Our Christmas Wish granted - lost family photos returned!
In the pre-Christmas/January issue of THE BEE, I appealed to our readers to help me find descendants of the family of Rev. Thomas and Dessie Elkin of Sellwood.
The couple and three of their children had arrived from Kansas in 1906 – the same year THE BEE began, and one year after Oaks Amusement Park was founded – and lived in a house at 1560 S.E. Tenino Street which is still occupied.
The Rev. Elkin was a Baptist minister, but was in fragile health and died at age 68 in 1911. His widow and some of their four children (Art, Ed, Susie, and Ted) remained in their house until 1937, when Mrs. Elkin passed away. Although some of the Elkins remained in Sellwood, there are no family descendants living in the Sellwood-Westmoreland neighborhood today.
The reason for my interest in the Elkin family was a large collection of photos of their family, including two scrapbooks, dating from the late 1880s to the late 1930s, that were retrieved from a Dumpster at Sellwood Middle School in 2000. The alert school librarian, Jeurine Marshall, found them when she was doing end-of-the-school-year cleanup. She did not recognize any of the people in the photos, or the Elkin name; nor did she witness anyone throwing them away – but she but felt they should not be discarded. She gathered them up and gave them to the SMILE History Committee, which began trying to determine to whom they belonged, and whether they could be returned. The photos were put in chronological order and copies were made for the SMILE photo collection of those that were clearly connected to Sellwood.
Armed with a sketchy outline of the Elkin family, an appeal was made in THE BEE in 2000. One response was received at that time – a phone call from a woman who had babysat one of Ted's children in the 1930's. But the woman did not know the whereabouts of any of the family by then.
In late 2016 I decided to make another attempt, and wrote a more detailed story for the last issue of THE BEE. I had not yet even received my copy of the paper when I got an email via my editor, Eric Norberg, from a reader in the Woodstock neighborhood (my copy of the paper arrived the next day).
The reader, Sylvia, has a subscription to Ancestry.com, a vast genealogical database. She had entered the Elkin family name, and a 2016 obituary for Erline Dessie (Elkin) Goodell had appeared. Erline was the first born child of Theodore (Ted) Elkin and his wife Elizabeth. She was born in Portland, but had married in California, where she lived most of her adult life.
The obituary listed her husband's name in Santa Barbara; I searched for his name, and found a business listing and a phone number. I left a phone message for Dexter Goodell, asking that he call. Two days later he did, and as I was trying explain the discovery of the photo collection, he said he would have his nephew, a descendant of Ted Elkin's son Tommy, call me. I was soon speaking with David Elkin, who had grown up in California with his father Tommy and mother Elizabeth. Dave graduated from the University of Oregon and then moved to Portland metro area in 1998, where he has since lived.
He seems to be the only Elkin family member in the region now, and he had been researching his family history, but was very excited to hear about the photographs. He had heard of Dessie Elkin, but never of her husband, the Rev. Thomas Elkin. This is probably because Dave's grandfather Ted was only three years old when his father, Rev. Elkin, died.
On Saturday, December 24, I played Santa, and was able to return the family photos to Dave. He was going to see his aunt and mother over the Holidays, and was anticipating sharing the collection with them and gathering additional information.
After the turn of the New Year, we compared our notes, but neither of us still have any idea of how the photos ended up in the Sellwood Middle School Dumpster. There were no Elkin children in the neighborhood after approximately 1950! Susie Elkin and her husband Errol Brown lived here until the mid-1960s, but had no children who could have brought the photos to school for a family history project.
Dave's father Tommy attended Llewellyn Elementary and Sellwood Middle Schools but, with his parents, he left Portland after 1951. Dave and I now speculate that the photos may have been left in the Elkin home on Tenino Street, possibly in a forgotten attic space – and the school Dumpster, just a block from the former Elkin home, presented a convenient disposal site when the house changed ownership. Another more remote scenario is that Susie Elkin Brown brought them to the school for show-and-tell; she left her home on Lambert Street after 1966. However, it seems unlikely that the photos would have occupied valuable classroom cupboard space for almost 35 years. For the present, that mystery remains unsolved.
The important thing is that my Christmas wish came true: That the discarded photos be returned to their family. And Dave Elkin and his relatives received an unanticipated present. Of course, many thanks to Jeurine Marshall and to Sylvia, the only BEE reader who responded to my latest plea for online assistance with the search – but in this case, one is all it took.
Next month: Part III of the Elkin Family Saga, including an unprecedented 401-person climb of Mt. Hood (photographed from an airplane), and exploration of the mysterious Mantle Club.