Local History and Genealogy Notes

“Dating” and “Placing” Our Family Photographs

Many of us have old family photographs. Besides wanting to know who everyone is, we also want to know when and where the photos were taken. Often we may think we don’t have a clue as to the date and place, but if we ask ourselves a few questions – and look at the photos with greater scrutiny - we usually find we know much more than we realize.

Take this photograph for instance. It shows a family gathering of my great-great grandparents, Charles and Mary (Burgin) Comstock (1840-1917 and 1840-1901 respectively), their children, sons-in-law, and two grandchildren. Nowhere on this photo is a date written, or a place mentioned. I did have the advantage, though, of knowing who each person was.

“Dating” this photo

Mary (Burgin) Comstock (elderly lady in the wheelchair) died in March 1901. So, the photo was taken before that date. As it is an outdoor photo and appears to be taken in summertime, this couldn’t have been taken any later than September 1900.

The young couple with the baby daughter on the right are the elderly couple’s daughter, Julia (Comstock) Maxwell, her husband William Maxwell, and their daughter, Louise Maxwell (later Hoskins, my grandmother). Louise was born in June 1896. So, the photo was certainly taken between 1896 and no later than about September 1900. As Louise appears to be between two and three years of age, the range of years can be tightened to probably 1898 or 1899.

William Maxwell (on right) appears to have a Black-Eyed Susan on his lapel. This flower grows typically from mid-summer through fall. So, it’s reasonable to suppose that this photo would not have been taken much before June 21 nor much later than September 15. Considering all these factors the date range can probably be tightened to be from about mid-June 1898 or 1899 to about September 1898 or 1899.

Now, take another look at the toddler, Louise. As she was born in June 1896, and we believe this photo to have been taken in the summer or early autumn of either 1898 or 1899, does she look to be about two years old or three years old? For me, although she could be either age, I think it more likely she was three years old. So, my best judgment – in light of all these considerations – is that that this photograph was taken between June and September 1899.

“Placing” this photo

Mary (Burgin) Comstock died in March 1901 in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Mary (Burgin) Comstock, being an invalid, the photo is unlikely to have been taken anywhere but at the Comstock home.

Charles and Mary Comstock resided in Norwalk in the 1890s.

In summary, I think it can be stated with some degree of confidence that this photo was taken between June and September 1899 in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Try taking similar close looks at some of your un-dated and un-placed family photos and I think you may find you “know” more about them than you thought!

Unpublished Letters of Ivan Turgenev

Unpublished Letters of Ivan Turgenev and their insight into history, biography, art, and character.

Many years ago a friend of mine inherited some letters written by the great Russian writer, Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883). She translated them and I helped her with historical background and biographical detail. I will be presenting a program on these letters this Friday, February 8, 2013, at 2:00 PM, for the San Francisco Browning Society, at The Sequoias,1400 Geary Blvd., San Francisco.

On Good Writing - Ivan Turgenev’s Unpublished Letters to a young Princess.

When Madame Olga Dmitrievna Nelidow (née Princess Khilkov) died at Paris in 1918 – widow of the Tsar’s Ambassador to France – she left her son Alexander 16 letters written to her half a century earlier by the great Russian novelist, Ivan Turgenev. In these letters Turgenev (a Khilkov family friend) advised young aspiring author Princess Olga Dmitrievna on methods and principles of good writing.

These letters have remained unknown to scholars and unpublished. They are still in family hands.

Excerpts from the letters will be read and discussed, as well as illustrative passages from Turgenev’s works.



Need Help Solving Genealogical Puzzles?

Need Help Solving Genealogical Puzzles? Join us for our monthly Genealogical Workshops

The Sonoma County Genealogical Society has begun conducting regular Genealogical Workshops (intermediate level) preceding each monthly General Meeting (third Saturdays of the month at the Finley Community Center, 2060 W College Ave . Santa Rosa, CA 95401). These meetings are conducted by me, beginning at 12:00 noon (General Meeting begins at 1:00). Each month I choose an article from a major genealogical journal that explores some typical and perplexing genealogical stumbling blocks many of us have encountered in our own research.

This month’s article – to be discussed February 16 – is Thomas W. Jones’s, “The Three Identities of Charles D. McLain of Muskegon Michigan."

