Frank Parmenter

Frank Parmenter

Frank Parmenter’s mangled body was placed in a potter’s field in Courtenay, British Columbia with no family members present to mourn him. At just 38 years old, his body was whirled around a shaft in a shingle mill when his clothing became caught in a wheel. An inquest into his death was held and the incident was ruled an accident. And so ended the life of a mysterious and troubled man, a fugitive, an outcast, a loner and this genealogist’s greatest conundrum, until now.

Frank was born March 24, 1884 in Mount Carmel, Illinois, the first boy and number five of 13 children. His father, Charles Allen Parmenter, was a farmer by trade and a respected man from a family influential in Illinois politics and military history. Charles married Mary Broedel on Christmas Day 1874. He was only 19 and his wife 15 on the day of their marriage. On March 24th, 1884 with four daughters ranging from one to five (including my great, great-grandmother Laura Ethel), Charles must have been excited to hear that he finally had a son (the first of four).

Destruction from the 1877 Mount Carmel Tornado

Destruction from the 1887 Mount Carmel Tornado

Life in Mount Carmel was not easy for the Parmenters. In September of 1887 a tornado tore through the town, killing 16, leaving 100 families homeless and destroying all the government buildings including the courthouse. It is likely that the Parmenters suffered significant property damage. It took years for Mount Carmel to rebuild their community and recover from the hardship inflicted by mother nature. By 1902, Charles Allen and Mary Parmenter sold out and moved their family to Washington State and settled in Centralia where they commenced farming. Life in Centralia was peaceful and productive. Newpaper articles from the era show the family gathering often for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings. However, in 1907 the news had changed and brought incredible shame to the family.


Frank Parmenter was released from prison a few days later and while there was tension in the family, it was thought to be over. It was, until Frank was imprisoned again on April 16, 1909 for stealing another bicycle. This time when he returned home he was told he could never return. His father turned him out of the house and family letters from decades later say that he was never heard from again. Some family members said they heard a rumor that Frank went to Canada and died there but after nearly 15 years of searching for him I had almost given up.

Then, searching through an online newspaper archive I discovered something that sent my pulse racing.


So Frank hadn’t gone far. Just a few weeks after being turned away from home Frank robbed a hotel and landed himself in prison. This time he was sentenced and sent first to a labor farm in Skaget Valley and then, to the state peniteniary in Walla Walla. As luck would have it, the Washington State Digital Archives had Frank Parmenter’s mug shot and a detailed personal description.




Two years later Frank was released and made his way for the Canadian border. He stopped along the way in Bellingham and forged a document at a Western Union office with the name of his father’s neighbor in Centralia. Suspecting something wasn’t right, they called the sheriff and Frank was soon arrested and sent back to prison in Lewis County. Then, another search of the local newspapers and a BIG surprise:

Six Break Jail

Prisoners Cut Way To Liberty

Another article a week later indicated that Frank Parmenter had not been found. He never was. The rumor in the family that he had gone to Canada stuck in my mind and I began searching online to find Candian documents for anyone named Frank Parmenter. Within hours I located a WWI Draft Registration for Frank Parmenter. He was residing in Beesborough Bay, British Columbia and he was a logger at the time. He listed his father as his nearest relative. Excited by the new find I dug deeper into Canadian records hoping to find a census record for him. My next search, however returned a British Columbia Death Index entry for just four years later. Heavy-hearted, I ordered the death certificate for Frank and the newspaper death notice from the library in Courtenay. The obituary of the man I had been searching over a decade for was too short:


Frank Parmenter has taken on legendary status in my mind. Leaving no wife or children behind, Frank would be all but forgotten if it hadn’t been for the family rumors and my inability to accept his disappearance. Now, more than 100 years after he broke out of prison, escaped the law and vanished from my hometown the mystery has been solved.

The Parmenter Family - Taken while Frank was in prison. He is the only child out of 13 that was not photographed. The only known photo of Frank Parmenter is his mug shot.

The Parmenter Family – Taken while Frank was in prison. He is the only child out of 13 that was not photographed. The only known photo of Frank Parmenter is his mug shot.

