Like many of us this housebound spring, I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate well enough to blog or even read much. But rummaging through old pictures is a perfect distraction.
My pictures are horribly unorganized (I know! A perfect quarantine project…) but I thought I knew what I had. To my delight, yesterday’s finds included three envelopes of pictures (1915-1980s) given to me years ago by my Aunt Marjorie (Miller) Willbern, my grandmother’s sister. And out popped this picture of their sister Nellie M. Miller, which I don’t remember having seen before.
I don’t know much about Aunt Nell. She was the third child of Frank and Stella (Owen) Miller, born in 1908 after her family moved from Marshfield, Missouri to Coffeyville, Kansas and she died in 1920.
I’ve always loved this picture of Stella with her first three daughters, and the one below, taken when Nellie was two and looking very solemn. Nellie was six when my grandmother, Esther Jane Miller was born in 1914, and sadly, she died at age twelve when Grandma was only six. Finding the sweet image of her in hat, coat, and boots pleases me so much–she is not forgotten.
Postscript: My great grandmother Stella’s first daughter, Marjorie, was born in 1901. On August 11, 1923, Stella gave birth to Martha Lee Miller, her fifth daughter, but lost her two days later. Below are the three surviving sisters.
“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
Maybe it’s because the internet didn’t become part of my life until I was well into adulthood, but I still believe it’s magical. And that’s been proven again and again in my family history research. Sometimes the magic is random, and sometimes it’s been the result of methodical research, but either way, the information and contacts that have come to light feel like gifts that have fallen from the sky.
My grandfather, William Edward Stephenson (1910-2004), was born and raised in Augusta, Kansas. His dad, Richard W. Stephenson (1874-1960), started a men’s clothing store in town around the 1910s, and Bill’s older brother Paul Noble Stephenson (1902-1972) and his wife Dorothy continued the business until about the 1960s. I wrote a post about Grandpa Bill and his younger brother, Clark (1911-1994), and their high school and college yearbooks here.
On a whim this week, I did a search on WordPress for Augusta, Kansas. No particular reason. And what popped up was a bunch of blog posts by crittersandcats/Dave, who shares stories for his kids and grandchildren about growing up in Augusta in the ’40s and ’50s.
As if it wasn’t enough for me to get some local flavor for a place I’d only visited a couple of times, Dave answered my comment by sharing that he’d known my family and had written a story including Uncle Paul, Aunt Do, and their son, my dad’s cousin Dick!
Back in the 1950’s, we had a men’s clothing store in Augusta, Kansas. It was owned and operated by Paul Stephenson as Stephenson’s Men’s Clothing. The store was located on the east side of the 500 block of State Street, nestled up against the Prairie State Bank, on its north and Mamie Hall’s book store on the south. Paul and his wife (only 60 years and I’ve forgotten her name) were in the store every day, well dressed and professional but friendly in demeanor. Their son, Dick, was a classmate of mine. Dick and I graduated in 1954 and I went to work and I think Dick headed for the University of Kansas. The following year, I was going to attend a wedding and needed a new suit. I went down to Stephenson’s and Paul fitted me with a new outfit and his wife set me up with a lay-away plan to pay for it. Those were the last dealings I had with the Stephenson family.
Dave goes on to write about an unplanned landing in Guam in 1959, where he bumped into Dick, who was by then an ensign in the Navy. Small world!
The moral of the story is: Methodical research is all well and good, but don’t forget that serendipity also plays a part. Indulge yourself in the obscure Google search. See if somebody has written a blog post about your grandfather’s small home town, or the tiny school your great grandmother attended, or the newspaper your great great grandfather published. Surprise connections sometimes fall from the sky. There IS magic. (And thank you, Dave!)
