Even if you want to be famous, no one really wants to be infamous. Especially for nonsense that we laugh about and create memes about today.
I now present the case of Phyllis Joyce Stalnaker.
13 October, 1925
Phyllis was born to Archie and Mildred Stalnaker.
May 1930 Census
The Stalnaker's were a young married couple from Nebraska. They were the parents to two small children in the 1930 census. They lived in Fullerton, Nance County, Nebraska. One thing that I can tell you about Nebraska from the time I have been in and out of the state: They slaughter a lot of beef and pork. Probably chickens as well, but I don't know about that one, personally.
The Stalnaker's were married a little over a year before Phyllis arrived. Phyllis' father, Archie or possibly Archibald LaVern Stalnaker set his family up in a rental home that was valued at $1500.00. He worked somewhere nearby as a butcher in a meat market. I am sure that with the Great Depression going on, they were all grateful for Mr. Stalnaker having a job that literally put food on the table.
Mrs. Mildred Clara Crawford Stalnaker was not working during the 1930 census. She had 2 small children underfoot. Phyllis was 4 and 1/2, her brother, Gordon Rex was about 3 1/2, born 16 February, 1927. There would eventually be 2 more brothers.
Both Phyllis' parents were born in Nebraska. However, both grandmothers were born out of state. The paternal was from Wisconsin and the maternal was from Illinois.
1934 Moved to California
According to the information in Archie's obituary, the family moved to California in 1934.
The first appearance we have of the family in the city directory is here. A different address, but here is Archie, working as a meat cutter in the city directory.
1938 California New Address
Family is still here, nothing has changed-except they have moved to a different house.
1939 California New Address
A New year, a new you! New address. Nothing else has changed.
1940 Voter Registration of Archie Stalnaker
In 1932, the family pulls up their stakes and moves to San Diego, California. They resided at 4505 Contour Dr., San Diego. Mr. Stalnaker was a registered voter in the San Diego county rolls as a Democrat. His occupation? Meat cutter. The house is absolutely tiny, less than 700 feet with 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. Built that year, it must have been very exciting to move into a new and modern home, albeit small by today's standards.
1940 No Census Found
I have not been able to locate the 1940 census for this family.
Thrown from a horse October 10, 1940
A mention appears in the San Diego Union on October 10, 1940 that Phyllis Stalnaker was thrown from a horse on Euclid Ave. near Auburn St. on October 3rd. In the article, she was improved, but still in serious condition at the county hospital a week later. Could this injury have impacted her for the rest of her life?
1942 Voter Registration Archie Stalnaker
Again, Democrat, same address. Same profession.
This is when Phyllis would later gain internet fame. She would be arrested in San Diego, California under the charges of Weedhead, tramp. Her booking number was #20389. Oh, San Diego. I am sure that it was very serious at the time for you and for her. A 19 year old with serious charges surely would have incurred some "drama" at home, if she was still living with her parents. Wearing a darling herringbone jacket with tailoring, a striped shirt and a bow in her hair, Phyllis sure does not look trampy.
She looks a little pretty with the dark hair, eyebrows and lipstick on. But, to be honest, she looks tired more than anything else. No tiny smile at the corners of her mouth. No twinkle in her eyes. This is the look of "let's just get this over with." Was she waitressing already? Was she in school? No way of knowing. The fact that she was written up as a weedhead, I can deal with that. Ok, she smoked some pot. Whatever. But tramp? Proof that she was not fitting into a mold that someone else tried to push her into. I wish that there was some way that we could know her fate in the courthouse, but the records do not go back that far.
May 15th, 1946
Phyllis J. Stalnaker married a John J. Gordon. This is listed in the California County Birth, Death and Marriage records. Phyllis lists an address in Los Angeles and her occupation as waitress on the marriage license application. Her groom is a couple of years older than her, and he is from New York City. He also resides in Los Angeles.
October 28th, 1946
Archie dies in San Diego and is buried at Mount Hope cemetery. He was only 45 years old.
