Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Genealogy is always presented in a neatly-tied package when a researcher can ably articulate how she got from square one to the final conclusion.
When it comes to how I found the connection between some of the names in this collection of abandoned photographs from a northern California antique shop, don't count on me to supply such a tidy explanation. Yes, it was wonderful to realize I was gifted with a full name, Thirza Cole—or was it Thiega Cole?—for one of the pictures in the set. But that didn't help me connect the dots between Thirza and the other people identified in the collection bearing her name.
With the picture of baby Louise, however, I did get a viable hint. There was an inscription on the back of the photograph.
Let's face it: baby pictures are pretty nondescript. If you've seen one baby picture, you've seen them all—at least, this is how some people feel. The receipt of a baby photograph is really just a gesture of inclusion from some pretty proud parents. So this photo of baby Louise could have been from anybody—close family, distant relative, army buddy, college chum.
Thankfully, it wasn't, as I found out. Still, it took a lot of wandering about, poking through files, forming hypotheses and then seeing them dashed to the ground, crashing and burning with the discovery of subsequent documentation. I wasn't kidding when I said this search is not following any logical, linear pattern.
The note on the back of baby Louise's darling picture began, "For Thirza + Pauline" and was signed off, innocuously, "With love from the Baby."
I realize that doesn't tell us much—in my head, I'm screaming, "Whose baby?!?!"—but it did introduce a possibility. Who was Pauline, I wondered—a much more rational (not to mention, sedately-uttered) question that started my research in a solid direction. My first goal was to find a nexus between Thirza Cole and someone named Pauline.
Someone, presumably much later, had added in a different hand and color of ink, "Louise Van Noate," which will turn out to be another useful hint.
Between these two names and the one I already knew—Thirza Cole—I was ready to hunt and peck my way through online documents to see if any possibilities popped up.
Above: Reverse of photograph of baby Louise, bearing the inscription, "For Thirza + Pauline, With love from the Baby." The name, Louise Van Noate, appears to have been added later. Photograph currently in possession of the author.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Having collected several photographs from one antique store in northern California, all bearing some form of the inscription, "To Thirza," I thought my task, in returning these abandoned photographs to appreciative family members, would be fairly easy. Surely, I thought, these would all be relatives somehow linked to the Thirza Cole whose photograph I also had rescued.
The more I tried to make the connection, though, the less likely it seemed that these photograph subjects were linked to each other—even remotely. With that, I was left with the 1920s photograph of Thirza Cole, an 1880s vintage likeness of Ralph Pollock, and a turn-of-the-century baby picture of Mildred Rigg.
But no connection.
There is, however, one more photograph listing Thirza's name—this time, with more than just her name, for the reverse of the baby picture contains a brief note. Better yet, it includes a full name.
For today, I'll introduce you to this baby, as well as a small detail I just noticed from the front of the photograph. Since it involves a convoluted explanation, I won't share how I figured out the connection just yet. We'll begin with that tomorrow.
As it turns out, the name on the back isn't exactly the baby's name, but just knowing the name came in handy, once I started researching what could be found about Thirza. The inscription served, later on, to confirm I was on the right track as I thrashed about, unsure of which of several research avenues to pursue.
And that small detail I just noticed? It was the imprint of the studio where the photograph was taken, but even that, at first, wouldn't have been much help to me. It was such a tiny mark as to make it difficult to read. In fact, even now, I'm not sure that it says, "F. L. Ray," but that is not what matters. The real clue is what is listed underneath the nearly illegible studio name: the studio's location in Salida.
If you think that clinches the matter, guess again. The city was given, all right, but not the state. My first thought was that it referred to a community in northern California, close to my own home. As I found out in my research, though, there is also a small town by that name in Colorado—a tip which turns out to be an encouraging lead.
So, for now, here's baby Louise. Tomorrow, we'll begin the tale of how the names on the reverse of this picture helped secure certain puzzle pieces in the right place in Thirza's bigger picture.
Above: Was that name affixed to the top of the baby picture really Louise? The handwriting made me question my own eyes. Thankfully, there was an accompanying note on the back to confirm it really was baby Louise. And the studio imprint? Salida? Nearly obliterated by the stain in the bottom right corner. Photograph currently in possession of the author.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Lately, it turns out that I am teaching beginning genealogy classes at various locations about twice weekly. After doing this for a few years, one thing has become clear to me: people come into these classes with one question in mind. Something happens during the class process, though, that turns them around, leaving with several concepts in mind. I've realized that genealogy can do that.
