29 January 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Problems with Pipa and Probate

So, my Stellas. For those who're just checking in, I decided I was going to actually create a 'goal', which I normally don't do, after the first of the New Year. The goal is to find out the nature of the relationship between my great aunt Estella Ann Wersel (1874-1956) and the woman with whom she's buried, Stella Piper (1872-1965), in a single mausoleum crypt in the Cavalry Cemetery in Los Angeles County, California.

I first started to hear stories about Stella, and her brother George and sister Agnes, when I started poking around my mom's grandfather's family. When I started my research in 1996, my mom thought that they were the only siblings her grandfather had, and she have very limited information. What she did know she'd learned in the late 1960s, when she'd been contacted by a lawyer for the Estate of Estella Wersel, as one of 27 heirs who would be receiving a portion of Stella's, as she was known, estate.

George, Agnes and Stella had moved from Cincinnati, Ohio, where they'd been born and raised, to Orange County, California, sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s. George purchased a 20 acre tract of land, which he turned into a very productive walnut farm. To my knowledge, none of the three siblings ever married. As my mom and I were talking about them, she off-handedly mentioned that Stella's estate had not been disbursed at the time of her death in 1956, but at the time of the death of a friend of hers in 1965. And, to be honest, I wasn't really very curious about it because I had more 'important' facts to find. *sigh*

Fast forward to the early 2000s when I had the opportunity to visit southern California with my parents. And you KNOW we drove nearly 200 miles just to go to a cemetery, right? The Cavalry Cemetery is very large, but thankfully the people in the office were super friendly and helpful. They provided location information to us on the graves of George and Agnes; they're buried side by side in an older part of the cemetery, which was established in 1896. However, Stella Wersel, it was noted, is in the mausoleum. And this is what we found:

I remember standing there and saying to my mom, "What the heck...?" and "Who's Stella Piper?!"

As I wrote last post, I had contacted the Cemetery to find out what I could about Stella Piper, but the only information that they had that I didn't was the name of the mortuary that had taken care of her body. Goodbody Mortuary (insert chuckle) is located in San Diego, which is where Stella died at the age of 92. I had spoken with Chris Ebert at the Mortuary last week, and he'd told me he'd have to go downstairs (of course) to locate the old book with Stella Piper's record in it. He'd also warned me that he couldn't provide information due to privacy rules, but that he could confirm information. So I left it with him, was Stella Piper a widow?

Chris didn't get back to me until this Wednesday. But he DID get back to me and was kind enough to take the time and share what he could. Stella Piper had made and paid for her own arrangements at the mortuary, which did NOT include a service or obituary. She indicated that she had no heirs. But...she was A WIDOW. 

At least I now have a bit more to go on. Whether it helps or hinders is yet to be seen. In the meantime, I realized I made a 'newbie' mistake regarding seeking other records. Estella Wersel's estate was fairly large: when it was disbursed to the 27 heirs in about 1966 or 1967, each person received about $3,000. So, I need the Probate record, right? Well, like a dummy, I thought I'd need to go to San Diego to get the record. Except, Estella Wersel died in Orange County...duh!! So I'm off to find out how I go about getting my hands on what must be a voluminous Probate Record from Orange County, California. One that will provide information to me on TWENTY-SEVEN of my relatives. And, hopefully, a tiny bit more about Stella Piper. Please, let there be something more about Stella.

19 January 2012

Thankful Thursday - A Step for the Stellas

One of the most interesting things about doing research, whether we are doing it for our work or as a hobby, is that if you really want to be good at it you have to be able to suspend your own perceptions. I have been doing an incredible amount of research for both my job and my own genealogical interest, and I keep stumbling over this fact.

At my job, the last few weeks have been very challenging at my corporate client. They are an extremely complex corporation with a nearly 75 year history. Because there are so many locations, divisions, and departments, it's very challenging to be able to know when each place will be celebrating an anniversary (there's no single place this information has been retained to; the Archives do not hold typical 'business' material). 

