Saturday, January 7, 2017

William Gilliat Thornally Jr. (1875-1944) – Part 1 Family Life

Will Thornally Jr. 
William was the eldest child of Mary and William Thornalley. He was named after his father who was also William Gilliat. William had three brothers – Harry, John (my grandfather), and Samuel. He also had two sisters Charlotte and Rose. William was born in San Francisco on July 12, 1875. Four years later he appeared on the 1880 census with his family when they were living at 278 Bush Street in San Francisco. By 1888, the family had moved to Oakland and was living on Bray Avenue (now 34th Avenue) near the Old County Road (now Foothill). My mother Lottie Thornally, Will’s niece, referred to him as Uncle Bill while his sister Charlotte called him Will. 

When Will was 16 he appeared in the City of Oakland directory listed as working for the Guerney-Minnesota Thresher Manufacturing Company. His father also worked there at that time. In the 1892 directory he was listed as an apprentice with the same company. Between 1896-1900 Will and his father both worked as carpenters for the SP Company which I presume refers to the Southern-Pacific railroad.

Will as a young boy

When he was 23 we know that Will spent time in Dawson City, Alaska because Will’s granddaughter Ann Thornally Brurud has a copy of a letter Will’s sister Charlotte sent him while he was there searching for gold. The letter was dated August 1, 1898.  Will was part of the “Klondike Stampede” that began in July 1897 and attracted 100,000 men seeking their fortune. Dawson City was one of the many boom towns that sprung up. It quickly grew to 30,000 by 1898. You can read more about the Klondike stampede and Dawson City from this link. The Klondike gold rush ended in 1899 as miners left to search for gold in other places. Since Will was listed in the 1900 directory, he apparently gave up on mining and returned home to pursue more pragmatic endeavors.
The Klondike gold rush 1899 from Google

By May of 1904, Will had established himself as an independent building contractor. He was 28 when the San Francisco Call newspaper reported that he had won a contract with J.R. Leavens to build a two-story wood-frame home with a basement for William A. Jones. Their bid for the project was $4691. A summary of the homes, commercial properties and other buildings that were constructed by W.G Thornally Jr. is provided in Part 3 of this blog post that follows.

On Will’s voter registration dated September 12, 1918 he signed his last name with an “e” at the end. He also included the “e” on a bid for a construction project that I have. But, the press nearly always omitted the “e” and I don’t think his younger brothers used it. On the voter registration Will was described as being tall and stout with blue eyes and brown hair. His granddaughter Ann remembers him as a big, impressive man with a loud voice.

Marriage and Family Life
Will married Agnus Visalia Damm on October 29, 1903 in the First Congregational Church in Fruitvale. (You can see a photo of the church in the post on Mary McGowan Thornally, August 2015). His younger brother John was his best man and Agnus’ friend, Mrs. Joseph Kreig of Alameda was the maid-of-honor. Will and Agnus honeymooned in Salt Lake City, Utah before returning to Oakland. Agnus was the daughter of Joseph Damm and Maria Giboni. Agnus was born in Chicago, Illinois on December 2, 1881 and moved with her family to 10th and Harrison Street in Oakland’s Melrose District sometime between 1883 and 1896.

Joseph Damm and his wife were both from Germany. According to his 1896 voter registration record Joseph was short – only 5’4” tall. He had a medium build, brown eyes and light brown hair. He was 51 years old at the time, so was born in 1845. Joseph was naturalized on July 17, 1883 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. In 1896, his occupation was in the dairy industry. In 1903, he was a school board trustee in the Melrose District of Oakland.  According to his grandson, Ralph Thornally, Joseph died in 1924, presumably in Oakland.
Agnus with Ralph
Maria was the daughter of Anne Christina Hansen and Peter Giboni. Peter was born in Italy in 1830 but his family immigrated to Germany in 1844. He died at the age of 45 on February 4, 1876. Anne was born in Eschiveiler by Ihole, Germany and died at age 41 on April 4, 1872.

After the honeymoon Will and Agnus made their home on Bray Street near Tobler – this was part of the Thornally Tract that had been purchased by William Sr. in 1886 from Watson A. Bray. Each of the Thornally children owned property and homes in the tract. In 1918, Will and Agnus moved to 3027 E. 16th Street. Then in 1925 they moved to 832 Paramount Road, which is where they raised their two sons Ralph and George.  

Thoranlly family home at 832 Paramount

Ralph William Thornally was born on March 18, 1905. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley campus in 1928 and became a mechanical and electrical engineer. He was also an amateur ham radio operator. On the 1930 census his occupation was recorded as a salesman in the “investment” industry. He worked for the National Park Service in the San Francisco office for 25 years designing heating systems for park buildings. Ralph lived mostly in Oakland but also San Francisco and Berkeley for short times. He married Gladys Peck in 1931 and had one child, a daughter Ann. Gladys died of ovarian cancer in 1951. Ralph married Sylvia Rush. He died in 1986 at the age of 81 and is buried at Mountain View Cemetery. Ralph saved everything that he inherited from his father – for which I am very grateful.
Ralph and George (right)

George Francis Thornally was born on November 10, 1907. He attended Oakland Technical high school and the University of California at Berkeley where he was a member of the Phi Phi fraternity. George served in the US Navy as a lieutenant Commander. Professionally he owned a Studebaker car dealership in Honolulu, Hawaii. He married and divorced Efale Taber and they had two children – a son George and a daughter Efale. He married a second time to a woman named Simone – last name unknown. Ann recalls that George married a third time to a woman named Paulette – last name also unknown. George died October 15, 1981 in Honolulu.

Agnus died at the age of 53 from uterine cancer on December 12, 1934, and is buried in Mountain View Cemetery with her husband. Their grave is near two of Will’s brothers and their wives - John and Emma Thornally, and Sam and Delphine Thornally. Their fourth brother, Harry is also buried at Mountain View but he and Blanche are in the mausoleum.

Sources for this 3 part series on Will Thornally Jr.: US census, newspaper archives available at the Oakland library, Google, voter registration records, and photos and documents shared by living relatives.


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