California and a New Life


Minnie and Charles Halderman

Emma Mary Halderman, was nineteen years old, unmarried, and pregnant. Charles and Minnie understood what an out-of-wedlock birth meant for their daughter and her child. Shocked by Emma’s news, Charles and Minnie may have denied it could be possible. They may have been angry with Emma but would turn their anger upon themselves for what they perceived as their failure as parents. Confronting the fact of the child’s birth demanded action. And action would alter the course of the family’s life.

The months leading up to the child’s birth gave Charles and Minnie time to consider its effect. Their conversations at night in the privacy of their bedroom may have focused on what best suited Emma’s and the family’s welfare.

Charles may have admitted he did not know what to do. Minnie may have insisted they could not stay in Bisbee, that they needed to go somewhere else to begin a new life. A business owner, Charles would have objected, saying he could not just up and leave. At 48, it would be difficult to start over again. As a mother, Minnie may have felt obligated to do everything in her power to protect her daughter. Maybe she urged seeking help from family or friends living far from Bisbee.

A long standing custom, recording a child’s birth in a family Bible is often recognized by governments in establishing citizenship. Recording Drusilla’s birth as their child in the Halderman family Bible set Charles and Minnie’s plan in motion. The Bible record gave Drusilla legitimacy. It protected Emma from the shame of bearing a child out of wedlock. With no other birth record, the child’s birth father did not exist.

Within weeks of Drusilla’s birth, the Haldermans prepared to move from Bisbee to Tulare County, California. To finance the move, the family may have sold its belongings, including the truck that was the source of Charles’ livelihood. Or, hoping to begin a new business venture, they may have packed the truck with all they owned and drove it to California.

The seven hundred fifty miles between Bisbee, Arizona and Tulare, California gave the Haldermans time and distance to fill out this new chapter in the family narrative, a narrative invented to shield an unwed daughter with a child as well as to protect the family from social stigma and embarrassment. In the new narrative Drusilla would grow up with Minnie as her mother, Charles her father, Fred, Ben, and Clarence her brothers, and Emma, her big sister. Emma would be free to entertain the attentions of the young men who pursued her.

A Bogus Obituary

Drusilla Eugenie Halderman is the name Charles Halderman wrote in his Bible to record my mother’s birth in Bisbee, Arizona, on July 13, 1920, as though she were the eighth child born to him and his wife, Minnie. In fact, Drusilla’s mother was Emma Halderman, Minnie and Charles’ daughter. Emma was nineteen years old and unmarried. Minnie and Charles moved from Bisbee with their family following Drusilla’s birth. Little is known of their decision to relocate, the facts having gone to the graves of the keepers.

Minnie Havens Halderman

Settling in Tulare, California, the Haldermans opened a new chapter in the family narrative, a curious mixture of fiction and non-fiction, managed by Minnie. Life before California was little, if ever, discussed. Drusilla grew up with the understanding that Minnie was her mother and Emma, her sister. Minnie’s fiction left Emma, a beautiful young flapper, free to entertain the attentions of the young men who pursued her.

Charles “operated a dairy in… [Tulare] for seven years,” stated an obituary published in The Fresno Daily Morning Republican on October 21, 1930. According to the obituary, Charles died at age 56 while “visiting a brother in Arizona.”

Emma married Albert Irwin on January 2, 1926. Sometime in 1936, Emma told Drusilla the truth of their relationship and of their (Albert’s and Emma’s) plan to adopt her. The decision to adopt Drusilla required Minnie’s and Charles’ consent for which Emma asked in letters to each of her parents in August 1936. Minnie gave her consent in a letter from Greenville, California, dated August 7, 1936. Charles consented, but his letter, dated August 10, 1936 and postmarked Courtland, Arizona, calls into question the validity of his 1930 obituary.

With her parents’ consents, Emma engaged M. C. Kerr, an attorney in Quincy, California, to proceed with the adoption. A letter dated September 10, 1936, from Kerr to Emma, enclosed a copy of the petition for adoption along with copies of the relinquishments for Minnie’s and Charles’ signatures. Kerr’s letter requested a payment of $10.00 to cover the petition filing fee and other “necessary cash fees.” In the depths of the Great Depression, $10.00 may as well have been $10,000. The adoption was never finalized.

“Their intention is as good as fact for me,” my mother said.

A fiction invented to shield an unwed daughter with a child as well as one’s family from social stigma and embarrassment may be justifiable, potential emotional and psychological damage to the child notwithstanding. The pressure of the social mores of the time may have compelled Minnie to publish a false obituary to veil her separation from Charles thereby ensuring her respectability as a “widow.”

“’That crazy old lady!’ That’s how Albert described Minnie,” Mom said. “And, he’d usually add, ‘She couldn’t tell the truth if she had to.’”

An “American Pedigree”

“Grandfather Crook came from England,” Auntie Beth said. I don’t recall what we were talking about or why she told me. At 16, I wasn’t interested.

Seventeen years later, when I began searching for my ancestors, my father, Auntie Beth, and the other members of their generation were gone. “Grandfather Crook came from England” was all I knew about my father’s family. My search was motivated by the success of Alex Haley’s novel, Roots. In a previous post I wrote a detailed account of my family history research experience.

After 38 years, I’ve learned that family history research is like solving a puzzle. Thousands of individual pieces of information must be sorted, evaluated, and fit together to form a family picture in much the same was a jigsaw puzzle is completed. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, the family history puzzle has no box cover illustration to use as a guide. Completion of the puzzle is further frustrated by a sometimes large number of missing pieces.

