And Ona Makes Three

Week 34: #52 Ancestors – Chosen Family

By Eilene Lyon

I have not come across many adoptions in my family research. I’ve previously written about Ada Coffey, a relative on one branch of my family, who was adopted by my 2nd great-grandparents, Dick and Lucy Halse, from a different branch.

This story is from the Ransom family files. My 2nd great-uncle, Arthur Lemmon Ransom, relocated to Moscow, Idaho, from Independence, Kansas, while working for the railroad. He married late in life (for the time).

After managing the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. depot in Moscow for a number of years, Arthur decided to do a bit of gold mining and homesteading. He never did patent his homestead, though his sister did complete the requirement to get one nearby.

Undated photo of Arthur L. Ransom (Courtesy of K. Smith)

In the early 1900s, Arthur Ransom opened a pool hall/lunch counter on Main Street, called the “Pastime.” It served as the de facto job services center for the town. Open 24 hours a day, when the building finally sold, no one knew where to find a key for the door.

At the age of 38, in 1907, Arthur married Iva Lenora Brown in Colfax, Washington.1 (Note: many family members from Moscow got married in Colfax, so there must have been some financial or timing reason to go there.) Iva, age 33, was the daughter of Howard Brown and Thryza A. Collins. Her father died shortly after her birth, so the only father she ever knew was her step-father, Henry McGregor.

Apparently Arthur and Iva had no success with having children on their own. So, in September 1918, just as the Spanish flu pandemic took off, they adopted a newborn girl they named Ona Lenore Ransom.

The Moscow newspaper heralded the addition to the family with the following announcement:
“Adoption: Supt. Howland, of the Lewiston Home, left a tiny daughter at the home of A. L. Ransom this week. Mr. Ransom is setting up the treats over the new arrival.2

My research into this “Lewiston Home” has been frustrating. An organization in Lewiston known as the North Idaho Children’s Home, founded by Rev. Samuel B. Chase in 1909, handled most adoptions in the panhandle region at the time. The superintendent in 1918 was Rev. M. A. Covington. He was succeeded in 1931 by Kathryn C. Wolfe.3 No superintendent named Howland.

The Hurlbut Mansion, built in 1906 and purchased by the Children’s Home Finding and Aid Society Of North Idaho in 1911 to serve as the North Idaho Children’s Home in Lewiston, Idaho. Undergoing renovations in 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

I tried finding a home for unwed mothers without success. In Boise, there was one called Booth Home for Unwed Mothers, also known as Booth Memorial Hospital. It may have had ties to a similarly named institution in Oakland, California, run by the Salvation Army. Was there a branch in Lewiston, Idaho, too?

Finally, I looked for anyone named Howland in Nez Perce County in the 1920 census. All I found was an unemployed widow and her daughter. There was a man named Victor Howland in Moscow and his job title was Superintendent – of a building construction company.4 Perhaps he was a board member of the Children’s Home?

Sadly, I have no photos of the little family together. I do not even have a picture of Iva. All we have of Ona are the two images from her childhood: the feature image and this one below. She certainly has the appearance of being a happy, loved child.

Ona L. Ransom playing with a friend, Philip Peterson. (University of Idaho Special Collections)

Around the time Arthur and Iva married, they built a beautiful Craftsman-style home on the corner of 6th and Adams. It still stands across from the county courthouse, now serving as attorneys’ offices. They graciously gave me a tour of it last summer. The interior is more spacious than it appears from the outside. I would say that Arthur’s business earned him a nice living.

My impression of Arthur is that he worked hard to get ahead in the railroad business, then decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. He seems to have been very responsible and level-headed. I’m glad he found a partner in life, and that together they created a family by choosing to adopt a baby girl.

Street view of the A. L. Ransom house in 2019. (E. Lyon)
Side view of the A. L. Ransom house in 2019. (E. Lyon)

 


  1. A L Ransom and Iva L Brown. Washington State Archives; Olympia, Washington; Washington Marriage Records, 1854-2013; Reference Number: eawhmr2693 – via Ancestry.com. 
  2. News abstracts from the collection of the Latah County Historical Society. 
  3. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for the The Children’s Home Finding and Aid Society of North Idaho aka Hurlbut Mansion, pp. 11-12. 
  4. Victor Howland. Year: 1920; Census Place: Moscow, Latah, Idaho; Roll: T625_292; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 125 – via Ancestry.com. 

34 thoughts on “And Ona Makes Three

Add yours

  1. Interesting to realize how few adoptions are in your ancestry. I’ve not thought much about that before. I know of one illegitimate child who was adopted, but no straight out adoptions. And I agree that Ona looks like a happy little girl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some adoptions may come out of the woodwork with the popularity of DNA testing. I’ve been contacted by one adoptee cousin who turned out to be related to BOTH of my dad’s parents. So bizarre.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely a cheerful little soul! One of my cousins is adopted, and I can think of two other families we knew where all the children (5 in total) were adopted. It’s obviously less common now than in the 60s (for babies anyway) because the horrible stigma of “unmarried mother” has gone. My aunt later gave birth to another son whom her mother-in-law described as her first grandchild. She later told this younger boy that his older brother “wasn’t really family”. I was only about 11 at the time, but I can remember being filled with a sense of searing injustice on behalf of my little cousin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a horrible thing for that woman to say. Adults blithely scar children emotionally that way so often. It really sucks. Makes you want to say, “Yeah, he’s the lucky one who didn’t get any of your DNA!”

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  3. Sweet story. I haven’t found many adoptions in my tree, but among living descendants, I’ve found several who were adopted. I’d never have known if they hadn’t told me. And today people are much more open about adoption. So we probably all have more adoptions than we know about on our trees—just no way to know unless a birth certificate recorded it as such.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like this one, because I think Arthur was a stand-out in the Ransom family. So many crazy things happen with that bunch and he’s so normal (at least appears to be). I love these photos of Ona. She got married and had at least two children. I’ve one across one descendant on Ancestry.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ll be glad when I can visit archives again, because the University of Idaho has a lot of records from that Children’s Home, including adoptions for the time period when Ona was given to the Ransoms. Yes, I am relentless!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s good to have at least one history preservationist in the family. I have a couple in my family from past generations. They did very well with the preservation part, the organization part not so much. My mother took that on.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am fortunate she preserved so much. Some of it went to my cousins and some went to various archives. She left one real mystery, but most of it is well labeled. I haven’t even gone through everything. I’m glad you had a preservationist, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. She does look like she had a pleasant childhood. What a sweet photo!
    I don’t know of too many adopted members in my family — though there’s one I know. When I was in my early teens, a cousin of my dad’s came to visit – he was the spitting image of Mark Twain. He had done a huge amount of research on the family, even traveling to Norway, had made up the charts, gave copies to every family member and shared stories he found. After he left, my dad told me the cousin had been adopted. I thought that was so interesting, the adopted member was the one doing all the research!

    I love the story of how they couldn’t find a key for the store! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a great story! I have found that adoptees sometimes are very focused on the family that chose them, rather than the one that gave them up. My mom’s cousin and her husband adopted a bunch of kids when their parents were killed in a crash. I’ve met one of these adoptees and he is very much interested in his adoptive family’s history.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s wonderful that they were in a position to adopt. They do seem like a very stable couple. When I saw that picture of the children sitting in the road playing, I had to think…hmm wouldn’t see that nowadays!

    Liked by 1 person

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