The Disappearance of Rebecca Rice Cole

As I began building a family tree last year, I expected that some brick walls would be inevitable. I figured that every single family line would reach a point beyond which no more names could be found. What I did not anticipate was discovering that some of my ancestors had disappeared. I have not yet uncovered the end of my maternal third great grandmother, Rebecca Rice Cole, who walked away from her life in Wakeman, Ohio, in the late 19th century. She left after bearing a dozen children to a husband who had a wooden leg due to a train accident.

A few months into my family research, one of my great aunts lent me boxes of family photos and genealogical information related to my great grandpa Cook, who was one of Rebecca’s many grandchildren. There was a startling family group sheet for Rebecca and her husband Cyrus Cole:

I really wish I’d scanned this sheet instead of merely taking a picture of it.

As I soon as I read the note about Rebecca’s escape, I looked back at the dozens of family trees online that include her. Not a single one offered the date of her death, and I have yet to find a death record or cemetery plot that belongs to her.

In the meantime, I’ve let this mystery brew in the background of my family research. I still don’t feel optimistic that I will solve this one. Today I returned to it because I had a proverbial light bulb moment about the youngest child listed, Claude Lewellyn Cole. I realized that the only source material I have for his existence is that family group sheet above. It is based in part on the genealogical research of my second great aunt Gladys Cook, who undoubtedly asked my second great grandmother Mary for a list of her siblings. The information is too specific to be a mistaken sibling duplication from a census record, wherein family members look new because they are listed under a nickname.

I think it is possible that Rebecca took baby Claude with her when she went on that walk into town from which she did not return. I have seen pictures of all of the Cole siblings except for him, and I have not found any further references to him. Their fate as a pair could be easier to divine than hers alone.

Whether she was alone or had a child in tow, she’d have faced great adversity in starting over again. I can only hope that her transformation was not forced upon her in short order, for reasons that are unknowable in the here and now. There is the ghastly possibility that she was never truly a missing person to someone.

Whatever the reason for her escape, I know that eleven of her children and her husband definitely survived her departure. My second great grandmother and at least one of her siblings were raised as orphans from the time their mother left until they reached adulthood. Inside the family box was an empty bag with a note attached, “Jacket that belonged to the woman who finished raising Mary and Nellie.”

Mary must have cherished that jacket, and someone else regarded her foster mother highly enough to keep this item but leave behind a note that implied how important she was to my second great grandmother. In my mind’s eye, I see this top as a faded black bed jacket with faux seed-pearl beads stitched haphazardly around the button placket. I didn’t know that bed jackets existed until I started knitting and crocheting a dozen years ago. They were a garment of pure economy from harder times: just enough stitches to look like one was wearing a robe while sitting up in bed.

Most of Rebecca’s children stayed in touch for the duration of their lives despite the fracturing of their family. Her oldest daughter, my third great aunt Hattie, moved to Douglas County, Oregon:

The Springstead farm in Douglas County, Oregon, 1917. Hattie is wearing a striped dress next to the Border Collie. Her son Birdie holds the yoke on the left. Yes, I have an ancestor named Birdie, but he does not have the most unusual name in my family tree. That distinction belongs to my paternal third great aunt Experience Allard.

I also see evidence that Rebecca’s children were not estranged from their father Cyrus. He was living with Hattie out in Oregon during the 1910 Census, but he died close by his children who were still living in northern Ohio three years later.

I will close with more pictures of my Coles. I call them mine because I am a Cole by marriage and by family tree (my husband and I have not found a connection between our Cole lines). I for one am grateful that Rebecca was one of the thousands of my ancestors whose choices all converged to make my life possible.

Clarence Cole, who belonged to the International Order of Odd Fellows and migrated to Kansas and Texas
Marion Cole and his daughter Blanche. This is one of my favorite pictures of my ancestors. He looks like the kind of guy who has nothing to hide.
Mabel Emma Genevieve Mary Cook
My second great grandmother Mary Cole Cook with my great grandpa Cook’s three sisters. Note the litter of kittens.

Wetlands Photo Walk, May 8

Yesterday I crumbled a lone cornbread muffin next to the ditch that divides my yard from a wetland preserve. If I had kept it as a leftover, it would have achieved the density of a hockey puck overnight, so I offered it to the various critters who cross through my yard. This evening a visitor came back inquiring if more leftovers were forthcoming:


I wish I’d had my camera handy while he was standing on our patio. As the sun was setting, I considered that the raccoon’s visit could be a good omen for a sunset photo walk, so I went to the wetlands briefly to see what I’d find.

I did encounter someone wild who would have been safer at home, if only he had one:


He is feral, and I could come no closer during our first encounter. His new cauliflower ear tells me he is not the only tom cat patrolling the wetlands. He is cobby with sleek fur that rivals an Abyssinian cat. If only he had born into an indoor kingdom . . .

The wetlands are still waking up to spring. We’ve had three inches of rain in the past week. I wore my oldest pair of tennis shoes to cross through the silt and ditches en route to the preserve.


Fitbit and Sleep

This week my Fitbit Charge 2 started offering me data on the “quality” of my sleep. It has presumed to know when I’m sleeping as long as I’ve been wearing it, and it has been wrong only when I’ve managed to stay awake through an entire episode of a TV show while lying on my couch. Truth be told, I struggle to stay awake watching TV unless I am riding an exercise bike or elliptical machine the whole time. If I stay still, I will fall asleep within 20 minutes. My dad, my husband, and I all share this affliction, but I am the only one who tried pedaling while watching to stay awake. If not for my exercise bike, I wouldn’t have had the privilege of seeing every episode¬†of Man Men, Foyle’s War, and George Gently.

My sleep data that I’ve seen on my Fitbit app does not motivate me in the slightest to use this information to “perfect” myself. Actually, it makes me question if using a fitness tracker has helped me at all. While I will not blame its use for my decline, I will confess that my fitness and weight have not improved at all during the two years I’ve been using a tracker. Having the charts of my steps and exercise minutes has not inspired me to move more. Instead, this data makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel who’s earned a more sedentary life, at least for this evening, and that day, and so on.

My Fitbit sleep charts represent another set of information that only makes me feel more fatigued in the knowing:


The sleep stage tracking is particularly pointless because it only estimates the depth of sleep based on user pulse rate and movement (btw, this feature is available for Fitbit Blaze, Charge 2, and Alta HR). It’s not like the numbers provided can approach the accuracy of a medical sleep study. I doubt my Charge 2 unfurls a micro EEG that seeks out the appropriate contact points on my scalp once I fall asleep.

Here’s a stage chart for one night of this past week:


The start and end times on this chart are pretty typical for a week night. I try to go to bed by 10:30, and I wake up at 5:30. Those who knew me well in my youth will recognize that my early awakening is a daily miracle that cannot be improved upon. For the first thirty years of my life, I struggled with a second shift circadian rhythm, and I never had a job with those hours! The thought of embarking on some program to improve my sleep “quality” brings to mind the scene from This is Spinal Tap when Bobbi Flekman complains about the band’s offensive album cover for Smell the Glove, and their manager assures her, “You should have seen the cover they wanted to do. It wasn’t a glove, believe me.”

Despite these complaints, I’m not ready to give up on my Fitbit. I still dread the thought of my data coming to an abrupt end. Someday soon I might forget it at home while it’s plugged in for charging, and I won’t care that I left it.