My great-great grandmother’s glass negatives have pushed me to do more in depth searching on her life. I have tried over the past several years to determine where the West Photography studio at 66 Main Street and the last studio, Mrs. West’s, on Congress Street in Bradford were located. Over the years the streets in Bradford were renumbered making it more difficult to pinpoint.
In my hunt for information I found a couple of articles using Newspaperarchives.com on fires that were on Main Street in the late 1800s. The Baker-Whitehead building would catch fire for the first time in February of 1896 where the West studio was located. The fire damaged the West studio and when the studio was reopened, Mary West would be in charge. Mr. Whitehead was in favor of erecting a brick building but was waiting on consent from the Baker heirs to start construction. From what was to happen just a few months later, I don’t think the building was repaired with brick.
The second article, from the fire that would happen in June, detailed which shops burned and in what order they caught fire. According to the article in June 1896, the Bay State Hotel, 72 and 74 Main, next to the Zook building started burning. From all accounts the fire had started in the Zook building, 70 Main Street. The West studio was located at 66 Main Street, in the Baker-Whitehead Building, on the west side of the Zook building. The fire was so hot that buildings across the street started to smoke and residents helped wet the fronts of the buildings down to keep them from catching fire. From the Bay State hotel east, Nick Asselto’s Little Casino cigar store, then McCourt’s restaurant were also consumed and the Tammaro building gutted. The fire spread in both directions, consuming 68 Main Street and then burning through the West Studio, on the third floor, at 66 Main. The Sondheim building, 62 and 64 Main, on the west side of the Baker-Whitehead building, crashed to the ground destroyed.
I had purchased a book about Main Street’s buildings from the Bradford Landmark Society and searched through it for clues from the story that could tie to the articles on the buildings. There was an article about the Baker building, which use to be the location of J. R. Evans men’s clothing store, and it mentioned that it was next to what was the Bay State Hotel. Current residents can still see the Bay State name on the top of the old hotel building which has housed many different stores in the first floor, including Fannin’s bridal shop where I had worked years ago.
Penn State University Library has a collection of searchable maps that include fire risk assessment maps that show the location of buildings and the street addresses. Some of the maps note the type of businesses that were located in each of the buildings. I can tell from those maps the exact location of 66 Main street and can even see the note for the building having 3 stories and a photo studio in the building. In 1896 there were 7 store fronts in what now has three buildings that would only encompass the width of 6 store fronts. The Zook building is long gone, squeezed out between the Baker building and the Bay State Hotel.
Grandmother West moved the business to Congress Street following the second fire. From newspaper accounts there were legal issues with starting the rebuild of the Baker-Whitehead building that caused a delay of several months. From other maps on the PSU site I can determine where she would conduct business until retiring.
I wonder what my great-great grandmother would think about, had she known 115 years ago, that her great-great granddaughter would one day be carefully scanning her glass negatives on to her computer. We take pictures, share them with friends and relatives and usually give very little thought to generations in the future rummaging through stacks of unmarked photos, trying to learn a bit more about us and our daily life.
I have learned a lot about her, a glimpse into her personality and snapshots into the way she lived. Without a doubt, her skill and eye for photography comes through in the shots I assume she took for her own pleasure and experimentation. She loved light and texture and traveled by train to many locations to take landscape photos that pull you into the image. She was known in town as an experienced photographer of women and children. She adored her son, his wife and her grandchildren and their images show in many of the existing glass negatives.
I enjoy those negatives she might have thrown out, one showed her slender fingers imprinted on the negative, making me wonder if she caught the negative before it had slipped to the ground and broke. Others show her shadow, boater hat firmly planted on her head, which she would have cropped out when printing. You get a quick glimpse of her in another negative, her tall thin reflection appearing in the window behind her grandson.
To get the images scanned onto my computer would require the purchase of a professional scanner and hours of careful scanning. Internet research turned up a supplier for archival negative holders and boxes. Adobe Bridge let me catalogue the negatives for research and grouping. Each bit of research gave a sharper picture of this creative multi-faceted lady and the locations around where I grew up.
