Monday, November 30, 2015

Are You My Cousin?

Back when life around our house was still caught up in the frenzy of high school, our daughter competed in speech and debate events. My husband and I, as dutiful parents, thus fulfilled our required corollary role as judges for tournaments.

One of the categories in high school speech—at least in our league—was known, for short, as Interp. This was the event in which each contestant was required to select a passage from a piece of literature and edit it in such a way as to represent its essence in an abbreviated performance of only ten minutes duration. The edited version had to provide introduction of characters and setting, as well as allow for character and plot development and resolution. Not only that, but it permitted no props or costumes. And it all had to be performed by one actor. That's right: that one lone student who edited the piece also had to become hero, bad guy, innocent bystanders, and all the sound effects, all wrapped up in a one man—or woman—show.

The idea behind the exercise was to get students to exercise their editing skills as well as their thespian talents. And, of course, provide a sly way for educators to introduce literature to students through practical exercises and competition. Generally, in judging rounds of Interp, we would be treated to a wide variety of fictional works by well known authors—stories which would be considered the classics.

That pleasant expectation was all to be overturned by the arrival of one novice competitor one year, who took the rules of the game quite literally—well, at least in the doing of the editing process. Somehow, he missed the concept of fine literature. His Interp selection was for a much smaller piece. Entering into this complex theater of the mind, this newbie had the temerity to present the story known far and wide since 1960 as Are You My Mother?

Why, yes, the book has since been recognized by placement on two "Top 100" lists for children's books. But that doesn't really matter to me. What matters was the monotonous delivery, for ten unending minutes, of the inane story of a misplaced hatchling trying to reunite with its missing mother.

I'm sure it's quite endearing to youthful ears.

Keep in mind there is likely a reason why parents don't mind reading aloud to their offspring stories coming from the pen of time-honored authors such as J. M. Barrie. That reason is somehow strangely missing when a parent cracks open the cover of Are You My Mother?

You are probably wondering why this rant has found its way into a family history blog. Be patient. I'll tell you.

Sometimes, the very things that annoy us turn into the ear worms that echo around in our heads for days afterwards. Or—in the case of Are You My Mother?years. You see, having just spent a week redoubling my effort to find the smoking guns—a.k.a. most recent common ancestors—in about twenty different DNA match cases, I'm beginning to feel as if I am hopping around like that silly hatchling, stopping to ask anyone and everyone who will listen,
Are you my cousin?

Yes. I know. Ridiculous. There has got to be a simpler way to do this. Or at least a way to sound a little less annoying.

I start thinking of ways that people use to get the word out to a wide swath of people. Like broadcasting, I want to send my message about my pet project far and wide. But I still want people to listen, not ignore me like junk mail.

Targeting the message is what the marketing gurus advise, so I think of getting my list of surnames out at genealogy conferences. That must be the ticket, right?

But then I think of seeing people wearing T shirts with all their family surnames printed on the back, as if saying, "Proudly sponsored by..."

I'm not much of a T shirt fan.

Then I hit on an idea: why not put a QR code—you know, those little squares with black and white printed codes readable by smart phones—on my business card and pass it out at the next conference I attend? I can link it to a web page that provides an alphabetical list of all my surnames. After all, people are even putting QR codes on their resumes now. Why not put it to good use in cousin hunting?

Who knows? Maybe that will be a hit. Or maybe it will be a flop. I'll never know until I try it. After all, it couldn't be any more obnoxious than hopping up to people, one by one, and chirping, "Are you my cousin?" 

Above: Cover to the P. D. Eastman children's book, Are You My Mother? published in 1960 by Random House Books; image courtesy Wikipedia.  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Cousin Shopping

I'm considering wading into the gene pool a little deeper. And why not? We have an unprecedented opportunity to do so this weekend. Even The Ancestry Insider said so. If anyone would know, that would be the one.

But who listens to people with no name? Fortunately, I don't have to. Thomas MacEntee, the guru behind GeneaBloggers, said it was so, too: this weekend has the best price for DNA testing at

So I'm going to try it. After hunting and pecking my way through my matches at Family Tree DNA for the past year, I've barely scraped the surface of my nine hundred plus fellow distant cousins. I keep vowing to find a quick way to upload all the surnames from each match onto a spreadsheet program and check for mutual surnames, but why do that? By virtue of coupling DNA testing with an already-provided family tree database program, can do that searching for me.

Besides, adding AncestryDNA to my repertoire means I am now fishing in two ponds, not just one. I'm expanding my genetic horizons.

