Tag Archives: Sioux City

An Ancestor with an Alias Revisited

In the past, I’ve touched upon the mystery surrounding George Hiram Thoma, who used an alias for a number of years before reverting back to the use of his original name. Born on 29 September 1880 in Clayton County, Iowa to Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma, census records indicate that George remained in his home county at least until 1895.1 Family lore states that he left home as a teenager due to a poor relationship with his father;2 he was said to have bicycled from northeast to northwest Iowa where the next definitive record of his existence shows him marrying Anna Leota Fenton in the spring of 1902.3 However, he married under the assumed name of George A. Neilson, and later affidavits attest that this was one and the same person.4 George continued to use this assumed name for a number of years before finally reverting to the Thoma surname.

Now, a century has passed, and none of his living descendants, including his youngest daughter, seem to have even heard of the Neilson alias! In an effort to learn more about the potential cause of George’s name-change, a closer look was taken at his movements during his late teens and early twenties:

Did George leave home as a teenager? It was said that George had a poor relationship with his father, and recently uncovered evidence shows that he did, in fact, leave home as a teenager. However, at least at first, he didn’t go far. At the time of the 1895 Iowa State Census, George was fourteen and lived at home in the community of Garnavillo.5 Two years later, sixteen-year-old George attended high school in Postville, a town about twenty-five miles away.6 As George’s maternal grandmother also resided there, it’s certainly possible that he may have lived with her while completing his education.

“Postville Firemen Of 1897 On Dress Parade,” 28 January 1940, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette; clipping privately held by David Adam, 2016. George Thoma is seated second from right; text reads, “George Thoma, clerk in Waters and Nicol[a]y hardware store, left in early 1900’s for Sioux City where he has represented wholesale hardware firm on road for many years.”

Also in 1897, George served with the Postville Fire Department.As reported in a local newspaper decades later, “Back in 1897 […] the Postville fire department members wore white duck trousers, red sweaters and blue military caps when on dress parade, and on dress parade they often were, for that was the period when firemen in Iowa towns met regularly for field days and what a time they had, with contests, feasts, and dances.”8 George, slim and clean-shaven, sits cross-legged in the front row of the group of twenty men, among whom he may have counted both former classmates and kin. At this time, after having dabbled previously with the idea of becoming a tinner,9 he was a clerk at a local hardware store.10

Did George really ride a bicycle across Iowa? Although family lore states that George left home as a teenager and bicycled across Iowa, I’ve always questioned whether this particular tale was entirely true or, indeed, even possible. As it turns out, George did, in fact, have access to a bicycle, and according to a blurb in the Postville Review in the summer of 1898, he “took an overland trip by bicycle to Farmersburg last Saturday, returning on Sunday.”11 From Postville to Farmersburg was a distance of more than fifteen miles—more than thirty miles roundtrip—which, with an eye to both the quality of bicycles of the era as well as the condition of the roads, frankly impressed me. Maybe he did bicycle across Iowa, or at least part of it, but from this clipping we are able to learn that he did not make the journey before he was eighteen; he remained close to home and was known as George Hiram Thoma at least until 1899. In January of that year, the Postville Review shared that he had spent several days visiting his parents in Garnavillo.12

How long did George use an alias? Thanks to the record of his daughter’s birth as well as the discovery of the record of his relinquished homestead, a fairly concrete date can be determined for the conclusion of George’s alias. His eldest daughter was born Fern Neilson in September of 1907;13 George A. Neilson appeared in a city directory printed in late 1908;14 and in February 1909, George H. Thoma made application for a homestead in western Nebraska.15 Perhaps the need to sign a record at the federal level inspired George to embrace his true identity once again! As for when George first used his alias, however, I have as of yet discovered no definitive records of his life between February of 1899, when he was known locally as George Thoma, and March of 1902, when he was married as George A. Neilson.16

What could have happened in those three years to give George reason to change his name? His experiences between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one remain a mystery to me. While I don’t yet know why George Hiram Thoma used an alias throughout a seven to ten year period of his early adulthood, however, I do have a more complete picture of his life during his late teens: he was a high school student, clerk, and fireman who lived apart from his immediate family but maintained a relationship with them, and he was apparently known well enough in his community to be mentioned routinely in the local newspapers.

