Favorite Photo: Hidden Treasure

This week’s #52Ancestors blog post prompt is “Favorite Photo.” Photographs themselves offer such a perfect glimpse of the past (or sometimes an imperfect and mysterious glimpse) that it is difficult to select favorites. If forced to choose, I would have to say my favorite photo is that of Rita Blanche Wilson, which intrigued me from a very early age, but I’ve already written about that photo here. A close second, though, is an image I had never seen and didn’t know existed until I was 24 years old.

That year, before moving from Idaho to Virginia, I helped my dad and a number of aunts and uncles as we prepared to clean out my grandparents’ house. It was sad to say good-bye to that old house, but I managed to find and save a number of treasures: the old skeleton key from the back door; a piece of white-painted clapboard; the broken pieces of the necklace my grandmother wore on her wedding day; the poster of a boy, his collie, and a train that my dad remembered from his childhood.

But one of the most surprising discoveries came when my dad was removing the washer and dryer from the laundry alcove in the kitchen. There, fallen behind them and unseen for who knows how many years, was a family photograph. It is a beautiful photograph, and remarkably undamaged after all those years behind the washer. Dad handed it to me and confirmed, as I suspected, that the young girl in the back row was, in fact, my grandmother, Blanche Agnes Wilson.

Carl Ozro and Sophie Wilson with Children

The Wilson family was not a wealthy one, so there are not a large number of photographs of them. And none of them depict my grandmother at this time period – there are baby photos, and her confirmation photos at age eighteen, but none of this in-between time, which makes this glimpse of Grandma in her pristine white dress and huge hair bow all the more fascinating. What was she thinking here as she looked down at the book her sister was holding? Was the strain already evident in her parents’ marriage? Was there sorrow still over the two brothers she had lost, one the year after she was born, and one perhaps two years before this photo was taken? There is no way now of knowing these things. But the facts that we do know are these….

The photograph was taken at Wilson’s Studio in Albion, Nebraska. Whether or not the studio was owned by a relative of the Wilson family, I do not know. Captured here in the photo are Carl Ozro Wilson, his wife Sophie Christine (Roberg) Wilson, and five of their eventual ten children, including Blanche, their second child. Their eldest, Anders Clarence, had died of “cholera infantum” on his second birthday, when my grandmother was eight months old. The other children in the photo are Ozro Willie, Pearl Jeanette, Clarence Salmer, and Mildred Genevieve. Woodrow Wilson, born between Clarence and Mildred, lived only two days in the summer of 1917, dying of colic.

Baby Mildred was born in April 1919. I would assume this might have been taken toward the end of that year, though I’m not very good at guessing babies’ ages. If correct, that would make Clarence four, Pearl seven, Ozro eight, and Grandma eleven. I can’t help but wonder if, having lost two baby sons, Sophie and Carl made a point of capturing this family image soon after their next baby was born. I wonder, too, if Sophie’s father, Anders Roberg, could have played a part. Stories tell of Anders purchasing the matching dresses for Blanche and her cousin Martha seen in their confirmation photo taken in 1926. Could he have encouraged (or paid for?) this family photograph as well? By 1915 the family had moved from my grandma’s native Nebraska to Wood, South Dakota, some 200 miles from Albion, but Anders lived in Newman Grove, Nebraska, only 15 miles from Wilson’s Studio.

Whatever the reason or the circumstances, I am grateful to have this photo and its window into the life of my grandmother as a young girl. And grateful for the hidden treasure in the laundry room.

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Start: High School Sweethearts

Ted and Linda Montgomery 1st Anniversary

Mom and Dad: 1st Anniversary

So it’s January 2. As usual, I’ve made about 45962 resolutions, one of which is to resurrect this genealogy blog. I’m trying something new this year; I recently came across Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks. Each week has its own prompt, intended to encourage selecting one ancestor or relative to share in some way.

This week’s post? “Start.” There are many ways to interpret that one (the system describes the prompts as “intentionally vague”), but for me, and for all of us, we get our start from our parents. So where did my parents’ shared story start?

