such a research fate. And that makes it all the more worthwhile to expend this minuscule amount of effort to get those records prepared to be accessed online.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Still Waiting . . .

Gradually, the photograph collection of Thirza Browne Cole is finding its way homeor, at least, finding its way closer to descendants who are interested in receiving one of these hundred year old pictures. The only thing I lack, in one case, is an address. In another case, I still need to locate the descendant.

I still have resources, of course. In the case of baby Louise, since she lived in a city near my own home, I posted a request on our local genealogical society's Facebook page. Hopefully, someone on that site will know someone who knows someoneand that six-degrees-of-separation shuffle will serve up a possible recipient. In a best-case scenario, that is. If not, I'm sure our prolific Cole researcher, Karen, would be happy to add it to her family history collection.

The behind the scenes news about Ralph C. Pollock, however, is different. Ralph is the young man from Greeley who, after the loss of his mother, was raised by an uncle and aunt. As far as we could see from census records and other documents, Ralph attended college, receiving a degree in chemistry which led him to research positions in California.

This was all confirmed when, thanks to, I located a researcher of the Pollock line who turned out to be a direct descendant. This researcher was kind enough to send me photos and news clippings explaining some of Ralph's later accomplishments and interests—Ralph apparently was still able to do handstands, walking on his hands and doing series of pushups, at age eighty. A plus was the discovery that Ralph had a "deep interest" in his family's history, and had left handwritten notes of his research.

While all this is encouraging to hear, it still doesn't resolve one tiny detail: where to send the photograph. And so, I wait. Such a small detail that stands between Ralph's abandoned photograph and his return to family who knew and cared about him. But I'm patient. After all, it's been well over one hundred years since these families last held these photographs. What's a few more days' wait?

 Above: Photograph of a young Ralph C. Pollock of Greeley, Colorado, possibly dated prior to 1900.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Mildred Finds Her Way Home

Just a baby whose infant photograph taken in Greeley, Colorado, somehow ended up in California, Mildred "Rigg" turns out to be someone whose descendants live not far from me. And thankfully, now that I've corresponded with two of those family members, Mildred is heading on her way home.

Mildred's picture was one of several added to the photograph collection of Thirza Browne Cole, another Greeley resident who moved, eventually, to northern California. I'm still not sure what the connection was between Thirza and the family of baby Mildredeven after puzzling over it with her descendantsbut I think it's safe to say it was just another token of how much Thirza seemed to care for those she met along the way in life.

As I've done for the other abandoned family photographs sent home, I first looked for descendants among those posting their family trees on With a little time and an eye to detail, it is fairly easy to determine those who have put in a lot of time on their research, as opposed to those for whom genealogy is just a passing fancy. I like to look for those for whom this means a great deal. I also like to seek out the closer relatives, rather than those over-zealous researchers (like me) who have constructed enormous trees with multiple branches of very distant cousins.

The researcher I found to make first contact with, in Mildred's case, deferred to a closer relative, and forwarded my information along to this person. I am happy to say this recipient is apparently one who has had a longstanding history of researching family, for he mentioned using Ancestral Quest as his genealogical software, a program first developed in 1994 and most often associated with the Personal Ancestral File program formerly provided by FamilySearch.

I'm always encouraged when I discover that an effort in "giving back" actually goes to benefit those who helped newbies like me, decades ago, because I recall that time period as an era in which there were so many who freely gave of their time and expertise to help others develop their genealogical research skills. This little token of rescuing abandoned family photographs is my way of giving back, in memory of folks like those, back in the 1990s, who helped me when I first tried to bridge the gap between the hand-to-hand combat of wrestling with real, liveand dusty!documents in archives to viewing their pristine facsimile in virtual format online.

So today, off goes Mildred to a descendant who understands the efforts of genealogical research and values remembering the inter-generational connections between family.

Above: Photograph of Mildred "Rigg" from Greeley, Colorado, dated about 1898; picture currently on its way home to one of Mildred's descendants.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

But Wait!
Wasn't There Another Daughter?

There is one additional detail about Thirza Browne Cole, the woman whose photograph collection ended up abandoned in a northern California antique shop. You may have picked up on it, back when I discussed finding Thirza's obituary from 1979: the obituary made mention of a daughter.
She is survived by her daughter, June Buck of Lodi, and two grandchildren.

The confusing thing about that mention is that we had already seen that Thirza and William Cole's only daughter had died young in 1923. Who was this other daughter?

In order to discover anything further on this mystery person, it helps to go back to the earlier obituary of Thirza's husband, William Cole, who passed away in 1947. There, we notice a mention of someone with the same surname, Buck:
In addition to his wife, the deceased leaves a foster son, Geo. I. Buck of Lodi...

Other than that, for descendants, the same obituary mentioned only his deceased daughter, "the late Mrs. Pauline B. Lee."

So who were George and June Buck?

Going back to the 1940 census where William and Thirza Cole livedin Lodi, Californiathere were two entries in their household which may help tell the tale. Although the enumerator seemed confused about how to properly report the relationships, he did include two names of interest in our current question. While there was an entry for a George I. Buck, Junior, there was also a name immediately above his in the Cole household for a single woman also bearing the surname Buck.

She, however, was not June. Her name was entered as Burnis Paulineor possibly a sloppily written Caroline. Burnis was twenty two, and George was twenty. At first, the entry for Burnis' relationship seemed to be "relative" with a question mark included. Then, penciled in above was the word, foster, again followed by a question mark. George's entry was equally unclear, seeming first to say "son" which was lined out and replaced with the word "foster."

