Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

Archives, Labels (tags), and other links appear at the bottom of the page.

Content at Before My Time is protected by copyright and may not be copied for publication elsewhere without permission. © T. K. Sand.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Resources for Dating Old Photographs: Photographer Directories

Chicago Photographers 1847-1900 - book online at Internet Archive - lists known photographers and their dates and places of operation

Directory of Early Michigan Photographers  from University of Michigan - lists known photographers and their dates and places of operation (PDF)

Directory of Photographers 1856-1979 Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan - lists known photographers and their dates and places of operation - Grand Rapids only

Directory of Minnesota Photographers from Minnesota Historical Society -  lists known photographers and their dates and places of operation

Wisconsin Photographers Index from Wisconsin Historical Society - lists known photographers and their dates and places of operation (PDF)

How to Identify and Date Real Photo Vintage Postcards - a quick reference guide and extensive postcard-back images with date ranges

The Cabinet Card Gallery - weblog

Laurel Cottage Genealogy - weblog



Rockford, Illinois City Directory 1920

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tennis, anyone?


This photograph from the Alice Wilcox Collection is a tintype measuring 2.5" x 3.5" which has no accompanying paper mat and no identification. Tintypes were popular in the 1860s and 1870s but continued to be used into the 2oth century. I'm not a fashion expert and maybe someone else can do a better job of dating this photo by the clothing these two women are wearing, but I'm thinking it's much later than the 1870s... maybe the 1910s? I would guess the women are about college age.

Most of the people in this collection of photographs seem to be from Illinois or Wisconsin. Reader, if you recognize the people in this picture, please leave a comment or, better yet, use my Contact form to open a private email discussion on the subject.

Friday, November 18, 2016

More Grace?


This unidentified cabinet card is from the Alice Wilcox Collection. Like my previously identified photograph of Grace Pettis, this one was also taken at the Armstrong studio in Rockford, Illinois. Here are the two portraits side-by-side:


The ear contours look a little different, but I suppose that could be due to lighting. Other facial features seem very similar to me. What do you think?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

200-Year-Old Advice Still Good

As a visual aid for understanding the ancestry of George Wales Wilcox, I share the pedigree chart below with the usual caveat: Do your own research! This chart is of the quick and dirty variety, and although there's a lot of supporting documentation available on the Ancestry website, there still may be errors. Nevertheless, it will be a help in discussing today's priceless treasure from the Alice Wilcox Collection.


George Wales Wilcox was Alice Wilcox's grandfather. Among the items she kept was a paper book which belonged to him. It consists of a 24-page text printed in 1813. The soft paper cover measures just over 4.5" x 7.75" as folded, and the binding is hand-sewn with an overcast stitch on the outside. If your screen resolution is 96 ppi, the images below should appear at their full size.

Inside the front cover is an inscription. I believe it would have been written by Eunice May (Mrs. Erastus Wilcox), George's mother. The inscription reads:

Geo, your Grandmother May'
name was Eunice 
Wales her Father was 
one of Ebenezer Wales 
Children by his first 
wife. Your Grandma 
died Jan. 17 was 1847 
she lacked 10 days of being 
88 years old

Eunice Wales was born 27 January 1759 in Connecticut. Her father was Solomon Wales, Ebenezer Wales' fifth child by his first wife, Esther Smith. Solomon was born 19 November 1729 in Windham, Connecticut. On 3 October 1754, he married Lucy Strong. Eunice was the third of their six children.

There is writing on the back of the title page as well. It's very light and difficult to read, but it appears to say:

Esther Wales Book
Eunice May
Her propperty 

The remainder of the book is included below. I must apologize for my failure to notice the thin shred of scrap paper which apparently fell from the book when I began scanning, and which consequently appears on the scan of every page! Fortunately it doesn't ruin the readability of the text, and I am not going to subject the book to another series of scans to remedy this small problem.



