I reunite identified family photos that I find in antique shops and second hand stores with genealogists and family historians. If you see one of your ancestors here and would like to obtain the original, feel free to contact me at familyphotoreunion [ at ] yahoo [ dot ] com. I hope you enjoy your visit!
~The Archivist

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lost Surname: Vada and Lela Oswalt, Alliance, Ohio, Circa 1901

These two sisters have been in my collection for many years.   They've frustrated me a bit because, search after search, I could not find anything that matched the handwritten inscription on the back of the photograph.  The back reads, "Lela Kellers, 6.  Vada, 4.  Forest dated Lela."  The photo was taken in Alliance, Ohio by Lorin E. Miller, probably around 1900-1910, based on the style of card used and the fashion of dress.

Today I decided that simpler might be best.  Lela and Vada are somewhat uncommon names.  Instead of searching for Kellers or Keller, I thought I would perform a wide-open search, with no geographic or surname restrictions.  I was only going to search for two siblings with those first names.  The first hit that came up was an entry from the 1900 US Census for Lella and Vada Aswalt, of Alliance, Stark County, Ohio:

Aswalt, William, b. Sept 1862, OH, widowed, occ. Railroad Brakeman
Aswalt, Elby, b. May 1886, OH, son
Aswalt, Lella L.  b. Sept 1895, OH, daughter
Aswalt, Vada.  b. Mar 1898, OH, daughter

After looking at the actual census, rather than the transcribed index, I believe the surname is actually "Oswalt."   I wasn't getting too excited at this point, because Aswalt/Oswalt wasn't in anyway similar to the surname Kellers.    However, the next family on the census caught my eye:
Keller, Jessie, 53
Keller, Tabitah, 51

This made me wonder if something happened to William Oswalt which motivated the Kellers, who were possibly relatives, to take the children in.  I looked at the 1910 Census (Alliance, OH) where the Oswalt girls are living with the Keller couple:

Jesse Keller, 65, watchman Railroad
Tabitha Keller, 62
Lela Oswalt, 14, grand-daughter
Vada Vell Oswalt, 12, grand-daughter

Vada and Lela's brother Elby is married with a family of his own by the 1910 census and is living in Alliance.  It is interesting to note that William Oswalt, the father, is living with his son Elby at the time of the 1910, 1920 and 1930 censuses.  So it would seem the girls haven't been orphaned, and are just living with their grandparents.

I went in search of the girl's birth records.  I found Lela Viola Oswalt, born 30 September 1895, Alliance OH to Wm. H. Oswalt and Almeda Keller, in the Ohio, Births and Christenings Index, 1800-1962.  I couldn't find Vada.  I did find a boy named Raymond Oswalt, born 13 Feb 1900, Alliance, to the same couple.  I learned in the Ohio Deaths and Burials, 1854-1997 Index that Almeda B. Oswalt died on the 14th of February 1900,  presumably, of complications during childbirth.

William H. and Almeda Kellers were married in Stark Co., Ohio on October 18, 1894This was William's second marriage.

Stark County, Ohio Marriages, 1894 -1896, Volume 15, page 84

Familysearch shows a marriage occurring on October 18, 1885 between William H. Oswalt and Carrie Bevington.  Elby or (L.B) is  the son of William and Carrie Bevington.

I haven't been able to find out if Vada and Lela married.  I did find a couple of trees on Ancestry that have death dates for Lela and Veda (without mention of any spouses), but I am wary of pulling information from member-submitted trees without being able to verify the information myself.

We can assume that the person who wrote the note on the back of our photograph was not a direct relative, which would explain the mix-up with the surname.   I suspect we've followed the correct trail here, but again, there are no guarantees.

If you have knowledge about the lives of Vada and Lela that you'd like to share, or if you have a picture to compare this one with, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. "Born on 1898 to William Oswalt and Almeda Keller. Vada married John E Bettis and had a child named Wendall Bettis. He passed away on 1974."

    "Lela married Thomas Moore."

    I think you have this pretty well figured out. Alliance Ohio is a railroad town - and train-related accidents (and fatalities) happened regularly back in those days.

  2. 1930 US Census record for Vada D Bettis


    and likewise for Lela Moore