Last year when we celebrated my parents' 60th wedding anniversary, my Mom excitedly shared with family members that we had found Alta May's (her Grandmother) biological parents. My Mom was very close to her grandparents (Alta and Warner) and they still hold a special place in her heart which is why she started a book about their life and artistic passions. This book is now complete and is such a treasure that is being shared with current generations and can always be shared with future generations.
During the 60th wedding celebration, I was asked how I was able to find both the parents. My lame answer was "it took a lot of online and courthouse research". Now that I am back at the computer, I will try to describe the journey I took to find Agnes Agatha FOLK and Willoughby SNYDER and prove that they were Alta May THOMAS' parents.
THE SEARCH BEGINS...
My search began in January 2013 when I put together a timeline of what I knew about Alta May and what I knew about her adoptive parents, Amanda and Grant THOMAS. Alta May was born 27 October 1892 but the earliest reference I had found for her up to this point was in the 1910 U.S. Census, living with Amanda and Grant; where she is listed as their daughter and is working as a servant in a home.
I surmised that my best bet was to look for an association to Amanda or Grant THOMAS which, surprisingly enough, I still to this day do not know.
I also used stories that had been passed down through generations; given to me by my Mom:
- Grandpa Hoy said that he had heard the surnames Folk and Wise associated to his biological parents,
- There were some people that said the mother was a Wise,
- There were also some stories that the mother and/or father were a relation to Amanda's family, and
- Aunt Dorothy (Warner Hoy's sister) had said that Aunt Hattie knew who the parents were but would never tell.
There were multiple theories I made from reviewing records over the years, all based on associations to Amanda and Grant. That may have been my biggest assumption "gone wrong". As I researched each one and determined that there was not enough evidence to prove a relationship, I moved on to the next hypothesis. I was confident in making a connection to the biological Mother but knew it would be more difficult to prove a Father, if not impossible. Some of the theories I researched were connections to:
- Louisa SKELLY. Louisa lived with Grant's parents (Sarah and John) when Grant was just 16 years old. Louisa was 13 years old, could not read or write, and was listed as servant. The name of Louise SKELLY itself did not have any bearing in family stories; I was going on the theory that Grant was the biological father. I surprisingly found that he did have a child with Louise SKELLY; however this was in 1883 or 1884, not 1892. "The Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 May 1883, Wed, Page 2" noted "The bastardy case of Luin Skelly against Grant Thomas was settled to-day. Thomas paid $250." This was in a column on Findlay, Ohio happenings. At this time, Louisa SKELLY was approximately 16 and Grant THOMAS was just shy of turning 20.
- Amanda's family. I researched Amanda's siblings; in this case her two sisters, Sophia and Holda. I found a lot of interesting information about their father, Hermann, and his family, including siblings and father. Hermann's father was an organist, singer, and composer; his brother Theude was a painter of still-life and portraits; and his brother Johannes was a famous botanist. Hermann was an artist in his own right and has an artist's file at the Smithsonian American Art/Portrait Gallery Library which was really interesting to see; here are a couple snippets: Unfortunately, no artwork has been found for him. Also, no connection (with this family) to a child born in 1892 was found for either of Amanda's sisters.
- Clay STAADT. He appeared in the 1910 census as a farmhand for Amanda and Grant (see first U.S. Census chart above). Branching out on the THOMAS family tree proved that Clay was Grant's step-brother's daughter-in-law's brother. Definitely a family association (albeit in a round-about way) and when I found out that the daughter-in-law's name was Florence Hattie, I jumped on the name association of "Aunt Hattie" and researched Clay and his father, Charles. I soon found their wives and children but no indication of a child born around 1892, in either family. Honestly, Clay was too young and Charles too old for me to spend much time on this research.
