[Insert opening line about how I’m finally updating this blog after almost three years, blah blah blah…]
So in the 7+ years since I first posted about my great-grandfather, Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell, on this VERY sporadically-updated blog, I still haven’t managed to track down his parents.
I DID find out awhile back that he died the day after Christmas, 1922 in Portland, Oregon. I’m not sure what he was doing in Portland, but presumably he’d been there for at least a few months; my grandmother was born in Portland in July of that same year. She wasn’t even half a year old yet when her father died, and he was only 25. Which is sad on both counts.
It also explains, though, why none of his descendants seem to know very much about him. Given his young age when he died, I highly doubt that he has any other descendants aside from my grandmother, my dad and his brothers and sister (only one of whom, my Uncle Steven, is still living), my four siblings, and my eight paternal first cousins. Of all of us, I think I’m the only one to really delve into genealogy — and very likely the first to make any sort of effort to find out just who Thomas V.V. Cornwell was and where he came from (with the possible exception of my Grandma Tilly; I’m sure she must have been curious about her father. She died in 2000, and if only I’d started researching my family at a younger age; she could have helped me solve this mystery!).
Well, thanks to a kind soul who recently gifted me the 23andMe DNA test, I’ve finally (after literally years of trying) come close to solving it myself. At the very least, I think I’ve found the names of his grandparents — and possibly even the name of his mother.
For those unfamiliar with 23andMe, included among your test results is a list of other 23andMe users who share at least a small percentage of your DNA. Depending on which of your family members have signed up, this could mean a parent, grandparent, sibling, or cousin (anywhere from a first to a fifth or sixth cousin) might show up on your list.
In my case, the list includes my Uncle Steven (the same uncle who happens to be Thomas Cornwell’s grandson), two of his children (aka my first cousins), a few second or second-once-removed cousins, a small handful of third cousins, and the rest are more distant (most of them look to be fourth cousins from glancing at their profiles).
Needless to say, while I might come across a shared ancestor surname here and there, I don’t personally know or even recognize the full names of the majority of my more distant cousins. However, I do recognize the second cousins and (from my research over the years) even the names of most of my third cousins.
But there are two people on my list who show as “predicted third cousins” whose names I didn’t initially recognize, and their profiles immediately intrigued me. On our “mutual relatives” lists, both of their profiles indicate that my uncle is also a fairly close relative; one says that, like me, he’s a third cousin (so perhaps I’m more accurately this person’s third cousin once removed), and the other has my uncle showing as a second cousin — meaning that he and my uncle would have the same great-great grandparents.
I know that these two people are not Tillinghasts. For one thing, three of my Tillinghast second cousins who’ve signed up for 23andMe don’t show as their “mutual relatives”, whereas my Uncle Steven’s kids (my first cousins, whose great-grandfather also happens to be Thomas V.V. Cornwell) do. Plus, thanks to the help of Todd Lawrence, who sent me a huge file quite awhile back, I’m familiar with almost all of the descendants of Isaac Fred and Edith (Brundage) Tillinghast (my paternal 2nd great-grandparents) and the two third cousins in question are not in that file. I’d never encountered their names before 23andMe.
They’re definitely from my dad’s side of the family, and yet they’re definitely not Tillinghasts. I don’t believe that they’re Hamptons, either (my grandmother’s mother was Hazel Hampton, and there’s a decent amount of information out there on her family — who were from California, but based mostly in Shasta and Trinity Counties).
So that means that they have to be connected to me through… Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell.
Well, as soon as I came across their profiles, of course I immediately contacted both of them. One of them (whose profile says that he has grandparents from Alameda County; Thomas Cornwell was born in Oakland) responded right away. He doesn’t know much about his family history, but he was able to give me some surnames: Foley, Klenck, Innd, Jagoe, and a few others.
The other person hasn’t responded yet, but his profile shows his birth year as 1936. Given that and his name, I was able to trace him via Ancestry records to a Mary G. Dorman or Dornom (whom I believe was his grandmother). According to the 1880 United States Federal Census, her mother was ‘Cecelia Jagoe‘… noted in brackets as ‘Cecelia Innd‘ (well, the Census actually spells these names J-a-g-o and I-u-n-d but misspellings on Censuses are common, and most other sources that I’ve seen with these names show the spellings that I used).
At this point, I’m a little confused by how everyone fits into the Innd/Jagoe families (for example, there are at least three Cecelias; Cecelia Innd Jagoe’s mother’s name on the 1880 Census also shows as Cecelia Innd, and the younger Cecelia also had a daughter named Cecelia! Plus, there’s a Robert Henry Jagoe, Sr. and Robert Henry Jagoe, Jr., both of whom appear to have married women named Elizabeth. A random person’s Ancestry tree suggested that one of these Elizabeths — sister to Cecelia Innd Jagoe — was actually the mother to Mary Dorman/Dornom, although I’m inclined to trust a Census more than an Ancestry Family Tree).
Despite the confusion over who’s who — given that both of my “predicted third cousins” (per 23andMe) are also each other‘s third cousins, and that both of them descend from the Innd and Jagoe families, I think it’s safe to say that I’m also an Innd and/or Jagoe.
And given that the Innds and Jagoes were both in the San Francisco/Alameda County region in the 1890’s, when Thomas Cornwell was born — and that their names don’t fit anywhere else on my tree — I think it’s also safe to say that he, too, was an Innd and/or Jagoe.
So how and where does “Cornwell” (or “Van Voltenberg Cornwell”, although I think Van Voltenberg might just have been an unusual middle name) fit in? That, I still don’t know.
But I haven’t found a record in any Census whatsoever of a Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell, or a Thomas Van Voltenberg, or a Thomas Cornwell (at least not one born in Oakland in 1897), or even a George Thomas Van Voltenberg or Cornwell (the name I was first given for him by my uncle was George Thomas Van Batenburg; however, the few sources I’ve found with his name — none of which are Censuses — all suggest that he went by Thomas). I’ve long suspected that he might have been born with a different name, or at least a different surname.
Now, after discovering the Innd and Jagoe families, I have a theory about his mother (and about why his last name might have changed). Which is nothing more than a guess, but I think it’s as good a guess as any!
Cecelia Innd Jagoe (whom, I learned in my searching, was the daughter of a Thomas Innd — perhaps another clue?), the same Cecelia listed in the 1880 Census as the married mother of Mary Dorman/Dornom, later turns up in the 1900 Census again as ‘Celia Jagoe’, but this time divorced.
Mary isn’t in the later Census (it’s possible that she was married by that time) but five others, all male, show as sons of Celia Jagoe. Two of them share her last name (including a “Robert H.” — Robert Henry, the Third?). The other three boys have the surname Litredge; at least, that’s how it’s spelled on the Census, although when I found Cecelia’s 1910 obituary, it suggested that their last name was actually Leaderich.
The youngest Leaderich/Litredge on the 1900 Census is a Thomas, and I think it’s certainly possible that he’s my great-grandfather. The family lived in Oakland at the time; again, my great-grandfather was born there just three years earlier.
More tellingly, this Thomas shows a birth year of 1897 — the same year as my great-grandfather’s. The month is different, so that could mean that they’re not the same person, after all (Thomas Leaderich/Litredge’s says February, and my great-grandfather’s was in April, according to his World War I Draft Registration Card). However, this also could have been a simple mistake on the census-taker’s part (especially considering that there’s no day attached to the February, just the month. And that after I looked at the actual Census and not just Ancestry’s transcription, it appears that his brother — listed a line above him — did have an April birthday. So perhaps the census-taker just mixed the two brothers up).
It’s also possible that Thomas V.V. Cornwell might not have known his true birthday, because…
My theory is that Cecelia H. Innd (aka Cecelia Jagoe) was my 2nd great-grandmother, and that her son Thomas Leaderich/Litredge was adopted or taken in at a young age by the Cornwell family. She died in 1910, when he would’ve been 13 years old; so this could have happened then, or it could have happened earlier (curiously, her obituary specifically mentions the two Leaderich/Litredge’s who show on the 1900 Census with Thomas, but does NOT mention Thomas. Maybe he was already adopted or fostered out by the time she died; maybe because he was the youngest?).
