Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Alice K. Thurston, Deaf and Determined, my 2nd cousin

This morning, I came to the Thurston branch of my family tree, which shoots off from the Greeks and McCormicks of Gibson County, Indiana. For reference, my third great-grandmother on mother's side was Berilla (Mills) Greek, who lived 1829-1908 and was the daughter of my pioneer ancestor, Duston Mills (1804-1875), and wife of prominent Gibson Co. farmer, Joseph Greek (1822-1911).

Berilla's grand-daughter, Helen McCormick-Thurston (1902-1980), had two daughters--Evelyn in 1925 and Alice in 1931. Helen was a single mother in 1940, raising her daughters alone and running a beauty salon in Princeton, Indiana. The girls were listed on the 1940 U.S. Census as living at home with their mom; however, I found a second census record that year for the youngest one, Alice K. Thurston, and it led me to this:

INDIANA STATE SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF Indianapolis

I searched for records of her attendance, but could find nothing on Google. On the school's website, I found the Admissions Office and contacted a Mrs. Rice. She led me to the digital collection containing their archives on Indiana University's website. That's where I struck gold, including this senior picture of Alice, giving her full name and hometown.


Not only was that such a cool find in and of itself, but her name is the same as my grandmother, Alice Kathryn Dunning-Larson-Wright, just spelled in the "southern Indiana way." In fact, I've seen my own grandmother's name mispelled "Kathern," they way it's pronounced in the country. :)

The school had a monthly publication, first called The Silent Hoosier, but by the time Alice enrolled in January 1937, it was simply called The Hoosier. Not only was Alice in that publication dozens of times between 1937-1950, but she submitted more than a couple of articles, including this one on learning to swim in the May 1949 edition of The Hoosier:

LEARNING HOW TO SWIM
I have been afraid of water all my life and never learned to swim until last summer. My sister and brother-in-law tried their best to make me overcome this fear. When they tried to teach me how to swim, I was very stubborn. They let me go after they helped me to float many times. I was choked, but sure enough, I conquered the fear. I learned to do several things in water. I have not learned to swim skillfully, but it is satisfying to know that I can swim some. Now I would love to go swimming. —Alice Thurston

I learned all kinds of valuable information from that publication, like her nickname "Thirsty," the names of her best friends and her aspirations. During her last two years at the school, she aspired to become "the world's fastest typist," the Vice-President of the United States and the operator of her mother's beauty shop in Princeton. I don't know if any of those aspirations were realized or not, but I feel like I came to know my second cousin a little bit better. She was a very active student at the school, attending there from K-12, participating in clubs, music, cheer squad ("yell leader")--yes, the deaf school had yell leaders--and writing for The Hoosier. She graduated June 6, 1950 and the trail for her grows cold.

Her parents either divorced or her father perished while she was a student at the Indianapolis-based school, about a three hour drive from her hometown. There was one instance where she wrote about a visit by her mom, dad and sister, in the late 1930's. My best guess is that her father left for California, remarried and became an auto mechanic for a Bakersfield, CA, Chevrolet dealership. Her mother reported to the 1940 Census taker that she was widowed. I'm not certain, but I do know that she grew to womanhood without her father's presence. I can't imagine that opportunities were as plentiful in the 1950's for people with disabilities as they are today, but with her good looks, abilities and determination, I'm sure she made a good life for herself.

Discoveries like that are what fuel my drive to complete the book I'm writing about my family, from pioneer times in Gibson County, IN, to the present. Thanks for taking the time to read this post.

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