Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Meanwhile, Back in Chicago

While Frank Stevens was ever the consummate letter writer—and his mother the consummate letter saver—the constant stream of letters seems to have dwindled to a mere trickle. Now that Frank has the love of his life right at his side, and a young one to monopolize his attention, he doesn’t seem to have quite the same amount of time to write home to Chicago.

So what is Agnes Tully Stevens up to, now that this chapter on her life seems to have closed?

Ever the industrious, active woman, Agnes has seen to it that she secure a source of income, now that her husband is gone and her son is again halfway around the world. You may recall that Frank had made it a habit to send some of his war-time earnings home while his father was struggling with so many health problems. Frank has other, more pressing needs to attend to now, and I imagine that token of respect for his parents has naturally been diverted to address the costs of supporting a growing family of his own.

Though there might have been a thought to having Agnes continue the real estate business of her husband, Agnes chose instead to go into the insurance business, and became a broker specializing in property and risk. I don’t know what the licensure requirements were for that time period in Chicago, but within two months after her husband, William Stevens, passed away she received her license and started out in business for herself.

This is to certify that
Agnes T. Stevens
5945 Eggleston Ave.
Chicago, ILL.

Is duly licensed as a

Having complied with the requirements of the Insurance Statutes of Illinois relating to licensing of Insurance Brokers and is authorized to obtain and place all kinds of insurance upon property or risks in the State of Illinois, until the first day of March, 1947, unless this license be revoked or terminated sooner.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, the Director of the Department of Insurance has hereto affixed his hand and the Seal of the Department on this date
JUL 11 1946

(stamped signature)
N P Parkinson
Director of Insurance

Monday, January 30, 2012

So What’s the Deal About John Kelly?

While this family seems to have so many John Kellys in its genealogy, it is actually the story of this John Kelly’s life that is the point behind my taking the time to write up so much of our Stevens family history in blog form. You see, this John Kelly Stevens—the family always called him, simply, Kelly—was the impetus for a story that someone else has being telling now, and has been sharing for the last ten years. The one who is telling this story, in his older brother’s memory, is my husband, who has discovered that, in sharing this story, he can turn tragedy into something redeeming that helps to turn lives around and, hopefully, avert further tragedy.

While Kelly’s story is not mine to tell, it has become my husband’s. Repeated every spring on the eve of grand, youthful celebrations like proms and graduations, it is a story that urges people to realize the irreplaceable place each of us holds in the lives of our family and friends. Hopefully, this story that has been used to impact so many lives will someday be preserved in book form so that others may benefit from it, too. It’s when we are willing to face the pain of sharing our difficult life memories that we can make a difference, and that is what Chris, with Kelly’s story, has been doing.

My husband, Chris, and Kelly only got to spend nine years of their lives together. Of course, part of the reason for that was the age difference between the two brothers. Kelly was nearly ten years old by the time Chris made his grand entrance as the youngest member of the family.

Chris always remembered Kelly through childhood’s eyes, for that’s the only way he ever knew him. Kelly was the big brother to follow after, to emulate—or to fight with when things didn’t go the way a little brother wanted. When Chris got to be old enough to be able to answer the phone, he remembers his puzzlement when Kelly’s grown-up friends from school would call the house, asking for “John.” What was that—a wrong number? No one at home, that he could remember, ever told him his brother’s full name. To Chris, big brother was always “Kelly.” Young eyes see things so simply.

There is a lot more to tell about this family’s history, and it will unfold all in its own good time. At this point in the narrative, though, upon mentioning Kelly’s birth during the time his father was stationed in England, it just seems appropriate to take the time to stop and reflect on his place in the family story.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yet Another John Kelly Stevens

Now that Frank and Norma Stevens are both on the same side of the Atlantic at the same time, and now that they’ve already taken their honeymoon to some undisclosed location, they are busy setting up housekeeping in a little town outside Liverpool in England.

I imagine that this housekeeping project is being embarked on in earnest, for it isn’t long until Frank’s mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, receives a tiny airmailed announcement from the A. P. O. in New York City.

The arrival of a Boy, John Kelly Stevens, to Mr. & Mrs. F. X. Stevens on Dec. 27, 1950. Weight 8 lbs. 10 ozs.
            7500th A. B. G. (Media)
            c/o A. P. O. 125
            N.Y.  N.Y.

With details only a proud parent could provide, a note inside divulges, as one might expect, that baby and father share a great many resemblances.

Dear Mom—

            He’s real cute, got a head full of black hair and I’ve been told looks just like Steve. Steve said he had his nose and his eyes look sort of grey. I hope he looks like his Daddy.

