(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!
Last year, one of the first things I learned in regards to my personal genealogy was my official “Tillinghast line” (thanks, Uncle Bud and Todd Lawrence!) and I quickly committed it to memory. For the benefit of my Tillinghast cousins, here’s my branch of our tree (for everybody else, pay attention to the fourth-to-the-last name!):
Robert – John – Pardon – PARDON – Pardon – John – Pardon – Stukely – Stephen – Isaac – Stephen – Isaac Fred – Wilmer – George – Daniel – and… yours truly.
(As you might guess from the many repeated names, it wasn’t all that hard to memorize my line.)
Capitalized Pardon, by the way, is the Pardon… the reason we American Tillinghasts are all here. Robert Tillinghast (1540-1613) of Sussex, England is the earliest known Tillinghast that I’m aware of. As for my 6th great grandfather Stukely Tillinghast (sometimes cited as “Stutely” — allegedly also called “Snuffy” for the “dull” color of his coat), he’s the father of the legendary Rhode Island “vampire”, Sarah Tillinghast. But more on all of them in future posts.
The other day, right after debuting this blog, I decided to go on a Google hunt for other Tillinghast blogs. I didn’t find any blogs — but that was okay, because I stumbled across something just as valuable (I LOVE finding treasure when I’m not even looking for it!).
It was the archives of an old Yahoo! mailing list. Actually, the list is still active, though barely so… anyway, if you’re wondering what’s so exciting about an old Yahoo! list — the group was/is devoted specifically to descendants of my paternal great grandparents, Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast and Daisy Mae Richards!
The list was started by my Uncle Bud way back in 1999, and most of the relevant material was posted prior to 2005 (before people started flooding the list with off-topic posts, as tends to happen on mailing lists; I’m not sure if the off-topic stuff “killed” the activity — I also noticed some outright spam, which I’m sure didn’t help — but in any case it has since slowed down to maybe one or two new posts every couple of years. Had I known about the list, I would have participated sooner! I casually joined it anyway.)
No big deal on the lack of recent activity (though, with that said, I’d love to try to get some conversation going again; in fact, Bud asked me if I’d like to try taking over the list. I told him, sure!) I still found plenty of interesting tidbits in those archived messages.
Up until now, I knew next to nothing about my great grandparents. I never met them. They were both born in 1881, and died in the 1960’s (I didn’t come around until 1979).
Last year, when I started to explore my genealogy, I learned their names, and that they were both born in Pennsylvania (in my great grandfather’s case, in La Plume; I’m not sure what part of the state my great grandma came from). They married young, and had their first child in 1900. Altogether, they had 8 children.
The family re-located to Sonoma County, CA sometime in the 1920’s (based on information from the 1920 and 1930 U.S. Censuses), which made my great-grandfather the first of our direct Tillinghast line to go “out west.” (He was not the first Tillinghast to do so.) I’m not sure what brought the family to Sonoma County, but they stuck around; my dad was born in Sebastapol, and many of Wilmer and Daisy’s descendants still live in that area!
That’s about the gist of what I knew about my great grandparents before I found this Yahoo! list (except that I also know at least the names of all of my cousins who are also descendants, thanks to a list that unofficial Tillinghast genealogist Todd Lawrence kindly sent my way several months ago).
I wish I could post a picture of either or both of my great grandparents, but I don’t (yet) have one, nor have I ever seen one. For some reason, I vaguely picture my great grandfather to look like Wilford Brimley… but I have no idea if he actually did resemble “Gus Witherspoon” (I doubt it). As for my great grandmother, Daisy — well, if you’ve clicked the “Brick Walls” link on this blog, you’ll know that I’m really lacking information on her, including her parents’ names.
Based on tidbits and memories shared in the Yahoo! list, I now know that:
-Daisy had long hair and a “wonderful smile” (she was described as very beautiful when she was young). She was known to take her time doing things and not rush.
-My great grandparents differed in their politics; she was “an ardent FDR Democrat” and he was a “died in the wool Republican”, according to a post from my Uncle Bud (based on words and memories from his father). It didn’t affect their marriage; they just didn’t discuss politics around election time! I don’t really want to discuss politics either, but I will say that (for more than one reason) this anecdote made me smile.
-They spoiled their grandkids. (There were several examples posted on the mailing list to back this up!)
