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QUEST FOR THE PAST

By Wally Graves

Malson family archival photoJUST SOUTH OF ST. JOSEPH HOSPITAL ON EUREKA'S Dolbeer Street rises a modest, high-spired temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This temple houses the Mormons' Family History Center, and if you're curious about your roots, start there, where you'll meet Jim Ashman, a friendly, sandy-haired, well-built fellow who likely knows more about genealogy than you do.

(Photo: Allen Wiley Malson and his wife, Sarah Long, with daughter, Hester Ann, 1875.)

The local center has but a fraction of the massive holdings in Oakland and Los Angeles, not to speak of Salt Lake City. The Eureka center gives a roadmap of other sources, such as microfilms of censuses, microfiche of births, marriages and deaths, and lists of books about family surnames, and histories of locales all of which Ashman can order from the mother of all genealogical databases at Salt Lake City in his weekly requests.

This mountain of material has been collected for more than a century, first by Mormons seeking their ancestors for post-mortem sanctification, followed by people like you sharing your findings with Mormon volunteers and they with you. But as Ashman demonstrates with his open hand thrust to his desk, there is no crossover between the "wall" that separates the LDS from those of other faiths. The recent burgeoning of e-mail has sped the search through the World Wide Web. Hundreds of entries appear under genealogy. Most are commercial, but Ashman suggests you start with the U.S. Genealogy Web (usgenweb.com), a non-profit volunteer network.

Despite promises from books like "Netting Your Ancestors" in the County Library (Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1997} instructing in genealogical research on the Internet, you'll quickly discover that after you pay a couple of thousand for hardware and software to get on-line and learn how it all works, you won't have gained much. The potential is there to get in touch with long lost relatives and current researchers, but unless you discover a database buff who's done lots of work on your family, it won't carry you very far.

Jim Ashman is better.Archival photo

(Photo: Hester Ann, 12, and Helen Malson, 10, in 1886.)

You should be forewarned that if you commence such a search, you will face many more dead ends than victories. And if you persist in this hobby you might find nothing beyond a generation or two, or you might discover a direct lineage to the Mayflower or to slavery.

On Sept. 15 KEET-TV aired a program called "Family Name," in which white Macky Alston, 27, discovered a vast population of Alstons, many of whom were black. Alston's fascination was the fact that his family owned slaves whose descendants still carry the name of Alston. After a lengthy search he was unable to prove his connection to the black Alstons.

The problem? There were too many Alstons in North Carolina. Hundreds.

The irony of too much becomes apparent when you first browse the early censuses, which began in 1790 and continue today each 10 years. To protect privacy, a blackout of 70 years means that in the year 2000 the 1930 census will be released. If you're seeking a rare name, your search is tedious, but when you do discover this rare name you have a good chance of being on the right track.

You begin with whatever documents you have in your household Bibles, diaries, letters and written records. As Ashman says, "It's going from the known to the unknown," and he'll give you a chart to get started. Or, you can contact a professional genealogist, who can offer little more than your own research. I was lucky enough to have a great uncle who walked from Iowa to the West Coast with his twin sister in 1862 and who became the historian for my mother's family, and from this I located the family's arrival from Ulster, Ireland, in 1720.

My father's name, Graves, took me after some years of probing to Madison, Conn., where the oldest frame house in the state still stands. It is a historic site built by the son of Deacon John Graves who landed from north London to these shores in 1635. From there I discovered a Graves Street in Chazy, N.Y., on the west shore of Lake Champlain, and traced the family to Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Seattle, Wash.

One of the "perks" of e-mail is that you can sit in front of your computer instead of all that expensive traveling. But I found it was more fun, having researched for several years, to get in the car and see the country where my direct ancestors lived and died. Besides, I found lots of things I never would have known had I not gone there like the house in Minnesota where my father was born.

What does one do with this? Practically, you distribute your findings to blood relatives, and make your findings available to the Internet. People not in the blood line have limited interest in somebody else's heritage, unless you can discover some earlier bigshot whose lineage goes back to a king or a duke. Then you get into wishful thinking, and fairytale genealogy. In Hartford, Conn., I found a book of the Boyntons (my grandfather Graves' wife and my grandmother) which went back to the 16th century in England. I don't know how much self-esteem you can generate when you realize that such an ancient bigshot accounts for 1/91,638th of your heritage.

Then came the big surprise.

My mother's maiden name was Malson. A rare name indeed. Her father had died in 1879 from "galloping consumption," which brought him down after an International Order of Odd Fellows funeral in Seattle's driving rain.

The rest was a mystery, because he died when my mother was 3. My full name is Allen Wallace Graves, the last of eight children, a concluding memory of my grandfather, Allen Wiley Malson. What I thought was a downer, because I could find no Malsons in the censuses, piqued my interest. Family tradition said he had French blood, and he had changed his name for some suspicious reason from his mother's maiden name Carr to Malson. He'd done remarkably well as a butcher, greengrocer and buyer of land in Seattle, but I discovered in an 1870s Seattle newspaper microfilm that his slaughter house was burned to the ground by unidentified strangers. He appeared in no census that I could find. He arrived in Seattle after 1860 and died before 1880. Nothing in the 1870 census, but in 1880 the census gave his place of birth (as father of his daughter Helen, my mother) as Illinois.

