All in the Family

Nine-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara Uphoff Cheshire, in front of their LA home. I love Clara's dress!

Nine-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara Uphoff Cheshire, in front of their LA home. I love Clara’s dress!

Tucked between the album’s pages, I found several loose photographs from around the same time, all stamped “SEP 10 1911” on the back (which probably means they were processed, not necessarily taken, on that day). It looks like they may chronicle a multigenerational family gathering over at least a couple of days.

Matilda Denzer Uphoff, Ursula's maternal grandmother. Check out the fancy rope work on her dress.

Matilda Denzer Uphoff, Ursula’s maternal grandmother. Check out the fancy rope work on her dress.

I see 9-year-old Ursula and her mother, Clara, in two of the photos, but who are all the other people? Only Ursula’s maternal grandmother, Matilda Uphoff, is identified on the back of the photo of her standing outside at the Cheshires’ house. I’ve been doing a bit of detective work, and I think I know who everyone is in this collection of photos, except for, in the photo below, the woman at the back resting her chin on her hand, and the ghostly young girl at the far right!

I found my first clue to the identity of some of these folks in an item published in the “Society” column of the Los Angeles Times. Dated the same day as the photos, it read: “Mrs. Cheshire Entertains. Mrs. A.D. Cheshire of No. 1422 Malvern avenue [sic] entertained fifty guests Wednesday evening in honor of her mother, Mrs H. Uphoff, and her sisters, Miss Mathilde Uphoff and Mrs. C.R. Pemby, all of San Francisco.

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

I’m not sure at whose house they are gathered, as it is not the Cheshires’ Malvern Avenue home, but it may belong to the chin-in-hand lady, perhaps a family friend. Based on subsequent research described below, I believe this photo features (left to right) Ursula, Clara, Ursula’s Aunt Jeannette, little cousin Marion, unknown (chin-in-hand lady), Aunt Mathilde, Grandmother Matilda, unknown ghostly girl, and father Alfred. At first I thought Alfred was Ursula’s grandfather Herman Uphoff, but then I remembered he died in 1909, and on closer inspection, this man’s nose and hairline look a lot like Alfred’s as depicted in much earlier photos. He would have been 58 at this time.

Through scouring various resources provided by, including U.S. Census reports, California Death Index, Find a Grave Index and city directories, I have pieced together a narrative of Ursula’s immediate and extended family at that time, which helped me further figure out who was whom. It goes like this:

In September 1911 (the time the photos were most likely taken), Clara Uphoff Cheshire was 39, married to 58-year-old Alfred Cheshire, and mother to Ursula. Her father, Herman, had died two years earlier, and her widowed mother, Matilda (who lived to age 84), was 62 years old.  Clara’s siblings (Ursula’s aunts and uncle) were as follows:

  • 38-year-old widower Charles, a miner and father of 3-year-old Marion;
  • Mathilde, a single, 32-year-old public school teacher;
  • 31-year-old Jeannette, married to Charles R. Temby by October 1908, and mother to her first child, 16-month-old Randall, who must have been taking a nap when this photo was snapped! (Notice the LA Times misspelled Jeannette’s last name as “Pemby” in the above-mentioned news item);
  • Emma, 27, a single bookkeeper working in a physician’s office (who, apparently, did not come to LA for this family visit)

I believe the photo below depicts (left to right), Matilda, the matriarch of the family; Jeannette with her brother Charles’s daughter Marion on her shoulders (“Playing Horse”); and Mathilde. It took me a little while to decide which woman was Ursula’s Aunt Mathilde and which was Aunt Jeannette. I think it more likely that Jeannette is on the left because a) she looks more harried and physically more likely to have had a baby just over a year before than the more fresh-faced, small-wasted woman on the right; and b) when I blow up the photo, I can just barely make out a shape that looks like a ring on her “wedding” finger.

"Playing Horses": Ursula's grandmother, aunts and cousin

“Playing Horses”: Ursula’s grandmother, aunts and cousin

I think the little girl is Ursula’s cousin Marion, because she looks about 3 years old—the right age for her at that time—and because her father, Charles, was working as a miner and living in Nevada around that time. Since his wife, Grace Key, had died in 1909, possibly from complications of childbirth (as Marion had just been born in 1908), I imagine he left his daughter to the care of her aunts or grandparents while he was off making a living.