October 30, 1946
Archie's obituary comes out. Listed are his wife, Mildred, the 3 boys, and then a Mrs. J. J. Gordon, of Hollywood. That would be Phyllis! How she is listed as J.J. is because of her husband's initials being that.
Phyllis is divorced and remarried. This time to her USN husband, James R. Harris. They live on 3601 Crowell in San Diego. They are listed in the 1950 San Diego city directory. I can find no record of the marriage in California.
January 2, 1961
Phyllis dies in the hospital in San Diego at the age of 35. Married and living on Pacific Hwy, her mother lists the same address.
1963-1969 San Diego
Archie is now gone, as is Phyllis and Mrs. Stalnaker is working as a seamstress at Ratners Mfg. and living on Pacific Hwy.
January 18, 2001
Mildred dies at 94. Not listed in her obituary are Phyllis and Archie, her daughter and husband.
Curiously, the burial plots in the cemetery include one of Phyllis' brothers, Phyllis and her mother and father. Neither of the children are buried with their spouses. Mildred's marker is larger than the rest as well. It is strange.
After the arrest, marriage, divorce and second marriage, nothing that Phyllis did ever stands out again. She never had children that I could find, she never registered in the city directories, and she never even registered to vote. It is like the entire episode of being arrested as well as being thrown from a horse really pushed her into not getting into any trouble.
Since I have been on my search for my paternal biological family, I have been fortunate enough to come across some really lovely people. I have met some of the most helpful people that you could ever want to meet.
I have also met some people who really did not think that I should be following through on finding my biological family.
I would like to comment on that with some cold, hard facts, and probably some raw emotion as well.
I am not a secret. I have never lived as though I were a secret. I am a person. I have thoughts, feelings, emotions, and bleed when I am cut, the same as everyone else.
I am not a secret. What two adults did to get me here was something that I was a result of, not because I was an active consenting person.
I am not a secret. When I am asked for my complete medical history, I can only make a guess at part of my history. Because I don't know.
I am not a secret. When I look at my family, I know that I have traits that belong to my biological parent that I don't know.
I am not a secret. I never agreed to be in hiding so that someone would not have to confront their actions from the past.
I am not a secret. I am not in hiding, nor should I have to be.
I am not demanding a relationship with my biological family, if that is not what they want. But what I am wanting is for them to know that I exist. For them to know that there is someone else in the world who is carrying their genetic line. For them to know that life is messy, that is how we are made. I don't hold any anger or grudges, but I am not a secret.
I was beginning to doubt whether or not I would ever be able to write this article!
As all of you know, I have no idea of who my biological father is. This caused me a lot of angst when I was a teenager. I so badly wanted that "Dad" moment that you see on television. The one where the daughter knows that she and her father have a special bond.
Growing up, I assumed that my mother's husband was my father. I had no reason to believe otherwise. I called him "Daddy" and he loved me very much and still does, I am sure. Bring in an ugly divorce and all of the sudden, I knew that "Daddy" was no biological relation to me. I was gutted to the core.
Less than 8 years later, I would be adopted by my Aunt and Uncle. I would now call them "Mom and Dad". I loved them very much then, and I still do now. I honor and respect them very much, too.
As I grow older, it is weird when I am asked for medical information. I have to leave part of my information blank. I simply don't know the answers because I don't know who my father is.
I find it interesting that through the years, I have been discouraged from searching by people. I have been told "What if you are intruding upon his life?" or "What if he has a wife or children?" and similar.
My answer has changed over the years, from quietly backing down my search back then to explaining that I never agreed to be someone's shameful secret. Why should I be a secret, anyway?
After I got my test done from Family Tree DNA, I wanted to know who my father was, RIGHT THEN!
Of course, life doesn't work that way.
I diligently uploaded my DNA to all of the relevant sites. GEDmatch is the massive one that everyone will tell you about. I uploaded to there, and I encouraged all of my family that had been tested to do the same. I joined groups on Facebook and elsewhere that are for people trying to connect with their bio family.
I am referred to as an NPE, which stands for Non-Parental Event or Not Parent Expected. I prefer the easier term of "bastard" because my parents were not married at the time of my conception, or anytime before or after. I truly understand that term, but we live in a gentler time, so NPE it is.
