Monday, February 23, 2015

RAILROADS & GENEALOGY



HOW THE RAILROADS AFFECTED MY FAMILIES

Genealogy isn't all birth, marriage and death dates.  We can learn lots of interesting things about our "long since" ancestors.  I have uncovered a train in almost everybody's life.  Enjoy!

1860s:  General Stephen Hurlbut, one of General Grant’s officers in the civil war, served first in militias in Illinois and then in Missouri guarding the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad.

1864:  Serena Stevens Loop and Sophronia Stevens Hurlbut, both elderly ladies and sisters, were riding in the last car of the morning mail train heading east out of Belvidere, Illinois.  The flange on one of the wheels broke and the car “was precipitated down an embankment 20 or 25 feet high without a moment’s warning.  The car in its descent turned completely over, smashing the top and sides but landing right side up.”  Luckily all the passengers survived, but were badly bruised.  The newspaper article says the new car was very new, with many new amenities, one of which was a new type of wheel.  It added “It is hoped the builders don’t always furnish that style of wheels.”  

1873:   John G. Davis and his neighbors in Schuyler county, Missouri filed lawsuits against the St. Louis, Kansas City and Northern Railway Company because they didn’t fence their tracks properly, allowing “property” to be killed.  That property was probably a “cow” and Davis was awarded $30.00. 

1873Frank Stevens’ first job at age 15 was learning telegraphy in the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad office in Raymond, Kansas.  In 1874 he was given charge of that station and remained with them until 1891.

1876James S. Dobbins paid to have 1 box of household goods, weight 200 lbs., shipped from Lawrence, Kansas to Las Animas, Colorado.

1884:  Jim & Nannie Dobbins had to give up their ranch in Colorado.  They no sooner got their house and corrals built than they learned the Santa Fe railroad tracks would come directly through their property.

1887:  The first picture of my Grandma Jessie Ryland was taken in Pueblo, Colorado in a Railroad photo car.  

1893:  Aunt Lillie was widowed when her husband, an engineer on the Midland Railroad in Colorado, was killed in a head-on crash in the Rocky Mountain foothills.  As Ben McCammon  lay dying he willed his house to his widow, as attested by three of his co-workers.  This oral will was discovered during a 1977 title search. 

1898:  In the late 1890s Scott Dobbins played cornet in the Midland Railway Band.  In weekly concerts in Colorado Springs he met – and began wooing -  the lady who later became his wife.  

1903:  Frank Stevens’ son, Roland Humphrey Stevens, was killed in a train accident in 1903 in Cimarron, Kansas.  

1906:  In 1906 Byron Hall, aged 30, took the railroad home from a business trip.  The conductor, sensing that apparently the passenger was having some kind of a mental problem, notified the next station of his odd behavior.  At the station Byron got off and walked to a nearby hotel, where he shot and killed two policemen before he himself was killed.

1916Bruce Kirkpatrick, a 16-year old in Tennessee, went with a buddy one evening to try to jump aboard a moving freight trains, the type of unsafe things young men often do.  When Bruce jumped, he bumped into his buddy. This caused Bruce to fall to his death beneath the wheels.  Bruce’s parents, while acknowledging that there was no malicious intent in the death, nevertheless had “Murdered” inscribed on his tombstone.  

1940s:  In the 30s and 40s, many homeless men “rode the rails” to California looking for a job. Julius Title was the head of the Transit Committee for the local Elks club and as such his job was to give to hobos jumping off the train in Pomona a bus ticket to either Los Angeles or San Bernardino, “where jobs were more plentiful.”

*****
And just in case you wondered about my own train experience, that is me in the picture above with my hand shielding the sun from my eyes as I had my first train ride in a little amusement park in Long Beach, California.   My baby sister was with me.  I'm guessing it was 1938. Oh, it was FUN!





Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DID HE OR DIDN'T HE? ONLY NARA KNOWS!

STEVENS FAMILY


Chester Dana Stevens - 1862

Almost everything in genealogical research starts out as a theory.  You may know a fact for sure but really it is just a part of your "theory" until you can find definitive proof.

