Seattle Now & Then: Genealogy

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Genealogist Darlene Hamilton, on the left, no longer remembers what particular research tome she and her predecessor Carol Lind held together for this ca. 1971 portrait in the genealogy alcove of central library. The photographer was, most likely, Lind’s friend Joseph W. Marshall. (Courtesy, Seattle Public Library)
NOW: Darlene Hamilton, again on the left, and her successor John LaMont chose to hold together a history of Montgomery County, Indiana, where, they determined, both have forebears.

At some moment in the walkabout of life it occurs to more than a few of us to look back to where we came from. This interest in personal history will sometimes be an entrance also to community history and more. But it typically starts with genealogy; finding out about one’s parents and their parents and so on and on. As almost anyone who has taken this hide-and-seek path will confirm, saddling our basic human urges for chasing the fox or the facts can be a most exhilarating ride.

Thankfully for this search we can get some practiced and typically kind help from genealogists, and The Seattle Public Library, the Seattle Genealogical Society, and the Fiske Genealogical Library all have them. For many of us the face on the left of both our “now and then” is a familiar one. For forty years Darlene Hamilton was The Seattle Public Library’s genealogy librarian.

In the contemporary scene Hamilton poses with her successor John LaMont in the genealogy section of the History Department in the still new Koolhaus-designed central library. In the older view, and at her predecessor’s request, Hamilton has joined Carol Lind in the “genealogy alcove” of the central library’s Bindon and Wright designed building (1960), which held to the same block facing Fourth Ave. between Madison and Spring Streets.  When Lind started with the library in 1949 it was still housed in the classically styled stone pile built with funds from the Carnegie Foundation more than a century ago, and also on the same block. Carol Lind retired in 1971.

John LaMont notes that many of the requests made at the central library’s history desk are genealogical. And the electronic tools that LaMont and Mahina Oshie, a second genealogy librarian added this year, have in 2011 are what Carol Lind, perhaps, could have scarcely imagined a mere half-century ago. But LaMont notes, “There are many things that remain the same in terms of assisting people with their research. We suggest they look at family sources, learn about doing research, fill out a family chart, and we make recommendations on where to look based on what they know already.”


Happy New Year! Anything to add, Paul?

Thanks Jean and the same in return.  Yes we will take a break from partying (which we started at your place for dinner with the most succulent turkey any of the about fifteen persons squeezed into your dining room can remember having ever been served before and all because you soaked the bird for hours in some salty solution and then stuffed it also with exotic spices and mushrooms) and put up some old Seattle Public Library photos.  We may have inserted one or more of these earlier, but this is new “context” so we will not be prevented.  Still the readers are reminded to use the search window for finding out more about any subject that comes up.  We have been putting up enough features by now that you might well find something – or you may also come upon the same thing, in which case please be happy with the new surrounds.

We’ll start with a something from SPL genealogist John LaMont and add now our thanks that he took our invitation to write about his personal history as subject and as research.  And we asked John to help illustrate it, so we have a few pictures of the SPL’s genealogist growing up and into his expertise.  John did not title his offering, but we have.   So first an “invitation” from John – and thanks to him too.

John LaMont and Darlene Hamilton at Darlene's retirement party, July 5, 2011.



With genealogy and family history, everything fits together in a timeline and events are marked by when and where they occurred. But it’s typically not until we’re looking back that we can see the patterns and connections, causes and effects, and points where our personal histories intersect with others. When I began working as a genealogy librarian at The Seattle Public Library [SPL], my path intersected with that of Darlene Hamilton, the senior genealogy librarian, for seven years.

In 1966 after graduating from library school in Minnesota, Darlene landed a librarian job in Bellingham, hopped on a Great Northern train, and headed out west.  While working in Bellingham, Darlene made several genealogy research trips to SPL and at about the same time, my folks moved from Missouri to Minnesota and then to Montana, which is where I come in.  A few years later in 1971, Darlene was hired by SPL and started her career as a genealogy librarian—a career that spanned 40 years and included the Bicentennial, Alex Haley’s Roots, the public releases of the 1900, 1910, 1920, & 1930 U.S. Census, and helping countless people research their family’s history.

John, age 3, in Northern Virginia, Dec. 1971, which is shortly after Darlene Hamilton started her new job at Seattle Public Library.

Meanwhile, my folks moved to Northern Virginia when I was a toddler, and it would only take me 17 years to become interested in genealogy, another 6 to learn of Darlene (I moved to Seattle in 1993, discovered the large genealogy collection at SPL and microfilm available at the National Archives Regional Branch and truly became hooked), and another 10 beyond that before I landed a job working with Darlene at SPL in 2004.

John in Washington D.C.. He writes, "This was taken about the time I first became interested in family history - about 1988/9."