Baby Kelly joins the family in the small town of Burtonwood in England. Once part of the historic county of Lancashire, Burtonwood has, in a much more recent century, been known as the location of the Royal Air Force station Burtonwood, an air field and military base also used by the United States Air Force in the years following World War II—precisely what brings Frank Stevens and family to this location.

This little one, John Kelly Stevens, makes Agnes’ ninth grandchild—and the first one to be born outside the country. As far as numbers go, though, the most important thing to remember is that this baby becomes the family’s third male to be named “John Kelly Stevens.” He is the namesake of both his uncle, Frank’s eldest brother, and his paternal great-grandfather (who was also named after his father—though not including the middle name; "Kelly" was supplied by the maiden name of this John's wife—being the first in this Stevens line to emigrate from their homeland in County Mayo, Ireland, around 1850).

Though I don’t suppose this British-born baby—nor his American parents—are aware of how close his birthplace is to his family’s ancestral home, this youngest John Kelly Stevens spends the first two years of his life doing all the things young children usually do, regardless of where they are raised. Towards the end of this time period, he is joined by a little sister, and soon after, the entire family gets to “accompany” their father to his next post in this new tour of duty in the Air Force.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Relatives: Dead And/Or Alive

It hit me Wednesday night, and I just have to talk about it. I woke up Thursday morning and thought, “If I don’t say anything about it, I’m just not being honest.” So, as much as I’m dragging my feet (it is starting to drift into that late night ambience at this point), I’m making myself say something.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Schrodinger’s Cat? (Clue: this is a stalling tactic; you see this in subjects reluctant to get on with the business at hand.) When I first came upon the concept that people refer to as Schrodinger’s Cat, the message I received was: Well, there’s this cat; the cat is in a box; the people—conveniently standing outside the box—are wondering about the state of the cat (Dead? Or alive?); the paradox is that some mind-twisting philosopher is tormenting said cat-loving people standing outside the box with late-night-bull-session-esque questions like, “And if you open the box to see if the cat is dead or alive, how do you know that you have not, by the mere act of opening the box, set in motion a long chain of misfortunate events that will, in and of themselves, be the very cause of changing said cat from a living state to a dead state?”


Well, as it turns out, the Schrodinger’s Cat thing is not exactly like I first learned it. (Warning: Cat lovers, do not look here. Or even here.)

Which is a total shame, as I thought I was the first person ever to own a Schrodinger’s Washing Machine. (Is it spinning? How can I know, unless I open the lid? Oops, I guess it was spinning, but if it wasn’t broken before, it is now.)

I am not the only one to have my moment of fun with Schrodinger and his unfortunate Cat. I’ve seen the Schrodinger duo reduced to the level of tee shirt. And sitcom.


Which is all to say that, if a blog reader reads a blog, how does she (or he) know the blog writer is as cheerful (or talented) (or witty) (or expert) as the words on the virtual page seem to indicate? What if said blog reader were to open the “box” and see? What would be found? Would that blogger be found to be “dead” or “alive”? Would peeking make it so when it wasn’t before?

I don’t know. I’ve recently read (and my apologies for not being able to conjure up the link to the article just now) that some writers—particularly those famous types who write novels and such—thrive on anonymity. Sweeping back that shroud of mystery seems to steal away the mystique of the author, too. And then, there’s that taboo about revealing too much of one’s self online—as if some evil stalker would immediately materialize on the writer’s doorstep and impose some vile sanction on everyone’s wellbeing.

The truth of the matter is—and perhaps someone might have noticed this little change here, lately—I’ve just gone through one of those most painful experiences of life and yet not been able to say word one about it, about who I really am at this moment, about how that experience has impacted some of the most important aspects of life to me right now.

And that’s just not right.

Actually, it downright stinks. (Kinda like in The Big Bang Theory when Penny says she didn’t need Schrodinger to figure out that the cat was dead—like, really dead.)

The way this attitude shift came about in my mind was this:

Wednesday night, poking through my blog-reading list, I came across a fresh post at Clue Wagon. If you don’t know Kerry Scott (well, I don’t either, personally, but I have made her virtual acquaintance), she is one of the most delightfully blunt genealogy bloggers you’d ever hope to come across. Just the right dose of snark. Someone I enjoy reading.

It just so happened that she posted a piece called, “Can You Die of a Broken Heart?” Well, I read it through. Made a comment, too, I think. All the while, to the right of her posted article, my subconscious was drawn to the red of her outfit, thus absorbing the nearby text of her hallmark statement: “My name is Kerry. I like dead people.”

How much can dead people affect you?

Genealogists, getting a chance to gather together, have instantly bonded with total strangers—even those who insist that they are “painfully shy”—over their commonality in research passions. Face it, we are all about cataloguing the minutiae of the lives of dead people. It may be blunt, but it gets to the point.

That wasn’t the message that my mind took in that evening, though, as I closed the e-book on the night’s reading. What my mind picked up was the juxtaposition of liking dead people with dying of a broken heart. By the next morning, before I swung my legs out of bed, it hit me that I was being very unbalanced by not saying anything about who I am when I write so much about who other people are.

At that moment, I decided I should say something.

Of course, I’m a procrastinator. (You notice you didn’t read anything about this on Thursday, now, did you???) So I needed a little help to strengthen my resolve.

Thank you, coffee partner and fellow GeneaBlogger, Sheri Fenley, who unwittingly shoved served as my rescuer when she posted, “An Open Response to Dahling Polly Kimmett.” (Anyone who knows Sheri can expect to eventually be addressed in that manner. Dahling.)

And that, of course, required that I read the post that dahling Polly Kimmett wrote—“Caps for Sale—the State of My Life”—so I could get the drift of what Sheri was referencing: a discussion on the permissibility of showing a blogger’s true “face” instead of a plastic online persona.

Yet I still couldn’t bring myself to say anything. So I wasted a day at the keyboard, poking around, “doing research” to delay the inevitable of saying, “yeah, this is where I’m at.” However, with his transparent Friday afternoon post, “Memory Hole,” about his recent loss of a valuable life mentor, another online friend and astute researcher, “Iggy” (who sometimes posts about roots and history and stuff but makes his blog a holistic place where all the aspects of his life can claim a rightful place) unhinged the last nail in Schrodinger’s Cat’s coffin, and I lost all excuses for not finding my own voice.

And so, here it is: what’s been bugging me.

The fact of the matter is this: As anyone who enjoys researching family roots, I can stand with Kerry and say, “I like dead people.” But if I like dead people because I value family—value knowing about my family’s heritage so I can discover and explain how it connects the past to my family’s present—then I need to “like” alive people, too.

Not that Kerry, or Sheri, or Polly don’t value the living people in their families. I’m sure the living members of their family are important to them—more important than life! I say that only to remind myself that it is for the living that I find, organize, memorialize, preserve and pass along what I’ve discovered about my family’s past.

And so, during the time all those uncharacteristically short posts were showing up on this blog through the first half of January—pre-written, bot-posted—my husband, my daughter, and I made the difficult decision to find our way cross-country to the home of a loved one who was rapidly losing her battle with cancer. We got to sit with her during some of the most agonizingly painful times I’ve ever seen anyone undergo.

I’ve sat at the bedside of three other terminally ill close family members up to moments before their death, but I’ve never seen anyone work so hard at dying. To say it was emotionally painful to witness this would be so trite. I have no words to describe it.

And so, I didn’t say anything.

Since then, I’ve watched the words just get sucked out of me. The further I’ve gone without speaking, the less the words were there to serve as vehicles when my insides needed a ride out into the fresh air of living, thriving Life. It is such a shriveling-up experience to not say anything.

So there: I’ve said it.

I’ll also say that that most difficult, painful, heart-wrenching experience is one of those parts of being family that I can never set aside. After all, if we say we do family research because we “like dead people,” it is really the family that we are focusing on “liking.” Dead or alive.

Or, as Schrodinger might have put it: “…dead and/or alive.”

Photograph, from private family collection: William and Mary (Brezina) Stevens at a family celebration in 2004; though we miss them both, now together again.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Nearly Four Months Later

It isn’t until nearly four months after Frank Stevens heads to New York City to sail for England that I find any record of his bride. Norma Flowers Stevens has made it to Southampton!

I wouldn’t exactly call that “accompanying” her husband, but who’s squabbling over the small stuff at this point? At least they’re together again, for the moment.

Once again, Frank’s mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, receives and diligently tucks away another memento of her family’s lives, and—unbeknownst to her—bequeaths those grandchildren and great-grandchildren whom she’s never met with another token of their heritage.

                        5945 SOUTHEGGLESTONAVE   CHGO=

                        NORMA= . .

Thursday, January 26, 2012

…Or Not

The question is: how fast can you take a honeymoon? If you have other pressing matters (like a monolithic employer with an immovable schedule), you may escape with a token weekend getaway, and let it suffice at that. Or promise yourself to schedule that dream trip for a more convenient time.

The key is: when is Frank Stevens due back on duty in his new role as an Air Force enlistee?

Of course, to find that out, I’ve scoured all the papers in my possession. I had hoped Frank’s DD-214 from his Air Force years would tell the tale, but it didn’t. I looked for ships’ passenger lists online to no avail. I even searched for records under his new wife’s name. No luck.

You know these things have a way of surfacing right under your nose after you’ve tossed every room in the house in that fruitless search. And that is what happened today. Filed away in its proper place (here, if you are a "World Deluxe" Ancestry member) and awaiting my arrival in good time to revisit the record when needed, was the digital version of the transport document in my Ancestry.com Stevens family tree.

On a form dated December 6, 1949—barely one month after Frank married Norma Flowers in New Lexington, Ohio—he is listed as a military passenger on a ship bound from New York City to Southampton, England. Not far from the port at the time the form is issued, his military unit is being staged at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

Without a moment to lose in that month since his wedding, Frank has to drive to his mom’s home in Chicago (as we’ve already seen), then turn right around and make his (or their?) way back to the east coast some time before that form is processed. Within six days after that, on December 12, he is on his way to England.

Frank is sailing—without Norma, obviously—on the U.S. transport ship, the George W. Goethals, at that time operated by the military branch he once hailed from: the Navy. He journeys from Fort Dix to the port in New York City where he boards the ship. On December 20, he and his military companions land at Southampton in England.

Thankfully, it is on this transport record that I glean the date of his enlistment in the Air Force: a four year term that began on April 10, 1947 (which, oddly, predates the actual legislation authorizing the formation of the Air Force as a separate military branch in the United States—talk about getting in on the ground floor!). That may explain some telegrams home to mom (that I have yet to post) from San Antonio, Texas, home of what has since become an Air Force base.

While that answers some questions for me, it creates other mysteries. For one, I am now curious about what is to become of Norma, Frank’s bride of—at the time of his departure—six weeks. Did she stay with her mother-in-law, Agnes, in Chicago? Return home to New Lexington? (That hardly seems possible, seeing she quit her position with Dr. Bennett.) The newspaper publication of her wedding announcement stated she would be accompanying her husband to England, but the passenger list indicates otherwise.

As you may have suspected, I do have other papers giving me some indications of how things ultimately turned out. As for the immediate future—from the date at which Frank’s ship embarked on its journey to England until those records quite a few months later—I have no leads.

Photograph, top right: the USNS George W. Goethals, sailing at about the time of Frank Stevens' journey to England, courtesy NavSource Online as found on Wikipedia; photograph in the public domain.

Photograph, bottom left: Norma Flowers Stevens in late teen years. From private collection of author.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Back to That Honeymoon

Before taking our last detour upon the occasion of discovering yet another misfiled letter, we had left Frank on the Chicago doorstep of Agnes Tully Stevens, arm in arm with his bride, the former Norma Jean Flowers of New Lexington, Ohio. They were about to embark on their honeymoon.

Here’s the bad news: I have no idea where they went on their honeymoon. Methinks a call to the Stevens family matriarch in Chicago might be in order at this point—or, well, at a point more socially acceptable for cross-country phone calls than the hour at which I’m currently writing.

Here’s the (possibly) good news: Aunt Pat may have posthumously come to the rescue with a post card found among her treasures that were transferred to our branch of the family upon the occasion of that wonderful visit to family last August.

I’m torn on whether this is a correct conclusion, though. Knowing what was going to be the next step for these newly-weds (Frank’s transfer to Great Britain), I’m not sure they would be interested in a drive of that distance just now.

I’ll let you judge for yourself. Here is the bit of “evidence” I have to show: an undated post card from Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was never mailed, but either enclosed with a letter or handed to the recipient. Bless Aunt Pat—or whoever inscribed the reverse of the card—for the only hint I have:

This is the hotel where Norma and Steve stayed while in Santa Fe.

The printed legend on the card explains:

Everything about this ace Fred Harvey Hotel is interesting or beautiful, notably the exquisite patio.

While I may be divulging the rest of the story with this point, I realize that this card may represent two possible travel times: either that of their honeymoon in late 1949, or a subsequent visit upon their return to the States after Frank’s years stationed abroad with the Air Force.

There are drawbacks to each theory. First, consider: if it were the honeymoon trip, it would be late in 1949. If it were the return trip, that would mean it had to be dated some time in the late 1950s. Then, just take a look at that picture. Consider the cars. Consider the people in the foreground and the styles they are wearing. In my mind, the cars and the clothing seem to contradict each other. Regardless, my vote is for the former date.

A honeymoon in Santa Fe, New Mexico? Perhaps after all the time he has spent working in Mexico, Frank has taken a liking to the “south of the border” lifestyle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Still So Far Away?

