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August 7, 2007 > History


A Family Reunited

By Linda A. Driver

Do you know your third cousins? Few people do. Third cousins share great-great grandparents. For my family, this means going back more than one hundred and fifty years, to Irvington, California.

A yellowed 1936 obituary for my great grandfather, John H. Driver, in the Washington Township Register, told the story of Joseph Driver, his wife Charlotte and son John. They came west by covered wagon train about 1852 to Centerville, then to Mission San Jose, and finally to Irvington. Joseph's health was impaired by the overland journey and he died about 1857. After Joseph's death, Charlotte Driver married John Joyce. The 1878 Atlas of Alameda County shows the Joyce property as a strip of land between what is now Bay Street and Centerville Road, not far from Five Corners (Irvington). John Driver followed in his stepfather's footsteps and became a carpenter. The two men were involved in building Washington School on Main Street (now Washington Blvd.) in 1875. What the obituary failed to mention, and what no one in my generation knew, was that my great grandfather had siblings.

One of the most interesting ways to discover your ancestors is through the U.S. Census population records. The census records provide a decade-by-decade snapshot of U.S. families from 1790 through 1930. You may be able to discover how much your family farm was worth in 1870, what your great grandfather did for a living in 1880, or whether your family owned or rented their house in 1920. You may even discover a few surprises along the way, as I did when I discovered an entirely new branch of the family in Irvington.

While combing through census records, I discovered Charlotte's second family, the Joyce family, in the Washington Township census records for 1860. To make matters more challenging, Joyce was spelled "Joace." John was not the only child listed in the household. There was also an E.J. Joace who was three years old. The 1870 census made it clear that John and E.J (Elizabeth) were Joseph Driver's children. However, Charlotte and John Joyce had two children of their own: William H. (known as Darius) and Mary Ann.

Among our family's pictures were a few pictures of John H. Driver as an elderly man, his wife, Martha Higgins, daughter Lettie and son George. But there were no pictures of Charlotte or John Joyce, nor any pictures of Elizabeth, Mary Ann or Darius. So, where did the pictures go? That was my question and my quest-to find out what happened to the lost pictures and lost relatives. Thanks to the Museum of Local History in Fremont, I was able to discover a school picture for the class of 1873 that included "Lizzie Driver"-my great-great aunt Elizabeth. I also discovered that she was a music student at the Curtner Seminary (formerly Irvington Seminary), established at Washington College.

An ad for the seminary described itself as "An institution for the higher and practical education of women." Among the Fisher Collection, there was also a picture of the old Joyce-Driver house in Irvington. The house was brought around the horn with John Joyce on the ship the Brooklyn in 1846. One remarkable find was the 1858 handwritten marriage license for Charlotte Driver and John Joyce. Written on blue lined paper, with nearly illegible penmanship, it was almost missed as I was flipping through the pages of the Fisher Collection for Washington Corners.

It is no easy feat to track women in the census records, especially after they marry. Elizabeth proved to be easier to find than Mary Ann. Elizabeth, known as Lizzie, married Ephraim Chase, nephew of the founder of S. H Chase Lumber Company. In 1900, she, her husband and her half-brother, Darius, were living together in Irvington, in the old family home on Bay Street. By 1910, Elizabeth and her husband had adopted Juanita Clark, whose father, Alson Clark, once owned what is now Clark Hall at Five Corners. Lizzie's half-sister, Mary Ann, married John A. Saxe, whom she probably met when the Saxe family lived in Irvington. John Saxe attended Washington College-or at least he was a performer in one of the plays. A theatrical program from Washington College in 1876 listed John A. Saxe playing the part of Farmer Wheatear in the play "My Turn Next - A Farce in One Act."

One unfortunate fact of genealogy is that you usually have to die to be found. Clues in the old burial book at Irvington Memorial Cemetery, plus California birth and death records, finally led me to Mary Ann Saxe's daughters and eventually to her great grandchildren. The Driver-Joyce pictures that I had long sought after were about five minutes away-with my third cousin. Thanks to my cousin and her niece, I was able to see pictures of my great-great grandmother Charlotte, her daughters Elizabeth and Mary Ann, as well as my great grandfather, John Driver, as a young man.

So, when you start combing through census records to find your family, be prepared to be surprised. You may find a wealth of unexpected cousins. And one of them just might be your next-door neighbor.

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