Well, a person in a position of authority 'remembered' that a major location was started in 1982, making 2012 its 30th anniversary! Oh no! We almost missed it! Everyone scramble to find information to put something together for an upcoming show in March! Uh, wait a minute. I wasn't able to find any corroborating information that the location was started in 1982. As a matter of fact, after a very, very lengthy research day, I uncovered that the Grand Opening didn't happen until 1989. "But I was there in 1987!" someone says. Uh huh, you were. But business transactions didn't start, and you didn't let your stockholders know business was being transacted, until 1988 with the opening in 1989. Genealogists, does any of this sound familiar? (Oh, by the way, mad props, i.e., thanks, go to Dwayne at the Town & Country Public Library in Elburn for being an ultra-awesome Reference Librarian!!)

What people remember, and what actually can be proven, are often two very different things. And this brings me back to my lovely Stellas. I'm an exceedingly open minded person. The fact that Stella and Pipa, as they were known, might've had a relationship that went beyond just friends leapt to my mind when I found out they were buried in the same crypt in the Mausoleum at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles County, CA. Why would they do this unless they had an intimate relationship?

Well, I contacted the Calvary Cemetery to see what they could tell me about Stella Piper. All they were able to give me were her DOB and DOD along with the name of her cousin who made the arrangements, Frank Seifert. I asked if there was anything else, and the nice young lady who answered the phone told me that the name of the mortuary that had delivered her remains to the cemetery was called Goodbody Mortuary in San Diego. (Not kidding) So, I looked up Goodbody and, sure enough, they're still in business and thriving! A call to Goodbody's (heh) and Chris Ebert was kind enough to let me know that they can't give out any information due to privacy laws. However, he can confirm information, so I explained what I'm most interested in finding out: was Stella Piper a widow?

Huh?! So, here's where I had to suspend my perceptions. When I started looking into Stella Piper a few weeks ago, I thought I'd find her only in California (bad assumption #1). When I found someone in OHIO with the same birth year, she was  MARRIED WITH CHILDREN (bad assumption #2). So, kicking myself for falling into the 'lazy' habit of making assumptions about the person I'm looking for, and thankful that I found several people who were willing to provide enough information to help me refocus. 

I have to wait until Monday to get the information from Goodbody's because they're very busy (a good and bad thing), and I'll be waiting not so patiently. I still am trying to locate someone of the Random Act of Kindness sort in San Diego who would be willing to go to San Diego County to pull the ginormous Probate file for my great grand-aunt Estella. (Major hint, hint) ;-)

The Stella's are waiting patiently to have their story told. 

01 January 2012

Sentimental Sunday - The New Year (and Me) Begins

I am a lazy procrastinator. Yup. It's true. These are my worst qualities, the ones it's taken me many years to acknowledge, embrace and try to overcome. As an extremely independent person, I'm the queen of doling out *great* advice, but of course, the worst at taking it. And so it was that as I watched everyone posting their updates on their 2011 goals, and new goals for 2012, I started to twitch.

In all honesty, I've never made a New Years' Resolution. Heck, again, I didn't set goals for myself, outside of my work life. And I've been joking lately that I picked vocations where things never end, where you're never truly finished: Archives and Genealogy. 

There are two amazing things I learned in 2011: I'm frighteningly competitive. Seriously, if you dare me to do something (not in a grammar-school I-bet-you-won't-eat-that-worm kinda way), or say I can't do something, guess what? I will go to Herculean effort to make that thing happen, to learn the skill I need, to research something, anything to get that thing done. The other thing I learned? That when I put some effort into finding people to help me be the very best me I can be, there are some fabulous people out in the world. In the genealogy world in particular, but in my business and personal life as well. 

By the way, if you don't have a genealogy buddy or two, find them! Talking about what we do is one of the best ways to uncover things you didn't realize were there, to see the error in your logic, to see the successes you didn't realize you had, and to generally feel awesomeness. And if you don't think you can find one, or you're shy, send me an email. I'LL be your buddy. 

Here goes: I am going to research and attempt to prove the connection between Estella Wersel (1874-1954) and her long-time companion Stella Piper (unkn-1965).

Estella Wersel c 1890
Estella Wersel c 1910

I am putting my money where my mouth is with regard to those of us who are Last Leaves; Stella and Pipa lived together in California, and when Stella died her very large estate was held in Trust to provide support for Pipa until she died in 1965. They are buried in the same space in a Mausoleum in a cemetery in California. I have no proof of the nature of their relationship, only conjecture based on their ending. I want to know much more about their story and am going to do what I can to uncover it. 

Woo Hoo! I set a goal! Now let's see how I do.