Since Cecelia was divorced (and I can’t find any record of her actually being married to a Leaderich or Litredge), and listed as the head of her household in the 1900 Census, Thomas might never have even met his father.
I also can’t find any later record of a Thomas Leaderich or Litredge — just that 1900 Census — possibly because he went on to be known as Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell?
OR it could just be that there really was a Thomas Leaderich/Litredge born in February of 1897 that lived in Alameda County, and my great-grandfather was a separate person born Thomas Cornwell two months later in Oakland. And Thomas L. just wasn’t named in Cecelia’s obituary (and doesn’t show up in any other records that can be found online) because he died young, or something.
Again, these are all just guesses. However, there’s some proof in my very own … er, saliva (for the uninitiated, although anyone reading a genealogy blog likely already knows this, that’s how companies like 23andMe test your DNA), which for-sure links me to two different (not-immediately-related) people who descended from the Innd and Jagoe families; and by process of elimination it appears that Thomas V.V. Cornwell must be connected to these families in some way or another, as well.
Cecelia Innd Jagoe might not be his mother — but the location and the son named Thomas born the same year as my great-grandfather Thomas both fit.
The brick wall appears to (finally) be crumbling!
Anyhow, I’ll update again (hopefully, not three years from now) if and when I find out more. And I’ll leave you with a photo of Thomas V.V.’s Cornwell’s grave at Lincoln Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Happy Valley, OR (which I was able to visit for the first time earlier this year).
Maybe the next time I visit, I’ll be able to tell him that I’ve solved the mystery of his background!
Merry Christmas Eve!
After what might be the longest break ever between two posts on the same blog, I’ve returned. For a night, at least.
Actually, I have plenty of information that I hope to eventually share here (it’s just a matter of getting it all organized).
Meanwhile, I came across this letter that I wrote a few years back for (of all things) a journal swap at Swap-bot.com, and I thought that this blog might be a fitting place for it.
Dear Grandpa Tilly,
I guess this is what I would have called you had I known you. My siblings and I always referred to our grandmother (our dad’s mom, your wife Susie) as “Grandma Tilly”, so it seems fitting that you’d be called Grandpa Tilly.
I never knew you, Grandpa; I never even met you. You died long before I was born. Two days before Christmas in 1958, you took your own life at the age of 44.
For years, this fact was one of the very few things that I did know about you. I knew, too, that my dad was only 6 years old when it happened; his brother, my Uncle Steven, was just a few weeks shy of turning 4.
I’m not sure if Steven remembers anything, but my dad still recalls your coming into his room that night to say goodbye.
The next morning, your body was found hanging from a tree in your backyard.
The only other thing that I feel like I’ve always known about you, Grandpa, is that your name was George. Your oldest son was also named George. It was fairly recently that I learned that he and your daughter Sharon were the ones who found your body. They were teenagers at the time.
Everything else about you remained a mystery up until just a few years ago. And to be honest, Grandpa Tilly, this was fine with me. I didn’t really want to know you. I wasn’t angry at you or anything; it’s hard to be angry at someone whom you’ve never met. It just never really occurred to me to think of you as anything other than a sad shadowed figure from before my time whose decision to end your own life that night will likely cause my father grief for the rest of his.
Ever since my childhood, I’ve been aware that you were the reason that my dad still has a hard time getting through the day each time December 23rd rolls around. Even now, more than 50 years later.
He very rarely talks about you. Whenever he mentions his “dad”, I know that he’s not referring to you — but to your brother, Harold. His uncle, and later his stepfather, who married my Grandma Tilly about five years after your suicide.
Harold and my grandma stayed married until 1976; that’s the year that Harold died at the age of 70 during an operation to repair his heart. Grandma Tilly lived for another 24 years; she and Harold are now buried next to each other at Silver Creek Cemetery in Randle, Washington (where they moved, along with Uncle Steven, in the early 1970’s).
Harold and my grandmother were the ones who really raised my dad and his siblings. Well, at least my dad and my Uncle Steven, who were both so young when you ended your life.
My mom once told me that when my dad was a teenager, he and Harold would often butt heads. But around the time that my dad graduated from high school, he wrote a letter to Harold and thanked him for being such a good father. According to my mother, Harold carried that letter around with him until the day he died.
I’m not telling you this about Harold to taunt you so much as to hopefully give you some kind of assurance that (from everything I’ve heard) your brother took good care of your family.
In 2011, I became curious about my family history. I’ve always been proud of our last name — Tillinghast — and that was the year that I finally decided to explore my background in depth.
My search began on the Internet (I don’t suppose you’d know what that is, seeing as how you’ve been gone over 50 years now) and led me to a website called Find A Grave. Basically, the purpose of this database is to list the name and burial location, along with biographical information and other relevant details about each and every person who ever existed.
Of course, it’s impossible for a database of this magnitude to ever be truly complete. But for now, its records number in the millions. So there’s a pretty good chance that if a person chooses to look, they’ll find at least some of their ancestors and other deceased family members listed there.
Still, when I entered the name “Tillinghast” in the search engine, I was surprised to see your name included among the results. There were other George Tillinghasts listed — but only one who died on December 23rd, 1958 in Sebastopol, California.
Overwhelmed by curiosity now, I clicked on your name. And right there on the page were several more facts to add to the short list of things that I knew about my grandfather.
I learned that your middle name was Horace.
I learned that you were born on September 14th, 1914 in Pennsylvania.
I learned that you were buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.
And I realized that I liked knowing more about you; I wanted to learn even more.
For the next several months, I immersed myself in family research. It wasn’t difficult to uncover more about the Tillinghast side; our family history has been quite well documented by various other Tillinghasts. After contacting and introducing myself to some distant cousins, a few of them helped me trace my line all the way back to our immigrant ancestor, Pardon, who came to America from England in the 1600’s and helped found the First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island.
I’m sure you must have heard about Pardon from your father; I found out a few months into my research that my great-grandfather, Bill, also very much enjoyed family history.
Before I became interested in it myself, I didn’t even know your parents’ names. Now I know that you were the 6th son (and 7th child) of Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast, Sr. (“Bill”) and Daisy Mae Richards. Both of your parents were born in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania — she in 1880, he in 1881. They married when they were 19 years old.
Your older brothers were: Wilmer, Jr.; Richard; Harold; Stephen; and Robert. You also had an older sister, Harriet, and a younger sister, Frances (known as “Lottie”).
In the 1920’s, your whole family left Pennsylvania and traveled across the country to Sonoma County, California, where they settled. Your grandfather, Isaac Fred Tillinghast, also moved to Sonoma County around this time per the advise of his friend and fellow seedsman — noted horticulturist Luther Burbank.
I’m not sure when you married my grandmother. However, I do know that your first son, George, was born in November of 1942. Sharon followed in 1944.
The more I learned about you, Grandpa Tilly, the less I thought of you as this depressed shadowy figure whose memory should be kept at a distance, and the more I thought of you as a real person — somebody I’m linked to, whom I’ll never meet, but who’s shaped my identity just the same.
I may not ever be able to understand what made you decide to leave your family that evening in December of 1958. But I thought about it when I visited your gravestone at Golden Gate National Cemetery (just outside the San Francisco Airport) in November 2011, some 53 years later.
My husband and my sister (your granddaughter, Missy) were with me the day that I visited. We didn’t stay for very long.
As I stood in front of your gravestone — almost identical to the thousands of neat white gravestones surrounding it — and realized that this was the closest I’d ever get to you, I tried to put myself in your head the night that you ended your life. I concluded that you wouldn’t have made such a drastic choice unless you felt that it was your only choice.