Further complicating matters, however, is the fact that, in December 1905, during the midst of his documented use of an alias, a newspaper in his home county noted that “George Thoma, from Nebraska, is visiting with home folks since Friday.” This suggests both a continued relationship with his parents as well as the fact that his alias was either unknown or unacknowledged by those in northeastern Iowa. In any case, further information gleaned from historic newspapers could ultimately narrow the search for answers as to why, exactly, George Hiram Thoma was known as George A. Neilson.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Sioux City Streetcar

One might not expect that a community in Iowa was the first in the world to have an electric-powered elevated streetcar system, but in the early 1890s, Sioux City blazed that trail.1 It was already the third city in the United States—after New York and Kansas City—to host a non-electric elevated streetcar system, and for years to come, streetcars served to connect its far-flung neighborhoods, offering a convenient and affordable transportation option to its citizens.2

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Henry Joseph Adam, center, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1903-07; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

As a newlywed in his mid-twenties, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa worked as a conductor for the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company, also known as the Sioux City Service Company.3 This photograph, dated circa 1903-07, shows him in uniform, his suit rather baggy on his slight frame and a cap atop his head. Half a dozen men and women pictured behind him are in the process of boarding the streetcar, while three men at the front seem to be investigating an issue with either the tracks or the car itself. As this seems an unlikely place for passengers to board the car, suspended as they were over the Floyd River, I suspect there was a problem with the streetcar and the passengers had temporarily disembarked, an inconvenience on such a chilly day. That might also explain the occasion for the photograph; the original, mounted on a large piece of cardboard, looks as though it could be a copy of a local press photograph.

Just a few years before, Henry’s parents had had an unfortunate encounter with Sioux City’s elevated streetcars. In the summer of 1896, the Sioux City Journal reported:

Yesterday afternoon Timothy Adams and wife, of Moville, were about to cross the track of the elevated railway at Hedges station, Morning Side, when they met with a severe accident. They were driving a team to a light wagon, and as the electric car approached the horses became frightened. The tongue of the wagon broke and stuck into the ground, throwing Mrs. Adams violently over the dash board. The wheels passed over her, but when Dr. Brown was called it was found she was not much hurt and that no bones were broken.4

Seriously injured or not, Henry’s mother filed a suit against the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company and received one hundred and twenty-five dollars.5 Little could she have known that her son would soon become their employee, and, fortunately for Henry, if this incident was recalled, it must not have been held against him! He was employed there for only a few years, between approximately 1903-07, and spent the rest of his life as a carpenter. In the above photograph, he is working the route from East 4th and College to Greenville, which necessitated crossing the Floyd River on an elevated track.6

As for the streetcars of Sioux City, they peaked in 1933 with around forty-five miles of track that traversed multiple neighborhoods and even crossed the state line into South Sioux City, Nebraska.7 By the 1940s, however, with the introduction of a more-flexible bus system, streetcars quickly became obsolete, and after sixty years of service to the community, operations ceased in 1948.8

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Suiting Up at the Turn of the Century

I’ll admit I feel rather proud of my namesake for marrying such a debonaire young man. Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, pictured at right, married Melanie Veronica Lutz in 1905 at the age of twenty-four, which allows this photograph to be dated to approximately 1900-1905.1

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Henry Joseph Adam, at right, with an unknown individual, Akron, Iowa, ca. 1900; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

Census records confirm that the photographer who made this cabinet card, Gene Frank of Akron, Plymouth County, Iowa, did indeed operate a photography studio in the early twentieth century.2 However, I’m not entirely sure what Henry was doing in Akron himself. He lived in Sioux City, thirty miles south, where there were certainly a number of photographers; however, Akron was a bit closer to the French Canadian communities of southeastern South Dakota where Henry had a number of relatives. It’s also possible that he had hired out to work in the area or that he had simply gone there for a visit – or, as the case may be, for a shopping expedition.

