In family history research, and in life in general, I’ve always believed in the magic of serendipity aided by a good helping of paying attention. And always gratitude.
When Ancestry started waving its little green hint leaves at me about my mother’s first cousin, Bobby Oliver, I took a peek at a recommended tree and smiled to find a few photos of him. I remembered meeting Bobby once at my grandparents’ when I was a child. He was about my mother’s age and died in his forties.
As I explored the tree, I realized that it belonged to a relative of Bobby’s mother, a connection by marriage, and not a direct relative of mine. And yet…my attention was caught by the photo of a lady in round spectacles and a white-haired wig attached to the tree. It was my great grandmother, Emily (Wright) Oliver, but it was listed as someone else! Someone I wasn’t related to! I know this particular photo well. I have a copy of it. And the very Victorian brooch she’s wearing is in my jewelry box. It was definitely Emily and most definitely not this Anna person.
Misattributed portraits come up often on Ancestry trees. Oh, look! Ancestry waved it’s little hint leaf at me! Somebody posted a photo of great, great aunt Mary Sue! I’ll add it to my tree! And once a mistake is made, it can spread like wildfire. If dozens of other people have that photo in their family tree and they all say it’s Mary Sue, then it must be true. Ack!
But before harumphing too much about Emily being mislabeled as Anna, I wrote the person in whose tree I’d found it. To thank her for the wonderful pictures of Bobby. What a pleasure to find them! And, by the way, about that photo you’ve labeled as Anna…
As usual, courtesy (and persistence) is the best approach. It took two messages (not everyone checks Ancestry as obsessively often as I do), but when I heard back from Mary happy things followed. She corrected the misidentification. We shared family info relating to Bobby, who was also her mother’s first cousin. And, best of all, she had a family album with more pictures of my side of the family. Wonderful pictures of my grandfather and his brothers as children, of my great grandparents. I’m thrilled and grateful. And it turns out that Mary’s son lives in the same Pennsylvania town my daughter and her family just moved to. We’re going to meet up sometime and look at pictures together. Hooray!
So when the serendipity gods drop something into your lap, be sure you’re paying attention, and don’t forget to say a heartfelt thank you.
Daniel (1870-1952) and Emily (Wright) Oliver (1865-1954), my great grandparents
Kenneth Stuart Oliver (1898-1975) my grandfather
Alan Douglas (Doug) Oliver (1896-1983) Daniel and Emily’s son, my great uncle
Robert Hugh Henderson (Hugh) Oliver (1903-1979) Daniel and Emily’s son, Bobby’s father, my great uncle
Robert Hugh (Bobby) Oliver, Jr. (1930-1976) Hugh’s son, my first cousin once removed
Special thanks to Mary Witaconis for the use of these photographs. They make me happy.
Today I got a reminder of how easy it is to unwittingly make stuff up in genealogy. Earlier this week I wrote an affectionate little post about my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. This morning I got a call from my mother, who said, “You’re not going to like this.” And she straightened me right out.
First of all, I had the year wrong. Celia Oliver and Bill Hare (born Stephenson) were married in Wellesley, Massachusetts on June 16, 1954 (not 1955), which was four days after Mum’s college graduation and a year before my Dad’s. Secondly, my aunt and uncle were in fact married in 1955, a year, not a few weeks, after my parents. Thirdly, I left out the part where Mum and Daddy were secretly married in Baltimore a year before their official wedding in Massachusetts.
So what, you say? Well, facts matter. And this story is actually different when it’s correct. And, since I’ve never located a marriage certificate for either the Maryland or Massachusetts marriages, I should have double checked with Mum instead of going on my memory of what I thought she’d told me long ago. And yes, this is the downfall of many a sloppy genealogist!
It was the 1950s. My parents were still in school and they quietly got married in 1953 in Baltimore. They were 19 and 20 years old and they never told their parents. Not ever. According to Mum, “Bill was afraid that because I was a year older I’d take off, and if we got married I wouldn’t.” So they got a marriage license, and one afternoon they rounded up two friends–Vince, a fraternity brother of my Dad’s, and Callie, a classmate of Mum’s–and went to the home of a Justice of the Peace. When it was over, Vince and Callie drove off in one car and Celia and Bill drove off in the other.
Because Mum was a year older than my Dad, they decided to get married when she graduated. They could get an apartment together (it was the ’50s) while she worked through his senior year at Johns Hopkins.
This morning Mum explained that my aunt and uncle traveled from Boston to Baltimore to visit them, the newlyweds, during the year before their own wedding in June 1955, again confirming that my dates were mixed up. So it’s actually my aunt and uncle whose 65th anniversary is this month…
And this solves my burning question as to why Mum would wear a suit to my Dad’s graduation a few days before marrying him in the same suit. What bride would do that?! The answer is that she’d worn the suit at her wedding first, the year before. I’m relieved.