Here I will interrupt to offer you a vocabulary word which was new to me, and perhaps to you as well. On page 9, in the middle of the bottom paragraph, Ebenezer wrote, "...for my part, I have reason to lament that I have not set a better example of love myself, but have been too froward, and especially too hurrying about my labour." At first I thought froward was a typographical error, but the word appears at least twice more in the book, so I looked it up. According to my beloved and well-used Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, it means "1: habitually disposed to disobedience and opposition, 2: (archaic) adverse."









Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Some Identified Photos from the Alice Wilcox Collection


As an aid to understanding who's who in Alice Wilcox's family tree, I offer this graphic with the usual caveat: Do your own research! This chart is of the quick & dirty variety, and although there's a lot of supporting documentation available on the Ancestry website, there still may be errors. Nevertheless, I'll use it as a visual aid as I work with items from the Alice Wilcox Collection.

There were two photographs in the Collection which were identified on the back:

Mrs. William Graver
Taken at Green Bay, Wis.
August 1899

They were taken at the Kurz Photography Studio, which was located at 210-212 Cherry Street. 


William Graver was a great-grandfather on Alice's mother's side. He was born 9 May 1842 in Pennsylvania, of German parents, Phillip and Christina Graver. According to the 1900 census of Chicago, he'd been married for 33 years. That would mean he was married about 1867. His wife, in the photos above, was Christina Penman, who is thought to have been born 11 March 1848 in Scotland.  This information doesn't agree with the birth date recorded in the 1900 census, which was clearly based on an arithmetic error. According to this census, Christina had given birth to nine children, but only seven were still living.

Of those children, it appears only two were girls. One of them was Alice Wilcox's maternal grandmother, Alice Penman Graver, born 7 April 1868 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. The other was Elizabeth Margaret Graver, born 4 July 1874. Because Elizabeth was the only sister of Alice, I am inclined to believe it was she who wrote this on the back of the photo below, also taken by Kurz:

With love to sister Alice and "A Happy New Year" Jan 1, 1904


Elizabeth Graver was married 21 June 1898 to Edwin Martin Krippner. They had four children. The first two, both born in Brown County, Wisconsin, were Philip Graver Krippner, born 11 November 1899, and Dorothy L. Krippner, born 9 February 1901. The photograph below (Kurz again) is identified this way on the back:

For Grandpa Graver from Philip and Dorothy Krippner
wishing him "A Merry Christmas" — December 25 — 1903


Reader, if you are a descendant of William Graver and Christina Penman, you might be able to help me identify some of the other photographs in this collection. Please contact me via the Contact form at the top of this page.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Not My Ancestors! But Maybe Yours?

The following two photos are from the Alice Wilcox Collection (AWC). They belonged to Elma Graver Williams, who was born 13 April 1889 in Illinois. Elma married Howard Pettis Wilcox on 13 November 1920, and their daughter Alice Wilcox was born 7 September 1921 in Rockford, Illinois.

Elma would have been 11 years old when she received the first photo, and 12 when the second photo was taken.

These photos were scanned at 400 dpi, which is a high enough resolution to allow them to be printed a bit larger than the originals. To download a photo, right-click on it and select "Save Image As" from the drop-down menu. Navigate to the folder where you'd like to store the photo, then click Save.

This first photograph was taken at Rowley Studio, De Kalb, Illinois. The original photo is approximately 3" x 4" including the mounting card. It is identified on the back: Stella M. Jordan to Elma, Apr. 1900. In the 1900 census of De Kalb, there is a Stella M. Jordan residing as a lodger with the Benjamin Knoodle family. She was said to be born in June 1877 in Illinois. She was a 22-year-old student at the time. Ancestry doesn't seem to recognize and suggest any other documentation for her.


The second photograph was taken at Appleby's Studio, West Chicago, Illinois. It is identified in pencil on the back: Mabel P. Fairbank, June 1901. In 1900, both the Fairbank family and the Williams family were enumerated in Winfield Township, DuPage County, Illinois. Mabel was born 22 November 1884, according to information posted at Ancestry. The overall dimensions of this photo are about 4" x 8.25".


