I'll start this post by saying that my family trees are online all over the place. Ancestry, TribalPages, MyHeritage, WikiTree, you name it. Whenever I hear of a new (free) family tree website where I can upload my GedCom, up it goes. I make sure all the living people in my tree are identified only as "living", but I want my ancestors out and about where other people (perhaps second, third and fourth cousins) can discover them and communicate with me.
Even so, last October I was unprepared for an email that was forwarded to me by a distant cousin, who said, "Claudia - I believe this is your line." The forwarded email said:
For anyone searching for the following names, I have a photo album that has the name R. A. Reed, Beulah, MI stamped in the inside front cover. It is loaded with old family photos including the following people: Herbert Reed (b. 1907, d. 1983), Orville Reed, R. A. Reed, Edith Reed Wolfe, and Maurice Reed. Jeanette Burton and Betty, 1950 on one photo. Ruby and Edith Reed, 1947. The outside of the photo album says, "Kodak, 1901, Miami, FL". Please contact me if you are part of this family.
Well, of course I contacted her - she told me over email and on the phone that her father (a lover of antique shops and garage sales) had bought this photo album somewhere in the South (possibly Florida) about 20 years ago. I gave her my address and she shipped it to me. When I opened the box, there was an incredible treasure - photos of great-grandparents (and other relatives) that I had never seen before.
First of all, the album had beautiful soft leather covers. On the front, as she had said, was carved Kodak and 1901, Miami, FL, along with a beach scene of palm trees and a sailboat. The back cover was carved with the initials MBR, which I puzzled over. Eventually I decided that they must stand for Mary Beem Reed, my Grandpa Maurice Reed's mother. While I had lots and lots of photos from the Reed side of the family, I had seen very few from the Beem side.
Most of the photographs in this album are unlabeled, and so it's an exercise in detection to try to puzzle out who, when and where!
This is the photo that clinched it for me - a family gathering, probably in Michigan, in the late 1890's or early 1900's. On the forward part of the picnic bench, sitting in the middle, is a little boy in a dark jacket and hat, that I'm pretty sure is my grandfather Maurice L. Reed. He was born in 1891, and if this photo was taken about 1900, the little girl in braids on the opposite side of the table, looking at the camera, could be his younger sister Edith, who was born in 1895.
Here's another photo, which (I'm guessing) is of Maurice Reed's maternal grandparents, Albert and Aurilla (Lane) Beem. This would have been taken before 1903, when Albert died during Sunday morning worship, of a heart attack. Aurilla in this photo would have been about 50 or 60; and this woman looks too young for that.
So, to formulate another hypothesis, maybe this is a photo of one of Mary Beem Reed's sisters. It could be Alice Maude Beem, born in 1864 and married to Bert John Olney. They had several children, who were about the same age as my grandfather. Hmmm - I think I'll try to track down some Olney descendants to see if they have any (labeled!) photos that we can compare.
And here's another photo, I think taken on the same day as the dining room scene, of the same woman with her cat. The framed certificate on the wall fascinates me - I've already tried scanning & enlarging it, but it still can't be made out. It may be a baptismal certificate or a marriage record.
There are many other photos in this album that I'll be examining closely and perhaps posting. I think I'll be tracking down other Beem descendants, as well as studying some of Maureen Taylor's books on identifying ancestors through clothing and hairstyles.
And, of course, there is the question of why would a Michigan family have a photo album with "Miami" on the front cover? That's a story for another day!
A couple of years ago I was exploring a branch of my family that had migrated out here to Washington from Michigan. My great-great grandmother Mary Ellen (Curtis) Reed's youngest sister Dora and her husband James Phillips moved from Cass County, Michigan to Olympia, Washington between 1900 and 1910, bring with them their children, Edith Mary and Perl. Edith married twice, and researching in the Washington Digital Archives, I discovered her second marriage was to Late F. Dixon, who was born about 1890. Just out of curiosity, I went looking for him and his parents on the 1900 census, and found them living in Battlement, Garfield County, Colorado.
I did a double take when I saw the name of Late's brother - he was Early Dixon!
Makes you wonder why parents choose the names they do!
Back when I first got all those family papers from my grandfather, one of them, written on the back of a piece of scratch paper was a family tree of my grandmother's. Grandma Ruby's mother Rhoda Prosser was born in Hillsdale, Michigan in January 1860.