So happy 66th (and 67th) anniversary and double check your facts! xxoo
A big, fancy-numbered anniversary. Today is the 65th anniversary of my parents’ wedding.
Celia Oliver and Bill Hare (born Stephenson) met in college in Baltimore in the early 1950s. She was a student at Goucher College and he was at Johns Hopkins University. My Mum was a year older than my Dad, graduating from college in 1954. Their wedding took place soon after his 1955 graduation from Hopkins when he was 21 and she was 22.
It was a small, simple wedding at the house my grandparents were renting on the campus of Dana Hall School on Grove Street in Wellesley, Massachusetts. My mother wore a dark suit with white piping around the collar. It’s the same suit she was wearing in photos of my Dad’s graduation from Hopkins earlier that month.
Present were their parents–Ken and Elsie (Mills) Oliver and Bob and Esther Jane (Miller) Hare from Maryland, with Bob’s mother, Fern, (Bob was actually my Dad’s step-father); Mum’s brother Peter Oliver and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Connie Gibbs; my grandfather’s brother, A. Douglas Oliver from Philadelphia with his wife, Dessa, and two young daughters, Anne and Susan; and finally, my great-uncle, Clark Stephenson, (brother of my dad’s father, Bill Stephenson) with his wife Louise. And must not forget my grandparents’ boxer, Judy, who was an important part of my childhood a few years later!
I love the intimacy of the gathering, the silliness of my Dad hamming it up for the camera while Mum beams, the image of my dignified grandfather being silly. The house isn’t one I ever knew, but everything they’re surrounded by–furniture, hangings, rugs–is embedded in my childhood memories. It was a day filled with joy and promise.
My parents had adventures together during their six short years of marriage before my father’s early death. They drove cross-country to spend a year living in Alaska. They spent a year working in Germany. They had four years as parents together in Baltimore. And a dog. For all that, I celebrate them and look back on that day 65 years ago with gratitude.
UPDATE: Oh, my, did I get this wrong! My next post sorts it all out…
“This Charming Kansas Bride” is Grandma in 1938, and newspaper archives may just be my favorite resource.
Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare was born in 1914 and raised in Coffeyville, Kansas. I knew she had done some modeling, and have a copy of this photograph, but until I was poking around in newspapers.com today, I didn’t know what the bridal shot had been used for. It was NOT from the wedding of the “lovely Mrs. Hare,” but the “true story of her romance” with Bob Hare, my dad’s stepfather, told above is one I’ve never heard, and may hold some grain of truth. Or not.
The text is hard to read in the image above, but describes how she first met Bob in high school, (probably not true–he was five years older, but did grow up in Independence, the next town to Coffeyville), but he had no interest in her. “And I blamed my complexion.” Then, thank goodness, Grandma discovered Camay soap.
Wichita–Spring 1936. “Five years passed during which Bob and I never met [During which she started college, met my grandfather, gave birth to my dad, got divorced, all before she turned 23]–and then we met at a dance. What a difference there was then in the way Bob treated me!” All thanks to Camay and her lovely complexion.
Coffeyville–Fall 1936. “Then one fall night under a harvest moon I became engaged–yes, to the man who once had never even noticed me!” And in fact, Jane and Bob were married in February 1937.
What is not fiction is that she truly was beautiful and charming. Also funny and smart. And, even with a little eye rolling at the “Soap of Beautiful Women” commercial fiction, I’m so happy to have stumbled across this advertisement today.
Esther Jane Miller (Stephenson) (1914-1975) and Robert Ralph Hare (1909-1979), my grandmother and step-grandfather
William Edward Stephenson, Jr. (adopted by Bob and changed his name to William Stephenson Hare) (1933-1961), my dad
I managed to spend more time than usual frolicking in my family research this year, including a trip to England in August and a road trip through family-related places in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina in March. The research was a refuge and escape from other worries at times, and the travel and people I connected with were pure magic. Genealogy was definitely a highlight of my 2019, with a few particularly special discoveries and experiences.
A brick wall came tumbling down; never seen photos emerged; I visited a cousin in England and made contact with several cousins I hadn’t known about; I walked in places where my ancestors spent their days. My plan was to blog about each of these, but most of those posts are still drafts… Goals for 2020!
OliversandOliphants – Finding the father of my born-out-of-wedlock 2nd great grandfather, David Oliver (my mother’s family name), has long been a challenge, and the discovery of DNA matches named Oliphant helped redirect my search. Thanks to the help of a great new online community, Walk My Past (see below), the mystery has been solved. David Oliver’s father, my 3rd great grandfather, was George Oliphant (1827-1904) from Bower, Caithness, Scotland. And… I found a photograph of the place he was living at the end of his life!
James Mills and Maria Milnes Photos – I’ve always had a fair amount of information on Granny’s (Elsie Mills, 1899-1993) maternal family, but not much on her father’s side. So far I’ve only turned up one blurry passport photograph of her father, James Mills (1863-1925). And then this unexpected gift! An Ancestry member posted a pair of photos from a family album–Granny’s grandparents, James Mills (1824-1904) and Maria Milnes (1825-1892). It was remarkable to see their faces and especially to discover how much my Granny looked like her grandmother.