After scanning and cataloguing slides I determined that I wanted to frame one for the house. The hard part was then to decide which one. I played with multiple images, cropping and sizing and purchased a wide format photo printer to see the results of the collaboration. The detail from the small 4 by 4 inch glass negative surprised me, and it held up when enlarged to images over 13 by 22 inches.
I chose a photo of the Olean, New York boat launch taken around 1900. The water on the river was so still that it perfectly reflected all that surrounded its banks. Mounted and framed it now hangs where it can be enjoyed by the next generation, a 115 year old collaboration of two related artistic personalities. Priceless.
When I was little I thought that being an archaeologist would be a really neat thing to do. Then I learned about how much math and science was needed and being hot, dirty, frustrated and tired and decided maybe archaeology wasn’t for me. What I didn’t realize then was how many different ways there were to do historical research.
Now that I am older and completely fascinated with genealogy, I am feeding that enthusiastic archaeologist child in me with digging in my families’ historical dirt. I have been scanning glass slides that my great great photographer grandmother, Mrs. West, took, digging for clues to her life in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She adored her grandchildren, especially the ones that lived locally, which is evident in the number and creativity of the slides including them.
One photo stood out to me, begging for location identification. There were the grandchildren, playing in the front yard of a house, in what I was guessing was Bradford, Pennsylvania.
I looked up the address of the children’s mother and entered it into Google earth. From the street view, I located the address and looked across the street to see if the houses matched the ones in the photograph. I had found the location, even though a couple of the houses had been torn down and a street inserted, three of the five houses still stood in the same place.
I spun the Google street view around to see where the children would have been standing. With my mother’s memory of her grandmother’s house, we had the location. Even the electric pole was still in the same spot as it was in 1907, 108 years ago. From Mom’s memory, even the yellow paint on the enclosed sun porch has never been changed through all of the owners of the house. The sidewalk has been changed from wood to concrete and a railing added to the steps to the street.
She must have taken the photo from the enclosed sun porch of her daughter-in-laws house from the angle of the photograph, I can’t match the buildings exactly using the Google earth image..
Documents and photos scatter repeatedly with the death of each generation. What was once a treasured bit of history becomes an unknown piece of historical data tossed in the bottom of a drawer, eventually to be thrown away in a housecleaning.
I remember it being suggested that I write the names of classmates down on the back of school photos. I also remember thinking, why that was necessary, I know who they are and could name them all off. Looking back now, 45 years later, no one seems to remember who that one little blonde in the photo was or that shy looking kid in the back.
I have been gathering information for a family book on my Van Houtte ancestors. I asked my cousins if they had any photos that I could include in the book. One cousin shared with me a photo of the Mt. Alton School children in 1912. The Mt. Alton School was located in Lafayette, Pennsylvania, an area now that is dominated by the Bradford Regional Airport. Property that my great grandfather owned is now a part of the airport property. My grandfather, great uncle and great aunt are in the photo, along with 30 other nameless children.
I am pretty sure among those children are the children of Peter DePrater. Peter was my great grandfather’s sponsor. The DePraters were from Belgium and had lived in Tourcoing, France, where my great grandmother’s family also had lived. Immigrants had to have someone state side that would be responsible for them and their integration into America. Peter and his wife Adele had been living in Pennsylvania for almost 15 years before my great grandfather and his family decided to try their luck in the United States. Peter and Adele would have 11 children, 8 of which were born in New York or Pennsylvania.
Of the 11 children, there is a great possibility that five of the DePrater children could be in this picture. Mary Margaret, 14 years old, Victor, 12 years old, Madeline, 10 years old, Fanny, 8 years old and Anna at 5 years.
Leah Van Houtte, top row on right
Amos Van Houtte, front row, second on left
John Van Houtte, front row, second on right
I remember my grandparent’s house well. It is one of those memories that conjures up both sight and smells. I can see it as if I had visited just yesterday instead of the 30 plus years it has been. It was a long, narrow, white clapboard building, wedged between two others, situated just outside of what once was a bustling downtown. When my dad was growing up, it was on the wrong side of town.