Making your cameo appearance

Making your cameo appearance

Prior to the invention of photography, capturing the likeness of a person and preserving it for posterity took incredible skill, a lifetime of diligent practice and years of apprenticeship. Artists worked with clay, stone, canvas and tapestry and the subjects of their art were almost without fail royalty, dignitaries or the otherwise very wealthy. One of the most beautiful and portable ways of preserving an image throughout history is in cameo form.

This beautiful art form has inspired well-known products of our time, one of the greatest examples being Wedgwood‘s famous blue Jasperware. The Wedgwood and Bentley collection is meticulously handcrafted and one of a kind but comes with a hefty price tag, $30,000.

Wedgwood and Bentley Jasperware

The earliest cameos were made of stone and date back to the 3rd century B.C. Cameos have reappeared as popular art and jewelry several times throughout history, most notably in the Victorian and Edwardian periods when they were often seen gracing the throats of fashionable ladies with high lace collars. Cameos became an affordable luxury when ultrasonic machines, also known as ultrasonic mills, were created to replicate the work of cameo artists.

There are cameo artists today that offer replicas of their original artwork reproduced by ultrasonic mills, but there are some artists who still create one of a kind custom cameos. Gareth Eckley, a gifted artisan whose work includes a commissioned cameo for Queen Elizabeth II, creates custom portrait cameos for display in pendants, lockets and brooches, as well as family crest rings. Eckley’s cameos are primarily made from layered agate which allows each layer to take on its own color and character. Each custom cameo comes with a photo journal of the creative process.

  • A child's portrait cameo - Gareth Eckley A child's portrait cameo - Gareth Eckley
  • Memory cameo, a grandmother - Gareth Eckley Memory cameo, a grandmother - Gareth Eckley
  • Princess Grace Kelly - Gareth Eckley Princess Grace Kelly - Gareth Eckley
  • Pocahontas replica created for Queen Elizabeth II - Gareth Eckley Pocahontas replica created for Queen Elizabeth II - Gareth Eckley
  • Queen Elizabeth II receives a cameo made by Gareth Eckley Queen Elizabeth II receives a cameo made by Gareth Eckley
  • Gareth Eckley - Master portrait cameo artist Gareth Eckley - Master portrait cameo artist

The process begins with clients sending Eckley images and information about the subject. When asked how he brings his pieces to life, Eckley has said, “This is where the magic happens and technique becomes art. I find out as much as I can about the subject so I feel that I know them. I draw their portraits from the photographs to get a feel for their character. Then when I am carving I surround myself with images of the subject. In the final stages of carving my hands just seem to know how to bring the carving to life with their spirit.”

One of the most common requests that Eckley recieves are for “memory cameos”, portrait cameos of persons or animals that are no longer living. I am always searching for artistic ways to record and preserve family history. With cameos surviving from the 3rd century B.C., what better way to keep a memory alive than to capture an image in something as beautiful and lasting as a cameo?


Family trees: When genealogists branch out

Family trees: When genealogists branch out

I’m always amazed by the creativity you find demonstrated on the internet. It takes some digging, and you have to kiss a lot of frogs, but there are definitely treasures to be found.

I first became motivated to launch Geneartistry when I was creating a new filing system for my genealogy research and realized that my 16 years of hard work was hidden in file folders and binders. I wanted a beautiful display to showcase my research so I scoured the net for an art quality tree chart that I could frame and hang on my wall. There are numerous charts out there in different forms – fan charts, pedigree charts, etc. but I wanted a real piece of art, heirloom quality on beautiful paper with a more modern design than I found on the market. In fact, it’s become my mission to create such a product, but that’s a post for another day.

While scouring the internet for charts, I started to notice how many beautiful and creative ways people were displaying their family history research. Crafty people all over the world have posted photographs and art projects online that are great inspiration for displaying your research. The following examples are artistic family trees with photographs of each generation.

This eye-catching shadow box was created by Candace and Nichole of Crafty Sisters. Their website gives step-by-step instructions for how to create the shadow box. The tree in this project has a very realistic quality and was made with a lot of care – the faux-bois finish is stunning.

In the demonstration they show a variation on the types of leaves that are possible, both examples look great. Best of all, the design leaves a lot of room for creativity in the way that photos are used. They can be in black and white, sepia, color or even sketches.

