Local History and Genealogy Notes

March is National Women's History Month

Last night I attended a presentation at the Petaluma Arts Center given by author and retired city planner, Inge Schaeffer Horton. Inge spoke about her book Early Women Architects of the San Francisco Bay Area: The Lives and Work of Fifty Professionals, 1890-1951.

If the Arts Center had charged admission I would have said it was a sell out crowd. I suspect there were close to 70 people packed into the small classroom located adjacent to the exhibit space – a space currently occupied by an amazing textile show featuring the work of four women weavers.

Inge’s presentation was a great way in which to acknowledge that March is National Women’s History Month.

For my part I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a story I wrote about two World War I Red Cross nurses for the Petaluma Argus Courier back in May of 2007.

While 16 million lives were lost during World War I, it was the influenza epidemic of 1918 that killed an estimated 50 million people. Two of its victims were the Lundholm sisters, Viola and Ruth, who were born and raised in Petaluma.

The Lundholms were a large family that lived in a quintessential farmhouse that still stands at 200 West Street and was recently purchased by Jim Soules who plans to rehabilitate it with help from Chris Lynch and Mary Dooley of MAD Architecture.


The Lundholms family consisted of parents Caroline and Andrew Lundholm, both Swedish immigrants. Andrew was a cobbler, who along with his wife, raised not only Viola and Ruth, but son Charles and daughters Esther, Julia, Lydia, Mabel and Florence.

Viola and Ruth attended Petaluma High School and following graduation worked as clerks  - Viola at Walter Towne Drugs and Ruth at a candy store on Kentucky Street - before deciding to attend nursing school at Merritt Hospital in Oakland. Their married sister Lydia was living in Oakland at the time. Once Viola and Ruth obtained  their degrees, both signed up with the Red Cross.


Ruth Lundholm was stationed at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco and Viola was sent to Camp Cody in New Mexico. After a few months, the sisters reunited in New York where they remained for three weeks before sailing for England. They arrived at Portsmouth on September 14, 1918, and within a month’s time both were dead.

It is thought that Ruth contracted influenza during the sea crossing at which time both women were attending to infected soldiers. While nursing her sister, Viola fell ill and died on October 11, 1918 at the age of 22. Twenty-five year old year old Ruth had a relapse and died a week later. The sisters were temporarily buried in the Magdalan Hill Cemetery in Winchester, England.

On August 23, 1920, the bodies of Viola and Ruth arrived in Petaluma by train. The two caskets were draped in the American flag and placed side by side at the funeral parlor where they lied in state. According to a Petaluma Argus article dated August 9, 1920, the bodies of the two nurses were the first of the dead to arrive in Petaluma from overseas.

The funeral was attended by hundreds, including nurses who had trained with the sisters. Flags were lowered at half mast throughout the city and business was suspended during the hours of the funeral, which was conducted at the Baptist Church on Kentucky Street. The local papers reported that long before the funeral services had begun, the church was filled and the streets adjacent were crowded with vehicles. Hundreds of people were unable to secure admission and no building in the city could have sheltered all who sought to pay a last tribute to the dead.

The names of Viola and Ruth Lundholm are included on the World War I Memorial at Penry Park.






“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!).