That is, of course, if you are a really dedicated genealogist.  Some people don't want to work that hard, and their work is based on a lot of assumptions that may, or may not be right.  I want mine to be RIGHT!

So here's my Stevens theory:  Chester D. Stevens (1822-1902), my great-great-grandfather, was thought to have participated in the civil war.  On what do I build that theory?

Firstly, his son Frank wrote a short blurb for a Kansas County History Book: "He was a stanch (sic) Republican and served during the Civil war as an officer in the commissary department."  Now genealogists know that these county history books are notoriously suspect.  People paid to have their biography published in this book, and the money collected was what got the book published.  Of course, people writing their own bios tended to leave out the not-so-good stuff and puff up the truth, which might end up anywhere between a little mundane or a big fabrication.  With that possibility in mind, I use Frank's report on his dad as part of my theory.

Secondly, handed down in our family are bits of two letters that Chester wrote to his baby daughter, "Ellen", at the time she was born on 15 September of 1862.  The letters went to his wife in Mendota, Illinois, which is in northern Illinois where all the Stevens clan settled in the 1840s.  One of those letters is shown below.  Please note that Chester reports from Bolivar, Tennessee, puts "Commissary" on the letter and he definitely states that he is in the army, though he writes it with a lower case "a" (which may or may not mean something.)

An ancestor who serves in a war generally has a military record of some type residing in our country's National Archives and accessible to the public.  But lo, there is nothing there for C. D. Stevens, Chester D. Stevens, Chester Dana Stevens, or for any of those names with the variation "Stephens" as a last name.  I tried three different times over a four year period to find something that would indicate Chester's involvement in the Civil War.  But three times the National Archives said their records did not show a man by any of those names in any branch of the service.  Zilch.  Zero.  No military record, no pension, no nothing.

To cover all the bases, I looked for him in the Illinois militia, too.  Zilch there, also.

Mind you, I've been trying to prove my Chester theory since 1984.  Folks, that's 30 years!

Last year I had a new idea.

Chester's sister, Sophronia, married Steven A. Hurlbut, who at that time was an attorney in Belvidere, Illinois, near Mendota.  When the Civil War broke out, President Lincoln put General Ulysses Grant (also a friend of the Stevens family) in place, and guess what?  Grant appointed Hurlbut a Brigadier General and guess where he was in September of 1862 at the time Chester wrote his letter to his newborn daughter?  If you said Bolivar, Tennessee, you would be correct.

The 53rd Infantry Volunteers, headed by Gen. Hurlbut, arrived in Bolivar on September 13 and moved out of Bolivar on October 4.  My new theory now is heading toward the idea of General Hurlbut getting his brother-in-law (Chester) into the Commissary perhaps as a general contractor or the like.  Of course, I have to prove or disprove that one now.

Recently at a genealogy society meeting we had a superb presentation by Kerry Bartels, an Archives Specialist at the Pacific Region National Archives recently relocated from Laguna Niguel to Riverside in California.  After listening to Bartels, I am convinced that the National Archives holds the secret of my Chester's participation in the Civil War.  He may not have been an officer of the commissary department but I do believe he had something very important to do about getting supplies to the Union Army in Bolivar, Tennessee.

Now even with the newly found confidence that I'm heading the right direction with my theory, I can't help but be a bit discouraged.  As Bartels says, the National Archives has a huge amount of material and what is on line is only a miniscule part of it.  And as he showed us, it is possible to find where things are kept.  I try not to be negative, but I add: That may be so IF you are living right, IF you are smart enough, IF you have many years of life left in you, and IF you either can travel around the country to comb through millions of documents or have found the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow to pay for hiring a researcher to do it for you. 

I wish I knew in 1984 what I know now.  If I had, and IF the stars were all in alignment, I might have had my theory proved by now, even understanding that sometimes what you fined is that you are left holding a theory blown to h--l by facts you didn't suspect.

Bartels gave a wonderful talk.  I'm old enough, after researching for so many years, to appreciate what he said and not so old that I can't dream of possibilities.  But I'm also realistic enough to know that it isn't likely going to happen in my lifetime.  Maybe at some point down the line one of my descendants will become interested enough to take on the challenge of hunting for and locating the very box at the National Archives Branch that contains the Commissary Records pertaining to Bolivar, Tennessee in September of 1862 that will prove the role of Chester D. Stevens in the Civil War. Perhaps that person will even be able to access those records from the computer at his or her home.  No, I'm not discouraged, just a little sad that it won't be me.