Of course, the downside is that people aren't always impeccable when it comes to adding ancestors to their collection. Some of those additions don't even make sense on the face of it—like the oft-repeated example of the "mother" who had to have been eight years old when her "son" was born. (Yes, I know that can happen—theoretically—but the only ones I heard of were listed in Guinness' Book of World Records.)

So, perhaps I'll be trading in reality-based genealogy for ease of handling. I've noticed, though, that each genetic genealogy company seems to have its down side—some crowdsourcing glitch in which the other participants don't seem to care quite as much as this customer does. It will have to be a price I'm willing to pay.

And, apparently, it is, for by the time the deal of this shopping season comes to a close on Monday evening, for every fellow researcher who asks me, "Haven't you tested on AncestryDNA?" I will finally be able to answer, "Yes."

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Put Yourself on the List, Too

No, not the shopping list. Not, at least, after my rant yesterday.

On the thankfulness list.

As Thanksgiving day rushes by us like the holiday blur it has become, I like to extend that season of thankfulness. It seems the best antidote to the turmoil ahead.

I've already mentioned some of the family members I'm personally thankful for. But there is one more group I'm thankful for: you. My readers. By being here and joining in the conversation by sharing your comments, you are part of what makes this blog what it is. And I'm glad you're here.

In one of the classes I taught last semester, we got into a discussion about how class is like a dialog. Yes, the teacher teaches and the students...well...hopefully, they get some benefit out of the process, but I don't suppose much thought has been given to the fact that a teacher is sometimes like a performer on stage. And we all know how much a performer is powered by audience response. It's a downright drag for a performer when nobody laughs at your jokes, cries at your losses, smiles when—at last!—the good guy seems to be able to win again.

Blogging is very much like that. While you and I are not face to face like we would be, gathered in a theater, we meet on a regular basis. Just like that stage performer seems to give just a little bit more when the audience is eating it up, we bloggers seem to write with more enthusiasm when we don't feel like our voice is just echoing around in an empty tin can.

In the past year, while I've wandered around the stories of a number of participants in my family's history, you've been there to cheer me on. I do part of what I do, thanks to part of what you do. Blogging is really a form of symbiosis.

I couldn't really let this Thankfulness weekend slip by without finding the time to acknowledge that. Since you may be a blogger, yourself, I imagine you have a few readers you are thankful for, as well. Aren't they the ones who really make the difference?

Above: "Love of Winter," oil on canvas by Columbus, Ohio, native, George Bellows, February 1914; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Antidote to Getting


I didn't think so.

Now that yesterday's national feast is behind us (except the leftovers), people have other things on their mind. Some people call this next frenzy, "Black Friday." Perhaps you are a partaker. I'm not.

Ostensibly, the day after Thanksgiving is the time to set aside for getting the gifts that will soon—well, within a month—be given to others. Perhaps, in a roundabout way, you could call it a day designated to thinking about giving.

But I don't think so. More often than not, it seems to me to be a day about getting, not giving, for really, the driving force behind all that purchasing is, ultimately, getting. I give to you, so you can give to me.

And so it escalates.

Remember those Christmas Savings Clubs? The kind where your mom or dad might have tucked away five dollars—or ten, or twenty-five—each month throughout the year, so that there would be enough to buy some gifts for Christmas? Yeah, nobody does that anymore. We've far exceeded that limitation. Blown it completely over the top. Now, people consider themselves fortunate if they pay off the credit card bill before the next holiday season rolls around.

Sometimes I wonder: how much of that shopping frenzy is driven by a cultural sense of embarrassment: "What if what he got me is bigger than what I bought him?"

I'm the Scrooge who grumbles about that every time, come this season of the year. I'm glad I have company, though. Some people have re-designated this day, "Friendsgiving," and gather with friends to share leftovers, or pie and games, or social time. Just hanging out. Anywhere but at the mall. It's fun. And de-stressing. Probably more of what the holidays used to be like.

Gear up for what's ahead, though, for if you missed Black Friday, you have that second chance on Cyber Monday. More chances to get. So you can give. So you can get.

It's been heartwarming to see the recent development following fast on the heels of Cyber Monday: Giving Tuesday. A time to give to someone who won't give back—who likely won't even know your name to do so much as send you a thank-you card.

In our extended family of mostly the-ones-who-have-everything, it is, admittedly, hard to shop for them. After all, what do you buy the guy or gal who has everything? I'm not sure how well this has been received, but in the past few years, we've taken to donating money to a favorite charity in our family members' names, then following up with a token gift—something that says, "I'm thinking of you and sending my love, but perhaps these other people can use the real gift much more than either you or I could."