The United States of America being a nation of immigrants, I was intrigued by the idea of tracing my roots to the immigrant ancestor in each family line to build what is called an “American Pedigree.” “Grandfather Crook” is the only immigrant ancestor I have verified.

My family’s history is a puzzle with many missing pieces. My paternal third great grandfather is lost in a haze of unlisted household members enumerated by age range in the censuses of 1790 through 1840. Though the family name can be traced from Thomas Hine of New Milford, Connecticut in 1640, I lack sufficient information to connect my grandmother, Hattie Mae Hine, to the Hine genealogy.

The earliest information about my maternal great grandmother, Minnie Havens, is found in a marriage record from 1896. I have been unable to trace her through census records.

The “secret” of my maternal grandfather’s identity went to the grave with my grandmother along with answers to questions about the Halderman family’s abrupt and mysterious move from Bisbee, Arizona to Tulare County, California in 1920 following my mother’s birth. A further mystery is Minnie’s decision to publish a notice of my great grandfather’s death while he was still living.

With less information about my family than Alex Haley had about his, I may never find my “roots.” I’ll have to call my book Missing Pieces.

Family History Research

Alex Haley’s groundbreaking historical novel, Roots, first published in 1976, became an instant worldwide phenomenon. An important book and television series, Roots, galvanized the nation and created an extraordinary political, racial, social, and cultural dialogue. In addition, Roots launched a tidal wave of interest in family history research. Overnight, public, genealogical and historical society libraries, city, county and state offices of vital records, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Service were besieged with requests for copies of records and rolls of census microfilm.

Before the Information Age transformed our lives, family history research (genealogy) was a painstaking and time consuming pursuit. While the personal computer and the Internet have revolutionized the speed and ease with which family history information is accessed, gathered, organized, and stored, family history research remains a painstaking and time consuming pursuit. It requires the intervention of the researcher to evaluate information contained in a variety of records and to link that information to people and to events to establish facts that prove the relationship of people to one another and to property.

My family history research began with Gilbert Harry Doane’s Searching for Your Ancestors. Doane’s book gave basic suggestions about gathering information needed to construct a family tree, or pedigree. I made a list of the facts I had: the names of my parents and grandparents as far back as I could remember or knew. Next, I wrote letters to relatives who I thought might have any of the information I sought.

Some family members are reticent to talk about the family’s history and, in some cases, to talk at all about particular family members. I recall asking an elderly aunt about my grandfather, who died before I was born. “Oh, that sonofabitch,” she snarled, “Why do you want to know about him?” “Because the knowledge is relevant to who I am,” I thought. How can I know who I am unless I know where and from whom I come.

In 1977, I moved to Taft, California to a job as library director at Taft College. To my surprise, the college offered a course in genealogy through its community services division. I soon learned that the course would have a major impact on the college library. Course participants descended on the library in search of answers to their family history research questions. Knowing little or nothing about family history research, I was at a loss to meet their needs.

My family history research education began in earnest. A few more family history “how to” books were available by then, and I learned that the library was eligible to order census microfilm from the National Archives and Records Service.

I learned about the census, what information each census contained, and what census records were available. While several hundred reels of census microfilm flowed through the library over a period of five or six years, census resources are but one piece of the family history puzzle.

In the course of reading about family history research, I came across the suggestion that, as a nation of immigrants, locating an immigrant ancestor was a suitable goal for most Americans. Identifying the immigrant ancestor became my mantra for each family history researcher with whom I worked.

As the demand for family history resources increased, I studied harder and became more knowledgeable. Eventually, the instructor who taught the college’s genealogy course suggested that I teach the genealogy course. “You know more about the process of family history research than I do,” he said. “I’m sure you can do a much better job of meeting the needs of students and family history researchers than I can do.”

About the same time, a group of genealogy students and local family history researchers formed a genealogy club.

Those were exciting times. I began organizing field trips to area genealogy libraries. I spoke at meetings of the Kern County Genealogy Society on a variety of record types and was interviewed on a local radio talk program.

Two summers, I organized week-long field trips to Salt Lake City to use the LDS (Mormon) Church Genealogical Society’s library, each time escorting 15-20 avid family history researchers.

I taught week-end workshops for Bakersfield College’s Community Services program. The workshops included a field trip to the genealogy library of the Santa Monica Temple LDS Church or to the Genealogy Room of the Los Angeles Public library.

I looked at hundreds of rolls of census microfilm, searching for my ancestors as well as the ancestors of other family history researchers. It was fun and exciting work, particularly when anyone found an ancestor for whom they were searching.

I traced my paternal and maternal family history several generations. Early in my research, I found a genealogy of the Hine family–the family name of my paternal grandmother–that begins with the first person of the Hine surname in New Milford, Connecticut in 1640. To date, I am unsuccessful in locating the ancestor who links me to the Hine genealogy. Missing one or two generations that make the connection, I am thwarted by the mysterious disappearance of my third great grandfather. He died before 1850 and was, therefore, not captured by that U.S. Census. Born before 1790, he is not listed in the pre-1850 censuses as only heads of households were listed by name in the censuses of 1790 through 1840.

In 1976, did not exist. Today, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, it is possible, with the click of a mouse, to find everything needed. I am amazed at how fast, easy, and inexpensive it is. The research practically conducts itself.

Family history research is interesting, rewarding, and enjoyable. As a librarian, I am naturally curious, enjoying the challenge of finding information to answer research questions. The greatest reward, though, is the satisfaction of being the member of my family who knows the family’s history and who loves sharing that history with other family members.