[Photo of the Albert, Elizabeth, & Alice Aris.]

Albert Aris:
Genealogical Gold From The Internet

By Mark Howells


Family Group Sheet for Albert Ernest Aris

Albert Ernest Aris, Alice Jane Aris
& Elizabeth Branford (Wilkinson) Aris
Taken in Seattle, Washington after 1917

Family History is more than just the names, dates, and places of our ancestors' births, marriages, and deaths. An understanding of the history which our families lived through is a necessary component of thorough genealogical research. As part of my own research, I try to understand as much of the background history which my ancestors lived through as I can. The following success story describes how I used the Internet to obtain valuable historical background information which has helped me "flesh out" the life of my ancestors. The unique part of this success story is that I was able to obtain this information without ever having to leave my home thanks to the Internet.

The Basic Facts

My great grandfather, Albert Ernest ARIS, arrived in Seattle from Victoria, British Columbia in 1908. He was originally from Norwich, England. My paper trail on Albert includes his English Birth Registration from 1879; locating him on the 1881 and 1891 censuses in Norwich, England; knowledge of Albert's daughter's (my grandmother's) birth in Douglas, Alaska in 1912; Albert's naturalization papers filed in Juneau, Alaska Territory in 1914 (on which he gives his occupation as "hoist engineer"); locating him in Seattle city directories from 1918 through 1930; locating him on the 1920 census in Seattle; and finally his Washington State death certificate dated 1931.

The Family Story

One of the very few family stories about Albert was about a mine in Alaska where he worked. The mine flooded with seawater. All the miners but one were safely evacuated from the mine when it flooded but the horses used to work the mine were lost. That was all I had to start with - a story of a flooded mine.

Putting Together The Pieces

Now I had always been interested in the story of the flooded mine. As I my paper trail on Albert grew over time, I began to realize that if the story of the flooded mine had any truth behind it, then I should be able to find information about it as a historical event. I didn't have much to start with. I could place Albert in Alaska between 1910 and 1918. His naturalization papers stated that he arrived in Alaska in 1910 and that in 1914 he lived in Treadwell, Alaska. Consulting modern atlases, I was unable to locate any place called Treadwell in Alaska. I did know that my grandmother was born in Douglas which I could find on modern maps on Douglas Island across the Gastineau Strait from Juneau. Perhaps Treadwell was near Douglas? I knew that Albert was back in Seattle by at least 1918 because that is when he appeared in the city directories. So I had a time period (1910-1918) and locations (Douglas or Treadwell) around which to base my search for a mining disaster in Alaska involving a flood.

Using Local Resources

I had previously attempted to find information on Alaska mining disasters at the Seattle Public Library and the Tacoma Public Library. I visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park museum in Pioneer Square in Seattle and inquired regarding holdings in their library regarding mining disasters. I had reviewed the National Archives' holdings regarding mining disasters and mine safety in Alaska. Anywhere I happened to be doing other research, I also hunted for reference works on mining disasters in Alaska. I came up empty handed. I was not able to find any reference works on mining disasters in Alaska.

Using A Search Engine To Find Web Sites

I thought that using the Internet might help me find out something about mining disasters in Alaska. (Note: For basic information on the Internet, search engines, and Web pages, see the article "Genealogy Sites on the Internet" in the Winter, 1996 edition of The Researcher). I first started by using a search engine. I chose the Lycos search engine (its URL is http://www.lycos.com/) and asked it to perform a search for World Wide Web sites which related to "Alaska Mining Disasters". I specified that a Web site had to include all three words in my search to be returned as a site of interest. When I ran the search, it returned no results - the search had found nothing. Since this had only taken a few seconds and I was in the comfort of my own home, I tried another search. This time, I broadened my search criteria to search for Web sites which included the words "Alaska" and "Mine" in their site. After a few seconds, the search came back with several sites to choose from. I was given the Web site address of the Alaska Miners' Association and of the Web site address of the School of Mineral Engineering at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

Using The Web Sites To Find Email Addresses

I visited both Web sites and found that each had electronic mail (email) addresses to contact for questions or comments regarding their organizations. I copied these addresses and began to compose my email messages. I wrote a short, one paragraph email message to each address. I explained that I was looking for information on mining disasters in Alaska between 1910 and 1918 around Douglas or Treadwell and could anyone in their organization recommend reference works on the subject. In my message, I politely thanked the readers in advance for any help they might be able to provide to me. I sent my messages on a Sunday afternoon and waited for replies.

The Kindness Of Strangers

By the following Monday evening when I checked my email for messages, I had received several replies to my messages. A mining engineer associated with the Alaska Miners' Association replied that I must be referring to the famous Treadwell mine flood of 1917. He gave me a little background information on the cause of the flood a recommended a book, Hard Rock Gold, about gold mining in the Juneau area, complete with library reference number for the book. I realized that a mine flooding in 1917 would explain Albert ARIS' presence back in Seattle in 1918. Furthermore, I didn't know from the family story that it had been a gold mine.

