Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008 | midnight
What can a genealogist do with a stack of old gasoline receipts?
The receipts provide evidence of the gas credit cards held by my father-in-law in July 1966 (Chevron, Mobil, Phillips 66, Richfield, Standard), the price he paid for gasoline in various locations (ranging from about 37.9 cents per gallon to a high of 41.9 cents per gallon), and the approximate dates of a family road trip. By comparing the chronological receipts with a road atlas, I will roughly be able to map the route the family took. If I combine the atlas and the gasoline receipts, I will be able to approximately re-create the family vacation. The route the family took is especially important because any outlying stops or delays between fill-ups might reveal 1966 residences of family members.
Three generations of the Evans/Anderson family (three adults and two teenagers) drove their 1963 brown Buick LeSabre to Crookston, Minn., so my mother-in-law could attend her 20th high school reunion. The gasoline receipts begin in Barstow, Calif., on July 3, 1966, and end in Barstow on July 20, 1966. We hypothesize that the Minnesota trip began and ended shortly before and after the Barstow fill-ups that bookend the receipts.
When we plot the route, we see the family making full-day drives from Barstow to Cedar City, Utah, and to Idaho Falls, Idaho. The route to their next stop took them through Yellowstone National Park; they stopped July 6 in Livingston, Mont., where my father-in-law paid $1.50 for a tire repair. The family stopped twice for gas on July 7: once in Billings, Mont., and again in Glendive, Mont., only about a half-day drive from Billings. The stop following that was two days later in Moorhead, Minn., just across the border from Fargo, N.D. Why did the family stop in Glendive and take two days to cross North Dakota?
From Moorhead the family's route snaked in an improbable figure 8 east to Brainerd in central Minnesota, down and east to Taylors Falls on the Wisconsin border, south to nearby Minneapolis and then northwest to Bemidji, and finally to Crookston. Four days later they purchased gas in Fargo. What took the family all over Minnesota when they could have driven directly from Moorhead to Crookston in a few hours?
When we plot the towns on the atlas we see the family stops are not on a direct, one-day-apart driving route from California to Crookston. When we question these anomalies, we find that the family stopped overnight at unlikely places because they visited family.
Genealogists search the family and friends of our ancestors to gain more knowledge. We also look for outliers or anomalies to provide further information. People have reasons for doing what they do. That reason, if we can find it, usually provides information we can use. That is why a genealogist will use the unlikely stops recorded on gas receipts from a family vacation as clues for further genealogical research.
The LeSabre's air conditioner broke the first day, between Barstow and Las Vegas. The family left the car at a Las Vegas Buick dealer on Fremont Street while they relaxed in a nearby park and tried to decipher the puzzle of Southern Nevada's singing cicadas. No receipt for this stop; just my teenaged future husband's first memory of Las Vegas.
Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2360 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or TheNews@hbcpub.com.