For the most part, I find the lives of my ordinary relatives just as fascinating, if not more so, than those few branches in our family tree that contain more noteworthy relatives. The best part about having a “famous” relative is that it’s much easier to find news articles about him.
There’s no shortage of articles about my great grand uncle James David Preston, born in Washington, DC on August 2, 1876, the only son of Annie McNabb Preston and Herbert Augustine Preston. (They had seven children, but only one boy.)
A Union Civil War Veteran, Herbert Augustine Preston settled in Washington, DC after the war and was the Washington correspondent for the New York Herald. He died in 1893 leaving a widow with six daughters and one son. A description of his funeral services at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Washington, DC appeared in the Washington Evening Star on May 4, 1893.
After working as a cub reporter, James David “Jim” Preston began working in the Senate press gallery in the mid- 1890s. I saw one article that said he started as the Senate doorman and that made sense because it also seemed that his formal schooling ended in 7th grade.
The news of his election as the superintendent of the Senate Press gallery momentarily overshadowed President McKinley during his inaugural ball in 1897.
In 1912, Jim suggested that the Capitol Rotunda be used for the Inaugural Ball. Alas, he was overruled when President Woodrow Wilson cancelled the inaugural ball in 1913 because he thought inaugural balls were too expensive.
You’d think I would have heard about a relative who held such a prominent position in Washington DC but I did not learn about Jim Preston until I began doing family history research. His older sister Elizabeth was my great-grandmother (although I never knew her) and her only daughter, Katherine Gertrude Bryant married my grandfather, Joseph Bush Kingsbury, in 1928.
My grandfather spent many years working in Washington DC so he surely knew that his wife’s uncle was the superintendent of the Senate Press Gallery but it was never a story I heard. Ironically, Jim Preston and my grandmother both died in 1959.
Uncle Jim is good for a few more posts but for tonight I will end with an excerpt from his obituary in the Washington Evening Star. He died in Washington, DC on January 28, 1955 after a lingering illness. At that time his only son, Edward Herbert Preston was working for a publishing house in New York City and shortly after Jim’s death, he moved his mother to New York.
Given my current fascination with researching family history, I’ve got a soft spot for Uncle Jim – more for his work as Senate Librarian than for his role as Superintendent of the Senate Press Gallery.
Can you imagine going to work one day and finding documents written by George Washington – in his own hand! Documents that were believed to be lost?
And then to be committed enough that you would go to England to learn about document preservation!
So here’s the thing I’m really wondering about tonight. If Jim Preston owned a portrait of his father Herbert Preston, as shown in this article from the Evening Star in 1955 when he finally retired, and Jim only had one son who never married, where it this portrait of Herbert A. Preston now?
I know from a condolence note that Edward Preston wrote to my grandfather in January 1960 after Kitty’s death in December 1959, that Edward moved his mother from Washington DC to New York. I also know from Jim Preston’s obituary that he was buried in New York. I think Jim’s wife Mary died within a few years of moving to New York and is also buried there.
But what became of Edward Herbert Bryant, their only son, and the family’s belongings? I’d love to hear from anyone who might have ideas about how to track down the portrait.