So I looked in Illinois. Nothing. I looked off and on for a couple of years. Then the Mormons came to the rescue. In the almost illegible remnants of the 1790 census I found something I'd overlooked a group of freed colored (spelled "Colard") people near Lancaster, Pa., just north of the Virginia border. The census for that year recorded four categories of residents: "White Males, White Females, All Other Freed persons" and "Slaves." The only "Malsons" recorded in the 1790 census for all of America are three Heads of Households, all in Lancaster County, Pa.:

  • Thomas Mallson, no white males or females, 9 Other Freed Persons;
  • James Mallson, no white males or females, 8 Other Freed Persons;
  • John Mallson, no white males, one white female, 2 Other Freed Persons.

From this I discovered that Allen Wiley Malson was grandson of Thomas Mallson, that he was raised in Sugar Creek township in Indiana just east of Indianapolis, that his siblings changed their surnames to Carr, except for Allen and his older brother Charley, who dropped their "Colard" ID to "White" when they crossed the Rocky Mountains.

You can understand why they changed color. (Did you watch the recent KEET series "Africans In America"?) My own research revealed that "the enthusiastic ideals in regard to Negro equality had become shattered, and the Negroes who fled were for the most part persecuted, unassimilated and undesired. The white populous had no love for the black man freed, but they pitied him as a slave. They came to detest the Negro, but they hated slavery more."

In 1851, when my grandfather was 9, the new Indiana State Constitution stipulated that "No Negro nor mulatto shall come into, or settle in the State after adoption of this Constitution," and those who were residents must register. In Sugar Creek some whites from Cincinnati "seemed to be progressive and at once set about soliciting donations from everybody, including mulattoes and Negroes, to build a modern school house. But when school opened the children of the mulatto and Negro families were denied entrance."

Family tradition said Allen Wiley Malson came gold hunting in California, then settled in Salem, Ore. But in genealogy you have to get all the facts dates, locale, names. And after a lengthy and fruitless search in Salem I was in the HSU library about five years ago when I thumbed through an Albany, Ore., phone book. By golly I found a Malson! A few phone calls later I talked with my first genuine Malson, Ruth, married name Norton. She lived in Halsey, south of Albany, in her eighties, white hair and sparkly eyes. So when we met I asked what she knew about her father, Commodore Malson, and about Commodore's father Charley. "All I know is that our preacher found out when he took a trip east that they were all a bunch of horse thieves."

I showed her my convincing evidence, finally verified by her grandfather Charley. She smiled and said, "Oh, when they hear this the shit's gonna hit the fan!" She explained that her father commodore's hair was kinky, and they sometimes kidded him about it.

So ended the search. It took about 10 years because I worked so often with erroneous "facts." A Mormon lady told me that God created the computer to speed their quest to rescue the deceased. They continue to distinguish firmly between their religious mission and their help to the public. The library book about "netting your ancestors" says that e-mail is the greatest thing to hit genealogy since the computer. I'd rather stick with Jim Ashman and his fellow volunteers, who aren't in it for the money.

Fifteen years before my interest in genealogy took hold, I wrote a book called "Trixie" published by Knopf in New York told as Trixie's diary beginning with JFK's assassination in 1963, and concluding with the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968. Trixie was 13 years old, and black. I had never felt so driven, and as I started the book tears streamed down my face, and my handwriting was Trixie's, sincere but only semi- literate. People asked me over the years how I was able to write through Trixie's vision. I always told them, "I haven't the slightest idea."

She was, after all, an invention.

Wally Graves, who lives in King Salmon, writes from time to time for the Journal.
 

ALDERPOINT:
A FAMILY'S MEMORIES

By Howard Seemann

(Photo: Alice Haman with her turkeys in 1924.)

THE STORY OF BILINGUAL DOGS ARE AMONG MANY FAMILY TALES told in The History of Alderpoint, an 82-page book published last month by a retired contract logger, sheep shearer and Alderpoint native.

Ray N. Mathison, 83, spent nearly three years compiling the history of the one-time thriving community. His wife, Louise, a retired school teacher, "deciphered" his hand-written notes and typed the manuscript for the printers.

This was a family production, completed by and for the Mathison family.

In the foreward, Ray Mathison wrote: "To write this, I've used captioned pictures, papers and diaries of my Aunt Ellen Smith's. She was my Dad's sister, and lived in Alderpoint from 1875 to 1959."

Among other family members who helped was Mathison's sister, Freda White, 87, of Laytonville, who helped with details and provided some of the 92 photographs reproduced in the book.

Born on a ranch about three miles west of the Eel River community in 1915, Ray Mathison was one of George and Sadie Mathison's five children. He has lived there all his life except for 1926-40, when the family moved to Boonville. He finished eighth grade before returning to Alderpoint.

Alderpoint , about 25 miles east of Garberville, got its start in 1911, growing in 1914 to having "a big store, and two smaller stores, a dance hall, a restaurant, two hotels on 4th Street that served meals as well as rooms," Mathison writes. The town swelled to about 500 people in 1924, according to the book. Today, just 100 people live there.

Dogs were used by Basque herders to help drive sheep on to summer ranges. Cowboys used the dogs in the winter to help care for the cattle. Thus, bilingual dogs.

Other highlights from the Mathison book:

  • Railroad construction, "along with the building of the dam (in 1926) and running that water into the Russian River, plus a few dry years in the early thirties, caused the big salmon to congregate in the lower part of the Eel River. There were so many of them and with the water being so low, they ran out of oxygen and died by the thousands."
    He recalls that "This early run of salmon were big fish with a lot of them over six feet long."
  • The town got its name from the alders which still stand where a stage coach stop was built on the Alderpoint side of the river. The stop is used as a family home to this day.
  • After the Depression came in 1929, the ranch where his father worked went broke, so "Dad went job hunting in Mendocino County. He found a job near a little town called Boonville in Anderson Valley on a sheep ranch. His wages were $50 per month with a house furnished. There was also a milk cow, a garden spot, chickens and a pen to raise hogs in."
  • By the forties, weather had changed so that some fruit didn't ripen on schedule. "The same cherry trees that ripened by the last of May now ripened the last of June. Today here in Alderpoint, everything is about six weeks later than it was in 1914."
  • Sheep herds began to decline after 1936 when ranchers were no longer able to graze the animals in the national forest.
  • In the early forties, four passenger trains a day ran through Alderpoint. Today any train is a rarity as the shipping of livestock and tan bark declined.
  • The town barber, Harry Pulver, cut hair in a tree house "just big enough for a barber chair and room for him to cut hair. If he had more than one customer, they would have to sit outside on the stairs and wait." Hand clippers were used since power did not arrive until 1947.
  • The Farm House Inn, where his aunt Ellen worked, "was one of the main stops for travelers from Eureka to San Francisco."
    "Lots of Sunday mornings, my aunt, along with another person, would get up at daylight and go trout fishing in Rattlesnake Creek and catch from 100 to 150 trout in a short time and fry them for breakfast. Today you would have a hard time catching ten trout in that same creek."
  • Social life was different in early Alderpoint: "People visited more, had family picnics on a Sunday when the weather was good, and also family dinners.
    "Dance nights were always a big time. People who came quite a distance would go to a friend's house to dress and get ready for the dance.
    "Some of these people would stay all night. Others left for home after the dance. Then there were people that came on the 11 p.m. train and would catch the 5 a.m. train back home."
  • The beginning of Alderpoint's decline can be traced to the completion of Highway 101 in the 1920s. Fewer people rode the trains and more people traveled by car. There also was a decline in sheep raising and harvesting of tan oak.

But Alderpoint remains a good place to live. Mathison said that even today he and his wife never lock the doors on their house.

He wrote the book because "I wanted my kids and grandkids to know what went on here I thought there was something being lost."

Mathison recalls learning to walk "by hanging onto a dog, Rags."

And maybe that's a hint of his next book project?

"I'm thinking about writing about my pets dogs, horses. Animals have been a big part of my life."


How to publish your own history

If you've got a book inside of you that's itching to get out, help is available in Eureka but it will cost you at least $3,500.

Ray and Louise Mathison published 500 copies of their book, "The History of Alderpoint." It cost them $4,000 for 500 copies. But they already have sold almost 200 copies at $20 each at the general store in Alderpoint.

Elletta Tripp, production manager at Eureka Printing Co. in Eureka, suggests would-be publishers "come and talk to us before you do anything." Her goal is to "try to make people's dreams come true."

She encourages those with stories to tell to think about self-publishing because "when you die, it's gone."

Her company has been publishing textbooks, cookbooks, children's literature and histories since the early 1970s. Binding of the books was the challenge at first, a problem that now is solved.

"If I think a book will sell, I recommend 500 or more copies," she said. The company has printed as many as 50,000 copies.

Because of the economies of scale, it costs as much to prepare one book ready for the press as it does 1,000.

Total costs can run as high as $7,000. It depends on some of the following factors: kind of stitching, number of photographs, whether or not text is keyboarded by the publisher, number of pages and size of pages.

The key to a good publication, Tripp said, is that the authors "need to organize their thoughts. We can't redo it."

Among the North Coast residents Tripp has worked with is David Largent of Mad River Press. The Humboldt State University biology professor has published more than a half dozen titles. Peter Palmquist, the Arcata photographer, has published more than half a dozen books on photography and photographers.

Evelyn Shuster Worthen published "The Unfolding Drama of Bridgeville, a Former Stagecoach Town" in 1996. She is a retired Bridgeville teacher.

Another is "In the Early Days: Southern Humboldt History 1853-1920," by Margarite Cook and Diane Hawk. Published in 1997, it focuses on Garberville and is very complete.

 


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