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20 February 2009

How An Item in the Personals Led to a Photo I.D.

My favorite type of genealogical pastime is newspaper research. I've wiled away more hours than I care to admit scrolling through microfilmed papers borrowed through inter-library loan from the Pennsylvania State Library. Obituaries, legal notices, passenger arrivals and news articles provide important information and often point to documents needed for the search. But the really fun stuff resides in the personal columns – the collections of gossip often grouped by neighborhood or town – that offer glimpses into the lives of our ancestors.

Lookups volunteer Patricia Smith stumbled on to a personal item in an Indiana newspaper that led to an unexpected find when the California Genealogical Society acquired last summer.

According to Pat, CGS President Jane Lindsey was helping her to navigate the site and found an item in the personals about the 50th anniversary of Pat's great-grandparents, Alanson and Laura Ross, in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. It was published " Tuesday morning" January 2, 1917, under the headline "Pleasant Lake News."

Mr. and Mrs. Alson Ross celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last Sunday and a public reception was given them at the home of their daughter, Mrs. Frank Chadwick, from 2 to 4 p.m. The Pleasant Lake concert orchestra furnished music during the afternoon. Mr. and Mrs. Ross were seated in the large window beautifully decorated for the occasion. Those present from a distance were: Mrs. Lucey Widney, of Auburn; Otto Ross and wife, of Louisville, Ky.; Bessie Cross of Fort Wayne; Mrs. Bert McNett and children of Nevada Mills; Donn Ross and wife of Monpelier, O. Miss Laura McEthenie sang "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnett." L.L. Matson gave a short eulogy on the couple and closed by reading Riley's "That Old Sweetheart of Mine." Mrs. Frank Chadwick gave a short poem on "Mother." Miss Helen Huffman read "When This Old Ring Was New" with Miss Maurine Huffman presiding at the piano. A vocal solo, "Silver Threads Among the Gold," was sung by Maurine Huffman. Light refreshments were served, after which the Ross family sang "Bless Be the Tie That Bonds," with the guests joining in the chorus. It is not often that a couple celebrates their fiftieth anniversary who are as supple and robust as Mr. and Mrs. Ross. Fred Fay was present and took the family picture.

Image from

The unexpected find happened when Pat went home and tried to decipher the family relationship of those named in the article. Pat explains:
I recognized the name "Mrs. Bert McNett" as that of my mother's cousin – Parepa Walker McNett – and I remembered that I had a family photograph that included her. When I retrieved it, I noticed that almost everyone mentioned in the article was in the photograph. On the back was written "Taken at Pleasant Lake, Indiana."

The family of Alanson and Laura Ross (left to right): Nellie Ross Chadwick, Alanson Ross, Don Ross, Parepa Walker McNett, Laura Ross, George McNett, Walker McNett, Bessie Ross Cross, Esther Westergren Ross, Ella Ritter Ross, Otto Ross, Gertie Ross and Harry Ross.

On closer inspection, I could see that it was taken in the winter – you can see some snow on the ground. Parepa's little boys were born about 1913 and 1915 and would have been approximately four and two years old, if this photo was taken in 1917, which looks about right. I also know that Perapa had a daughter born late in 1917 and although her waistline isn't totally visible, she doesn't appear to be pregnant, or if she was, she was not far enough along to show.

The news item states that Fred Fay took the family picture and I think, given the above information, that this photo was taken on that January day in 1917.

Do you have a great story about a find made at the CGS Library? If so, leave a comment. Inquiring minds want to know!


Michelle said...


M. Diane Rogers said...

What a research find - and a great photo too!

The Photo Detective said...

Fantastic story!

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Great story! I agree that there are lots of gems to be found in the gossip pages.

Anonymous said...

Parepa Walker McNett was my grandmother, and the daughter you mentioned is my aunt Lou Rose McNett Guillaume who lives near Fort Wayne. My father, Roy McNett, born in 1918 works full time as an architect in Fort Wayne at his company, Architectural Concepts, Inc. Roy has compiled a detailed family tree that goes back quite a few generations, if you are interested.
John McNett (317) 638 0378 [email protected]