Donna Watrous, 1930

You just never, ever know where a photo will take you. Take this next one from Dad’s photo album for instance. The caption is simply “Donna Watrous, 1930.” I fully expected to write, “I don’t know who this is. I don’t know where this was taken. Cute kid.” The end.

Well, she is a cute little girl who managed to put on someone’s hip waders (it looks like). But who is she and where was this photo taken, and why is it in Dad’s photo album? Since all the other photos on the page were taken around Jefferson or Tallman, I assumed this one was, too.

The name “Watrous” sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think where I’d run across it before. Upon searching through the archives, I was reminded that there was a Watrous family that lived near the Wrights in Alberta. They had a homestead immediately east of Excel. Belle Watrous, the wife in this family, was the local midwife and attended the births of several of Grandma’s children. So that’s where I’d heard the name before.

But clearly that had nothing to do with a little girl whose photo Dad apparently took in 1930. So I resorted to a search of census records to try to find this Donna Watrous. Fortunately “Watrous” is a fairly uncommon name, so there weren’t too many possibilities. And then it all came together…

It turns out this photo was not taken near Jefferson or Tallman. It wasn’t even taken in Oregon. Rather, it was taken in California before Dad moved back to Oregon in May 1930. Specifically, it was taken in the back yard of the house the siblings shared in Richmond. If you compare the house in the background of the photo above with the house to the right of the Wright’s house in the photo of it here, you’ll see that the “color” (as much as you can tell in a black-and-white photo) and the configuration of the windows toward the back of the house match.

OK, so that answers the “where?” What about the “who?” A combination of census and birth records tell us Donna Margaret Watrous was born to William and Mable Watrous in Alameda, California January 3, 1927. In 1930 Watrouses were living in Richmond, just a 20 minute or so walk from the Wright siblings.

William Watrous was born in California about 1890. His parents emigrated to Alberta in 1910 and took a homestead just east of Excel (surprise!). Canadian census records suggest that William joined them in 1912. The Watrous family returned to the United States even before the Wrights—July 1918. In March 1923, William’s father was a widower living in Oakland, California and applied to have his US citizenship restored. (He had been required to become a Canadian citizen to get the homestead in Alberta.) William also returned to California and married Mable Gowanlock. They had a child in 1924 that did not survive. Donna was their second. Donna had two younger brothers, Floyd and Stanley.

According to the 1930 census, William was a carpenter at an oil refinery. Did he run into the Wrights (most likely Irvine, since he worked at the refinery) by accident while they were working in California? Had the siblings been in contact with him before they moved to California? If so, did William in some way influence the Wrights to come to California, and did he have a part in getting Irvine the job at Standard Oil? Many questions, no answers.

Regardless of exactly how it happened, while they were in California the Wright siblings got together with their acquaintance (and friend, I presume) from Alberta and with his family. And so it happened that Dad took this photo of Donna in early 1930, when she was, of course, just over three years old. Since the Watrouses lived nearby, possibly the Wrights got together with them often.

Donna went on (much later, of course) to marry a Frank Travers and they settled in Las Vegas in 1959. They had two daughters, Lynn and Toni. Donna passed away in 2012. If you’re interested, her obituary is here.

So now I know who Donna Watrous was, and it changed my whole perspective on this photo. It isn’t about a cute but unknown little girl that Dad happened to take a photo of. It’s about getting reacquainted with someone from your past.

Funny thing. Until I started looking for Donna Watrous, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Wright siblings were in California during a census year, and so might show up in the 1930 census there. So I looked, and indeed they are! The census in their neighborhood was taken in April, before any of them left. (Curiously, Earl does not appear in the census. Did a concern about his citizenship lead the siblings to hide his presence from the census taker? Don’t know.)

The first thing I got from the census was confirmation that the Wrights were living in Richmond. I had speculated that they were, but never had solid proof. Dad never mentioned (to my knowledge) exactly what city they lived in.

But in addition to the city name, I got a street address: 167 2nd Street. I looked it up, expecting to find the entire neighborhood was now an industrial site or something (if the address even still existed). This is what I found in Google Street View…

Click or tap image to see this in Google Street View

Not exactly the same perspective as below, but as close as I could get. Compare:

Yup, it has hardly changed at all since 1930 (except maybe the yard is in better shape, Neal. ;–)