For Theodore Richard (Ted) Montgomery and Linda Jo Hoffmann, that start was in the first grade. They were in the same class at Van Buren Elementary in Caldwell, Idaho, though both had been born elsewhere (Mom in Portland, Oregon; Dad in Scottsbluff, Nebraska). Both have very different memories of that first grade class, as well, and not much memory of each other at that time. Mom seems to have a fairly positive memory of the class; for Dad, everything was marred by the fact that during a fire drill on the very first day, he asked the teacher (who shall remain anonymous) if there was a real fire, and she slapped him. I don’t like that teacher much, but she is long since dead. I checked.

Mom and Dad continued through school together, but it wasn’t until they were in high school that they had much contact. If I have my story straight, they got to know each other as more than just vague acquaintances toward the end of their junior year. The following summer, while Mom visited relatives in Illinois, Dad wrote her letters. A lot of them. At some point in here, they had their first date, playing miniature golf. Mom won. It wasn’t until Homecoming of their senior year, however, that they became more serious – Mom was elected Caldwell High School’s Homecoming Queen for 1959, and Dad was her escort and crowned her during the game. At least I think it was during the game; a secondary goal for 2018 is to gather more oral history details from family….

Soon after Homecoming, Mom and Dad began going steady. They dated all through their senior year and graduated in May 1960. Both attended the College of Idaho for one semester that fall (both had scholarships to cover that much college), but they knew already that they wanted to get married and start their lives together and not just “soak up knowledge,” as Mom accused my brother and me of doing when we went on for impractical degrees in English/Classics (Matt), and Medieval Studies (me).

They were engaged in December 1960 (again, I’m waiting for Mom to correct me if I’ve got that wrong). Dad then went to work at The Crookham Company, and Mom took classes at a business school. They were married at Grace Lutheran Church in Caldwell on August 26, 1961, which was also Dad’s father’s 60th birthday. Dad was 19, and Mom was still 18; she would turn 19 in about 6 more weeks. They would wait more than a decade to start a family; my brother was born in December 1971, and I in April 1974. But I still consider that first grade classroom where their shared history first began.

One final postscript: Mom and Dad’s glamorous honeymoon was spent at the 7K Motel in Garden City, a suburb of Boise. Like their marriage, the 7K is still in existence, 56 years later.

 

 

Matrilineal Monday – St. Gallen to El Paso

My great-great-grandmother, Maria Elizabeth Rusch, was born on Christmas 1859 in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Her parents were J. A. and Maria (Scheuerman) Rusch. In her early years Maria worked in one of the lace embroidery factories in St. Gallen.

Then on 3 March 1885, George John Hunkler, who had been born in St. Gallen on 20 September 1862 and emigrated to America in 1883, paid $19.78 (the equivalent of approximately $500, according to one inflation calculator):

for the passage of Miss Maria Rusch in the Steerage of one of the Steamers of the “RED STAR LINE” from ANTWERP to NEW YORK/PHILADELPHIA and for the Railroad Fare from Bassel Schweiz. to ANTWERP and from NEW YORK/PHILADELPHIA to Washington [Illinois]

Maria Rusch Emigration Ticket

Maria’s ticket was good for one year, and on 14 December 1886 in Peoria, Illinois, Maria and George were married by Gottlieb Traub, a Lutheran pastor. By 1900 the Hunklers had George Hunkler Maria Rusch Marriage Licensefive children; the family was enumerated in Washington, Illinois in June of that year:

June 4 1900 Washington Twp Tazewell Illinois 
13 13 Hunkler George J Head W M Sept 1862 37 M 13 Switzerland Farmer 
—Mary Wife W F Dec 1859 40 M 13 5 5 Switzerland 
—Berely [Bertha] Daughter W F May 1887 13 S Switzerland 
—Matilda Daughter W F Oct 1888 11 S Switzerland 
—John G Son W M July 1891 8 S Switzerland  
—Lenie Daughter W F Dec 1892 7 S Switzerland 
—Huldy Daughter W F Feb 1896 4 S Switzerland 

“Lenie” was Lena, my great-grandmother. By 1910 only John and Hulda remained at home, and in 1920-1930 George and Maria are living alone in Elmwood, Illinois. George died in 1934, and in 1940 “Marie,” age 80, is enumerated living alone on Lilac Street in Elmwood. She would die 8 years later on 27 September 1948 in Dowell Nursing Home in El Paso, Illinois, of acute cardiac failure. She and George are buried in Glendale Cemetery in Washington, Illinois.