For me the draw is mostly about research and discovery, and being able to piece together the lives of ancestors based on information they left behind.  My dad’s family has lived in Washington since the 1880s, and my aunts’ and cousins’ homes in Chewelah are treasure troves of photographs, diaries, family bibles, etc.  Putting those pieces together with other genealogical sources such as censuses, land records, probates, wills, vital records, military records, court records, passenger lists, newspapers, and the like, you can learn quite a bit.  And with much of this information now available online via free web sites or subscription databases, you can make substantial progress in one sitting.  In other cases, even with access to all these records at your fingertips, there are certain roadblocks to progress.  Some of these you may find were put up by your ancestors.

Nellie (Rusk) LaMont at Laura (Rusk) LaMont's grave - Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery - Spokane, WA. John writes, "This is sometime before 1963 when Nellie died and likely earlier based on her appearance." Most likely the car in the background also makes it considerably earlier than 1960.
John LaMont at Laura (Rusk) LaMont's grave - Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery - Spokane, WA.

There are two family secrets that I discovered when researching my family history.  The first I discovered early on and it was that my great-grandfather Clarence LaMont had been married twice, first to Laura Rusk who died in 1907 at age 24 and secondly in 1909 to my great-grandmother Nellie Rusk, Laura’s younger sister.  There were two clues: A photo of Nellie standing next to her sister’s grave in Spokane – the stone simply reads Laura with no last name; and an obituary of Laura and Nellie’s mother from December 1906 listing one of the survivor’s as Mrs. LaMont of Harrison, Idaho.   Adding these to the Washington Death Index, a newspaper obituary from Spokane, and the funeral home records, I had my smoking gun. Although someone marrying a deceased spouse’s siblings was not in itself a scandal—then or now—the fact that no one in my family had known about it made it quite interesting.

Shirley LaMont (Clarence & Nellie's son) in West Seattle with his guitar. Circa 1927.
John LaMont in West Seattle at the same house, but with his wife Jamie's guitar. Circa 1995.

The second secret, which I just discovered a couple of years ago, is also related to Clarence.  After years of searching for his roots with no success, I was left with a handful of family facts – youngest of four, born January 13, 1879 in Patoka or Vandalia, IL, mother died when he was two, shuffled around from one Uncle to the next until he was 12 or 13, headed out west to make his fortune as a cook, two sisters, one named Ida married a man named Ritter and had son Cliff, a brother, and so on. I knew his parents’ names, based on a Social Security application, to be William Henry LaMont and Elizabeth Andrews. But Clarence never appears in the Census until 1910 and his earliest known whereabouts were in 1906 — Harrison, Idaho.  Turns out Clarence was born and raised as Thomas H. Sharp, and changed his name when heading out west.  I was able to connect with distant cousins and we compared our pictures of Clarence and Thomas and found him to be one in the same.  As to why Clarence changed his identity, that is another, as-yet-unsolved, mystery. And so the fun continues.

If you need help with your genealogy, drop us a line via the Ask-A-Librarian service at, come by during our genealogy desk hours, or make a one-on-one appointment. Mahina Oshie, our newest genealogy librarian, and I are happy to help you with your research.

You’ll find us at the 9th floor reference desk at the Central Library during the following times:

  • –Tuesday through Saturday:  11 a.m. – noon; & 1 – 3 p.m.
  • –Sunday: 1- 3 p.m.

Appointments are available Tuesday through Saturday at 3 p.m. & 4 p.m.

John with his parents, Kathy and Wayne LaMont, in Northern Virginia, 1971.


Next we will run on with a few photographs.   Most of the first selections show the library block seen from near 4th Ave. and Madison Street, looking to the north and east.   The sequence begins  with a look at the block when the McNaught mansion still held it, circa 1902.

The McNaught Mansion on the east side of 4th Ave. seen across Madison Street. Note the cable railway's slot running between its tracks, and Providence Hospital on 5th Avenue, on the right.
The Carnegie Library, ca. 1907, when new and before the 4th Ave. regrade required adding a grand stairway to the library.
The library with its grand stairway following the 1908 4th Avenue Regrade.
The library lobby (Courtesy Seattle Public Library)
Carnegie Library reading room with card catalog. (Courtesy SPL)
Children's reading room in the basement.
Carnegie fine arts room. (Courtesy SPL)
A bake sale for the library in the library.
Looking west on Madison Street from 5th Avenue with the Carnegie Library on the right.
Front on Fourth during the Big Snow of 1916.
Looking north on Fourth Avenue from the library's front door, ca. 1940. (Courtesy SPL)
Razing the Carnegie - looking south on Fourth Ave. and across Spring Street. (Courtesy Lawton Gowey)

Above and below, construction on the modern library, ca. 1959

Seattle Public Library, central branch, nearly new. (Courtesy SPL)

TO ALL the dear visitors of this blog, Jean and Berangere and I wish, hope and imagine – we’re concentrating – a fine coming 2012 for you and all that matters, which includes us.