Another telegram, once again from Frank Stevens, once again to his mother, Agnes Tully Stevens in Chicago, brings up a question. The telegram is dated June 21, 1946, just past her birthday, which is June 12. And Frank is evidently still in Mexico, though promising to come home soon.

It brings up this question: Where was Frank only one month prior? Was he still in Mexico, working with the medical team affiliated with the Bracero Program? Or was he granted leave—and able to secure the funds—to travel all the way home for his father’s funeral in May, 1946?

                        5945 EGGLESTON AVE CHGO=

                        PANCHO .

Monday, January 23, 2012

While He Was Away…

Sometime just after Frank Stevens left home again to head to Mexico—or perhaps even before he left Chicago—an official-looking document was delivered to the Stevens household. The letter was sent from the office of the Secretary of the Navy, then under the direction of James Forrestal. While I’m sure this was, in essence, a form letter, it attempted to bring a fitting closure to the rugged war years that Frank, and many other men serving in the Navy, had experienced.

                                                                  January 26, 1946
My dear Mr. Stevens:
            I have addressed this letter to reach you after all the formalities of your separation from active service are completed. I have done so because, without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want the Navy’s pride in you, which it is my privilege to express, to reach into your civil life and to remain with you always.
            You have served in the greatest Navy in the world.
            It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart.
            It brought our land-based airpower within bombing range of the enemy, and set our ground armies on the beachheads of final victory.
            It performed the multitude of tasks necessary to support these military operations.
            No other Navy at any time has done so much. For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The Nation which you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude.
            The best wishes of the Navy go with you into civilian life. Good luck!
                                                Sincerely yours,

                                                James Forrestal

Mr. Francis Zavier Stevens
5945 S. Eggleston Ave.
Chicago 21, Illinois

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Still Keeping in Touch

Judging from the rest of Frank Stevensletter home to his parents in Chicago, his trip occasioned some of the customary discomforts suffered by many travelers. This clue also leads me to surmise that Frank and his medical team must have recently arrived in Mexico and are at the beginning of their mission there.

Besides this typical travelers’ ailment, Frank seems to have been left high and dry with some money troubles, too. The scant details provided here make me wonder what project he had considered involving himself with—and which post he referred to: real estate? Military? Training?

In the midst of all these questions on my part, one name surfaces that sounds vaguely familiar: Jerry Kaplan. Despite once being the very man Frank was sure was “grinding his molars at me,” the old Navy censor, Lieutenant, and now comrade in medical matters has evidently kept in touch with Frank. Who knows why Jerry Kaplan owed Frank $20, but now that he is far from home and strapped for cash, it seems Frank is quite willing to have his folks accept it on his behalf.

Though he may be tap dancing for money, Frank never loses an active concern for his dad, William Stevens. Knowing what we now know about how short Will’s days are at this point, it seems medical advances of the time were not able to improve his heart condition, and he possibly is having to endure a semi-retired state for the last few months of his life.

            I’ve had the back door trots all this morning but am feeling quite a bit better now of course all of this highly seasoned food isn’t doing much to help matters. You will have to excuse this typing but I’m using a Spanish machine and it’s quite a bit different from ours. As my card told you I received the money and the letter, was a lifesaver and I really appreciate it.
            I haven’t got any money coming from the post as I thought I told you that deal went thru and I withdrew from that project we were embarking on, however I do have $20.00 coming from Jerry Kaplan and if he offers it to you take it and use it.
            Will close now with love to all and my prayers for Dad, also went to Mass and received for him last Sunday, hope Tony continues to do him good. Bye now

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Working in a Country of Contrasts

Writing from his post in Mexico, Frank Stevens (now alias Señor Francisco) continues his letter to his folks in Chicago with some housekeeping items. Evidently, after arriving home from his service in the Navy, Frank had some repair work to do, possibly on the car which he groused about his sister abusing. I have no idea who “Zerkle” might have been. There are several of that surname including one gentleman who served as a realtor in an earlier decade and—knowing Frank’s liberality with his spelling—there are several surnamed with the variant spelling, “Zerkel.” Whoever Mr. Z was, Frank’s brother Gerry was to get those tools over to him, pronto.

Currently, Frank is writing from the city of Irapuato in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. This district is indeed an agricultural area, which is perhaps why Frank’s medical team was directed to Irapuato in their work for the Bracero Program. From the pictures and descriptions I’ve been able to find of the region around Irapuato, the area does indeed seem vaguely reminiscent of the initial destination of those selected for this program—the sugar beet fields to the east of Mount Diablo just outside Stockton in California’s Great Central Valley (and now you know where "The Big Valley" got its inspiration).