The School of Mineral Engineering sent an email reply along the same lines, giving me still more history about the flood and the Hard Rock Gold author's phone number in Juneau! Treadwell, which I couldn't find on a modern map, was now a ghost town but had been only mile from Douglas when the gold mine there was in operation. The mine had flooded with seawater in 1917 and with the end of the mine came the end of the town of Treadwell. In its day, the Treadwell mine was the largest gold mine in the world. Over 3 million ounces of gold were taken out of the mine in total. For more information on its history, visit the Treadwell Gold Mine web page.

By the next day, I had spoken with the author of Hard Rock Gold by phone regarding the disaster. The author mentioned that he was in possession of what remained of the mining company records. He offered to search the records he had to see if he could locate information on my great grandfather! I sent him a short letter giving him what information I had on Albert ARIS in Alaska and included a SASE and an offer to pay for any photocopies he might make.

I asked the author how I could obtain a copy of his book. The book was currently out of print, but he gave me the name of the publisher in Seattle. A phone call the same day to the publisher determined that they still had a few "printers' samples" of the book left and would I like a complementary copy?! Within a week, I had THE major reference work on the Treadwell mine flood in my hands without ever having to leave home.

Reading Hard Rock Gold was a great treat. It includes schematic drawings of the Treadwell mine and several photographs of Treadwell. I saw pictures of the dry goods store and the butcher shop that my great grandmother undoubtedly shopped in. The book includes a memoir written about Treadwell by a young wife and mother in 1914. I read this story as if it were my own great grandmother describing her life in Treadwell. A handy definition of mining terms in the back of the book told me that a hoist was the term for the mine elevators which lifted men and ore up and down the mine shafts. I now had a better understanding of exactly what my great grandfather worked on at the mine.

Hard Rock Gold has a detailed description of the flooding of the mine and I found that the story handed down by my family was remarkably accurate in its details. The mine had flooded with seawater from the Gastineau Strait. A total of 13 horses and mules were drowned. While one miner was initially reported missing in the flooding, he was later seen in the town of Douglas after the flood and it was generally agreed that he did not drowned, but rather he used the flood as an excuse to skip town due to marital difficulties.

The Emails Kept Coming

One of the great advantages of electronic mail is that messages can be forwarded to other people with great ease. One of my original messages asking for information was forwarded to a Historical Collections librarian at the Alaska State Library in Juneau. This librarian went out of her way to provide me with additional information and sources regarding Treadwell. She faxed me a five page article on the Treadwell mine flood of 1917. She recommended one other book and a newspaper index on gold mining in the Juneau area, complete with library reference numbers and an offer of an inter-library loan. Further emails from the librarian explained that the site of Treadwell now includes an historical interpretive walking trail. (See Dale Wilkins' photos from that walking trail of a pumphouse and a building still remaining at the Treadwell site.) In addition, the librarian found (through the Internet) that the Seattle Public Library, the Washington State Library in Olympia, and the University of Washington Library all have a microfiche collection of historical pictures of Alaska which includes pictures of Treadwell. She even provided index numbers to the microfiche! Of course, I thanked her profusely via email.

The Comfort Of Home

In one week's time, I had gone from a family story to hard facts about an historical event in the lives of my great grandparents. I never had to leave my home to obtain this information. All of this background research was done using the World Wide Web, electronic mail, and the telephone. Although I probably would have eventually found information on the Treadwell mine flood of 1917 using traditional methods, I would never have been able to accumulate so much information so quickly other than by using the Internet.

Addendum To The Story

Over a year after I had originally corresponded with the librarian at the Alaska State Library, I obtained another clue from a genealogist in Alaska. The genealogist mentioned that she had seen my grandmother's birth announcement listed on an index of birth announcements which had been originally printed in the local Douglas newspaper of the day. This genealogist gave me the date of the paper in which the announcement appeared. I emailed the librarian at the Alaska State Library and asked if she remembered our prior correspondence and did she know where back issues of the Douglas Island News were held. Four days later I got my reply. Of course she remembered me. What's more, a photocopy of the birth announcement was on its way to me by snail mail! Since the city of Douglas had lost most of its vital records in a series of fires, this birth announcement was the closest thing I would be getting to an actual birth certificate.

But the librarian didn't stop there. She continued looking for references to the Aris family in the Douglas Island News. She found one more from 1920, after the family had left Douglas for Seattle:

From The Douglas Island News, Friday, March 12, 1920, page 1, column 2:

		"Lost Baby - From the Seattle Time of March 5 it is learned
		that Bella Marie Aris, one-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs.
		Albert Aris and sister of Alice Jane Aris, of 1108 Taylor
		Avenue, died on March 4.  The cause of death is not given.
		The funeral was on March 6.