Seattle Confidential – John George Variations from Dance to Pope & Potatoes

JOHN GEORGE – Variations

[To Enlarge the Clips below, CLICK them.]

Ron Edge – of this blog’s “Edge Clippings” – reminded me that The Seattle Times “key word search” service through the Seattle Public Library website, can also read telephone numbers.   He quickly determined that the “782 – 2442” painted by some semi-pro free hand on the somewhat seedy door in the photograph above was the tel. number for John George’s Studio of Performing Arts at 5412 Ballard Ave. N. W.  (A parking lot now, I believe.)  I have a habit of dating old negatives from my wandering prime as “circa 1970s.”  The sidewalk weed at the front door suggests that the door behind it was not often used.  However, John George was active here from the 1960s into the 1980s.  It is, again, the key-word opportunity that gives us at least a minimal sense of what he was about in this studio.   Predictably, there were many other John Georges, the most prolific made from one/half of the Beatles.   Beyond the Liverpool connection, a racehorse named John George did pretty well at Longacres in the 1970s, and John George Jr. after him in the 1980s.  I also pulled two instructive references to a Salish tribal leader in Vancouver. B.C. named John George.   Read on  – if you will, and CLICK TWICE to enlarge.

This early reference to John George makes special note of his "free dance instruction for underprivileged children." And Oscar Peterson is in town. The date is at the top.

What appears to be the first self-promotion for our dancer John George puts him in the S.Times Pictorail's montage of ads for Performing Arts services, Sunday, Sept. 8 1968. He credits his studio with the work (his work) of the "award-winning Seattle SeaFair Starlighters."
John George subscribes again to the Pictorial montage for Sept. 7, 1969.
For many years Robert Heilman was The Seattle Times natty "Man About Town" dressed like sent from Central Casting. In this June 10, 1973 feature, Heilman compliments George's students for their performance in a variety show at the Seattle Center Playhouse.
George subscribed for a smaller ad in the Pictorials performing arts montage for Sept. 10, 1978, which has also shrunk to half-a-page.
John George has a hand in a benefit for the performing arts in Lynwood. Jan. 28, 1981. This, it seems, is the last citation in The Seattle Times for John George, the dancer/teacher from Radio Music Hall and Ballard.
One example of many - most of them post listings - for the horse John George that raced at Longacres in the 1970s.
Here John George, a Salish tribal leader from Vancouver B.C., interprets a spooked three year old's communications in his bedroom at night with a man that he describes - thru his mother's interpretation - as looking like Daniel Boone. John George is confident that the boy is mistaken. The speaker is not a white mountain man but one of George's ancestors complaining about the desecration of his burial ground by the laughing child and his sometimes messy bedroom. Dec. 23, 1976, dateline Vancouver B.C..
John George (again) greets John Paul with a talking stick during the pope's 1984 visit to Vancouver. With the stick the Prince of the Vatican can safely and with authority speak ex cathedra even on public occasions.

Another John George holds our last clipping.   This time George speaks with the authority of Ore-Idaho Foods Inc, as their head of international export sales.   We learn that the average European eats more potatoes than the average American (although, it occurs to us, that the average American looks more like a potato than the average European.)   America in the fall of 1976 – its bi-centennial – had too many potatoes and was ready to ship and share them with Europe.




Seattle Confidential – Odd Symmetry


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Silently set with a lustre so fitting for some of the dancing days we played within it’s walls, the Oddfellows Ballroom (and like the Eagles Auditorium with an encircling balcony) was wonderfully fit for staging light show dances – and our’s were.

As the poster below elaborately confesses, in 1976 the remnants of 1967 had a big dancing party (we might have called it an A’GOGO-BEIN, except that the connotations of “gogo” were too commercial) here, in this Oddfellows Temple on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the founding of the Helix, the first “alternative tabloid” hereabouts and the local member then of the nation-wide UPS, or Underground Press Syndicate.  The Helix was first imagined in the University District, in the upstairs office of the Free University of Seattle (FUS) in the fall of 1966.  It sprang of “necessity” from a conversation I had with Paul Sawyer, a Universalist Preacher then, and recently deceased – last year.  Paul said, “We need a newspaper – something like the Berkeley Barb.”

The weekly tabloid began publishing in the Spring of 1967.  With lots of help from Ron Edge – of this blog’s “Edge Clippings” and more – we hope to put up the entire Helix opera sometime this year.  (Ironically, we may have to take on advertising to pay for the added memory required to post it and other over-sized resources.  We hope not.  Jean especially is committed to a blog free of ads – except, of course, for our own.)