According to this scrap of a family tree, Rhoda's father had been killed in the Civil War in 1863. Her mother was "killed by train" in 1883. Researching those two facts have taken me down fascinating trails in the last 35 years.
I don't remember the first time I actually looked at census records on microfilm, but I'd be willing to bet that it wasn't till I got here to Seattle and got acquainted with the Seattle Public Library and the Seattle Branch of the National Archives, in the early 1980's. Until then, while I was living in Florida, I had to send written requests for census research to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Since I was operating under the assumption that I was looking for a family named "Prosser" on the 1860, 1870 and 1880 census of Hillsdale, Michigan, I was very frustrated to keep getting notices that they couldn't be found.
Sometime during those years, in looking at the 1870 census of Hillsdale (line-by-line), I found my great grandmother Rhoda Prosser living with her mother and stepfather, Rhoda and Henry Jones, who were also listed on the 1880 census of Hillsdale. At that point I was able to write to the Mitchell Memorial Library in Hillsdale to ask if they could find any record of my great-grandmother's death. What I received was a copy of the newspaper article in the Hillsdale Standard, every bit as shocking one hundred years later, as it was on the day it was printed:
With this information I was able to send for Rhoda Jones' death certificate, which stated that she died from a fractured skull, and that her father's name was Robin Wilsey. On a research trip to Michigan in 2008, I was able to take a look at the original death register:
It wasn't until I was planning this blog post the other day that it occurred to me that other Michigan newspapers might have picked up this tragic and puzzling story. I went to GenealogyBank, and entered Rhoda Jones for the year 1883, and sure enough, the papers in Kalamazoo and Jackson had reported it. The Jackson Citizen Patriot ran this article on June 8, 1883, with the coroner's findings that there was no evidence of blood on any engine or train, and although she had no shoes on, the stockings on her feet were not soiled or stained.
Many times since getting the original article from the library in Hillsdale I have tried to imagine what happened that night. In addition to her husband Henry (who was a Civil War veteran), Rhoda had her 20-year old son Charles and 17-year old daughter Mary living in the house. Was it indeed suicide, or something more sinister?
What do YOU think happened?
Oddly enough (just one of the odd things about this odd case), James Terwilliger died just two days after the Oregon Circuit Court judge had declared that Philinda Terwilliger's will was a forgery. Another odd thing, that The Morning Oregonian commented on in 1894, was the "strange fatality which seemed to pursue individuals connected with it." Among those deceased were Julia Terwilliger Richardson, who died in the summer of 1892 (leaving her husband and sons to pursue the case), Judge Lorenzo Sawyer, John Orvis Waterman, "who testified that he wrote the will and that he saw Mrs. Terwilliger sign it", and three or four witnesses, who died before the case was appealed.
As for James Terwilliger, when he died on September 1, 1892, his estate was worth almost $450,000. His will divided his estate between his children from his first marriage, Hiram Terwilliger and Charlotte Cartwright, and his grandchildren Frank and Thomas "Harry" Richardson. Hiram received 106 acres of the donation land claim and a portion of a lot in the city of Portland; Charlotte received "a quantity of land and a note for $3000". And, "subject to the payment and discharge of all costs, fees and charges not paid, arising out of the suit ... against James Terwilliger, Frank and Harry Richardson, children of Terwilliger's deceased daughter Julia, are made heirs to the one-third part of the donation land claim." (source: "James Terwilliger's Will", The Morning Oregonian, 6 Sep 1892; digital images, Newspaper Archives (http://infotrac.galegroup.com.ezproxy.kcls.org)
The matter didn't end there, though. According to the news item published in The Morning Oregonian of April 21, 1894, the defendants (Julia's husband and sons) were not happy with the court's decision.
As reported in the newspaper on 27 June 1894, they "are endeavoring to get the matter before the United States supreme court".
And on February 8, 1895, the final decree was handed down, and as The Morning Oregonian reported, "This instrument was adjudged forged, false and void by the decree of this court" was stamped across the face of the will in red ink.
Today, the Terwilliger land is well-known in Portland. James' heirs donated 19 acres of land in the form of a right-of-way through the Terwilliger property, to form the first of a "Park and Boulevard System of the City of Portland". Landscape architect James Olmsted began planning Terwilliger Boulevard in 1909. The Boulevard opened to automobiles in 1914, and electric lights illuminated the roadway.