Some charities have become quite consumer savvy and designed ways to accommodate these shopping preferences. We've gone that route in the past. But this year, we found a project that hits much closer to home.

When our daughter began her first year of college, she met a fellow student who is a young woman from India. Over the years, they have become close friends. As time unfolds, the predictable happens. Eventually, both these young women graduated from college. Our daughter's friend met and married a wonderful man from up north, and now this woman from the south of India lives in the uttermost northern reaches of the continental United States.

But her heart has never forgotten her family and neighbors back in her hometown. In her yearly trip back to see family, the fact that there are orphans living in the streets in her own neighborhood has weighed on her heart quite heavily--until she couldn't stand it any more and did what she could: she started a fund drive to help build an orphanage shelter that has already begun its work there.

Unlike many experienced fundraisers, her little group has just put a simple plea out there—and whether they raise their goal or not, they are building what they can.

What seems so incongruous to me, though, is the realization that, if all of the friends of this woman's friends just gave up a lunch date and instead sent a donation to help build this orphanage, it would soon be accomplished. But in our busy rush to get everything done for our holiday, quiet pleas like this sometimes go unnoticed.

I remember reading a book once, in which the author used as his opening vignette the story of a woman in India, going door to door, begging for rice for her children. In the house of one woman, who apparently could afford to do so, this beggar was granted a scant cup of uncooked rice. As she lifted her apron to catch the poured-out gift, a few grains of rice fell to the ground.

What got me was what happened next: the beggar bent down and carefully picked up every single grain of rice that had spilled. Every single grain mattered.

When I think of the huge task before my daughter's Indian friend, I can't get that picture out of my mind: with thumb and forefinger, pressing on each grain of rice and retrieving it. Every bit mattered. That's desperation.

When I was a kid, the constant mantra for those picky eaters around our dinner table was, "You better eat that; think of the starving children in India."

I guess I'm still thinking...  

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful for the People

It's Thanksgiving Day in the United States—a holiday we share in concept, though not necessarily the date, with our neighbors to the north, and, apparently, with pockets of others around the world.

While I'm sure whatever those first settlers in the New World wished to express thanks for differed vastly from what our over-indulged generation now appreciates, this is still a good time to turn our thoughts toward gratefulness.

Perhaps, when we pass that point of possessing everything we need, it is not more stuff that we are grateful for, but those very aspects of life which, in the losing of them, we feel the greatest regret. Perhaps that is why, this Thanksgiving, it is the people for which I am most grateful.

In this past week, I've been remembering some of those people whom I've lost, over the years, and I realize, in review, that for each one of them, I can attribute something for which I owe them thanks.

For my mother-in-law Marilyn, it was for her quiet, steady approach to the practical—those thrifty tips like folding back the rim on paper shopping bags to stand them upright as makeshift garbage receptacles—and her unmovable resolve to be there as support when the unthinkable inevitably occurred and, in the blip of a generation, I had stepped into the place she once had held.

For my sister-in-law Judy, it was her vivacious, unscathe-able approach to life that set her as far apart from my own tendencies as could be possible in two human beings, and yet she showed me that very different people can share the same love, the same devotion and the same determination. She taught me the power of loyalty, that endearing always-gonna-be-there-for-you determination that is stronger than any mismatched likes-versus-dislikes scorecard. She demonstrated the sense of family, no matter what.

My aunt, much like my mother-in-law, was a champion of the slow-and-steady approach to life, blending that thoroughness with an infectious cheerfulness and a nonstop spunk that left exhausted even those one or two generations removed from her. For her example of always reaching out, always being there—especially as a surrogate mother when we, as adult daughters, still felt the sting of loss—her constancy proved a great example. Like her own father, she demonstrated what it took to be one of those people for whom others say, "She never knew a stranger."

It was for my own mother, though, that it has taken the reprieve of time to mellow those thoughts of thankfulness. In retrospect—and, especially as I delve into her own family tree and push back through the generations of her heritage—I realize what a legacy she has left her children. Not in the riches most people seek as an inheritance, but in the tendencies she passed down to us, I owe her my desire to focus on the stories, to keep at the chase until I reach the goal, the ability to read between the lines and gain the wisdom hidden in those quiet inferences from the experiences of others.