P.S. Dick had won my heart as a five year old (just a few years after Dave’s story) when he came to visit, looking quite dashing in his Navy uniform. He pulled out a guitar and sang to me. “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” has been a favorite folk song of mine ever since…
When Ancestry alerted me of the anniversary of my great great grandmother Mary (Cocke) Hill’s death, I pulled up her obituary from the Baltimore Sun of October 31, 1903. I’d read it before, but imagine my surprise to read down to the list of honorary pallbearers. Out jumped a name I hadn’t noticed before–Major W. Stuart Symington–none other than (bear with me here) my husband’s step-father’s grandfather. OK, so Mary Hill’s husband, Nicholas S. Hill, also served in the Confederate Army, and both were from Baltimore. Not shocking, but fun to find.
I chuckled, texted a couple of family members, and went back to read it again. And noticed that Frank H. Hambleton, my step-father-in-law Fife Symington’s other grandfather, was also listed as an honorary usher! For real.
Mary Hill was taken ill while entertaining guests at the Washington, D.C. home of her daughter Irene Bolling. And bless the Baltimore Sun’s fuzzy little heart, they even gave Irene’s street address and mentioned that Mary was entertaining in the drawing room when she was stricken. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Zillow and similar real estate websites are fantastic resources for getting a look at family places.
Here is Aunt Irene’s home at 1808 Riggs Place in the Dupont Circle section of Washington:
City directories list Professor George M. Bolling at this address only from 1904 until 1906, with many other Washington addresses in the years preceding and following, so they must have been renting. Bolling taught Greek and Sanskrit at Catholic University during these years.
Thanks to the magic of Zillow, (oh, how I do love the internet!) I was even able to find interior photographs of this lovely, well-preserved house. This may have been the drawing room mentioned in Mary’s obituary:
A follow-up article appeared the next day, 1 November, 1903, describing the funeral held at the Baltimore Cathedral, where many other Hill family occasions occurred, and the procession to Bonnie Brae Cemetery. I recently visited the Cathedral and the cemetery (now New Cathedral Cemetery), where both my great grandparents are buried, and was touched to find their son-in-law, my great grandfather, James J. Mills with them.
What an unimaginable thing it would have been for the Hills and Symingtons and Hambletons to think of the connection of their respective offspring so many generations later!
Mary Watkins Cocke (Johnson) (1834-1903) and Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) – 2nd great grandparents (Irene (Johnson) Bolling (1862-1946) was the daughter from Mary’s first marriage.)
Mary Carroll Hill (1876-1937) and James J. Mills (1863-1925) great grandparents
Damdaddy was my Mum’s father. (I couldn’t say Grandaddy. It stuck.) Today would have been his 121st birthday and when this picture was taken, he was a little younger than I am now. He was a quiet, intensely supportive and loving presence in my life for my first eighteen years, and remains with me still.
We’re on the front lawn of my grandparents’ little Cape style house in the outskirts of Boston. You can just make out the roses twined around the split rail fence behind us. Damdaddy became quite the gardener during his twenty years in this house, and much of the front yard was a huge (at least to my small eyes) flower bed. I especially remember bleeding hearts and snap dragons. And the sweet tasting honeysuckle vine.
The whole neighborhood smelled of the pine trees that towered over us and the shrieking of blue jays was constant. The back yard was shaded by the large pines, and in the spring it was sprinkled with lilies of the valley and violets. There was a freestanding garage (my British grandfather always put the emphasis on the first syllable–GAR-age) and I still remember its smell too.
Inside was the smell of his wonderful cooking, the sound of the BBC news on the radio in the morning while the coffee perked in the Pyrex coffee pot. In the evening there was a crackling fire in the living room fireplace. During the weeks before Christmas, he and I would go down to the basement, where we’d brush racks of Granny’s fruitcakes with brandy and port–another smell I remember well.
And a dog. There was always a dog. During my childhood there was a succession of boxers–Judy, Penny, and Jenny. Devoted dog lovers, my grandparents had always been firm training their dogs, but as they aged, the rules relaxed. By the time Jenny came along, there were (heaven forbid!) even tidbits fed from the table!
The Lavins next door had a pasture with sheep and one cranky goat. Willy got loose every now and then and would end up in Damdaddy’s garden, munching on his flowers–never a good thing. I was a big fan.