Today, Terwilliger Parkway is a pleasant drive, heavily wooded and seemingly far away from the city strife and traffic. It's come a long way from its first purchase by James Terwilliger (he traded a horse for this land in the 1840's), and the wrangling by his descendants over the forged will. His obituary ended with "He was a worthy pioneer, a good citizen, and a useful man."
In my paralegal classes this summer, I have (more than once) been able to see how closely my paralegal studies intersect with genealogy. For my Estates and Probate class, I was to find an "interesting" case involving a will or trust, and present it to the class.
While I was doing research on the Westlaw database, I found this case and was immediately interested because of its local history. And wills have a lot of genealogical value, even if they are forged! I present to you "Green v. Terwilliger", tried in the Oregon Circuit Court on August 29, 1892.
James Terwilliger was born in New York about 1808, and came to Oregon Territory in the early 1840's, where he established a business as blacksmith and tanner, and built a cabin in what is now downtown Portland. By 1845 he was a widower with two half-grown sons. Philinda Green was a widow with two sons, Calvin and William Green; they had traveled across the plains in a covered wagon in 1847.
In 1848 James and Philinda were married. Their daughter Julia was born in 1855, and shortly after that they purchased 640 acres of land near Portland, the east half of which was put in Philinda's name.
Then tragedy struck - on August 14, 1873, Philinda Terwilliger's son Calvin Green was murdered while driving cattle to Nevada. It took over a week for the news to reach Portland, and the newspapers didn't pick up the story until the first week in September."Murder of a Stock Man", Idaho Statesman, 4 September 1873, p.2; digital images, GenealogyBank (http://www.genealogybank.com) Philinda Terwilliger died in October 1873, just a couple of months after her son Calvin's death. A Will Surfaces
On March 28, 1889, a will purporting to be written by Philinda Terwilliger was filed for probate in Portland, 15 years after its creation. The date of the will was August 14, 1873, and it had been kept in a desk in the Terwilliger home. The main bequests of the will were these:
- First, I devise, give and bequeath to my daughter, Julia Viola Terwilliger, of Multnomah County, Oregon, the house and furniture in which we now live, and also the undivided east half of the James Terwilliger Donation Land Claim that may not have been sold at the time of my decease.
- Second, I give and bequeath to my son, Wm. O. Green, of Washington Territory, my clock which I brought across the plains.
Although William Green, Philinda's other son, had died in 1878, his widow and grown children brought suit, claiming that this will was a forgery. They were challenging Julia Terwilliger Richardson, who with her father James Terwilliger maintained that the will was genuine. There were several questions addressed in court:
- The will was dated August 14, 1873, the exact same day that Calvin Green was murdered in Nevada
- The will does not mention Calvin Green at all
- Testimony was submitted to the effect that news of Calvin's death did not reach Portland until a week later, on August 21, 1873
- Although James Terwilliger had taught Philinda how to write her name, the will was written and signed "in an easy hand."
- Other documents that Philinda had signed during her lifetime were written on legal cap or blank paper
- This will was written on "small leaves torn from an account book, porous and dimly lined".
- The handwriting of the will, Philinda's signature, and the witness signatures was very similar
There were more problems in this particular case. U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Lorenzo Sawyer heard testimony from both sides through most of April 1891. He had not yet reached a decision when he traveled to San Francisco that fall, and died there of bronchitis in September 1891. U.S. District Judge Thomas Hawley took over, and began hearing testimony early in 1892.
In his judgement, which was handed down on August 29, 1892, was that the handwriting in the will, Philinda's signature, and the witness signatures were all forged; that it would be unnatural for her not to mention Calvin in her will; and that it was very peculiar for these papers to have stayed in the unlocked desk drawer so long without being brought to court.
And there the matter would seem to have been decided, once and for all. Ah, but was it? There is much more to the story, which will be continued!
"Forgery of a Will", The Morning Oregonian, 30 August 1892, p.8; digital images; 19th Century Newspapers, (http://infotrac.galegroup.com.ezproxy.kcls.org
When I received all the family papers from my Grandpa Reed, they included records from Grandma Reed's side of the family, too. Evidently both of them had been collecting family stories and writing them down, drawing family trees, and collecting letters from relatives. One of the items in the inventory of Grandma's papers was a luggage tag.