There are others, of course, from whom I've learned a great deal and am certainly grateful. Likely, you can think of several in your own life, as well. Whether you've already consumed your own turkey feast, or are just now finishing up your morning's coffee and daily read to head into the kitchen to begin the day's preparations, I hope you will likewise have a moment to reflect on the benefits your family and friends have bestowed upon you. In turn, hopefully, you will be able to share those reflections among those with whom you share this pleasant day, and let that gratitude reap a harvest of its own.

Above: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth," by American genre painter, Jennie Augusta Brownscombe; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Closer It Gets,
The Harder It is to Talk About It

From a distance, genealogy seems to be the study of those old, dry details of relatives long forgotten—or never known at all. Thanks to that perception, it comes quite easily to search through what would otherwise be considered macabre details—when and how they died, where they were buried, what they left behind to be catalogued in their will.

As we get closer to the ones we knew, personally, the tone seems to soften—to become almost fragile—as memories are dredged up from their submerged resting places. Perhaps it is frightening to re-open the lid on recollections kept far away because of their potential to hurt.

And yet, it is likely those to whom we owe the most, the ones who invested in our own lives.

Perhaps that is why reawakening those memories can hurt so much.

There are lots of unfinished projects in my files with my mother's name on them. I went out of my way to secure a copy of her journal after her passing years ago, and yet, do I have that transcription project completed? Of course not.

I had wanted—with a treatment much as I have done for others' stories here at A Family Tapestry—to tell my mother's story, but the closeness got in the way. In some ways plain as a housewife's resume, in other ways as enticing as an actress' lifestyle, hers was a different path.

It was always different, no matter what stage of her life. Born on a farm in Iowa, she wasn't the child of farmers, nor a descendant of Iowans. When childhood was supposed to be filled with all the comfort and stability of home and friendships and family, hers was a desperate journey through America's Great Depression—sometimes following, sometimes staying back and awaiting a paycheck from, her determined father, always steadfast to his resolve to support his family, come what may.

From her mother, long after her passing, it was the saved newspaper clippings which told me the details of my mother's decision, after high school graduation, to leave home and seek her fortune as an actress in the great city of New York. Photographs from my mother's own albums witnessed the story unfolding—up until the day, that is, when she chose to tell a certain someone, "I do." With that exchange of vows came the trading in of a glamorous night life in the city for the mundane details of life in suburbia. A home of her own. A family. And, eventually, a new career.

Some people can never stand still. What to others might be the end goal becomes to others merely the dressing room for their next starring role. Back when people didn't do such things, my mother decided to enroll in classes at the local community college. She took philosophy. She took German. She studied French. She majored in English. And moved on: A.A., B.A., M.A. And then, accepted into a doctoral program, when...

Things never stay the same. At least, that is how it seems. The rhythm of daily life—by then, having become the sequence of studies, exams, repeat—was once again upset by an unexpected turn of events. With my father's passing, everything seemingly came to a halt. The studies were discontinued—the hope of inserting the term "temporarily" eventually gave way to the reality of "permanently"—replaced by the prospect of simultaneously selling the house and finding a job.

That old, continual pilgrimage to seek employment from a generation past reared its spectral visage as my mother sought work across the country—from New York to California to Minnesota. And then, finally settled in the place she once knew as home: Columbus, Ohio.

Even a return home didn't guarantee the journey was over. As I look back on it now, it seems my mother lived an entirely new lifetime in that city, fulfilling various roles throughout the more than two decades since her return there. It became like a second home to us, her children—not only through memories of our own childhood in visiting our grandparents, but again with her return, as we brought our own families there to visit.

Somehow, buried in all the details of an ever-changing life full of goals and duties and detours, perhaps I missed something in the narrative. Only in retrospect can we sometimes realize the lessons learned from the blur of events which once rushed past our eyes with disorienting speed. I sit down now at my computer to transcribe a page from her journal, witnessing the thoughts she captured more than twenty years ago, and begin to have thoughts of my own. Not just along the lines of "What did all this mean to her?" or "How did she feel about what she was going through?" but "What does this mean to me?" What can I learn from what she learned?

In burying those memories during the times in which their recollection was too raw, too painful, we sometimes neglect to return and revisit them from a safer distance when the time is right. Perhaps this is an inner voice prompting me to plan on making that return trip. The journal is still there, the transcription task still unfinished. From a distance safe enough to heed the call, it would certainly yield me the advantage of a useful message.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Remembering the Ones
Who Made a Difference

On my last trip to Columbus—a sad journey two years ago to clean the cabinets and desk drawers of my aunt, following her passing that November—I lingered over a box full of photos, debating whether to toss or save.

The box was filled with those tiny school portraits—you know, the thumbnail-sized kind parents pass out each year to everyone in sight—but not one of them was of a person I knew.