There was a big front porch that spanned the entire front and sagged this way and that. The front door was planted in the middle and a window flagged each side. We never went in the front door, we were family and that meant you used the back door that opened into a warm kitchen full of grandma’s cooking smells. Getting to the door could be an experience to be remembered. Reaching out I could touch grandma’s house on one side and the neighboring building on the other, which was good because in the winter time, the drainage from the roof would create a dangerous ice slick from the front to the back of the house.
Once safely inside the back door, you walked directly into the kitchen. The stove was to your left and a pantry area with the fridge and mobile electric ringer washer was to your right. A small kitchen table was directly in front and the houses only bathroom door just the other side of it. The floor and walls seemed to pitch and roll throughout the house and dad and the uncles had been known to crawl under the foundation and prop it back up on more than one occasion.
The dining room was the next stop on your way back through the house to the front, the stairway to the bedrooms was back against the wall we used to keep from sliding when making our way down the walk outside. Under normal circumstances, the room was full of furniture, a table and 6 chairs sat in the middle, a desk for paying bills to the right of the door and a large buffet across the wall adjoining. As if that wasn’t enough, a china cabinet sat wedged in against the far wall that you had to squeeze past to get into the closet under the stairs. At holidays the dining room was impassible, the aunts and uncles all sitting at the table, the noise at a level I haven’t heard in years. For a young person to get from the kitchen to the living room on the far side meant, squishing, squeezing and dodging past chairs and legs of relatives in the way.
The living room was small, a couch and a couple of chairs, one of them grandpa’s rocker that he use to sit and smoke his pipe in, along with the TV. Somehow they found space to stuff a Christmas tree in the corner for the holidays and there was always a table full of Easter or Mother’s day flowers positioned in front of the window during those holidays. Upstairs there were two bedrooms in the front, barely big enough for the double beds pushed in them, one bedroom in the hall that was Uncle George’s and always had a stack of unopened Christmas boxes full of new shirts. Farther down the hall was another bedroom, a curtain hung in the doorway keeping the heat out and the floor took another drastic dip heading to the back of the house.
What I would learn as an adult was that the house had been owned by my great grandmother, Clemence Mary Defruytier Van Houtte. She purchased the house some time before 1930 and lived there until her death. She willed it to Uncle George with the stipulation that it be sold once he married and the money split between her four children. Uncle George would never marry, and my grandparents would live in the house until after Uncle George died and the money was divided among the living siblings. The house is gone now, and an ice cream store sits on its memory.
I went looking for what happened to the house in 1940, the year after my great grandmother died. I knew my grandparents would live there eventually, but in 1942 they were living in Olean, New York in a new home that they had built. I went looking for Uncle George and couldn’t find him either.
After digging through the census records by hand I found that in 1940 Uncle George had rented the house out for $22.00 a month to Marion Miller Toles and her son Robert Toles. My curiosity got to me and I went looking to see what I could find on them. Marion was listed as married in the census and had lived in rural Cattaraugus County in 1935. Her 18 year old son was listed as having lived in my great grandmother’s house in 1935. I found this curious, why would the son and mother not live together and where was the father.
What started out as curious got even more bizarre when I did a search for Robert Toles and brought up his death certificate. Robert died at 20 of a gunshot wound to the chest in a homicide in Erie, Pennsylvania. The reports that were in the paper claimed that Robert had been shot by his mother’s fiancé, who had shot his mother, twice, non-fatally and then fatally shot himself. If that wasn’t enough, Marion and Robert went by Bonnie and Robert Devere in the 1930 Census in Erie.
Bradford Era, April 23, 1942
FBI to Decide 2 Erie Deaths
Toles and Ziegler Deaths Are Probed; Shirt Examined
Erie, April 22 – (Special) Investigation into the deaths of Robert C. Toles, 21, of Bradford, and Albert J. Ziegler, 60 of Eris has been reopened, it was revealed in an announcement by Burton R. Laub, district attorney.