The parents of the little one are former Douglas Island people who left here a couple of years ago to make their home at Seattle. Mr. Aris was for several years a hoisting engineer at the Mexican mine."

This sad announcement was of the death of my grandmother's infant sister who died of pneumonia according to the funeral records. I already had this information from newspaper, funeral home, and cemetery sources in Seattle. What I didn't know was that Albert had worked for the Mexican mine at Treadwell. The Alaska Mexican Gold Mining Company was one of four separate companies which jointly worked the Treadwell. From the book "Hard Rock Gold", I learned that the Mexican mine had employed about 145 men during its operation and the average wage for an 8 hour shift in the mine was $3.26.

The greatest discovery about Albert having worked for the Mexican mine was that using a surface map provided in "Hard Rock Gold", I was able to locate the hoist shack for the Mexican mine. I now know exactly which building my great grandfather worked in as a hoist engineer when he and his family were at Treadwell over eighty years ago. The information that he worked for the Mexican mine will also assist in locating his employment records.

I could not let this good deed go unrewarded, so I sent by snail mail a box of local delicacies to the librarian in Alaska. Since she had gone to so much trouble for me, it was the least I could do as a thank-you. I was also sure to use the Library's online comment form to send a glowing account about how helpful she had been to the Library itself.

The Research Never Stops, Of Course

Genealogical research never really ends. It just pauses for a while. After I had done the above research, my cousin examined some of our grandmother's keepsakes and found the following newspaper clipping:

"Married: Holy Trinity Epsicopal Church on Saturday Evening, April 29th, 1911, Albert Ernest Aris of Treadwell, and Elizabeth Branford Wilkinson of England. Ceremony performed by Rev. G. G. Renison."

There was no date or name of the newspaper on the clipping. However, the back side of clipping did contain an advertisement for a tobacconist in Douglas. I imagined this was enough of a clue to go on so I contacted my librarian friend in Alaska again.

I hadn't written to her in seven months but I had hopes that she would remember me and my great grandparents. With the marriage notice and a description of the back side of the clipping, she was able to locate both the source of the above notice - The Daily Alaska Dispatch of May 2, 1911 as well as obtaining the following additional newspaper notice of the wedding:

From The Alaska Daily Record, May 1, 1911, page 4, column 2 in the Douglas Dots section:

Mr. and Mrs. Albert Enrest Aris are located in housekeeping apartments in the San Souci bulding. Mrs. Aris was Miss Wilkinson until last Saturday night, having arrived direct from England on the Princess May. The couple were married by Rev. Renison in Juneau Saturday evening. Mr. Aris is very well known on the island, having been employed at the Mexican mine for about a year.
Now I had the name of the ship on which my great grandmother traveled to Alaska! A quick couple of e-mails to the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society and I had obtained a picture of the Princess May:

Picture of the Princess May

The ship which brought Elizabeth Wilkinson from Vancouver, British Columbia to Douglas, Alaska Territory in 1911
Source: Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society

Further Resources of Interest

The Bureau of Land Management's Juneau Mineral Information Center has an excellent web site on The History of the Treadwell Mines.

For those interested in the Treadwell surname, there is a web site dedicated to the founder of the Treadwell gold mine.

The Juneau Public Library maintains a Gallery of Historic Photos of Juneau, Alaska & Vicinity online. This web page has some outstanding photographs of Douglas and Treadwell which can be viewed in very high resolution on the Internet.

Of particular to my research are the following photographs from the Juneau Public Library's web page:

New Hoist Engine at the Mexican Mine.

New Hoist Engine at the Mexican Mine. This clearly shows just what sort of machinery Albert Aris was operating.
Click on the above image to see an more detailed view.
Source: The Juneau Public Library's Gallery of Historic Photos of Juneau -- Treadwell, Alaska.

View of Douglas, Alaska

View of Douglas, Alaska. Here is a good picture of the town my grandmother was born in.
Click on the above image to see an more detailed view.
Source: The Juneau Public Library's Gallery of Historic Photos of Juneau -- Douglas, Alaska.

Inside the general store at Treadwell, Alaska.

Inside the general store at Treadwell, Alaska.
I can imagine my great grandmother with my grandmother as just a little girl shopping here. Imagine what a treat those bananas were!
Click on the above image to see an more detailed view.
Source: The Juneau Public Library's Gallery of Historic Photos of Juneau -- Treadwell, Alaska.

About the Author

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Albert Aris: Genealogical Gold From The Internet
This page created & maintained by Mark Howells. Please send email to markhow@oz.net
Updated July 9, 2001
Copyright 1996 - 2001 by Mark & Cyndi Howells. All rights reserved.