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History as Genealogy

One of the most valuable tools for my sort of research has been genealogy. So a subscription to ancestry.com had been a good investment for several years–until the annual fees got beyond my budget. Recently I’ve had to be content with the freebie NDSU library edition.

Genealogy is an odd activity for me, since my own family is so small, particularly in this part of the world where a half dozen children is average and the number of cousins can get well into double digits. Anyone who claims to be closely related to me is lying, though I can’t imagine why they’d want to. As the only child of an only child, I’m the last member of my line and reasonably content to be snuffing it out. So how does genealogy contribute to my research activities? 

One very long-range project has been identification of every architect active on the Great Plains before 1930. Just for grins, I’ve extended the project boundaries to include all states from Texas to North Dakota, as well as Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the three Canadian “Prairie Provinces” of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Aside from city and regional directories, you’d be surprised how much information can be gleaned from genealogical sources. Much of this material is now available on-line. So the prospect of a name at a place during a period of time can now be fleshed out with tidbits about emigration, education, apprenticeship and other useful stuff. There are 2,400 names in my database that I’d love to share with you all.

When it came to imagining Anson Curtiss Tennant (1889-1915/1968), an isolated young man coming to architectural practice circa 1912 was simply not enough. He required parents and siblings; a support network of extended family; relationships through marriage that might prove useful in establishing a practice. Relationships are (I’ve been led to believe) a two-way street, so Anson’s connections would be a way to both give and receive. 

Tennantfamily01

Anson’s family tree grew during a year or two and might grow again. You’ll find him just to the right of center in the fifth generation, with sisters Lucy, Mollie and Claire. 

In the spirit of “war brides” from yesterday’s blog, I recalled Anson’s niece Mary Grace Tabor. She was also Howard Tabor’s aunt (he writes today for the Daily Plantagenet) and the founder of a Montessori school circa 1951 (conceived by Agincourt contributors Vince and Carol Hatlen). While Mary Grace was studying Maria Montessori’s methods, she met Kurt Bernhard, a French refugee of sorts, a widower with a son by his first wife Clothilde Sobieski. The first Mrs Bernhard had been a civilian casualty during the German occupation of Paris. I’m guessing there’s a story here.

The whole Tennant-Tabor family have been fertile ground for community history–a vein that my friend Howard will never completely excavate.


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