Thursday, March 22, 2018

Aftermath of a War

When troubles over the great World War escalated enough to call all able-bodied American men to register for military service, by 1917, Ralph Howard Lee was among them. Then single and just about to turn twenty five, Ralph was actually a native of Lyn, Ontario, but this Canadian had come to California as a boy with his parents and subsequently became a naturalized citizen. He was ready to serve.

Apparently, by the end of the war, Ralph had returned to his adopted home of Lodi, California, as a war hero. Respected as a "rising young business man," by the time of the 1920 census, he was newly married and living in Fresno, about a two hour drive south of his childhood home. That's where we found him yesterday, when we stumbled upon his identity while searching for our photograph collector, Thirza Cole. Ralph, as you remember, had married Thirza and William Cole's only daughter, Pauline.

Unfortunately, the only reason I know Ralph's community considered him to be a rising young business man was that that was what he was called in his obituary. I might even have missed any mention of his passing, had it not been for a Find A Grave volunteer posting a transcription of the June 7, 1921, article from the Lodi News Sentinel.

According to the news report, Ralph Lee had, some time before his June 5, 1921, passing, decided to undergo surgery for removal of his tonsils. An abscess subsequently formed in his lungs, which, in an era predating use of penicillin, became the cause of his untimely death.

It was barely over two years later when Ralph's young widow joined him. Pauline succumbed to unknown causes on the morning of June 23, 1923, at the Mason hospital, a local medical facility in Lodi. Her deceased veteran husband's comrades served as her pallbearers, and she was laid to rest next to Ralph Lee in the Lodi Memorial Cemetery, leaving behind her parents, her in-laws, and an aunt, Mrs. Nellie B. Yatesall, presumably, still living in Lodi.

The California Chapter of the "Rainbow Division," the 42nd Infantry Division, left a marker at the Lee grave site to commemorate Ralph Lee's service during the Great War, and a respectable monument was erected in memory of the young couplein a spot on the cemetery grounds which I have undoubtedly walked past, unknowingly, several times.

All told, though, the Coles' and the Lees' residence in Lodi was a recent occurrence. It was just in 1920 that we had found them in Fresno. Before that, Pauline was not even living in California. Finding the name of that one aunt, Nellie Yates, in Pauline's obituary thus becomes our next clue in tracing the Colesand especially Thirzaback to their origin.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The First Sighting

Despite all the mother-in-law jokes which ever provided fodder for comedians' acts throughout the ages, I was certainly glad to find, in the 1920 census, one particular mother-in-law in the Fresno, California, household of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph H. Lee.

Ralph, a twenty seven year old immigrant from Canada, was working in California's agricultural "Big Valley" as a buyer specializing in fruit.

Ralph's wife, Pauline, was reported in this same census to have been born twenty two years earlier, somewhere in Colorado. Besides Ralph and Pauline, there were no children in the home, but there were two other people living there: a man who was a farmer, and his wife, a "trained nurse" working in a private home in the area.

This, of course, was not just any Paulineas I'm sure you've suspectedbut the very one I've been looking for since finding the baby picture dedicated to "Thirza and Pauline." The couple living with the Lees was none other than Thirza Cole and her husband, William. Conveniently listed for us by an unsuspecting census enumerator nearly one hundred years ago, the Coles were specifically identified to be mother-in-law and father-in-law to the head of the household, Ralph Lee.

In other words, the Pauline listed in Louise Van Noate's baby photo was Thirza's own daughter.

With that discovery came others. For one thing, I learned Pauline's married name, as well as her approximate date and location of birth. I learned her father's full nameand thus, one and the same, the name of Thirza's husband.

In case, in subsequent records, the parents and daughter were to maintain separate households, I could now trace Paulineand any potential descendants who might be interested in the photographs I've foundthrough the information shown here in the 1920 census about her husband's identity. Best of all, I learned that Thirza was indeed named Thirza, and not Thiega or Thieza or any other name permutation which difficult handwriting on the photos might have led me to pursue.

I happened upon this 1920 census record quite by accident. You know how it is: you open up an online service and tap in the name of the person you are seeking, and voila!, there she is in multitudes of entries. Which one to choose first? I picked at random, and am now so thankful that the haphazard choice I made was the 1920 census.

You see, that was the last census record where I'd find Pauline listed—not just as a member of the same household as Thirza, but as an entry in any record whatsoever. By the time of the 1930 census, neither Pauline or her husband were anywhere to be found.

Above: Thirza Cole, her husband William, daughter Pauline and son-in-law Ralph H. Lee, itemized in the Fresno, California, Lee household for the 1920 census. Image courtesy

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Clue from Baby Louise

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 Coleor 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 allat 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 wondereda 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 knewThirza ColeI 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

The Linchpin

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 othereven 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 namethis 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 Coloradoa 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

Genealogy: the "Unit Study" Approach
to Life and Everything

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 Waror the Chinese Exclusion Act, or westward expansiongets 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 factsand 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 wella 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.

Or genealogy.

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 shipor 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 wayand 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

Time to Seize Our Day

It's Saint Patrick's Day. Whether you're Irish or not, I imagine you've found a way to wear the greenor be obstinate and don some orangebut 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 todayand 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 ethnicitybut 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., 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 ropeshow 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

Introducing Ralph

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 Pollockyet 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.
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