Finding Family Treasure

Week 2: #52Ancestors – Photo

By Eilene Lyon

Sterling Price Davis (1867 – 1933) and Clara Ransom Davis (1877 – 1953) – wedding portrait (1905; Collection of the Latah County Historical Society)

Historical Societies and Libraries

Though I’ve been engaged in the genealogy hobby – okay, obsession – for a couple decades now, it was only in 2012 that I finally was able to begin what I call my “Dead Ancestor Tours.”  These are two-to-three-week road trips all around the U.S.  These tours have produced what I consider the most valuable resources: photographs, documents, and especially, friendships with “new” relatives who have priceless stories to share.

Historical societies and local libraries are great places to look for unique finds that can’t be had online.  In 2013, I visited the Latah County Historical Society and University of Idaho library in Moscow, Idaho.  My great-grandmother had donated many papers and some of her watercolor paintings to the historical society, and many more photographs to the university library.  I had never before seen images of her as a girl and young woman.  This photo from the time of her wedding to Sterling Price Davis is a real treasure to me.

Clara Pearl Ransom was born in Indiana, moved to Kansas as a young girl, where her father died suddenly in 1883.  Her older brother went to work as a telegrapher for the railroad in Moscow, so Clara’s mother took her to Idaho, where she lived the rest of her life.  She began teaching school while she was still in high school herself.  When she graduated from the University of Idaho in 1898, she obtained the position of Superintendent of Schools for the entire county.  In 1904, she earned a homestead in the Orofino area.  You can read more (and see many more photos) about this remarkable woman in my article in the 2016 Latah Legacy.


Stitch15DATScans2 111-15DATScans2 112

Richard Halse (1847 – 1929) and wife Meltha Lucinda Painter (1845 – 1928) on the left, with Richard’s sister, Elizabeth Halse (1858 – 1922) and her husband Will Casterton (1853 – 1944) on the right. (Courtesy of Wayne Halse)

Family Archives

Visiting distant relatives is another way to dig up old family photos.  I had never seen any image of my Halse great-great-grandparents.  In 2015, I went to Watertown, South Dakota, where I met with some of my dad’s cousins and his aunt.  This photograph sent me over the moon!  What a great find.  Over the past five years, I have accumulated hundreds, if not a thousand or more, old family photos, hidden away in albums all over the country.  It will take me forever to catalog them, I think, but I sure do love having them.  And, as I scan and label them, I can share them online and print them in my family newsletters.



Mary Frances (Stephens) Gee (1881 – 1905)

Other collections

This photo is one that I found among my husband’s albums, in a decorative brass frame.  He had no idea who this striking young woman could be.  I started out by creating a family tree for him in Ancestry.  Then I enlisted the help of someone knowledgeable about period hair and clothing styles to get an approximate date on the photograph.  Only one woman fit: his great-grandmother, Mary Frances (Stephens) Gee.  Mary had a daughter, Cleo M. Gee, born in 1902 (my husband’s grandmother).  In 1905, Mary Frances was pregnant with twins and all three perished during the childbirth.  Cleo also had a single child, also a daughter – Frances Mary Struss.  When I compared photos of all three women, the resemblance was obvious.

On the Road

I can’t stress enough – if you have the time and means, get away from the computer and get in your car.  Travel the back roads, visit the small towns, find those hidden gems, and get to know your “long lost” relatives.

5 thoughts on “Finding Family Treasure

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  1. I’m so thankful that when my mother was alive, we visited places together that she and her mother had told stories about–just day trips, but now they are precious. I didn’t think to take a camera with us, but did take notes. I got to see the “Chittick house” in Stuart, Iowa, were my mother began to have so many memories–as a 4-year-old! The next time we stopped, the house was gone. Now a new house sits there. We even tried to follow the RR grade of the old Liza Jane train through Guthrie County–riding that old train was one of her earliest memories. lump in throat

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