Visiting Spectacular Spokane for Spontaneous Genealogy Fun

Last week Chris and I took a short vacation to the Washington state wine country. We flew into Spokane because we could get a direct flight on Southwest, our favorite airline. Because the vacation was spontaneous, we figured that driving around the state would be half the fun. But I was really glad to be able to briefly see Spokane since my mother lived there as a child in 1960.

Upon arriving in Spokane, we made a bee-line to Duncan Garden in Manito Park. I had a handful of photos from 1960 that were taken at the park when my mother was a little girl and her grandmother Bessie (Christensen) Anderson made a trip to visit her sister-in-law, Muriel Christensen, who also lived in Spokane. Chris and I found the exact spot where some of the photos were taken and attempted to recreate them, some 44 years later.

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Next stop was to Dartmouth Road to the house where my mother’s family lived.  Prior to my arrival in Spokane, my mother had to do some detective work to determine the address, because it had not been recorded on the back of any photos, and she was too young to remember the house number.  After comparing details like where the electrical power lines connected to the structure, the house was pinpointed using Google street view, but the photo was too fuzzy to discern the actual house number.

Upon arrival into the neighborhood, we stopped to speak to a neighbor who was outside working in his yard next door.  As it turns out, he had grown up in the neighborhood from the early 1960s, so may have even played in the streets with my mother and other neighborhood children.  He conveyed that the current homeowner had moved into the home in the early 1960s and been there ever since.

We knocked on the door and spoke to the homeowner, who was a sweet lady in her 90s.  I brought a half dozen photos of different angles of the house and gave them to her.  She invited me in and allowed me to take some photos from the back and side yards.  At the time my mother lived in the house, it was a new construction with almost no trees or vegetation; in stark comparison, the entire backyard was now surrounded by mature trees and ripe raspberry bushes, and the tiny pine tree in the front yard was now probably 60 feet tall!

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The covered patio in the behind the garage and chain link fence were still there, too.  Although I never had even set foot in Spokane before this trip, I felt very at home with the kind residents in my mom’s old neighborhood.

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The last stop in Spokane was to Riverside Memorial Park, where my great-uncle and second wife, Engolph O. and Muriel L. Christensen, are buried.  Because the cemetery of over 7,300 interments is currently only 51% indexed on Find A Grave, I didn’t know the exact burial location because Engolph’s memorial had not yet been added.  A quick stop at the cemetery office provided me the exact coordinates of the plot and a detailed map—without which we would have never located the tombstones.  As it turns out, Engolph had a military headstone from WWI and was buried in the American Legion section of the cemetery.  I have since added Engolph & Muriel’s memorials to Find A Grave so others can locate their graves, too.

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The icing on the cake came about 45 minutes after departing Spokane for the wine country.  The day before the vacation started, I had stumbled across an Ancestry.com family tree that contained Engolph & Muriel Christensen.  Based on who was marked as private (living) in the tree, I thought I might have found a granddaughter of Engolph who was born in Spokane and possibly still lived there.  I quickly sent an email to the tree owner explaining my connection to the family and the fact I’d be in Spokane the next day.

Although I didn’t get a response right away, I did receive a very lengthy response once on the road which explained the family connections, who was still living, who might have family photos, and more.  I read the news as we drove through Moses Lake, Washington, which, as it turns out is where one of my shirt-tail cousins now lives.  So not only did I make several new family connections, but we plan to share genealogy information and photos in the future.

Less than three hours into our trip, and I had already checked off four genealogy items from the list–WOW.  With such a great start to the trip, I knew the rest of the week was going to be great fun!

Have you ever successfully mixed in a little genealogy while on a non-genealogy vacation?  If so, please leave a reply about your experiences.