I read all 280+ messages in the Yahoo! list and appreciated every detail (no matter how small) that helped me form a better picture of Wilmer and Daisy; but the best message of all came in the form of a letter transcribed by my Uncle Bud that was actually written by Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast, Sr., my great grandfather… whom I’ve always thought of as “Wilmer Atkinson Tillinghast” or “Wilmer A. Tillinghast” (because those are the names I see in Ancestry dot com). But after reading his words, I feel like I have a better grasp on who he was; and for starters, he didn’t go by Wilmer, he was Bill!
Here’s the letter, which is addressed to his niece, an “Elizabeth Henry” (Ancestry confirms that his brother, Albert Brundage Tillinghast, had a daughter Elizabeth whose married name was Henry). I love that the first part of the letter is actually about genealogy.
___ Reed Court
December 12, 1960
[According to Find A Grave, Bill passed away almost two years to the date after he wrote this letter.]
My Dear Elizabeth;
It seems to take the spirit of Xmas to jar me out of my absorption in purely personal matters long enough to give some thought to other members of my family.
I have always had a pride of family, probably exaggerated out of all proportion of reality.
[I feel closer to him already!]
so come Xmas time I begin to wonder what is happening to other members of the family with whom I have only infrequently contact.
I don’t know whether your Dad or your grandmother Tillinghast told you that our original ancestor, Pardon Tillinghast, came to this country in 1643, with a 1/4 interest in the original grant to what is now the city of Providence, R.I. He built the first Baptist Church in America and on his own land and preached in it until the time of his death at 96 years of age.
This is all confirmed in Appletons Encyclopedia, which is available in most public libraries.
[It’s true; we Tillinghasts are very proud of our ancestor, Pardon… something that has clearly been passed down through the generations.]
You are also related to Thomas Edison and Woodrow Wilson.
The Edison connection is through his mother who was the daughter of a blacksmith named Brundage, in Orange, N.J. who was a cousin of our Grandfather Brundage.
The Woodrow Wilson connection is through the grandfather of my mother who was Dr. Bruce Wilson, whose brother settled in the valley of Virginia and became either the father or the grandfather of Woodrow Wilson.
A couple of years after my mothers death I received a letter from a Dr. Wilson in Princeton, N.J. stating that he was asking me to furnish him with vital statistics concerning my family as he was writing a continuation of the Woodrow Wilson family and they had already had a record of the birth of myself and my brothers and sisters but had no information later than that.
So your Dad’s name and mine are already recorded in the Wilson family history.
[VERY interesting! I actually knew about the Edison connection; though, oddly enough, I think I traced it through a different set of ancestors. The ancestors I found in common with Thomas Edison are my 6th great grandparents, Samuel Ogden and Phebe Baldwin; I have that their daughter, Phebe Ogden, b. 1759, married James Brundage, b. 1761. James and Phebe Brundage were the 2nd great grandparents of my 2nd great grandmother, Bill’s mother, Edith Brundage. This is all based on information I found originally at Ancestry dot com. However, I think that Edith Brundage’s grandparents were… cousins, so that might explain some of the confusion. I still have a lot to learn about the Brundages! As for the Woodrow Wilson connection, that’s ENTIRELY new to me! What I would do to get my hands on that book!]
I have the Tillinghast family record from Pardon Tillinghast down to my generation and always intended to bring it down to date but there are so many matters of which I have no information that I will probably never get it completed.
[Well, that’s what I’m here for, Great Grandfather. I wonder whatever happened to his records?]
My family here are growing so fast I can hardly keep track of them. We now have 29 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.
Your Aunt Daisy is still in the hospital over two years now and is completely helpless’ can move only her head and arms, and can talk only a few words, and is just dying by inches.
[This part almost made me cry. On an interesting, albeit sad note, her date of death is listed almost three years after his, so I wonder if she recovered for at least a short period after he wrote this letter?]
George and Frances are both dead, also one granddaughter, Harold’s girl Margie is gone.
[I felt sad for Bill here, too. How strange it must be to outlive not only your children, but at least one of your grandchildren. George and Frances were Bill and Daisy’s two youngest, by the way. George is also my grandfather; he committed suicide in 1958. I don’t say this in a judgmental way, for I’m sure when he ended his life he must have felt for whatever reason that it was his only choice; but I know it affected my dad, who was only 6, and this letter made me think for the first time about how it must have affected his parents.
On a happier note, my grandmother, Clara… better known as Susie… later married George’s brother — the Harold mentioned in this letter, who is also the father of Bud, who transcribed this letter! — and they remained together until his death in 1976.]
Our oldest boy Bill Jr. is Deputy Agriculture commissioner.
