In my last post I discussed how the use of the internet has expedited some of my research. However, I’ve also learned that sometimes we can become too reliant on databases, web searches and other online tools. Sometimes we just need to go back to basics.
Such is the case in my search for a photo of Flora (Stanwood) Simpson. Aunt Flora was one of those people that stayed put. Since she was found year after year, census after census, in the same place, I got to “know” Aunt Flora better than many of the other Aunts and Uncles in my family tree. Flora was married three times. She was widowed at the age of 25 when her first husband, Morton Howe, died, leaving her with four small children. Next she married John Miller. This marriage was brief, as in 1900 she married her third and final husband, Oliver Fred Simpson.
My grandmother, Goldie Simpson, recalled seeing Aunt Flora when she herself was very young. She remember this “very old woman with wrinkled socks.” Since my grandmother was only 3 years old at the time, she couldn’t offer many other details. :-) However, she did remember many of Flora’s step chlidren, who were my grandmother’s first-cousins. The relationship is a bit complicated, but the short story is that there were two Stanwood women who married two Simpson brothers.
Aunt Flora was the first. As mentioned, her third husband was Oliver Fred Simpson, or “Fred” for short. When Uncle Fred died in 1917, Flora’s neice, Susan Stanwood, attended the funeral. Fred’s brother, Ernest Simpson, did as well. I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but my guess is that it was. Ernest wrote poems about sitting in Northfield, talking for hours with Susan under the back porch light. That was the summer of 1917. Susan and Ernest married in January of 1918, and their only child, my grandmother, Goldie, was born October of 1921.
With such a role in my great-grandparents’ introduction, Flora has somewhat captivated me. For many years I had sought a photo of Aunt Flora, and the only one I was able to obtain came in the early 1990′s, a very poor quality xerox copy provided by a distant cousin researching the Sisco and Simpson families. It was better than nothing, but not by much.
One day as I was transferring files and organizing them in my new genealogy program (Roots Magic, in case you are wondering – awesome program!), I decided if I was ever going to find a living person with a photo of Flora, I’d better start searching. I began by going through names of Uncle Fred Simpson’s grandchildren, and then their children, and so on. Using Switchboard.com, I began making calls. While I didn’t find anyone with information, I did have some nice chats with cousins.
A bit discouraged, I decided to put the task aside for a bit and continue on with organizing my data. As I pulled open the lid to a large Rubbermaid bin full of ancient photos, there was a picture that I’d seen dozens of times before, but never really analyzed. Could it possibly be Aunt Flora? Turning the photo over, in my own handwriting was a “?”, obviously written many years ago when I’d asked my grandmother to tell me the names of the people on all of her old photos. The gentleman in the photo certainly had a very strong resemblance to Uncle Fred, but if so, why wouldn’t my grandmother have recognized him? If I was right and that WAS Fred, it would stand to reason that they woman in the photo was the elusive Aunt Flora. Pulling out the grainy old xerox photo of Flora from years ago, I compared them both side-by-side. It sure looked like Aunt Flora to me. Next, I compared the woman in the picture to a photo I had of Flora’s daughter Lyda. The family resemblance was astounding. I was as certain as I could be that I had in my possession (and had had in my possession for the last twenty years!) a photo of Aunt Flora Stanwood Howe Miller Simpson.
Not wanting to assume, I became more determined to find someone who could assist in making a positive ID. A few more phone calls, and a few more disappointments. I set it aside again, and went back to my Rubbermaid container to pull out more files to pick back up on my data entry. Then another surprise – a postcard dated 1996 from a Simpson cousin who was in her early 70′s at the time. Could she still be alive? Armed with a name and address, I went back to Switchboard.com and voila! There was a phone number. A few minutes later, I was in touch with my cousin who vowed to do her best to help me. Elated to learn she was also online, I emailed the photo to her, and then awaited her reply. A couple of hours later she emailed back. My query and piqued her interest, and she had begun rummaging through old photos she’d been given by her own mother, Uncle Fred’s daughter Bernice. In the photos was a duplicate of the one I’d emailed to her, and in her mother’s handwriting was the positive ID I’d needed – Aunt Flora, Uncle Fred, and Fred’s grandson, Orval Swanson, were the subjects of this picture which had been in my possession all along. While the internet is certainly a wonderful tool, this story just goes to show some times you need to use good old fashioned sleuthing techniques (and contact with distant cousins) to solve some mysteries.