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Guest Post: Becoming a Historian

The Junior Historians are at it again! Some of you may remember the Doctor’s Office project from last summer. It was so much fun, and it’s certainly been a big hit with visitors. In the last year, we’ve been doing extensive preservation work on the Worth Hotel. As the exterior is spiffed up, it only makes sense to work on the interior as well. Around 10 Junior Historians are currently at work on the exhibit–some of them worked on the Doctor’s Office project, but we have some new faces as well. We’ll be finishing up work this summer, with the grand opening to be held in conjunction with our annual meeting on Thursday, September 27.

This project has been very different than the Doctor’s Office project. For the Doctor’s Office, we shared some very general information about medical history. We had to use our imaginations to create the characters that populate that building. In particular, for Alice the skeleton, we only knew her name and age. For the Hotel, we know who ran the hotel. And we know who lived in it at certain times. We’ve had to straighten several things out–oral histories don’t always match each other. Census records aren’t always correct (best example: Thomia Moles was recorded as Thomas Moles in 1880. Oops!)

Emily took on the big task of researching census records for the Moles family–and she got really passionate about their story. She officially became a Junior Historian in 2010 (though we knew her when she was younger). She lives in McKinney and is 13 years old. It only made sense to let her tell you all about what she discovered.

When I took on the job of discovering more about the hotel residents using Ancestry.com, I was silly enough to think it would be easy. My mom and I had used the website before to research our own family, but the task of uncovering other people who had been forgotten for so long was an entirely different thing. I knew from the get-go that this wasn’t going to be like the Doctor’s Office, when the building had never even been a doctor’s office in the first place and had no real people connected with it. The Moles sisters really did exist, however, and that was where I started.

The 1910 census shows Eula and Mary Moles living at the hotel in Carrollton. We also see Alison Stewart, Hiram Langford, Caleb Miller, Mandy Patterson, and her two sons, Lee and Will. One name was already familiar: I knew Alison Stewart had killed a man who had been seeing his wife and I knew he later married Mary Moles, but the others were strangers to me and I had to find out more.

The other Junior Historians and I were especially intrigued by the Patterson’s because Mandy Patterson appeared to be single- not a widowed or divorced- and had two children. This is odd to me because I found in earlier census records that she had been married. Her husband’s name was Robert and he had been a farmer in Denton at the time. I couldn’t find any record of his death, but it is very likely he died in a farming accident, causing his young wife and sons to move to the hotel where the Moles sisters gave Mandy a job as a cook. It is still a mystery as to why she put down “single” on the census and not “widowed”.

Next I looked at the census records of Hiram Langford, who lived at the hotel for just a short amount of time before marrying Rosa Stephenson (in fact, he married Rosa just one month after the 1910 census was taken!) He was an engineer at a pump station, though I found little else about him. I did, however, uncover pictures of him and his family, which was really exciting!

Mary and Eula Moles were rather elusive; though it wasn’t their fault- the census taker repeatedly spelled their names wrong. At one point, he misheard “Moles” as “Males” and for “Eula” he wrote “Ula”, which made finding them in the records a bit harder. Luckily, Ancestry was very helpful and a family tree that someone had created showed me most of their siblings (they had about three or four in all). I knew Mary married Alison Stewart and Eula married Caleb Miller, the druggist who also lived at the hotel. What I really wanted to know more about was David Miller, the younger brother who had supposedly died in a train wreck near Grapevine in 1906.

My first clue that these facts weren’t quite right was when I found David’s grave on FindAGrave.com. It said that he died in 1903, a full three years before his supposed death date. I went onto the Dallas Morning News archives to see if there might be an article about the accident, moving around keywords and dates in the search box. A few articles repeatedly popped up about train wrecks, but I couldn’t be sure if any of them were about our train wreck since I didn’t have a membership for the archives. I asked Melissa if she might check for me and sure enough, after a little time and effort, we found David Moles and the secret to his tragic death. The accident hadn’t happened near Grapevine after all but near Fort Worth and it had been in 1903, the exact year David’s grave said he died. It was exhilarating to finally know after what must be decades.

All of this research is, of course, still in progress. Every day I go on Ancestry I learn something new. I like doing genealogy research because it’s like being a detective, solving the mysteries of people who may have been forgotten but are still just as important today.

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