Click Twice to Enlarge. With the exception of Steve's Schafer's cartoon of captured eggs, which was drawn for this poster, all the art here by different Helix hands appeared originally in - HELIX.

One of my many little ways of negotiating survival during the 70’s was receiving two CETA grants through the Seattle Arts Commission.  One was for arranging benefits for local non-profits in the arts and the other for studying local history with a mind to making a film about it.  I used this hall for more than one of the big benefit shows, and it was in the AND/OR gallery on the ground floor of Oddfellows where I made my first presentation on work-in-progress on the Seattle  Film, which I was then calling “Seattle’s Second History.”  Recently, Jean’s youngest son Noel was helping feed the 99%, which was temporarily camped nearby on the Seattle Community College campus. Jean and I met him at the Oddfellows cafe and bar. (They ordinarily promote this space singularly with “Oddfellows” and with neither cafe nor bar. I makes it seem more club like.) The cafe is housed in the same big room that was once home to the principal avante garde-plus exhibit and performance space of the 1970s: the And/Or.   In the interests of – or curiosity for – the timeline of this hallowed space on 10th Ave., I asked three persons connected with the busy cafe if they knew anything of its past.  Alas, they were all clueless.  It seems my prime  looks forward from the past, while theirs does the same from the present.

It is often a mixed delight to come upon negatives – like the ones on top and below, both of the Oddfellows – I photographed long ago, for ordinarily I did not date them.  While I’m confident that from context – several contexts – I’d eventually be able to date this scene, it would require days for sorting and reflecting through thousands of plastic sheets of negatives.  For now I put it sometime in the 1970s.  Since I also developed the film It would have been so prudent to have simply marked the negative holders – seven strips deep and five 35mm negs wide – with the date and the place, although ordinarily I still remember the latter.


Paris chronicle #32 Trocadero on ice

In the mood of the Hautes-Alpes, an igloo and an ice rink have been set at the Trocadéro for Christmas holidays. So you can take your skates, visit the craftsmen in their log cabin,  drink some warm wine,  as if you were in mountains, and see at the same time the Eiffel Tower…

En l’honneur des Hautes-Alpes, un igloo et une patinoire ont été installés au Trocadéro pour les vacances de Noël. Alors, vous pouvez prendre vos patins , visiter les artisans dans leur chalet, boire du vin chaud comme si vous étiez en haute montagne et voir en même temps la Tour Eiffel…

Seattle Confidential – White Rover Dog Food

[Click to Enlarge – sometimes TWICE]



Now that Christmas is Christmas Past, and all the presents are delivered and opened, it is, we hope you will agree, time for us to think again about our pets, and learn now of the wonderful nutritional opportunity that comes but one time a year – this time.  Feed your best friend White Rover Dog Food, the only diet for dogs made from reindeer meat.   It’s the well-balanced food that both Huskies and Wolves – like White Rover – prefer.

This first local ad (below) for White Rover Dog Food included an offer hard to resist: 3 cans for 23 cents.  The Bartell’s ad appeared in the Jan. 21, 1932 Seattle Times.

For the young, White Rover borrowed on the long-lived popularity of the Hollywood star, Rin Tin Tin.  For the older dog food consumers, White Rover recalled the heroics of another Alaskan, the dog Buck, in novelist Jack London’s most popular work, Call of the Wild. (1903)   Buck was a combination of Saint Bernard and Scotch Shepherd.  White Rover, who walked on his own paws, was a mix of 3/4th Yukon Wolf and 1/4th Husky.  (These details and more about White Rover are shared in some of the newspaper clips that follow.) In February, 1932, White Rover promotions found their home in the Bon Marche.  The big dog appeared regularly on stage in the department store’s auditorium.

The grandest day of White Rover promotions was bundled on Feb. 19, 1932, when the big dog was given his own car for reasons that are sort of explained in the clipping below.  [DOUBLE CLICK this one, please.]

Advertisements continued to appear throughout 1932.   The one below dates from Nov. 21 and still pushes the reindeer meat attraction in spite of Santa’s imminent needs.

The last WHITE ROVER DOG FOOD ad I could find with the S.Times (thru the Seattle Public Library) key-word search is for Oct. 15th, 1942.  It is one of the few products featured in a (back to) Bartell’s ad that compliments “Mrs. War Wife” for shopping where “bargains are really bargains.” And White Rover Dog Food has pretty much held its price through the Great Depression and into the next Great War: three cans for a quarter.  The ad does not mention the reindeer.  By then whatever Hollywood associations had helped shine the white coat of White Rover, were dimmed by “the most famous dog in the world.”  – Lassie.   Eric Knight’s short story “Lassie Come-Home” appeared first in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938, and was then stretched into a novel in 1940 and followed by the first of many films in 1943.  It had me crying then.