I hear you asking why we put ourselves through all this?  Hey, I do it for no other reason than because it is great, great fun.  The side benefit is that it is the kind of mental exercise that is supposed to ward off senility in old age!  What a hopeful outcome that is for simply having fun!


Monday, February 9, 2015

SPECTACLES TALK!

Dobbins Family

REV. ROBERT B. DOBBINS



Excerpt from a letter to me dated September 27, 1997 from Carl H. Peterson, Ph.D. - a friend, a cousin, a descendant in-law of Robert B. Dobbins and a retired college History Professor:


"…I learned something yesterday that may be of interest to you.  I was lecturing on New England church history and had prepared an overhead of the 1670s woodcut by John Foster of the Rev. John Davenport of New Haven.  I asked my colleague Larry Bryant what it was that Davenport was holding between his fingers.  As I had guessed, Larry identified them as spectacles, but he added that they were a "signature gesture," an iconographical convention intended to identify the subject as a studious clergyman.  He showed me a painting by Van Eyck which is supposed to have been the first painting of eyeglasses ever done and which was the origin of this convention.  It seems that when the Rev. Robert B. Dobbins had his picture taken he knew exactly how it should be done."


Rev. Dobbins (whose middle name was Boyd, as shown on a deed he executed in Fulton County, Illinois) was active in the ministry from his Ordination in 1804 until his death in 1854.  He will be given a blog write-up soon.  He was my 4th great grandfather.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WILLIAM McGLOTHLIN - SADLY, IN THE WRONG PLACE.....

In 1867 my great-grandmother, Nancy Corel Dobbins, wrote a letter to her nephew, a 25 year old man named William McGlothlin, and sent it to him in the gold fields near Virginia City, Montana.  In December of this year, that very letter was sent to me by a distant cousin, who didn't know who William was and thought maybe I did.

I'm going to let the documents I have tell the story.  I'm posting the original envelope that it came in because it is interesting and readable.  The rest of the story will be from transcribed documents.  Old letters and old newspaper articles are difficult to read.  And you'll want to read this:

This envelope was addressed to James S. Dobbins, Nancy's husband.  Here's what the letter inside said:

P. O  Virginia City
Montana Territory
Feb. 27th, 1867

Dr. Madam:

I take the liberty of addressing you and returning your letter to your nephew, the late William McGlothlin  To find the address, I was obliged to open the letter.  This I am sure you will excuse under the circumstances. 

Mr. McGlothlin was murdered on Sat. the 16th of Feb'y near this city.  His body was found on Sunday following, and been decently buried.  Every effort is being made to discover the murderers with a present prospect of success, when they will, in a very few hours, pay the forfeit of their own lives.

I can only add that his friends have the hearty sympathy of this entire community in their bereavement.

You can probably best break the sad intelligence to his mother from whom he had, only a short time before his death, received a letter which was found on him.

I am                 Very Respectfully yours,
                                      A. M. S. Carpenter

                                        Depty Post Master

                                                        * * * * * 

Searching the internet via Ancestry.com and professional genealogist I know who is also a Corel turned up these two newspaper articles.

MONTANA POST 23 FEB 1867

HORRIBLE MURDER!

