A Family History Discovered on eBay is a True Fabulous Find
Some of the “Holdeman Archive” Fabulous Find as recovered through an eBay transaction.
It all began in April 2014, as I was conducting on-line research into my maternal grandfather’s military service on the Mexican Border (1916). After many swings and misses, lo and behold, I discovered an eBay auction for a number of “postcards, Mexican Border, Pancho Villa.” I immediately went to the listing and discovered four cards showing my grandfather, James “Harvey” Holdeman, both in uniform and in his later career as an oil exploration geologist in Texas.
Of course, I hit the “contact seller” button, and was soon corresponding with a bookseller near Houston who had an interesting story. Here is what we pieced together:
When Harvey died in 1963, my grandmother contracted with an auctioneer to “sell it all,” with regard to a storage facility (actually, an entire old farmstead), where Harvey’s lifetime of accumulated property was stored. Prior to the sale, however, his son by a previous marriage had picked through the possessions (with full permission of my grandmother), and carried some amount away to his home in Pasadena, Texas. It wasn’t until “Junior’s” death in 2002 that the current holder of the material came into possession via an estate sale of box lots.
My grandfather James “Harvey” Holdeman in a studio-shot postcard, taken in Eagle Pass, Texas, in 1916.
Suffice it to say that a deal was struck to return the entire “Holdeman Archive” to the family, while affording the seller some margin of profit, of course. These irreplaceable photos, including some of Harvey’s brothers (of whom the family had no record at all), were soon in my hands and—after being authenticated—were being scanned for sharing with other family members.
And there was more: detailed logbooks and ledgers of oil fields developed in the 1920s and ’30s, stock certificates for one of Harvey’s “Oil and Mineral” corporations, and photos and other documents of my Grandmother’s service during the Second World War all saw the light of a new day. After polling all the family members on what they would like, some distribution of duplicated items was done right away; other items had to be scanned and printed. The question then became, “How do you share such a one-of-kind trove?”
One of the stock certificates for Holdeman Oil and Minerals, Inc.
My grandmother (Frances Atwood Holdeman (center) at 46 years of age while in France near the end of the Second World War. A rare photo of her in uniform.
That was answered when I found out that “Junior” had already donated quite a large amount of Harvey’s oil exploration material to the Texas State Archives in Austin. Among the holdings there include “The James Harvey Holdeman Collection.” But it had noticeable gaps, created by the material Junior had withheld, so I was able to “complete the record,” with a donation to the State of Texas. In addition, while my grandmother’s service in WWII was already well documented at the Fort Sam Houston Museum (San Antonio), by having been gifted her complete uniform when she died, what they lacked were pictures of her actually wearing the uniform. That (along with much more), I was able to provide. All of this was hand-delivered, as I was going to be in Texas that fall, anyway.
A year later, I received an intriguing email from the eBay seller from whom the archive was purchased. He wanted to know if anything in Harvey’s background would suggest he might have gone to India at some point. My reaction is best described as, “Say WHAT?”
The fabulous 36-inch by 40-inch map opened, showing “Gene” Atwood’s handwritten notes.
I immediately knew what had happened. Harvey was my grandmother’s second husband, and some of her first husband’s material had been in the boxes Junior acquired; it was that man, Carroll Eugene Atwood, who had been the Singer Sewing Machine regional manager for India in the 1920s and ’30s. The item discovered was a magnificent 36-inch by 40-inch folio map of the region annotated in Atwood’s own hand with locations of offices and areas of responsibility.
At the time of his death (1939, Bombay, India), the Japanese were gaining control of the area, and it had been thought that all the family’s possessions had been lost, as my grandmother, mother and aunt were evacuated to the U.S. This map (quickly purchased and expertly copied for the siblings) is the only artifact we know of with Atwood’s own writing, including an inscription to his father (maybe intended to be, but never sent, to him).
Delivering a donation to the “James Harvey Holdeman Collection” to curator Laura Saegart at the Texas State Archives, October 2015.
While the monetary value of all the recovered material may not be great, it represents one hundred years of family history— nearly lost forever—and must be considered a Fabulous Find!
Do you have a Fabulous Find you’d like to share with us? Email your story and photographs to firstname.lastname@example.org
James M. Boling, a retired Army major, lives in Richland, Ga.
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