As with all photographs, an important question comes to mind: “What was the occasion?” While I don’t note a strong family resemblance between the other young man and Henry’s male relatives, one possibility is that he could have been a cousin. He could not have been a classmate, as Henry attended school only through eighth grade, but it is possible that he and Henry worked together in some capacity. If nothing else, he was a friend, and I wonder if he and Henry purchased these suits together. The textured suit jackets are nearly identical in terms of cut and fabric, but not quite, while the stiff-collared shirts seem to be the same; the young men expressed their individuality by way of their accessories. The friend, with wet hair slicked in a part, wears a vest with a knotted striped necktie and a watch chain, while Henry omits the vest in favor of a fleur-de-lis-printed necktie tied in a bow. It wouldn’t have been unusual in this era for two young men to have a photograph taken together to document their friendship.

What strikes me about this photograph is that from what I know of Henry, he wasn’t typically quite so refined! He spent his teenage years as a dairy farmer and his adult years as a carpenter, so such dapper attire was in all likelihood limited to his early adulthood and might have been worn to church or while courting. The high detachable collar fully encased his neck, and I particularly like that he wore the fleur-de-lis as an apparent nod to his French Canadian heritage; Henry in fact spoke both French and English.

There are a number of photographs of Henry in my collection, but this may be the most dapper of them all. For more photographs of the family of Henry Joseph Adam (1881-1944) and Melanie Veronica Lutz (1884-1973), stay tuned for the new Adam Family Album. 

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Goodly Bit of Romance

The newspaper headline must have brought a few chuckles: “OLD FOLKS HAVE ROMANCE.” The story continued, “Romance is not all reserved for young people, as the marriage of Isaac N. Holman, aged 70, of Decatur, Neb., to Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, aged 51, of Springdale, in Sioux City, will testify. […] This is the third marriage for each of the contracting parties. Both are well along the avenue of life and to them the marriage represents good judgment as well as a goodly bit of romance. They have known each other a long time and the mutual admiration they have entertained has grown gradually until the marriage yesterday placed its happy seal upon their growing affection.” Following their marriage on 24 August 1908 at the home of the Reverend W. H. Montgomery of the Haddock Methodist Episcopal Church in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, the couple was to visit Omaha. They would settle in Decatur, Burt County, Nebraska, where Holman, “said to be quite well to do,” made his home.1

That evening, their story appeared in another Sioux City newspaper: “LOOKING FOR LAND HE FINDS HELPMATE.” This version of the story was written with a level of flowery detail that, while entertaining, I don’t quite trust:

“I.N. Holman, a wealthy retired farmer of Decatur, Neb., came to Sioux City several months ago on a land deal. At the office of a real estate dealer he met a charming black-eyed widow, Mrs. Sarah E. Fenton, who had chanced in there on business. When they were introduced, he immediately lost all interest in Sioux City property or any property for that matter, and devoted all his time to the widow. Holman is 70 years old, and he pressed his suit with such ardor that before he returned to Decatur he had made a contract for something which he wouldn’t trade for all the farms in Iowa, namely the attractive widow. Today he returned to close the deal, which he says is the best he ever made. A license was issued this afternoon, the bride giving her age as 51. They will be married this evening and after a two weeks’ wedding trip will make their home at Decatur. “Maybe people think we’re foolish,” said the bride, blushing like a school girl, “but we don’t, we’re too happy.”2

This is far from the whole story. First, there are, in fact, two stories presented by these competing news articles. Did the couple meet at the land office, or had they been acquainted for years? This we may never know for sure; it seems unlikely, but not impossible, that the couple had crossed paths before meeting in Sioux City. Second, the “attractive widow” most likely did not have the black eyes of Bess the landlord’s daughter, charming as the description may be.3 And was she even a widow? Well, yes and no. Her first husband, George W. Fenton, died tragically in 1880 when accidentally shot by her brother-in-law.4 Her second husband, however, was still alive and well at the time of her third marriage; Sarah had divorced John Hoffman in 1902 citing his drunkenness and death threats.5 However, it would have been far from unusual for a woman to claim widowhood over divorce.