The city was startled yesterday, about 1 p.m. by the information that a man was lying about three-fourths of a mile north of the now, shot through the head, and had been dead some time.  There was an immediate rush of people to the place, and, no doubt, many more would have gone, had it not been conjectured that the report was a "sell."  We joined the throng, and on reaching the place, found it to be true.  Dr. Yager, coroner, immediately empanelled the following named persons as jurors: N. J. Davis, foreman, and Messrrs Culver, Bartlett, Ousterhouser, Pfouts and Shannon.  After a preliminary examination of the deceased man, the body was conveyed to the city, and the jury adjourned to meet in the Probate court-room at half-past four in the afternoon, where the inquest was held in secret.  "The following are the particulars, as far as we are informed:  The deceased was named William McLothlin; was a laboring man, about twenty-five years of age, and unmarried.  He came here from Lawrence, Kansas, where his parents reside, during last autumn, and has since been employed as a common laborer.  In such occupation as he could find.  He, in company with another man, occupied a cabin on Jackson street near the upper end of town.  He was temperate in his habits and had no personal enmity with anyone.  On Thursday last his cabin was closed and no one knew anything of him until he was found today by Mr. McCloskey.  When found, he was lying on his face with a bullet hole in his head, the ball having entered through the back part and lodged in the brain.  The hat was still on his head, and, where the ball passed through, was powder-burned.  On examination of the body, a navy revolver with all the chambers loaded was found upon him.  In his pocket was $3.15 in currency which, it is supposed, is all the money he had.  His pockets had not been disturbed, nor was there any sign of a struggle in the snow.  He lay almost perfectly straight on the ground and had not moved from the position in which he fell.  The suggestion of a suicide is an impossibility.  There were two tracks in the snow to where he lay – but one away from it.  This also explodes the suggestion of him being murdered in the city, and conveyed there.  The entire affair is, as yet, shrouded in almost impenetrable mystery, and it is to be hoped that the coroner's jury will elicit information that may lead to the detection of whoever committed this brutal deed.  The jury is still in session at the present time.

                                                          * * * * *

MONTANA POST 2 March 1867

VERDICT – The Coroners Jury empanelled on the inquest of Wm. B. McLothlin, returned a verdict on Saturday that: "The deceased came to his death from the effects of a pistol shot, fired by some person or persons unknown to the jury."  After the rendering of the verdict, the jury were discharged by the Coroner.  We believe we are correct in saying, that after hearing all the evidence on the matter, the jury were fully justified in the decision they gave.  The numerous reports current about the implication of certain parties and no indubitable evidence of their guilt, could not be sustained when the witnesses were examined under oath.  The murderer of McLothlin is still alive but we hope not at liberty, as the villain, whoever he is, is an adept at murder.  His success in decoying the deceased to the out of the way place where he was killed, and in killing him before he had time to draw the loaded revolver in his suit?, shows that he is treacherous, crafty and had thoroughly planned the "deep damnation of his ____ off."  While a heartless villain remains in our midst, no man's life is safe, and it is nothing more than justice requires that some inducement should be offered to competent persons to ferret him out and bring him to justice.  This thing should not be forgotten until another and another is added to this list of victims, as it seems likely to be from the apathy that is shown in the matter.  Justice to the living and the dead alike requires action – and __ offering a premium to crime to abandon the attempt to discover the perpetrator.

                                                              * * * * *

I am not closely related to William; his mother and my great-grandmother were sisters so I am a distant cousin.  I knew what happened to his brother Henry, and I knew what happened to his brother Shadrick.  I did not know until yesterday what happened to poor William.  The oldest cemetery in Virginia city has many unmarked graves, and though the letter-writer said he was given a decent burial, I'd guess that did not include a headstone.  I've got a few good Corel researchers looking further with me to see if we can put a confident "finis" on his life.  

William did what so many young men of that day did - looked to make their fortune in the gold fields of the west.  James Dobbins himself, before he became Nancy's husband, went for Colorado gold in 1860 but came back home mostly empty handed.  Like William, Tim Madden, brother of my great-great grandmother Ellen Madden went to California from Boston in 1850 and never was seen again. No one knows what happened to Tim.  At least now, we know the story of the short life of William McGlothlin, son of David & Jemima Corel McGlothlin. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

I SPY!


On the Fourth of July, 1865, a prosperous farmer, John Breckenridge Preston McConnell, and Frances Narcissa Wright, daughter of a Church of Christ preacher, married in Barren County, Kentucky.  It was his second marriage, his first wife having died, and her first.  She was 20 years old. John and Fannie, as she was called, ultimately had 8 (or 9) children, but sadly, only three of them lived to maturity.  In the late 1870s the family left Glasgow, Kentucky and settled in Limestone County, Texas.  Later they moved to Colorado.  John died in 1898 and Nannie lived until 1915. These two people were my great-grandparents.

One of them was a Confederate Spy.

