Esther Weible | Weible Family History
It can be a messy business, thumbing through the fluttering pages of family archives to try and pin down history.
And of course, I’m wielding that analogy quite loosely — rarely, if ever, are you dealing with anything so formal as an archive. Or pages. You may be sifting through piles of photos, grainy old group shots that are badly or befuddlingly labeled, or else fuzzy or even formal portraits that are — achingly — absent identification.
You sympathize with your forebears here. Because you understand — these were photographs that hung on a living room wall, or stood atop the mantle. They were self-explanatory in the times they were taken and displayed, a matter of course, a daily artifact of life.
And then these items, when their owners died, were passed to a son, or a niece, or otherwise related caretaker who gathered them up and stored them away until the caretaker, too, had passed on. And now diligent you comes along, dickering with the conventions of the past, which weren’t so careful as to involve labeling each soul — first name, middle name, last — and the year in which they were captured on film.
Oh, they might leave something cryptic behind — flowing script breadcrumbs, remembering, “Mother” or “Granddad” or “1915.” Little good that it does you, save for inspiring that glimmer of regret — that you had maybe stumbled upon these records earlier, that you had been able to ask, that they had been able to answer.
I stumbled upon a familiar mystery this summer, attempting to decipher Weible family archives.
Specifically, for years I had been yearning for some photograph of my great-great-grandmother, Esther Bliss (Goddard) Weible. It would seem that such evidence should be in abundance. Mother of five children who lived to adulthood, and went on to prominence and whose direct line in my case inhabited the same town for more than a century, Esther and her husband, Franklin Eli Weible, by reason should have been featured on the mantels and in the treasured albums of their descendants.
And yet the only photograph I’d managed to secure in the last few years was an Elks portrait of Great-Great-Grandpa Franklin Eli, after the Dover post closed. Oh, there may be some important mementos, tucked away in the detritus of my grandparents’ house, waiting for its inheritors to make time, sit down, sift, remember — or to pass it along once more. But through successive trips home to raid my own parents’ family boxes, I had yet to find a shred on Esther.
Until earlier this summer, Mom stumbled upon a trove in a heretofore forgotten corner. Documents — tax returns, lists, graduation programs, letters. Pictures — of Great-Grandfather Robert Ohio Weible, mostly, in adulthood, in infancy. And three shots more — some of those bewilderingly vague ones, eventually deciphered through a careful examination of the genealogical record.
Discovering “Aunt Loona, Grandpa, Mama”
Here’s the evidence in collection:
* a portrait of a young girl, inscribed “Age 15 / Reproduced from an old tin type 48 yrs later”
* a snapshot of three people standing on the porch of a brick home. The back bears the inscription “408 Douglass / Aunt Loona / Grand Pa / Mama / At Defiance June 1901” and the stamp “R. O. Weible, 505 Wooster Ave., Canal Dover, O.”
* a final portrait, seemingly of four generations, with no inscription and only the name and location of the portrait studio, Groselle, in Defiance, Ohio
Let’s set aside the portrait of the young girl for now and focus on what we do know.
The old gentlemen with the striking features in the porch snapshot and multiple-generations portrait, we’ve met him before. A May 2010 post detailed the life of Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Timothy Baxter Goddard — his birth and young adulthood in Vermont, his move to Defiance, Ohio, and the words of his obituary. So that’s him in the second picture listed above — taken in Defiance, Ohio, stamped with my great-grandfather’s address as a boy (his father, Franklin Eli Weible’s, home), and identifying the male in the photograph as “Grand Pa.” Fits, right?
Further corroboration is found in the 1910 census, which lists Timothy Baxter Goddard as living at 408 Douglas in Defiance, Ohio in the home of his son-in-law, Fred Stutzman, and daughter. Who’s the daughter? “Luna,” in the census. Ah ha. Aunt Loona, I presume. Another piece falls into place for photo 2. Though — which of the two females, exactly, is Loona? And which is “Mama?”
Also frustrating is trying to connect the three photographs. There is no date on the portrait of the 15-year-old girl. Is this R.O.’s mom, my great-great-grandmother, Esther Goddard Weible? His Aunt Loona? Or the girl from the third photograph?
