Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favorite Things

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, their 1959 musical The Sound of Music, and even the von Trapp family, I’m taking my inspiration for today’s post from their well-known song, “My Favorite Things.”

Despite the fact I don’t particularly care for woolen mittens (I prefer leather gloves, thank you), I can see why the piece has endured not only as a perennial favorite, but in its morphed state as a Christmas song  (having been featured on at least eighteen Christmas albums since the song’s inception).

While I’m not even sure this song actually listed Maria von Trapp’s favorite things (perhaps they were fancied by her husband, the Baron Georg Johannes von Trapp), they do bring a smile to the face, or perhaps a warm fuzzy feeling to mind for most of the rest of us.

Which brings me to my point today: in the past year, I’ve noticed a number of special family history blog discoveries which have brought a smile to my own face, and sometimes even warm fuzzies to this blog reader’s attention.

Many of my fellow bloggers are writing up their own Top Ten lists for a year-end wrap-up. Rather than follow suit, for this version of My Favorite Things, I thought I’d include a list of others’ blogs that have made me smile.

My intentions, of course, were to follow the pattern of the Top Ten make that Eleven no, Twelve er, Some-Teen Posts. You know I have too much to say. Besides, I read a lot.

So here’s to you: some of my favorite bloggers of 2012:

Remembering My Blogging Roots

First, I want to be grateful for the ones who helped me get started in blogging my genealogical journey. Where would we all be without the inspiration—and sheer networking oomph—of Thomas MacEntee and GeneaBloggers? Besides his listing of newly-discovered bloggers every Saturday, Thomas partners with Gini Webb to bring readers a feature focusing on one new blogger each week, “May I Introduce To You

Then, I always appreciate my early encouragers, who have not only been regular readers, but have been consistent bloggers in their own right. These include “Far Side,” creator of Forgotten Old Photos, and “Iggy,” who authors a thoughtful mix of history, reminiscence, and family reflections at Intense Guy.

Taking Me Back To My Roots

Some of the bloggers I relied on early in my writing journey are still—thankfully—at it, still posting their discoveries and their thoughts on the processes of genealogy. One of my first go-to blogs was one which helped me get a sense of the Irish heritage I was researching: On a Flesh and Bone Foundation: An Irish History. I’m grateful that “Irish Eyes Jennifer” is still writing. I love her work.

I’m grateful, also, in digging up our family’s Ohio roots, to find Shelley Bishop’s A Sense of Family still going strong.

And I’m glad that, in my desperation to connect with my own southern heritage, I got to know Michelle Taggart of A Southern Sleuth and fellow D.A.R. applicant Wendy of Jollett etc.

While working on my husband’s Catholic roots—not to mention discovering my genealogy-and-coffee compatriot Sheri Fenley’s other blog affiliation at The Catholic Gene—I discovered another blogger from The Catholic Gene whose work I appreciate. Lisa at publishes 100 Years in America, among other projects, and has lists of helpful resources for researching roots in eastern Europe.

Cut-to-the-Chase and Other Changes of Pace

While I often like to discover other bloggers who are trying to create the same story-telling ambience I’m seeking for my own work, I also appreciate the proverbial breath of fresh air that other bloggers bring to the table.

My all-time favorite for the no-nonsense approach to genealogy (and life) is Kerry Scott’s Clue Wagon. While Kerry is juggling many hats in life right now, I hope to see more of her in 2013. She has a mouth and she is not afraid to use it. Definitely a go-to resource with a singular point of view. And great at getting the conversation rolling.

Another approach to genealogy blogging is that of Patrick Jones in his Frequent Traveler Ancestry. True to his blog’s title, Patrick mixes his frequent travels, his talent at photography, and his quest for ancestral detail, all in this one resource. While his Joneses are not my Joneses, his Tennessee not my Tennessee, nor his writing style mine, I enjoy stopping by his blog for a change of pace.

Lists We All Can Use

I’m not a great list-maker. So I enjoy benefitting from the strengths of others. Here are some I appreciate, and have gotten to know a bit in the past year:

With her knack for research organization, and her eye for the useful, genealogist Julie Cahill Tarr consistently provides the resources to link researchers to useful books, blogs, websites and webinars at GenBlog. There is a lot to learn from her forward-thinking approach. Widely read, she shares her resources, particularly in her Friday Finds column.

I don’t know how I missed this other blogger—and great resource for Follow Friday finds—but just last spring, Jana Last exploded on the blogging scene. Suddenly, Jana’s name was everywhere, it seemed, as well as her smiling face. With her unique family history and entertaining writing style, she’s been a joy to follow. I’m so glad I’ve made the digital acquaintance of this energetic writer and creator of Jana’s Genealogy and Family History Blog.

A researcher after my own heart, aiming to find the stories behind the family facts, Anne Gillespie Mitchell (a.k.a. Ancestry Anne) shares a wealth of information at Finding Forgotten Stories. Whether checking out her Follow Fridays (and her concurrent recommendations via Facebook and Twitter), traveling alongside as she journals her CG certification progress, or taking in her observations on her personal family history research, you’ll enjoy Anne’s writing style and variety of presentation.

So there you have it: my some-teen favorite blogs and bloggers for 2012. Thank you all for enriching my genealogy journey through your written insight and the favorite things you have shared with your own readers all year long. May you continue with a blue writing streak all through the New Year!

Above: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Roses," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain in Australia, the European Union, the United States and those countries with a copyright term of life of the artist plus seventy years.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter

As I take the time, in this holiday break between Christmas and New Year, to sift through family keepsakes that remind me of the season, I can’t help but notice the carols that automatically begin playing in my head.

During the Christmas season, whether I’m near a source of music or not, I have beautiful traditional tunes playing in my mind—whether they are classical (like the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker), ancient (O Come, O Come Emmanuel) or contemporary (thanks to Mel Tormé and even David Foster and Amy Grant).

