This is a story of a nineteenth-century couple who travelled the country, and how they ended up in my living room on their way to reuniting with their family in Arizona.
George Sefton Crouse was born in Middleburg, Maryland, on March 12, 1862, eldest son of John Lewis Crouse and his wife Mary Margaret Sefton. John was a physician, and George spent his youth in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
He later moved to Ohio, where he married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Matilda Grimmer. She was born in Carthage (today a part of Cincinnati), Ohio, on May 26, 1863. She was a daughter of Andrew and Dorothea (Ludwig) Grimmer, who had immigrated from Germany.
They married in 1882 and the first few of their children were born there. By 1900 she had born 6 children, but only 3 remained alive. In the early 1890s they decided to make a great move and relocate the family to Montana. It may have had something to do with the economic depression that seized the country in 1893. About this time, they had their portraits taken. They were quite possibly made to give as keepsakes to family members being left behind.
By 1900 George was a food grocer in Great Falls. By 1910 he was working as a foreman at a smelter. But they owned their home free of a mortgage. George was just 56 years old when he passed away in Great Falls on October 12, 1918. Lizzie joined him on September 25, 1950, thirty-two years later. They are buried there together in the New Highland Cemetery.
So how did George and Lizzie end up in my living room? And why are they going to Arizona? It all started a visit to eBay. I was on a very specific mission looking for something. And along the way, I fell into the eBay trap. I clicked on one of the links that “might be something you might be interested in.”
There were two faces staring back at me. Clearly nineteenth-century charcoal portraits. And, they were identified, including the first, middle and last names of what was likely a married couple (not 100% certain since on the woman’s portrait it provided only her maiden name. Knowing that there was a great likelihood they could end up gracing the wall of an Applebees or other restaurant, I bid on the portraits and won them. I asked the seller where she had obtained them, and she informed me that she found them at a Goodwill store.
George Sefton Crouse and Elizabeth Mathilda Grimmer (From the collection of the author, used with permission.)
I then started searching for descendants to whom I could return them. It did not take too long to piece together their three daughters and to find living descendants. Within days I actually found 2 men in their fifties, first cousins and descendants of George and Lizzie’s eldest daughter. I discovered that one of the cousins was a genealogist. He, clearly, would be the perfect person to return the portraits to.
John has a family tree online, and heads up a DNA study for his patrilineal line. Unfortunately, I was having difficulty obtaining current contact information for him. So I sent the word out to some of my friends who I thought might be able to help.
While waiting for their response, I asked my friend Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, to help me. I told her about finding the portraits on eBay. She responded with “eBay is like Las Vegas for genealogists.” I couldn’t agree more. Sparkly things everywhere and it is very difficult not to get sucked in!
Maureen looked at the portraits for me, and determined that the photograph from which they were made was likely taken in the early 1890s. There are characteristics from the 1880s present, but some of the details were not around until the 1890s. This fits in perfectly with the move to Montana, thus my assertion that the portraits were taken to give to family members remaining behind in Ohio.
In the meantime, my friends in the DNA genealogy pulled through and found current information for me. I was able to finally make contact with a descendant. The portraits are now on their way to Arizona, where John now lives, repatriating them to the family.
In the end, it cost me about $80 to purchase the portraits, have them shipped to me, and ship them to John. The biggest portion of this was the shipping because the portraits were so large. I did not ask for remuneration, but did ask if he would please consider making a donation in that amount or more to the Preserve the Pensions Project. So the next time you are at a Goodwill, or yard sale, or on eBay, take a look around. Perhaps there is something there that you can repatriate to descendants of the owners.