Toles and Ziegler were found shot to death in the latter’s home, 2650 Poplar street, early the morning of April 12. Laub reporte he is awaiting a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigations as to whether powder burns were found on a shirt worn by Ziegler.
Laub said: “If powder burns are found on the shirt, Ziegler shot himself after he killed Toles and wounded Toles’ mother. Mrs. Marian Toles, 58, during an argument about setting a wedding date.”
Laub pointed out that if powder burns were not found on the clothing the Robert Tolse shot Ziegler, then killed himself.
Paraffin test failed to reveal who fired the .44 caliber revolver used in the double killing. Zieglers hands, Laub said, naturally had been washed preliminary to burial, thus spoiling the test.
Laub also said Mrs. Toles, who was shot twice, has been exonerated of the shooting. She is Robert’s mother.
An autopsy shows that Ziegler may not have shot himself, according to Laub. The district attorney pointed out that the course of the bullet in Ziegler’s body was not consistent with a left-handed man shooting himself.
Damian McLaughlin, assistant district attorney, conferred with Mrs. Toles who is confined to St. Vincent’s hospital, and reported that her statements did not vary with the that she gave police the day of the shooting.
New Castle News, Monday, April 13, 1942, New Castle, Pennsylvania
Two Are Slain in Erie Home
Woman Is Also Badly Wounded in Tragedy of Sunday over Wedding Plans.
Erie Pa, April 13 _ Mrs. Marion Toles, 56 of Bradford, lay seriously wounded, while her son and the man she planned to marry in June were dead today, victims of the husband-to-be’s anger over wedding plans.
Robert Toles, 21, the son, was shot through the heart as he tried to interfere after Robert J. Ziegler, 60 twice shot his mother at the Ziegler home in Erie early Sunday.
Ziegler then shot himself above the heart, authorities reported. Deputy Coroner Frank St. George issued a verdict of murder and suicide.
Toles had been living with Ziegler for three weeks. Last Tuesday Mrs. Toles came to Erie. Ziegler and Mrs. Toles had planned to marry in June but became involved in an argument over the former’s insistence that they wed immediately. The shooting followed.
Police said Ziegler fired two shots at Mrs. Toles, one fracturing her shoulder, the other wounding her in the abdomen.
The Bradford Evening Star, Tuesday, November 23, 1943
Mrs. Marion Toles Seeks Damage on Death of Her Son
Erie – (Special) – Seeking to recover damages totaling $35,000 for the murder of her 20-year-old son, Mrs. Marion toles of 108 West 16th street, Erie, formerly of Bradford, Pa., has filed suit in Erie County courts against Charles W. Gorton, administrator of the estate of Albert J. Ziegler, who killed himself after firing a fatal shot into the youth’s body during an argument in the Ziegler home on April 12, 1942.
Mrs. Toles served Ziegler as his housekeeper, and with her son Robert Devere Toles, also formerly of Bradford, lived at Ziegler’s home according to her statement.
Ziegler was said to have wielded a revolver when he and Mrs. Toles allegedly became embroiled in an argument over their proposed marriage. When he allegedly threatened the woman, her son intervened and was shot to death. Mrs. Toles also suffered two bullet wounds before Ziegler finally turned the weapon on himself.
In her claim against Ziegler’s estate, Mrs. Toles asks $10,000 punitive damages and $25,000, to recover for pain and suffering by her son and loss of his earnings.
The Toles lived in Bradford for a period of five years, from 1937 to April 1942. Here they were known as Mrs. Bonnie Devere and Robert Devere. They left for Erie on April 5, 1942, a week prior to the shooting where Mrs. Toles was to accept a job as a housekeeper.
My fourth great grandfather on my mother’s father’s side of the family was Johannes Evanglieus West (Wiest, Weist or Wust) He was born in Hechigen, Wurttemberg Germany, January 28, 1786. Around 1824, Johannes and his wife Susanna (Haugh) immigrated to the United States with their children, Ulrich, Aldinger, and Petrus. By the early 1840s they had settled in the Clarion County, Pennsylvania area.