It says "Mrs. J.H. Wooley, Flagstaff, Arizona
formerly Lottie Prosser, daughter of
Charles Prosser, Mama's brother."
Over the years, I did enough research to learn that Lottie Prosser (Grandma Reed's cousin) was listed on the 1900 census of Forester, Sanilac County, Michigan (living with her maternal grandmother), and on the 1910 census of Wheatland, Sanilac County, with her husband John H. Wooley and two small sons, William and John Jr. I couldn't find her after that, not even in Arizona records, and I didn't know what became of her.
Then I found out about Online Searchable Death Indexes (http://www.deathindexes.com
), which is a continually updated roster of online vital records for every state. When I learned about Arizona's online death certificates, I went to the website (http://genealogy.az.gov/
) and typed in Lottie Wooley. Immediately I had her death certificate on my computer screen! This told me the reason she was living in Arizona - because she had consumption (or tuberculosis). She died 10 November 1919, at the age of 33.
Some time later, I followed the breadcrumbs on Ancestry to trace Lottie's two sons, and actually called her grandson Arthur Wooley to talk to him about his grandmother. He sent me her picture, which I'm guessing was taken between 1910 and 1915.
The moral of this story is, you never know where the smallest clues are going to take you, so hang onto all of them!
Once upon a time, before my children were born, the only way I could research census records was on my lunch hour at the Seattle Public Library's Genealogy Department. After the kids came, I would find a babysitter (my mother, my mother-in-law, or various other relatives) and drive to the National Archives on Sand Point Way in Seattle, rejoicing in 4 hours of freedom to crank those reels of microfilm, trying to discover where my ancestors had settled in Michigan. I went there solely for the census records (1900 and 1910 were the latest available), and I had no idea what other treasures lurked inside that cement-gray building.
Flash forward about 20 years, and I'm in the middle of the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course. I thought I was a pretty savvy researcher, but this course taught me (among other things) how much I didn't know.
Land records, for example. One Saturday I went to the Archives on Sand Point Way (no longer needing a babysitter) to look at land records. What I found just emphasized how much information is out there that is NOT online, and perhaps never will be.
When I looked at the binder of abstracts of land records, looking for an interesting case to explore, I saw the abstract for William and Elizabeth Brannon.
(Washington Territory Land Claims, abstract for land patent for William & Elizabeth Brannon, O-501, National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle.)
The abstract stated that Elizabeth's father, Michael Livingston, testified that his daughter and son-in-law were killed by Indians on their land about 25 November 1855. The full record of this land patent was on microfilm M815, roll 99, pages 616 to 630.
When I looked at the microfilm, there were several pages, beginning with the original land patent filed by William H. Brannon, dated April 1855. In it he gave his date and place of birth (1832 in Ohio) and his marriage to Elizabeth Livingston in King County, Washington Territory in December 1853, and that he had one heir, Margaret Jane Brannon. The next pages were depositions by Elizabeth's father, Michael Livingston, who said that William and Elizabeth were killed by Indians in 1855, and that Elizabeth's mother Margaret Howard Livingston died in Benton County, Oregon in 1856. There was another deposition by a family friend, M.D. Woodin, who testified that he traveled with the Livingston family when emigrating to the west. William Brannon's land claim described it as being in parts of Sections 6 and 7 in Township 21 North, Range 5 East, next to land owned by James A. Lake and Harry Jones and close to the White River.
Wanting to know more, I stashed my purse in one of the lockers, filled out a researcher card, and went into the textual research room to look at plat maps.
(Land plat map for Township 21 North, Range 5 East, Willamette Meridian in Washington Territory. Record Group 49, Vol. 28, Box 31. National Archives and Records Administration, Seattle)
Here you can see William Brannon's land, right next to the White River, in South King County, Washington Territory.
Then I went to Google Earth, and with the help of a plotting instrument I found on Earthpoint
, found the exact spot in Auburn where William and Elizabeth built their cabin, began farming, and made friends with their neighbors. Back then, it was a wilderness; now it's very close to downtown Auburn, full of banks and schools and grocery stores. Sometimes we forget just how hard life used to be. And here's the thing - you won't find William and Elizabeth Brannon on Ancestry. Their marriage and their deaths are not recorded online at the King County Archives, or the Washington Digital Archives. William's land claim is not recorded on the Bureau of Land Management database.