For an easy way to achieve a faux-bois effect for your tree, try using a wood-grained rubber mat, a common tool of ceramic artists. This affordable mat by Chinese Clay Art can also be used to add wood grain for baked goods (perhaps tree shaped cookies for your next family reunion), or with a little ink, it becomes an oversized rubber stamp.

Apartment Therapy featured a gorgeous wall display created by painting a tree and then using framed photos that have the illusion of hanging from its branches.The greater the variety in the matting and frames of the photos, the more attractive this tree will look.
To achieve a similar look in your home, try using a tree decal and applying it to your wall.
The folks at Dali Decals have over 70 tree decals to choose from. This tree is especially well suited to this kind of project and would look great in an entry or family room.
This same site offers trees ideal for nurseries so you can start training your next generation of  little genealogists early.
I was really impressed with the craftsmanship of the Heirloom Family Tree in a Glass Dome featured on This small and simple display showcases tiny heirlooms such as jewelry, buttons or eye glasses that once belonged to an ancestor. This would be a wonderful way to display an antique locket collection, your grandmother’s charms or miniature photographs.
If you don’t have tiny heirlooms, create your own by placing an ancestor’s photograph into a tiny photo frame or locket. Artist Monica Rich Kosann’s charms and lockets would make a special heirloom that lasts for generations. The little “branching out” labels inside of this dome would be beautiful in a photo album or on a mat of a small photograph.
Seeing the craftsmanship in these pieces has really inspired me to work harder at finding a unique and special way to pass my research and photo collection on to the next generation. A home is a museum to house these little treasures and share them with loved ones. Most importantly, genealogy inspired art provides a tangible connection and place of honor to those dates and names you’ve spent so much time collecting.


Disasters and Tragedies: the events that touched our ancestors’ lives

Disasters and Tragedies: the events that touched our ancestors’ lives

This is the first of a series of suggested resources that go beyond names and dates and help us discover what life was really like for our ancestors.

If you have researched your family for a while, chances are you’ve collected birth, death, marriage, land, military or immigration records. You have numerous dates, locations, forms and files but have you gotten to the heart of what life was like for your ancestors? The richest genealogies incorporate the real nitty-gritty details of life in the towns our ancestors lived in.

Recall the devastating images of the aftermath of Joplin’s tornado or of hurricane Katrina. Those events were life-altering – houses lost, history lost, lives lost. The people of New Orléans and Joplin will likely be talking about the day of those terrible storms for the rest of their lives.

Coal Creek, Tennessee Mining Accident

Coal Creek, Tennessee Mining Accident – 1902
Photo credit Gendisasters

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the generations before us faced their own disasters. Chances are most Americans haven’t a clue that a massive earthquake toppled large parts of Charleston, South Carolina in 1886, claiming between 60 and 110 lives, that in 1883 a tornado destroyed 300 houses and damaged 200 more in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1902 in Coal Creek, Tennessee, a mine explosion killed 175 men, none survived or that the entire town of Gilman’s Depot, New York burned to the ground in May 1884. Each of these disasters was a life altering event and in some cases, defining moment, for the people who had the misfortune of being in the disaster’s sphere of destruction.

Learning about devastating events like these can tell us a great deal about the lives of our ancestors. Perhaps your great, great, great-grandfather (like mine) traded his farm and moved from Money Creek, Minnesota to Centralia, Washington, not because he hoped to enter into the forestry or coal mining business, but because in a period of six months his crops were destroyed by locusts, his children became sick with diphtheria and his house burned down. Or perhaps you had family that lived in Johnstown, Pennsylvania during one of the greatest floods in American history. Or maybe a distant cousin even survived the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Events like these brought families together, split them apart, caused some to take root and rebuild their lives and towns, others to flee and resettle – irrevocably changing the existence of those who were there, and by extension, all their descendants.

Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood – 1889
Photo credit Gendisasters

One of the greatest resources I have found for genealogy research is Gendisasters, a website dedicated to educating people about “the events that touched our ancestor’s lives”. The site allows you to search by state, type of event (tornadoes, train wrecks, floods, fires, earthquakes, you name it) or keyword so it is an incredibly fast and easy way to find information on the towns your ancestors lived in. In minutes I located newspaper articles about the Fredonia School fire that killed one adult and six young female students, including one of my ancestors, the 1887 tornado in Mount Carmel, Illinois that destroyed most of the town and likely left a lasting impression on my great, great-grandmother who was a child at the time, and the great Seattle fire that was blazing the night my family arrived after their long journey from Missouri, forcing them to take refuge in the home of a stranger for the night.

One aspect of tragedies like these, which creates a boon for genealogists, is that they generate a massive paper trail with clues for you to find out more about your ancestors. Often these stories would be picked up in papers across the country and each one might have a slightly different variation and new information. For instance, a newspaper article in the town where the event occurred might not mention a particular individual but the neighboring town or the next large city might include an interview of a relative or detail the losses of that person. You can use the dates and locations of disasters to search other resources such as or, an impressive collection of digital newspaper images held by the Library of Congress.

Tornado – Rochester, Minnesotta 1883
Photo credit Gendisasters

Genealogy should be more than just learning names and dates. Fortunately, with the amazing information resources we have at our finger tips, we can piece together a virtually complete picture of what our ancestor’s did, thought, and experienced as they went through their day-to-day lives.

Mug shots: Bringing your black sheep to life

Mug shots: Bringing your black sheep to life

Any genealogist that has unearthed a major family scandal will tell you that it’s a fine line we walk between tell-all historians and protectors of our family’s reputation. If exposing the skeletons in your family closet makes you nervous (and let’s face it, every family has them), then let this posting be your coming-out inspiration.

Before there was Jerry Springer and reality-tv, reputations were the obsession of our ancestors. There were rules for social engagement so detailed that simply forgetting to bring calling cards on a visit could stain your reputation. So it is no great mystery that many people remained tight-lipped and never spoke about scandalous family events. If just one of those ancestors spilled the beans, imagine how many years it could have saved us modern-day sleuths.

  • Frank Sinatra Mugshot Frank Sinatra Mugshot
  • Johnny Cash Mugshot Johnny Cash Mugshot
  • Elvis Presley Mugshot Elvis Presley Mugshot
  • John Dillinger Mugshot John Dillinger Mugshot
  • Clyde Barrow Mugshot Clyde Barrow Mugshot

Even after you’ve finally cracked the code on an ancestor’s disreputable behavior or bad judgement, getting your hands on the hard proof isn’t so easy. Take the mug shot for example. Developed in the mid-1800s by Pinkerton Detective Agency, mug shots are pay-dirt for genealogists researching criminal records. If you are lucky enough to live in a state that allows access to mug shots, celebrate your good fortune. If you haven’t taken advantage of that liberty and ordered your ancestor’s record, do it immediately as some states deny access, even with a Freedom of Information Act request.

There is tremendous historical value in mug shots. Not the least of which is a snapshot of an important event in the life of your ancestor. Imagine the many things they must have felt at the precise moment the photo was snapped. Perhaps it was shame and fear that their crime would be broadcast in the newspapers. Perhaps it was apprehension over what would come next and whether they would receive a fair trial. Or maybe, it was a familiar process to them and they knew exactly what the justice system and prison life was like.

Another aspect of the mug shot that makes it so compelling is that it captures the authentic, unadorned appearance of an ancestor’s face and generally includes both a front and profile view (something rarely shown in a formal photograph). Ancestors were not dressed in their finest clothing with their hair coiffed and their hands carefully positioned. This was what they looked like after a rough day and you’ll likely never see that elsewhere.

But the most important historical value of the mug shot is that it simply may be the only existing photographic record of an ancestor. This is why I am a huge advocate of mug shots being public record. By sealing them, states deprive the inmate’s future family members from ever seeing their face. These images are immensely important to people who would never otherwise see an image of their ancestor.

So what should you do as a genealogist if you come across a black sheep in your family? If the ancestor in question is deceased and has no living children who may be sensitive about the topic, by all means, go ahead and publish your findings. After all, genealogy is about documenting the history of your family and this is the good stuff. If, however, the person is living or has children who may be offended, I recommend documenting your findings and making sure that you carefully preserve them for the future, but hold off on publishing them until you have spoken with the family. Genealogy should bring families together, not alienate them.