Dick is in Fresno in charge of that territory for the Blue Chip trading stamp Co
Harold is a building contractor, now living with me here as he is divorced
Bob is manager of a cabinet company in Santa Rosa. Steve is still running a delicatessen in Elizabeth, N.J. and Harriet’s husband is voltage tester in the Pacific Gas and Elect. Co.
Frances husband is a chef in a restaurant in St. Helena, Calif .
I have always wanted to get back east for a visit with all of you but as I had a second heart attack a couple of months ago, which put me out of circulation for three weeks, and since I’m nearly 80 years old it seems rather doubtful if I can make it.
May God Bless you all, Sincerely, Uncle Bill
God bless you, Great Grandfather Bill. I hope you made it back east for a final visit.
I’m so glad that I found that Yahoo! group and got to read this letter. (And very grateful to Uncle Bud for sharing it!) Logically, as my great grandfather was born 100 years before me, even if he’d lived to 100 years, I never would have known him. But if this letter is any indication, I know that I would have liked him… and, that we would’ve had plenty to talk about!
In fact, with his interest in family, he probably would have appreciated this blog (at least, I hope so!). Hopefully I can keep it going, continue his work, and make my great grandfather proud.
Welcome to my new blog!
(Insert spiel about how I hope I’ll keep it updated better than my previous attempts at blogs.)
I certainly have no shortage of things to talk about at this blog, which is a (bet you didn’t guess from the subtitle!) genealogy blog. If you know me, you might have heard me say recently something like “(such and such famous person) is my 8th cousin three times removed!” or read one of my 65473 posts on Facebook about how obsessed I am with this latest endeavor.
Indeed, I don’t even feel that guilty spending hours at a time at Ancestry dot com (or Find A Grave, or one of the other related sites) because — among other things — it helps inspire me and puts me in the mood to work on my book-in-progress. (See the “About Me” link above if you don’t yet know about my book.)
The book is what led me to finally begin “officially” exploring this stuff. However, I’ve always been proud of my maiden name (I like my married name, too; it even just happens to go well with my maiden name!) and intrigued by the history of the Tillinghasts. I just didn’t really know how to go about finding out more about my Tillinghast history until last year (or it’s more like, I just didn’t take the steps).
But I always knew that “most” of us dated back to this guy.
That “guy” just happens to be my 10th great grandfather, Pardon Tillinghast! (Okay, it’s been determined that this is not actually a photo of Pardon Tillinghast the Immigrant Ancestor, but since I don’t have another photo to represent him, I’ll just leave this one up for now– even if his look is wrong for the era…)
Though I just learned of my direct connection to him last summer, it seems like forever ago that I first heard about Pardon, the First Baptist Church (that I erroneously believed he “founded”), and the “mythical”, faraway town of Providence, Rhode Island.
Eventually, somehow or other over the years, I learned of the legend of Sarah Tillinghast, an alleged New England… vampire.
Then there was A.W. Tillinghast, a renowned golf course architect whose name I’d stumble across from time to time.
And, on a local note, there was the Tillinghast Seed Company up in La Conner, WA (sadly, now closed, but I got to visit it once in the early 90’s!). Most people in Washington state don’t even seem to know how to pronounce the name Tillinghast (much less recognize it), yet back when I was growing up, those that DID recognize the name would inevitably ask my family members and me if we were connected to the Seed Company (little did I know back then that it was founded by my 2nd great grand uncle… or run for many years by his daughter).
Besides relatives named Tillinghast, I recall VERY occasionally hearing about our “famous baseball ancestor”, Christy Mathewson, although I didn’t know how we were related to him. (Now I know he’s my 2nd cousin four times removed.)
(As for my mother, I didn’t think much about her ancestry, figuring — close-mindedishly –that her maiden name, Miller, was a lost cause in terms of tracing lineage.)
Like I said, I was intrigued enough just hearing of the few Tillinghasts that I knew about! But it was my work on the book that finally got me to join Ancestry dot com and set me on the path to learning more. Okay, I confess, I meant to just take advantage of the free 2-week trial — then cancel before it was done — but I let too much time pass and had to pay Ancestry the full yearly price.
But I didn’t even mind (much)…
because I’m now a genealogy ADDICT!
I won’t go into detail now as to why I enjoy this research so much — that’s what the blog is for. But it’s coming. Oh, it’s coming. By “it’s”, I mean names like “Stukeley”, “Deliverance”, and “Hazelelponi Willix” (yes, I have an ancestor named Hazelelponi Willix). And stories… stories of forgotten heroes, mean bad guys, soldiers, Pilgrims, common everyday folk, and — well, whatever I find.
This is my place to share. I hope it will be fun, and I hope you’ll stick with me.
Thanks for reading!