Archive for November 2009
George Radford was a professional telephone company employee in the early part of the twentieth century. He came to Seattle with his family in the late 19th century from eastern Canada when he was a teenager. His family settled in Seattle where many of them were among the working-class and professionals.
The Radford family included Mr. and Mrs., and thirteen children, six sons and five daughters. Three of George’s sisters didn’t marry, and three did. One brother moved back to Canada and one settled in California. The other members of his family settled in the Puget Sound area. One of George’s brothers became president of a prominent Seattle department store.
In 1909 George married Grace Wilson, another immigrant from the eastern states. They never had children of their own. In her later years, Mrs. Wilson, Grace’s mother lived with them. In 1911 George became a naturalized citizen.
During World War I, George enlisted in the Army and served overseas as part of a telegraph battalion. When he was discharged two years later, he returned to the telephone company.
You will notice that I haven’t put in birth or death dates for George into the above sketch. That is because there is a discrepancy among the record sources I’m using. His 1900 U. S. Census record, Washington State death record, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer obituary give conflicting information. In the census record, his birth date is given as September 1885; in the death record, his age is given as 53 (birth year of 1886), and in his obituary, his birth year is given as 1886. Which year is correct? Assuming the birth month is correct, that is.
One clue is the World War I enlistment record, which states that George was 30 8/12 when he enlisted in July 1917 and was inducted into the Army. Using Legacy Family Tree’s calculator, I entered the two dates, 1 September 1885 and 1 July 1917 and got the answer 31 years, 10 months at the second date. If I add one to 1885, I come up with 30 years for the second date. Either George lied about his age when he enlisted, dropping a year, instead of adding, as some people did, or he was born in 1886 as two of the records state. My guess, without looking at his birth record in Canada, is that he was born in 1886. This remains to be verified, however.
George’s age as given in the later censuses are 24, 33, and 24. The latter date, for the 1930 census is obviously wrong. His wife’s, Grace, age is also given as 24, suggesting that someone outside of the immediate family gave the information. The latter part of the age, four, gives the clue, however, that George was born in 1885, given that he would have been 24 in 1910, 34 in 1920, and 44 in 1930.
A quick check on ancestry.com’s Canadian database collection revealed that George was indeed born in 1886. His church birth record clearly gives the date as well as the month and year of birth in Montreal. The latter conforms to the obituary which states he was born at that place as well as in that time period.
Why were there discrepancies in these independently created records? Since there were no children to carry on George’s posterity, we may never know. The lesson here is to not rely simply on newspapers and censuses but to use all reasonably available records to confirm and disprove any facts about an ancestor’s life. Checking on George’s birth record is an ending and a beginning for the genealogist since it gives them more clues to Canadian records to search in the future. As I focus on United States and in particular, Pacific Northwest genealogy, having stuck with just the U.S. records would have left me with erroneous data for my database. Lesson learned.
When creating a family history it is almost a necessity to include a time-line of their life in relation to their environment. For instance, a pioneer family in Washington Territory lived through a some momentous events. The major one is the pioneer life-style, which in their time was share by many other people. These people interacted with your ancestors to form a uniquely documented group. While you may not find much, if any information specifically on your ancestor in a local history, there are general facts about the population and environment in that local history which add color to your ancestor’s time-line and life-style.
There are many local histories for the Pacific Northwest that have been produced since the area became a popular place to live and work. Some, more than others, are rich in detail of the area, while others focus more on the people and businesses they built. For instance, I’m reading Far Corner, by Stewart Holbrook, a personal overview of the region written in a light way. It covers a lot of what was, and is no more.
Also, there are many historical works published that are not strictly local histories. These are histories of communities and groups that built the Northwest. Boeing, for instance, has been a major contributor to the local historical scene since it has been involved in many communities over the years. Some the histories of that company may contain important details about the community in which it operated and the people who were directly and indirectly involved with the company.
Many local histories are, by their very subject matter, not New York Times best sellers and thus are not commonly available. Many such histories have been written by local residents, and self-published. These histories often are found in the special collection areas of libraries and have limited circulation. An example is Totem Tales of Old Seattle, by Newell & Sherwood.
Another type of writing, not necessarily related to the Pacific Northwest only, is the fiction of the region. Song of the Axe, by N. C. McDonald, about life in Puget Sound and Seattle, is fascinating for the author’s depiction of life on the streets of Seattle and in the islands of the Sound.
By reading what other authors and authorities have to say about an area, you can get a broader picture of your ancestor’s life and weave parts of their accounts into your own. Carefully documenting and differentiating between what is fact and fiction, however, is a major consideration when writing a history.