This was a state of mind that I thought I could understand — at least to an extent. It made me sad to picture you that way, Grandpa, and despite myself I hoped that the result of your decision to leave this world was what you presumably determined it would be; I hoped it freed you of the pain that must have engulfed you.
I hoped that you found peace.
But I also wished that my dad didn’t have to be permanently scarred in the process.
A few months after I visited your gravestone, I finally saw a picture of you for the first time. Well, technically for the second time — at Grandma Tilly’s funeral in 2000, there was a photo of you in your military uniform displayed among other photos, but I only saw that one for a split second.
This time around, however, my Uncle Steven and Aunt Darla were kind enough to share several photos of you — and of other members of your family — from the vast collection of pictures that they’d inherited from Grandma Tilly after she died. They told me that I could borrow the pictures for as long as I wanted.
I’m not sure what I expected to see when I glanced at your first photo. Somebody with a stern frown? Someone gloomy-looking?
Instead, what I did see was a handsome young guy with a kind face who clearly loved the dark-haired woman standing next to him in many of the photos (my grandmother). I even detected a vague resemblance to Ozzie Nelson in a few of the pictures!
In the later photos, you’re with your kids — and again, the love you had for your family is evident. In some of the pictures, you’re celebrating what looks to be Steven’s 2nd birthday. If you knew at the time that you only had one more birthday left to share with him, it certainly doesn’t show on your face.
There’s also a photo of you and your children standing on a boat — along with your brother, Robert (“Uncle Bob” to my dad) and another kid whom you probably knew well at the time (but now, so many years later, nobody seems able to identify). You are frowning in this photo, although the kids and Uncle Bob sure look like they’re having fun.
In none of the photos do you “look” like a guy who’d hang himself in his own backyard just a short time later.
These pictures didn’t answer my questions about what led you to your final decision, Grandpa; but they did allow me to put a face to your name, which felt very satisfying.
A short time later, I was informed by some of my dad’s older cousins — who are still alive and well — that not only had they known you, they remembered you. And they had some lovely memories to share.
Harold’s son — your nephew, Bud — recalled visiting the store that you worked in and how you always let him take a free ice cream bar from the freezer. He said that you were great with kids.
Your niece, Marlene (your brother Bill’s daughter) still remembers you as one of her favorite uncles. She said that she was a shy child, usually overlooked by other relatives, but that you always made a point to notice her and chat with her.
Either Bud or Marlene (possibly both of them) described you as “soft spoken.” This really stuck with me because I, too, have a quiet voice; I’m often accused of “mumbling”, or asked to repeat myself or speak up.
It still gets frustrating sometimes having to say the same thing twice or more; but now that I know that you also had a quiet voice, I’m kind of proud to think that I might have inherited this trait from you.
I feel connected to you in other ways, too, Grandpa Tilly.
In September of 2012, I traveled to Santa Rosa to try and find out a little bit more about your family. There’s a genealogy library located right in downtown Santa Rosa. It’s only open for a few days every week; despite this limitation, I managed to spend an hour or so there during my stay. This wasn’t really enough time to do much research, but I thought it was worth my time to at least stop by.
Indeed, I only found one relevant source of information during my short visit; however, it was an important one.
Using an old microfiche reel, I tracked down a 1958 newspaper report of your suicide; this was where I learned for the first time that your two older children were the ones who found your body.
The brief article also informed me of something else that I hadn’t yet known about. It included a statement from “the family” that suggested your suicide was the result of stress caused by “health problems.” The article didn’t elaborate on what those “health problems” were — other than to note that you’d been struggling with them for about three months.
But, Grandpa, this bit about your health — it gave me an entirely new perspective on what factors might have influenced your suicide.
Before I read that article, I’d just kind of assumed that you killed yourself because you were “depressed”. Of course, this might very well have been the case. Although not everybody realizes it, depression itself is a health issue that can be as serious and fatal as any other. It still carries a stigma today; and I can only imagine how much worse that must have been back in 1958.
So perhaps my original theory was true; perhaps “health problems” as used in the article was simply a less stigmatizing way of saying that you killed yourself because you were depressed.
But the vague phrasing of “health problems” opened up the door to several other possibilities — some of them very familiar to me. If there’s one thing I can relate to, Grandpa, it’s health issues.
My father can relate, as well. Without going into detail, we’ve both faced — and continue to face — some pretty significant health issues of our own. Both of us are cancer survivors; we’re also both currently free of active cancer, but I know that it can recur in either one of us at any given moment (if it doesn’t strike another member of our family first).
My dad promised me years and years ago that no matter how bad things might get for him, he’ll never take his own life.
After I read the article about your death — and learned of the associated health angle — it made me wonder: perhaps it was cancer that you struggled with in those three months before your suicide?
I hoped not. I’m all too aware that it’s hard enough to face a cancer diagnosis these days; and back then, I imagine the prospects were bleak at best.
On the other hand — if it was in fact cancer that brought you to the point where you felt like killing yourself was the only option, it could almost make sense to me.
Because I know firsthand the fear of facing a future that’s beyond your control.
I know what it’s like to want to spare your family from seeing you suffer. I’ve felt the guilt of knowing that I’m one day going to leave my family behind — and the frustration of knowing that I’m powerless to stop it.
So if this is what you were faced with the evening that you died, Grandpa — I still wish that you hadn’t made the decision that you did, but at the same time there’s a part of me that would fully understand where you were coming from when you made it.
A few months after my visit to Santa Rosa, I returned to Sonoma County yet again — this time, with my husband in tow. There, in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, we met several of my newly acquainted distant cousins, many of whom you might have met in their younger years — including Harold’s daughter Linda and some of your brother Richard’s grandkids.
On the way home, we stopped in Mendocino County for an overnight stay; our motel was in Willits but we spent most of our afternoon and evening in a nearby town called Laytonville. That’s where we first met Marlene and her husband, John; I’d corresponded with Marlene several times and I’d heard about John, but before that night I hadn’t met either of them in person.
They were both delightful. It turned out that Marlene and John both knew and remembered you and they remembered my grandmother. For the first time, I learned that you were the one who nicknamed my grandma (born Clara) “Susie.” She kept that nickname for the rest of her life. I always assumed that Harold was the one who gave it to her.
Marlene showed me photos of you and your parents and siblings; she even had some pictures of your grandfather, Isaac Fred, whom I’d read plenty about but had never seen a photo of until our visit to Laytonville.
Marlene also repeated the memory that she’d shared with me in an earlier email, about how she always appreciated that you made a point to engage with her — even when other relatives overlooked her in favor of her more outspoken siblings and cousins.
Finally, Marlene and John solved a mystery for me: the mystery of the “health problems” mentioned in the newspaper report I’d read about your suicide.
They more or less confirmed that you did in fact have health issues; more specifically, they seemed to recall that you’d fallen from a ladder and hit your head a few months before you died. And that the injury “affected you mentally”.
They repeated this several months later when we visited them again — and elaborated on a few details, such as the fact that you were working on the roof of your home when you fell from the ladder.
I don’t see any reason not to believe them.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t you that night, Grandpa Tilly. Not the real you.
The man with the kind face in the photographs I’ve saved of you wasn’t the same man who tied a noose around his neck two nights before Christmas and hung himself from a tree for his family to find.
The man so good with children that over 50 years later, the much-older children still remembered his kindness, wasn’t the same man who consciously chose to leave his own children without a father.
I wish that things had turned out differently.
I wish my dad had known his blood father; I wish he didn’t have to grow up with that void in his life, and that he could be happy on December 23rd.
I wish that Sharon hadn’t followed in your footsteps and taken her own life in 1966.
I wish I’d been able to meet my grandpa — and my aunt.
But it wasn’t your fault that you suffered a traumatic brain injury any more than it was Sharon’s fault that she suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or postpartum depression.
As for my father — despite struggling with health issues for as long as I can remember, he’s taught fifth grade for over 20 years, raised five kids, and is now the grandfather of seven boys.