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Sarah Ellen (Hall) Fenton Hoffman Holman Eklof, Iowa or Nebraska, ca. 1908; digital image 2001, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Finally, would Isaac and Sarah live happily ever after? Unfortunately not. Isaac was granted a divorce from Sarah in 1914;6 a probate petition filed by his son the previous year, while suggesting that Isaac “indulged in intoxicating liquors to excess” and was “changeable, forgetful, and stubborn,” also stated that “the amount of money demanded from him by his current wife annoyed him considerable.”7 Oh dear. Isaac did not remarry before his death in 1922,8 but Sarah would marry – and divorce – once more.9 She resumed the use of the Holman name and at the time of her death in 1930, she was referenced as the widow of Isaac Newton Holman. Her short-lived marriage to this “wealthy landowner” was, perhaps, her one claim to local fame and financial stability.10

Lesson learned? Never assume. I had assumed that because this was the couple’s third marriage, and because they married in a community with a population greater than thirty thousand, that no mention would be made of their marriage in the local newspaper. In fact, I didn’t bother to check until their names turned up in the Findmypast database featuring a newspaper from across the state, and then learned that more than one version of the story existed. As it turns out, you never know what details of your ancestor’s experience might have made a compelling story deemed worthy of reprint!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Tombstone Tuesday: Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam

Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam experienced nearly forty years of marriage together that were anything but ordinary.

Timothy, baptized in St. Pie, Quebec on 8 August 1846, the son of Timothée Adam and Marguerite Chicoine, crossed into America with his family as a teenager.1 They settled near the textile mills of Indian Orchard, Hampden County, Massachusetts, which is where Timothy married at the age of twenty-one on 22 September 1867 to Odile Millette.2 Odile had been born in the French Canadian community of Rouse’s Point, Clinton County, New York on 11 July 1847, the daughter of Maurice Millet and Isabelle Quemeneur dit Laflamme.3 She, too, had relocated to Massachusetts as a teenager, where she also found work in the mills.

The couple was said to have had ten children together, eight of whom have been identified: Timothy Maurice, Alexander Amadée Edmond (known as Edward), Joseph Frederick (known as Alfred), Marie Julie Malvina, Albina Lena, Henry Joseph, Martin Theodore, and Permelia Marie.4 Only five of these children are known to have survived to adulthood; at least one succumbed to scarlet fever as a toddler.5

In 1883, the family made the decision to move west.6 I have to wonder if this move was spurred by the deaths of at least two of their own young children circa 1880, as well as by the deaths of Timothy’s younger brother and sister who died within a week of each other in February of 1883: one of pneumonia at twenty and the other of tuberculosis at twenty-four.7 In fact, tuberculosis had caused the death of Timothy’s mother just five years before.8 Perhaps the idea of fresh air and the countryside appealed to the couple as they must have feared for the health of their children.

Timothy and Odile first joined French Canadian relations in southeastern South Dakota, where a son was born to them in the summer of 1885.9 In December of the following year, Timothy claimed a homestead a short distance away near Moville, Woodbury County, Iowa.10 The family would remain here for a number of years; by 1900, they had relocated to a dairy farm closer to Sioux City.11

