Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Let Me Be Frank

Francis Hamilton Spon age 70
This time of year often finds me casually browsing the ol' family tree.  As the year winds down, and time seems to move a little more slowly it's nice to catch up with some familiar (and not so familiar) faces.  Above, is a photograph from 1900 taken at the Bushnell studio in North Yakima, Washington of a 70 year old Francis Hamilton Spon, or Frank H. Spon as he's typically identified.  When I bought the photograph from a book dealer out of California, Barry Cassidy Rare Books, it was delivered with a little sheet attached that, at some point, had been inconveniently trimmed, but appears to be a document someone typed up with Frank's census information that we can cross check with his life story, and some official documents that record his whereabouts.  It's important to remember we are talking about the Wild West at this point, and while I'm not as familiar as I should be with territorial record-keeping for this time frame, there was a solid attempt to keep track of the population, however I am aware of fires that wiped out a lot of history, and records for this period, so we just kind of have to be happy with what we get.  Parentheses below are my own:
(1863) Yakima Co, WT. Spon, Francis H. 34 NY, carpenter
(1872) Yakima Co, WA Spon, Francis H. 43 NY, farmer, wife Minerva J. (Chambers?), dau. Minerva A. 4 WT; dau. Adelia M. 3 WT; son Frank J. 1 WT.
(1878) Yakima Co, WT, Spon, Frank 49 NY stockman, M.J. fem., 27 WT; W.
Max 8 WT; Frank 6 WT; Thomas 3 WT.
(1880) Yakima Co, WT, Spon, F.H. 51 NY; F.J. 28 WT; M.A. 12 WT; A.M. 10...; ...k 8 WT; Fanny 5 WT.
(1900) Ahtanum, Yakima Co, WA, Spon Frank H. 70, b. Dec 1829 NY, ... Germany, farmer, divorced.
(1910) Ahtanum, Yakima Co, WA, Spon Frank H. 81 NY, retired
("Kamia)kin, the Last Hero of the Yakimas", By A.J. Splawn, page 267;

Here's the kicker, I don't think I'm actually related to this man ... I mean, I wish!  Did you get a load of his skin?  Seventy years old in that photograph, and nary a line on his face, whoever he belongs to, I hope you're moisturizing and taking good care of that legacy.  Seriously though, he was a boarder in 1870 at age 41 in my 4th great-grandfather's household (James W. Allen).  So?  Here's the thing, when I actually search for my family this man keeps popping up, and I've come to learn a great deal about his life, and think he's a quite fascinating man who seems to have lived about a thousand lives, two of which have him operating the first saw mill, and first commercial orchard in Yakima Valley, and when I saw his fading photograph pages deep in a Google search on a lonely little website I wanted to rescue it.  I have the tools to restore images that may not be aging as gracefully as the men in them, and I have a public place it can live so his people can come find him, and save a copy for themselves whenever they want.  So why not?  I know a lot of folks who've been hurt by strangers, and close relatives alike when it comes to sharing (or not) family photographs, and I just want to be very clear.  The copyright on this image expired in 2011.  Yes, I am the owner of what I believe is the original photograph.  I neither desire nor need to be credited as the owner if you wish to publish the image on your own blog, social media, or with your family tree.  I am releasing it back into the wild, so if Francis Hamilton Spon is your ancestor, come and get it!

Meanwhile, the man I'm actually looking for is Jean-Baptiste Spony b.1852 Alsace-Lorraine, France - d.1902 Petaluma, CA.  Alternate names: John Spone, Sponey, Shoany, and "French John".  This guy "married" Sarah Elizabeth Allen 1875 - 1940 (the courthouse burned down, so there's no document, but she calls herself married in Territorial Census, so we're going with it) the daughter of James W. Allen ... The man, and family that Frank H. Spon boarded with five years earlier.  I don't want to connect dots that aren't really there, but is it possible that the few men with similar last names in the area (Spohn, Spon, Spone, Sponey, Spony, Shoany), two of which end up under the same roof at some point could actually be related to each other?  I know it's a stretch, but Frank would've been about 22 years old when Jean-Baptiste was born back in France.  I don't have definitive parents for either one of them, but it is mentioned in 1900 that one or both of Frank's parents are from Germany.  Is that Germany at the time of their birth, or land that was considered Germany at the time the census was taken well after the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian war moved boundary lines?  Sadly, I don't know which part of Germany his parents are allegedly from, but if it was the Alsace-Lorraine region, it could've been France when Jean-Baptiste was born, and it could've been Germany by the time the 1900 census recorded Frank's parents' place of birth.  Also, throughout all of the census records I've had access to it is noted that Frank's birthplace is New York, but I haven't found (yet) any actual documents that substantiate that claim, he could actually be an immigrant himself.  Jean-Baptiste, and Sarah also named their baby daughter Frances ... Could it be in honor of Francis Hamilton Spon?  Or was it a nod to Sarah's aunt she probably never met?  I have so many questions about these people!  I know Jean-Baptiste dodged becoming a priest by running away to America, I know he left his "wife" and baby under shady circumstances, and I know he stayed in touch with his family in France, and I've heard rumors that there's a photograph of him floating around somewhere ... if someone wanted to slip it to me via the email address in my sidebar, I can't tell you how satisfying it would be to finally put a face with this rascal!  If you don't have any photos, but you still wanna chat about old timers, I'm down to do that too.  I can't tell you how many people have reached out over my Rebecca Steele post ... Which reminds me, I have a few corrections to make over there, maybe after the holidays?  Anyway, it's been really great catching up with folks over these kinds of posts, and I always end up learning new and interesting stories about people I'm not even related to, but I love them just the same.

I've always had a healthy curiosity where genealogy is concerned, I grew up believing much of the information regarding my family to be lost forever, and the watered down stories passed amongst ourselves never really added up to much.  However, my paternal grandfather did co-author a book describing what it was like to grow up when, and where, and with whom he did, and in my mid-teens I had an eye-opening reunion with my maternal family which led me to see that there was a lot more to uncover than I could've imagined, thus leading me to embark on this journey about 15 years ago.  I still consider what I do "dabbling" because I'm definitely not as hard-core as some of the old-school amateur genealogists & family record keepers, and I certainly haven't adopted the Gate-Keeper mentality that is still rife in the community.  Some folks want to have ALL of the answers, and they want you to have to go through THEM to get any, and that simply isn't my style.  I believe our history, and heritage should be free, and widely available - it's ours, and it belongs to all of us, and no one should have to jump through flaming hoops just to know where they come from, how they fit into a much larger picture, and essentially who they are.  Over time, I've been able to piece together a tree, *on my own for the most part, that can stand up to some pretty intense scrutiny, and matches those of the sticklers date, by date so I guess I could say after all these years of hobbyist dabbling, I've become quite proficient at hunting down the right information, and discarding the chaff (ie: undocumented claims, distorted family lore), and I think this is why hitting a road block with Jean-Baptiste Spony has been so frustrating.

*I've been able to fluff out my tree a little thanks to some help from a few wonderful connections I've made.  I don't want to take anything away from their contributions when I say I've done this on my own, by that I simply meant if I wanted to know something I had to go out and find it, or track down the right person who did, particularly in the beginning.  Once I had a pretty robust list formed it was easier for people to find me, and offer me information which has led to some pretty amazing offshoots, and discoveries, so I can't say anybody really does this completely on their own. 

If you recognize any of the names in this post, and you'd like to help out, or if you need help breaking through any barriers of your own, get in touch!