I’m honestly not sure if he ever forgave you — or can ever truly forgive you — for leaving him the way that you did; I’ve never experienced that kind of life-altering loss that he went through at age 6.
However, if it’s possible to offer forgiveness on his behalf, then I offer it. Along with hope that the two of you can one day, somehow, embrace again.
Thanks for giving me my dad.
Tamara Tillinghast Haskett
(a fellow second-youngest child, just like you and my dad)
Christy Jr. (my 3rd cousin 3x removed) wasn’t a baseball player like his dad; unfortunately, one thing they did share in common was death at a far too young age. I mentioned yesterday that Christy Sr. died in 1925 after a long fight with tuberculosis (contracted during World War I after he was accidentally gassed during a chemical exercise). He was only 45.
As sad and untimely as Christy Sr.’s death was, I think Christy Jr.’s death sounds even more horrific. Especially considering what he fought to overcome before his life ended so suddenly. Here’s his obituary, which explains more (courtesy of TheDeadballEra.com ):
There used to be another, more detailed news story archived online somewhere about Christy Jr.’s life, and the 1950 accident that killed him. Unfortunately, I can’t find said news story (it’s possible I first saw it in the now defunct Google News Archives). If my memory serves correctly, however, Christy was repairing something (a furnace?) in his home, which somehow triggered the explosion. I’m also fairly certain that I read he was still alive when they pulled him out of his house.
I don’t even know what to say about that, other than I have a fear-bordering-on-phobia of being burned (to the point where I can barely use a stovetop). To think of being burned over almost one’s entire body — and surviving for even a fraction of a second afterward — is unfathomable.
It seems especially unfair after considering what Christy Jr. had already overcome in his 43 years (the death of his father; the plane accident that killed his wife in front of him, almost killed him, and took his left leg). That said, until the explosion, it appears that Christy Jr. was perpetually ahead of the game in defying some very intense odds. He might not have been a baseball hero like his dad — but he was certainly a hero in his own right. I’m honored to be related to both Mathewsons!
I wish I knew more about Christy Jr. There’s very little about him available right now. If I ever find that news story (mentioned a few paragraphs ago) again, I’ll transcribe it — or at least link to it — here. I remember that it didn’t just focus on his tragedies, but shared many interesting bits about his experiences in the Air Force and as a pilot.
Meanwhile, here’s a 1914 article about Christy Sr. (courtesy of Rain Delay Central). This one mentions Christy Jr., too (apparently he was called “Sonny” and had a pup called “Polo Grounds”; I love learning little tidbits like that!). It even references our mutual ancestors and the founding of Factoryville, and — best of all — is built around an interview with Christy Sr.’s mother, my 1st cousin 5x removed, Minerva Capwell Mathewson (or “Nervy”, as it says she was called). I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
I’ve known about my famous baseball player cousin for as long as I can remember. I didn’t always know he was a cousin — or how we’re related — or in what era he played baseball (what I know about baseball could fit on the tip of a pencil). But I remember my dad telling me about him, and I remember thinking that it was very cool to have a famous relative (despite also thinking that “Christy” sounded like a strange name for a man).
Of course, his full name was actually Christopher Mathewson. Besides Christy, he was known as “Big Six”, “The Christian Gentleman”, and “Matty.”
Christy Mathewson was born August 12, 1880 in Factoryville, Pennsylvania and died of tuberculosis on October 7, 1925 in Saranac Lake, New York. As for the sport that made him famous, according to Wikipedia: “[he] was an American Major League Baseball right-handed pitcher. He was among the most dominant pitchers of his (or any) era and ranks in the all-time top-10 in major pitching categories such as wins, shutouts, and ERA. In 1936, Mathewson was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame as one of its ‘first five’ inaugural members.”
After I started researching my family, Matty’s name was one of the first I made a point to search. I found out shortly afterward that he’s my 2nd cousin 4x removed. Actually, my double 2nd cousin 4x removed. Confused?
Well — Christy’s (maternal) great grandparents, Stephen Capwell and Hannah Whitford, are my (paternal) 5th great grandparents. That’s one way to determine a 2nd cousin 4x removed.
But “2nd cousin 4x removed” also means that he was a 2nd cousin of my great-great grandparent (4 times removed = me, my father, my grandfather, my great grandfather, my great great grandfather). Only in this case — not only was Christy my great great grandfather’s 2nd cousin, he was also my great great grandmother‘s 2nd cousin. On the same side.
In other words: Christy’s mother, Minerva Isabella Capwell, was a 1st cousin of both Tryphena Capwell (mother of Isaac Fred Tillinghast, my 2nd great grandfather) and Nancy J. Capwell (mother of Edith Brundage, Isaac’s wife and my 2nd great grandmother). Tryphena and Nancy were also 1st cousins, by the way (not sisters). All three Capwell ladies were grandchildren of Stephen Capwell and Hannah Whitford.
Yes, my 2nd great grandparents were each other’s 2nd cousins. (And mutual 2nd cousins to Christy Mathewson.) Hey, it was the 1800’s. It happened! (I’d bet money that anybody reading this has at least one “cousin marriage” in their family history. And if your ancestors were from New England, you probably have more than that!)
Anyhow, back to “Big Six.” I’m not sure if he knew my 2nd great grandparents personally — they each had a good 30 years on him — but I think there’s a strong chance that he knew or at least crossed paths with their son, Wilmer (my great grandfather, born the same year as Christy in nearby La Plume) or one of their other children. According to Wikipedia, he attended high school at Keystone Academy (currently known as Keystone College). My 2nd great grandmother was Keystone Academy’s very first graduate, and (though I’d need to learn more to confirm) I wouldn’t be surprised if her children attended, as well. At least 3 of them remained in that region of Pennsylvania throughout their lives; even my great grandfather didn’t leave (for Santa Rosa, California) until the 1920’s.
Speaking of Keystone College — in recent years, it has honored both my 2nd great grandmother (through the Edith Brundage Society) and Christy Mathewson (by hosting Christy Mathewson Days). I’ve never been to Christy Mathewson Days — I’d love to, someday! — but as far as I can tell, it’s an annual event put together to pay homage to Christy and to the spirit of Factoryville.
There’s even a documentary about the event, which I very much want to see! Click here to learn more, and to order a copy.
I wish I had some unique family photos or stories to share (perhaps in time!). There’s tons of stuff about Christy online, though, and books about him that you can buy on Amazon (I recommend this one).
I may not know much about sports, but I’m proud to be Christy Mathewson’s “double” 2nd cousin 4x removed. By all accounts, he was a good man and a great ball player. It’s a shame that he died so young.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about his son (Christy Mathewson, Jr.) who also died at a much too young age. I found Christy Jr.’s obituary online about a year ago, and I haven’t forgotten his story since.
I like the idea of “Follow Friday”, but I feel a little silly at the thought of trying to advise more experienced family researchers. For all the hours I’ve devoted to finding out more about my own family, I’ve really only been doing this since 2011. Which is nothing compared to the decades I know that many others have put in!
So this list is geared toward genealogy “newbies.” I do think I’ve come a long way in my first couple years of research, and I couldn’t have done so without the following sources. (Genealogy veterans probably know about all of these — but if one of you learns something new, then all the better!).
Bear in mind that this list only includes resources that I’ve personally utilized; I haven’t yet tried any of the genetic testing kits, for example (such as 23andMe), so they aren’t included on the list.
In no particular order (except perhaps numbers 1 and 2):
10.) Libraries: Life in the “digital age” means it’s easier than ever before (or so I’ve heard!) to delve into our family histories. Sure enough, through my web searching, I’ve come across photos, newspaper articles, and other gems that I never would’ve guessed I’d find floating around online. Still, for all the treasures just waiting to be discovered on the Internet, there’s an ever greater wealth of information that hasn’t been archived (and might never be). That’s where good, old-fashioned libraries come in!