Monday, November 14, 2016

George Wales Wilcox: A Photo and a Question

A snapshot from the Alice Wilcox Collection is identified as Mr. and Mrs. Rake, Mr. and Mrs. Wilcox, and Miss F. Smith in Rialto, California, dated 20 October 1915. George Wales Wilcox, in the middle, died January 18, 1916, only three months after this photograph was taken.

Alice saved the newspaper clipping of his obituary. It's not dated or sourced, but doubtless appeared in the Rockford Morning Star on January 19, 1916.
Alice also kept the paper below, which appears to be the minister's text for George's funeral.


I found a transcript of George's last will and testament online:


There was an unidentified portrait in the Alice Wilcox Collection. (Well, there are a lot of unidentified photos in the AWC, but we're only going to look at one right now!) The actual image measures 3.75" x 5.25" and is mounted on a backing card almost 7" x 11". The card is stamped with the name of the photographer, Gibson Sykes Fowler of Chicago. The earliest reference that I could find to this photographer was 1906. According to George's obituary, he'd been living in California for four years, so I would date the photo below to sometime between 1906 and 1911. Comparing it with the identified snapshot at the top of this post, and because it seems possible to me that Alice would have had a portrait of her grandfather, I was inclined at first to identify this portrait as George Wales Wilcox. But on second thought, George would have been 72 in 1906, and even if the photographer was a master at touch-ups, I don't think this man appears to be 72 years old.

Gibson Sykes Fowler is said to have been still in business in the 1920s. If this photo was taken that late, it could be Howard Pettis Wilcox, George's son, who was born in 1877. Howard's WWI draft registration indicates that he had brown hair and blue eyes, but there is no identified photo of him to compare this one with, and I haven't found any evidence so far that Howard ever lived in Chicago. So it's possible this man is from Alice's mother's side of the family, perhaps a Williamson or a Williams. Any assistance from someone who recognizes this handsome man would be most appreciated. Please use my Contact form to open up a discussion with me.



Friday, November 11, 2016

Angeline Tryphena Pettis, Civil War Nurse


The pièce de résistance from the Alice Wilcox Collection is this mounted photograph of Civil War nurses.  In pencil on the back is this caption:
"Taken during small pox epidemic in Civil War about 1865 in Nashville Tenn. hospital"

It's not known who made the notation, nor when it was made. On the front, another pencil notation indicates that the woman standing in the center was Angeline Tryphena Pettis Wilcox. Angeline was the daughter of Micajah Pettit Pettis and Tryphena Sedgwick, my third-great grandparents, and thus a sister of my great-great-grandfather, Darius J. Pettis. I'd never seen a picture of her before, so it was very exciting to receive this great gift.

But wait, there's more! As if that weren't enough! It appears Angie attended annual conventions of Army Nurses of the Civil War, saving as souvenirs these ribbons which date from the 48th National Encampment in Detroit, Michigan from August 31 to September 5, 1914 through the 57th Encampment dated September 2, 1923. Although she may have attended earlier events, the one in 1923 was her last, as she died January 15, 1924.


The following two newspaper clippings are also part of the Alice Wilcox Collection. They are unsourced but would have appeared soon after Angie's death, possibly in the Rockford Morning Star.


