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I have a dream of knowing the names of all the people in the photos in my pink velvet DeFries album. Every so often I pull out the photos and go hunting for more clues. Such was the case this weekend.

According to my great aunt Bertha McDonald nee Brown this album belonged to her maternal grandmother, Maria (Mary) Brown nee DeFries. Sadly very few of them are identified.

One of the photo’s handwritten note says “Mae McNeal my sister”. There are two other photos that seem to have been taken at the same time and in similar handwriting one of them says “James B. Yohe my brother in law”. The photo of the young boy has no notes on it and he appears to have the same tie and pin as James Yohe. [Update January 2, 2014: a McNeal researcher has the same photo of the young boy and on the back of her picture someone wrote in pencil – “Brother Trumie” and in ink “Truman McNeal Dad’s Brother.”]


My database doesn’t show that Mary Brown nee DeFries had a sister named Mae McNeal nor is there anyone with the surname of McNeal or Yohe. My first question was if these three photos are connected then did Mae McNeal marry James Yohe?

In fact Clara May McNeal (b. in Illinois in 1862) married James B Yohe (b. 1857 in Ohio) probably near Marengo, Iowa about 1880. According to the 1885 Iowa census Truman McNeal was living with his sister and her husband.

Marengo County, Iowa is a location where the DeFries/Brown family lived so that matches many of the photos in the album.

Now my next question, was McNeal May’s maiden name? After some searching I did find that May’s parents were Charles McNeal and Mary Percival.  So, it was her maiden name.

In what ways could May McNeal be a sister to Mary DeFries? Or could she be the sister of Mary’s spouse or siblings? The various options seemed endless but I began the search for May and James Yohe.

May’s father, Charles was a teamster.  James’ father, Jacob, was a shoemaker.  James had a variety of jobs through the years including photographer as well as a laborer at a stone quarry while in Nebraska.  It seemed mostly he was a laborer except in 1920 when James was not working.  At that time May was a landlady “running H”.  There were several people near them that worked at a hotel so perhaps H stands for hotel.

In my research journey I found lots of interesting stories of May’s relatives such as a really fascinating podcast about May’s cousin Olive May Graves Percival, who was an author, collector and bibliophile.  The podcast is by Ingrid Johnson and includes biographical information as well as readings from Olive’s works.  (I highly recommend clicking that link for a 30 minute diversion.)

Additionally on this quest, I discovered that the Percival line goes back to Richard Bourne (d. 1685) who were some of the first inhabitants of Sandwich, Massachusetts and descendants of the Mayflower.  All of this is really fascinating information that would be even more pertinent if I could figure out how May Yohe nee McNeal ties into the DeFries/Brown line.

I suppose the person who wrote the notes on these photos could have been a friend rather than a family member. I made a chart of the families’ migration to see if that helped give me any insight on another direction to go in my hunt.

I also noted that of the 56 photos in the album 36 have location identifiers and here is the breakdown by locations:

  • 1 San Diego, California
  • 1 Chicago, Illinois
  • 2 Sterling, Illinois
  • 2 Albia, Iowa
  • 1 Carson, Iowa
  • 17 Council Bluffs, Iowa
  • 1 Oskaloosa, Iowa
  • 1 Council Grove, Kansas
  • 7 Omaha, Nebraska
  • 1 Wilsonville, Nebraska
  • 1 Enid, Oklahoma

As you can see the migration pattern and the locations of the photos has some overlap. I’m just not sure what my next steps are to determine how the McNeal/Yohe family ties in with the DeFries/Brown family. If you have information to assist me I would love to hear from you.  For now, my dream is still a dream.

Previous posts about the pink velvet album: