QUEST FOR THE PAST
By Wally Graves
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
(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.
(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
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
She was, after all, an invention.
Wally Graves, who lives in King
Salmon, writes from time to time for the Journal.
By Howard Seemann
(Photo: Alice Haman with her turkeys in 1924.)
A FAMILY'S MEMORIES
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
"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
Mathison recalls learning to walk "by
hanging onto a dog, Rags."
And maybe that's a hint of his next book
"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
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
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
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
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.