When I found the card I want to share today, the music that automatically came to mind was the Gustav Holst setting to Christina Rossetti’s poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

This tiny card is not really a Christmas card. It is actually a keepsake from—or promoting—the Saint Vincent de Paul organization. On the reverse, someone from our family had written the name, “Wm. A. Stevens.” Of course, that name could have represented either Agnes Tully Stevens’ husband Will, or her son Bill—possibly even her grandson Bill. At this point, I guess I will never know.

The scene depicted on the card, though not a Christmas scene, carries the season’s message in helping others—particularly the less fortunate. Just looking at the stark surroundings and the cold colors in the background, I immediately think, “bleak”—prompting the music in my mind to strike up the melody for this very carol.

The scene also arrests me because, like those in our family’s heritage, I can’t help but think of those who don’t have the many blessings we count as our due. They are indeed blessings and gifts, given to us to pass along, both now and throughout the year ahead.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Greetings from Another Century

When someone researching bygone eras within a family’s history stops seeking names and dates and takes the opportunity to look around real life in those times, what a different world may appear. The compare-and-contrast mechanism is not something we pursue, but when we stop to smell those genealogical roses on our research journey, there is much that we can’t help but notice.

Having freshly passed by Christmas, I couldn’t help notice the relative simplicity of this Christmas greeting I found from among the Tully family possessions. Not focused on What-I’m-Gonna-Get—or even dwelling on the traditional trappings of the season—this card found a way to put the “Christ back in Christmas” in a most unobtrusive way.

The greeting card was given by Agnes Tully Stevens’ older sister, Lily, to their mother, Catherine Malloy Tully. No date was marked on the card. Since Lily was born in 1880, and Catherine passed away in 1922, that leaves quite a wide span for the date parameters of this item.

In size, this card is not much bigger than an index card, and other than the embossed framework, in shape is not much different than an index card, either. A single sheet of cardstock, it has no markings on the reverse, nor any envelope.

This simple token reminds me that, even in the hustle of city life in places such as the Tully family’s Chicago home, the Christmas holiday itself was once a quieter, more sedate observance.

When we tend to assume that Life has always been just as we’ve known it, a little family history research serves us well to remind us that things were not always the way we’ve grown accustomed to being.

With Christmas Greetings
to Mother

The noblest thoughts my soul can claim
The holiest words my tongue can frame
Unworthy are to praise the name
More sacred than all other

Friday, December 28, 2012

Holidays Are For Remembering Family

Whenever grand occasions like holidays loom on our calendars, we like to include gatherings not only for friends, but for family. Sharing in the holiday cheer seems an American response to Christmas, and there often are plans to get together with extended family. Once everyone is gathered and has caught up on each other’s news and accomplishments, often thoughts turn to those who are not here—the ones living far away, or who are gathering with the other side of their family this year.

Eventually, we get to thinking about the ones who aren’t here this year, weren’t here last year, and will never be able to be here for future Christmases: the grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and others whom the family has lost. In a family gathering, the discussion usually turns to reminiscences—but in a genealogist’s mind, those memories are embedded with much more detail.

We are the ones who want to know the details.

It’s in this quiet week between the two holidays—Christmas and New Year’s Day—that I often turn to all that genealogical data I’ve accumulated over the years, searching for unfinished business and leads for possible stories yet to be discovered.

You know how it is. There has inevitably been that line you’ve been working on—doing great, in fact…until you hit that brick wall. Then you set that project aside and went on to something else.

By the end of the year, there is a laundry list of unfinished projects—smashed vehicles on the side of the research road, crushed and rebuffed by that proverbial brick wall.

This is the week I go back and gather up those lost ends, mainly in the hope that a new year will reveal new resources to help me find more of those missing pieces of my brick wall puzzle.

Although I’ve spent a lot of time, this year, researching my Tully family in Chicago, I’ve still been left with impassible obstacles. Every time I tackled this line in the past, though, I was stopped with that same problem—and then, in a year or so, was able to pick up and get back on the research trail again. Next year will be no different. Something will spring up that was left unnoticed before. Another distant cousin will pop up with an unexpected e-mail and provide a piece missing from the story. More data will be scanned, digitized, placed online, or transcribed for easier searching.

These missing pieces will be found.

While those few in my tiny family are, unfortunately, far away in real life, the extended family that still lives on in my heart becomes those whose memory I linger upon during this quiet holiday afterglow.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Still Christmas

Christmases in California are a far cry from those Christmases I remember as a child. For one thing, growing up in New York, we had a far greater chance of having a white Christmas. Like, my chances of having such an occurrence in California are zero percent.

We had other differences, too. Christmas wasn’t something you even started mentioning until Thanksgiving had been sufficiently buttoned up. There was no Black Friday—unless, maybe, it was the leftovers a whole week and a day after the big Turkey Day.

People didn’t start putting up their holiday decorations in November, either. They waited a respectable amount of time before moving into decorating mode. It was like there was a buffer around each holiday—sort of like a sphere of influence around each event. Or maybe a “demilitarized zone” where you didn’t let one holiday bump up against another. Each day got its due recognition.

That, of course, meant you could go shopping for a presentable tree for Christmas oh, say, after the tenth of the month—not like this year, when an unexpected business trip in December short-circuited my best intentions to get the tree up before leaving home. Let me give you a big hint: I was actually lucky to find any trees available at that point in the month, this year. I can remember, even as late as my post-college years, flying home for Christmas to find out my mom had changed her mind at last minute and picked up a beautiful Christmas tree within days of the big event. Not any more!

The former way of doing Christmas also meant you didn’t see your neighbors hauling their used Christmas trees out to the curb for trash pickup at noon on Christmas day—you know, that precise moment when the radio stations stopped playing Christmas music because Christmas was “over.”

Back east—or was it “back then”?—people left their holiday decorations up through the full week between Christmas and New Year. It made that time such a peaceful respite—more treasured because the snow turned that glistening season into something even more magical.

Perhaps for that nostalgia, I still keep a buffer zone around the Christmas week. It’s my haven of peace. A bridge between the old year and the new. A time to look ahead to the New Year, certainly, but also a time to reminisce, a while to savor the memory of family and friends who have been so special to me and my extended family.