Living Cousins – 2019 brought re-connection and first contact with close-ish cousins in England, Scotland, New Mexico, Texas, and New York. Some were through DNA matching and others through more old-fashioned methods. It turns out that a childhood friend is a 10th cousin (thank you, Ancestry DNA) and a friend from college is a 9th cousin. Best of all, I spent a lovely afternoon with my Mum’s first cousin in London. Another goal for 2020 is to be in contact with more cousins.
Ackworth School – Oh, my, what a thrill this was! In August I arranged to spend a day visiting Ackworth School in West Yorkshire, exploring the buildings, and poring through the archival material collected for me by Celia Wolfe, the school’s kind and incredibly knowledgeable archivist. I won’t spoil the post that I really, truly do still plan to write, but the short version is that I strolled the campus where my great grandmother, Emily Wright (1865-1954) was born and spent most of her childhood, where her parents worked, and where her ancestors on both sides and her siblings were students from 1780 through the late 19th century. The original buildings and grounds of this Quaker boarding school are little changed, so it felt like they could have been right there, walking the halls and pathways with me.
And there were photographs of students and teachers, including lots of wonderful images of Emily Wright and her parents, Mary Ann Deane (1841-1884) and Alfred Wright (1831-1901). The Quakers are precise record keepers, so there were documents rich in details about many family members. Proper blog post to follow!
Pennsylvania/Virginia/North Carolina Road Trip – A spur of the moment driving trip in March took me first to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, in the Susquehanna River Valley, north of Harrisburg, where I researched my Miller and Deppen ancestors. Thanks to the helpful folks at the Northumberland County Historical Society, I learned that my 4th great grandfather, John Miller (1774-1821), is said to have drowned in the Susquehanna River while checking his flooded land on the Isle of Que. The tiny island is one half mile wide and 5.5 miles long, part of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania on the west side of the river. I paid a quiet visit to that shore at dusk.
Next stop was Staunton, Virginia, where James and Maria (Milnes) Mills settled around 1870. I took a whirlwind tour of Trinity Church, where the family worshiped; Thornrose Cemetery, with a sizable Mills family plot beneath a majestic magnolia tree. Census records and city directories provided me with the addresses of several family homes, so I was able to find where James and Maria lived during their later years with some of their children.
The North Carolina leg of my road trip took me to Davidson County in search of late 18th to mid-19th century graves of my Owen, Bodenhamer and Goss ancestors. It was a bit of a wild goose chase. Visits to the Abbott’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Reeds Baptist Church Cemetery, and Becks Reformed Church Cemetery led me to graves of some collateral ancestors, but no direct ones. But the bonus was some exceptional decorative gravestones–well worth a quick visit!
Walk My Past – A new resource for genealogists appeared on the scene this year when amateur genealogist Abbie Allen decided to create Walk My Past, a website where people could easily offer or request help with their family history. The idea is simple– volunteer “genies” are available to help with requests for information, cemetery photos, or a trip to a nearby archive. With willing helpers scattered across the globe, it gives access to information that can be out of reach otherwise. There are now 187 genies in 14 countries and the numbers are growing. Definitely worth checking it out!
And I’m the happiest of users. A kind-hearted “genie”, Meredith Cane of Revill McKay, Scotland, saw my request for help tracking down the answer to my Oliver/Oliphant mystery. She was already working in Scottish records for that region, and was able to identify my 3rd great grandfather, George Oliphant. Hoorah!
There’s my 2019 in a very large nutshell. Now, onward to 2020 and new adventures.
Oh, my! Family History Month is here, and I need to send my intentions out into the universe. I have eleven–count ’em–unfinished drafts of blog posts and lots of other family history projects in mid-stream. I’ve taken several research trips and have information to organize. Lots to do!
I’ve just commited to Janine Adams’s 30 x 30 challenge to spend 30 minutes on genealogy research every day this month. That should help, but I need to focus! I have to confess that I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to family history projects. Oh, look! A shiny thing! Let me play with Ackworth School, Yorkshire records for awhile. Wait–there’s an Ozarks Genealogical Society?! Or maybe I should do a post about my 3rd great aunt and the Hawaiian Mission in the 19th century. This might be a good time to join the Caithness Family History Society and explore those Oliver family roots. Or maybe I’ll look at family paintings. A blog post about all the dogs in our family would be fun, too!
So how do you stay focused in your family research? And what will you do to celebrate Family History month? So many stories to find; so many stories to share!
My lovely mother-in-law, Natalie (Munson) Brengle, would have been 100 years old today. Here she is as an 18 or 19 year old in a fashion show in Bar Harbor, Maine in 1937 or 1938. She only became more poised and elegant as the years passed. We miss her and raise a glass in her memory today!