Coming from several Tully generations of faithful Catholics, Frank no doubt thought his mother would want to know about Irapuato’s many centuries-old churches. Beyond that reason for mentioning the details of his current surroundings, however, that melancholy wisp of sensitivity crops up as Frank muses over the economic situation he is observing.

            Before I forget it I want you to be sure and have Chip take those tools back to Zerkle, all that are in the garage belong to him and there are a few more in the car in the pocket back of the front seat.
            The little town I’m now in is very pretty and quaint, it’s about 320 miles north west of Mexico City. In a few days we shove off from here and head further up north to a providence [province] called Durango and that’s where we start to work in earnest, wish you folks could see this country with all of its old churches, the way people dress and the extreme poverty and extreme wealth, seems like there is no middle class down here either you have more doggone money than you know what to do with or you don’t know where the next meal is coming from and when you are that poor you don’t much care where it comes from. This is a country of contrasts.

Top right: Cathedral of the Diocese of Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License , Version 1.2 (and later versions), courtesy Wikipedia.
Middle left: View of Cerro Culiacán from Jaral del Progreso in the Mexican state of Guanajuato; also used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License , Version 1.2 (and later versions), courtesy Wikipedia.
Bottom: Templo del Hospitalito, Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; public use of this image granted by copyright release at Wikipedia.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Found Another Letter

While Frank Stevens and his bride, the former Norma Flowers of New Lexington, Ohio, embark from his mother’s home in Chicago for their honeymoon trip to some undisclosed destination, we’ll take our own detour to catch up on another letter from Frank that I just found. Coming from Mexico and addressed—appropriately—from “Senior Francisco X. Stevens,” the letter fills in the details from the point in Frank’s life that seemed rather quiet: the time after his arrival home from military duty in the south Pacific during World War II, and before his father passed away in May, 1946.

Though not with any military program at this point, Frank’s medical network from his days in the Navy have stood him in good stead. Someone must have considered him a good worker and invited him to be part of a new project in Mexico.

It seems like Frank may have been an administrative part of the Bracero Program, assisting a doctor in medical screenings at several locations south of the border.

                                                                     March 5th, 1946
Dear Mom, Dad & All
            As last time this is going to be short but slightly longer an with a little more information. Really have been having a swell time and am picking up quite a few things that will help me when I start back to school in the fall, the Doc I am working for is a good joe and the fellows are tops.
            As I told you before I left home our work down here consists of giving examinations to the workers that are going up to the states to work on the ranches and farms, all routine work and not too interesting but it does give experience and that I can use.

At this point in 1946, it looks like Frank’s plans are to finish some schooling in the fall. Whether that was to complete his high school diploma as he had once mentioned, or to go to the aviation medicine training he had recently applied for, I have never been able to discover. Perhaps once I fulfill one of my New Year’s goals and send for his full personnel file from both the Navy and the Air Force, I’ll know more.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Post-Wedding Plans

With a lovely wedding and reception behind them in New Lexington, Ohio, newlyweds Frank and Norma Stevens head up north to Frank’s lifelong home town, Chicago, where undoubtedly the two of them spend a few days with Frank's now-widowed mother, Agnes Tully Stevens, and arrange to meet with the many more relatives who were unable to make the long trip to central Ohio. As you will soon see, this "hello" visit will also turn into a "goodbye" as the couple prepare to embark on a two-year-long (at the very least) adventure, far from the confines of what either of them once knew as home sweet home.

The Times Recorder continues its report:

            When the couple left for a wedding trip to Chicago, the bride was wearing a forest green frock with black accessories and the orchid from her bouquet.
            Since her graduation from New Lexington high school, the bride has been employed in the office of Dr. R. J. Bennett. Sgt. Stevens, who is with the U. S. Airforce will be stationed in England and Europe for the next two years. Mrs. Stevens will accompany him to England where they will make their home for the present time.
            Out of town wedding guests were from Chicago, Detroit, and various parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

As Norma is one of New Lexington’s hometown gals, the Times Recorder of course includes mention of her past links to the area. In addition to the requisite nod to her high school alma mater, there is one interesting observation I need to include with today’s post: that of her recent employer.

The former Norma Flowers worked as an assistant in the dental offices of Robert J. Bennett. Knowing what you now know about Perry County, it will come as no surprise to you to hear that Norma and the good doc are related. They are actually third cousins. Indeed, they are also second cousins once removed.

Go figure: it has to do with the large Snider/Snyder family, longtime residents of Perry County, Ohio. Here’s how it lines up:

On Norma’s father’s side, his mother was Anna Maria Snider, whose cousin was Sarah Rebecca Snider, Robert Bennett’s maternal grandmother. Add those two generations forward to that first-cousin standing, and you get third cousins. Easy.

