George Fenton Thoma, the son of George Hiram and Anna Leota (Fenton) Thoma, was eight years old when he scrawled these holiday greetings to his cousin, Glen Hoffman.1 Glen, the son of Joseph and Minnie Bell (Fenton) Hoffman, was one year Fenton’s senior.2 Whether the boys – Fenton in Nebraska, Glen in Iowa – had actually met or were merely pen pals at their mothers’ urging is unknown, as the sentiments expressed on the postcard are not of a particularly personal nature:
This postcard is another piece of the puzzle of the Thoma family. A decade prior, Fenton’s father, George Hiram Thoma, had married under the alias of George A. Neilson, and he proceeded to use the Neilson surname along with his wife and children at least until 1909. The family moved frequently throughout Iowa and Nebraska; according to the postmark here, they may have resided in or near Decatur, Burt, Nebraska, as of late 1911. It is also possible that they were guests in the home of Leota’s mother during the holiday season and in fact lived elsewhere.3 Unfortunately, Fenton did not sign his full name – so it is up for debate whether he was a Neilson or a Thoma at the time!
The reverse of this postcard shows a school photograph. Fenton can be spotted in the first row of students, third from left, in a collared striped shirt and dark trousers. The gathering of students is casual – there are untucked shirts, fidgeting hands, smiles and scowls. Fenton, his expression eager, has his eyes directly on the camera and seems to edge forward as his head partially obscures that of the boy behind him.
While I have in my collection many postcard-style photographs, this may be the only one that was actually addressed and mailed as a postcard. At some point thereafter, it was apparently returned to the Thoma family, as it was found in the collection of Fenton’s younger sister. Perhaps it was returned after Fenton’s unexpected death at the age of forty-four, as it is likely one of only a few photographs of him as a child.4 The cost of the one cent postage was likely well worth it to Fenton in exchange for the chance to show off his class picture and his painstaking penmanship as he wrote to his cousin, “I wish you a Merry Xmas and happy new years.”
1 “Iowa, Marriage Records, 1923-1937,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 June 2014), Fenton Thoma and Laura Watt, 3 October 1925, Sioux City; citing “Iowa Marriage Records, 1923–37,” microfilm, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines.
2 “Iowa, Births and Christenings Index, 1857-1947,” database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 December 2014), entry for Glen Hoffman, 17 August 1902, Melvin.
3 1910 U.S. census, Burt County, Nebraska, population schedule, Decatur, enumeration district (ED) 26, sheet 7-B, p. 3951 (handwritten), dwelling 158, family 159, Sarah E. Holman; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 30 December 2014), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 839.
4 “George F. Thoma,” undated clipping, ca. October 1947, Sioux City [Iowa] Journal, and “Mrs. Laura Thoma,” undated clipping, ca. September 1954, Sioux City [Iowa] Journal; Adam Family, privately held by Melanie Frick.
Thank you Melanie for sharing the postcard! I am Fenton’s granddaughter Cris (Rubel) and have never seen a picture of him. (My brother Thom shared your post with me.) I can see that my mom looked a lot like him, something I never knew. And I think my brother Tim resembles him too.
Hi Cris, so glad to hear that Thom brought you here! Fenton was so darling and it’s neat to hear that the resemblance has been passed on. I do have more photos of him, so will plan on emailing a few to you sometime soon!
Thanks Melanie! Didn’t have these in my records and, as you know, we have very little since he died so young.
Very happy to share, Thom, and thanks for stopping by!
Hello Melanie. My Aunt Geraldine Thoma Lavin is the Daughter of George Fenton Thoma. Has anyone figured out why the family went under a different surname for a number of years? I think you mentioned Neilson (?).
Hi Michele, Thanks for your comment! No, I still haven’t solved the mystery of why the family used the Neilson surname… So far, no one seems to have heard anything about it, but I’m keeping a lookout for any other clues!
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