I've posted previously about Angie's Civil War Nurse's Pension. She applied in 1892 and the pension was granted. However, she seems to have been a bit disgruntled in 1917 after Widow's Pensions got a cost-of-living increase while Nurse's Pensions did not. The following letter is also part of the Alice Wilcox Collection. I gather it is either a first draft or a handwritten copy of a letter to the editor of a newspaper, possibly the Rockford Morning Star. Whether the letter was ever sent and/or printed in the newspaper, I do not know. I looked for it at Newspapers.com, but the Rockford, Illinois, newspapers are not in their collection. I wonder whether the public library in Rockford would have access to their local Rockford newspaper archives? In any case, page images of the letter will follow this transcription:
Rockford, Ill. Nov. 16, 1917
Dear Editor,
As your columns have always been open to anything that was loyal to our country & the "Old Flag, I venture this note, to be published in your worthy paper
Having given fifteen months of my time (from Apr, 1864, to close of Civil War) as Nurse to sick & wounded. The appealing call coming from Nashville thru Chicago that scores were dying daily, from that loathsome disease, Small Pox, not knowing how to handle it, as at present. I left my post of support, which was the School room & volunteered my services, as several of my pupils, were already in 74th Ill. Reg't.
     When that Hosp. was closed, I with others was tranferred to City Point Va. from there, up the James river to Point of Rocks Hosp. to receive wounded from Petersburg
I stayed till close of War, reaching Chicago about June 1st 65. For this service I was financially rewarded in 1892, $12 per Mo, by the Passage of the Nurse's Pension Bill; Since then there being no addition; have often been asked if my Pension wasn't raised as Widow's
2) On looking over yours of Oct. 18th read "Important to Widows". I scanned it carefully, till at the close, it adds "this does not include "Army Nurses".
"Out again I said to my Friends--Am an Army Nurse & a Widow, but was not Married till close of war, & my Husband not a Soldier - alho' his Father's family gave two Sons to the Service, & My Father's family also two Sons, besides myself, their only daughter; but I came back alive, and am sending you this, to know if you don't think it would be more honor to our government, to get the Nurse's Pension Bill Amended, & passed, equal to what a Widow gets, who never caught the odors from a Pest Hosp. or heard the thunderings of our Artillery on various occasions, & knew its effects by having its wounded br'ot to our Hosp. for care - I know there are Nurse's getting Widow's Pensions; they could, honestly, if a soldier's wife when they went into service, or Married one when they came out - Am a Member of Nat'l Nurse's Association so there must discrepancy, in the Amendments
3) If they had been included in the Oct. 6th gov. would not have been robbed as no one gets two Pensions. This is not Charity I'm asking, it's dues, for past services. My name is on Pension roll, as A. Tryphena (Pettis now Wilcox, for several yrs. have ordered the Pettis dropped, too much work at Pension Office -
    If you see fit to add your influence to this regard for Pension equal to Widow's, myself, & I know of another, at least, probably some more, would appreciate it very much. I am glad the Widow's get theirs. We are expecting our Congressman Fuller, will lend his help. My Age is 81 yrs. lacking 2. wks. (over)
Address. A. Tryphena Wilcox
1235 S. Main St.
Rockford, Ill.


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Another Diploma from the Alice Wilcox Collection

Apparently, overlarge diplomas were a thing a hundred years ago. I have my grandfather's high school diploma which measures 17" x 22". It had been rolled up for ... well, decades, eh? In contrast, Alice Wilcox's 1940 high school diploma was about the size of a sheet of typing paper, and was folded in half.

It was difficult to unroll my grandpa's diploma, but at some point I managed to do so without destroying it, and I attempted to flatten it out by storing it under a heavy load of books. After awhile, I put it into a large Itoya Art Profolio Presentation Book/Portfolio, which is a great solution for storing oversized documents, newspaper pages, artworks, and such. I've stored the portfolio flat under a metal shelving unit in my den for years. Still, when I open the cover, the pocket page holding the diploma tries to curl up a bit.

But let us not belabor that point now. Today we are here to discuss my second rolled-up 17" x 22" diploma. Now, there's something I never expected to say. The new one is the 1918 nursing school diploma of Elma Graver Williams, Alice Wilcox's mother.

The first thing I did when I received it was to begin the process of unrolling it. I didn't try to flatten it all the way out immediately, for fear of cracking the paper. I just did my best to loosen up the roll a bit, and I let it rest that way for a day or two. When I was able to get it to lay more or less flat between two foam-core boards, I left it to relax for another day or two with just enough weight on the boards to keep the diploma from popping itself back into a roll.