Some people are lucky enough to live near libraries devoted entirely to genealogy. Salt Lake City’s Family History Library is one obvious example; but it certainly isn’t the only one. Myself, I’m overdue to visit the family history library in Tacoma, WA (which, at 30 or so minutes away, is the closest one I’m aware of to where I live). However, on a visit to Santa Rosa, CA last summer, I did get to visit the Sonoma County History & Genealogy Annex (pictured above). The building was small, yet packed with books divided by location (not limited to California) and year; directories; and (my favorite) archived newspapers dating back over 50 years. I stayed there for over 2 hours — and afterward wished I’d had more time to spend!
Meanwhile, if you don’t live near a genealogy library, I’d still recommend checking out your regular library. You never know what books might be sitting on its shelves. The library here in Olympia also has a couple of stations set up for people who are interested in family research (I think this is a common trait for libraries) where you can access programs such as Ancestry Dot Com for free!
Pros: Free; access to information you might not be able to find online; librarians available to help you out.
Cons: Limited hours; libraries aren’t always quiet; some branches might not offer as much as others.
9.) Family-specific forums and websites: If you’re so overwhelmed by the thought of research that you don’t even know where to begin, why not start with one branch of your family and focus on that name for awhile? It doesn’t have to be your given name (although, of course, it’s fine if you do choose to start there!). Many families seem to have forums that are at least semi-active over at GenForum; the Tillinghast Forum there is where I first encountered my distant cousin, Todd Lawrence, who maintains his own database of Tillinghasts (and thus, was able to tell me my line from ancestor Pardon all the way down; he also sent me a pdf file FILLED with names of descendants of my 2nd great grandparents. From that list, I’ve connected with numerous cousins-once-removed, second cousins, and third cousins that I hadn’t known existed before; I’ve even met some of them in person!).
Some families not only have forums, but actual websites dedicated to history and research. Whipple Website, for example, includes links to articles, notable family members, reunion and DNA info — and, of course, the Whipple GenWeb. (Whipple WhatWeb? A “GenWeb” is another excellent resource; basically, they’re a variation on a website, and can include everything from tailored search engines to family trees to historic photos.)
Pros: Free; you can connect with fellow researchers and family members; many family websites are kept up-to-date and are quite thorough (with cited resources, etc.).
Cons: A lot of families don’t have websites or GenWebs; some websites are out of date; lack of activity on many forums.
8.) Yearbooks: Unfortunately, I don’t own any old yearbooks of family members (if you do, you’re lucky!); however, there are places online to view archived versions of entire yearbooks from all over the country. I found the above photo — and many others — at Classmates Dot Com. I think you have to register to view the yearbooks, but I used an account from years ago and didn’t have any trouble looking at them (and didn’t have to pay anything, either). Even a family member who had a few of these yearbooks back in the day was surprised to see some photos resurface after I shared them!
Pros: Free (if you own a hard copy of a yearbook or view it at Classmates Dot Com); you could find a clue or two inside, and even if you don’t, they’re a great place to see photos that you might not find elsewhere (in the case of my cousin, Marjorie Tillinghast, pictured above — who died in 1960 — the yearbook photos I found online are the only ones I’ve seen of her). I even found a few of my parents’ old yearbooks at Classmates!
Cons: Some yearbooks might be hard to find or not very useful for research; registering at Classmates Dot Com could be too much of a bother.
7.) Google: Yes, Google! The search engine alone could lead you to family trees, family websites or GenWebs, obituaries… you name it. Try searching for a family member’s name in different ways: type it in quotes, vary the spelling, search for it along with another family member’s name or with a relevant phase (i.e. a location where that family member lived). Who knows what you might find? I once came across an old Yahoo! mailing list archive dedicated to descendants of my great grandparents — which hadn’t had any real posts in years, yet included anecdotes about them… and a transcribed letter from my great grandfather (see this post for more on that!).
If you’re trying to track down family members who are still living (and don’t feel too stalker-ish), a Google search could also lead to something like a MyLife or WhitePages Dot Com page. I don’t know how accurate the information on these pages tends to be (I haven’t actually contacted anybody using MyLife or WhitePages) but you might be able to verify an age or connection with another family member; I’ve had some luck with this (verified after contacting the family member in question later on, or asking somebody else knowledgable).
Then there’s Google Books, which is even more fun than regular old Google! I’ve found a lot of interesting stuff on here just by typing in my ancestors’ names; some searches will yield a page or two, others pull up entire (public domain) books. If you don’t want to read the books straight from Google, you’ll at least have the information to try to locate them elsewhere.
Sadly, I don’t believe Google maintains a News Archive anymore, but that was just as fun as Google Books; the news archive is where I first found the shocking-yet-fascinating news story about my 3rd great grandfather and the 75 criminal charges filed against him (when he was about 75 years old!).
Pros: Free; endless possibilities; Google Books.
Cons: Questionable accuracy on some search results; not every search is fruitful; no more Google News Archives!
6.) Social networking: While Genealogy Wise caters specifically to genealogy (there aren’t very many participants there, but some forums remain active), really any social networking website can come in handy for your research. I’ve used good ol’ Facebook for tracking down long-lost cousins (mostly from that list Todd Lawrence sent me). Of the people I’ve sent friend requests to, about 2/3rds accepted; of those, at least 50% initiated communication and/or responded to questions I had. In other words, I can’t speak for others’ experiences; but none of my family members seemed to mind my contacting them, and many of them seemed happy that I did so. (So be courteous, of course — but don’t be shy!) I’m now in touch with several of these cousins on a fairly regular basis.
You can also join or create family-specific groups on Facebook (some of these groups are public, others are private; if you create or moderate a group, you can decide which privacy level you prefer). The activity level of these groups varies — but in general, they’re another great way to meet cousins, share photos and information, or plan get-togethers or reunions. The possibilities are infinite!
Pros: Free; convenient (if you’re already on Facebook or whatever social networking site you want to use), direct contact with family members.
Cons: Privacy isn’t guaranteed; social networking sites aren’t for everyone, you might meet a family member who you… don’t like (or simply don’t wish to hear from anymore; or it could go the other way, and you might meet a cousin who doesn’t like you!).
5.) Obituaries: Often genealogical treasure troves, obituaries can be found via many of the other sources in this list. I’ve used them to verify connections; I’ve discovered some connections that I wouldn’t have even known about if I didn’t read certain obituaries. Of course, they’re also nice ways to learn more about family members — and to uncover stories that, again, you just won’t find anywhere else. For example, I read in one 4th great grandfather’s obituary that he was trampled by a horse after suffering a heart attack in his barn (yikes!).
Pros: You can verify names, dates, and family connections, learn names of survivors, and read interesting stories. Free (depending on which site/source you use to access the obituaries).
Cons: Some obituaries aren’t as thorough as others; names or other relevant bits of info are occasionally inaccurate or left out.
4.) Find A Grave: And here’s an excellent place to find obituaries new and old. This utterly addicting website vows to eventually list the burial location of every person who ever existed. I’m not sure how close they are to fulfilling that goal; however, I do know that the database grows every day. I’ve already found an impressive number of my family members!
Some pages are pretty sparse; but most of them will at least list a burial location. Many pages include photos of gravestones (which are awesome for research — gravestones don’t lie!). Some link to family members, and many of the pages include obituaries and family photos.
You can create a Find A Grave page for your own family member if you have enough relevant information (i.e. a name, burial location, and ideally date of birth and/or date of death). The website discourages “duplicate” pages, so check to make sure your family member isn’t already listed in the database (if somebody else has already created a page, you can request a “transfer” of ownership; and anybody is free to leave messages and a certain number of photos on each page, regardless of ownership. The exception being some “notorious” famous people, whose message functions have been disabled.)
Best of all, it’s all FREE!
Pros: FREE!; addicting; interactive; a great source for photos, stories, and connecting with others.
