20 Years of Searching to Find the Face of Permelia

Genealogy, Permelia Hanks, 20 years of searching, East Texas Genealogical Society, Old photos, garage sales, James Steel Hanks, An Inconvenient Gamble

I’ve been hunting for a photo of Permelia for 20 years.

My grandfather was an enigma and his mother even more so. Nearly 20 years ago, I began a genealogy hunt hoping to learn more about the man and some of the mysteries of our family.

Others have followed genealogy quests for similar reasons.

I quickly learned that some of the quirks I saw in family members may have been owing to a woman about whom I knew very little. They called her Amelia, but I soon discovered that was not her real name.

And no one knew what she looked like, other than the red hair.

Where could a photo of Permelia be?

I’ve written about her before when I thought I might have stumbled on an old picture my grandmother, the daughter-in-law who never met her, spoke of. It’s of three girls in an oval frame. Permelia had two sisters. Could this be them?
Genealogy, Permelia Hanks, 20 years of searching, East Texas Genealogical Society, Old photos, garage sales, James Steel Hanks, An Inconvenient Gamble
I still don’t know, but it was exciting to dream and wonder. Is that what Permelia–not Mealey, Melia, Malia, Ellita, nor Amelia–looked like as a girl?

(With all those variations in name, not to mention misspellings of her second’s husband’s last name, is it any wonder I can’t find records about her?)

Start with the facts

I know she was born in 1867, the daughter of James S. Hanks and his wife Louezer (Louisa?).

My research turned up an 1890 marriage to Ben Alex Dunn, brother to her brother-in-law T. R. Dunn, and she bore a son James. Ben died at some point and in 1897 she married my great-grandfather, another mystery person, had four children and then came down with tuberculosis.

My grandfather had few memories of her because she went into an east Texas sanitarium when he was a little boy, where she died in 1914.

But I think about her from time to time, wondering about the drama that played out through her 47 years. She lost her parents, a husband and a child, then coughed herself to death leaving four young ones behind.

And that hole, that loss of a mother, affected us.

Random hunting can sometimes turn up joy

I’ve contacted relatives, scoured the Internet and never found anything except that tantalizing oval photo above from an obscure website sent to me by a genealogy pal.

The other night, not sleeping and filling in time putting together a Pinterest page, I drifted over to that East Texas Genealogical Society website. I needed to add a photo of James Hanks’ original farmhouse.

Carol Hafner had put up a few more photos.

Did you hear me scream?

At 1:30 in the morning, I stumbled on this photo. I stared and stared, numb, exhausted, unbelieving.
Genealogy, Permelia Hanks, 20 years of searching, East Texas Genealogical Society, Old photos, garage sales, James Steel Hanks, An Inconvenient Gamble
It was listed as: “Aunt Mealey with Uncle Aleck Dunn.”

Can there be any doubt?

What if I tell you–and my cousin agrees–those look like my aunt’s eyes? You can see them more clearly in the top photo.

What were they doing in San Antonio, Texas?

How would I know?

It’s enough just to look at her face and be thankful, for the millionth time, for the Internet’s research capabilities, not to mention the hard work of so many genealogists to provide information.

20 years of searching is over.

Now, do me a favor. Look at Permelia’s photo at the top and compare it to those three girls. She was the second of three–does the adult woman look like any of those girls in your opinion?

Update: The East Texas Genealogy society doesn’t know where these photos came from. Someone found a photo album at a yard sale, bought it and gave it to the society because she didn’t think such photos should be lost.

Thank you, whoever you are.


20 years of searching to find a face. Click to Tweet

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Update 2: the girls are Permelia’s cousins.

Leave a comment


  1. I would have to say the girl all the way to the left in the picture of the three looks a lot like her as a young lady. The eyes & eye brows are the same in my opinion.

  2. I chose the one on the left, also. She looks very similar if she is not the same. It could also possibly be the one on the right if she put on some weight with age.

  3. Michelle Ule

     /  September 5, 2013

    I know that she was the middle daughter, so I lean toward the one on the far right. BUT, I’ve seen more photos on that site. There’s another picture of these three girls with a guy and in another photo on the site, he is standing on TR Dunn’s pharmacy porch. TR Dunn was Permelia’s brother-in-law, the husband of her half sister. I’m wondering if maybe these aren’t Permelia’s nieces who happen to bear a family resemblance.

    I’ve since been in touch with the webmaster and these photos were purchased at an estate sale and then donated by Carol to the East Texas Genealogical Society. I’ve apparently come up with more information than anyone else!

  4. Now, I thought it was the girl in the CENTER. Funny.

  5. I picked the girl in the center, too.

  6. Striking resemblance to the two girls on the left, looking at the bone structure around the eyes, length and proportion of nose, and the mouth’s size, shape, and orientation.

    The eyes of the girl on the right are more narrowly-set, and her nose is a bit coarser. Also, her mouth is larger (not by much), and her upper lip (distance from nose to top margin of lip tissue) is longer.

    The ears of both the left and center girl seem to match the adult woman quite well; the ears of the girl on the right seem to be set lower, and the lobes are shaped differently (along with being a bit more protruding).

    Narrowing it down, the shape of the center girl’s chin seems to match the adult. The girl on the right has a more rounded chin, and moderate changes in weight would not obscure this.

    So – center.

    • Michelle Ule

       /  September 6, 2013

      I’m so thankful I asked for your comments. I see what you mean. I was looking at Permelia’s straight eyebrows and it seems the girl on the left has the least arched brows. But, I’m trying to find their faces, so objective viewers are important! Thanks!

  7. ANN*H

     /  September 10, 2013

    The one on the right. I too am a genealogy addict. Aggrevating at times but so interesting and fun. Search on…….

  8. Wow, fun find after 20 years Michelle!

  9. Paula Jaenichen

     /  January 13, 2015

    I think it is the girl in the middle if you thin down her face as she aged and the brought down the hair height…..the other two don’t have the same eye, nose, chin shapes. My vote the middle

    • Michelle Ule

       /  January 13, 2015

      Thanks, Paula! This is just an excellent reminder to label your photos!

  10. Kelley

     /  January 24, 2017

    Wow…great find. I too have a similar search stretching into 20 years now. A mother dies young, grandmother remarries a Dunn, Doan, Done, Doane…??? In east Texas also.
    Maybe we should share info, maybe we have some of the missing pieces?

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