Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sweethearts of our Ancestors

My post for Sepia Saturday #44 is about the choices our ancestors made that, ultimately, determined our fate. It feels strange to look at this photo of my grandfather Everett Proctor with his girlfriend Francis Lee and muse on the fact that I would not exist if he had married her instead of my grandmother Aune. Many of these types of photos are doomed not to survive since often the future spouses make sure they end up in the trash or the fire. The only reason that I have this one was because my grandfather's sister Cleo Cavanaugh had saved it in one of her photo albums, tucked away from my grandmother's jealous gaze, for me to discover all of these years later. How many other suitors must all of our ancestors have had? How many myriads of life decisions and choices led to our very existence? If one little thing was different in our collective past, would everything be?
This photo has also led me to musing on an altogether different subject. Since I have Francis' photo here and some of her family as well, I decided to do a little research on and Family Search to see if I could find her. Her parents were close friends of my great grandparents Daniel and Millie Proctor, so they must have lived around Seattle, Washington. The only Francis/Frances Lee that I found who seemed to fit the bill was born on October 28, 1908, the daughter of Charles Anderson Lee and Margaret Curtis Lee of Seattle. That makes her a bit younger than my grandfather, but still older than my grandmother, so that fits. My grandparents married in May 1927, so this photo must have been taken before that. Francis is probably about 18 in this picture and my grandfather about 23. During my research,  I couldn't help but notice that Francis is listed on an Ancestry Member Tree as dying June 8, 1931. (I confirmed this at She was only 22 and the wife of Ben Whitehouse, still living in Seattle. On the 1930 Federal Census they are enumerated with no children in the household after two years of marriage. I wonder what happened to her?  If this is indeed my grandfather's Francis that I have tracked down, it may explain Cleo's reluctance to dispose of her photos.

Why does genealogical research so often unearth such sad stories? *Sigh*

If you click on this picture, enlarging it, you will be able to see the faint pattern of a fingerprint over their faces and in the upper right hand corner. I wonder whose it is? Our ancestors have left their marks in so many ways.

**Update - I just received an Ancestry message that informed me that Francis died giving birth to twins, who survived. I am hoping that there are descendants with whom I can share this photo as well as the others of her family.
               -- My contact (Francis' niece) looked at the photo and confirmed that it this is Francis Lee Whitehouse, as I suspected. I found a few more photos of the Lees, which I just emailed to her. Judging from the photos, the Proctors and Lees must have been very good friends and I am so happy to be able to share with Charles and Margaret Lee's granddaughter all these many years later.


  1. What a fascinating story and great sleuth work. I love the "hold-the-presses" ending, although it was pretty sad.
    You're right. How easy it would be for all of us to be an entirely different person.

  2. What a poignant post, especially about the woman who was not your grandmother. Can you find a death certificate for her?

    Not long ago I posted a photograph of my grandfather as a young man, standing with a young woman who was not my grandmother. She was very pretty and it popped into my head: what if Grampa had married her? That thought was immediately dismissed when the next idea came: you wouldn't be here if he'd married her! All of life and history could be changed if people in the past had made different choices.

  3. Thanks Barbara and Nancy! Nancy, I did get the details from FS to order the death certificate, but now I won't need to since her niece has filled me in (see update). Thanks for reading!!!

  4. What a wonderful story you have shared with us. I often wonder about the fine thread of our existence. It makes it feel so amazing that we are here on planet earth at all.

  5. What a great piece of detective work, on your part. You are asking the same kind of questions I ask, each time I discover new facts or photographs. Great post.

  6. Its something ive often wondered on.The million-&-One alternative paths our ancestors could have taken ,that would have changed who we became.
    Yes, Its a thought! All the old photos we never see because they were torn or burned in Rage or Sorrow!
    I'm glad you rescued this one!

  7. Thanks fot the comments. Although a bit philosophical, I had a good time with this post!

  8. Hi CeCE, thank you so much for your very interesting comment. It is a wonderful picture, glad that it was saved. Like you said photos of earlier girlfriends are usually not welcome in the family album. You have done a great job unearthing what happened to Francis. I have a photo of my mother with an earlier boyfriend. I always thought it was my father, but later I learned that it was a love story with an unhappy outcome. I will post it later.

  9. sherlock wins again!! your update gives this an happier conclusion. you're really good at this!!
    i've often wished my mother would have chosen one of her other suitors, even if it meant i would never see the light of day... but she made her choice and had to live with it. so did i!!

  10. We expect such wonderful genealogical detective work from you and such fascinating posts - and you never disappoint. Another great Sepia Saturday post. Thanks

  11. Wow, what an expert sleuth you are! Next time I have a mystery I can't solve, I think I'll contact you. I love how you framed this post with the ancestors' decisions and how they determine our fate. You're right about unearthing sad stories in this kind of research. I have found that too, although I suppose the happy circumstances are not as easy to document as the deaths.

  12. Thank you all for your encouraging comments! Christine, I am happy to help anytime and I agree with you that the happy stories are, mostly, more difficult to document. We would do well to remind ourselves of that often in order to balance out the more obvious sad ones that we so often find.
    I love reading all of my Sepia Saturday buddies' comments. I'm so glad that I found you guys!

  13. What an interesting sad that Frances died in childbirth. I think it is hard to think that our loved ones may have loved and lost during their lives.
    So wonderful that part of the family has been contacted!! Way to go! :)

  14. This was indeed an extremely interesting post!