So, even though there is no snow on the ground around this West Coast home, I hope you will indulge me this week as I continue to unearth Christmas mementos from the family history cache I’ve accumulated over the past few years.

Today’s keepsake is one I fell in love with, the moment I saw it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t scan well. The digital translation didn’t do the colors justice. Imagine the deepest blue for the sky—a color so vibrant that it hasn’t faded despite the many years since it was made. Picture, too, a border of glistening gold, matched by the shiny stars painted in that same gold substance.

The card’s reverse explains the source for the picture:
Photo of Statue of the infant Jesus used at Grotto of Bethlehem in Holy Land
Looking at the card itself, I can hardly discern that it is a photograph. Perhaps it is a photo retouched by an artist, from that age when such a skill was more commonly practiced.

On the reverse, a handwritten greeting is added:

Merry Christmas
to Agnes
Auntie Lu

Agnes, of course, would be Agnes Tully Stevens—the one who saved all the material I’ve inherited for this task of preserving that family’s history. The surprise comes with the signature. Auntie Lu? I’ve yet to figure out who that might be, which tells me I have much more to uncover about this Tully family’s history.

Perhaps that discovery is a gift—a gift of direction for next year’s research project. While there are always so many directions to turn in seeking more family information, it helps to find a focus and pursue it. Add this one to my list of goals for next year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In the Afterglow—Or is it Aftermath?

The frenzy of Christmas is now past—thankfully—but hopefully the peace of Christmas still lingers on at your home. That alone is worth the price of Christmas, in my estimation.

It has been interesting, this past year, to go through all the papers belonging to our various relatives, and peer into the lives of those I’ve never met—but am somehow related to. For the most part, every piece of information, each letter, all the photos, seemed to fall nicely into place in an organized fashion as I posted them here.

Some items, however, defied categorization. Some of these pieces of paper didn’t really add to the details of a life’s story, as far as the “vital” facts were concerned. Some of these wisps of trivia I call ephemera—they don’t tell much about the who-what-where-when-why, but they do reveal glimpses into what made up each person’s daily routine.

In sifting through the treasures and trash of what was left behind by Agnes Tully Stevens, I found some tokens of what was important to Agnes’ sister Lily. As I’ve already mentioned in prior posts, Lily had a concern for spiritual matters, and—perhaps following in the path already laid out by her mother, Catherine Malloy Tully—had several connections with church-related organizations.

Some of those pieces, while saved—first by Lily, then by her sister Agnes after her passing—didn’t seem to fit into any category of material I was trying to present on these family members. Even though I did squeeze it in toward the tail end of the series on our Tully family, today’s card is an example of that. It seems fitting to revisit it now during the Christmas season, though, mostly because of the artwork. Moving beyond the holiday angst, this card reminds me once again to center on the peace of the Person behind the season.

I hope, in these few days before the New Year, you will find a peaceful haven to regain your own sense of balance, too.

Certificate of Enrollment in the
Seraphic Mass Association
Lily A. Tully
has been enrolled forever in the Association
on August 22 1949
F. Cecil Nally, O.M. Cap.


1.         Each year 6,000 Masses are offered for the members.
2.         Members participate daily in 500 Masses: 182,500 per year.
3.         In the prayers and good works of 13,000 Capuchins.
4.         In 300,000 Holy Communions offered each year.

Seraphic Mass Association, St. Augustine Monastery
220 – 37th Street, Pittsburgh 1, Pa.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wishing You A Merry Christmas…

…to all with hurting hearts
…to all with lonely hearts
…to all whose strength is gone
…to all despairing souls

For comfort.
For love.
For life.
For hope.

After all, that’s what Christmas was always about.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Year in Review

After Modern Man conquers the Christmas Rush, the next tendency is to prepare for the Year To Come by reviewing the one he is about to leave.

I couldn’t help but cave and fall into that tendency, myself. Not that I’ve managed to be completely ready for Christmas—that’s something I’ve never been entitled to claim—but let’s just say…well…it’s been a tough year. And those kinds of memories tend to linger and make their presence known, especially as anniversary dates draw near.

Just as Christmas was drawing near in 2011, our family was preparing to make a trip to Kansas to visit the cousin whose battle with cancer was not faring well. She was the cousin whose daughter we visited recently, whom I just wrote about the other day.

In the interim between that last Christmas and this, there have been happy events—such as a niece graduating from high school and being accepted into the prestigious University of Saint Andrews—but unfortunately, the year seems to be capped off with further sad news. Besides all the tragedies which have grabbed the national attention in the past weeks, our extended family has been beset with personal losses. I sometimes have to remind myself that my melancholy mood, in stark contrast to that of the season’s most effective PR campaigns, is less likely owing to a bah-humbug attitude as it is to the loss of a sister-in-law, then a relative’s mother (and several children’s grandmother), and the six month old baby of that relative’s cousin.

In this month of tinsel and glee, there are some who find it beyond them to lift their spirits and join in the festivities. Of all the people needing the comfort of Christmas, these are the ones.

I don’t suppose I am alone in this holiday ambivalence. Right now, ask the residents of a certain town in Connecticut how joyful they feel. Or check in with any shopper at a particular well-known mall in Oregon—with the holidays upon us now, how are these people bearing up?

With these sorry thoughts rumbling in the back of my mind, I was searching for some tokens of the season to use for my Christmas posts, from among the family history minutiae gathered over the last few years. Though this one choice I’ve found is not old (it’s not even weathered), and though it actually defeats my efforts to “snap out of it” and join the Christmas cheer (it’s from a funeral card), it does carry a well-known yet fitting thought for the day.

The card was used to commemorate the passing of my husband’s cousin—the husband of the relative we lost last January—and includes his name and the framework dates of his life. The picture itself, of course, is quite fitting for this season in which we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ.

It’s the thought on the reverse of the artist’s rendition of mother and child that offers a soothing balm in this time of pain-overlaying-holiday.

