John Triana has done much research on the history of the club. He has located early records of the club. Included here are some of his findings
1913 Bird Journal
In March 2011, I received notice through Patrick Comins of Audubon Connecticut about a notebook filled with bird observations around the New Haven area from 1913. The book was in the possession of Don Beimborn of Minnesota. Don scanned the cover and a couple of the pages with notes. He also noted that there were notes from the author’s trips to New Hampshire and South Dakota. Don said that a friend gave him the notebook a few years ago since they knew he was a birder. The friend was more interested in the glass case that held the journal. From what they recalled, the glass case and notebook were not originally together. Finally, he noted that there was no name in the journal. As the historian of the New Haven Bird Club, I was immediately interested in seeing more and digging into the mystery of whose it was. Don agreed to send me the notebook and I eagerly gave him my address.
Once I received the journal, I started combing through the details. The journal didn’t just have a few notes about some hikes to look for birds. This was a complete daily record of each and every bird the author saw in 1913. It also listed the author’s location each day and the weather. In addition to the observations from New Haven, the author went to Middletown (CT), South Dakota, New York, and Tilton (NH). Some patterns emerged from looking at his travels. The author started the year in Tilton, then came down to Connecticut where he would spend weekends in Middletown and weekdays in New Haven. Once the summer arrived the author took the trips to South Dakota and New York. He made a quick trip back to New Hampshire in September before returning to the Middletown/New Haven pattern. Finally, the author made his way back to Tilton for Christmas.
My first instinct was to assume that a NHBC member was the author. This seemed logical since so many of our members took trips looking for birds. I started looking through our archives and elsewhere for clues about where likely candidates were in 1913. If they were in one or more of the locations mentioned in the journal, that would be a good sign. However, if they were in a place NOT mentioned in the journal, it would be even better since I could eliminate that person from contention. That was the beauty of a notebook with so much detail.
I ran through the big names…Herbert K. Job – took pictures in Manitoba in July….nope. Dwight Pangburn – rode his motorcycle out to Buffalo and Kansas City….not him. Louis Bishop, Freeman Burr, Clifford Pangburn, Edgar Stiles, Orville Petty, Philip Buttrick, Aretas Saunders, Albert Honywill, William Prentiss…..none of them could be the author since there was evidence they were in other places during 1913 that were not mentioned in the journal.
While I was going through the NHBC names, I was also reaching out to people in South Dakota to see if I could attack the problem from another angle. Several people responded, but it was clear that they were either interested in history or birds, but not both. Finally, I found someone who had an interest in both fields. Ricky D. Olsen of Ft. Pierre, SD didn’t just express a general interest in the topic. He put in many hours looking through old hotel ledgers, newspapers, and other records. I promised that I would supply him a copy of all the South Dakota records in the journal.
By mid-April, we couldn’t find any solid lead in Connecticut or South Dakota. When it looked like all roads were blocked, I had a thought….if this guy was so into birds, did he participate in the 1913 Christmas Bird Count? And if so, where? I checked the journal’s December 25th record. He was in Tilton, New Hampshire. I checked the 1914 Bird Lore edition that gave the 1913 CBC results and….there was one record for Tilton, NH. Ding! Next, I cross-referenced that record with the journal…..Canadian Ruffed Grouse…CBC-3, journal-3, Redpoll…CBC-6, Journal-6, and on it went. Perfect matches. There was no doubt. The 1913 Tilton, NH CBC was done by three men – George L. Plimpton, Ernest R. Perkins, or Edward H. Perkins. In an instant, I whittled down the list of possible authors from millions to three.
Now that I had three names, I had to learn more about these men. They were all in Tilton, NH at Christmas 1913, but could I figure out if one of them went to South Dakota that summer? Could I determine if one of them attended Yale, but stayed with family in Middletown over the weekends?
First I tried to track down George L. Plimpton. He was not the famous author. That George Plimpton would not be born until 1927. Through census records, I found that George Lincoln Plimpton was a teacher and head master at a seminary/prep school in Tilton. In 1913, he had a wife and three kids. Lastly, one more important fact….he was an 1891 graduate of Wesleyan. That was a nice connection to Middletown, but I couldn’t find any connection to Yale and New Haven. Next was Ernest R. Perkins and Edward H. Perkins. Again from census records, I learned that Ernest and Edward were brothers living in Tilton. In 1913, Edward would have been 26 and Ernest would have been 19. Both were good indicators that they were at or near college age. I couldn’t find any link to Wesleyan through online records for either brother. However, I did find a record of an Edward H. Perkins getting a graduate degree from Yale in 1919.
After more effort on Ernest turned up nothing, I aimed my sights on Edward. Could the Edward who earned a degree in 1919 have been the same guy from Tilton? My first find was that this Edward got his degree in geology and then went briefly to Rhode Island State College. After that, I found him teaching geology at Colby College in Maine. I found an article in the May-June 1922 edition Bird Lore from the same Edward H. Perkins. The author spoke about a chickadee taking a dust bath in an old robin’s nest in Tilton, NH several winters previous. That cinched it! The Edward who got a degree in geology at Yale in 1919 was the same guy who grew up in Tilton, NH.
All signs now pointed to Edward, but what about the Middletown connection? George had a Middletown connection through Wesleyan. Maybe the Perkins brothers did as well. I sent an email inquiry to the Wesleyan alumni office. That was forwarded to Suzy Taraba, the Head of Special Collections and University Archivist. Her email closed the case:
Dear Mr. Triana,
Your inquiry to the alumni office was forwarded to me.
As luck would have it, all three men you name are Wesleyan alumni. We don’t have much information about any of them, but I can tell you what each was doing in 1913.
1. George L. Plimpton, Class of 1891 – from 1896 on, he was the principal of the Tilton Seminary, Tilton, NH.
2. Edward H. Perkins, Class of 1912 – in 1913, he was a graduate student at Yale; he spent his whole career teaching geology.
3. Ernest R. Perkins, Class of 1917 – in 1913, he was a freshman at Wesleyan; after graduation he went into the army and later became a journalist and, later still, after receiving a master’s degree from Clark University, taught history and economics.
Edward was definitely the author of the journal. In 1913 he was a graduate student at Yale, but spent the weekends, probably with his brother, in Middletown. In the summer of 1913, he took a trip out to South Dakota. During the holidays, he went back to see his family in Tilton, NH. On Christmas Day 1913, he participated in the Christmas Bird Count in Tilton with his brother and the headmaster of a local school.
Since I could never find any connection between Edward and the NHBC, I decided that the journal should go back to the family…..if I could find them. I got back into the genealogical research searching for any living descendants. I hit pay dirt when I found the obituary of Elizabeth Perkins Stanley, daughter of Edward. Unfortunately, she passed away in July 2003. However, her obituary noted that she was survived by a husband and five kids. Current information seemed to indicate that her husband, Walter C. Stanley, was still alive in Maryland with a couple of their kids. I wrote letters to them. No response. I tried again. A few days later I was rewarded with a phone call from Walter C. Stanley of Gaithersburg, Maryland. We had a great and long conversation. He stated that he never met his father-in-law, since Edward died in 1936 and he didn’t meet Elizabeth until 1949. Walter noted that he had Connecticut roots, growing up in Connecticut and attended Yale. He also mentioned that there was a bird sanctuary at Colby College named after his in-laws.
Having found everything I needed to find, all the mysteries were solved. I put the journal into the mail, heading back to the family of Edward Perkins. The circle was now complete.
1913 Journal cover and Page 12 of the journal
1913 Christmas Count results – Tilton, NH
E Perkins ’12
Photo Courtesy Wesleyan University
Library, Special Collections and Archives