Fannie FERN & Family. This postcard from my Mom, and others in her possession, showed that Fannie was a childhood friend of Alta's and both of the families were close, attending parties and serving on agricultural and social boards together. I did not believe there to be a direct connection to Alta's biological parents but felt that the childhood association may have started before Alta was adopted by Amanda and Grant and; therefore, could provide some clues as to Alta's location in different time-periods. This research took me down an interesting path of postcards and newspaper clippings with interesting finds on both the FERN and THOMAS families but no clues on biological parents for Alta. I do love knowing that Amanda followed in her father's footsteps and was musically inclined!
- John M. and Orange THOMAS. John M. THOMAS was half-brother and Orange THOMAS was brother to Grant. John's mother was Caroline HOGE and phonetically I felt this was fairly close to HOUCK and FOLK. Again, I was going with the theory that there was an association to one of the adoptive parents, in this case Grant. The primary reason I attached myself to these two individuals is because, out of the 10 siblings sired from John THOMAS, these two essentially disappeared. They are still a mystery to me although I know that Orange's story ends just 20 years after he was born.
You can see how many of my theories regarding Alta's biological parents turned into some absorbing and time-consuming research on topics completely outside of my original goal. This is my way of excusing how long it took to find the biological parents.
Meanwhile, I had contacted other researchers to see if they could provide any assistance:
Jan 2014 - A fellow researcher who managed multiple members of Agnes Agatha's family on FindAGrave. She also had not been able to trace Agnes Agatha Folk or find her anywhere in a death record or cemetery. The closest we came to knowing what happened to Agnes was a newspaper obituary from 1921 for Daniel Folk (her father) that stated "Agnes Folk, a daughter, passed away several years ago."
I sent additional information on Daniel and Agnes, including a copy of a postcard and burial information for Agnes, but never heard back from this researcher. Perhaps I scared her away with my enthusiasm or discussions of an illegitimate child.
- Jan 2015 - The Vital Statistics, Ohio Department of Health in Columbus, Ohio had stated they only had birth records since 20 Dec 1908 and I needed to contact the local Probate Court in the region where I believed the person to have been born. I made an assumption that it was Hancock County, Ohio and contacted the Chief Deputy Clerk at the Hancock County Probate Court. Unfortunately, their search criteria is completely based on name and the only two I had (at the time) was Thomas and Folk. Further searches under Wise (based on rumors) and Calihan (based on a postcard from Aunt Marlene that I wondered if Alta sent to Warner; it may have just been a joke about her truly being Irish now) were made with no results. At that point, they told me that it was possible her birth was never recorded and I believed this to be a dead-end. Fast forward to August 2017 and this office was able to provide me with two different source documents of the birth once I gave them the exact birth name...
AND THE WINNERS ARE...
There were several hints that led me to research the FOLK family for a potential biological mother. My search started with trying to identify a charcoal drawing I received from my parents which was labeled "Mrs. E. Wise" on the back of the frame. I had no idea if there was a connection to Alta's biological parents or even Alta herself but knew it was a mystery. The search took me to find Emma FOLK WISE who married Elam WISE in 1897 and had six children. This led me to researching the family of Daniel, wife Mary, and children James, Agnes, Emma, and Harriett. I started with researching all three daughters but soon felt that I could rule out Emma and Harriett. Emma was married by 1897 with children of her own soon afterward and no evidence that Alta lived with this family. Harriett was much too young at 12 or 13 years old when Alta was born. Also, it was easy to trace Harriett's life; living with her father and then getting married and moving to California. Oh, by the way, her nickname was Hattie and Emma married a Wise; two names that were mentioned in family history. I find it interesting how rumors have some truth to them but rarely tell the full story. As opposed to her sisters, Agnes essentially disappeared which made me suspicious. At this point, it was not certain that Agnes was the biological mother; only that it was one of Daniel's daughters. I was basically going on a hunch regarding Agnes Agatha...and logic.
The most telling revelation regarding the FOLK family was a postcard I received from Aunt Marlene in February 2014; it was from Daniel FOLK, to Alta May THOMAS, and signed "Grandpa Folk". Postcards are such a wonderful resource that can fill in the blanks regarding our ancestors and tell the story of their daily lives.
