Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A letter from 1874 is just the beginning...

A soft, yellowed, old letter is a wonderful beginning for a genealogical journey. There will be some knowns, and some mysteries. There will be clues in the return address (generally not a street address in the old days), the stamp, the references to family and friends, and the activities mentioned. The salutation can bear clues too.
I was given an old letter that had been in our family, and it was a delight to puzzle over. The salutation was “Dear Niece.” Well, that was a clue, since it was addressed to my great-grandmother. But she had many aunts. This one was writing from Kinsley, Kansas, and she signed her name “Emma L. H.” I didn’t know of any relatives in Kansas, and I wasn’t aware of any Emmas. I had to work with the clues I had at hand. I thought if I could narrow down the year of the writing, that would be helpful somehow. It turned out that I was able to narrow down to the exact year due to a reference in the letter. Emma spoke of having been given some pigweed, for which she was very grateful. She said that after living on what the grasshoppers had left, pigweed was very welcome. I wondered if the grasshopper infestation had been a newsworthy event that might show up in an internet search. It turned out that there was a major infestation for which the county commissioners had sought relief, in 1874. So the year of writing had to be 1874.
The next step after a search for anecdotes is to check the census for that  time period. I searched the 1880 census for “Emma,” left the last name blank, and entered information in the geographical fields for the state of Kansas and the town of Kinsley. There were a number of Emmas, so I looked for one who was married to the man named Charles, whom she had mentioned in her letter, and I looked for someone whose last name I could recognize as a relative I had heard about. I found that person. She was Emma L. Hubbs, married to Charles. Further deductions led me to realize that her maiden name was Leavitt, and that she was a maternal aunt to my great-grandmother. I was delighted to identify her, and became fondly interested in her family story. Her husband Charles, I found, by further reading on the internet, was one of the county commissioners who had requested relief from the grasshopper infestation. He was involved in political life, and seemed like a pillar of society. I later found a letter he had written to my great-grandmother describing the importance of patriotism in the Civil War. Charles and Emma had six children, all born between 1865 and 1876.
I traced the family’s migration to Minnesota, and imagined them all living there.
I left the research on the Hubbs family for a long time, years in fact. I returned to it one day, thinking I might learn something new with updated resources on the internet, and having improved my own research skills in the meantime as well. I was in for an unexpected story!
Kind of like Paul Harvey would say…the REST of the story.
It turns out that the marriage between Emma and Charles didn’t last. I suppose I could have seen that if I had really looked through all the years in the census. Of course, as a woman of her times, she listed her marital status as “widowed.”
Little did I know he had remarried, well, several times, and that he had a relatively famous son, a marine biologist and naturalist. Hubbs Hall at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego was named in honor of his achievements, and he had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
By using search engines, I found the biography of Carl Leavitt Hubbs, written by Carl’s son Daniel. The biography clearly identifies Carl as the son of Charles, and gives the date (1843) and place of birth (Pamelia, Four Corners, Jefferson County, New York) of Charles L. Hubbs. Carl is the son of Charles, but not of Emma. The biography tells the reader that Charles married and fathered six children in Minnesota (well, this writer knows that while they did live in Minnesota,  they were born in other States). With his second wife and their son, Charles moved to Arizona. There Carl Leavitt Hubbs was born to Charles Hubbs and Elizabeth (Goss) Hubbs. According to the description in the biography, Carl had travelled towards California ahead of his pregnant wife, and she had to give birth and find her way to shelter in Santa Fe on her own in the desert. They did find each other again in California, and lived in La Jolla, where young Carl was introduced to sea creatures, and became fascinated with them.
Elizabeth divorced Charles in 1907.
He remarried for a third, and a fourth time.
I am sure there is much, much more to the story, and perhaps more interesting details will come to light. I wonder how Emma managed. And how Charles could leave such a large family behind?
Is family history research always this interesting?
Yes, it actually is. From holding a tattered letter to poring over census records, it is a rich and interesting experience. And half the fun is in finding clue after clue to the rest of the story.

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