Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Case of Being Neighborly?

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 neighbora Mr. Humbertto the details of the preceding day. The warm drink, it turned out, was simply hot tea. The nap, supposedly, lasted about an hour or soalthough 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 knowat 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

When Questions Lead to More Questions

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 photothe 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 fourteena 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

When Your Family History is
Being Written Right Now

Most of the time, genealogists believe they are preoccupied with the details of lives lived centuries agoor 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 familya 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

Of Presidents, New Starts
and Celebrations

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 oursrich in our diversityshould 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 historythanks 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

Whose Cousins Were Those Two Cousins?

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 childrenat 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. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

There Was This Aunt . . .

...and some mystery cousins. Can you tell I'm coming to the end of my rope, trying to figure out any connections to the Barnes family from Kansas whose five photographs I found in a northern California antique shop?

Searching through that wonderful newspaper resource I found at the Arkansas City Public Library, I noticed one thing while researching Alta Barnes and her sisters Mollie, Nellie and Helen: there seemed to be one aunt whose name kept popping up. For instance, the Arkansas City Daily Traveler mentioned, on August 7, 1925, that
Mrs. Roy Fresh, Silverdale, and sister, Alta Barnes, are spending this week with their aunt, Mrs. Charity Hume.

We already know that Mrs. Roy Fresh was Mollie, one of Alta's older sisters. But how did Charity Hume fit into the picture?

It would be easy to ignore this clue, if it were a solitary blip on the family radar. But it wasn't. Not much after that first mention I found in 1925, there was another, this time on November 6, 1926:
Mrs. Forest Barnes and son of Eaton, Kans., and her daughter, Mrs. Alta Williams of Kansas City, came down on Thursday for a visit with their aunt, Mrs. Hume.

Perhaps this more oblique reference to "their aunt" actually helps clarify the relationship. Mrs. "Forest" Barnes was Alta's mother, Clara. Between that first mention of a visit in August, 1925, and the second, Alta had gotten marriedon November 20 of that year. The second visit was just before Alta celebrated her first anniversary. Alta's only brotherJames, the one who at the end of his life donated his remains to sciencewas barely six years old at the time of that second visit, so by necessity, would have had to accompany his mother on this visit. But whose aunt, actually, was Mrs. Hume? There were two separate generations involved in this mention.

As it turns out, Mrs. Charity Hume was the younger sister of Alta's maternal grandmother, Harriet Hager Tousley. Charity appeared in the 1880 census in the household of Isaac and Harriet Tousley, thankfully listed as sister-in-law to Isaac, instead of any of the less diligent labels sometimes applied by weary census enumerators.

According to the 1900 census, Charity and her husband weren't married until that very census year, when Charity was thirty five years of age, and her husband, Wallace, was forty one. Reading between the lines in those subsequent newspaper entries in 1925 and 1926 tells the story of why so many family visits were mentioned in the town's social column. The original note in 1925 was likely mentioning a visit designed to console a recently-widowed relative, as Charity lost her husband Wallace Hume just a few months earlier, on February 9.

As often happens to couples in their later years, while Charity may have appreciated the visits meant to comfort her in her loss, those visits in 1926 may have served a secondary purpose: Charity's own health may have been declining after her husband's passing.

The little reports came more frequently, and revealed longer visits. Besides the note in November, 1926, there was an earlier one on October 15:
Mrs. Mollie Barnes Fresh came down the last of last week for a visit with her aunt, Mrs. Charity Hume. Mrs. Hume accompanied her home Monday for a longer visit.

Again, on October 29, another report:
Aunt Charity Hume spent the latter part of last week with Mr. and Mrs. John Tousley and family.

John, Alta's mother Clara's only brother, may well have been doing his part in rallying with family to provide support for his aunt. With all this mention of doting nieces and nephews, there was nothing saidat least in the local newspaperabout Charity's own family. While the 1900 census may have left a confusing impression that Charity had children of her own, looking closely points out two details: first, that the children in the Hume household were actually those of her brother-in-law, Alvin Hume; and second, that the small entry next to her own name indicated that she had no children of her own. The 1910 census confirms that situation. If anyone were to attend to her ailing health in the year after her husband's passing, it would be members of her siblings' families.

The last mention of visits to Aunt Charity appeared in the newspaper on June 18, 1927:
Mrs. Charity Hume is visiting with relatives at Eaton and Silverdale this week.

Not long after this point, on June 28, Mrs. Charity Hume apparently succumbed to her illness and joined her husband in their final resting place near so many of her relatives, the Parker Cemetery in Arkansas City, Kansas.

It was not solely on account of these newspaper reports that I felt compelled to scramble to locate just who Charity Hume was. Though I'm glad to trace the family connection, I was looking for a different clueone to help with the last photograph in the collection I found in that California antique shop. It was a group photograph of Alta's mother, Charity's older sister Clara, along with five other people. On the back of the photograph was the explanation: "Clara Tousley, girl standing between two cousins."

Who were those two cousins? Could they be the California connection?

Above: Handwritten note entered on the back of a family photograph of six people, taken at the studio of J. L. Cusick in Arkansas City, Kansas; undated photograph currently in the possession of the author.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Could Helen Be the Link?

One by one, I've been going through the family of Forrest and Clara Barnes, trying to figure out just how five of their family's photographs made it from their home in Kansas to the foothills of northern California. So far, I've uncovered not one clue. And I'm running out of possibilities, arriving today at the youngest of the Barnes sisters.

Alta Barnes' youngest sister, Helen, was different, however. Though some of the Barnes girls had married in their teensAlta was sixteen when she and Webster Wayne Williams were marriedHelen had other plans. By the time of the 1940 census, she was out of the Barnes home, living in Kansas City, where she was finishing nursing school. Between the time of the census in April and the following August, she had found her way from Saint Joseph's School of Nursing to Alexandria, Virginia, where she found employment as a private duty nurse.

By the end of August, 1940, Helen had become Mrs. Oda Nichols. How longif at allshe continued applying her nursing skills in a work setting in the Washington, D.C., area, or how long she remained a resident in Virginia, I can't tell. At some point, though, she returned to the midwest, settling by 1971 in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Sometime, in all that transition, Helen Nichols became Helen N. Burchell. The only way I know that is from that stack of digitized newspapers made freely available online through the Arkansas City Public Library, a resource for which I've become extremely grateful. On account of that searchable collection, I found Helen N. Burchell's obituary, published in The Arkansas City Traveler on Tuesday, September 6, 1983. She had died the preceding Saturday in Muskogee.

Then, of course, I had found the headstone marking her resting place, back in the same cemetery in Arkansas City, Kansas, where so many others in the Barnes family had been buried. That stone, by the way, was the one she shared with the memorial to her brother Jim, the one who had donated his body to science.

Still, I find no indication that Helen had moved any farther west than the region around Kansas and Oklahoma. That leaves me with no explanation of how those five family photographs would have shown up in northern California. Usually, when restoring such orphaned photographs with current family members, I can discern a path from the family's origins to, say, the Bay area; from there, it's only the minutiae of how antique dealers go about their business that determines where a photo may land.

In this case, though the photographs remained intact in one collection in Jackson, California, there is no member of the entire Barnes' immediate family who had children or grandchildren who moved to Californianot, at least, that I can find.

More important than solving that minor mystery, though, is being able to find a living descendant who would be interested in welcoming these pictures back into the family. That is what I am hoping for the most.

With one picture in the collection still waiting to be shared, we'll have just one more day to ponder what our next step will be.

Above: Helen Naomi Barnes, cropped from a family grouping taken circa 1922 in Silverdale, Kansas; photograph currently in possession of the author.
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