Being a part of these boards is being a part of a community. Adoptees searching for birth parents and birth family, birth family looking for adoptee, people like myself looking for their bio father and similar.
Occasionally, people will post with their reunion story, and they will sometimes post photos of them and one or both parents. It is very heartening to see, and it breeds hope in the soul.
At first, I would scroll through. I did not participate, I only read. I was too scared about all of the what if that was out there. I tried to tell myself that I was too busy or that I was wasting my time, and a bunch of other reasons that were not really valid.
When it boiled down to it, I was scared. I was scared of the possibility of rejection. Of the chance that my birth father did not want to have anything to do with me. Plus many more thoughts that became huge fears that only increased in size during the time that they were allowed to dwell unabated in my head.
I read a post that changed all of that. A woman posted looking for her father. She was in anguish because she wanted to know this man before her grandchild was born. The responses were heartfelt and genuine. People encouraged her to proceed with her search. They told her to be brave. Heart emoji's flew everywhere. She asked the question that had been lying in my heart. "What if he doesn't want anything to do with me?"
The answers back were a balm for me. "Then you know." A woman said. "Give him time. Wait for him to make the decision. Right now, he doesn't even know that there is a decision to make."
Those were the words that firmed my resolve. My biological father, if he was alive, did not know. How could he decide yes or no about knowing me if he did not even know I existed?
I crafted the post over several days. It was really hard for me to try and explain what I now call "My conception story" because I really did not have a lot of details. The ones that I had were not really specific. But they were details. If a person who was born into a traditional family was able to hand out their conception story on an engraved card, I felt like mine was on a dirty bar napkin. But it was all I had.
I added a few photos of me, and a few photos of my mother. Within a few hours, I had people asking to help me. Asking where my DNA results were posted to. Making connections and letting me know what those connections meant. I was really happy, and excited.
This month, I got my very own "search angel". A search angel is a person that helps you with your search and points you in the right direction, asks your contacts questions, and does what is needed to narrow your search down.
My search angel has been amazing. She has asked me questions and helped me on my search. By using my DNA information and my contacts through my DNA test, she has been able to create a family tree with me in it. She sent me an image and said "I think that this man is your father." I stared at that photo. I could see me in him, but for some reason, I didn't want to see the link when she told me that this man was deceased. It was like being gut punched. Shortly afterwards, a photo was sent to me that, if it turns out that he is my father, she is my half sibling.
We will know soon enough, but I am possibly on the path to knowing the other half of me.
Book Review: The Other Mother: A Woman's Love for the Child She Gave Up for Adoption by Carol Schaefer
I am a member of all 3 parts of the official adoption triangle, and involved in other parts as well.
The adoption triangle is Birth Parents, Adoptive Parents and Adoptive Child. I am also a sister to a sibling that was placed for adoption. So if there is an adoption angle, I might have a little bit of insight about it.
Because of these issues, I follow books dealing with adoption. Birth parent stories always grab my heart. A while ago, I was gifted with The Other Mother by a friend of mine who is also a member of the adoption triad. I read the book over 2 afternoons in Paris, sitting on my small balcony of my tiny apartment.
I placed my child for adoption in the mid 80's, around the time that the author, Carol Schaefer was beginning her search for the child that she placed at birth.
Although there were a lot of things that had changed, many things remained the same. The marginalized feeling that she speaks about; the looks, the feelings of holding a secret, of the world continuing on as normal while this life changing event is happening to you are all things that must be a universal sentiment of the unwed mother who is placing her child up for adoption.
Although my conception story was different, I did not have a loving relationship with the person that got me pregnant, I did have the same relations with my family when I was pregnant. My aunt and uncle made sure that I was away when my grandfather decided to come into town unannounced.
Carol's book brought a lot of healing for me. I read it during a time where people did not as freely an openly discuss or admit that they were a birthmother. To be acknowledged as a person of value, not just as an unwed mother created a lot of healing in my heart. I sent a copy to my birth child's adoptive mother, and she sent it back, unread with a note that read "I cannot read this. It is not my side of the story." I thought that it would bond us, but she was not ready for that in her life at that moment. Years later, she would confess to me that she didn't read it because she was scared.
