A self professed ‘history nut’, stamp and coin collector, Jim Barrett has had a remarkable past. At first glance one might think him just an ordinary man but within a few minutes into our interview, I found him to be quite the opposite. In spite of what could have been a devastating childhood overcoming illness, he continued to embrace all that life had to offer. You see, Jim’s mother contracted tuberculosis (TB) while he was young. Over a 9 year period, beginning in 1932 she was in and out of TB sanatoriums 7 different times. During those intermittent periods when she was able to live at home, Jim and his father were her caregivers. Whenever he played outside or down the street, Jim recalls keeping a sharp ear out for the jingle of her bedside bell, which would signal him to quickly return home.
At age 8 medical tests determined Jim had latent tuberculosis. During 1946 – 1947 he was confined to hospitals in San Leandro, CA then admitted to the Arroyo Del Valle Sanatorium in Livermore, from 1949 – 1950, the same sanatorium his mother had been in 17 years earlier. Rather than looking back at the experience as depressing, Jim describes those years in his new home as ‘fun and adventurous’. He enjoyed the camaraderie among his fellow patients, accompanied by the prescribed treatment of “total bed rest, good food (lots of it) and fresh air.” Two or three times a month, his father would come by bus or borrowed car to see him. He recalls one such visit:
“From my open porch bed in North Building, I could see him striding up the hill one day balancing a large carton on his shoulder. By his mischievous grin I knew that this was no ordinary surprise. Turning the box over, two live crabs landed on my bed and began to race around. After capturing them he took them down to the main kitchen and talked the cooks into cooking them for my dinner that night.
After I was admitted to Highland [hospital] my dad had moved and was living in a watchman’s cabin on an Oakland pier over San Francisco Bay, and had netted the crabs from his bedroom window. On another occasion he brought our dog to visit.”
(Source: ‘Life at Arroyo Del Valle Sanatorium 1949/1950″, Jim Barrett)
In 1952, Jim was fortunate to be part of an antibiotic test group at the Weimar Sanatorium, which resulted in a successful treatment that cured his TB infection. Upon his final hospital release, he returned to work as a lifeguard at the Hayward Plunge Municipal pool for 10 years, followed by a 23-year career at the Water Department.
ESTABLISHING THE FAMILY LINE
Jim attributes his interest in genealogy to the frequent bedside chats with his mother during her years of illness. He listened to family stories about his maternal grandparents who came from England, his paternal grandmother from Ireland, and his grandfather, who was a first generation American Irish. About his paternal kin, Jim knew only the names of his father’s parents and not much else, as the family preferred to be ‘quiet’ about their history. Many years later motivated by curiosity, Jim began doing family research and learned his paternal great grandfather (Patrick Hamilton Barrett, b. 1841, Ireland; d. 1927) brought his first wife Elizabeth Singleton and daughter Ellen to the U.S. from Ireland in 1865. He later became a San Francisco Customs House Inspector in 1880.
Jim encountered challenges during his family research, such as the 1906 San Francisco fire and earthquake which destroyed many records, including the 1890 census records. However he had a breakthrough on a trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, when he purchased a CD of the “1890 Great Register of Voters for San Francisco”, and located voter registration cards filled out by both his great grandfather, and grandfather (John Barrett, b. 1868). In another recent find during an internet search, Jim stumbled upon a book containing a 1920 picture of the great grandfather he never knew.
Other sources of family history includes a family plot in Colma, CA he remembers visiting in his youth. He has since obtained death certificates for all of the 14 family members buried there and has been able to confirm family names and relationships through their cemetery records.
As a stamp collector, Jim was often a recipient of unusual stamps from acquaintances. One such stamp was in fact an 1842 letter which folds into an envelope. Instead of a printed stamp, the 12 ½¢ postage is hand written on the envelope. Click the arrow to hear Jim explain the significance of the postage:
Jim brought the (A. Thompson) letter to a Siuslaw Genealogical Society meeting last year and inquired as to whether anyone was interested in doing further research on it. Never to turn down a genealogy challenge, SGS member Pat Rongey researched the letter’s addressee. She was able to locate a great great grandson who now resides in Seaside and sent him a copy of the 1842 letter. As it turns out, Mr. Thompson (the letter’s addressee) left his wife and daughter on the Clatsop Plains to make his fortune in California during the Gold Rush era. His wife’s account of her trail experience tells of his demise:
In the fall of 1848, when gold was discovered in California my husband went, as did many others, to seek gold, but never returned. He was murdered by the Indians near Mormon Island on [the] American River.
(Source: Crossing the Plains in 1845, by Mrs. Miriam A. (Robinson-Thompson) Tuller, Glendale, Oregon Pioneer Assoc. Transactions, Number 23, 1895)
Not far from Sutter’s Fort, the area became known as Murder’s Bar on the Middle Fork of the American River.
Jim Barrett first joined the Siuslaw Genealogy Society in about 1997. He has been doing family research for several decades and maintains a great interest in military history.