California and a New Life

Minnie and Charles Halderman

Minnie and Charles Halderman

Emma Mary Halderman, was nineteen years old, unmarried, and pregnant. Charles and Minnie understood what an out-of-wedlock birth meant for their daughter and her child. Shocked by Emma’s news, Charles and Minnie may have denied it could be possible. They may have been angry with Emma but would turn their anger upon themselves for what they perceived as their failure as parents. Confronting the fact of the child’s birth demanded action. And action would alter the course of the family’s life.

The months leading up to the child’s birth gave Charles and Minnie time to consider its effect. Their conversations at night in the privacy of their bedroom may have focused on what best suited Emma’s and the family’s welfare.

Charles may have admitted he did not know what to do. Minnie may have insisted they could not stay in Bisbee, that they needed to go somewhere else to begin a new life. A business owner, Charles would have objected, saying he could not just up and leave. At 48, it would be difficult to start over again. As a mother, Minnie may have felt obligated to do everything in her power to protect her daughter. Maybe she urged seeking help from family or friends living far from Bisbee.

A long standing custom, recording a child’s birth in a family Bible is often recognized by governments in establishing citizenship. Recording Drusilla’s birth as their child in the Halderman family Bible set Charles and Minnie’s plan in motion. The Bible record gave Drusilla legitimacy. It protected Emma from the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock. With no other birth record, the child’s birth father did not exist.

Within weeks of Drusilla’s birth, the Haldermans prepared to move from Bisbee to Tulare County, California. To finance the move, the family may have sold its belongings, including the truck that was the source of Charles’ livelihood. Or, hoping to begin a new business venture, they may have packed the truck with all they owned and drove it to California.

The seven hundred fifty miles between Bisbee, Arizona and Tulare, California gave the Haldermans time and distance to fill out this new chapter in the family narrative, a narrative invented to shield an unwed daughter with a child as well as to protect the family from social stigma and embarrassment. In the new narrative Drusilla would grow up with Minnie as her mother, Charles her father, Fred, Ben, and Clarence her brothers, and Emma, her big sister. Emma would be free to entertain the attentions of the young men who pursued her.

My Photo Scanning Project

Boxes of loose photo prints, cds loaded with digital images, and crates of framed and unframed portraits cover the top of a table in my studio. Beneath the table are stacks of photo albums and small boxes containing several hundred slides. My mother’s albums and scrapbooks are stacked on the floor at the left end of the table.

I call this chaos “my photo scanning project.” It’s a “project” because my goal is to impose order on the chaos. The table sits against a wall that is at my back when I am at my desk. Dog-like, the project nips at my heels, an ever present, constant, and nagging reminder of its need for attention. Progress is slow, the work tedious and time consuming.

The prints, slides, and digital images represent several lifetimes. In addition to my own photographs, I inherited my mother’s photographs. I have photographic images spanning six generations of my family’s history. Many of the photos I want to keep. I don’t want albums in various states of dilapidation. And, I do not want boxes of loose prints.

The images I shoot with my digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera are uploaded to my computer where they are stored and organized in an Adobe Lightroom catalog. I keep the catalog up to date and the images accessible by organizing them into collections and assigning keywords. I recently began geocoding images, a process that is simplified with an application on my iPhone.

My goal is to make family photos easily accessible by uploading scanned images to a Lightroom catalog where they are organized into collections with keywords. I pass on the original prints to family members who want them. My niece is especially interested in collecting old family photos, so I offer her the oldest prints.

Organizing a group of prints for her, it occurred to me they are worthless without knowing who is in the photo, where, and when it was taken. I created a table in a Word document to accompany the prints. Using Photoshop, I made thumbnails of the photos and copied the thumbnails into the table. I added the image file name, the names of people in the photo, the place the photo was taken, and the date.

As my photo scanning project proceeds, new ideas about how better to organize the catalog occur to me. When completed, the project will provide a well-organized and informative family history resource.

From chaos, order.

Remembering My First Home

My first home was an apartment over the garage of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Across the street was the bakery where my dad worked. I remember nothing about the apartment; but, I have two vivid memories of the neighborhood.

My cousin, Teddy, and me

My cousin, Teddy, and me

My earliest memory is being trapped against a brick wall in an empty space between fifty-five gallon industrial drums on the sidewalk in front of the bakery.

Teddy, my fifteen-year old cousin, lifted me up and put me on top of the drums, probably because he thought I would think it fun to be taller than he was. There were 20 or 30 drums. I scampered across the tops of the drums, hopping from one drum to the next. Finding an empty space between the drums closest to the wall, I lowered myself into it, thinking I would surprise Teddy with a disappearing act. When my trick did not attract Teddy’s attention, I tried a different tactic. “Hey, Teddy,” I yelled, jumping up like Jack-in-the-box. Teddy looked at me. I laughed with great glee thinking I was funny and very clever.

“Come on, Champ,” he said. “Get over here. It’s time to go home.” I tried to climb out of the hole, but I could not. I tried several times to pull myself up and to get on top of the drums. There was nothing to climb on, nowhere to get a foothold to boost myself up.

“I can’t, Teddy,” I yelled. “I’m trapped.” I tried again. Only by holding my breath and straining with teeth-grinding exertion did I pull myself on top of a drum. I did it. Teddy did not help me. No one helped me. I walked across the tops of the drums to the place where Teddy was standing. He lifted me up and set me on the sidewalk. “Let’s go,” he said.