Sarah Rebecca Snider had a sister, Emily Catherine, who married a Gordon. Their daughter Bertha Gordon was Robert Bennett’s mother’s cousin. Bertha Gordon eventually married Joseph Metzger, and their daughter Bertha—a name that should start to sound familiar—became Robert’s second cousin. Add Norma to the mix and voilà! You have a second cousin, once removed.

I haven’t lost you yet, have I? Good—there’s more.

Because Dr. Robert’s surname is Bennett, I couldn’t help but take a peek at my database to see what the relationship might be to good ol’ Ned, the guy who got this whole thing started. And you know what? Austin McGonagle’s young wife, Ellen Bennett, who died shortly after Ned's mother was born, was one of Robert Bennett’s aunts. Thus, Ned and Robert are first cousins, once removed.

Large family circle.

Small world.

And one nineteen-year-old child of that legacy is about to step out of that small world and into the post-war world of military life in the midst of the now-crumbled British Empire.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Receptions and Relatives

It is not customary in our times to have a wedding ceremony so early in the day as to be concluded with a celebration designated as “breakfast,” but following the lead of her matron of honor (and fourth cousin) Madonna Fisher Winegardner, Norma Flowers Stevens chooses to do so for her own special day. Maybe it was just a custom of that region of the country—a relic of the area's German Catholic forebears.

            Immediately following the ceremony, a breakfast was served in the Park hotel for the wedding party and the immediate families. A reception was held in the afternoon at the home of the bride’s uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Smeltzer. One hundred guests attended. The bride’s mother greeted her guests in a grey crepe dress with dark green accessories. The bridegroom’s mother wore navy blue with grey accessories. Both had corsages of pink rosebuds. Assistant hostesses were Mrs. Edward Stevens of Chicago, Mrs. Richard Tucker, and Miss Doris Harris.

You are quite familiar with one of the hostesses listed in this Times Recorder newspaper article: Mrs. Edward Stevens, Frank Stevens’ sister-in-law, to whom he had addressed a number of war-era letters not so long before.

I am not so certain who Mrs. Richard Tucker would be. While I originally suspected a relative, it turns out that this name is not in my database, nor can I find any likely possibilities in Perry County marriage or birth records. But knowing Perry County, I wouldn’t be surprised if a connection surfaces as I continue researching.

However, the last of the hostesses listed, Miss Doris Harris, turns out to be one of Norma’s cousins. Doris’ mother, Frances Flowers Harris, is Norma’s father’s next-younger sister, both part of another very large Perry County family. Because of the closeness of that relationship, on her wedding day, I’m sure Norma was aware that Doris was, indeed, her first cousin. What neither Norma nor Doris knew, probably, was that they were also each other’s third cousin once removed, and also each other’s half fourth cousin.

If that makes your head spin, I will spare you the details—for now. But when you have a group of people settled for a long time in an isolated area, all having large families during times of unfortunate deaths of young mothers and such, relationships eventually take on the aspect of a densely-connected network, something that makes mining the genealogical connections in Perry County challenging.

The afternoon’s festivities, according to the newspaper report, brought one hundred wedding guests to the home of John Ambrose and Mary Rose Smeltzer. It is at this point that we need, once again, to take a detour from the narrative to explore familial relationships in Ohio’s Perry County.

Norma’s aunt, Mary Rose, was a Metzger, sister to Norma’s mother, Bertha Genevieve. Mary Rose, eleven years her sister’s senior, had married into the Smeltzer—or Schmelzer, as it once was spelled—family in 1915. Her husband, John Ambrose, also came from a large family which had lived in the central Ohio region since before the 1850s.

One surprising thing I’ve learned about this family, while networking with other genealogy researchers years ago, is that some of the family members had deliberately chosen to revise the spelling of their surname. Surname changes upon immigration are not that unusual, so when I learned about this particular change, I thought little of it—until a Schmeltzer/Smeltzer researcher told me that the change was made around the time of the World Wars as a “protest” over what their homeland (Germany) was doing.

I left that conversation, years ago, thinking the motive quite noble. Recently, I learned something else about the war years that makes me wonder if that wasn’t more than just a spelling change.

The information was this: you’ve heard, surely, of the internment of citizens on the American west coast during the years of World War II—a governmental decision focused specifically on Japanese-Americans, supposedly in an attempt at thorough national defense. Because I live in that area of the country and am aware of friends whose families became part of that round-up of potential enemies, that part of World War II history is quite well-known to me.

