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
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.
I just found this fabulous yearbook picture of my great uncle Damon Willbern (1900-1985) at age 16 at Llano High School in West Texas. He looks just like the successful Kansas banker I remember in his last decades. He was married to my Aunt Margie (Marjorie Miller), sister of my grandmother, and I adored them both.
One of my favorite memories of Uncle Damon was seeing him sitting in his Cordoba red leather reclining chair in their house in Coffeyville, Kansas, with his favorite Spanish peanuts, holding a fussy baby granddaughter in his lap. In his gravelly voice, he’d tell this tiny baby, “Give ’em hell, honey!”
From the yearbook I learned that Uncle Damon was born in a place called Baby Head, Texas, now a ghost town. For real!