A Mystery in the Margins

All I can think is that Odile must have been desperate. She hadn’t seen her eldest son, Edward, in five years, and it had been at least two since she’d laid eyes on his younger brother, Fred. The last she’d heard, the two men, both in their thirties, had left the state, and she had no way of contacting them.

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Odile (Millette) Adam, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1900; digital image 2004, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

When the census enumerator arrived at the door of her home in Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, Odile (Millette) Adam saw in him a reason to hope. Here was someone who surely knew a thing or two about tracking people down. If nothing else, perhaps he could ask around? Had anyone seen her sons, Edward and Fred? The census enumerator strayed from the lines gathering information about Odile’s age, address, and origin, and jotted some hasty notes in the margins:

“Mrs. Adam wants information of her sons Edward and Fred. [...] copper mines Ed. Fred left for Seattle. Fred 1903. Edward 1900.”1

Odile Adam 1905

“Iowa, State Census, 1905,” Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, O.T. Adam [Mrs. T. Adam]; digital images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 08 October 2014).

Although some words are indistinct (can anyone make out what it says?), the message is clear: The Adam boys had made their way west, and, whether dead or alive, they had disappeared without a trace. There may not have been much of anything that the census enumerator could have done, save for keeping his eyes and ears open in case the men turned up around town, but at the very least, he appears to have been sympathetic to Odile’s concerns.

Fred, also known as Alfred G. Adam, would eventually return to Sioux City, though perhaps not for a few more years; records suggest he returned to the area around 1909.2 Of Edward Adam, however, there seems to be no paper trail. In the summer of 1900, the Sioux City Journal reported that the then twenty-nine-year-old Edward, who had left home at the age of fourteen, had returned to his family, but his behavior towards them was “abusive, inconsiderate, and contemptuous.”3 His ailing father submitted a petition requesting a restraining order against him in order to protect himself as well as his minor children, and Edward, at least under his given name, is seemingly absent from record thereafter.4

Odile’s apparent distress according to the 1905 Iowa State Census is made more interesting by the fact that her husband of nearly forty years, Timothy Adam, was not recorded as a member of her household.5 Was he away searching for their sons, or was he simply visiting relatives across the state line in South Dakota or in his native Massachusetts? Was he aware that Odile was seeking word of their sons, or had he washed his hands of them? We may never know, just as Odile may never have learned the fate of her two eldest surviving sons before her death late the following year.6

The 1905 Iowa State Census images are available for free on FamilySearch. Even if there aren’t any notes written in the margins, you can learn a great deal about an ancestor from the details that were formally requested, including military status, level of education, and number of years as a resident of the state. If you would like to know who lived in the same household as your ancestor before turning to the individual cards, see the index available in the Iowa State Census Collection on Ancestry.com.

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Photographing an Edwardian Toddler

These charming studio portraits are the nearest thing to baby pictures that exist for Fern Lavonne Thoma, whose birth was celebrated one hundred and seven years ago today. Born to George Hiram and Anna Leota (Fenton) Thoma on 30 September 1907 in Sioux City, Woodbury, Iowa, she was named Fern Neilson in her birth record;1 for reasons yet unknown, her father used an alias for a period of time. By the time these photographs were taken, however, Fern was about two years old, and may well have had no recollection of ever being named anything but Fern Thoma.

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Fern Thoma, Iowa or Nebraska, circa 1909; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

In the first photograph, Fern poses with a rustic iron piece that looks like a rather uncomfortable type of corner chair. Her head barely reaches the top of the frame as she stands beside it, and she clutches something small in her hand, perhaps a treat to entice her to stand still. The second child and first daughter born to her parents, Fern is dressed beautifully in an immaculate white dress complete with ruffles and eyelet trim. Whites and creams in soft fabrics were popular choices for small girls at the tail end of the Edwardian era.2 Fern’s dress falls above the knees, revealing  black stockings and shiny black shoes. The golden curls about her face evidently took some care, and she peers at the camera with an impish grin and bright blue eyes.

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Fern Thoma, Iowa or Nebraska, circa 1909; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Fern’s expression is more demure in the second photograph, in which she is perched atop the iron chair and gazes away from the camera. She has evidently tried her best to keep her small hands still in her lap, as a gold bracelet, clamped around one chubby forearm, is more visible in this photograph. So, too, is the lovely floral eyelet trim of her dress. This photograph has a softer focus, likely unintentional but rather caused by Fern’s motion.