You surely know this little saying well. It is quite famous. It has actually been prayed by thousands, no doubt—my husband prays this very prayer, himself, every morning.

In reading the words to this prayer today, though, please put all thoughts of the routine—the memorized—out of your mind. Look at these words with new eyes. Don’t let the mundane, the synchronized monotony, rob you of the meaning of its expression. While God grants us peace in our turmoil—while He is our source—it is we who must be willing to take the action of turning around and heading away from the pain—and all that caused it—and into the new direction of peace.

May you be strengthened to take that step this Christmas.

Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master: grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Season to Remember Family

While so many have turned their thoughts toward Christmas now, it is quite edifying to see all the mementos of Christmases long past. The one message that stands out to me is that Christmas has become a time to draw closer to family.

We lead such hectic lives now. There seems to be so little time for anything—or, more to the point, anyone. Some say that’s simply the way it is: everyone is busy. Some call it work—paying our dues. Some call it chaos.

For those of us who consider family history an important part of our life’s mission, we are sensitized to any reversal of this trend. We crave times for family—no matter how far-flung—to get together.

Perhaps that’s why this Christmas card caught my eye. Now, mind you, it may be a classic—a Currier and Ives, no less. But this card is definitely showing its age. Worse, someone had gone and scrawled a note across the front of it, instead of waiting until the appropriate space inside was prepared for the message.

The lines of the message run off the page. Whoever wrote this didn’t do it “just right.” If nothing else, this Christmas greeting did not measure up to the Perfect Christmas image.

The card was sent by Ella May Shields Bean, a woman born in Illinois in 1865 who, as a girl, journeyed across the continent with her family to eventually settle on a farm just outside Fresno, California. This was a young woman who somehow had met a man from the San Francisco bay area, married him in 1889, and settled down to what turned out to be a tempestuous marriage and home life. Enduring divorce proceedings—elaborated on in the local newspaper, no less—in an age in which such things were unthinkable, she lived in Redwood City, then Palo Alto, then finally at the home in Alameda, California, called by family “The Beanery.”

I’ve been to The Beanery—the place where I met Ella May’s daughter, Leona, when she, herself had aged and taken her place in the family residence. The place had the vague hint of a circle of life—of generations passing off the scene much as had the preceding ones.

The Christmas card presented much the same ambience. The scene painted on the cover, credited to Currier and Ives, was labeled, plainly, “American Farm Scene.” Other than a gilt lower edge to the card, it was laid out as straightforward as the scene—until you got to the part that was added by the card’s sender.

Under an inked-in notation of the date—1947—an uncooperative fountain pen scratched out the beginnings of a Christmas greeting. In the tentative hand of an elder, the plaintive message read:
Leona, I cannot tell you how Greatful I am for all you have done for me. Love, from Mother.

Despite none but one of the t’s crossed, and the added faults of misspellings and near-illegible handwriting, all the imperfections go unnoticed in the presence of such a heartfelt thankfulness.

The inside greeting, under an artist’s line-drawn conception of the perfect Christmas scene of a cozy living room, went untouched. There was no signature to complete the card in customary manner. The greeting printed below the drawing—Best Wishes for Christmas and the Coming Year—seem somewhat sterile, following the simple note scrawled on the previous page.

The note from “Mother”—Ella May Shields Bean—was the last Christmas greeting she was to send. She never lived to see another Christmas, passing a few weeks shy of Thanksgiving that next year. I have no idea what her current state was at the time of the 1947 Christmas card, but I can tell that there were family ties that held mother and daughter together—not just for Christmas, but through the rest of the year. Undoubtedly, those ties went deep and went way back.

On this eve of a Christmas Eve, I hope you are on the verge of gathering for special times with family. Rather than wish you the Perfect Christmas, though, I wish you the tentative warmth of handwritten-but-heartfelt greetings that run off the page and into your life. May those words take residence in your own heart, draw you nearer to those you hold dear, and enliven your resolve to let no hectic lifestyle stand between you and the people you call family.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

And Then There Were Four

The charming little blonde girl dressed in her Christmas coat and muff on the eve of 1955 was also facing another sweet moment. By the time this family sent out their next Christmas card, young Diana had now assumed the admirable role of big sister.

Or at least that’s how the photographer framed it.

Sitting on a baby blanket in front of a cozy fireplace decked with the obligatory Christmas stockings, big sister Diana is reading a story to baby Judy. Precocious Judy actually appears to be reading along. Parents Sid and Helen are, once again, the invisible signatories to the card, showing nowhere in the picture—though one suspects that either one of them might be the event’s photographer. They do, however, send their holiday greetings on behalf of those in the photo who are undoubtedly not yet able to do so, themselves.

The card, once again, was sent to either William Samuel Bean or his sister, Leona Bean Grant. While I drew it randomly from that big box of unlabeled photographs passed along to me—as if I were a miracle worker or something—I find it a good sign that this family’s holiday greetings were kept from two years in a row. I’m hoping that makes it more likely that I’m looking at family members—why, I don’t know…perhaps holiday hopefulness.

A logical conclusion to the matter would be to search through the myriad other unmarked photos in that box and see if I can match any other names or faces. That, of course, would be too logical for me, right now. For one thing, it is Christmas—I mean, it will be Christmas way before I’m ready for it to be. And I have no time for such methodical tedium right now. I still have packages to wrap. If anything gets a name affixed to it right now, it will be the packages, not the pictures (though I have neglected to label packages before, too).

Besides, I still have umpteen other genealogically-inspired projects to complete—some, before the end of this year. Remember the First Families of Ohio projects? Yep, them. Still need to get in the mail before that December 31 postmark deadline. I may be celebrating my New Year’s Eve, starting from the front step of my local post office.

Regardless, I do long to know more about all these connections to family. Without a surname to help, though, it is tough slogging right now. Do you know how many Sids there are out there who have married Helens?! And with children born in the fifties, it is too soon to be able to riffle through birth records. Diana and Judy—whoever they are—are quite possibly still with us, and it is just as well that their privacy would be respected.