I can't tell you the diploma is ready to lay flat, but at least I was able, with great care, to get it onto my 11" x 17" scanner bed--first the left side, then the right side, and then put the two scans together, cropped off the large margins, and reduced the size for your viewing pleasure.


You'll notice that the calligrapher misspelled Elma's middle name, which really is Graver, not Grover. I do have the Paint Shop Pro skills to fix that error and, reader, it took considerable reining in of my OCD not to become a revisionist historian!

This diploma now has its own pocket page in the portfolio with my grandpa's. Both still wish to curl up. Don't hesitate to leave a comment if you've been successful with a safe method of resolving this problem.


Monday, November 07, 2016

Sunday, November 06, 2016

A Rowing Excursion

From the Alice Wilcox Collection comes these two small mounted pictures measuring a bit under 3.75" across and 4.75" high including the borders:


Comparing with a known photo of Grace Pettis, the photo above on the left is also surely Grace.


I haven't identified the other woman yet, but here is a closer view of both pictures.


The Two Portraits from Koehne Bush Temple Studio in Chicago

Yesterday I shared a portrait of Anna Grace Pettis. It was in a photo folder which identified it as having been taken at the Koehne Bush Temple Studio at 800 N. Clark Street, Chicago. There was another folder, identical, in the Alice Wilcox Collection, but there was no photograph in it.

This morning I sorted all the photographs into categories: men, women, children, groups, places, and (the most exciting category) photos with identification written on them. And into to this last category, I was able to place some unidentified photos which appear to be identifiable by comparison.

And once again, there was no mistaking Rufus James Haight when I came upon his portrait. It's the one missing from the Koehne Bush Temple folder, surely taken at the same time the portrait of Grace was taken.

Grace and Rufus were married on 16 June 1921, when Grace was almost 59 years old. To my knowledge, it was her first marriage. Rufus was a publisher and a widower, his first wife, May Fox, having died in 1919. It seems likely to me that these portraits of Rufus and Grace would have been taken around the time of their wedding.


At Find-A-Grave,  burial records for Rufus and both of his wives indicate that all three were buried in the Fox-Haight plot at Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan. The death notice below was found at Ancestry.com.



Saturday, November 05, 2016

With a little help from my grandparents' photo collection . . .

This morning I was able to identify two photographs from the box of family history treasures I received yesterday. The first was a snapshot which measures 4.5" x 2.75" including the white border. Unlike most of the photos in the box, this one had writing on the back: "Taken at Dells, by some girls who just sent us the film to have some printed. Our glasses make our eyes look queer."

I scanned it at 720 dpi so I'd be able to enlarge it. Fortunately it was quite a clear image and enlarged well:


I wouldn't have guessed who the woman was, but I recognized the man right away. He is Rufus James Haight, who was born about 1857 in Louisiana, and died 18 February 1940 in Chicago. On 16 June 1921, he became the husband of Anna Grace Pettis, daughter of Irving Sedgwick Pettis and Martha Ophelia Treat. Grace was born 9 August 1862 in New York, and died 27 March 1949.

As I mentioned yesterday, the box contained only one photograph I recognized, a portrait of Grace Pettis as a young woman. In my original post about Grace's portrait, I also shared a snapshot which had been identified as "Rufus and Grace." The woman in that portrait was elderly and in profile, so I couldn't be sure it was Grace Pettis. It was much later that I found the record of her marriage to Rufus, which confirmed the identities in that snapshot. And if you've looked at that one, reader, you will recognize Rufus in this one, as he's quite unmistakable. As a result, I am also very sure that it's Grace with him in the snapshot above.

In its tiny paper form, it's nearly impossible to see that they're wearing glasses, but with the comment and the enlargement, there they are. And suddenly, seeing that, I realized there was another photo in the box, a 4" x 6" portrait of a beautiful woman who was also wearing glasses. It was one of my favorite photographs in the box and I'd been terribly disappointed to find it unidentified.

