Saturday, September 02, 2006

The story of Elvira

This is an unapologetic (well, perhaps a little apologetic) personal account one of my more intriguing genealogy mysteries. Perhaps it will give you a few ideas for your research – and then again ...

My friends and family got weary of hearing how I lost track of Elvira Kelsey, who appeared in Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana, in the 1860 census as a 10-year-old. Her mother, Miranda Howard Kelsey, and her grandmother, Jaley Grant Howard, are also in the household. I knew both women were widows, and it did not surprise me that Jaley did not show up in any census record indexes for 1870 – she had been born about 1787, so was probably dead before the next census. For years I despaired of finding anything more about Elvira.

I did have the good fortune to possess a letter from Miranda to her brother, my gr grandfather, from Washington Territory, dated 1891, and with that clue I was able to find that she had remarried out West, and ultimately ended up with her second husband in Southern California.

But what of the little girl, Elvira? For a while I assumed she had died, but a search of cemetery records proved fruitless. Finally I got smart enough to take a more thorough look at the 1900 census for her mother and stepfather, and saw that Miranda's data showed she was the mother of one child, who was still living. (The moral is, of course, to look at every piece of information on a census record, the first time around).

My next step was to try for an obituary for Miranda, since I knew her date and place of death. (I should have done this much earlier.) There was the clue I needed! Miranda was survived by a daughter, Mrs. Louis (sic) Thompson, of Corning, California. (I was so grateful to the volunteer researchers who dug out the article that I sent a small donation – and am now an inadvertent member of the Friends of the South Pasadena Library.)

By chance I had been corresponding with a researcher in Red Bluff, California, on a totally different matter, so I mentioned my interest in Mrs. Thompson of nearby Corning. Well, it was as if I had lit a firecracker! I was soon sent stacks of material on Elvira, her husband, and their three sons – census records, newspaper articles, city directory entries, and more. It turns out this family actually lived at various times in Petaluma, "Ross Landing" (which was counted as part of San Rafael), and San Francisco, as well as Corning, in Tehama County.

The upshot was, I was able to visit the cemetery where my long-lost relative is buried, along with her husband and one son. And I could close the file on that particular search.

Of the three sons, Albert seems to have died young, as he disappears from census records early on. Parker Howard followed his father in the pharmacists' profession, and is buried beside his wife in a Red Bluff cemetery. (Lewis Thompson, the father, is described in his obituary as one of California's earliest druggists, and was said to have been a one-time member of the Vigilantes at "Fort Gunnybags" in San Francisco.)

The third son, Rowland M. (middle name still not known), whose ashes share a grave with those of his mother, is still something of a riddle. Although he is listed as three years old in the 1880 census, the birth date on his death certificate is 1884. The same document states he was a veteran of the Spanish American War, and was widowed. Well, the National Archives could not locate any record of such service, and nowhere is there mention of a marriage. The informant had the rather grand name of "T. Durbin Kinsely Thompson," and was a resident of Hermosa Beach in Southern California at the time (1942). His relationship to the deceased is not stated. One has to wonder how he could be so far off base about so many facts. Who was he, anyway?

So, as is the case in so many genealogical quests, when one puzzle is solved, more pop up.

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