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

A family gathering in Los Angeles in 1911

Back to the photo taken on the front porch…Notice that Aunt Mathilde is perusing what possibly could be a photo album, and it makes me wonder… is she is looking at some of the very same family pictures I have in this velvet-covered antique photo album (which, by the way, belonged to Ursula’s mother)? There’s that thread again, stretching from 1911 nearly 103 years to 2014. I can’t wait to see what I discover next!

Partying Like It’s 1909

Society graphicPar-tay!!! Starting with Ursula’s 6th birthday fete, from 1908 through 1910, the Society columns in the local newspapers noted Clara’s (or Clara and Alfred’s) attendance at party after party, as well as mentioning the couple as hosts of a few events themselves. The Cheshires had recently moved to Los Angeles, and immediately began establishing themselves in “society” circles.

sheet music for "mexican nightingale"

Sheet music for “Mexican Nightingale” (by Paolo Giorza), one of the whistled solos at a party Clara and Alfred attended

At one event, a “musicale” at the residence of Mrs. W.G. Provines, Clara, Alfred and other guests enjoyed a program of piano solos, vocal solos, monologues—including one on “Playing ‘500’” (more on that later)—and whistling solos, including “The Bird Catcher” and “Mexican Nightingale.” A rollicking time was had by all.

In July 1908, the Los Angeles Times tells us Clara would be entertaining her sister Miss Mathilde Uphoff, “a fine musician” from northern California (Grass Valley), during the summer. And entertain she did, throwing a card party (at which the guests play cards) in Mathilde’s honor in July, six weeks after Ursula’s party. About 40 women and men joined in the fun at the Cheshires’ home, which Clara had adorned with “roses and asparagus plumosus.” Clara-Gives-Card-Party-Mathilde-picThe Times even ran a picture of Mathilde to illustrate the story, which appeared in the newspaper’s column “Some Notable Festivities Incident to Society During the Past Week.”

I think the family may have been trying to help Ursula’s aunt find a suitable suitor. In 1909, at age 28 and unmarried, Mathilde again visited for the summer and was the guest of honor at several “pretty affairs,” including another card party hosted by Clara and Alfred. She visited again for the winter holidays, and was again guest of honor, this time at a “box” party, during which attendees—including Clara—occupied a box at the Orpheum (the second home of Orpheum Circuit vaudeville in Los Angeles and later known as the Lyceum Theatre) for a performance by Daniel Bowles.

Hotel Alexandria

The Hotel Alexandria in Los Angeles

Afterwards, they proceeded to the luxurious Hotel Alexandria for a fancy tea, with Empress roses and green-shaded candelabras adorning the table. (Aside: Over the years, the hotel—which eventually was rumored to be haunted—has gradually transformed from deluxe inn to SRO to its current loft-style apartments. You can read about its history on Wikipedia, and there was an interesting article in the LA Times in October 2012 about a sealed, abandoned wing, which investors are planning to turn into small apartments.)

News clipping about party for Mathilde

In addition to attending “500” card parties, the Cheshires held one in honor of Clara’s sister Mathilde, as reported in the Los Angeles Herald on July 3, 1910.

The following summer, Clara and Alfred decorated their home with Shasta daisies and yellow roses for a “500 party” in honor of Mathilde. What in the world is a 500 party? According to the Bicycle playing cards website, 500 is akin to a combination of Euchre and Bridge, and was the favorite social game of the United States in the early 1900s. It was promoted by the United States Playing Card Company, which copyrighted and marketed the rules in 1904. I imagine some guests playing with a deck of cards like the one below, issued by the U.S. Playing Card Company in 1908. Gilded around the edges, the deck featured on each card a different theatrical actor or actress, including the legendary Lillian Russell and future silent film actor Tyrone Power, Sr. (You can view the entire deck of cards on the Immortal Ephemera website.)

card deck with theatrical actors

A 1908 deck of cards featuring different theatrical performers of the day, including Lillian Russell

Lest we think Ursula’s parents did nothing but party, the papers noted that Clara participated in at least a couple more serious pursuits. In May 1909, she attended a Women’s Press Club of Southern California luncheon, which featured as guest speaker Mrs. Elizabeth Towne of Holyoke, Massachusetts, a lecturer, writer and leader in the New Thought movement. And in January 1910, for the Woman’s Club of Hollywood’s Literary Day, she accompanied Mrs. Bessie Thew Miller on mandolin for a performance of “Original Monologues, a travesty on the vagaries and inconsistencies of woman.”

P.S. Although I don’t know when or where, Ursula’s aunt Mathilde did get married, to a man named Claudius Henry von Essen.

Until next time…