Checking the previous census record in 1930, Georgethen a ten year old boyhad again been listed in the Cole household, although then, the listing was simply as a lodger. There was no sign of Burnis, nor any hint about who June might have been.

This, of course, calls for further explanation. You know I couldn't just let it sit there. I noticed there was a record of George's World War II draft card, listing Thirza Cole as his next of kin. Yet, Thirza was not technically his closest relative. At about the same time, there was a 1940 census entry for the elder George I. Buck (remember, our George was a junior) which included a "Bernice P." Buck of the exact same age as our "Burnis" in his household.

Looking back through the years, the 1920 census offered a potential Buck household, complete with father George I. Buck, wife Althea, and including two year old "Burnis E." and infant George.

As for June, my guess was that she had married George, the Coles' foster son, though I couldn't find any marriage record online. What I did find was a sad Find A Grave memorial for George, dated years laterbut during the years in which Thirza was still alivenoting that his wife was named June.

After George was gone, June must have continued maintaining the connection with Thirza. Perhaps their children grew up knowing Thirza as their grandmother, just as Thirza's obituary had listed them.

What I wonder is whether it was June who provided all the detail about Thirza's life for the newspaper article after Thirza's passing in 1979. The obituary was so full of minute details of Thirza's younger years, yet by that time, there were none of her peers to have provided that much information (unless it was from Karen's own parents, who, despite the distance between their two households, had kept in touch with Thirza since at least the 1940s).

All this may seem like a diversion from the true goal of finding Thirza's roots as we prepare to send her photographs home, but I don't think it is. Family is sometimes a concept that is more fluid than we may make it out to be. Sometimes, it just doesn't fly to tell the census enumerator, "It's complicated," about relationships. We're left reading between the lines.

Just this vignette of Thirza and William Cole's longstanding relationship to twolater threeyoung people who were not actually their kin reveals something about the personality of the couple we have been observing. They seem to be people who were willing to reach out to others in need, regardless of whether those others were family, friends, or lost souls desperately in need of love.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Telltale T

No, T is not for Tax Time, though I can certainly understand such a guess on a day like today.

T, in this case, is for Thirza, and just as I was preparing to send Thirza's picture home to a Cole descendant, its intended recipient, Karen, sent me a little interesting clue.

Remember Thiega? That scrawled name with the spelling which caused me so much doubt? How's this for a possibility? Wouldn't you think this handwriting said "Aunt Thiega" instead of Thirza?

That happens to be Thirza Cole's signature on a letter to Karen's parents, back in the 1940s. You can see how a beleaguered researcher might feel confused.

But that's not the only thing about that handwriting sample. There was something else. Remember that much older photograph I stumbled upon, from that same expedition up to California Gold Country to rescue some more abandoned family photos? The one of the elderly couple, Grandfather and Grandmother Browne from Grand Rapids, Michigan? It didn't have Thirza's name on itas had all the other photographs I found from her collectionbut it did have one other detail.

See if this handwriting looks familiar to you.

Just in case you think that T might have been a fluke, here's another handwriting sample received by Thirza's nephew and niecesubsequently passed to their daughter, Karen.

In my opinion, the handwriting on the reverse of the Browne grandparents' photograph is that of someone in her later years, but no matter when it occurred, the curious flourish over the T in both the Thirza signatures and the T in Timothy remain consistent. Whether Timothy and Caroline were indeed the names of Thirza's paternal grandparents or simply the grandparents of whoever wrote the original entry remains to be uncovered by additional research. But it's an encouraging clue. One that couldn't possibly have been discovered without input from another genealogist intent on collecting everything available about her family history.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Because She Said I Could

It may seem like I've been in a tailspin the past week or so, but behind the scenes has been some activity. This week will be the timeat last!to start sharing how some of the photographs in the Thirza Cole collection will be going home.

But before I unwind the stories of the connectionsremember, this was a collection of pictures of unrelated (as far as I can tell) individualsI wanted to get permission to share one thing: a picture.

No, this is not another photograph rescued from an antique store in the foothills of northern California. This picture already has its home. But I think, once you see it, you will appreciate having had the chance to see it too.

The picture, you see, comes from the very person who will soon be receiving the photo of Thirza Browne Cole, herself. I am very glad to be able to send Thirza's picture home to this researcher, someone I found through her thorough family tree posted at What a collector of family photos this woman is! You can understand why it's a reassuring feeling to be able to add to her collection: family photos evidently mean much to this person, and she is willing to share them on her family tree at Ancestry.

Look carefully at the composition below, and you will see as the little girl in the center, none other than Thirza's only daughter, Pauline, the one who, widowed, died in her early twenties. Pauline's parents, Thirza and William Cole, stand behind her. Will's brother Howard and his wife Bertha complete the picture.

The picture affords us a wonderful snapshot in time for Thirza and her familyan earlier version of the woman whose picture I found, plus a glimpse at what her husband and daughter looked like, too. Of all the ones in Karen Cole Eaton's many uploaded photographs on Ancestry, I think I'm drawn to this one the most.

Thank you, Karen, for sharing so many of the Cole family memories in picture form. It's such a treat to know that Thirza's photograph is going to a family history keeper who cares so deeply about preserving the family story!

Above: Photograph of Thirza and William Cole and their daughter Pauline, standing behind William's brother Howard Cole and his wife, Bertha. Photograph courtesy of Karen Cole Eaton; used by permission.
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