Sentimental Sunday -Grandma Hoffmann

Grandma Velma Marie (Swing) Hoffmann died nine years ago today at the age of ninety. Even after nearly a decade, she continues to play a role in the lives of those of us who knew her, sometimes quite literally, as on one Thanksgiving when, reaching to pull rolls out of the oven in preparation for sitting down at the dining room table spread with her dishes, I could inexplicably detect her scent.

One of Grandma’s books I inherited was her copy of the 1928 pioneer novel A Lantern in Her Hand. I can’t count the number of times I read this book while growing up (and afterward) but I remember most clearly seeing Grandma’s old copy sitting on the end table in the living room. This book and the story of Abbie Deal became entwined through the years with my thoughts about Grandma, but it was actually Abbie’s husband Will Deal who, before his untimely death, had told his wife that if he were to be taken from her, he would “go on with her, remembering…”


Beloved mother and grandmother, Velma M. Hoffmann was born Feb. 19, 1917, at Francesville, Ind. She died July 3, 2007, at Boise.

Velma was the daughter of Albert Carl and Lena (Hunkler) Swing, the second of three children. At the age of 2, she and her family moved to Elmwood, Ill., to live on her grandparents’ farm, then later moved to a farm south of the town of Wing, Ill., and then to a house in Wing. In the mid-1930s, Velma and her family moved to Forrest, Ill., where Velma attended high school. She graduated from Forrest Township High School as valedictorian of her senior class in 1933, at the age of 16. It was about this time that Velma met her future husband, Joseph Hoffmann of Fairbury, Ill., at a family gathering.

In February, 1934, Velma began working at the Corn Hog Assn. in Peoria, Ill., and in 1935, took her first trip to Idaho, along with her brother, future husband and several friends, all in a Model A Ford.

She married Joseph Hoffmann on March 12, 1938, at Peoria. She continued working for the Corn Hog Assn., then later worked at the Rock Island Arsenal where she was employed until 1940 when she and Joe moved to Idaho. They first lived in an 18-foot trailer parked below Canyon Hill, then moved to Boise where she worked for the Selective Service. In May 1942, they moved to Portland, Ore., where Joe worked in the shipyards as a welder. Their first daughter, Linda, was born in Portland. They returned to Idaho in 1943, first to a farm in Kuna and then to a farm outside Caldwell. At this time, their son Jay was born. In 1947, they moved into a house on Canyon Hill in Caldwell and while living here, Velma’s third and fourth children, daughters, Paula and Carla were born.

Velma assisted her husband in his business, Hoffman Sheet Metal, until Joe’s death in 1983. She was active in PTA in the Caldwell School District while her children were attending school there. Velma’s primary occupation was mother and homemaker, which were to her the most important and valuable jobs any person could have. The most important thing in her life was her family and her happiest times were when all her family joined together for holidays and special occasions. She was always a lover of children and of animals and in particular cherished the companionship of her last loving pet, a Siamese cat named Sam.

She was a member of the Grace Lutheran Church in Caldwell and greatly valued her membership in the church choir there.

She is survived by three daughters and their husbands, Linda and Ted Montgomery of Caldwell, Paula and Jim Johnson of Boise and Carla and Bill Oestreich of Eagle; a daughter-in-law, Nancy Hoffmann of Caldwell; four grandchildren, Matt Montgomery and wife Cheryl of Palmyra, VA, Mike Hoffmann and wife Erika of Redondo Beach, CA, Megan Montgomery of Waynesboro, VA and Cindy (Hoffmann) Crabtree and husband Aaron of Eagle and three great-grandchildren, Will, Leo and Owen Crabtree of Eagle.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Joe, her son, Jay, a brother and a sister.
The family would like to express their appreciation to the staff at Alterra and Ashley Manor for their kindness and their care. They would like to thank the members of St. Luke’s Hospice for all their support. In addition, they appreciate beyond measure, the continuing visits and ministries of Pastor Philip Bohlken of Grace Lutheran Church. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, July 9, at Grace Lutheran Church, 2700 S. Kimball, Caldwell. Friends may call Sunday from 1-4 p.m. at Flahiff Funeral Chapel, Caldwell.