Let’s talk about that third photograph: Clearly, we have Goddard patriarch Timothy Baxter Goddard in that photo, too. And if I had to wager a guess, the woman on the right (his left) in the porch snapshot. Who’s the man? The woman’s husband? Looks a lot younger, so, more than likely, her son. Can’t be Aunt Loona’s son and granddaughter, since nothing I’ve turned up shows her and Fred Stutzman as having children. So, who then? And how does it connect to the woman on the right in the porch snapshot?
Preserving a Historic Tintype
If you accept that “Mama” in photo #2 is my great-grandfather Robert Ohio Weible’s mother, Esther Bliss Goddard Weible, and that if photo #3 is a four generations portrait of a mother, her father, her son and her granddaughter, and that Luna and Fred didn’t have kids, then because the woman in #3 looks like the woman on the right in #2, then the woman in #3 could be, in fact, my great-great-grandmother.
Still with me? We check the genealogical record.
Esther and Franklin Eli Weible had seven children. Four sons and two daughters lived into adulthood. Only Albert, Rose Ella, Frank and R.O. blessed them with grandchildren. And we can knock out Rose Ella, since the third generation in this portrait is obviously a male — and probably not in-law Urban Lambert.
First, best to check with the photo’s inheritor. Could this be my own great-grandfather R.O. Weible in the portrait? Not likely. By the time his only daughter, Suzanne Abbott, my grandmother, was born in 1918, both Timothy Goddard and Esther Weible were dead.
So, narrow our search down to grandchildren of Esther who were born before she passed away in 1915.
Albert Weible’s daughters, Esther and Zelda, were born in 1896 and 1898, respectively. Could be him and Esther. But why not Zelda, too? Here’s where a date would come in handy. But consider: the girl here looks at least 2, but younger than 5. Probably not Esther, then, since her sister came so soon after she was born, and you’d think they’d include them both in a formal portrait.
So — which granddaughter of Esther was old enough to be included in a four generations portrait solo, with no siblings close enough to them in age to be included before Esther’s passing in 1915? That leaves Frank Abbott Weible and his oldest daughter, Jane Abbott Weible. She was born in 1908, enough time to be pictured with her grandmother and great-grandfather, and well before her sister, Alice Louise, was born in October 1915, about nine months after Esther passed away.
Best surmise, then: photo #3 is of Tim Goddard, Esther Weible, Frank Weible and Jane Abbott Weible. Which doesn’t explain why it ended up in R.O.’s hands, but there you go.
Which brings us back to photo #1, of our tintype teenager. Now, if this is Esther Goddard Weible as a 15-year-0ld, the original dates to c. 1867. Understandable that 34 years later it would be tough to match her appearance to one of the women on the porch in Defiance in 1901. And in fact, the hairstyle of the woman on the left (right hand of Tim Goddard) in photo #2 more closely resembles this tintype. What I would give for a left to right, journalism-style caption here! But the writing on the back reads top to bottom.
The studio mark of “Harbaugh, Dover, O.” helps only a little, since it tells us where the photo was reproduced. But the scribble noting that event occurred “48 years later” is useful. Let’s check the genealogical record again.
Esther Goddard was born in Vermont on July 4, 1852. She turned 15 on Independence Day, 1867. Forty-eight years later, in July 1915, she was, sadly, six months in her grave after suffering a stroke that January. Ah, but here is where the occasion of the reproduction of that girlhood photograph makes sense. Today, we produce lavish albums and computer slideshows to commemorate the lives of loved ones — often displaying these at the funeral visiting hours or ceremony itself. Might R.O. have reproduced the tintype for that occasion? Or, upon her passing, at least have come into possession of the treasured tintype of his mother as a girl?
As noted above, there are occasions when you can only wish for the exact information, the careful label, the historic preservation. And 100 years later, what are we left to do but take hold of the accumulated circumstantial evidence and declare, for photo 1, the dates match up remarkably, and indicate this is Esther Bliss Goddard; and for photo 2, we may assume that R.O. listed the names top-down as they appear left to right in the snapshot; and that for photo 3, finally, we’re likely looking at a four generations portrait of Tim Goddard, Esther Weible and the most likely of her sons and granddaughters?
One thing modern technology, in this case Google Maps, allows us the luxury of doing, years later, is to confirm: that was indeed 408 Douglas in the snapshot, as shown in this street-level image from 2012. Guess we’ll take our careful confirmation where we can. The rest we leave to the ghosts of genealogy to impress upon us.