However, if any one of these four were to stop by and leave a comment—or send an e-mail—I’d most happily give them a belated Christmas greeting by returning the sweet photo cards those parents mailed out fifty-eight years ago.

Christmas card photograph Sid Helen Diana Judy children

Friday, December 21, 2012

“Best Wishes for 1955”

With a nod to those of you who can’t believe you are still here to read this today, I’d like to turn the clock back just a bit and revisit the holiday scene of one household over a half-century ago.

It’s not a household I’m familiar with, of course. It’s just a picture I found in an old box given to me by a relative of a relative of my deceased first husband. Talk about being removed from the pertinent details! Sometimes, I don’t know why people assume I can work magic with these mysteries, but they do. Because I love all things family, people tend to assume I also love nameless family I’ve never met—or, in some cases, even the friends of these people.

Why this little sweet photograph was saved, I’ll never know. It came from the belongings of my first husband’s grand-uncle, William Samuel Bean. Or perhaps from his sister’s belongs—you know, the Aunt Leona who always kept me guessing.

It was a photograph tucked in a box of photographs, kept among the piles of stuff sifted through after an elder’s passing, whoever it was. The imprint on the card was a traditional holiday greeting: “Season’s Greetings and best wishes for 1955.” Beneath, it was signed, “Love, Helen, Sid & Diana.”

I tried my best to find any traces of online records connecting these three names with a date near 1955. No luck. I’m presuming the photograph was taken for Christmas, 1954, and that the young subject might have been around three years of age.

Whether family member or friend of either Bill or his sister Leona, I’ll never know. Whoever that little girl was—and I’ll presume she was Diana—I hope she is now preparing for another happy holiday, in a home blessed with a sweet young daughter (or more likely granddaughter) looking much the same as she did in 1954.

Cards like this remind me of the desire to connect that is behind the drive to research family history. The pictures call to mind the people in our lives—and all the circumstances that surround them at that point in time—and how we seek to preserve those memories and those connections. In our efforts to pass these collected memories to the next generation, we find ourselves gazing at what we once were, then looking back to the present and realizing how much our sons and daughters—and grandsons and granddaughters—look like we did when we were three.

And then we look to the future and think of the generations who will want us to pass it on.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Poetic Justice of Time

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Coming back down through the fog of a business trip last week—long stretches of flight time disengaged from any connection to news media—produced the jarring effect of entering the reality of bad news like a rough landing.

I took off early one morning with my family, having freshly been informed of the tragedy that ended some Christmas shoppers’ day in Oregon, landed halfway across the continent, and then entered another travel cone of media silence. By the time I made it to my destination—and squared the tally with some personal sleep deprivation—I again discovered how devastating the passing of one day could be. All of a sudden, I entered a world wracked with the agony of another senseless violent act.

While it is now “old news” to those wrung out with the constant repetition that is the media, I only now am beginning to sort out the pain of these stories.

In the meantime, an unexpected hiatus in this week of travel brought both a time of sad news—and a time of personal good news.

It has been almost a year since the last time I had traveled this way—out to the Midwest, a place of rolling plains, high winds and waving brown grasses as far as the eye can see. The last time our family had gathered there, we had come to spend our last moments with a dear relative caught unawares by a fast-acting cancer. The visit turned out to be our last goodbye.

Our family hadn’t been back there since. But last week, on our way from Point A to Point B, it worked out just right to make a stop at the old house which once was so sorrowful.

It was so comforting to see the rest of the family. Time heals, children grow up, and even though memories still bind us to those we remember with that melancholy fondness, we are all able to face our future with the brave resolve of doing what would have made that now-departed relative proud.

As it happened, the daughter of this deceased relative was expecting another baby. Like…now.

The visit was wonderful, but, mindful of the exhaustion of such a state, ended up being much too short. We resolved, at the end of our trip after we concluded our business, to stop by for an additional brief opportunity to visit.

The night before our return, we got the call: a trip to the birthing center was imminent. Within drive time the next day, we were now visiting the proud parents of a beautiful baby boy.

Our last three visits with this family had been owing to the somber occasions of death: first, this daughter’s father, then her mother, and also for my husband’s own mother’s passing. Now, as this couple observed as we said goodbye, we were finally here for a joyous occasion. How “poetic”—as her husband called it—that this time, we would be presented with a time of joy, a time to laugh, and a time to build up.

A time of birth…

Sometimes, we just need to believe, for every time under heaven, there is a purpose.

Top: the initial eight verses of the third chapter of the biblical book of Ecclesiates, generally attributed to the ancient Israeli king, Solomon; by more recent acclaim in its folk rock remake as "Turn! Turn! Turn!" holding the record as the number one hit with the oldest lyrics.

Above: detail from Johann Baptist Reiter, "Two Children Playing With Silk Ribbons," oil on canvas; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fact, Fiction and Re-enactment

The year is 1816 and Major John Whistler, inside his residence in Old Fort Wayne, speculates on Indiana’s chances for statehood. He shows visitors a map of 1816 Indiana and explains his reasons for believing Indiana will become a state this year. It turns out that Major Whistler is right….

I want you to get a good look at something I found the other day. You know my old friend, Google™—you know, that trusty search engine that never bats an eye at search requests, no matter how unusual the juxtaposition of the terms you have just entered in its dialog box? Well, the other day in puzzling over the Jackson-Ijams-Whistler story, I thought I’d just sit down and cut to the chase. I pulled up the Google site, and entered the two key words I’ve been wanting to know about: Ijams and Whistler.

I wanted to see if there were any other hidden bits of information to reveal more on that story of why widow Ijams traveled through frontier territory to meet and marry a military man in Missouri.

Of course, the documentation itself has eluded me. That, alone, is frustrating. But if others, online in self-published genealogy sites, are stating that that is what happened, then I’ll cautiously accept the tie between those two surnames.