Quickly I went through the box again to find and compare it with the snapshot above. I'm so happy to see that it is Anna Grace Pettis.


Friday, November 04, 2016

And in yesterday's news . . .

A box was found.

If you're a family historian, you know what I want to say next, right? Of course you do, and I'm gonna say it... 'twas a box full of family history!

The box was found by a total stranger (let's call her Susan L.), who was unknown to me before, but is now my new best friend! It was found in an attic (where else?) and rescued from total annihilation only seconds before the wrecking ball hit. Well, maybe minutes. Or a few days. Does it matter? The drama is equally nerve-wracking either way. Then it was set aside somewhere for awhile, left to gather a little more dust and, well, let's face it, I'm working on building some suspense here.

When it came into Susan's hands, she examined the contents and, finding them thrilling beyond all imagination, she set out to find a family member who might want them. She studied the contents for names, places, relationships--any clue that might help her find a person to whom the box would be meaningful.

Having no luck locally, she and a friend turned to the internet. Genealogy bloggers, you know what happened next. Before My Time came up in a surname search, and in July Susan used the Kontactr form, up there in the little menu below the header, to send me an email about the box. Amazingly enough, I did not find it until late October! Why? Because gmail sorts itself into folders labelled Primary, Social, Promotions, and Updates. I check my Primary folder more than daily, of course, but sometimes fail to pay much attention to the others, which is how I missed Susan's offer of the box. Gmail had sorted it to one of the other folders.

By dumb luck, I had an idle moment a couple weeks ago and decided to go through some folders and delete a few of the 7,847 emails glutting my Inbox. (Yes, that is an exact, up-to-the-minute count.) I was on a tear, deleting one email after another, maybe as many as fifteen or twenty (wow!), when I noticed the one from Susan. Who is Susan?, I wondered, and considered the possibility that the email was a sales pitch or a virus waiting to be launched by a careless click. I was on the verge of deleting it when I noticed it had been sent via Kontactr.

Okay, so I knew it was safe to open it, but in a million years I would not have guessed what would happen next. She told me she had just written me a long email but it had somehow disappeared before she could send it. Don't you hate when that happens! So she told me her news in a nutshell--a box with pictures, letters, art journals and more. She thought they belonged to someone in my family. She wanted to hear from me.

I was stunned! Three months had gone by since she'd sent that email. Anything could have happened in such a length of time, but most of all, I was afraid she might have given up checking that email address to see if I'd written back. Well, next there was an exchange of emails, a phone call, and soon a fabulous box being delivered to my door.

It arrived about 2:30 yesterday, about 45 minutes sooner than I'd expected, but I was already standing by with a boxcutter. I admit, I might have been pacing a little bit, the anticipation being too much to allow for the accomplishment of anything other than waiting.

Once it was in the door, plopped onto the nearest chair, and carefully cut open, I did not sit down for the next two hours. I'm pretty sure I didn't blink or even breathe--just picked up one item after another until, finally, I had touched every amazing thing in the box at least once.

Susan had hoped I might be able to identify those heartbreakers--the unidentified photos--but they are from a branch of the family I'd had no photos of... except one. In the box there was a photo of Grace Pettis, the same photo I have from my grandmother's collection. It was kind of exciting to find Grace in the box. Maybe it was a little reassuring, in a way.

Several people from the box were already in my genealogy database, and I spent today extending their families in every direction, so I'll have as much information as possible when I try to figure out the photos.

Besides the photos, there are diplomas, two art journals, letters, an extremely delicate 24-page book printed in 1813 with a hand-sewn binding, several legal documents including a will, tintypes, and more. I'll be sharing selected items here at Before My Time, and have picked out a really nice one to start with. Click here for an original Certificate of Marriage signed by my third-great-grandfather, Ezekiel T. Efner.