Cons: The “transfer” process can be kind of annoying, especially for pages that were created by Find A Grave and can’t be transferred (i.e. my grandfather’s); not everybody is listed; dates and names are sometimes inaccurate (but in general, I’ve found this to be a reliable website).
3.) Non-Ancestry.com genealogy sites: Everybody has heard of Ancestry Dot Com, but there are similar sites out there that are certainly worth a look.
FamilySearch Dot Org is operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It’s free! From my experience, FamilySearch isn’t as thorough as Ancestry Dot Com — and some of the family trees and other search results can be hard to navigate — but I’ve come across a couple of records there that I couldn’t find anywhere else (i.e. the death record of a cousin who died as a baby; before I found this record, I was starting to wonder if he’d even really existed). So I appreciate the website for that.
Archives Dot Com is not free — and is actually owned by Ancestry, if I’m not mistaken. Still, it’s a little more affordable than Ancestry, and some might think it’s less overwhelming. I’m not really sure if you can find information on this site that can’t be found elsewhere.
GenealogyBank isn’t free, either, but it might be up your alley if you’re looking for obituaries or other news articles. I’m not crazy about their signup process (to me, ‘get unlimited 30-day access’ indicates some sort of trial period, which is… not really the case). I’ve tried their services twice; I didn’t have trouble canceling the first time, but the second time, I had to call and “remind” them that I’d canceled my membership after I was unexpectedly billed (I had no further problems after that).
On the plus side, their database seems pretty large; I found at least three obituaries that I haven’t seen at any other site!
RootsWeb is another Ancestry Dot Com-owned company. I’ve questioned the accuracy of much of the information I found there. But it’s a good starting point — and it’s FREE!
These are just some of the genealogy websites to explore beyond Ancestry. There are tons of others — and some of them are scams, so use your best judgment! (Except for the slight sketchy vibe I mentioned regarding GenealogyBank’s signup process, I can vouch that none of the sources included in this list are scams — at least, they don’t seem to be, based on my experience with them.)
Pros & Cons: Nothing I haven’t already mentioned… see above.
2.) Ancestry.com: Sure, it’s expensive. But, to me, it really is the most comprehensive source of its kind — and I keep coming back to it! Not only are you able to create your own family tree… the scope of information here is enormous. There are censuses; birth, death, marriage and military records; yearbook photos; news articles and obituaries; personal family stories and pictures; etc., etc., etc.
I also use Ancestry’s software program, Family Tree Maker. I wouldn’t say that it’s necessary, but it’s nice if you want an additional place to document your tree (you can “sync” the software with your online tree, so you only need to enter names and other information one time and it will save to both places).
By the way, don’t focus too much on other users’ public trees; sometimes, the information is accurate, but other times people will list a mother whose birth date falls after her supposed child’s — or other “facts” that don’t make sense. Still, these trees can be good starting places. And you can verify what you find with the censuses and other, more trustworthy documents that are available right there at the very same website!
Pros: Huge library of documents and information; addicting; informative.
Cons: Not exactly cheap; occasionally overwhelming; often inaccurate information on public family trees.
1.) Family members: Nothing beats your family for learning family history! Whether you’re lucky enough to own documents such as family bibles, or you’re relying on the memories of those who were blessed to know your deceased grandparents or great grandparents. I’ve cracked more than one mystery just by talking to family members (including my cousin-once-removed, Marlene, who sent me the photo above. Which is one of my favorites!)
And if you don’t have luck the first time, try again! My mother didn’t think she knew anything about her grandmother’s history. But she was able to recall just a few key names, and from there (after a few Ancestry Dot Com searches) I was able to verify what she told me, fill in several spots on my family tree, and make some new connections!
Pros: Stories more personal than you’ll find anywhere else… heck, what isn’t a “pro” about learning family history from your family?
Cons: I suppose some family members might have their facts wrong (it’s still fun to talk to them, find out what they know, and get their perspective).
Whew! There you go. I hope this helps at least one person out there.
Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments (or shoot me an email!).
For today’s post, I was originally going to cheat a little and turn “Tombstone Tuesday” into “Tombstone Thursday.” Upon perusing some other genealogy blogs, however, I noticed that a few authors have written about cemeteries for Those Places Thursday. So I’ve decided to go with that title/theme instead (after all, Those Places Thursday is one of the “official” Thursday themes at GeneaBloggers!). Don’t worry, if you prefer “Tombstone Thursday”, this post could just as easily be called that.
Today’s entry (for the first time in this blog!) also focuses on my husband’s family — specifically, on his paternal great grand uncle, Gladwyn Washington Haskett.
I don’t have a photo of Gladwyn available to share, although I hope to be able to post one eventually (I think my in-laws might have some). Here’s what I do know about him: he was born December 14, 1889 in Markdale, Ontario; he died November 1, 1959 in Penticton, British Columbia. And he was the identical twin brother of Merwyn Young Haskett, my husband’s great grandfather (whom my husband also happens to be named after).
That’s about the gist of what we know about Gladwyn. A few months ago, however — after we’d already planned a trip to British Columbia that would take us through the Okanagan region — my husband (who was doing some genealogy research of his own) coincidentally stumbled across the location of Gladwyn’s grave online somewhere (not Find A Grave, but a similar site). The cemetery just happens to be very close to the area we planned to visit. Merwyn wanted to stop by there on our way home; and, of course, I was more than happy to agree to this request!
(I’m not sure that I’d hang out in one after dark, but in general, I actually kind of like cemeteries. And I love them for genealogy research! I’ve visited a few of my own family members’ graves on other trips; and several of my husband’s family are buried in a cemetery right here in town, which I’ve been through a few times.)
So, on April 14th (my 34th birthday) we made our way from Summerland, BC to nearby Penticton, BC. Lakeview Cemetery was right in Penticton and turned out to be quite appropriately named. It’s a peaceful, well-kempt resting place with a beautiful view of Okanagan Lake.
Merwyn had the forethought to request a map before we left, which he’d printed and brought along. So we had no trouble finding Gladwyn’s grave. It looked a little bit in need of some TLC, but ultimately wasn’t in too bad shape for being over 50 years old.
Here’s a slightly closer view:
Now, neither of us knows the names of Gladwyn’s descendants (or if he even has descendants); we’re also not sure how or when he ended up in British Columbia (several from his Haskett branch still live in Ontario; and many others wound up here in Olympia or elsewhere in the United States). I was kind of hoping to find clues about some of these things at the cemetery (for example, other “Haskett” gravestones). Unfortunately, we didn’t find any such clues.
However, right by Gladwyn’s grave, we did find this:
It’s kind of hard to see in the photo, but right underneath Gladwyn’s gravestone, there looks to be a much smaller stone for a Helen Ruth Slater. Under her name, I can sort of make out a birth date (February 5, 1921?) and date of death (October 9, 2001?), along with the words “Always loved.”
Initially, I thought her name sounded familiar; but later, after searching online, I couldn’t find anything about this particular Helen Ruth Slater — or any connection between any “Helen” and Gladwyn Haskett. (And Merwyn and I are, of course, curious! We aren’t sure if she’s a daughter, a much-younger wife, or a random woman who was for some reason buried right next to Gladwyn.)
Anyhow, since we still had a 7-hour drive home ahead of us, we didn’t stay at the cemetery for very long that day. But I was glad that Merwyn got to pay his respects to his great grand uncle, and honored to be along for the visit. While I’m certainly at peace with the fact that Merwyn and I can’t have kids, occasionally I’ll feel regretful that nobody will ever be able to share and combine our unique family histories. It still doesn’t keep me from wanting to know as much about my husband’s genealogy as I do about mine!
I’ve posted this photo elsewhere on the Internet, but never before on this blog. The young man pictured above is my paternal great grandfather, Wilmer Atkinson “Bill” Tillinghast, Sr. (mentioned in a few previous entries); the young woman with him is, of course, my great grandmother, Daisy Mae Richards Tillinghast. My cousin-once-removed, Marlene (one of their many grandchildren!) was kind enough to share this photo with me. I’m not sure where it was taken, but probably Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. I believe Marlene told me that this was their wedding picture. Wilmer and Daisy were 18 when they married, so that would date this photo right around 1899.