In 1905, the Colorado Gazette newspaper had a feature story on page 15 of the Sunday October 22 issue that reads
"FAMOUS WOMAN SPY WAS FROM BARREN COUNTY"

Get a good look at her in her wedding picture above.  It's 1865 and she's 20.  She obviously was a teenager when she was spying.  Let me share some of the details from the newspaper.

"I was a spy under General Bragg," she said, "and I made more than one visit to General Rosecrans' headquarters on one pretext or another when he invaded Kentucky and I carried information back to General Bragg.  Men could not go anywhere in those days unless they were with an army, and so I, like many other southern women, rendered much service in bearing dispatches.

"When Bragg concluded to send the raider, John H. Morgan, through Kentucky to destroy bridges and railroads in order to cut off Rosecrans' supplies, it was I who carried him the message to report at General Bragg's headquarters.  After that I aided Morgan by bringing him quinine and percussion caps.  These articles were sewed in a quilted skirt which I wore, and the dispatches were sewed between the soles of my shoes.  I made trips across the Ohio river to Indiana towns where a confederate furnished the skirts filled with caps and quinine.

"Often the skirts were loaded so heavily that they became a burden.  I usually went on horseback across the country and had several narrow escapes from being captured by the Yankees.

"I cultivated the acquaintance of Captain George Stone, a Union officer.  He gallantly showed me around his camp.  Then I told him I wanted to see what a fortification looked like and in his innocence he took me over the breastworks and I mentally noted the weak places.  That night I rode 40 miles to inform Magruder and at noon the next day his cavalry dashed in where I told them to and captured the camp, as well as a large quantity of supplies without the loss of life.

"When the Federals were in Glasgow, I was suspected on several occasions of being a spy.  They had my hair searched for dispatches.  One day I got mad and had a barber cut if off and I threw it in a Union Colonel's face who chanced to be present.  He laughed and seemed pleased to get it.  This made me madder still and I took it away from him.

"My duties led me to Shiloh and I shall never forget the horrors of that battle scene.  The dead and dying lay in windows and the wounded were piteously begging for water.  There were so many of them, and so few of us to attend their wants, that I took off a new pair of shoes and carried water to them from the creek to the poor fellows in both the blue and the gray who were only too glad to drink from anything."

There is a bit more to the article, but not about spying.

Did any of this story filter down to my generation?  Not a bit of it.  She died in 1915 when my dad was 7 and his sister was 11.  Nannie's daughter Susan Maud was my grandma and she never told any stories about her mother being a spy.  I found out about it through the kindness of a Kentucky genealogist who saw a reprint of the article in the "Hart County [KY] Historical Society Quarterly and wondered if she might be able to find descendants researching her.  Her curiosity was satisfied when she found my name on the Internet as a descendant of John and Narcissa Frances Wright McConnell and sent me an e-mail.

And I think that while all the people I write about in this blog are truly Immortal Nobodies, my "SPY" is probably as close as I will come to having an Immortal Somebody!



Friday, January 9, 2015

WILMER A. FUNK, AKA "UNC" FUNK


In the scheme of things, this man probably had as much influence on my young life as his best friend, my father, did.  He wasn't a "real" uncle, so I don't have a lot of genealogical data for him.  But he truly was special in my life, and since there is no way of memorializing him on my own Family Tree, I'll do it here.

He was born Wilmer A. Funk, in Beatrice, Nebraska about 1906 ; he was called "Bill."  As I recall, he attended Colorado School of Mines, but when his father died, he dropped out to help his family. Somewhere along the line he met my father in Colorado Springs and they became fast and lifelong friends.



The two fellows set out in 1930 for California, where they headed to Angels Camp to check out a possible gravel mine for some Colorado speculators.  This first venture came to naught, but in the meantime my father met my mother, also a relocated Coloradoan, and they married in 1932.  In those days everyone was trying to survive through the Great Depression.  Dad started his family and Bill brought his whole family to the Los Angeles area, where he felt there was more opportunity for them.

