[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!
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!).
(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!
Remember in my last blog post, when I wrote that I’d never seen a photo of my great-grandfather, Wilmer (aka “Bill”) Atkinson Tillinghast? I didn’t mention this then, but I’d also (to my knowledge) never seen a baby photo of my father, NOR had I seen more than one photo (and the one I saw was over a decade ago) of my paternal grandfather, George Horace Tillinghast. Well, ALL of that changed last Friday, thanks to my Uncle Steven! He was kind enough to scan several pictures of the family and share them on Facebook. He also (just as kindly) gave me permission to re-post the photos here.
So here they are! As you can see in the photo above, there are three generations of Tillinghasts: Wilmer, Daniel (my dad), and George. This picture was taken in Healdsburg, CA, around October of 1952, just three months after my father was born. Cute baby, wasn’t he?
(Sorry that some of these photos aren’t the most clear. I know that you can’t really make out Bill… but I can see enough to determine that — surprise, surprise — he looks nothing like Wilford Brimley!)
How about some more pictures?
Here’s my grandmother’s father, George Von Batenburg. I’m not sure if I’m spelling his name correctly. I didn’t even know his name until last Friday! So far, Google and Ancestry dot com searches haven’t turned up anything on him (though it seems the surname might be German?) but you know, right now it’s exciting just to have his name — and this photo! (I can even see a little bit of my father in him… in the eyes, I think.)
Speaking of my grandma, there she is, on the right; the woman next to her is her mother, Hazel! This picture would have been taken in the mid 1960’s. Right now, I don’t know Hazel’s maiden name, but I have a feeling I will find out more about her at some point (I hope so, anyway!). Especially because (way in the very back of my mind) I remembered that her name was Hazel — which means somebody either told me that, or I read it somewhere (this would’ve been looong before I started “officially” researching genealogy). As for my grandmother (born Clara Ann Cornwell) her second husband (Harold — my grandfather’s brother) nicknamed her “Susie.” I’m not sure where that name originated, but it stuck. From what I remember, the name “Susie” seemed to fit. (She is buried as Susie Tillinghast.) I didn’t get to spend MUCH time with my grandmother, who passed away in 2000; but I do have fond memories and am blessed for the time I did have with her!
And here she is again! With my grandfather, George. I’m not sure when this photo was taken (sometime in the 1940’s?). But I love that they look so happy. They sure had their share of sadness later on — BUT photos like this show they definitely had their happy moments, as well. And, I must say… they made quite an attractive couple!
You can’t see my great grandmother (Daisy Mae Richards Tillinghast) very well at ALL in this photo… but, awww, look at the baby (I know him better as my father!).
And speaking of babies…
The baby in this photo is my cousin, Kenny. I’ve known of him for most of my life; though I’ve never met him. But how’s this — for a large chunk of my life, I actually believed that he was a professional (albeit “chump”) wrestler in the WCW, based on something my dad told me (probably facetiously). See, there was a wrestler billed as “Kenny Kendall” who (according to my dad) would have been “about the right age” to conceivably be one and the same with my cousin — that is, if the wrestler’s name was actually Kenny Kendall! (I later found out his real name was something like Barry Jones.) Oh, well. As for my cousin, I think I tracked him (the real one) down one time. (I haven’t contacted him, though; among other things, I’m not sure what I would say.)
Now, if you’re wondering who the lovely woman holding Kenny is in this photo — she’s my aunt, Sharon. She died in 1966 or 1967 at a very young age (22 or 23). I’m not sure of the circumstances that led to her death. According to records at Find a Grave, it happened in Idaho (I now know she lived there at the time; thanks, Dad!). Hopefully someday I can find out more about Sharon. I think she’s quite pretty in this photo!
Here’s another great picture of my paternal grandfather, George Horace Tillinghast. He was in the service in I think the early 1940’s, so I assume this picture was taken then. (And this observation is sort of random and silly, but in the above photo — not so much the others — he sort of reminds me of comedian Ben Bailey.)
I saved the best for last; I think this is my favorite of the photos my uncle shared. Here there are, my grandparents, Clara (before she was Susie!) and George Tillinghast. He had a kind face. And she looks so young and in love here. I wonder if this was a wedding picture? I’m not sure (yet!).
Meanwhile, this week, I’m at my parents’ house in Gig Harbor; this happens to be the week of my annual cancer scans (for those who don’t already know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 at the ripe old age of 27. I’ve been doing quite well for quite awhile; this Thursday, I’ll learn whether or not that pattern continues. As for the actual scans, I had them done earlier today. Oral contrast = YUCK!)
I’m enjoying the time with my parents (if only I was here under better circumstances); however, I’m looking forward to this weekend. Among other reasons, my weekend plans include going over to my Uncle Steven and Aunt Darla’s… where I’ll get hopefully get copies of these photos (and more?) and learn some of the stories behind them. I’ll certainly keep you posted on what I find out!
But right now, it’s time to break for some coconut cake!