Sunday, October 9, 2011

Mrs. TUFTY and the Shaniko album

For many years, throughout my Dad’s childhood and continuing into my own, my grandmother’s next-door neighbor was a kind old woman named Mrs. Tufty. There had, of course, once been a Mr. Tufty as well, whom Dad could remember, but he had died long before I was born. I can still remember Mrs. Tufty in a vague sort of way. I was very young when she died, but she is cemented into my memory as the person from whom I got my first guitar (a small, child-sized model). I also remember Grandma and Mrs. Tufty occasionally chatting over the fence.

Mrs. Tufty had no children, and no living family that we knew of. Therefore, when she died, her belongings scattered. Somehow, through the intermediary of my grandmother, her old family photo album descended to my parents. I have always been fascinated by the album. It is not in the best of condition, and few of the photos are marked with names, but it has always seemed to me a treasure.

For over twenty years my parents have planned to donate it to the museum in the city of Shaniko, where Mrs. Tufty had lived as a child, but they have never quite gotten around to it. This summer, the opportunity presented itself: I was to join my parents on a vacation in central Oregon, and during that time we would make a day trip to Shaniko and some of the other ghost towns in its neighborhood. While there, the presentation could take place.

Shaniko is today, as hinted above, essentially a ghost town, with a current population of about 25. Although nowadays it relishes its status as a ghost town, employing it as a gimmick for tourists, in its heyday it was the transportation hub of a vigorous wool industry, and frequently called the “Wool Capital of the World.”

Mrs. Tufty had lived in Shaniko during its boom, and we figured that the town’s museum would be interested in an album from that time period.

A day or two before we planned to make the trip to Shaniko, an interesting thought occurred to us: we didn’t know Mrs. Tufty’s maiden name. What were we going to tell the folks at the museum?

So it was off to the library to see what I could find.

First, however, I gathered the little information I had to begin with. Questioning Dad, I learned that her first name had been Ethel. Then I asked her husband’s name. “Mr. Tufty,” was my Dad’s laconic reply. So all I had to work with was that her name had been Ethel TUFTY; she had lived on 68th Street in Portland, Oregon for many years; she had lived as a child in Shaniko, Oregon; she had been married; and she had died when I was very young, but old enough to remember.

Once at the library, I began my research at Ancestry, typing her name into the search field and specifying that she died in Oregon. Within a few moments, I satisfied myself between the Social Security Death Index and the Oregon Death Index that Ethel Mar TUFTY (The “Mar” is probably an abbreviation for Mary or Marie) was born on 25 May 1896 in Ohio and died 26 Jan 1985 in Portland, Oregon. A few more clicks, and I discovered that her husband’s name had been Charles. He had been born in Aug 1894 and died 15 Mar 1967 in Portland. I found them living in Tonasket, Okanogan, Washington in 1930, and listed in a 1938 directory at 6615 SE Sherrett Rd. in Portland, Oregon.

I searched for a marriage record, but found none. Oregon’s marriage records are not online; one must travel to the state archives in Salem during business hours to find them. I had hoped (having found them located in Washington in 1930) that perhaps they had been married in Washington state, whose archives are online, but found nothing there either. This was getting me no closer to discovering Mrs. TUFTY’s maiden name, so I tried another tack.

My library has a subscription to the wonderful collection of historical newspapers at GenealogyBank, part of NewsBank, so I typed her name as the search term and limited my search to Oregon and Washington. After wading through a few completely irrelevant results (“Ethel” and “Tufty” being found on the same page, but not necessarily within the same article), I hit the jackpot.

It was on page 22 of the 17 Jan 1952 edition of the Oregonian. An obituary of someone named Clarence A. MERCHANT, and listed among his relations was his daughter, “Mrs. Ethel TUFTY.” I was reasonably certain from my earlier research at Ancestry that there were no other Ethel TUFTYs on the west coast, so this answered the question of her maiden name. She must have been born Ethel MERCHANT.

However, it also gave me a surprise. Clarence MERCHANT had two grandchildren. Mrs. TUFTY had never had any children of her own, but according to this she must have had nieces or nephews! These would be the more proper recipients of the family album.

After a look at the rest of the results and a few quick searches for “Clarence MERCHANT,” “Gertrude MERCHANT,” and “Lee MERCHANT,” which yielded no additional information, I went back to Ancestry to see what I could find with the new family members.

I quickly found the entire family in the 1910 census living in Shaniko. Here I learned their approximate years of birth and probable birthplaces. (I say probable because census records cannot always be relied upon for accurate information.) I also learned that Clarence, the father, worked as Watchman at “Round House,” probably referring to part of the railroad.

I wanted to see if I could find out more about their time in Shaniko, so I googled “MERCHANT family Shaniko.” I found a posted page of Polks Wasco Co. 1910 Directory, which listed Clarence O. MERCHANT as a watchman for the Columbia Southern Ry. Co. and Lee MERCHANT as a “clk” (clerk) in the Eastern Oregon Banking Co.

All this had taken about half an hour, and, as I was at the library, I wanted to free up the computer for someone else’s use as well as look at some of their books. Being in central Oregon, the library had several local history books on Shaniko. The most promising looked to be Shaniko People by Helen Guyton Rees. Fortunately it had an index. Clarence and Lee MERCHANT were both listed, giving the same information the directory had given, with the additional information the Lee was Clarence’s son.

My time at the library ended, and when I shared what I had found with my parents we all agreed that it would be better to find the children of Lee MERCHANT and give the album to them (or their descendents), and make our journey to Shaniko as strictly a pleasure trip.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day of ghost towning as well as the rest of vacation, and once back at home I began the search for the children of Lee MERCHANT. However, it has turned out that they were both daughters, and I have thus far been unable to discover their married names. The search goes on, slowly.

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