Let’s Talk About: A 12yo prison inmate in 1931

Jarred by an old newspaper article, I had to dig into the sad story of Herbert Franklin Niccolls, Jr. Most of this information comes from Find-A-Grave. 

Born in 1919 in Boise, Idaho, to Bert and Hazel Niccolls, he was one of the younger children. The family lived in extreme poverty. When Herbert was 9, his father was declared insane and committed to an asylum. Hazel, with no other recourse, gave away her sons. 

Herbert was incorrigibly delinquent. The loving foster parents who took him in had to send him away after he repeatedly lied and stole from them. Herbert finally was released into the care of his paternal grandmother “a religious zealot who was determined to starve and beat the sin out of him.”

On the night of 5 Aug 1931, 12-year-old Herbert broke into a store for candy and tobacco. The break-in was discovered and 73-year-old Sheriff John L. Wormell entered the store to investigate. Herbert, crouched behind a vinegar barrel with a stolen gun, fired one shot, hitting the sheriff in the head and killing him instantly. 

The arrest of the 12 year old killer, barefoot and dressed in ragged overalls, made headlines across the country. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Herbert, 80 pounds, 4 foot 8 inches, with delicate features, curly brown hair, bright and polite, became a poster child for reform of the incarceration of juveniles. 

Herbert fared fairly well in prison. He was kept under close supervision of the wardens, kept away from the general population and assigned tutors and mentors, and achieved a good education behind bars. He remarked to his brother many years later that prison saved his life.

Herbert was released from prison at the age of 21. After a brief, unsuccessful start at a bakery job just after his release from prison, Niccolls worked in the accounting department of a Tacoma shipyard and there he excelled. He subsequently moved to California and joined the accounting department at MGM and later worked for 20th Century Fox in Hollywood. He married and had a son, John.  

Herbert died of a heart attack in 1983, having lived a crime-free life since his parole 42 years earlier.

Let’s Talk About: $10,000 Silver Dollar Bar

Everybody stops there; the gravity and allure of the place (not to mention clean restrooms) pulls you in right off of I-90 if you’re on your way east from Washington state.  You’ve been there, right? Probably more than once!

Here’s the history of the famous bar:  The story begins in 1951 when Gerry and Marie Lincoln moved from Libby, Montana, to Alberton, Montana. Two miles west of this small Montana town on what is now I-90, they built a small bar and named it “Cherry Springs.” Soon, however, they realized that people needed a reason to stop, an attraction, and they got an idea.

At that time the local customers (loggers and miners) were paid in silver dollars. Also, travelers to Montana always received their change in silver dollars. They weigh a ton in your pocket! (This is why loggers wear suspenders.) So on October 1, 1952, Gerry cut a round hole in the bar top, hammered a silver dollar into it, and inscribed he and Marie’s names beneath it. 

The idea caught on and by December 1953, over 2000 people had placed their coins and names in the bar top. As a result of this, the name was changed to Lincoln’s 2000 Silver $ Bar. The original bar top is still intact and in use. It contains 2115 pieces and all the other coins in the collection are embedded in boards and displayed around the barroom. Each coin is the possession of the individual who left it and many people, or their children or grandchildren, return year after year to visit “their” coin. 

Today, according to their website, there are over 75,000 silver dollar coins on display! If you haven’t, maybe you ought to stop on your next trip east.

Let’s Talk About: Facebook

Whether or not you use, or even like Facebook, it’s here to stay. Mega-millions of posts every prove that people like you and me are using Facebook for a wide variety of reasons. Like I said, love it or hate it, it’s here to stay so why not use it to your advantage?

Katherine Willson recognized the genealogy potential of Facebook many years ago. She began compiling a list of genealogy and family history groups that have a Facebook presence. As of 2021, it would take 436 pages to download that list of some nearly 17,000 listings. 

Nearly every genealogical and/or historical society in Washington boasts a Facebook page! Wouldn’t you guess that every state has a page or two (or more) of such listings? Don’t you think you might could learn something from them???

To access Katherine Willson’s list, click to 


As of 2021, Willson turned over management and updating of her list to CyndisList. So do check that out, too, for the most recent updates……. all categorized. 

Let’s Talk About: Black Sheep!

Looking for the shady characters in your own family tree? Whether they were bootleggers or brothel owners, black sheet are some of the most interesting ancestors you’ll ever trace. Our “10 Things to Know” will help you figure out why…..and where to turn to her your own family’s black sheep.

1. The black sheep of the family is the one who went against the grain negatively. Look at the enumerators comments in the census and elsewhere.  (I have one example: “makes her living by lying on her back.”)

2. Black sheep often have deep paper trails….. newspaper records, court records and even prison records. 

3. Black sheep often surface in family stories…which might or might not be true.

4. Black sheep ancestors often adopted a new name…like escaping the law or a jilted lover.

5. Black sheep are often mentioned in other people’s histories….. if they lived in the same town where your black sheep ancestor roamed, they might have included those stories.

6. Black sheep were more prevalent in the American west which was big and wild and no papers were ever asked for identification.

7. Black sheep had reason to travel…to get away from something. Check out passports, passenger lists and out-of-town newspapers.

8. Black sheep do have mothers….. check census and newspaper records.

9. Black sheep were often tracked by the government…. 1880 census of Defective, Dependent and Deliquent individuals who were imprisoned in prisons or aslymns.

10. Black sheep are often not mentioned by other family members.

*** Thanks to the Ancestry newsletter for this information. 

Let’s Talk About: Was Your Ancestor Color Blind?