 

A fruit and vegetable vendor came through the neighborhood once a week. Everything about the fruit and vegetable man was silver. He had silver hair, a big silver mustache, and wore striped bib overalls. He had an old silver truck he started with a hand-crank. The truck had a flat bed covered with a silver canopy. A platform on the truck bed with sides that slanted up toward the center of the truck bed allowed the contents of the boxes of fruits and vegetables to be displayed.

A scale hung from the right hand corner of the canopy at the rear of the truck bed. I can see the old man now, placing big red beefsteak tomatoes in a bucket hanging from the scale then placing them in a basket held out to him. There were green bell peppers, golden peaches, plump watermelons, and cantaloupes. After filling everyone’s orders, the old man walked to the front of his silver truck. Bending down, he’d give the crank a quick turn. The engine would make chugging sounds. He’d climb into the cab behind the steering wheel and drive slowly down the street.

A Bogus Obituary

Drusilla Eugenie Halderman is the name Charles Halderman wrote in his Bible to record my mother’s birth in Bisbee, Arizona, on July 13, 1920, as though she were the eighth child born to him and his wife, Minnie. In fact, Drusilla’s mother was Emma Halderman, Minnie and Charles’ daughter. Emma was nineteen years old and unmarried. Minnie and Charles moved from Bisbee with their family following Drusilla’s birth. Little is known of their decision to relocate, the facts having gone to the graves of the keepers.

Minnie Havens Halderman

Minnie Havens Halderman

Settling in Tulare, California, the Haldermans opened a new chapter in the family narrative, a curious mixture of fiction and non-fiction, managed by Minnie. Life before California was little, if ever, discussed. Drusilla grew up with the understanding that Minnie was her mother and Emma, her sister. Minnie’s fiction left Emma, a beautiful young flapper, free to entertain the attentions of the young men who pursued her.

Charles “operated a dairy in… [Tulare] for seven years,” stated an obituary published in The Fresno Daily Morning Republican on October 21, 1930. According to the obituary, Charles died at age 56 while “visiting a brother in Arizona.”

Emma married Albert Irwin on January 2, 1926. Sometime in 1936, Emma told Drusilla the truth of their relationship and of their (Albert’s and Emma’s) plan to adopt her. The decision to adopt Drusilla required Minnie’s and Charles’ consent for which Emma asked in letters to each of her parents in August 1936. Minnie gave her consent in a letter from Greenville, California, dated August 7, 1936. Charles consented, but his letter, dated August 10, 1936 and postmarked Courtland, Arizona, calls into question the validity of his 1930 obituary.

With her parents’ consents, Emma engaged M. C. Kerr, an attorney in Quincy, California, to proceed with the adoption. A letter dated September 10, 1936, from Kerr to Emma, enclosed a copy of the petition for adoption along with copies of the relinquishments for Minnie’s and Charles’ signatures. Kerr’s letter requested a payment of $10.00 to cover the petition filing fee and other “necessary cash fees.” In the depths of the Great Depression, $10.00 may as well have been $10,000. The adoption was never finalized.

“Their intention is as good as fact for me,” my mother said.

A fiction invented to shield an unwed daughter with a child as well as one’s family from social stigma and embarrassment may be justifiable, potential emotional and psychological damage to the child notwithstanding. The pressure of the social mores of the time may have compelled Minnie to publish a false obituary to veil her separation from Charles thereby ensuring her respectability as a “widow.”

“’That crazy old lady!’ That’s how Albert described Minnie,” Mom said. “And, he’d usually add, ‘She couldn’t tell the truth if she had to.’”

Ancestry

“Grandfather Crook came from England,” Auntie Beth said. I don’t recall what we were talking about or why she told me. At 15, I wasn’t interested.

Seventeen years later, when I began searching for my ancestors, my father, Auntie Beth, and the other members of their generation were gone. “Grandfather Crook came from England” was all I knew about my father’s family. My search was motivated by the success of Alex Haley’s novel, Roots. In a previous post I wrote a detailed account of my family history research experience.

After 38 years, I’ve learned that family history research is like solving a puzzle. Thousands of individual pieces of information must be sorted, evaluated, and fit together to form a family picture in much the same was a jigsaw puzzle is completed. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the family history puzzle has no box cover illustration to use as a guide. Completion of the puzzle is further frustrated by a sometimes large number of missing pieces.

The United States of America being a nation of immigrants, I was intrigued by the idea of tracing my roots to the immigrant ancestor in each family line to build what is called an “American Pedigree.” “Grandfather Crook” is the only immigrant ancestor I have verified.

My family’s history is a puzzle with many missing pieces. My paternal third great grandfather is lost in a haze of unlisted household members enumerated by age range in the censuses of 1790 through 1840. Though the family name can be traced from Thomas Hine of New Milford, Connecticut in 1640, I lack sufficient information to connect my grandmother, Hattie Mae Hine, to the Hine genealogy.

The earliest information about my maternal great grandmother, Minnie Havens, is found in a marriage record from 1896. I have been unable to trace her through census records.

The “secret” of my maternal grandfather’s identity went to the grave with my grandmother along with answers to questions about the Halderman family’s abrupt and mysterious move from Bisbee, Arizona to Tulare County, California in 1920 following my mother’s birth. A further mystery is Minnie’s decision to publish a notice of my great grandfather’s death while he was still living.

With less information about my family than Alex Haley had about his, I may never find my “roots.” I’ll have to call my book Missing Pieces.