A photographer by the name of Phelps penciled his name below these photographs on their original cream-colored mats. An inscription by Fern’s mother on the back of one suggests that the family was living in Basset, Rock, Nebraska, at this time, although it’s also possible that the photographs were taken in Sioux City before the family moved west.

These are darling portraits of an Edwardian toddler, and provide evidence that even an average Midwestern family would have known how to fashionably style a little girl for a photograph. However, one can easily imagine the off-screen coaxing by both photographer and mother that certainly must have taken place in order to convince this active toddler to be still!

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To Acadie: A Family History Inspired Vacation

I’m all about incorporating family history with family vacations (my husband, surely, is grateful). This month marks ten years since I embarked on one such vacation. After becoming fascinated with our ancestors who settled in what is now Nova Scotia, my dad and I spent several memorable days exploring what was once Acadie on a quest to learn more about their experiences prior to the Acadian Deportation of 1755-1763.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Nova Scotia was a French colony called Acadia, or, in French, Acadie. The residents were peasants who farmed land reclaimed from the sea and developed peaceful relationships with the natives. After the colony was transferred to British control, the Acadians proclaimed their neutrality. However, during the French and Indian War, the British colonial officers became suspicious that the Acadians might be providing aid to the French. With the support of New England legislators and militia, approximately 11,500 Acadians were forcibly deported from Nova Scotia and the surrounding maritime provinces. As the Acadian men, women and children were ordered aboard ships, their lands were confiscated and their homes were burned to discourage their return.

IMG_2167After reaching Nova Scotia, my dad and I made our way from Halifax to the Grand-Pré National Historic Site. Here, a church stands to commemorate the site where Colonel John Winslow rounded up the local men and boys to declare the terms of the deportation. A statue of Evangeline, Longfellow’s fictional Acadian heroine who became separated from her lover, stands here as well. We were fortunate to visit Nova Scotia in 2004, the 400th anniversary of French settlement in North America, as we were able to see a musical performance of Evangeline in Pointe-de-l’Église.

IMG_2193We also paid a visit to the Port-Royal National Historic Site, located at the site of the original 1605 habitation that was France’s first successful settlement on North American soil. Port Royal held a wealth of information about this hardy settlement, and it was interesting to explore. We were particularly amused to find an artist’s rendition of one of our more illustrious ancestors, Louis Hebert, within the habitation; he served as an apothecary there before venturing on to New France.

IMG_2249We spent another afternoon strolling through the beautiful Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, where we were able to explore a reconstruction of a typical 1671 Acadian home. The comfortable cottage featured a thatched roof and beds that each had their own cozy cupboard doors. It was fun to see how the Acadians lived as well as what they ate, as we did when we stopped by the charming farmhouse restaurant Chez Christophe for some excellent seafood and rappie pie, an Acadian specialty.

IMG_2236The Fort Anne National Historic Site overlooks the Annapolis Basin, which is from where at least one of our ancestors, Joseph Michel, was deported. Fort Anne saw conflict in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, and it was another well-kept and informative site. We were a bit thrown off when we thought we recognized the historical interpreter as having also been at Port Royal, but as it turned out, the two men were twin brothers, and apparently used to double takes!

IMG_2272Last but not least, we made a point of walking on some of the land where our ancestors had farmed centuries before. Nova Scotia, as it turns out, is well prepared for this type of tourism, with maps at the ready – both paper and of the trail side marker variety – indicating where the properties affiliated with different Acadian surnames were once located. Nova Scotia remains quite rural, and it was wonderful to be able to picture our ancestors’ lives so clearly with much of the land still undeveloped.

After seeing a few more sites in Nova Scotia, my dad and I returned home laden with pictures, maps, brochures, books, recipes, and Acadian and Cajun music, as well as an Acadian flag and the occasional unintentional burst of an Acadian accent. Of course, it was also all too easy to see why our ancestors would not have wanted to leave their homeland, and why some Acadians underwent great hardship in order to return.