My goal in entering those two search terms was simply to flush out any other trivia-in-hiding. And trivia I did find—though not quite of the type that I would have expected.

My result leaves me wondering whether to take the report as fact. After all, it is, first of all, a report from a newspaper. You know my take on that.

Then, while it is a news story on an actual fort—Fort Wayne in, well, Fort Wayne—it is, after all, a story about a story.

It is a story of a re-enactment of a historical vignette. The date is set as 1816. The location is, of course, the old fort at what is now the city of Fort Wayne. The key players, at least in this newspaper article, are—now, get this—John Whistler and William Ijams.

No, I am not making this up.

I am fervently hoping that the good people running the historical display at Fort Wayne are also not making it up. 

            The staff of Fort Wayne is dressed in detailed 1816 costumes and speak to all as if it is the year 1816. Because of its authenticity, you begin to feel like a settler contemplating putting down roots in this Northwest territory.
            “The Indian problem has died down a bit—it’s mostly Miami around here,” says William Ijams, a gunsmith. “But the purpose of our fort is to make you settlers feel secure, that’s why we are here.”

If this museum portrayal is based on fact, I need to find out who chose the details for this re-enactment, and learn what basis there was for this little bit of history. I’m especially keen on finding out more about this over twenty-year-old display because it mentions one more twist: the contemporaneous service of Elizabeth Howard Ijams’ soon-to-be-deceased husband William, and her future second husband, John Whistler. All, strangely, in that very year of the re-enactment’s setting: 1816.

This is definitely a twist in the research trail I hadn’t been expecting.

Above right: hand-drawn map of Fort Wayne, circa 1795; courtesy Wikipedia from original held by the Library of Congress; in the public domain. 

The newspaper report on the Fort Wayne historic display, written by travel columnist Fred Nofziger, was originally published in The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), section D, page 7, on Sunday, August 5, 1990.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Father’s Story Through a Son’s Eyes

I considered it a good move to be able to link the subject of my research—John Jay Jackson of Fairfield and Perry counties, Ohio—to the name of his second wife and then to this biographical sketch on their son Lyman James.

As I’ve already mentioned, Lyman’s entry in the 1883 History of Fairfield and Perry Counties includes mention of his father’s family history. Though a brief mention—considering all the detail to follow on Lyman’s own professional and political careers—it does give us a springboard back to previous generations.

Evidently, Lyman’s father John was born in Otsego County in New York. The date given was February 7, 1792. Those will certainly be details to confirm through other means.

It’s the following that I was more interested to read:
His father…was descended from Abram Jackson, who emigrated from England to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1624.
Granted, I have no idea who Abram Jackson was, but a location like Plymouth and a date as early as 1624 does arouse attention.

All that will come in due time. For now—at least after some more festive notes appropriate to the holiday season—I’ll have to set this tidbit aside until I can recreate the paper trail back to that supposed 1624 arrival in Plymouth.

But I couldn’t resist just mentioning it now. It is, after all, the first time I’ve ever passed by this way.

Monday, December 17, 2012

“Except During the Rebellion”

You can learn quite a lot about a person—when he is willing to brag about himself.

The biographical sketches of the late 1800s were no exception when it came to boasting. Evidently John Jackson’s son, the quite accomplished attorney and military man, Lyman J. Jackson, had no hesitation in providing ample material to the compiler of the volume History of Fairfield and Perry Counties.

Despite knowing that someone had to provide all that information, I’ll set aside my personal bias on the matter and share some of his accomplishments—that is, if we are to believe everything in print.

For one thing, Lyman Jackson served as an attorney in both Fairfield and Perry counties. At the beginning of his biographical sketch in the History, he was serving with the firm Jackson & Conly in New Lexington, Ohio.

Prior to his training in law, Lyman was a farmer—most likely on his father’s property—until October, 1851. He first attended a Perry County school, Saint Joseph’s College, from that point until 1855. An interim period found him alternately back on the farm and teaching school—all the while, studying law and pursuing further college studies.

In 1857, Lyman graduated from Saint Joseph’s College and began practicing law in New Lexington. Not long afterward, he ran for the post of Prosecuting Attorney of the county, and was elected.

Following his service in the war, he was appointed as Prosecuting Attorney to fill a vacancy in nearby Muskingum county, after which he resumed his practice of law back in Perry County.

In preparation for the third Ohio Constitutional Convention, Lyman was elected a delegate from Perry County in April of 1873. By 1877, he was elected as state senator, and was re-elected to the same position in 1879.

Perhaps it is the custom of the time to choose certain details to include in a professional biography. Of course, there was the obligatory mention of a wife—“Miss Mary E. Taggart, daughter of Arthur Taggart, Esq., late of Morgan county”—in addition to the ample nod to Lyman’s own father’s history. What caught my eye, though, was the wording at the close of the entry: 
In religion, Colonel Jackson is a Roman Catholic, and in politics has always acted with the Democratic party except during the Rebellion.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Driven to Distraction

You’ve heard me say it before: nothing is set in stone—not even engravings on a headstone.

Let’s revisit that question of when, exactly, John Jackson’s second wife, Mary, died. Was it in March? Or in May? Last time I looked, I found an entry in the Perry County records showing the date of Mary’s passing as May 19, 1871. One would think a government-issued document would be the final word.

It may not have been.

If the entry in the Find A Grave page for Mary Grate Jackson at Holy Trinity Cemetery in Somerset, Ohio, was a typo, it was a time-honored typo. Perhaps a hundred-year-old typo.

I learn a lot by visiting the reports contemporary to the lifetime of my family’s auxiliary lines. Remember my comments on Lyman J.Jackson’s entry in the 1883 History of Fairfield and Perry Counties? Where I mentioned that you can’t trust anything? It doesn’t matter whether it’s in writing—or even if it looks official.

After reading the rest of Lyman’s biographical sketch in the Perry County, Ohio, history book, I’m wondering just who I should believe for these basic family history facts. While I’m generally thankful for those details I can glean about other family members from the featured person’s bio, Lyman’s entry here makes me want to do something rash, like pull out my hair.