Unlike those photographs we often find in our now-gone relatives' collections—the type bearing absolutely no identification of the portrait's subject—almost every one of these pictures included a name.

Just one name, that is: a first name. Usually found beneath the words, "your friend." And a thumbnail-sized thank you letter to someone who was obviously their favorite teacher.

That would be my aunt.

Over the years, my aunt had evidently preserved these mementos of students who now, likely, were adults, themselves—some, possibly, even teachers. It makes me wonder whether, on a cold November day—maybe when she was feeling discouraged, herself—she pulled out this Stash of Students Past to reminisce. And soak in the positive feelings sent her by those who had not yet outgrown that endearing childish habit of thankfulness.

Sara Jacqueline Davis was a homegrown graduate of Columbus' Ohio State University, that gargantuan institution of higher education football-with-a-college-attached. She had chosen to major in home economics, a now-quaint career choice from which she eventually swerved to specialize in library science. That, of course, required yet another degree—in her case, a master's degree—but that was no problem. She was a career teacher with no family of her own to distract from her professional goals.

A social person, my aunt made many friends over the years—not just students, but fellow teachers, people she met on her frequent travels, members of her church, fellow volunteers, neighbors. A special focus of her verve for life was cheering on her beloved "Buckeyes," either in the stands or with a circle of friends at the parties she hosted at her home.

Though her career path eventually morphed from full-time teacher to librarian to part time substitute teacher, she refused to let herself become idle. Up until the injury that eventually took her life at the age of eighty seven, she kept a part time position in a local gift shop, just for "pocket change"—and company.

It was interesting, receiving the guests who stopped by, in the rainy November weather, for visitation before her funeral. They came from all walks of life. Hardly surprising, considering her cheery affect and spunky approach to life. Each came with a story to tell our family—how they came to know her, what they did together. But most importantly, what she meant to their life.

It's funny, thinking over all the things that I remember of this aunt from my own life. The ones that stand out the most aren't the achievements she accomplished, or any flashy, stellar claims. They hover mostly around childhood memories—like the time that home ec teacher promised to help me learn how to sew, took me through the whole process from picking out the fabric to completing the project, my very own stuffed animal (a cat, of course), or just the generic fun that seemed to radiate from her. She was a fun and favorite relative.

Mostly, though, in adult-eyed retrospect, it turns out that the most remarkable thing about this woman was her slow and steady consistency. Over the years, bit by bit, she built a life of constancy. Though she was petite, I guess some found a rock-like stability in her that became the antidote to the turmoil and angst in many pre-teen students' lives.

Every now and then, I run across a well-written piece, explaining how the author decided to—against all odds—go back to find and thank a teacher who made a big difference in his or her life. While I'm glad for all those who heed that nudge to reconnect with the people who poured so much of themselves into that writer's life, I'm sure glad that wasn't the case for my aunt. For there, in a box in her desk drawer, was the testimony of many years' worth of students who didn't wait, but said their heartfelt thanks, right when they could.

Jackie Davis teacher in Columbus Ohio circa 1950s

Photograph, top left: portrait of Sara Jacqueline Davis, circa 1950; below: in front of the Columbus school where she taught for many years in Ohio; originals from the private collection of the author.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Some Memories Become Dust in the Wind

When we research the lives of ancestors long gone, one of our stopping points is the cemetery where the headstone tells us the bare facts that remain: name, date of birth, date of death.

Sometimes, as we move towards the present and search for the details of loved ones we've lost from our own lifetimes, we are not so fortunate as to find such telltale markers. Instead of one spot designated as a final resting place, the remains of a family member might not even be in a cemetery. Perhaps in an urn in a special place in a home, or possibly not even in one designated place at all—some left, as their final wishes, a request to be "scattered" over the ocean, or in the wilderness. Free spirits in life, they refuse to be boxed in, even after their departure.

While Marilyn Bean's death, in my own family experiences, began the yearly reminder to turn my mind back to such losses, it's the one whose death became the other bookend to a melancholy month that leaves me with no physical token, no place that marks her life. Perhaps that's as it should be, for Judy was a free spirit in every sense of the word.

Hers was a passing that came without warning. Sudden. More challenging to wrap one's head around. Inconceivable, considering how full of life she was—full of experiences, opinions, attitudes, stories.

Unlike those relatives of past generations, whom we remember by passing along their photographs, letters, journals, and other memorabilia, when the current generation takes leave of her peers, it doesn't seem like there was sufficient time to store up all these tokens of life—much less time to bequeath them upon others in long anticipation of that inevitable home-going.