Although our direct ancestors, who were deported to Massachusetts, ultimately settled in Quebec, it is certainly telling that they named their new home l’Acadie.

Donning a Daycap for a Tintype Portrait

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Unidentified woman wearing a daycap, possibly Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa, ca. 1860-1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

This woman, born perhaps in the first decade of the nineteenth century, likely lived to witness the Civil War. As inexpensive tintype photographs gained popularity, so did ornate albums where families could collect photographs of loved ones and famous folk alike.1 This tintype, measuring 1.5 x 2 inches, is closest in size to what was considered a sixteenth plate. The embossed paper sleeve in which it was placed brings the size to that of a carte de visite, allowing the tintype to be slipped easily into a slot in an album.2 Paper sleeves such as these were common in the 1860s; while this example doesn’t have a patriotic design that would directly suggest a date during the Civil War, it nevertheless seems probable that it is of that same era.

The woman’s dress has full sleeves, a high collar with possible tatted detail, and a row of fabric-covered buttons down the bodice. Her hair has a center part and is covered by a frilly, old-fashioned daycap with long ribbons that, left untied, frame her face.3 Although her mouth is turned downward, her expression seems kind as she gazes directly at the camera with large, light-colored eyes, her head tilted gently to the side.

I can’t imagine that the woman is younger than fifty years of age; depending on how strenuous her experiences in life may have been, she could also be significantly older but in comparatively good health. She has pleasant features, and, though slim, she doesn’t appear terribly frail. However, her age is apparent as her face and neck are lined and her eyes are deeply set. Daycaps, such as the one she wears, were popular with conservative, older women during this decade.4

This unidentified photograph comes from an album linked to the family of Civil War veteran Jesse M. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa.5 If I were to attempt to identify the woman in a related family tree, I would look for a woman born circa 1800-1810, perhaps a grandmother or aunt who may have been close to the family. Although paper sleeves made it easier to label tintypes with the names of loved ones – as did photograph albums – perhaps this woman’s identity was so well known to the family that they saw no reason to record her name.

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Wedding Wednesday: The Parish Church

    "St. Peter's Church, Gamston," 2007, Gamston, Nottinghamshire, England; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Richard Croft.

“St. Peter’s Church, Gamston,” 2007, Gamston, Nottinghamshire, England; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Richard Croft.

It would have come as no surprise to the congregation of the parish church of Gamston, Nottinghamshire, England when a shoemaker’s son and a cottager’s daughter married on 14 April 1840.1 For three consecutive Sundays, the banns had been read by the church rector, and as no impediments arose in response to his announcement of the couple’s intentions,2 they were married on the Tuesday before Easter.3

John Fenton and Ann Bowskill (also spelled Bouskill), a bachelor and spinster “of full age,” had their union solemnized in the parish church of Gamston, also known as St. Peter’s Church.4 Just a few years earlier, it had been described in a local gazetteer as a historic but perhaps somewhat dilapidated structure: “The Church dedicated to St. Peter, ‘has once been antique,’ but its brasses have been all destroyed or stolen, and its sculptured ornaments are hid behind many coats of whitewash.”5 St. Peter’s Church dates to the thirteenth century, and received what was apparently a much needed restoration in 1855.6

Gamston, located near the community of Retford, was described as “a good village on the east bank of the Idle, where there is a corn mill and a candlewick manufactory.”7 John and Ann did not remain here in Ann’s hometown following their marriage, however, nor did they return to Bole, where John’s father was the village shoemaker.8 In fact, they seemed intent on pursuing opportunities of their own, as within a year of their marriage, they settled in Worksop, about ten miles northwest of Gamston.9

It would have taken the couple several hours on foot to reach Worksop from Gamston, but a pleasant view would have awaited them upon their arrival:

“On the approach from the east, the appearance of the town, lying in a valley, overtopped by the magnificent towers of the church, and baked by swelling hills finely clothed with wood, is extremely picturesque. Its situation is indeed delightful, and both nature and art have contributed to its beauty, for the houses are in general well built; the two principle streets spacious and well paved, and the inns clean and comfortable [...]“10

Worksop was deemed a “clean and pleasant market town,” and if John, described as a laborer in the 1841 census, was not already trained in another profession, he may have found employment in agriculture, at a malt kiln, or at one of the many corn mills.11 It was in Worksop that the couple’s eldest children were born, before, within a decade, they immigrated to America.12