Perhaps the most fitting words to describe Velma and her life are those of the Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius: “To live happily is an inward power of the soul.”

Sympathy Saturday – Mrs. Samuel Slagel

My great-great-grandmother, Mary (Demler) Slagel, has appeared in a number of posts here, but I had not yet posted her obituary:

MRS. SAMUEL SLAGEL.

Mrs. Samuel Slagel passed away at her home in this city [Fairbury, Illinois] last Friday morning [3 February, 1928] at 11:30 o’clock at the age of 73 years and 16 days.

Mary Demler was born in Baden, Germany, January 17, 1855. When nine years of age she came to this country, locating at Washington [Illinois]. In 1868 the family moved from Washington to Fairbury, and here on November 24, 1875, she was united in marriage to Samuel Slagel, who together with two children, Daniel and Mrs. Paul Hoffman, of near Fairbury, survive. There also survives one brother, August Demler, who lives in the state of Kansas.

The deceased was an excellent wife and mother and will be missed not only in the home but by many friends.

The funeral services were held at the Christian Apostolic church in this city Monday and interment was in Graceland Cemetery.

Mary SlagelOther information about Mary’s death can be found on her death certificate. Signed by Dr. Henry C. Sauer, the certificate notes her cause of death as carcinoma of the stomach, from which she had suffered for two months. Myocarditis was a contributing factor as well.

Mary’s “home in this city,” according to her death certificate, was at 107 East Walnut Street. This 2075-square-foot home was built in 1895 and still stands.

Thriller Thursday – Boy Scout Tragedy

Fifty-five years ago this weekend, what should have been a fun Boy Scout camping trip ended in tragedy for 15-year-old Richard Samuels. Richard was my seventh cousin twice removed, a fellow Wilson descendant, and had already experienced more than his fair share of hard times. He was born 25 July 1945 in Ogden, Utah, to Ariel Clifton and Mahala Verne (McFarland) Samuels. The family moved to San Francisco, and then sometime before 1951 Ariel and Verne were divorced.

In May of 1951 35-year-old Ariel suffered burns from a gasoline explosion in his car, dying a week later. According to Ariel’s obituary, he was survived by five sons and a daughter. Unless not all of the children were Verne’s, by 1958 four of them had also died. In August of that year, 43-year-old Verne died after an “extended illness.” Her obituary states she was survived by only two sons, Richard and Clifton.

Thirteen-year-old Richard was then taken in by his mother’s sister Willa and her husband, Lester Rose. He moved with them back to Ogden, possibly to 3376 Gramercy Avenue, a 4-bedroom home that had been built in 1956. The family was certainly living there by July 1961. The Ogden Standard-Examiner of July 4 that year details what happened to Richard in a front-page article just above one noting that Ernest Hemingway, who had died two days earlier, would be buried in the Ketchum, Idaho, public cemetery.

Richard, a student at Ogden High School and a member of the LDS church, had left Ogden at 4 a.m. on Monday, 3 July, with 10 other Explorer Scouts for a camping trip in the Uinta Mountains near Kamas. The trip was intended to last a week but in the end lasted less than twelve hours. The group camped near Buckeye Lake and half the boys left camp to gather firewood. One hundred yards from camp, they cut down a dead lodgepole pine tree. In falling, the tree knocked a limb loose from another tree, and this limb hit Richard on the head. He was taken to the hospital in Kamas but was pronounced dead on arrival from a fractured skull. Dr. John Kumagai stated Richard was most likely killed instantly when the limb struck him. A forest ranger examining the scene later estimated the tree limb weighed “about 100 pounds.” The other Scouts and their leaders returned home after Richard’s death, and Richard was buried Friday, 7 July, in Ogden City Cemetery.