If you are a part of the adoption triangle, I highly recommend this book. The story of her strong feelings for her unborn baby, her struggle to search and her reunion story are compelling and touching. For birth parents, there is a lot of healing in those pages. For adoptive parents, there is a lot of explanations of circumstances and understanding. For birth children, here is the emotional map to what your birth mother may have been going through before you were born.
I have kept a copy of this book on my shelf at all times, and I have purchased copies as gifts for friends that were adopting or foster to adopting children in order to help them know what the struggle was in many of our hearts.
I hope that you will get a copy of this book, it is well written and very compassionate.
I love reading. It is one of my great passions. I like to read a book where every page is a joy to experience.
I recently read Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) By Megan Smolenyak, the companion book to the television series of the same name. She refers to herself and other genealogists as "genies", which I find very endearing.
Megan writes about how you can research your own family tree and she provides copious links for the diligent to use in their own searches. She writes in a style that is easily understood and followed by others, and I found myself making notes throughout the time that I was reading, filling a composition notebook with links and observations for use on my own family tree.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a lot of information in WDYTYA that I did not know about and had not seen before. Some of the links I did not even know existed.
WDYTYA shows how to research for the novice. It is the helper who gives you the nudge that you need to point you in the right direction. It is the notebook with all of the links you need, it is a great companion book.
There is a difference between the hardcover and the paperback editions. The hardcover features celebrity genealogy profiles in a color section, whereas the paperback does not. If you are wanting a book solely for researching your family, the paperback should suffice. I found that the celebrity section added some depth and understanding.
I recommend this book strongly for the amount of links that it contains, the easy to follow directions and the delightful way that the author makes a sometimes tricky hobby into something that becomes more vibrant and alive with each found relative.
My friend, Katy and I got together a month ago to go over photos. As I mentioned in the past, it is a shame when photos from the past are not labeled because you just don't know the relevance.
We were poring over the photos when I saw a man in a uniform, arm dangling over a beautiful woman. "Who's that?" I asked.
"I wish I knew" Katy sighed, dropping it into the cookie tin of photos.
"Hand it back. Just let me look for a second" I saw writing on the uniform. We grabbed a magnifying glass and looked. There, on the uniform were 2 embroidered patches. One was the name of the company, the other was the name of the person. Neither Katy or myself knew the name of the company, so with Google, we were able to find out the name of the business, which gave us the place of the business.
Once we knew all of that, Katy knew which part of her family it was. A little more asking around of family members, and she was able to determine that the photo was of an older great uncle who never came home from World War II.
Look for clues in your photos.
Some examples for dating a photo include:
Cars. If a 2000 Ford Mustang is in a photo, you know that it is not from 1985.
Landmarks in the background. I used to hear the story from my late mother about the bridge heading into the small town of Columbia, Louisiana. The joke was that by the time you crossed that bridge, a relative would have called my great grandmother and let her know that you were on the way to her house. How? Because the community was so small (at the time) that everyone knew everyone as well as the car that they drove. When I was small, we picked persimmons from the side of the bridge, making sure that we did not touch the peel to our lips because the alum (I don't think that is what it actually was) would taste bitter. We loved the time there, and a when I wanted a timeline of a photo that was taken long before I was born, I looked up the history of the bridge. I was thrilled to have a working timeline to go on.
Products. A photo with my great-grandmother shows a box of cereal on the table, a brand I had never heard of. A quick Google search found the brand for me, as well as the years that it was made. I was able to greatly narrow the field of timeline, and by doing that, I was able to also find out some of the food habits of my ancestors, which always adds some depth to them.
I know, these things can seem to be long shots in identifying family, but by narrowing down your timeline with clues, you can eliminate those who have not yet been born, those who have already passed away, and those who were deployed or at college or otherwise not around at that time. This may help you to determine who those people are in those photos.
I write a lot about genetic genealogy, family trees, DNA, and home life as well as the occasional product review. Comments? Email me at CocktailsAndSwagger@Hotmail.com