People often come into my classes thinking that finally, they'll learn how to prove the story that their mother's family really did have Native American roots. Or that Papa came from Tuscany. Or Alsace-Lorraine.
Once they learn the basic techniques for starting their own genealogical research, though, they realize how many other areas they need to learn, in order to fully comprehend just what it was like to be that person from Tuscany. Or that Chickamauga native. They gain an appreciation for the impact of those key historic events which may now be mere murky memories from high school history class. Now, for instance, the Civil War—or the Chinese Exclusion Act, or westward expansion—gets seen in a whole different light: events which had made a difference in their great-great grandparents' lives.
Of course, an experience like that can turn even the most reticent student of history (like me in my high school years) into an avid pursuer of the truth of the matter.
High school history classes, at least the ones I had to endure, were often taught in a linear format: first, this thing happened on this date, then it was followed by that event. Names blended into dates into wars or elections or inventions or newspaper headlines in one big blur of so what?! For me, it became a matter of how well I could memorize facts—and remember them long enough to spill them out on paper at exam time.
Fast forward another generation, and I became part of the homeschooling movement in our country. Homeschoolers have a name for a particular approach that was much different than my own high school experience. They called it "unit studies." That meant, for any topic they studied, students learned everything there was to know about that one subject.
If they wished to learn about, say, sugar, they would examine it as a commodity, but they would learn about its chemical composition, its impact on diet and health, its origins, and its role in history and even economics. While learning about a simple topic like sugar, students would end up exploring a world of other topics as well—a learning odyssey similar to that traced in the Sidney Mintz book, Sweetness and Power, taking in everything from the history of sugar's position as treat for kings to its place as a "slave crop" to its more commonplace modern role as the additive on more foods on our table than we care to admit.
It's surprising what one can learn from taking an in-depth look at one single topic, like sugar.
Genealogy becomes the catalyst to learn the universe of everything there is to know about the 1920s, just so you can understand what drove grandpa to do what he did. Or discover the angst of the 1930s. Or 1890s.
I have class members coming away from sessions, amazed at how much they have learned about the Civil War, for instance, just because they discovered a family member fought for the Union. Or shocked to learn what their immigrant ancestors endured, just in the process of boarding a ship—or worse, arriving on American shores. There is a universe of learning out there, waiting to be discovered, just for having taken that first step of wanting to discover one's family history.
Genealogy has become the gateway to learning history. In a personal way—and yet, a universal way. And that has made all the difference for people.
And yet, we are surprised to make that discovery.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
It's Saint Patrick's Day. Whether you're Irish or not, I imagine you've found a way to wear the green—or be obstinate and don some orange—but I don't know if you've noticed something I've been seeing in the days leading up to today.
I know the saying is that "everybody's Irish" for a day like today—and chances are, the average American (not to mention a good number of the Aussies and New Zealanders and even the folks in jolly olde England) sports at least a tiny percentage of Irish ethnicity—but that is not what I've been noticing this week. What I'm seeing, reading between the lines in those DNA commercials and Saint Patrick's Day DNA sales, is the possibility that "everyone's doing it" when it comes to testing for ethnicity percentages and researching their Irish roots.
Find My Past is reminding everyone of the free research resources they offer from Ireland. Family Tree DNA urges you to "share the luck o' the Irish" with others among your family and friends through their own DNA sale. Ancestry.com, also boasting loads of Irish records, offers you free access to their Irish collections this weekend, as well as a DNA sale of their own.
The genealogy buzz is not limited to all things Irish, however. Lately, there's been public notices on everything from MyHeritage's pro bono offer to help reunite financially-challenged adoptees and their birth parents through DNA testing, to social media commentary on using genealogy in politics. Yes, politics: a freelance writer has figured out how to use her skills as an avocational genealogist to disrupt America's current congressional debate over immigration with "resistance genealogy."
It seems as if all eyes are on the genealogy world lately. If not all eyes, at least a significant portion of people in North America have wondered "what if...." What if, for instance, they can trace their family story back to the country of their immigrant ancestor's origin?