The coming years were unexpectedly tumultuous for Timothy and Odile. First, in 1900, their twenty-nine-year-old son Edward, who had been out of touch for nearly a decade, returned home and began harassing his parents and younger siblings. Timothy went to court in order to obtain a restraining order against him.12 Then, over the next several years, Timothy and Odile may have suffered marital discord. Timothy was not recorded in the 1903 Sioux City Directory; he appeared again in the same household as his wife the following year.13 In 1905 he was again absent, and it was at this time that Odile implored the enumerator of the 1905 Iowa State Census to bring her any word of her two eldest sons, Edward and Fred, who had traveled west and had not been heard from in several years.14 It was also in 1905 that Odile recorded her will, leaving her real estate to her three youngest children: Henry, Theodore, and Permelia. No mention was made of her absent sons – or her husband.15

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Grave of Odile Milliette Adam (1847-1906) and Timothy Adam (1840-1919), St. Joseph Cemetery, Elk Point, Union County, South Dakota; 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015. Note: Timothy’s date of birth on his gravestone is incorrect. He was born in 1846.

In 1906, the final year of Odile’s life, she operated a boarding house at 508 Perry in Sioux City.16 Notably, Timothy resided not at home, but at the Washington House Hotel.17 It does seem possible, however, that the couple reconciled whatever differences they may have had by the time of fifty-nine-year-old Odile’s death from hepatitis on 16 December 1906 in Elk Point, Union County, South Dakota.18 Notably, when the 1907 Sioux City Directory was printed at some point in late 1906, likely shortly before her death, both Odile and Timothy were named as residents of 508 Perry.19

Timothy, a carpenter again as he had been in his younger years, remained in the house with his children for only a short time before resettling in nearby Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota. He remained here for the next decade; as of 1910, he operated a billiard hall in this small, largely French Canadian community.20

By 1917, Timothy, now seventy, had returned to Sioux City where he lived with his married daughter.21 He died there on 22 February 1919 at the age of seventy-two, his cause of death recorded as senility.22 Timothy Adam was buried beside his wife, Odile Millette, at St. Joseph Cemetery in Elk Point, Union County, South Dakota, his name squeezed as though an afterthought at the base of her gravestone.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Brotherly Love

It might have been a late summer’s day when brothers Roy and James Walsted of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa posed for this snapshot circa 1924. Six years apart in age, Roy was perhaps twelve and Jim perhaps six when this photograph was taken some ninety years ago.1 The park-like setting and the blanket at their feet suggest that the occasion may have been a picnic. Classic car aficionados could likely date the vehicle parked behind the boys.

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Roy Louis Christian Walsted (back) and James Herman Walsted (front), Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1924; digital image 2015, privately held by Valene Petersen, 2015.

Roy suffered from polio as a child, which resulted in a limp as one leg was left shorter than the other. His younger brother was said to have come to his defense when Roy was bullied or was the last to be chosen for a neighborhood baseball team.2 Even in this photograph, it appears that Jim stands guard in front of his brother, his arms protectively curved back around Roy’s legs as Roy clasps his hands atop his brother’s head. Both boys wear short pants and newsboy caps; Jim is in a sailor suit, a style that remained popular for young boys in the post World War I era.3

I have to wonder who the man off to the side of the photograph could be. I have only seen two small snapshots of Roy and Jim’s father, both of which were taken late in his life. (I suppose there is a third if I count a postmortem photograph of him at his own funeral.) From those, I know that he was a man of slight build, but beyond that, I have no way of telling whether this gentleman in a straw boater hat and rolled shirtsleeves is in fact James Jacob Walsted or not. If this picnic was a family affair, perhaps the boys’ mother, Kathrine, was behind the camera.

