Genealogy: Highlighting the Colors of the Past

antique bottle

Bubbles like those in champagne climb its glass sides disappearing underneath swirls of etched silver overlay. The bottle’s details are so fine and so old it is hard to see them clearly. Initials etched into the silver are interpreted differently by different people at different times. Currently we think BGD are the most probable. There is a mark etched into the silver that looks like this. My aunt says that my great great grandfather, William Marion Cole bought it for his wife or perhaps one of his children. None of the possible letters match their initials though. The silver is marked 999/1000 which means it is basically pure silver. There is a number 15 engraved below that and then the word patent with possibly some unreadable numbers following that.

The story my aunt tells is that my ever so great grandfather gathered a herd of cattle, probably from his Hopland property near Ukiah and drove the animals out to Nevada to the railroad. There, after selling the creatures and, I imagine, making a nice lump sum of cash–unusual in frontier California–William couldn’t resist buying a little something special for his family.

Why drive the animals so far? Wasn’t there a market closer? Even if he left in the Spring, it must have taken him weeks to cross the California terrain and then he had to somehow coax the herd over the Sierra Nevada range. The dangers and frustrations seem almost insurmountable to me.

The story, like the bottle, is intriguing and romantic. Especially as it’s been suggested that the cattle drive might have been to get the animals to the soldiers in the Civil War. This places the event soon after my great great grandparents got married. I like to imagine the older husband, suddenly flush with money, eager to return to his young bride but searching for just the right small beautiful gift–something easy to carry but bringing a touch of elegance and civilization back to his rural homestead. The bottle could have contained perfume or perhaps it was intended as a vase. The purpose isn’t clear.

The story like the bottle isn’t clear, either. The romantic husband hurrying home is the same ancestor massacring local tribes with the Eel River Rangers I posted about earlier. The young wife was 13 and he was 31. Because it happened a long time ago, we can paint a rosy glow or gray haze over the story.

But more than likely the picture wasn’t rosy or gray; it is just a murky swirl of light and dark like our own lives. And William may have been both the sweet husband and the ugly murderer or he could have been neither. I like to pin down facts. I like to find out the details of my ancestors’ stories but most, like the initials on the bottle, are subject to interpretation.

And, the best I can do is hold up my magnifying glass hoping that each fact I find illuminates some detail I never noticed before…

highlighting the colors of the past.

PS: Now we’ve discovered the marks on the bottle weren’t used until 1886 and William died in March of that year so that makes it unlikely that he purchased the bottle.

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35 comments

  • Wow the girls sure married young back then.

  • The two claimed she was 18 on their wedding certificate but, census records show that she was somewhere between 12 and 14. I know women were scarce in Calif. in the 1860’s but, still, she seems awfully young. And I did a bit of research and it seems the average age at first marriage for a woman was 18 so this was unusual even for the frontier.

    I was such a little girl at 13, I can’t imagine being married–let alone to someone 18 years older.

  • The two claimed she was 18 on their wedding certificate but, census records show that she was somewhere between 12 and 14. I know women were scarce in Calif. in the 1860’s but, still, she seems awfully young. And I did a bit of research and it seems the average age at first marriage for a woman was 18 so this was unusual even for the frontier.

    I was such a little girl at 13, I can’t imagine being married–let alone to someone 18 years older.

  • Well, the average age on the birth certificate at any rate.

  • Well, the average age on the birth certificate at any rate.

  • Oops, I meant marriage certificate.

  • Oops, I meant marriage certificate.

  • You’re probably right. When I was looking at the study, I didn’t even think that they were probably basing it on marriage certs which as these two prove is not always correct. Doh!

  • You’re probably right. When I was looking at the study, I didn’t even think that they were probably basing it on marriage certs which as these two prove is not always correct. Doh!

  • I love that beautiful little bottle, and I hope someday you can solve the mystery surrounding it.

  • I love that beautiful little bottle, and I hope someday you can solve the mystery surrounding it.

  • An interesting tale…and beautifully told. My family’s only been here since the 1890/1900s…and, as such, the most interesting story I have involves my great grandmother making bath-tub gin during Prohibition in the house I grew up in.

  • An interesting tale…and beautifully told. My family’s only been here since the 1890/1900s…and, as such, the most interesting story I have involves my great grandmother making bath-tub gin during Prohibition in the house I grew up in.

  • Hey a fellow moonshiner child!

    How did she distill it in a bathtub?

  • Hey a fellow moonshiner child!

    How did she distill it in a bathtub?

  • I honestly have no idea…but the Irish are quite resourceful!

    Is it still moonshine if it’s made inside…in Brooklyn, NY?

  • I honestly have no idea…but the Irish are quite resourceful!

    Is it still moonshine if it’s made inside…in Brooklyn, NY?

  • Well, as a marketing ploy, Moonshine beats Bathtub gin any day! When you take a bath, can you still catch a whiff of alcohol on dark nights?

  • Well, as a marketing ploy, Moonshine beats Bathtub gin any day! When you take a bath, can you still catch a whiff of alcohol on dark nights?

  • I guess Moonshine is the more romantic of the two terms.

    Sadly…that bathtub was long since replaced before I came along.

  • I guess Moonshine is the more romantic of the two terms.