I’m curious as to who the woman standing behind Wilmer is — she could be one of his two sisters, she could be Daisy’s sister (Lottie), or she could be somebody else entirely!
(I hope this counts as an appropriate Travel Tuesday post, per the prompt suggestion at GeneaBloggers.)
My family didn’t really create the McDonald’s french fry. As far as I know, I’m not related to anybody who had anything directly to do with the inception of McDonald’s — including its products. However, according to Luther Burbank’s Wikipedia page, “a large percentage of McDonald’s french fries are made from [the Russet Burbank potato].” And we do have a connection to Luther Burbank. In fact, I could say that Luther Burbank is the reason I was born — and still reside — on the west coast (instead of Rhode Island, where my 10th great grandfather Pardon Tillinghast emigrated from England in about 1645 and where Tillinghasts still maintain a sizable presence. Or Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, where my paternal great grandparents were born and lived until they relocated to Santa Rosa, California in the 1920’s.)
This is Luther Burbank:
Admittedly, until I started researching my family, I’d never heard of Luther Burbank. If you still haven’t heard of him: in short, Luther Burbank was a horticultural superstar. According to Wikipedia, he “developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants over his 55-year career”, including the Shasta daisy, the Flaming Gold nectarine, the Freestone peach, the white blackberry, and the aforementioned Russet Burbank potato. (I’m getting hungry just thinking about his creations…) Schools, banks, parks, and Census Designated Places around the country were named for him, and an annual Rose Parade and Festival is still held in Santa Rosa in his honor.
Certainly, Sonoma County, California seems proud of Burbank’s contributions to the region . There’s a “Luther Burbank’s Gold Ridge Experiment Farm” (actually once owned by Burbank himself) in my dad’s hometown of Sebastopol. In Santa Rosa, one of the most popular tourist attractions is the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. I haven’t been to the farm yet — or the ‘Home’ part of Luther Burbank Home and Gardens — however, I did get to visit the gardens last summer, and thought they were quite lovely and surprisingly peaceful!
Okay, I’m not sure if turkeys are officially showcased at the gardens, but the bird pictured above happened to be strutting around the day I visited.
Anyhow, I didn’t inherit my 2nd great grandfather’s green thumb (more on that in a second) but if you happen to be in Santa Rosa during the spring or summer months and even remotely appreciate vegetables, plants, and flowers, then I definitely recommend stopping by the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. You’ll see everything from daisies and marigolds to artichokes and quinoa. (I think the gardens are free, and the home — which was closed for the day when I got there — accepts donations.)
Well, now that you know a bit about Luther Burbank, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with travel. Or with my family.
Like Luther Burbank, my 2nd great grandfather — Isaac Fred Tillinghast — was a horticulturist. Not only that: his only brother, Alvinza Gardiner (how’s that for prophetic names?) was also a horticulturist. The brothers were born in Pennsylvania, and my 2nd great grandpa spent most of his life back east.
However, in 1870, Alvinza Gardiner (cited in some sources as simply “A.G.”), along with his cousins R.E. Whitney and E.A. Sisson, relocated to Skagit County, Washington. Eventually, they founded what came to be known in the 1920’s as the Tillinghast Seed Company. Apparently, it was one of the first seed companies in the Pacific Northwest; you can read more about it here.
Sadly, the seed company is no longer in business; however, the original building still stands. Here’s what it looks like today:
There’s a really good restaurant called Seeds currently occupying the space where the seed company used to operate. So, yes, the current owners do pay homage — including on the walls, where you’ll see vintage Tillinghast Seed Company packets and even some old family photos (including a portrait of A.G. with his wife, Emma, and son, Francis).
Aside from the building/restaurant, there are several other “Tillinghast” tributes in the vicinity (probably more so than in any location outside of Rhode Island; privately, I like to think of La Conner as “Little Providence”). There’s a Tillinghast Postal Service (fitting, since A.G. — like my 2nd great grandfather — was not only a seedsman, but the town postman) and even a Tillinghast Street! (Well, “Tillinghast Drive.”)
To the best of my knowledge, Alvinza Gardiner was Washington State’s very first Tillinghast. His descendants still live in La Conner; in fact, I met one of them back in April. But he doesn’t have much to do with how I ended up here.
He did, however, play a small-yet-important role in my family’s move from Pennsylvania to the west coast. As did Luther Burbank.
According to the June 1978 edition of family newsletter Pardon’s Progeny, the story goes something like this (from an article written by Mildred Bailey Tillinghast about my 2nd great grandfather):
“In 1870, Isaac’s older brother, Alvinza Gardiner Tillinghast, and two cousins, E. Sisson and R. Whitney, caught the ‘Westward Ho!’ fever and immigrated to Washington territory, where they pioneered among the Siwash Indians. They undertook the task of reclaiming tideland on Puget Sound. The work was done manually with a spade and wheelbarrow. Miles and miles of dikes were put up to keep the winter water off from what was mud flats in the summer. In two years the soil would freshen from salt and grow almost anything.
While his brother was accomplishing seemingly impossible tasks on the west coast, Isaac F. was busy on the east coast running a flourishing plant business in Pennsylvania. From his brother in Washington he received a barrel of cabbage seed. Unable to plant this large amount, Isaac added a few other varieties of plant seeds and went into the seed business. He reached the public by sending out 600 post cards, and his first order was for $10.00. From then on Isaac’s business flourished and grew until he was printing and mailing 250,000 catalogues and employed sixty people.
Isaac received a letter from a young man in Massachusetts asking him to introduce a new potato he had perfected. Isaac declined, as he had never heard of Luther Burbank. However, the persistent Burbank wrote back asking for a swap of his potatoes for some of Isaac’s seed. The seeds were sent and two barrels of ‘Burbank Potatoes’ arrived. From these two barrels of seed potatoes from Burbank Isaac raised and harvested three hundred bushels. Burbank, meanwhile, had arranged for J.H. Gregory to introduce his potato, but had failed to raise sufficient stock. He offered to buy Isaac’s harvested crop to meet this demand. These were then sold to the public at a dollar a pound. From this transaction Burbank realized enough money to move to California, where he became a noted plant specialist.”
So, based on the above, Alvinza Gardiner influenced his brother’s (my 2nd great grandfather) venture into the seed business. Through that business, Luther Burbank contacted my 2nd great grandfather… and eventually, my 2nd great grandpa more or less financed Burbank’s move to Santa Rosa!
(At least, that’s what I took away from the article!)
But that’s not all. Apparently, Burbank and my great-great grandpa kept in touch (from the same article):
“While on a trip to San Francisco, [Isaac] journeyed to Santa Rosa to pay a call on Luther Burbank and accepted an offer to work for and with Burbank in his experimental greenhouse and gardens. In time he obtained a piece of ground and planted it to Burbank tomatoes, then known as the ‘earliest tomato in the world.’ Isaac saved the seed from this crop, added Cory’s thornless blackberry, and issued a catalogue of novelty seeds and peanuts, which grew to a circulation of 2,000 customers. He later opened a seed store in Santa Rosa. Upon retirement his son Wilmer A. Tillinghast, Sr. took over the seed and plant store and added floristry to the business.”
The article also notes that, toward the end of his life, my 2nd great grandpa served as agricultural editor for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. There are other interesting facts included as well (though not particularly relevant to his Pennsylvania-Santa Rosa uproot).
So there you have it: the story of how seeds, potatoes, and Luther Burbank helped bring my branch of the family to the west coast.
Well… part of the story. I still haven’t said much about my great grandfather, Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast (mentioned in the article above). He traveled to Santa Rosa with my great grandma Daisy — and their eight kids — in a Model T Ford (presumably they moved out west to work with his dad and/or Luther Burbank). Their journey is a great story in itself, and deserves its own “Travel Tuesday” post (as soon as I learn a little more about it!).