With that widespread interest comes the chance for those of us who already know we are fascinated with genealogy to become the catalysts to help launch others into this pursuit of our roots. It is far easier to invite others, say, to attend a genealogical society meeting, or participate in a family history day, or spit into a tube for a DNA test, even, than ever before.
No more of this grousing about how our societies are "dying" from lack of participation in the wake of "competition" from online giants. People all over are clamoring for a real, live person to help show them the ropes—how to get started on their own journey of discovering their roots. The online resources may be a boon for our research, but they can't take the place of person-to-person guidance, encouragement, sharing, crowdsourcing, and general cheering-on when it's time for the Genealogy Happy Dance.
This is genealogy's day. All this talk about being Irish, or pinning our ethnicity report to our social media pages isn't just about DNA testing. It's about people realizing how fascinating genealogy can really be. We may as well seize the opportunity. One never knows whether the newbie we are helping will turn out to be that distant cousin descendant of our brick wall ancestor.
Friday, March 16, 2018
In researching the identities of the photographs in Thirza's collection, it would be quite handy if each of these people grew up to marry each other, or turned out to be cousins, or some other convenient and handy resolution to my research problem.
Apparently, that is not the case. The only nexus that I've been able to find, so far, is a link to the state of Colorado. Neighbors in Greeley, perhaps, but nothing more.
I can't help but think, though, that surely there is a story line weaving its way in and out of the three families we've discovered so far in this odyssey through Thirza's photograph collection. Perhaps at some point we'll discover it, but for now, it's a well-kept secret.
So we'll move on to the next photograph. Today's picture is the faded photograph I referred to the other day, one which makes me think it was taken much earlier than that of baby Mildred. This one, of the head and shoulders of a young man, bears no date or location. Though I don't know enough about photograph trends to date the style of the composition, I had thought this was an earlier type of photograph, perhaps from the 1880s, as opposed to the turn of the century date for Mildred's picture.
In a hand similar to the writing on the front of Mildred's photograph, someone had inked in the name Ralph Pollock. Just having a full name was a great help. However, trying my hand at locating a suitable census entry for someone with this man's name brought up too many possibilities. For one thing, the handwriting on the face of the card made it difficult to tell if the surname was Pollack or Pollock.
Time for a fuzzy search, I tried my hand at some guess work: what if Ralph was from the same town as Mildred? Figuring out Ralph's age and the date of the picture might make a big difference in finding the right Ralph, but it was worth a try.
Of course, to explain how I stumbled upon what I found, finally, will take another post, for there was another step in between these two that landed me on a page in a census record with a clue that nearly reached out to slap me in the face. Besides that, we have one more baby picture to examine before we arrive at that step.
In the meantime, let me introduce to you a young Ralph Pollock—yet another person whose likeness was sent with Thirza's name written on the reverse.
Above: Photograph of a young Ralph Pollock, from the collection of Thirza Cole. Undated and without any indication of location, this photograph is currently in possession of the author.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
How to explain the winding path I followed from my research question to the answers I've found...
This project I've taken on to send the pictures of Thirza Cole and her (presumed) relatives back home to family has turned out to be more complicated than I thought it would be at first. Granted, despite having found her photograph in an antique store in Jackson, California, I already knew it would be unlikely that she was a resident of that area. Besides, one of the pictures I found along with hers, clearly marked "To Thirza," came from Greeley, Colorado. Whoever Thirza was, I figured she had relatives back in the then-tiny town of Greeley.
My first step, once purchasing all these photographs containing Thirza's name, was to research each of the identities indicated on the front of each picture. I tried to locate the name on the Greeley photograph, for instance, in the census records for Greeley. Some of the other photographs, though, didn't even have geographic indicators anywhere on the photograph, so I'd try searching for the name, then seek out a family connection with Thirza.
When those attempts failed me miserably, I tried another approach: just build a family tree for Thirza, herself. This was a challenge for two reasons: for one, thanks to handwriting difficulties, I wasn't sure whether her name was Thirza or Thiega; and secondly, I still had to verify whether Cole was her maiden or married name.
With all those challenges, I just kept poking through documents in several directions, grasping at any possibilities and noting them, just in case.