Born in 1848-49, arrived in 1871, and divorced in 1879, Ida’s husband [“Charles D. McLain”] should have been found in the thoroughly indexed, every-name 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 federal censuses. But he was not. Finding him and his origin required comparing his records with those of another woman’s husband and a man with another name.

And you thought your genealogical research bottlenecks were tricky!

For a copy of this article please email me at hoskins@sonoma.lib.ca.us. And, please join us at the Finley Center on February 16!

14 Keller Street - Then and Now

14 Keller Street, Petaluma, CA. Photo taken by Katherine J. Rinehart on February 2, 2013

Mentor Me Petaluma has a new home. They are now located at 14 Keller Street in the Grace Building Annex.

Recently I came across a photo in the Sonoma County Library's collection. The cataloging for the image says 14 Keller Street. Pretty cute little house that obviously occupied the site before the Grace Building Annex.

14 Keller Street, Petaluma, CA circa 1900. SCL Photo No. 13943

I did a little research and found out that the house was rented by Arthur L. Wells in 1910. Others occupying the house were Arthur's wife Marie; their daughter Marie and four boarders: Edward Dole (lawyer), Chester Pressy (electrician), Earl C. Preston (egg candler) and Ronald Bill (egg candler).

Arthur was the manager of the Hill Opera House. Today we know this building as the Phoenix Theatre (subject for another great then and now!).

Petaluma Feed Mill Captures the Eye of Local Artist

On January 17, 2013, Petaluma photographer, Scott Hess, posted a wonderful image of the Hunt & Behrens feed mill located on Lakeville Street on Face Book. Scott explains how the steam is used to soften the corn coming by on a conveyor belt. From there it is flattened into flakes for feed. This mill handles several types of grain including corn, wheat, and barley which are mixed to various specifications.

This is a process that was likely in place in 1921 when Marvin Hunt and Carl N. Behrens first established their mill at the foot of C Street in a warehouse they purchased from Achille Kahn.

Photo courtesy of the Petaluma Museum

By the summer of 1922, the mill not only had the advantage to being situated on the Petaluma River, but with the completion of the P&SR West Petaluma Spur and associated trestle (visible in the picture to the left), they had the advantage of being able to ship by rail and river.

Both men recognized the need for better feeding rations and improved feeding programs and dedicated their operation to two primary goals: customer service and efficiency in production to keep costs low. By keeping to these goals, Hunt & Behrens kept pace with the innovative changes that occurred during the ‘20s and ‘30s and it wasn’t long before they saw the need to expand their operation.

Hunt and Behrens employees. Photo taken 1923. Image donated to the Library by Mildred Baptista Eaton in 1990. Her father, Tony Baptista, is standing at the far left behind a hand cart with a cap on. Not sure why sack of grain has the Golden Eagle name on it. Mr. Baptista worked for Hunt & Behrens from 1921 to 1962

Construction of a new plant on Bridge Street (now Lakeville Street) began in 1940 but because of World War II the completion was delayed until 1947. Due to wartime shortage of available steel the new mill was built using wooden beams and today it is the only one of its kind in California.

It was at the Bridge Street plant that the first bulk delivery of mixed feeds was initiated. During the 1950s, both the storage and milling facilities were doubled in size. By the 1970s, a second mill was constructed. The purpose of the second mill was to allow Hunt & Behrens to conduct all its operations under one roof while maintaining the flexibility of operating the poultry feed division separately from the dairy feed division.

The location on Bridge Street afforded the same transportation advantages as the C Street site, but now instead of the river the company depends on trucks and trains to haul their feeds to customers.

After a 10 year hiatus, the NWP resumed freight rail service in July 2011 and as of December 2011 rail delivery was saving Hunt & Behrens $15-$17 a ton over trucking. To read more about the relationship between agriculture and rail see Cooperative Extension of Marin County's blog posted by director David Lewis at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Grown_in_Marin/Grown_In_Marin_News/GIM_News_Fall_2012/Agriculture_rides_the_rails_again/

Today Hunt & Behrens is not only the oldest, continuously operating feed mill in Sonoma County, but for the past 10 years has been a major supplier of organic feed. Hunt & Behrens contributes greatly to the region's economic well being and is a visual landmark.