Incidentally, Wilmer had several siblings; however, I’m unaware if any of them shared the interest in horticulture that Wilmer seemed to have inherited from his father. (Though, talk about prophetic names: “Wilmer Atkinson” — whom my great grandfather was named for? — was the founder of Farm Journal.) In any case, I don’t believe that any of Isaac Fred (and Edith Brundage) Tillinghast’s other children ended up in Sonoma County, California. Some of them remained back east; others relocated to Ohio, southern California, and Arizona. One of them currently has several descendants living not too far away in Oregon.
As far as how Washington became my home state: that was my grandmother/great-uncle(/stepgrandfather’s) doing. At some point — after my grandfather died, and my grandma remarried his brother Harold, she and Harold moved up here. I’m not sure why. Most of Wilmer and Daisy Tillinghast’s other descendants still live in Sonoma County. My siblings and I (and most of our 1st cousins) are first-generation Washingtonians!
That about wraps it up for this edition of “Travel Tuesday.” Tomorrow I’ll try a shorter post (maybe “Wordless Wednesday”?).
Meanwhile, check out my great-great grandfather’s book on Amazon! I don’t have a paperback copy yet, but I do have it on my Kindle!
It’s not very nice to call my own great grandfather a brick wall. But in genealogy terms, that’s exactly what he is: a man of mystery, whose branch on the family tree remains inaccessible, hidden beyond a cryptic ancestral barricade…
I have his name (sort of). I have a photo. And — provided the name is correct — I have a World War I Draft Registration Card. (He’s also referenced, along with my great grandmother, in a newspaper article that I found archived at Ancestry Dot Com.)
Aside from that… nothing. You’d think that with a name, birthdate and location (courtesy of the World War I Draft Registration Card) I’d be able to dig deeper, and find out where the heck my great granddad came from! But so far, no such luck.
So let me tell you more about him, and perhaps somebody reading this can give me some ideas on where to look further. Who knows — maybe one day, one of his other descendants (i.e., a long-lost 2nd cousin or cousin-once-removed) who just happens to have a treasure trove of information (or any information) will stumble across this and share!
The great grandfather in question is my paternal grandma’s father. I’ve actually written about him before on this blog, and even shared his picture. Here it is again:
Handsome, wasn’t he?
As far as his name goes, my Uncle Steven filled me in on that last year; George Thomas Van Batenburg was the name my uncle gave me. Upon searching for that very name, I found… zilch. I tried different spellings. I tried searching without the “Thomas”, then without the “George.” I was able to trace the surname “Van Batenburg” back to the Netherlands, but otherwise, my efforts proved fruitless.
However, for reasons I’m still not certain of, my grandmother’s maiden name was not Van Batenburg, but Cornwell. I’ve heard vague statements from family members that she “made up” the Cornwell, but none of them ever elaborated as to why. (She was raised by her grandparents, so one might think the “Cornwell” came from them, but no; her grandfather — actually a “step”-grandfather — was named Grafton Baber, and her grandmother was born Clara Halcumb. Her biological grandfather wasn’t the one who raised her, but for the record was named Herbert Hampton. No Cornwell anywhere in their line.)
So I tried searching “George Thomas Van Batenburg” along with “Cornwell”, and voila! I eventually found that World War I Draft Registration Card — actually for a Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell. Despite the slight variation in the name, I definitely believe there’s a connection:
1.) According to the card, Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell was born April 24, 1897 in Oakland, California (he still lived in Alameda County at the time he filled out the card). This birthdate would place him at 4 years older than my great grandmother (born Hazel C. Hampton in Shasta, California in 1901) so that seems appropriate. It also fits with my grandmother’s age (she was born in 1922); the card indicates that he would’ve been 25 when she was born.
2.) More tellingly, the card is consistent with the newspaper article I mentioned several paragraphs ago. What article? If I was more blog-savvy, I’d link to it; someday, I hope to transcribe it, because it’s an interesting (albeit short) story. Basically, in 1920, one of the Oakland newspapers published a front-page blurb about a custody battle involving a baby girl named “Faith Elizabeth” — who happened to be my grandma’s half-sister. (I’m positive of this based on family anecdotes, pictures, and other resources.) According to the news blurb, the baby was born Faith Elizabeth Ruble; her biological father, Mr. Ruble, was fighting for custody against the baby’s mother and her then-husband… aka, Thomas and Hazel Cornwell.
There’s no question that the “Thomas and Hazel Cornwell” mentioned in the story were, in fact, my great grandparents. (Meanwhile, if you’re wondering about the custody battle, I’m not sure what happened there; Faith, like my grandma, eventually spent at least a portion of her childhood raised by her grandparents, Grafton and Clara Baber.) Again, though, the details on that World War I Draft Registration Card fit with the details presented in the news story — including that my great grandfather went by “Thomas.”
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find anything else on him. No family trees, no birth records, no death records… nothing!
On the other hand, I’ve found out quite a bit more about my grandma’s mother, Hazel (for a long time, she was almost as mysterious as my great grandpa; however, it turns out that my father even remembers her. Specifically, he remembers her as “fat and crabby” and that she used to bring him books every time she visited. The “fat and crabby” part might not sound very flattering — but if you know my dad, you know that anybody who made a point to bring him books couldn’t have been too bad a person!)
At some point, Hazel married a man named Peter Richtschied; for the rest of her life, she was Hazel Richtschied. I’m honestly not for sure if she and my great grandfather were ever actually married. If they were, it doesn’t seem that they stayed married for very long. Of course, I can’t find any marriage records to confirm one way or the other!
As for “Cornwell”, if my great grandfather truly is the man on the World War I Draft Registration Card (which I’m fairly confident is the case), that indicates that my grandmother wasn’t the one who made up “Cornwell”; it goes back at least as far as her father. That said, searches for “George/Thomas Cornwell”, without the Van Batenburg or Van Voltenberg, sadly haven’t turned up anything, either.
The only other possibly-relevant bit of information: Thomas Van Voltenberg Cornwell listed an “Annie Cornwell” (a sister-in-law) on the draft registration card as his “closest living relative” (this card was, of course, filled out several years before my grandma or her sister came along; I’m guessing he hadn’t met my great grandmother yet, who wasn’t even a teenager at the time!).
If anybody has any suggestions on cracking this mystery, I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, according to my clock, Tuesday’s just a couple of minutes away… I’d better hurry and push ‘post’ before Mystery Monday is over!
Well, as you can see by looking at my last entry, it’s been over a year since I updated this blog.
And it isn’t because I lost interest, or hit a roadblock in my research. Au contraire! I’ve found out so much since my last post, I wouldn’t even know where to begin sharing all of it! Names, photos, stories — let’s just say I’ve unlocked quite a few family mysteries since you last heard from me (and I’ve had a great time doing so). I’ve connected with and even met a few “long lost” cousins. In time, I hope to write about everything.
So why the long break between posts? Actually, it’s a combination of not knowing where/how to pick up from where I left off, health issues, and (this is the main reason, I confess) just plain bad blogging habits.
But I love the idea of a place to document all my findings, and would hate to waste that opportunity. And, clearly, I already have a blog established to do just that! (It’s not like letting 15 months lapse means the information I have shared is no longer valid.)
So let’s try this again, shall we?
Rather than a 90-page update of everything I’ve discovered since March 2012, I think I’ll stick to shorter posts. In fact, I’ve always thought that these themed genealogy prompts look like fun. So, that’s my goal — to try some of these out for at least a week. Starting this coming week (I’m not sure which particular day this week, but once I start, I vow to post at least 7 straight days’ worth of content!).
Hey, it’s as good a goal as any. 🙂
Meanwhile, I actually did update my “Brick Walls” page earlier this year — and I updated my “Famous Relatives” page just this morning. So make sure to check out those (see top of blog) if you want some more content. And stay tuned!