It was on the very last morning of November, three years ago, that my sister-in-law joined her mother, her brother, and every other member of her family, in passing unexpectedly. She was the last leaf on a branch whose every member had already withered away from humanity's family tree.

Yet, even today, I can't tell you where her remains lie. They may never find a "final resting place." If anyone in future decades feels prompted to find a headstone that will recount the bare bones of her existence, it likely will never be found.

For some, now, that hardly matters. Memories seem much stronger than stone. But when those memories are blown away in the passing of time, then what? The free spirit sees as romantic now what the future's historians or documentarians will not even realize they are missing. Unless someone in the family passes down that inevitable box of unmarked photographs, there will be nothing to provide a reminder that this one life had once passed this way.

childhood photo outside home before Christmas in Santa Rosa California 1960


Sunday, November 22, 2015

The "No" Season

There is something about the month of November that buries me in a somber mood—something that only the festive Christmas season can persuade me to abandon. Perhaps, in reflecting yesterday over yet another loss among my friends and family, it can be pinned to the fact that, over the years, November has not been the most cheerful of months for me.

I'm quite sure it goes far beyond my youthful distaste for being left behind on Thanksgiving weekend while all my more fortunate friends headed out of town to feast at large family gatherings. It may be owing to that cumulative effect of all the dreary losses sustained during that one gray month—the "no" month, November.

It was on one of my customary trips to the library as a young person that I stumbled upon a poem about the month of November. Growing up in New York—and hating the snow, incidentally—I felt the poem resonated with my childish perspective, and somehow never forgot it.

The brief ditty went something like this:
No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds -
It turns out to have been written by a British poet—likely following the last November before his early passing in the spring of 1845. And that brief stanza lodged in my memory, long ago, from that children's poetry anthology was not the complete representation of Thomas Hood's poem, as I discovered recently—thanks to the magic of Google showing me this website's version of his work.

When I find myself in that dreary "no" state—prompted again yesterday with the loss of a good friend—it wakes me up to the remembrance of all those others I've lost during November. In prompting me to not only research those ancestors long past but also from my past, I think first of the one whose November exit has been the farthest removed from today. That would be my first mother in law—the one whose son's story I've already shared.

Marilyn Beverly Sowle—born 25 February, 1928, in Wisconsin to David Moore and Olive Brague Sowle—was a southern California gal whose move to the northern part of the state was to follow the love of her life. A young Marine, Earle Raymond Bean, had captured her heart, and somewhere, sometime—these genealogical details still escape me—they married and began a family of two children.

Life turned out differently for petite Marilyn. It wasn't just because she chose a husband who, at six feet six inches, towered over her—although the height itself became a telltale factor in predicting what was to befall her within about five years of their wedding. It was because her husband, apparently born with the congenital condition now called Marfan Syndrome, met an early death—not on any battlefield like the Iwo Jima conflict he had faced only a few short years before, but back in his hometown of Alameda, California.

I only met Marilyn years after that great tragedy in her life. Somehow, we all find ways to pick up and move on, even after the greatest of losses. I got to know her when I met her son. And got to know her more when the same fate that took her husband befell her son as well. Even years after her son's passing, we'd spend holidays together. And other the time she discovered her cancer was back, and in order to proceed with chemo, the doctors recommended a simple procedure to insert a port. Somehow, the thought of what she faced must have been too much for her. She never awoke from that "simple" procedure.

Thoughts of Marilyn come back to remind me every November, my least favorite month of the year. Mainly, I remember being in the waiting room at the hospital with Marilyn's daughter, coping with the incredible news. But if I ever forget which morning it was, the volunteers at Find A Grave help me remember. The story is etched on a simple slab of stone set within the endless white rows of uniform reminders at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, where, at last, Marilyn joined her husband—after all these years, in November, no longer apart.



Saturday, November 21, 2015

When It's Time to Go Home

As genealogy aficionados, there are times when we can border on becoming glib in our assertions. "I seek dead people," proclaims a T shirt worn by a woman at a conference. In fine print below, the parenthetical explanation divulges, "I do genealogy."

While in essence, that is exactly what we spend our time doing—devoting a lot of time in the pursuit of dead people—what we really are seeking are the details on dead people long gone, not recently gone.

Just like Ebenezer Scrooge questioning the upcoming visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past—"Long past?" "No, your past."—I find myself sometimes far removed from our customary reveling in the mantra of "seeking dead people." It is when it touches our past—rather than the distant past of ancestors even our grandparents have not met—that we begin to sense the dread of that thought.