Wilcox - Pettis Certificate of Marriage


My third-great-grandfather, Ezekiel Taylor Efner (1801-1868), officiated at the marriage of George Wales Wilcox and Angie T. (Tryphena Angeline) Pettis on 6 July 1865 in Lyndon, Wisconsin. Also present were Ezekiel's second wife, the former Eliza Ann Davis; Ezekiel's daughter Kate, who was the wife of Angie's brother Darius J. Pettis; and Mary A. Pettis, Angie's half-sister who married Henry Harrison Miller in 1871.

The certificate was handed down to Alice Wilcox, granddaughter of George and Angie Wilcox.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

"Green Forest" by Nathalie Sedgwick Colby

For awhile now, my bookshelf has been host to a 1927 novel titled Green Forest by Nathalie Sedgwick Colby, my fourth cousin, four times removed. I had thought I would read it sometime, when I... well, you know, when I got around to it. It's not like I have nothing to do, you know.

So the other day I decided to look up a review of the book, see what I was in for, see if I could motivate myself, or maybe just see if I could put off reading a novel by looking up reviews on the interwebs. (I do have some finely honed avoidance techniques I can fall back on when I feel the urge to do something that requires a commitment of several hours!)

Really, what does it take to get me to read a whole novel, anyhow? Mystery? Romance? Conflict? Betrayal? International Intrigue? Scandal? Pretty much the same stuff that motivates an old genealogist to keep digging in the family history? Yes, I think so, any of the above might push me toward the couch with my reading glasses, a beverage, and a book, if I thought I'd find it between the covers.

I searched for "Green Forest" at Newspapers.com, where I came upon a full-page story in the Sunday Magazine section of The St. Louis Post Dispatch dated 15 December 1929 (the stock market had crashed only six weeks before!). It was by a "Special Correspondent" who remained unnamed--hmm, already a wee mystery, eh?--who wrote that "The Green Forest" (which, dear reader, is not the name of the book--there is no The in the title) was an ironic novel of political life. Now, you may have noticed, in my list of book lures, that politics was not mentioned. And, had that been the sum total of the Special Correspondent's article, I might have left the book on the shelf and gone to the couch with a pillow instead.

But, you will recall, this article was a full page. And as the Special Correspondent went on, pretty much all of those other items on my book lure list turned up--oddly enough, not in the form of book content, but in the form of the real life story surrounding the writing, publishing, and selling of the novel.

Politics, I suppose we could say, comes into it with the author's husband. You can read about Bainbridge Colby in Wikipedia, worth doing not only because he was an interesting character and the article is not overlong or in any way boring, but also because there's a picture and he was quite a handsome devil. I mean man.

As for the list, well, it's a Mystery as to why the Colby Romance and 30-year marriage turned to Conflict with accusations of Betrayal resulting in International Intrigue and Scandal!

Then there is Bribery. No, dear reader, Bribery was not in my list of book lures, but hey, let us not look a gift lure in the hook, shall we? Fifteen large a month in 1920 US dollars would have been a hefty sum. But maybe we should just call it hush money, and for that much hush money, you'd think there would have been a lot of hushin' goin' on. But apparently not!

According to the unnamed Special Correspondent, here's what happened. Nathalie had an article published in the May 1924 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, of which, coincidentally or not, the editor was Nathalie's cousin, Ellery Sedgwick. The article was titled, "Marriage," from which this paragraph was quoted in The Post Dispatch:

"A woman's greatest danger is marriage with an egoist. He is fatal in a home and the credit for his rapid disappearance is due to the modern woman. he must have invented the term 'wife,' deriving it from the verb 'vibrare,' to tremble. A woman's best quality is her ability to respond to demand. That is why it is so important for her to avoid an egoist, for an egoist is a smotherer. He has the heavy hand of possession and he is always molding his wife to some preconceived idea. His self-consciousness about her is abnormal; he cannot bear to see so intimate a part of himself outside his own jurisdiction."