You won't even find Elizabeth's father, William Livingston. About the only place you can find their information is here on this microfilmed land record and the original plat books. So if you're looking for someone who lived in the Midwest in the 1850's and suddenly disappeared from sight, look to the land records. He might have settled in Washington Territory.
While writing my post yesterday, it occurred to me to wonder what the house at 14041 Rosemont Ave. in Detroit looks like today. I have an old photo of the house as it looked just after it was built by my Grandpa Stoelt in about 1929. Back then, it was probably on the outskirts of Detroit, surrounded by lots of nothing!
This image was easy to find on Google Earth (you can also do this on Google Maps).
Go to http://www.google.earth.com
Download the Google Earth software.
Open up Google Earth and type in the address you're interested in seeing.
When Google Earth "flies" to that address, zoom in close and then look for the little gold figure to one side. With your mouse, drag the figure to the street in front of your address (this will only work if Google has street view images in their database). Google Earth (or Google Maps) will zoom down and plop you right in front of the house, and then you can use your mouse to swivel around 360 degrees!
I think my grandfather would be proud of his house that is still standing, over 80 years later, along with the one he built in 1932 or 1933. This house at 14883 Faust Avenue in Detroit was the one I grew up knowing as "Grandpa Stoelt's" house:
This post begins with a sad story - the first of many that I have come across in my years of doing genealogical research. I had grown up knowing that my mom lost her mother when she was 5 months old, and that her father had remarried a year later. Grandma Stoelt was the only grandmother I had ever known, and I loved her dearly. To put "Bessie Blanche Randall" in the space for my maternal grandmother on the pedigree chart I was creating, instead of "Gertrude Ervilla Varran", felt very odd. My mother had grown up in a Christian Science household, and had never known why her mother had died.
So, following the directions in the genealogy books I'd read, I sent away for my grandmother's death certificate. I remember clearly the day I received it - I opened the envelope standing in our kitchen, with my mother eagerly looking over my shoulder. My grandmother Bessie Blanche Stoelt had died at home, 14041 Rosemont Street in Detroit, of pernicious anemia complicated by myocarditis. She died on the 21st of December, 1931 - on her husband's birthday, four days before Christmas, at the age of 33. Her parents (my great-grandparents) were Herbert K. Randall and Claudia Thompson, the great-grandmother I was named for.
That would seem to be sad enough, to begin with, but over the years I discovered there was more to the story. According to Grandma Ervilla Stoelt (who'd heard the story from Grandpa Stoelt), Bessie had had a falling out with her parents the summer of 1931, in the later stages of her pregnancy. The last time she saw her father, he shouted at her and slammed the door in her face. My mother Mary Elizabeth Stoelt was born in August, and at the end of October Bessie's mother Claudia Thompson Randall died (coincidentally) of liver cancer and pernicious anemia. In Claudia's obituary, there was no mention of her surviving daughter Bessie or the new granddaughter, only her son Ray Thompson Randall.
I think the myocarditis was a broken heart.
Bessie Blanche Randall Stoelt
10 Nov. 1898 ~ 20 Dec. 1931
In 1972 my paternal grandfather Maurice Leonard Reed died on the other side of the state in Bradenton, and my father, who was the executor of his estate, made the 3-hour trip every weekend in order to wrap up his affairs and sell the house. One of the many things my dad brought home (besides stacks of hand-woven rugs, antique lamps and clocks, and my grandfather's complete set of journals covering 1928 to 1957) was the files of family papers and records.
I was immediately hooked. There was a typewritten family tree (done by a professional genealogist for the family back in 1936) showing our history back to William Bradford, several letters and poems typed on onion-skin paper, and scribbled notes on the backs of envelopes. Plus a luggage tag, which I held onto, and which proved to be a major clue in my later research.
My next step was (naturally) going to the public library, where I checked out Searching for Your Ancestors, by Gilbert Doane. I started writing letters to everyone I could think of - my other grandparents in Michigan, elderly aunts and uncles, and Michigan libraries and courthouses. I started haunting the mailbox, whooping with joy when I received an answer in the mail.
I was on my way!