Look here:
In March, 1839, the Jackson family removed from Rushville, Fairfield county, to a farm near New Reading, Perry county, Ohio. The parents lived here during the rest of their lives, the mother dying in March, 1871, and the father in September, 1876.
Okay, see that: “the mother dying in March, 1871….”

Now, my question is: who am I left to believe? Do I just take a vote here? Or toss all these items in the air and see which one comes down first? Perhaps the obituary would settle it.

On the other hand, I have this quarrel with the newspapers….

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Military Genes?

Finding the information—no matter how little, and no matter how doubtful—about John Jackson’s second wife was a necessary detour for me. For one thing, I need to be able to sort through the children and appropriately assign them to the right mother. Considering all the misinformation I’ve already encountered—mostly thanks to replicating the story from one newspaper report—I do want to proceed cautiously here. You’ll see why in a day or so.

For now, though, I want to take the detour to revisit the History of Fairfield and Perry Counties, that 1883 volume from which I had extracted the original biographical sketch on John Jay Jackson. Perhaps you’ll recall the mention there—as well as in other posts—of John’s involvement in the War of 1812. Elsewhere, I had also seen mention that both John’s father and grandfather may have played roles in the American Revolutionary War. John’s uncles may also have been quite militarily inclined.

In that 1883 history book, I happened to run across mention of another Jackson in Perry County, Ohio. It was a Jackson, however, that did not fit into the family data I had already found, so I had set it aside.

Now, however, both the name and the story will make a good fit for today’s post. For the name—Lyman James Jackson—belongs not to John and Sarah Jackson, but to John and Mary Jackson. Lyman, it turns out, is Mary’s son.

Whatever military prowess may have been part of the Jackson’s family, it seems to have been distilled and concentrated in this one young man, and released upon declaration of war during the prime of his life.

The Perry County biographical sketch notes of Lyman

He was the first volunteer from the county in the Union army. Immediately after the firing on Fort Sumter, he raised Company E, Seventeenth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Militia, which he commanded as Captain during its three months service in West Virginia. When it was mustered out, he was appointed in August, 1861, Captain of Company G, Thirty-first Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and served as such until January, 1862, when he was promoted and commissioned as Major of the Eleventh Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry. With this regiment, a great part of the time in command of it, he served, in 1862, in Maryland and Virginia through some of the severest battles of the war. Resigning this position, he was in May, 1864, appointed Colonel of the One Hundred and Fifty-ninth Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and commanded it during its term of service.

Quite a list of achievements, don’t you think?

Don’t go thinking everything listed here is absolute truth, though. The rest of the bio contains information I’ve already learned is disputable. Remember: everything needs to be checked. Even—for those of you so inclined to pursue this name for your own family’s history—military information.

Whether Colonel Lyman Jackson completed every detail of this biography’s excerpt or not, I’d say it was a pretty impressive list of accomplishments. If nothing else, the man exhibited a great deal of determination and a can-do spirit of allegiance. Much the same—at least that’s what I’m wondering—as his father and grandfather might have done. Through the war of 1776 to the War of 1812 to the war of Rebellion, the battle scenes may have changed, but the human tendencies and talents often remain the same.

Above right: Currier & Ives lithograph of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 13, 1862; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The New Mrs. Jackson

While the new wife of John Jay Jackson may not be in our family’s direct line, the data on her wedding day help sort out a few family history details. I may not know much about this woman, but at least I have this starting point.

First, I have the gift of her name. Bit by bit, each fact found chips away at the mystery of the unknown in this family—as in all others we research. From that one piece of information, I can begin searching further.

We’ve found that John’s second wife—in some ways a rush order for a desperate widowed husband and father of several children—was named Mary Grate. From her own headstone—she was buried with John at Holy Trinity Cemetery in Somerset, Ohio—we can expand upon that name: Mary Cecelia Grate Jackson.

Adding the date of death from her gravestone—assuming, of course, that it is correct—we can now proceed to locate any death record for the woman. The headstone itself only gives the year of her passing—1871—although whoever entered the information in Find A Grave added the detail of a month and day of death. The Find A Grave entry shows that Mary died on March 19, 1871.

Entering Mary’s name and the year of death in the search engine at, I do get one result. This, happily, provides names of Mary’s parents—provides them, however, only upon the resolution of one glitch: Mary’s date of death here is entered as May 19, 1871.

If we take that entry at Find A Grave as a typo—after all, it was actually abbreviated as “Mar.” meaning a matter of just one letter off—then we can assume that Mary’s parents were Joseph Grate and Harriet Owens.

All would be just fine—despite that simple matter of the one letter off between “Mar.” and “May”—except for one other problem: the Find A Grave entry also enters her birth year as 1803, in agreement with the FamilySearch record, but the gravestone itself clearly indicates the year as 1811.

Of course, since this is not my direct line, I could just pawn the whole thing off as “not my line” and forget about it.

But, holiday rush or not, I just can’t bring myself to do that. I have to take just one more look. Maybe Tim Fisher’s Perry County website will fish me out here.

And the answer is yes! The Fisher website comes through for me again! Twice! There it is, the eighth line from the top, under the listings for the Js, for Mary C. Jackson. Her date of death turns out to be May, not March. And though her age is given only as a year (not including months and days of age), minusing her sixty eight years of life from 1871 certainly yields a year of birth as 1803.

Chalk that up as yet another gravestone in error.

And count one more added bonus: the Perry County Record of Deaths shows her place of birth as Morgantown.

Now, if only I knew which Morgantown….

Photo, above right: Mary Cecelia Grate Jackson's gravestone at Holy Trinity Cemetery, Somerset, Ohio; courtesy Find A Grave contributor Jonathan Davis, Senior Vice Commander, Department of Ohio Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War; used by permission.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Parameters in Passing

When an ancestor’s lifespan predates the typical governmental bureaucracy we’ve come to expect with most Vital Statistics departments, we sometimes find ourselves having to do a tap dance of estimation. Of course, headstones help—that is, once they’re located, and even then, only if they haven’t already crumbled beyond recognition.