Family Reunions IV: Just for Kids

Family Reunions IV: Just for Kids

This is the fourth installment of my multi-part article on planning the perfect family reunion. In this series I take you through all the things you will need to know to pull off a rewarding and fun family reunion.

One of the greatest services we perform as genealogists is preserving our ancestors’ memories for future generations. Engaging children in the details of their ancestry can be a challenge, however. Short of designing a video game where ancestors become reanimated to hunt down killer zombies, it’s hard to imagine what we can do to compete with all the distractions and immediate gratifications kids have before them.

The family reunion, however, offers the perfect opportunity to engage the youngest of your family members in their history in a way that is both educational and entertaining. Here are a set of activities that are informative, enjoyable and can help strengthen bonds across generations for your next reunion or family event.

Fun and Games

What better way to connect with a child than through fun and games? Have each adult bring a beloved game or toy from his or her childhood. Ideally, no batteries or electricity required. From marbles to pick-up sticks and Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robots to Battleship, the possibilities are endless.

Have the adult “gamer” demonstrate the game and play it with the kids. Organize a tournament if you can or hold a raffle where each kid wins one of the games to take home. Make sure you have enough games to go around.


Story Time

Even the crotchetiest of crotchety old uncles were children once. And no matter how billy-goat gruff they may be now, even they have stories and books that they loved as children and remember fondly. Tap into that wellspring of nostalgia and ask adults to bring a favorite book from their childhood.

Organize a story time so that children can enjoy timeless tales like Little Golden Books, Winnie the Pooh, Curious George and beyond. As the adult reads the tale, sprinkling in some commentary about their own childhood is a sure way to connect with the young ones in the audience. As with the toys and games, a friendly raffle so that each kid can “inherit”  a book with a personal message inscribed will create precious keepsakes.

Ancestor Mad Libs

Remember the countless hours whiled away in the back seat of the car on a family road trip playing Mad Libs? You can bring the same family friendly and easy entertainment to your next reunion. Simply take a short family story, remove key words and create a Mad Libs-style worksheet. The rest is up to the kids and if  years of experience is any measure the results maybe silly and they may be goofy, but they will definitely be funny.

Family History Dance-Off

The kids already think the adults are from another planet, so why not prove it. Show them what passed for dancing 100, 50, even 20 years ago. The Turkey Trot, the Polka, the Charleston, the Lucky Lindy, even the Watusi and the Hustle. Imagine the fun showing kids these dances, prepping them and pitting them against each other in a good ‘ol fashion dance-off.

Keep the competition good-natured, with points for style, improvisation and good humor. And make a special effort to put these dances in context. It’s an entertaining way for kids to learn what life was like in eras as different as the roaring 20s and the turbulent 60s.

And remember, should they have too much fun at the “old timers” expense, just rest easy knowing the glee future generations will have making fun of the Sponge Bob and the Dougie, crimping and jerking and the other crazy moves that this generation calls dancing.

Ancestry Theater

Imagine your nieces and nephews, adorned in costumes they made themselves, re-enacting an important piece of family lore. Organizing a family theater, with children as stage and costume designers, scriptwriters, and actors, is a sure way to fire their imagination and make learning about family history center stage.

At the beginning of your reunion, the play is “cast” and the troupe given its direction, with the big event occurring on the last evening so that the kids have time to prepare. An adult sponsor, essentially the director, can help guide the children and make sure they have the resources they need.

The trick is to keep things simple, and make sure that the children have the freedom to let their natural creativity take charge. A simple story line can start things off. For props and a set, a box of old clothes, scarves, hats along with construction paper and other arts supplies can be used to recreate practically any era.

Ask the actors to choose from a well-known family story—their great-grandparent’s decision to sell the farm and move to the big city; a great uncle’s travails in finding his way home after the Civil War; an aunt’s accomplishment of starting a successful business. That’s all it takes. Depending on the number of children at your reunion, you may have multiple “short and sweet” plays of 10 to 15 minutes each.

Stay tuned for Family Reunions – Part 5. Next time we will discuss the best way to wrap up your family reunion, be certain that you have gathered as much information as possible for your genealogical research, and make plans for your next family event.



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