This charming snapshot is one of a handful of photographs that I have in my digital collection of the Walsted brothers and their parents, both immigrants who came to Iowa from Denmark in the early twentieth century. For more photographs of the family of James Jacob Walsted (1886-1956) and Kathrine Christensen (1886-1971), check out my new Walsted Family Album

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Letter From the Shipyards

Although Henry Joseph Adam was sixty years old when the United States entered World War II, he made the decision to apply his skills as a carpenter more than fifteen hundred miles from home at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon.1 This was one of several emergency shipyards established during wartime that oversaw the construction of numerous Liberty and Victory ships.2

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Henry Adam (seated at center) at work, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1930-40; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Henry ventured to Oregon in 1942, although he was not there continuously; his wife of thirty-seven years, Melanie, remained at their home in Iowa.3 However, we know that Henry was in Portland in June of 1943 when he mailed the following letter:

6-4-43
Dear Mealane
red your letter last night and it seam funey to me to here of so many people dying sent i left. i just got back from supper i was out to cool and here it is quarty to eight so will send you my first check rent i got sick and it leave me purty short you ask me what i am doing well i send you the slip of the copany witch i am with and i is house prog work and i am in side setting up book case and kitchen cabinet and thresh hold and it is a snap so far. and the Boos pick me up right at the door so that make it fine i leave here at half past 7 and we get back about 5.75 and by the time i get to cool it is 6.00. well Mealane i will send you my driver licin so you get me a new one and i wish you would send me the last MWAR so i can go and play cribag with the man that live in the back room that old lady say you aught to be out here now to see the purty flowrs and so many it rain every day a little bit and the night are fine so i guest that about all i think of so good By and good luck
Henry xxxxxxxxxxxxX

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I don’t have the impression that Henry had occasion to write many letters in his lifetime. His spelling errors are numerous, and at times humorous – for one, his wife actually spelled her name Melanie, not Mealane! However, his apparent lack of practice in spelling and grammar is understandable for a hardworking tradesman of the era. After spending his early years in Massachusetts surrounded by so many relatives of French Canadian descent that he had no reason to speak English until he entered school, Henry moved to Iowa where he spent the remainder of his childhood on his father’s homestead. He did not attend school beyond eighth grade, at which point he likely entered the workforce.3 By the time he was thirty, he had settled on carpentry as a profession.4

A carpenter Henry remained until his death. On 28 March 1944, Henry suffered a fatal heart attack in Long Beach, California, where he had been a resident for less than a week.5 He had likely pursued work at the US Naval Dry Docks, later the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, as the United States was still in the throes of World War II. His letter, written less than a year prior to his death, documents this final chapter of his life.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Paper Moon

When I began researching the topic of paper moon photography, I was surprised to find that these crescent moon photo booth props are making a comeback by way of trendy, vintage-style wedding decor. In case you didn’t know, flappers are big these days, and the popularity of this era has influenced a new generation to pose for classic shots with a smiling man in the moon. However, paper moon photo booths got their start even before the days of Gatsby, likely around the turn of the twentieth century.1

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Melanie (Lutz) and son Gerald Adam, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1912; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

This particular paper moon photograph was printed on a real photo postcard circa 1912. The moon backdrop itself is not one of the more elaborate, with an obvious break in the night sky for seating purposes. In fact, what looks like a wheel to roll the seat into place is also visible, and a small “magic carpet” conceals the primary seating area. The crescent moon smiles, and the stars, as is typical among paper moon photography, are present even within the crescent – where, realistically, they would be blocked by the moon in shadow. A shooting star can be spotted at the upper tip of the crescent, and a planet appears below the moon.

The mother and son posed here are Melanie (Lutz) and Gerald “Jerry” Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa. Both are dressed in long fur coats, Melanie’s of a fashionable collared design while Jerry’s is fastened simply with three large buttons. A glimpse of Melanie’s leather gloves is visible, and a stylish plumed hat is atop her head. Jerry wears a practical stocking cap and high button boots. His curls are long, to his shoulders, which was not atypical among young boys of the era.

Given their attire, it is obvious that this photograph was taken on a cold winter’s day. Perhaps the paper moon photo booth was set up outdoors or in an unheated (or under-heated) space as a temporary attraction; this mother and son may have simply stumbled upon it and decided to surprise Jerry’s father with their fun souvenir. As Jerry was born in the summer of 1908,2 it seems most likely that this photograph dates to the winter of 1911-1912, or, at the latest, the winter of 1912-1913. January 1912 in particular was a cold month, with Sioux City registering a record low of −35°F on 12 January.3 However, even beyond such extremes, Sioux City was no stranger to weather that would have required one’s warmest winter coats for a visit to the moon!