Now, to try and reconstruct how I found out what I've discovered about Thirza—or at least a likely candidate for her identity—I'm not sure I can replicate the search, step by step. Complicating the matter—at least for those needing a straightforward explanation—is the fact that my mind does not work like the sequential path of a reasoned outline with step one leading to step two and only then moving to step three.
My mind, unfortunately, works more in a scattershot mode. It's similar to the technique known as mind-mapping, a process co-opted by genealogist Ron Arons in his recent book, Mind Maps for Genealogy, but I assure you, I've been following that process for much longer than Ron has been teaching the method.
The challenge is to translate my haphazard mind-mapping discoveries into a logical, blow-by-blow explanation. I'm not sure I can adequately complete that task. So for the next few days, I'll just give you the splat on each of the photographs in Thirza's collection, but just be aware that I've not yet uncovered the nexus. There are still many unanswered questions.
Today, we'll start with Thirza's copy of a baby picture. The photograph, as I mentioned, is from Greeley, Colorado. It was taken by photographer F. E. Baker—although checking in Greeley publications for any indication of that studio, all I could find, much later than the time of this photograph, was an ad for F. E. Baker, the realtor and land investor. Perhaps photography as a business just didn't work out for him.
The picture's subject was named Mildred Rigg. At least, that's what the handwriting seems to say. It also looks as if the name were either over-written, or erased and then redone, or that the ink was possibly not working well on the pen. Fortunately, it was relatively easy to locate a Mildred Riggs in the 1900 census and the 1910 census, both of them in the same county—Weld County—as the town of Greeley.
This Mildred was the daughter of Millard and Josephine Riggs, and happened to be born, according to the 1900 census, in January of 1898. Thanks to some online newspaper editions of the Greeley newspaper, plus some other documents found at Ancestry.com, I was able to locate a few more details about this Mildred, but not anything to sufficiently explain her link to our Thirza. Of course, that is provided that Mildred Rigg and Mildred Riggs are one and the same Greeley resident.
Above: Undated photograph of baby Mildred Rigg of Greeley, Colorado; photograph currently in possession of author.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
In seeking to return abandoned photographs to family members who will cherish them, I try to pay attention to all the details clustered around that photograph. Any names or locations mentioned or indicated, of course, would be prime items to research, but in the case of Thirza—or Thiega—Cole, I not only have the clues from the back of her portrait, but a welcome cache of other pictures with at least her first name attached to them. I suspect what I have is a part of her collection of family photographs—which, for our purposes, is a good thing.
Today, I'd like to introduce the main characters from this collection, as best I can read their names from the various handwriting samples found on their pictures. Some of them are part of this collection for sure, guaranteed by the name "Thirza" added to the reverse of each picture. One, at least, is likely part of Thirza's family, though I can't tell for sure; the name is so common, and besides, her name isn't added to the back.
Only one of those photographs has a studio imprint affixed to the front. It happens to also be the picture with the name that I have the most difficulty reading. It's a baby picture taken in Greeley, Colorado by the photographer F. E. Baker. The name above the baby's head looks like Mildred Rigg.
Another baby picture, this one without any mention of a location or studio imprint, simply bears the name Louise, though there is a note on the reverse for Thirza.
Yet another photograph looks to be the oldest of the three. It's a faded image of a young man, with the handwritten name above his head reading Ralph Pollack.
The only thing the three of these photographs have in common is the fact that the name Thirza is handwritten on the back. At first, I hoped that these were three individuals related to our Thirza, but now that I've been thrashing around the Internet's vast array of genealogical records, I'm not finding any such connections.
I'll begin by introducing each photograph in turn, one each day, and noting any possibilities for subjects. Of course, if a link to Thirza manifests itself in this cursory review, I'll make note of that as well. Meanwhile, I have plenty of work to do to prepare the rest of the story about Thirza, herself. If I have the right person, she is turning out to have an interesting life, indeed.
Above: Inscription from the back of one of the baby photos I found at a northern California antique shop. This is the clearest handwriting of all those pictures which include that name, which in this case is clearly Thirza, not Thiega. This inscription was written on the back of a photograph from Greeley, Colorado; the front has the name Mildred Rigg written above the baby's head in a different hand.