My father recently made a huge road trip through the Western United States. One of his stops was Pratt, Kansas, where he was born.
He had last been in Pratt about fifteen years ago. On that visit, he tried to find the house where he was born and lived until he was six, but was unable to do so. He thought he had the right address from his sister, but he didn’t recognize the house she said had been theirs.
On this visit, my father again drove around Pratt looking for the house, but didn’t find anything that looked familiar. But he drove past the Pratt County Historical Museum, and decided to stop in.
Any readers who have been to small town historical museums know that they keep everything. There may be a challenge finding what they have, but they are treasure troves of local history, both boring and interesting. (And what’s boring to one visitor, another might find fascinating.)
My father explained to the docent on duty that he had been born in Pratt and that his father had managed the Woolworth’s store downtown.
“That burned down, you know,” she told him.
“Yes, I know,” he replied. “It had just opened a few weeks before the fire.” He was an infant when the fire occurred, but that much of the story he knew.
“There was an article in the paper about the fire,” she said. “I’ve seen it somewhere.”
While he looked through the museum, she searched the archives. She called him over as he was leaving. “Look what I found,” she said, and handed him a copy of the 1933 article about the Woolworth’s fire.
Not only that, but she also found a 1936 town registry listing my father’s family as residents of Pratt, and giving their address.
Armed with that information, he left the museum and easily found the little house where he had first lived as a child. It was near the park where he remembered playing in the creek, coming home all muddy to his mother’s consternation.
So the Pratt County Historical Museum solved one of our family mysteries – where my father had lived as a small child.
But the article opened another mystery for the family. It said Woolworth’s would assign my grandfather, L.E. Claudson, to their Denver store until the Pratt store was re-built. But my father has no memory of any family conversations about my grandfather living in Denver.
He remembers pictures of my grandfather in Colorado with strings of trout he had caught, but no pictures of any houses or jobs my grandfather might have had in Colorado. And my grandfather had a brother who lived in Fort Collins, so the trout might have been caught on a vacation.
Did my grandfather move to Colorado or not? We will probably never know.
What mysteries are there in your family history? How might you solve them?