My father did not serve in WWII but Bill did.  He was on the South Pacific island of Pelelieu, and if I remember correctly, he worked on building military bases.  Meanwhile my father bought a house iin Long Beach, California, for a pittance.  It sat on property that was needed for expansion of the City Bus lines, so whoever bought it had to move it somewhere else.  Since my father owned some property a few blocks away, it was a match made in heaven.  The house ended up at 1620 Gardenia Avenue in Long Beach.  There was plenty of space in it, and it was at that time Bill moved into a small back bedroom and lived there with our family for many years.   I must explain for the younger readers that when we kids were little, we could not call people by their given names.  It either was Mr.. So and So or Uncle So and So; my dad's best friend became "Uncle Bill" to my younger sister Ginnie Lou and me - and later we called him "Unc."


It was in 1945 that Unc and my father became partners in a small appliance business in Long Beach. My dad handled the sales department and Uncle Bill the repair department.  That arrangement, in all its various future iterations, worked  and they remained partners until they retired.  In the mentime, Unc married in the mid 1950s, after my sis and I both had gone off to college.

Unclc Bill was a perfect counterbalance to my father in all ways.  Dad was high strung; Bill had a stolid German disposition.  Dad worked with fleeting financial figures; Unc worked with machines that needed repairing.  What dad missed in his schooling, which rendered him somewhat useless in helping us with our school work, Bill, with his training, is the only reason that both my sister and I were able to pass algebra in 9th grade (which was when we were introduced to it in those days.)  Night after night he patiently explained to us - me first and then two years later my sister - how algebra worked.  It was SO difficult for both of us; I don't remember a lot of fussing on our part, but I'm sure we weren't the easiest kids to teach.  Unc methodically sat with us on the couch and went over the problem again and again until we caught on.

My mother was not really well a lot of the time, and to make matters worse she became pregnant again at age 37.  She had terrible morning sickness and could barely get out of bed.  My father had always been the first one up each day; his job was to turn on the floor heater, set the coffee percolating on the stove and the bacon frying.  Uncle Bill took over the duty of making sure Ginnie Lou and I got out of bed each morning.  We would hear him at the door of our bedroom give a fairly substantial knock, then in a sing-song voice say "SADDLE BLANKETS" and then he'd crack open the bedroom door a bit so we could smell the coffee and bacon.  If we ever knew the significance of "Saddle Blankets" it has escaped me in my old age.  But it did the job.  Ginnie Lou and I would be more than half-way dressed before mother would pop out of her bedroom and run into the bathroom quickly.  Poor mother.  She was so sick.

Unc never talked much about his time in the service, but he had foot problems for the rest of his lie.  He called it "Jungle Rot."

Unc was a part of our life.  He was truly a member of our family and wasn't a time that he wasn't with us.  He was an unassuming man who didn't fuss over things.  Although they truly were partners in business, my father drove a Cadillac and Uncle Bill drove one of the store repair trucks. Looks just didn't matter to him.  Through the years we came to know his brother Claude, Claude's wife Lois, and their sons, Ronnie and Davy.  We vaguely remember a sister Betty - and I know we met his mom several times.  But it was only Uncle Bill that we really knew well.

After we went away to college, he met and married a woman with two young children, Barbara and Frank.  I don't believe we kids ever met his stepchildren, but we did know his wife Betty, because they often socialized with my folks.



The marriage didn't last but a few years, but Barbara and Frank had experienced Unc the same way my sister and I did.  They stayed in his life after the divorce, and when he suffered toward the end of his life with a crippling case of arthritis, they were there for him.  He and my father retired from business and both lived long lives, although neither as healthy as they wish they had been.

We were SO lucky to have Unc in our lives.  I have often wondered how I could find a way to immortalize him on the internet and share with everybody about his goodness and kindness to our family.  I finally decided I would put him under "Immortal Nobodies" - who usually are quiet little folks that I've only read about in my never-ending genealogy reserach.  For Unc, I think I'll temporarily change the title to "IMMORTAL SOMEBODY!"