What if we don’t have that helpful stone marker, though? And what if church records are also silent?

In the case of the family I’m currently researching—that of John Jay Jackson of Fairfield County, Ohio—for his wife, the former Sarah Howard Ijams, I have neither headstone nor death record.

I do have one thing going for me, though: widower John Jackson did get married again.

Keep in mind, John Jackson was a father of several young children by the point at which his first wife passed. Situations like that, especially in that era, were a firm prompt to encourage such fathers to quickly seek a second bride. And that is exactly what John did.

At some point, the family must have moved from Fairfield County—where we had last seen report of them with records of their daughter Nancy Ann’s 1823 birth—to nearby Perry County. It is in that county’s marriage records that I find the documentation for John Jackson’s second marriage.

Dated August 28, 1829—although I wonder if my eyes deceive me on that number—the record was entered by hand, signed by the Catholic priest who performed the ceremony. 

I do hereby Certify that by Authority of a License Mr. John J. Jackson and Miss Mary Grate were by Me on the 28th day of August 1829 Legally joined in holy Matrimony. Given under My hand this 26th day of August 1829.
                                                  N. D. Young R. C. P.

The record was on the top of the page—page 108 of the first volume of marriage records for Perry County, Ohio.

While this marriage date doesn’t exactly pinpoint the moment of Sarah’s passing, it does eliminate anything beyond this date. As for the two dates already offered online—that of the confusing biographical sketch from that 1876 newspaper article, and the various researchers’ reports—both the 1825 date and the February, 1829, death are still plausible.

The difficulty with accepting the earlier of those two dates of death, however, is that it may call into question the parentage of two of the Jackson children: William Edwin Jackson, born in 1827, and Robert Turner Jackson, born the following year.

However, unless the archives of the church diocese includes baptismal records from these early years—and online sources of that era's records don’t seem to do so—or unless I can obtain a death certificate for the one child of Sarah who died after the point when more data began being provided, this will have to remain a mystery for me.

This will be one of those loose ends that I’ll set aside for further attention in the New Year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gone Over to the Dark Side

In a move that’s sure to garner me a lump of coal in my stocking for Christmas, I’ve gone a-wandering through forbidden fields. The struggle I’ve mounted to uncover the story behind the connection between Fort Bellefontaine in Missouri territory and Fairfield County in the new state of Ohio has yielded me little. I’m still puzzled about what connected the widow Elizabeth Howard Ijams with the widower John Whistler—and later, forged the connection between John Jay Jackson and Elizabeth Ijams’ daughter Sarah. Frankly, I feel as if these stubborn forebears refuse to come out of hiding.

I confess: I’ve gone looking for what others have posted online for those intransigent Jackson and Ijams ancestors.

I know: shock and disbelief. Lectures on how you need to do your own research. Scoldings for not relying only on source documents.

Yep. A lump of coal in my stocking. This Christmas.

So…now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…do ya wanna know? Aren’t you just a bit curious?

I don’t know about anybody else, but when I hit a brick wall, I’m not opposed to taking a peak around and seeing if anyone else has found a chink in the masonry, a toe-hold or a hand up. Of course, I’m cautious to see if I can replicate any results others have already found. But I’m not averse to learning from my peers. After all, I’m not that good at re-inventing wheels.

My thinking was: if I could find someone else in the family constellation for whom documentation could be located, perhaps those papers would reveal a hint of a trail. Perhaps another child in the family died after the date in which states began collecting additional personal information. Perhaps a report of a sibling’s birth location different than the other children’s might reveal travels that I hadn’t previously anticipated.

At any rate, cut me some slack, you who are saintly genealogists. The need to know has led me in the path of temptation, and I have yielded.

Onward to the dubious world of online genealogy. My first stop was to Not to besmirch their name—I’m so grateful for all the documents I’ve found at this resource—but here I found my first indication of squishy reportage. Searching for Sarah Howard Ijams, no documents popped up in the search results. However, there was an item from the Pedigree Resource File.

Alright, I know it: warning bells are going off in my head as I speak. The file indicated Sarah was born October 6, 1798, and died February 12, 1829. Of course, no source was cited for those dates—dates I’ve already struggled to verify. How did the supplier of this information know these dates were correct?

Next came the marriage information. The file named John Jay Jackson as the groom—no surprise here—and the event’s date as January 25, 1818, in Saint Louis. Both those latter details may actually be correct. I’m a bit more convinced now than I was before about the marriage location in the Saint Louis area. And the year of 1818 is more acceptable to me than the other entry I’ve seen of 1816.

Seven children are listed in this file, though unfortunately not in date order. The firstborn arrived in 1819, and the last on December 30 of 1828. These two dates at least frame the possible time span between marriage and Sarah’s early death. An infant’s arrival that late in the year could actually have been what precipitated Sarah’s demise.

There are other online resources, too. Of course, the narrative that I’ve already mentioned—that of Sarah’s mother’s second marriage to John Whistler—included a statement that there were ten children in the Ijams family. Where are the other three?

Other online files give more of a hint as to what happened to the Ijams and Jackson families. The disputed count for the number of children in the Jackson family shrinks to six in a Rootsweb file here, but reveals information on John Jackson’s own second marriage. Another Rootsweb file, focusing more on the Ijams ancestors, shows no descendants for John and Sarah, but provides ample resources for tracing Sarah’s Ijams family back multiple generations.

While I cannot just appropriate the information found online as impeccable truth—I must exercise my own due diligence in checking these lines myself—when confronted with a bewildering maze of false leads, it helps to lift up one’s head and take a look around. Why insist on playing the trailblazer on the edge of civilization when you can lift your blindfolds and take a look around. Who knows? You may discover you are actually walking in an urban jungle with a road map already in your hand.

Picture above: a print by Winslow Homer entitled, "A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," published in Harper's Weekly on December 24, 1859; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.
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