My next door neighbor, Kathy, has been doing some spring cleaning and over the weekend she gave me a trunk that had worn out its welcome in her basement. When husband John and I went over to pick up the trunk — which he was so excited about — Kathy said she’d noticed something stamped on the side.
“It looks like it says, ‘Missoula Coach,’” she said, thinking the trunk’s destination, at some point, had been Missoula, Mont.
Upon closer inspection, however, I noticed it wasn’t a city and state stamped on the end of the canvas-covered, wooden trunk, but a name: MISS LULA GOOCH.
Loving a good mystery, I couldn’t wait to get on the computer.
After doing some laundry — the one household duty that gets done consistently at my house — I got on the computer. I typed “Lula Gooch” into FamilySearch and got a bunch of different Lula Gooches. Who would have thought? How many Lula Gooches could there possibly be?
Apparently, there were a pile of them, born in several states, among them Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Kentucky and Georgia. Most were born in the late 1800s or early 1900s, but none of that information helped narrow down who my Lula Gooch was.
When I told John about all of the Lula Gooches, he remarked that stamped under “Miss Lula Gooch” there appeared to be some more words, more specifically what looked like “OND” followed by what looked to be “VA.”
My immediate thought: “Richmond, Virginia!”
Back on the computer, I looked for Lula Gooches, between 1850 and 1930, living in Richmond. I figured using a date range when people used shipping trunks might result in some more useful hits.
I also checked the little boxes next to “Lula” and “Gooch” so I wouldn’t get a host of near-matches that I’d have little patience to sift through. While I enjoy research, I’m not as patient as I should be, especially when faced with 10,000 hits.
In the 1900 U.S. Census, I found a Lula Gooch living at 2313 Venable Street in Richmond. She was living with her father, Archibald, a barber, and mother, Susie. Lula also had a few siblings. You can find their house on Google Earth, that is assuming the house numbers haven’t changed in the past 117 years.
In 1900, Lula was 20 years old and single. Her occupation, and that of her two sisters, Estelle and Bessie, appeared to be “chervot roller.”
Chervot roller? What the heck is that? I’d never heard of that occupation before — or the word “chervot” for that matter. I wasn’t even sure I’d deciphered it correctly, so I did what any sensible person would do: I resorted to Google.
While I didn’t find “chervot roller,” I did find “cheroot roller.” Lula and her sisters were actually cheroot — or cigar — rollers. Richmond is a big tobacco town, too, so that makes sense.
By the time the census taker came around in 1910, Lula was no longer living on Venable Street. She was living with her younger sister, Bessie, and her husband. Lula’s mom, Susie, was listed in the same household, but she’s also in a separate listing with Archibald.
Perhaps Susie was visiting her daughters that day and the census taker just wrote down everyone present. Without a time machine, it’s impossible to know.
As for what type of trunk it is, I’m not quite sure. This Wikipedia page has a description of the types of trunks made between the mid-1800s and early 1900s, and there are more types than you’d imagine.
The page helps you identify what type of trunk you have based on things like the size, whether or not the top is dome-shaped or flat, etc.
I initially thought my trunk was a steamer trunk, but after reading the description, I don’t think it is. According to Wikipedia, a steamer trunk is about 14 inches tall, “to accommodate steamship luggage regulations.” Mine is 25 inches tall — almost twice that.
It’s also 36 inches long and 21 inches, front to back. It’s a big trunk. If I was more flexible and not claustrophobic, I could get inside of it.
I came to the conclusion that my trunk is probably a Saratoga or barrel-stave trunk, both of which are described in more detail on the Wikipedia page.
As for whether or not the trunk once belonged to Richmond cigar roller Lula Gooch, it’s a good possibility, but hard to know for sure. I’d like to think so, though. And as for what happened to Lula after 1910, if I find out anything else, I’ll let you know.