According to an article written about Ulrich West in “A Century and a Half of Pittsburgh and Her People,” Johannes’ (John) death was caused as the result of an injury inflicted by an unruly horse. It seems that Johannes was a blacksmith. From Census records, I could tell that the death had to have occurred between 1840 and 1850. In the 1850 Census, Susanna is living in Washington, Clarion county, Pennsylvania her daughter Mary, who was born in Pennsylvania around 1833.
Familysearch.org would provide another document that would help to narrow down the death date to some degree. By hand searching the Pennsylvania Probate records, 1683 – 1994, for Clarion county, there is a record in the Register’s and Orphan’s Court record index 1840-1891 Mi-Z for a John West, orphan children listed as Peter and Mary, letters date February 2, 1846. No death date is listed for John West. The administrator, executor or guardian is listed as Christopher Sigworth (Seigworth). There is only a minor’s estate document number and page, no will information is listed. Although Familysearch has a lot of Pennsylvania documents available that you can manually search through, they do not have the minor’s estate documents.
I searched for (Johnathan) Christopher Seigworth in the Clarion county area and found him, born around 1805-1808 in Germany, so I am pretty sure I have the correct John West and children. Peter didn’t get married until 1850, so that would leave him in the household during 1846. I lose track of Mary once her mother dies, post 1850 Census. Christopher Seigworth and Susanna West were living just 2 houses apart according to the Census.
Ulrich, my third great grandfather, would move to the Butler county area and die there in 1900. His brother Peter would move to Mckean county and die in 1904. I lose both Susanna and Mary after the 1850 Census. After 1850, either Susanna died or remarried and I haven’t found any documentation on a marriage for Mary.
It started out as barely a name and has turned into 50 pages and 10 generations of Siffrin genealogy facts. To say I know a lot more about this line of my father’s family is a massive understatement.
The name has taken on multiple spelling variations from the mid-1700s until now. It seems the progression was something along the lines of Zeverii, Ziverii and Ziwerii became Siveri. From Siveri the spelling changed to Siverin or Siffering before becoming Siffrin. For some unknown reason, my great grandfather spelled the name Siffrinn. To keep my documentation straight in my family tree I have used the Siffrin spelling for all those members before my great grandfather and Siffrinn for those following. I have noted the difference in spelling with the Siffrin spelling.
I have traced the family back to Friedrichsthal, Saarland, Germany at the birth of my sixth great grandfather, Philipp (Siverin) Siffrin around 1745. The city of Friedrichsthal has its own interesting history. I am wondering, since having my DNA results returned showing Scandinavian roots, if this family actually came from Scandinavia. I have found Sievers listed as fourth cousins and they seem to be located in northern Germany. Could the family name actually originate in Norway or Sweden? Were there glassmakers in Norway and Sweden in the late 1700s?
Count Friedrich Ludwig of Nassau-Ottweiler inherited land from his father including Nassau and Ottweiler. The small town of Friedrichsthal was named after its founder and the glassworks was established in 1723. Coal mines from the area were used to fuel the furnaces of the glass factories. For the next couple hundred years the village would prosper.
Over the next 150 years my ancestors can be found in the Friedrichsthal area. It seems that most of them were glasmachers, not glasbläser (glassblowers). The difference between a glasmacher and a glasbläser, as I have been told, is that glasmachers make sheet or window glass, where glasbläser, create blown glass objects.
Around 1882, my great great grandparents and their family immigrated to the United States from Germany. They settled in Norristown which is near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At that time my great great grandfather can be found in a Norristown Directory listed as a glassblower. I don’t know if the same distinction was made in the states between glassblowers and glassmakers like there was in the German glass industry. Grandfather Ludwig would die in Norristown in 1888. My Grandmother Lena (Caroline) would marry his brother William in Norristown two years later and remain in the Norristown area until 1900.
From Norristown some of the family would move on to Kane, Pennsylvania and continue to work in the glass industry.