Saturday, January 18, 2014

LITTLE LOST GIRL


From the very first, my idea of getting into “genealogy” was that it would become a place where I could capture and store all the old stories my mother told me as I was growing up.  She died unexpectedly in 1982, and at that time the subject of genealogy wasn’t even on my radar screen.  But two years later I was introduced to it by a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.  It was her enthusiasm and encouragement that started me thinking I could make some order out of the “old stories” my mother told me about the farm in Kansas, the tornados they lived through, the fire that burned down their house, the photography school she attended in Illinois, her grandfather who left his grandchildren a nice chunk of money when he died that came to them in the middle of the Great Depression, her authoress grandmother….and ultimately the trip that brought her to California. 

I started into genealogy with what is called a family group sheet – a form on which to capture the “name, rank and serial number” (so to speak) of each family that I was related to.  I learned how to hunt down elusive facts; sometimes it was as easy as picking up the phone and making a phone call to an aunt.  Other times I had to send off to county offices to get a copy of a birth or death certificate.  This was all before the advent of both the personal computer and the internet, so overall it was not a particularly effortless chore.  Those empty blanks on the family group sheet were always calling to me for answers. 

It is now thirty years later, and they are still calling.  Today I’m hunting for the details of the short life of Blanche Stevens.  She truly is an Immortal Nobody, and while I suspect I’ll never have a picture of her to post on Find-a-Grave or on the blog, hopefully I can get a sense of this child who actually was my grandma’s cousin.

Here’s what I know about Blanche.

            She was born in 1889 in Wichita, Kansas.  Her dad was George Stevens and her mom was Sarah Smith Stevens.  She had a brother, George Dewey Stevens, born in 1898.  Her mom died in 1900 of Bright’s Disease.  Needing a mother for his children, her dad married Adelia Gale on Christmas Day of 1901.  Daddy George took a job in Guthrie, Oklahoma and the family moved there.

            In December of 1909, Blanche married E. E. Thompson at the age of 20.  In November of 1910, Blanche died.  She is buried in the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie.  Her husband ultimately remarried and moved to Florida.  Her brother graduated from college and became a geologist and moved to Texas.  Father George and stepmother Adelia followed George Jr. and ultimately died and are buried in Houston. 

That’s what I know about Blanche.  That’s not enough. 

Genealogy reflects our culture, and it is not surprising that there is a paucity of information about most of the females that we are researching, especially the ones who die soon after reaching adulthood.  In the case of many women of that day, often there is a grave of a baby beside the mother, or named on the same tombstone.  Many, many women died in childbirth.  Is that what happened to Blanche?  1910 is fairly early to expect a death certificate to be required.  Logan County, where Guthrie is, says I must send in a $15 research fee to see if a death certificate for Blanche exists.  I am paying for research time; if one exists I’ll receive a copy of it.  If one doesn’t, the fee still applies.  I have no problem with that.  If it does, I will be able to add a little knowledge to the life of Blanche. 

What else might be available that would shed light on her life?  It is a little early for high school yearbooks.  Does the public library have copies of them that far back?  Or perhaps the high school does.  If so, can someone see if a picture of her exists in that yearbook?  I hope, I hope….but I’m not holding my breath.

Do old copies (or microfilmed copies) of newspapers exist?  Were there any stories about her marriage?  Was there an obituary printed at her death?  To find out, my choice is to take a trip back to Guthrie and research myself (not likely), hire a researcher to take a peek for me, or count on the good graces of a kind library staff to check for me and tell me how I can get copies of the articles. 

To give Blanche more of a “self” it will be worth a few dollars spent in the hunt.  Lurking in the back of my mind, of course, is that maybe none of these things exist….and then what? 

In genealogy, strange things can happen.  One time early on I received an envelope in the mail from someone whose name I didn’t recognize.  I opened it up and out fell a carte de visite photograph of my great-grandmother, Nancy Dobbins.  It seems that a lady in El Paso was the great-granddaughter of Nancy’s sister Olivia.  Being the youngest child of the family, Olivia had retained all the old family photographs and albums, and perhaps being the most prescient of them, had thought to label each one that she knew.  That box of photographs had been passed down to the youngest daughter of each generation, finally resting with the lady in El Paso.  The El Paso lady was herself a genealogist and tracked me down to deliver that photo by mail. 

So I never can discount that something totally unexpected will happen and Blanche will become a real person again.  But for the time being, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the traditional ways of turning up facts will once again produce good stuff and that Blanche will become better known to all of us Stevenses.