(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
by Jim Potter
When I’m driving our car, I don’t constantly look in the rearview mirror. But when it comes to the past, it gets a lot of my attention. I love history.
Not everyone is comfortable visiting a cemetery. However, it energizes me. Last year, while doing historical research with a friend at a graveyard, he introduced me to his deceased wife and parents. “Nice meeting you,” I told them. I also have a friend who has a two-volume scrapbook of her family’s obituaries. I learned long ago, the best place to begin research on a person’s life is with their obituary. With Robert Parks, I couldn’t locate his.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me as a historian, that I much prefer reading old newspapers to new editions. The older the better. Another idiosyncrasy I have is that when I want to meet someone from the past, I enjoy examining the Census. As I mentioned previously, there’s plenty of buried treasure, and I enjoy digging it up.
Anyone doing genealogical research, already understands that the US Census is an extremely valuable research tool. At first glance it seems odd, but it makes sense that using the Census to research people living a century ago is more productive than after 1950. That’s because of the 72-year restriction on access to personal data.
My obsession with researching Robert Parks started with a postcard sent in 1915 by a McPherson County, Kansas, sheriff. After I purchased the card, I perused newspaper articles from October 1915 and discovered Robert was adopted.
I knew who adopted Robert, but I still wanted to know the circumstances that led to his personal predicament of being available for adoption. If both his parents were dead, when did they die? How did they die? Did Robert get adopted soon after their death? How old was he when he became the adoptive son of Henry and Lydia Parks? If Robert was in an orphanage, how long was he a resident before joining a new family? What was Robert’s surname at birth? Who were his birth parents? If Robert had siblings, what happened to them?
The Kansas Census revealed to me that on March 1, 1915, the Henry and Lydia Parks family were renting a farm in Groveland Township, southwest of McPherson, in McPherson County. The Census classified Henry as a farmer. Typical for the era, a wife of a farmer wasn’t classified in a work category, even though she was always working.
Gladys, 15, and Robert, 17, were identified by their gender but not as a daughter or a son. They were both credited with attending school for seven months, the length of a typical school year.
I wanted to learn which school Robert and Gladys Mae attended, so I knew I needed to discover the location of the Parks farm home in Groveland Township. Then, once I pinpointed where they lived, I might surmise they attended the closest school, since most children either walked to school or rode a horse.
I began planning a trip to the McPherson County Register of Deeds Office.
Happy researching and writing,