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Herman and Augusta Rice, “The Most Extraordinary Dwarfs of the Age”

Headlined as “The Musical Midgets,” Herman and Augusta Rice were deemed in one newspaper advertisement to be “the most interesting little people now before the public.”1 Another called them “German Midgets” and noted that they were “The Most Extraordinary Dwarfs of the Age.”2 This carte de visite of Herman and Augusta Rice, like that of the sideshow performer Ada Zingara, was found in an antique album that once belonged to an unidentified family of Kaukauna, Wisconsin.3

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Herman and Augusta Rice photograph, ca. 1880s, New York, New York; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Herman and Augusta Rice appear dressed in fine Victorian fashion and stand next to pillars to emphasize their short stature. Augusta’s hairstyle is particularly striking; a flat bow adorns the top of her head, and small curls are arranged across her forehead in such a way that it almost seems as though they could be part of a hairpiece. The bow and flattened style of her bangs were fashionable in the late 1870s.4 She wears a carefully fitted gown with a train and no shortage of flounces, ruffles, and lace trim. With a locket or pendant necklace and a bracelet setting off her ensemble, Augusta appears to be dressed very well indeed. Herman looks equally sharp in a formal fitted dinner jacket with a pocket watch and freshly shined shoes.

SCAN0916The photograph was taken by Charles Eisenmann, a photographer in the rough-and-tumble Bowery district of New York City who frequently photographed performers such as these.5 Although he was employed as a photographer in the city as early as 1876,6 he didn’t make the move to 229 Bowery, the address stamped on the back of this photograph, until 1879 or 1880.7 Eisenmann remained at this location at least until 1883.8

Herman and Augusta Rice, an alleged brother-sister pair, appeared at Harris’ Mammoth Museum in Cincinnati in 1883,9 were affiliated with Keith and Batcheller’s Mammoth Museum in Boston in 1884,10 and were showcased as curiosities at Forepaugh’s Dime Museum in Philadelphia in 1885.11 They had toured with P. T. Barnum in 1877, at which time they, along with a third sibling, Johanna, used the more Germanic surname Reis.12 One wonders, however, whether these names were merely a part of their identities as performers.

Who were they, and what became of them when their dime show days were over?

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Military Monday: A Duty to His Family

Today marks the World War I centenary, although it would be a few more years before Ole James Nelson, a young farmer from rural Yankton County, South Dakota, would make his way overseas as a mechanic with the U.S. Navy Aviation Section.

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Ole Nelson, Charleston, South Carolina, 1918; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Ole enlisted on 3 May 1917 at the age of twenty-two, within a month of the United States entering the war.1 According to a county history, he served in Eastleigh, Hampshire, England.2 His journey to Eastleigh, however, may have been a roundabout one; in fact, he may not have left American soil for at least a year after his enlistment. One photograph suggests that he completed his training in Buffalo, New York;3 another photograph was sent to his family from Charleston, South Carolina, in May of 1918.4 That October, his sister wrote to him, commenting, “Wonder if you are still at Quebec.”5

Ole’s time in Eastleigh was likely brief. The United States Navy established a naval air station in Eastleigh in July of 1918 to assemble and repair aircraft, including Caproni Ca.5 and Airco DH.4 and DH.9 bombers.6 This, almost certainly, is how Ole made use of his time as a mechanic. The base was in operation, however, for only a matter of months, as it closed following the armistice later that year.7

As it turned out, Ole’s days in the service were numbered, although not because the “war to end all wars” was winding down. After receiving notification of his father’s unexpected death, which had taken place a matter of days before the armistice,8 Ole applied for an honorable discharge, which was granted on 29 January 1919.9 As the eldest son, Ole was to return home to manage his family’s farm and to care for his mother and younger siblings; what he did not learn until his return, however, was that one of his sisters had also passed away in his absence, having succumbed to what was said to be a combination of Spanish Influenza and shock at the death of her father.10

A return to the farm, following what must have been an exciting time in this young man’s life, was perhaps not what Ole had initially had in mind for his future, but after duty to his country, he had a duty to his family.

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