What do most of us see when we look at this image? An orange 6 against a green background, right? Not so for colorblind folks. 
According to Ask Marilyn in the Sunday Parade magazine up to 8% of men and only 0.5% of women, depending on their ancestry, have some degree of color deficiency, usually caused by defective or absent photo-pigments in the retina. The most common types are inherited, so if a family member is known to have a color vision problem, it’s important to test all the children who may be unaware of their disorder. 

** Did you have an ancestor who was colorblind? Likely they never knew………… they did not have to match a necktie to a shirt. 

** Both Robert Redford and Prince William suffer from colorblindness. 

Let’s Talk About: History of Ancestry

1983  —  Ancestry Publishing is founded, publishing over 40 family history magazines and genealogy reference books

1990 – Ancestry publications move to floppy disks

1996 – Ancestry.com is launched, paving the way for online family history

1997 – Ancestry offers family history on CDs (compilations of those who use Family Tree Maker)

2000 – Ancestry launches first census images; completes 1930 census in 2003

2001 – Ancestry reaches the 1,000,000,000 record milestone; Ancestry.co.uk debuts

2006 – Ancestry introduces Australian, Canadian and German sites/records

2006 – Ancestry adds new customer-centric innovations (shaky leaf hints and member trees)

2007 – Ancestry adds more international sites, inc. French, Italian, Swedish and Chinese

2009 – Ancestry reaches the 1,000,000 subscriber mark

2010 – Ancestry offers the first season of  Who Do You Think You Are?

2011 – Ancestry unveils the Ancestry app for iPad and iPhone

2012 – Ancestry hits the 2,000,000 subscriber mark

2012 – Ancestry DNA is launched

2013 – Ancestry announces exclusive agreement with FamilySearch to digitize one billion records

            from its Granita Mountain Vault

2015 – Ancestry releases exclusive collection of U.S. wills and probate records

2018 – Ancestry achieves 10,000,000 people tested via AncestryDNA; 15,000,000 in 2019

2020 – Ancestry reaches over 3.5 million subscribers and 27 billion records

2021 – AncestryDNA tests over 20,000,000 people

2022 – AncestryDNA becomes worldwide

** The above image shows Ancestry’s first magazine publication, 1985-2010. These early publications can be accessed via Google Books. 

Let’s Talk About: Sad 1811 Story

John Cleves Symmes, 1742-1814, was the delegate from New Jersey to the Continental Congress. The following is a letter he wrote to his grandson, John Cleves Short, from Cincinnati and dated “March the 3rd, 1811.”

“My dear grandson, your letter of the 18th I received this day a week ago, and the day after I arrived in town. …….. I have now, my son, a Melancholy piece of intelligence to communicate. I left home in the morning of the 22nd of Feby and went first to Springfield, then crossed the country to Columbia, came to this place on Saturday the 23rd…went again to Springfield on the 27th and returned here on the 28th…

(In this letter I learned that )my house at Cleves with all its contents was reduced to a heap of ashes in the afternoon of the 1st instant….. the flames burst out and by three o’clock that valuable pile that 14 years ago cost me $8000 was in ashes. All my maps, deeds, mortgages, receipts, ledgers, day books, many of my bonds, and thousands of other important papers are lostAll my books, and yours, your clothes and mine, save what I have on my back, all my bedding, my years provisions, ten barrels of beef and pork of the first quality, 100 lbs of tallow, 100 lbs of old sugar, a stock of butter and cheese, all sorts of furniture…..not a cents worth has been saved that could not burn and what is not combustible is either melted, broken or in some way spoiled. $30,000 cannot repair my loss. But to all this I must submit and give up the idea of ever being able to keep house there again during my life. 

I have no appetite, my sleep is short, my thirst feverish. I hope however, my son, that it will not drive me mad. I know that I came naked into the world and I can but go naked out of it….. Man projects, but God frustrates the most sanguine prospects.” 

As I read this sad tale, I wondered how much paper-documentation-of-history has been lost through the years to fire????

Let’s Talk About: Useful Tidbits

War Bonds:  debt securities issued by a government to finance military operations and other expenditures in time of war.  

Chain:  a chain is a unit length measuring 66 feet, or 22 yards, or 100 links. There were/are 80 chains in one statute mile. The chain was used for several centuries in Britain and in some other countries influenced by British practice. (Can you imagine dragging this through the dense woods of the forests of Eastern America, up and down hill????)

Scurvy:  Our long-sea-voyage-seafaring ancestors often suffered from scurvy. After three months at sea, with no Vitamin C in their diet, the sailors would become irritable, lethargic and with bleeding gums leading to tooth loss. Once this was realized, captains would take jugs of vinegar on board for these long voyages. People in third-world countries still get scurvy today. 

Gretna Green:  A Gretna Green was a favored marriage place when a couple wanted to run away from home to get married…… a place with fewer marriage restrictions. Maybe they wanted to marry without parental consent, marry at a younger age, wanted to avoid paying a marriage bond, etc. The original Gretna Green is a town by that name just over the border in south Scotland. Most all U.S. states have a Gretna Green. 

Let’s Talk About: Sharing Books

 Found these three books in a going-to-the-dump pile and rescued them!

Will send them to you for postage.

Garden of the Sun: History of the San Joaquin Valley: 1772-1939 by Wallace Smith, 2004

Collected Poems of Robert Service, “poet-bard of the Yukon”

The Fountain & the Mountain: The University of Washington Campus, 1895-1995, by Norman J. Johnston

Let’s Talk About: Halloween

One good picture says it all:

Starting in early September, the stores are already stocking Halloween stuff and I for one do not like that. By October the offerings include 100 different “ghoulish goodies.” It’s always fun to find something really different.

I spotted this Mickey Mouse Pumpkin Lamp in a thrift store! Was only $22. Now this is my kind of Halloween decoration.