This was not the end of difficult times for poor Clifton, either. Raised not with his brother Richard but in the household of a different aunt and uncle (his father’s sister and brother-in-law), Clifton was the elder by about six years. Less than a year after Richard’s death, in May 1962, it appeared that things might have turned around for the family, as 22-year-old Clifton married 20-year-old “lovely spring bride” Janet Gibbs. Two years later, though, Clifton’s foster father and uncle died at age 58 of a heart ailment. Then in 1967 Clifton and his “lovely spring bride” were divorced, with “mental cruelty” cited as the cause. Exactly what this meant is anyone’s guess, however, as all but two divorces noted in the newspaper with the Samuels’ noted the same cause.

In February 1973, at 28th and Harrison in Ogden, the car Clifton was driving struck another car broadside. Thankfully no one was seriously injured; the 19-year-old driver of the other car was hospitalized in fair condition, and his 17-year-old passenger was treated and released. Clifton, however, was cited for failure to yield and for driving under the influence. We can hope that things did finally turn around for Clifton following this incident. I found him one more time in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, this time in December 1977, purchasing land along with a second wife Kristine.

Tombstone Tuesday – The Curse of the Chaneys

More Josephine Chaney

The Sunday Oregonian, August 8, 1920

Some families seem to have more than their share of tragic deaths. One such family is that of Phineas Benjamin Chaney and his wife, Josephine Welsh. Phineas was my fourth cousin 5 times removed through the Davis line. Phineas was born 8 January 1854 in Illinois, the son of Phineas, Sr., and Mary Jane (Berry) Chaney. Even before Phineas, Jr., was born, his parents had endured their own share of tragedy; of their eleven children, four died before their second birthday.  Another child, Emma, died shortly before she would have turned 22.

At least Phineas, Jr., did live long enough to marry; he and Josephine had a son, Fred Russell Chaney, born in March 1885, apparently in New York. At some point the family moved to Portland, Oregon; there, on 9 April 1895, aged 41, Phineas died of appendicitis. The Sunday Oregonian of 12 April 1895 reports the sad events:

“The funeral of Phineas P. Chaney, who died at the Portland hospital, on April 9, took place yesterday afternoon from his late residence at 1193 East Yamhill, a short distance from the Rosedale station, Mount Tabor railway. There was present a large concourse of the friends of Mr. Chaney. The services were conducted by C. B. Reynolds, of the Secular church. At 2:15, the choir began the services by singing the beautiful song, “Sweet Bye and Bye,” when Mr. Reynolds arose and delivered an eloquent address. The remains were buried at Lone Fir cemetery. Mr. Chaney had lived in his present home about four years, coming from Brooklyn, N.Y. He was 41 years old. He was an accomplished millwright, and constructed most of the gearing and machinery in the docks along the East Side. Only a week ago, he was taken sick, and was removed to the Portland hospital, where it was found, as a last resort, that the vermiform appendix would have to be removed. The operation was performed, but he was too far gone to recover, and inflammation ensued, which terminated his life. He leaves a widow and a little son.”

Phineas’s widow, Josephine, was 35 years old and became a schoolteacher. Later young Fred entered medical school at the University of Oregon. After completing his medical training, he moved to Alaska to practice medicine there. In September 1908, while he and three other men were climbing a mountain near the Valdez glacier, he slipped and fell 200 feet. He was apparently not killed instantly but was taken into Valdez, where he died. He was 23 years old; his body was returned to Portland and buried near his father.

Josephine, having lost both husband and only child, continued to teach. She appears in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses, listed as a schoolteacher. In that final census, her address is listed as 415 Yamhill Street. There, seven months later at the Elton Court Apartments, the family’s final tragedy occurred.  At five o’clock in the morning, perhaps caused by a careless smoker, a fire started in the lobby of the apartment building and spread quickly, up both the elevator shaft and the stairs. Josephine was trapped on the fourth floor and, as firemen attempted to rescue her, fell from a window to the sidewalk below.  She died en route to the hospital. Two other women were killed after jumping from the second and fourth floors. Josephine, aged 60 according to some records, 54 according to the Sunday Oregonian, was buried in what is now known as Portland’s River View Cemetery with her husband and son.