Finding Alta's biological father was accomplished by searching for Agnes FOLK in newspapers for the time-frame when Alta was born. I found the following newspaper articles (starting on 23 June 1892 and ending on 15 Dec 1892):
With this information in hand (Date of birth: 27 Oct 1892; Mother: Agnes Agatha FOLK; Father: Willoughby SNYDER), I contacted the Hancock County Probate Court again. A quick search for Altie (going on a hunch that the older postcards sent to Alta and addressed Altie were not a "typo") SNYDER, born on 27 Oct 1892 brought back a positive result and two birth records.
Agnes Agatha FOLK and Willoughby SNYDER never did marry and, to the best of my understanding, did not share in caring for Altie SNYDER.
Agnes married Philip J. FISHER on 23 Feb 1897 and died only months later on 12 Jul 1897. There has been no record found for her cause of death. I have worked on a theory that her and her mother were victims of the tuberculosis epidemic of but I have found no proof to substantiate this speculation. Philip married Bertha Hildenbrand on 12 May 1898 and there is no record of Altie/Alta living with him and his wife.
Willoughby SNYDER married Margaret "Maggie" Thompson on 24 Dec 1896 and raised a family (one daughter and one son) in Bowling Green, Ohio. Again, no record of Altie/Alta ever living with this family.
THE SEARCH CONTINUES...
There are still two big mysteries (and a bunch of little ones) to be solved regarding Alta May THOMAS.
I do not understand why Amanda and Grant adopted Alta vs. a biological family member. I felt that any of Agnes siblings were more obvious candidates for taking in Alta as a young girl vs. a non-family member. Of course, I do not know the circumstances (financially or otherwise) of these families. The 1900 U.S. Census for Jackson Township, Hancock County, Ohio may provide a clue to this mystery. It may be as simple as the fact that Amanda and Grant lived four farmhouses away from both of Alta's biological grandfathers (Daniel FOLK and Henry SNYDER) and perhaps Alta was living in one or both of these homes (next door to each other) even though she is not listed on the census. I am certain that Amanda and Grant, being married for 14 years with no children, were happy to take over care of a young child who only had elderly grandfathers to watch over her.
There is still a mystery involving whether Alta was officially adopted and where she lived for some time when she was very young. I have reached out to all of the following so far:
- Springfield Manor– The old portion of the I.O.O.F. home is owned by a business that currently uses the facilities as a private nursing home. I spoke with the Director who said that they have artifacts from the original building but no paperwork. However, he took down my name and number and promised to call if anything came up after he spoke with some staff members who had been with the nursing home longer.
- Ohio Department of Health – Searched their records and confirmed no adoption file on record. They do not have records prior to 1904. Meanwhile, I found a newspaper article from Feb 1902 that shows Altie Snyder with the new name of Alta Thomas, going to school in Jackson Township.
- Grand Lodge of Ohio, IOOF – Cannot search the I.O.O.F. Home records because they gave them to the Clark County Historical Society.
- Clark County Historical Society – Searched the Pythian Home records and confirmed no adoption file on record. They did not receive the I.O.O.F. Home records. I.O.O.F. is now going back to find out what happened and why the local historical society never received the records..
- Clark County in Springfield, Ohio – They only have 1908 forward. This may have been a long-shot anyway as I was going under the assumption that, if Alta spent time at the I.O.O.F. Home, her adoption papers might be in Clark County.
- Ohio History Connection & Archive Library – Searched their records and confirmed no adoption file on record. Recommended contacting the Hancock County Probate Court.
- Hancock County Probate Court – They said to send them the same information I sent the Ohio Department of Health, they will search their records, and they will confer with the judge to determine if/what they can share. I know it is somewhat silly because potentially the only information (that I don’t already know) will be the actual date of adoption. I just think it would be nice to have that and, who knows, maybe there will be some other historical tidbits in there too.
The end result is that no adoption records have been found for Alta. Note that the connection to IOOF Home in Springfield, Ohio may only be because of Grant THOMAS' affiliation with IOOF and interest in the building of this impressive structure.