In that unexpected yet you-knew-this-would-happen sort of way, news of a fresh addition to those dead people we always claim to seek ripped through my community of friends. A beloved elderly former missionary took leave of his family for the last time, yesterday, in the dark of the early morning hours. Though he had been through so much in the past year, he had survived so much, leaving a false confidence that perhaps the worst was now behind him.

Not so.

Perhaps it is merciful when our loved ones slip away so suddenly. A heart attack sometimes sneaks up, giving no warning, and does its work so quickly that those closest are left clueless until it is all over. While that, in retrospect, seems merciful, the speed of the loss is no easier to bear.

In this case, it will be a loss felt around the world. How ironic, when you realize that this unassuming gentleman began the battle for his health on one day when, during last year's holiday season, he made his routine walk out to the mailbox to retrieve the day's delivery of Christmas cards. There were always so many holiday greetings arriving each day from around the world that it was sometimes hard to wrestle them out of the mailbox.

Sure enough, one good tug on the stack of letters in that overstuffed mailbox and the equal and opposite reaction knocked him off his feet and down on the curb. He broke his hip.

Then came surgery. And rehab. And other health revelations. And more surgery. And almost losing him. But miraculously surviving. And the wonderful day when he got to go home—back to where it was comfortable and familiar and relaxing.

We never know when that sometime will be, when we get that final call home. For some, it is in the midst of a crisis. And we lament the great loss. But sometimes, it is when we rest assured that all is well—seems to be all well—and yet isn't. Perhaps those are the times when the loss seems the hardest to bear. But is it really harder? Or is it that way from the perspective of those left behind?

In the many beliefs held by people from around the world—many of them, beliefs shared by the very people this man once knew and lived with—there is the thought that, in opposition to the grief borne by those left behind, there is a time and space of comfort for those we now count among our dead. This becomes the time when we truly do get to go home. Yet, while we cling to such thoughts, we still find it so hard to let go of the one we love.

For now, raw from the feelings of such a loss, it seems impossible to glibly chatter about those tokens of one's genealogical prowess—the "dead people" we are "seeking." Perhaps, as there is a time for every purpose under heaven, there are times to remember those long gone—the ones we've never grown close to, never become attached to, never even met.

Sometimes, though, the season asks us to set that aside and, in its place, remember the ones we have known, in their final time of going home.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

...Yet Never Discounting Those Staples of Sound Genealogical Research

While I'm grateful—as I mentioned yesterday—for those book-digitizing projects that are bringing hundred-year-old publications to the forefront of our researching attention once again, those books were penned by people who were no less prone to error than are humans of our modern era. Admittedly, those authors faced the same snares we face—and we all know the foibles of family fables—and yet, they had other research challenges we now can bypass with a click of a mouse. When you think of the snail-mailed, personal-memory-riddled reports authors of a bygone century once had to overcome just to compile their genealogies, it's a wonder they got as much right as they did.

One aggravating aspect of riding the online family history wave back through the centuries is the lack of scanned documentation, once the census records drop off the scene. While everything seems to go along swimmingly back to 1850, before that, researchers may—or may not—have at their disposal copies of any other actual pertinent governmental documents., for instance, offers up a lot of "data collections" which may or may not merely be compilations of user-contributed say-so reports. It is nice to peek at these collections for hints, much as one queries a trailblazer before attempting a wilderness journey never before traveled. But we all have to prove our own way, eventually.

On the other hand—at least for those of us with ancestors firmly (and successfully) interwoven into the American social fabric of the last two or three centuries—our well-heeled forebears left significant paper trails of another sort: court records and land records. While I am exploring the possibilities in my Meriwether, Gilmer, Lewis and Strother lines, I'll be corroborating—or disproving—the details unearthed by other researchers via governmental records of a type entirely different than the scant details offered up in pre-1850 census records.

That, of course, becomes the part of my daily research which goes underground as I pursue it, mainly owing to my observation that, like the making of laws and sausage, the tedium of genealogical research can sometimes get both messy and boring. While we all live for the stories, it's the sound genealogical research methods that provide the skeletal framework upon which those family stories need to hang.

Not that I won't make a peep about it, from time to time—one never knows when an exceptional or curious anecdote may surface that simply must be shared. In addition, as I hit each matrilineal node, based on my mtDNA quest, and turn around to trace that other woman's female line back down to the present, I'll track my progress in connecting to my mystery cousin. But my first love, at least for blogging purposes, is to share the stories. It's just that there aren't too many stories amidst all the grunt work of reading legal proceedings or land records.