My most precious childhood memories are of this man in this place, and my sensory memories here are powerful. And yes, he did hang the moon. Happy birthday, Damdaddy.
Kenneth Stuart Oliver (October 28, 1898-January 26, 1975)
For years now I’ve been trying to sort out a line of Olivers from Caithness in the Highlands of Scotland. Oliver is my mother’s maiden name, and this is the branch of my family to which I have the strongest ties.
The mystery includes:
A great great grandfather, David Oliver, who appears to have been born out of wedlock;
Tales of a teenage shepherd from the south fathering a baby and vanishing;
A child raised by his grandparents while his mother started a new family;
And now a DNA connection to a line of Oliphants who moved from Caithness to Australia.
David Oliver, the son
My 2nd great grandfather, David Oliver, was born in Latheron, Caithness between 1844 and 1848 and died in 1923 in Edinburgh. Although I haven’t found a birth or baptismal certificate for him, his marriage certificate to Esther Henderson (30 Dec 1864, Thurso) listed David’s father as George Oliver, police officer, and his mother as Elizabeth Oliver, maiden surname Sutherland. David’s 1923 death certificate lists his parents as George Oliver (Shepherd) and Betsy Oliver, afterwards Hamilton nee Sutherland.
But…family lore is that George and Elizabeth were never married, that George may have been a young shepherd from the south. There were Olivers who moved to the Highlands from the border counties in the south of Scotland and worked as shepherds. Some may have stayed in the area, while others moved away in a generation or two.
Elizabeth Sutherland, the mother
After giving birth to David about 1848, Elizabeth Sutherland married a James Hamilton in September, 1849, and had eight more children, living in Bower, 20 miles from her parents’ home in Latheron. The 1851 census lists her son, 4 year old David Oliver, living with Elizabeth’s parents (his grandparents), George and Margaret (Sandison) Sutherland in Latheron.
George Oliver, the father?
Meanwhile, the father. There is a George Oliver who fits the general profile. He was born in the south about 1833, and was living in Thurso by 1841. There’s no documented connection I’ve found between this George Oliver and Elizabeth Sutherland other than David’s marriage and death certificates. George married a Johan McKenzie in Thurso in 1853, five to seven years after my David Oliver was born, and four years after Elizabeth married James Hamilton.
George and Johan sailed on the Ship Vocalist to New South Wales, Australia, with their first two children in 1856. I’ve found plenty of information about George in Australia (many children, another marriage), and he could be my guy, but nothing confirms that, and then there are the Oliphants…
Oliphants and DNA
I’ve had quite a few DNA matches who are descendants of an Essie Oliphant, born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1879, daughter of a George Oliphant, born in Wick, Caithness in 1848, son of a William Oliphant, also from Wick, born 1821. I can’t find a George Oliphant the right age, and I can’t figure out any connection beyond the DNA.
If it weren’t for the DNA matches, I’d be fairly comfortable with the assumptions I’ve made about George Oliver, but the Oliphant DNA…
The Brick Wall
The key pieces I’m trying to answer are:
Who was David Oliver’s father?
If it wasn’t George Oliver born 1833, was it an Oliphant?
Which Oliphant? (I’ve been making an Oliphant tree, but just can’t connect it to my people).
And why does David’s 1864 marriage certificate list his mother as Elizabeth Oliver when she’d been married to James Hamilton for over 10 years by then?
I would eagerly welcome any advice or information!
George Sutherland (1791-1873) and Margaret Sandison (1794-1882) – 4th great grandparents
Elizabeth Sutherland (1822-1908) – 3rd great grandmother and George Oliver (abt. 1833-1920) – 3rd great grandfather??
David Oliver (abt. 1848-1923) and Esther Henderson (1833-1906) – 2nd great grandparents
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!
I don’t know any details about this adorable picture, but my dad, (Billy in those days) is the little guy with the polka dot tie. Too cute! Seems appropriate on the first day of school. Probably taken in Kansas about 1937.
William Edward Stephenson Hare (1933-1961) – my dad