    Sadly…that bathtub was long since replaced before I came along.

  • My grandfather on my mother’s side was 32. My grandmother was 18. On my Dad’s side, my grandmother was 14 and my grand father was 25 when they were first seeing each other. They wed when she was 18. Not as uncommon as you think. Think, Loretta Lynn.

  • My grandfather on my mother’s side was 32. My grandmother was 18. On my Dad’s side, my grandmother was 14 and my grand father was 25 when they were first seeing each other. They wed when she was 18. Not as uncommon as you think. Think, Loretta Lynn.

  • Yah, but at least they waited until she was 18. My own beloved grandma married at 15 but it was still pretty unusual. And 13 yuck!

  • Yah, but at least they waited until she was 18. My own beloved grandma married at 15 but it was still pretty unusual. And 13 yuck!

  • If you go back to your 4th great gandfather on the Hale side of the family you will find another May/December marriage. After his first wife died, Thomas Hale married Sallie Shenton. She was not quite 14 and he was 37. He had 5 children from the first marriage. The eldest was 2 years older than Sallie and the 2nd eldest was 2 months older than Sallie. Wouldn’t you have liked to been a mouse in the house when he announced that marriage.
    The marriage must have worked. They were married 52 years and had 10 children before she passed away. He lived another 7 years, dying at age 96 years old.

  • If you go back to your 4th great gandfather on the Hale side of the family you will find another May/December marriage. After his first wife died, Thomas Hale married Sallie Shenton. She was not quite 14 and he was 37. He had 5 children from the first marriage. The eldest was 2 years older than Sallie and the 2nd eldest was 2 months older than Sallie. Wouldn’t you have liked to been a mouse in the house when he announced that marriage.
    The marriage must have worked. They were married 52 years and had 10 children before she passed away. He lived another 7 years, dying at age 96 years old.

  • Looking at census records, the Indian wives of the first settlers were very young. Lucy Young says she had to grow a bit before she “married” Abraham Rogers in Hayfork. Most of our earliest white settlers came from Hayfork or the Valley rather than down from Eureka. Many were veterans of the war with Mexico. White women were extremely scarce in this country and single white women were virtually unknown. My Nebraska grandmother was 16 when she married my 32 year old grandfather. She had been teaching Elementary School for a year. My grandfather was born during the Civil War. That still amazes me.

  • Looking at census records, the Indian wives of the first settlers were very young. Lucy Young says she had to grow a bit before she “married” Abraham Rogers in Hayfork. Most of our earliest white settlers came from Hayfork or the Valley rather than down from Eureka. Many were veterans of the war with Mexico. White women were extremely scarce in this country and single white women were virtually unknown. My Nebraska grandmother was 16 when she married my 32 year old grandfather. She had been teaching Elementary School for a year. My grandfather was born during the Civil War. That still amazes me.

  • My mom was 17 when she got married and my grandmother 15 so I am less shocked then some people about young marriage. In fact, when I first started doing genealogy, I was amazed at how “old” most other pioneer women seemed to be–often marrying in their late twenties.

    I’m amazed at how young our history is around here. Most of us have talked to someone who talked to someone who was here within twenty years of white settlement. Thus we are only one voice away from the earliest memories of white settlement here. That seems incredibly young and accessible to me.

  • My mom was 17 when she got married and my grandmother 15 so I am less shocked then some people about young marriage. In fact, when I first started doing genealogy, I was amazed at how “old” most other pioneer women seemed to be–often marrying in their late twenties.

    I’m amazed at how young our history is around here. Most of us have talked to someone who talked to someone who was here within twenty years of white settlement. Thus we are only one voice away from the earliest memories of white settlement here. That seems incredibly young and accessible to me.

  • I don’t recall anything about the bottle other than seeing at the house forever. Forever to me means mid 40’s. But the bell…..I did ask Mom one time about it’s source. As I recall the story, it seems the bell came from a Russian church in the Fort Ross area. The church was ransacked, looted and then burned by some white settlers and the bell was saved when it “somehow” came into possession of one of our relatives. The bell was passed down to Grandma Sarah and then to Mom.

    History books tell us most of the fort’s buildings were abandoned by 1841 when Sutter bought and paid for the whole place. The evil Russians had already pretty much left by then. I’m sure, based on the way I view things today, the perpetrators of that terrible crime could not be relatives of mine.

  • I don’t recall anything about the bottle other than seeing at the house forever. Forever to me means mid 40’s. But the bell…..I did ask Mom one time about it’s source. As I recall the story, it seems the bell came from a Russian church in the Fort Ross area. The church was ransacked, looted and then burned by some white settlers and the bell was saved when it “somehow” came into possession of one of our relatives. The bell was passed down to Grandma Sarah and then to Mom.

    History books tell us most of the fort’s buildings were abandoned by 1841 when Sutter bought and paid for the whole place. The evil Russians had already pretty much left by then. I’m sure, based on the way I view things today, the perpetrators of that terrible crime could not be relatives of mine.

  • What I’m still trying to figure out is what Crime? I always heard the bell came from burning down the “Ruskie’s” church but there is nothing in any of the history books about this.

  • What I’m still trying to figure out is what Crime? I always heard the bell came from burning down the “Ruskie’s” church but there is nothing in any of the history books about this.

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