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Wedding Wednesday: A Question of Nationality

I’m not sure if it was meant as a joke, or if newlyweds Gerald and Fern (Thoma) Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa were genuinely confused. When asked to state their nationalities at the time of their marriage, their answers should have been simple; they were the American-born children of American-born parents, after all, so there was really no question that they were American themselves. Jerry, however, stated that he was of French nationality, while Fern declared that she was German-English.1

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Gerald Joseph Adam, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1929; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

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Fern Lavonne Thoma, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1929; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

From a genealogical perspective, I love it. How often does one have the chance to learn what their forebears knew of their own ancestry? However, if I didn’t already know so much about this couple and their heritage, I might have been thrown off. Jerry’s ancestry was indeed French – and French Canadian, and Polish. Fern’s ancestors, many of whom were likely early arrivals on American soil, can thus far be traced to Germany and the British Isles.

I don’t know when exactly the couple met while on their way downtown to the movie theater, but Jerry and Fern married in their hometown on 8 June 1929 – eighty-five years ago this week.2 Fern was twenty-one, and although Jerry would not celebrate his twenty-first birthday for eleven more days,3 he claimed to be the same age as Fern.4 Their wedding attendants were close friends Merle Montgomery and Dorothy Thompson,5 and, following their ceremony, led by Reverend R. M. LeCair of St. Jean Baptiste Church, the couple took a “motor trip” to the Black Hills of South Dakota.6

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“Iowa, Marriage Records, 1923-1937,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 June 2014), Gerald Adam and Fern Thoma, 8 June 1929, Sioux City; citing “Iowa Marriage Records, 1923–37,” microfilm, State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines.

If your ancestors married in Iowa between 1923 and 1937, be sure to visit Ancestry.com’s digital image collection, “Iowa, Marriage Records, 1923-1937,” new this year. This database has plenty of detail to offer, as marriage records included such information as age, place of residence, occupation, place of birth, father’s name, mother’s maiden name, number of marriages, and the names of the officiant and witnesses. It’s also an opportunity to see the signatures of the couple – likely the last time the bride would sign her maiden name. Have you found any surprises in this record set?

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A Little French Boy

An American by birth, Henry Joseph Adam spoke French until he started school.1 He was born in Indian Orchard, Hampden County, Massachusetts, on 5 August 1881, the son of Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, both of French Canadian heritage.2 His father had been born in Quebec, while his mother had been born in upstate New York.3 Regardless of their nationality, their roots ran deep, and the French language likely remained more familiar to them than English.

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Henry Joseph Adam, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, ca. 1886-87; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Pictured here circa 1886-87, when he was about five years old, Henry is simply but neatly dressed. He wears breeches with high patterned stockings, and a white or light-colored shirt with a contrasting bow-tie. His boots, perhaps hand-me-downs from an older brother, have been polished till they shine. He may hold a cap in his left hand, although it is indistinct due to the quality of this tintype. Despite the fact that cabinet cards grew in popularity during this decade, tintypes were still certainly not unusual. The faintest blush of pink is visible on Henry’s cheeks from a painted accent.

The studio setup is interesting and not particularly professional. Henry stands upon a small stool, and leans against a piece of furniture covered with heavy fabric. The painted backdrop behind him depicts a scene of a house, fields, and a tree, which doesn’t tie in well with the wood floor in the foreground. I suspect that this photograph may have been taken in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa; the Adam family moved here sometime in the mid-1880s, perhaps because of its proximity to the large French Canadian community in nearby Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota.4 Thus, this little French boy remained in good company; he may have learned English at school, but he would not have forgotten his French!

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