Genealogy: Highlighting the Colors of the Past
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.