Reader, this is where the hush money comes in. Bainbridge took "Marriage" personally, for whatever reason, and he separated from his writer-wife, and he signed an agreement whereby he would pay her $1500 a month not to write about him.

And then, in January 1927, out came Green Forest, and Bainbridge felt that one of the characters in the book was "a malicious burlesque of himself," according to the Special Correspondent. He soon went to France, where he stayed long enough to establish legal residence, and then filed for divorce, which he thought would be easy based upon the reputation of the French courts, plus he had the former president of France for his attorney.

Although there was no mention of Bainbridge himself in the novel, nor any particular unsubtle hint that the disagreeable character was based on him, Bainbridge asserted in court that it was so, and it looked like his divorce would be granted with no problem... until...

...another divorce case came up around the same time, that of a famous musical comedy star. Her case got some attention, and she publicly stated, "Paris is the easiest place in the world to get a divorce, better than Reno."

This dubious endorsement of the French judiciary didn't go over well, and to put the lie to that statement, Bainbridge's uncontested divorce was denied. He was pretty bent out of shape about that, but even moreso when he got back to the USA, where he was sued by Nathalie for $16,500 in back payments owed on the separation agreement. And then in the end, Nathalie went to Reno, where she was granted a divorce.

So, yeah, really, how could I not pick up the book and read it, huh?

My Little Book Report

First of all, I would not call Green Forest "a novel of political life in Washington, whose chief male-character is a politician and statesman," as The Post Dispatch's Special Correspondent did. In my reading of the book, I did not feel that Mr. Atwater, the character said to be based on Bainbridge Colby, was "the chief male-character." I would have called him a peripheral character. A disagreeable one, yes, but not chief.

The chief female character was Shirley, a widow who was traveling aboard a ship with her daughter. The story takes place either on the ship or in the mind of the main characters. It was written largely from Shirley's perspective. One reviewer called it stream-of-consciousness, which I think was a good description. It took me a little while at the beginning to get the hang of floating down the stream, so to speak, but I caught on soon enough and went with the flow. The stream was not always Shirley's though. The reader is treated to the thoughts of some other passengers who figure prominently in the story also. I don't recall floating down Mr. Atwater's stream at all.

I didn't watch the clock, but I would estimate it took eight hours or less to read the book.

My dog, when she finally settled down and permitted me to begin reading, fell asleep against my leg. When I got to page 6 and needed to look up a reference to something I didn't understand, she would have been awakened if I had gotten up. That would have started the battle for peace and quiet all over again, so instead I used colorful little post-it tabs to mark the item on page 6 and all subsequent items that I needed to look up. By the time I finished the book, it looked like this:


When you are reading a novel almost a hundred years old, it seems you have to look up more than a few random vocabulary words, eh? There were a number of cultural references that were lost on me, due either to time or insufficient worldliness. I could have used a glossary. And since I was going to look up all the stuff marked by those sticky tabs anyway, I decided to go ahead and make the glossary I could have used. I hope you'll click here for An Enrichment Glossary for Green Forest, because it took considerably longer to make than it took to read the book, and even if you never read the book, you'll learn some new words, read a poem, see some art, hear some music, and watch a movie, much of which you might never happen upon any other way. And if you do read the book, you'll see why "Good-bye Summer" was the song Mrs. Piggott sang best.

Here are a few short quotes I liked:

"No, that resolve is flat, Shirley thought, watching Mrs. Piggott bite an olive, handing the half (a grocery tryst) to Mr. Atwater." A grocery tryst! Such a hot little turn of phrase!

"David had said once that most oratory derived its impetus by turning greed into altruism." I find this an interesting comment in this political year.

"...technique after all was a factory, for even with painters a woman went in a woman, and came out a Gainsborough, leaving her personality behind her, and there must be cow ghosts surveying themselves slipping out of slot factories, little sausages, wondering--"  Oh, my goodness... cows in Shirley's stream... who saw that coming?

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Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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