As I was washing dishes the other day, strains of How Much is That Doggie in the Window came drifting into the kitchen from the living room. My husband was watching the news and they were sadly reporting that Patti Page, who made that song famous, had died.
I must confess, I never really knew much about Patti Page. I didn’t have any of her records growing up, but in the early 60s, that 1953 novelty song, was still a hit in elementary schools across the country. I can remember our music teacher hammering it out on the piano that she wheeled from classroom to classroom at music time. I stepped out to the living room to find out more about Patti Page.
Whenever someone dies, I get the urge to find out more about them. I guess as a kind of homage. But the news piece was brief and unsatisfying. A few clips of her singing a few songs, and we were back to averting the fiscal cliff. So after the dishes were done, I found myself on the computer googling this woman, who prior to her death I hadn’t really thought much about. Some people might think it a bit strange, but I’m a genealogist. It’s what we do. We research dead people.
I learned quickly that her name was actually Clara Ann Fowler and that she was from Oklahoma and was born in 1927. Parents’ names—B.A. and Margaret. OK, good enough for a start. I hit Ancestry.com and started with a basic search—name, birth date, and birth state. Sure enough, the first hit was for her in the 1930 U.S. census. Parents B.A. and Margaret, and nine children—among them Clara, age two.
Her dad worked for the railroad and the family was living in Foraker, Osage County, Oklahoma. So what else could I find? The family should still be somewhere in Oklahoma in 1940, but where was that entry? I went back and scanned the list of results—nothing.
Curiosity piqued. I went directly to 1940. Tried Clara Fowler, and added in her parents’ names. Nothing. Added siblings. Again, nothing.
OK, Universe, challenge accepted. I cracked my knuckles and went in for the kill. I pulled the “sans surname search technique” from my bag of tricks. I entered just the first name of Clara (leaving off the surname), born 1927 in Oklahoma. Added in father B.A., mother Margaret, and to beef up my chances, I added siblings Ruby and Virginia. Based on their ages in the 1930 census, Ruby and Virginia would have been around the ages of 17 and 14, so there was a good chance they were still living at home.
I scanned the list of results for a name that in some way resembled Fowler, but the first hit caught my attention. It was for Clara Adalphus, and the parents were Benjamin and Margaret. Was the B. in B.A. an abbreviation for Benjamin? I took a closer look and sure enough, I had the right family. But why Adalphus, or Adolphus as it looked to be upon closer inspection?
Immediately my mind started swirling with wild possibilities. Was the family on the lamb? Didn’t seem likely. Dad was still working on the railroad, and was now assistant foreman making $1,200 a year. The answer turned out to be something a bit more mundane. A search of Ancestry.com for his father using the birth date and place I found in the censuses turned up more records, but the answer to the question came in a match in an online tree. His name was listed on that tree as Benjamin Adolphes [sic] Fowler—a.k.a., B.A. Fowler. The census taker probably just asked for the husband’s name. Margaret responded “Benjamin Adolphus” and he assumed Adolphus was the family surname.
So it wasn’t some fantastic story I had unearthed, but now I have a little more to attach to that pretty face and voice. And I will most likely have How Much is That Doggie in the Window running through my head for the rest of the day. Oh well, there are worse things.