Saturday, January 31, 2015

Family Mystery Part II: Identifying the Watchman

I was surprised to discover that my paternal ancestry was clouded by a non-paternal event (see A Family History Mystery Revealed). I had to find answers to this smoldering family secret that had me burning for the truth. That meant on the ground research.

During a trip home to Colorado, I paid a visit to the site of the family rumor - the water reservoir where my possible paternal great-grandfather was a watchman. The reservoir is situated on a hill immediately adjacent to my great-grandparents' old home. A large embankment of earth rises up from their backyard casting a shadow over their small bungalow.

Driving along the perimeter, the reservoir spans several city blocks and is completely surrounded by a menacing chain link fence crowned with barbed wire. Ominously, the fence was marked with dozens of private property signs. The family secret was under metaphorical lock and key. As I cruised the length of the facility, I finally came upon a gate with a Denver Water truck parked outside and an employee passing through.

As I drove up, I rolled down the car window and asked about the site. He said it was Ashland Reservoir - a covered water holding facility for the city of Denver. I asked about the possibility of finding information on employees from the 1930s. He suggested reviewing Denver Water's website. While he spoke, I glanced into the distance - in the direction of my great-grandparents' home - and could see what appeared to be a small guardhouse. Was this Jimmy Kirk's office? From that vantage point, "Kirk-guard" could look down onto my great-grandparents' home.

Ashland Reservoir - Guardhouse

Later that day, after reviewing Denver Water's website, I found instructions for submitting requests for public information. I emailed the custodian of records asking if there were any existent employment records for a Jimmy Kirk, particularly around the 1930s. The following day I had a response to my email.

We have checked our early personnel records of Denver Water employees and have no record of a Jimmy Kirk. I did, however find references in the Record of Proceedings (Denver Water Board Meeting Minutes) to a Sam Kirk in 1928. One indicates that he was added to the payroll as a Reservoir Operator (the reservoir is not specified), and the other indicates that he resigned as a Watchman at the Ashland Reservoir a few months later.

Denver Water Board Minutes - May 1928
Sam Kirk hired as a reservoir operator in May 1928. Denver Water Board minutes.

Denver Water Board Minutes - October 1928
Sam Kirk resigns as a watchman at Ashland Reservoir in October 1928

The Questions
Was Sam Kirk the rumored "Kirk-guard" who had a relationship with my great-grandmother? The occupation and work location certainly match the family rumor. But Sam is a good ways down the alphabet from Jimmy.

Why did Sam only work at the reservoir for five months? Did he have to leave his position at the reservoir after the relationship with a married Catholic woman was discovered?

Did a relationship begin with my great-grandmother in 1928 - when Sam worked at the reservoir - and continue through the autumn of 1930 when my grandfather would have been conceived?

When mere tantalizing snippets of truth are revealed, my mind races to fill in the gaping holes with a myriad of possibilities. I had a candidate that matched pieces of the family rumor. Now I needed to learn more about him and see if I could confirm his eligibility and neutralize the abundance of uncertainty and speculation.

[Continued: Family Mystery Part III: Are You My Grandpa?]


  1. Look on the Denver Water Board minutes that show when he was added to the payroll. On the same list, look at who took an indefinite leave of absence--Wm Mace. Likely the same William Mace who discovered the elder Kirk drowned a decade before?

    1. Good catch! I'd totally missed that connection between William and his son Sam.