09 February 2014

A Dinner Bell, Ebay, Serendipity, My Mother, and Several Lessons

"When Mom and I would go to visit Grandpa and Grandma Habben, we'd drive by the Thessmacker place. There was a bell on a pole that would be rung when dinner was ready."

I had heard the story from my mother several times, but it was one of those stories that I had forgotten. After all it contained no "real" detail on my actual family. "Passing by the house with the dinnerbell" in all honesty probably never would have even been remembered had it not been for a picture on Ebay. Two days ago, if I had remembered Mom's dinnerbell story, I would have been unable to remember the name of the farm associated with it.

That's no longer true.

With roots deep in Hancock County, Illinois, I occasionally peruse the Ebay listings in hopes of finding some snippet of family history. Sometimes I purchase inexpensive items unrelated to me with the eventual hope of returning them to someone who may be interested in the items.

That was the intent with the photograph shown below.

John Tessmacher[sic] farm, northwest of Carthage, Illinois, on the McCall Blacktop; probably taken in the 1950s. Photograph in possession of Michael John Neill. Location of farm made by mother of Michael Neill who grew up in the area.

The back of the picture was what struck my interest, particularly the reference to a farm near Carthage, Illinois. The name on the back meant nothing to me. This didn't seem surprsing as it appeared that at least by 1949, the farm was not owned by "John." I made the minimum bid on the photograph and didn't think too much of it.
back of photo shown above

The picture I recognized as being one of those "arial shots" done in the 1950s. I didn't recognize the farm either. 

A few days after making my bid, I was notified that I had won the item. I promptly made payment and forgot about it until the item showed up in my mailbox.

In an attempt to find a little more about the farm, I tried to search for the owner in the census indexes on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch. My initial rendering of the name was John "Messmacher." Attempts to find him failed. Similar attempts to find him in the indexed county atlases on Ancestry.com also failed. 

I decided to quit wasting my time. I decided that I probably was simply not reading the name correctly and that, if the farm was purchased by someone else in 1949, that "Messmacher" might not have owned it when the atlases published on A.com were published (as most are pre-1920--at least for the area I needed). Lesson/reminder 1: know when it is time to visit offline sources.

I decided also that while the name could be incorrect, the location was probably right. The person who bought the farm (and probably lived there) should have known where it was. Lesson/reminder 2: think about what could be wrong and what probably is not wrong in any record.

A few days later, I was visiting my parents. I had forgotten about the picture and then "remembered" it while talking to my mother. I said that I had a picture of the old "John Messmacher place" "near Carthage."

She said, you mean "Tessmacher."

It was then I realized that despite years of reading handwriting, I had jumped to the wrong conclusion regarding that first letter of the name. Lesson/reminder 3: Realize you could be wrong and think about what you have assumed.

I told her that really could be what it was.

I asked her if she would know it if she saw a picture. 

And then, as I got on her computer and pulled up the pictures from the Ebay listing, she again told me the story of the dinnerbell behind the house and how, as a child, she thought that was really interesting.

She confirmed it was the same farm (and after all, how many John Tessmacher farms can there be near Carthage?) and then told me it was on the McCall blacktop, helping me pinpoint the location even more. 

An Ebay purchase on an "unrelated" family gave me another chance to save a story from my mother. And for that, I am thankful.

There's a few other genealogical lessons here as well that I was reminded of when trying to learn a little more about John:
  • the name of Tessmacher was probably spelled Thessmacker, etc. Most references to him in census and other records used this spelling. Don't assume any reference is spelled correctly.
  • the reference to something as the "old so and so place," doesn't mean they necessarily lived there a long time--just that they used to. From census records, it appears that Tessmacker lived on the property from the 1910 era until it was sold. That needs to be confirmed by local property records.
  • the deed of sale from Thessmacker should provide the name of the (couple?) who purchased the property and the likely writer of the information on the back of the photo.

And finally, consider using items that might not directly relate to your family history. You never know what you may discover.

I now have a picture that I can give to a descendant of the writer and a neat little illustration for a story about my mother's trips to her grandparents.


As mentioned before, we believe in citing information in the spirit of Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained. However my editoral policy on this blog is not to include citations as a part of each blog post. We do however include enough information in each post to obtain the original item or to craft a citation (if you think I haven't, please email me and I'll rectify it). We realize others include citations as a part of each blog post, but there are only so many hours in the day. My newsletter, Casefile Clues, does contain complete citations to any items referenced in that work