What I didn’t know was that Japanese-Americans were not the only American citizens exposed to that hypersensitive government policy. I have since learned, in reading a book recommended in the Fort Wayne Historical Society blog—Carol Faenzi’s The Stonecutter’s Aria—that Italian-Americans were also subjected to the same treatment. Even before reading that book I found, in a recent blog post by Linda Gartz which shares diary entries by her own mother during war times, that German-Americans were included in this internment policy, too. Perhaps it was for this reason, rather than any attempt at showing “solidarity” with their homeland of the past one hundred years, that Norma’s Uncle John Smeltzer’s family gave their name a more streamlined, Anglicized spelling variation.

And here they all are, this day—November 5, 1949—witnessing the union of Francis X. Stevens and Norma J. Flowers. Together, an Irishman’s descendant who fought on America’s side in World War II, along with his many big-city relatives, join with Germany’s many sons who settled long ago in rural Perry County, Ohio, to celebrate the couple who joins them all together.

Photo, top left, of the Park Hotel, New Lexington, Ohio, courtesy of The Little Cities Archive of Shawnee, Ohio.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Wedding Party

As you have been forewarned, this week will bring a few more details regarding the wedding of Francis X. Stevens and Norma Flowers in New Lexington, Ohio. The main reason I’d like to take this review of the newspaper article slowly is not merely to correct the few errors (my corrections appear within brackets where necessary), but to explain the incredibly dense relationship network among those residing in Perry County, home of the bride.

An internet friend of mine once posted a saying that sums up the relationship issues in Perry County: "If you go back far enough, you'll find everyone in Perry County, Ohio, is related to everyone else." In more practical terms, a couple other genealogical researchers I’ve met online have explained the impact of that quote: before accepting any offers for dates in high school, Perry County girls had to engage in a serious discussion of who was related to whom. After all, you wouldn’t want to turn out liking a guy, only to find out he was a second cousin!

I imagine Perry County would be a gold mine for sociologists studying networks. Though a beautiful, rural locale, Perry County is not a place outsiders flock to. You will sense a bit of this predicament when I explain the relationships mentioned in this Flowers-Stevens wedding article.

The Zanesville, Ohio, Times Recorder article continues with a brief mention of the wedding party:

            Mrs. Ned Winegardner, as matron of honor, wore a gown of aqua taffeta with matching mitts and bonnet. She carried a bouquet of yellow daisy mums. She wore a rhinestone necklace, a gift from the bride.
            Kenneth Stevens [should be Edward; Kenneth was the bride’s brother] was his brother’s best man. Ned Winegardner was usher.

You may be thinking that the name, Ned, seems vaguely familiar. It is. Ned is the relative who first introduced Frank to Norma. I called him a cousin in a previous post, but that is not entirely correct. More precisely (if there were such a designation), Ned would be a step-cousin-once-removed from Frank.

Here’s the nitty-gritty of how that works: Frank’s mother’s much-older sister, Mary Monica Tully, married widower Dennis Austin McGonagle. By his first marriage, Austin had had a daughter, Mary Esther McGonagle, who lost her mother, Ellen Clementine Bennett, when the child was only two years old. When Dennis married Mary Monica, Frank’s Aunt Mae raised Mary Esther as her own child, along with the rest of the soon-to-be large family.

Still with me? Good. There's more.

Mary Esther eventually married James Albert Winegardner and they had a family of their own. Their firstborn, Ralph Edward Winegardner, for reasons unknown to me, received the nickname Ned.

"Ahhh," you say. "Finally: there's Ned!" Stay with me, though, for there's more.

With the age difference between sisters Agnes and Mae, the end result for Frank and Ned was a little over three years—not much of a difference, once the two became adults. Perhaps it was that little discrepancy in their ages that allowed Ned—and, in turn, Frank—to get to know Norma, who, though only two years younger than Ned, was nearly six years Frank’s junior.

Ned’s wife brings up another long chain of relationships. A year and a half before Frank and Norma’s wedding day, Ned had married Madonna Fisher. I don’t suppose Norma knew this at the time of her wedding, but she and her matron of honor were actually fourth cousins. I won’t engage you in the genealogical tedium of that calculation just now—but be assured: both Norma and Madonna were from families long (as in nearly two centuries long) established in the New Lexington area.

You have already met Ed Stevens, Frank’s brother who served as best man at the wedding. I have to laugh at this error made by the newspaper: they weren’t entirely off track with this mistake. At least someone in the bridal party had a brother named Kenneth! But, to set the record straight, it was Edward Stevens who did the honors for this happy occasion.

As we continue with details from the Times Recorder tomorrow, you’ll get to meet more of the very-intertwined families of Perry County, Ohio.

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