“Archaeologist At Last”

When I was a kid I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. I loved the idea of uncovering lost civilizations and the items of their everyday life. As an 11 year old I gazed in wonder at the treasures excavated from Egypt on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While I found the mummies unsettling, I did like the jewelry.

In high school I passed on the opportunity to go to camp in Eastern Oregon on fossil digs. That part of the state gets sizzling hot and the reward of rock held insect specimens held no appeal. But well through my teens I harbored a secret desire to travel to some exotic place and dig. Needless to say, that never happened.

In college I became seriously ill my senior year and was unable to complete the optional thesis project in my field. I had a lingering sadness about never having had the chance to spend countless hours in the Harvard library stacks acquiring arcane knowledge to bolster some original idea about poetry between the world wars.

Now, however, I find that doing this work with Lucy Durham seems to be satisfying both previously abandoned passions. Working as an archaeologist I am uncovering things long tucked away in files and on microfilm. As an avid researcher I am able to peruse academic journals at my leisure, enjoying such titles as She Hath Done What She Could: Protestant Women’s Missionary Careers in Nineteenth-Century America.

It turns out it is never too late to have dreams come true!

“Genealogical Hunt”

Beloit, Wisconsin High School

While the large internet web sites can be full of mistakes, they do make available images of the United States Census reports. Although they can have incorrect spelling or errors from the interviewed family members, they are fairly close to primary sources. In the 1860 census I first found Lucy Durham in Beloit, Wisconsin. William Clark Durham’s account of our family history fleshed out this entry for me.

He had told me that she had been born June 13, 1853, in Beloit, Wisconsin, the 12th child of Benjamin and Elizabeth, attended Beloit High and then went to Chicago to the Chicago Art School. Here she took special training and stayed in Chicago from 1873 until 1892 working as an artist. For the next ten years “she gave herself to missionary labors among the Chinese in San Francisco, learning the language and preparing herself for work abroad.”

From these two initial bits I was given an opportunity to explore her life further. First, what was the “Chicago Art School” in 1873? Secondly, where would she have been for those ten years in San Francisco? My current primary source research is exploring those two openings.

I have located the school of the Chicago Art Institute, perhaps the forerunner of the Chicago Art School. The internet provides access to numerous archives, such as that of the Art Institute, and I am currently connecting with the archivist there to see what was offered in 1873 and also what “special training” might have entailed. I enjoy the connection with my own history of years teaching at a museum connected art college.

I also found an address in the 1900 census for Lucy in San Francisco. Using Google to locate the address, I learned that it is currently the home of the American Chinese Presbyterian Church. It also now houses the American Chinese Presbyterian Missionary Society. This would seem to validate the comment about the “missionary labors among the Chinese in San Francisco.” Now to ask the archivist at the American Chinese Presbyterian Missionary Society what they may have somewhere about Lucy Durham.

The first time I read Durham’s book I had merely skimmed over these details. Looking back now I see the first two major clues pointing me toward further pieces of the story of my great-great-Aunt Lucy. As you can tell from this post, there is nothing quick about research. But I delight in the work and look forward to being able to resurrect more of the story of this intriguing woman.

“A Mixed Blessing”

A genealogy site

When I began researching my family’s history I relied on print sources and microfilm. This was time consuming, but it ensured that the information I found was as accurate as possible. I was able to note the source for each discovery as I went. I also wrote back and forth to historians in small towns and they xeroxed things for me and I for them. In the case of Lucy, one correspondent let me know that there was a compiled family history of the Durhams written in the late 1940’s and available in reprint.

In “The Name and Family of Durham.” assembled by William Clark Durham, I came across my second mention of Lucy Durham. Here he chronicled a good deal more of her story. However, at the time I was still trying to reconstruct a broader picture of the family and I set the resource aside for several years.

In the meantime internet based genealogy took off, led by the Family Search site of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints(commonly called Mormons) and a paid resource, Ancestry. I began to use both extensively and was able to get a more fully fleshed out sense of several of my family lines.

Here, however, I discovered a major difference between my early paper based research and on-line information. I soon learned that to a great extent people were simply copying other peoples’ findings without bothering to site sources. Not surprisingly, bad information was interspersed with good information. For instance my great-grandfather was mistaken for his father based on a faulty assumption that “he couldn’t have started a hotel in his 20’s.” (He did in fact do this.)

Now that I have settled on a thorough exploration of Lucy Durham and her work with both American Chinese and those in China, I am back to original source material. It is slow going but much more satisfying. As I come across such findings, I will share both the source and the findings with you. For those hoping to compile accurate family histories, I hope my current practice will prove a useful example.