Above: "Autumn in the Welsh Hills," watercolor on pencil, circa 1860, by British landscape artist, George Price Boyce; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Here's to Hundred Year Old Resources!

Now that I've examined my options, having moved up the matrilineal line four generations earlier than my grandmother's time, I could see I was entering a realm of surnames which surely would be adequately documented in the many local histories and genealogies of bygone eras. I knew, for instance, the Gilmer surname had books written about that family—at least two of which I've already mentioned here on A Family Tapestry. Googling the terms "history of" plus the county name of family origins in colonial America also has yielded a number of books addressing the genealogy of my ancient kin. If this was a winning combination in the past, why not try it again?

Besides the Gilmers, the next two generations preceding my fourth great grandmother, Mary Meriwether Gilmer, included the surnames Lewis and Strother, so I applied those search tactics to these additional surnames.

I'll always be grateful for those organizations and companies seeing the digitization of hundred year old books as a vital mission. Once again, both Google Books and Internet Archive came to my rescue. It was John Gilmer Speed's 1897 book, The Gilmers in America, which had reminded me that my fifth great grandmother Mary Meriwether Gilmer's mother Elizabeth Lewis was daughter of Thomas Lewis and Jane Strother.

I had known that the Lewis family has been mentioned in a number of books and genealogical articles stretching back over the last hundred years. But I hadn't known anything further about that Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis. To continue down the trail of this matrilineal line to find the nexus with my mtDNA "exact match" mystery cousin, I would need to push back a few more generations, as my current stopping point hasn't yet yielded any connections. Jane Strother thus may become the linchpin to allow me access to additional generations of information.

So I tried my hand at that same old search routine. I searched for "Strother family in colonial America." While most of the results seemed to lead to commercial entities, such as the records on that surname, there were a few references to articles, including this publication—accessible here thanks to Google Books—which provided me an entire recounting of the family history of the Strother line.

Searching within the text, I looked for entries specific to Jane Strother. While much of the material, as often happens in these hundred year old family histories, seems to focus on the litany of male accomplishments, one passage did provide the tidbit I was seeking. It spelled out exactly who were the parents of this Jane Strother, wife of Thomas Lewis.

Thanks to that one mention about Jane Strother in William E. Railey's "The Strothers" in the The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, volume 15, I now have an indication that the name of Jane Strother's mother might have been Margaret Watts.

Of course, that 1917 article provides extensive research on the rest of Jane's family—especially her many sisters, each of whom could also pass along that same mtDNA that should show up as an exact match to mine. It will become a thumbnail sketch to provide me with the roadmap to determine a reverse genealogy of all Margaret Watts' female descendants—Jane's and all her sisters' daughters. 

Granted, I'll have to run that research through a double-check with current online resources. What once may have taken researchers months and even years to complete, we can now often verify within  mere hours. Of course, we can't believe everything we see in print, so I'll keep an eye out to check the author's assertions. But if this provides a correct listing of descendants, I'll have my work cut out for me for a long time to come.

Hopefully, this will yield some promising results—just in time to compare with the new research finds of my mystery cousin upon his return home from his own family history journey. 


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Genealogy, In a Roundabout Way

Sometimes, you just have to take a break from it all.

Admittedly, that is what I just did, ten days ago. Let's say I stored up my vacations to set aside for one month of desperation. I just had to get out of town. Again. Another business meeting came to my rescue.

I did intend to do some genealogy work while we were out of town. Honest. There is a nice genealogical reference section at the library in the town where I spent the day, yesterday. But by the time the morning caught up with me, I was content just to keep on pursuing that matrilineal line that has me so focused, lately. And, as I've observed before, in matters such as the making of politics and sausage—and we can add in family trees, here—it's best not to watch while the work is in progress.

So, while I've been churning through the tedium of snagging every detail on every female descendant of every female ancestor I could find, allow me to provide you the divertissement of what we found when we arrived in our hotel room and drew back the curtains to have a look outside our second story window.

We were in Santa Rosa, California, a town I know well, thanks to it being the hometown of a particular someone whose family history I've already recounted here. The city is nestled among hills in a picturesque part of northern California dubbed Wine Country, so I wasn't surprised to realize that I had actually missed the fact that such an imposing structure stood not far from me when we checked into our hotel.

Though the structure dominating the view from our window seems to belong to another time and another place, it is actually nestled among several modern buildings—buildings also not very visible from the main road. For instance, the steel and glass of an office building can be seen behind the left side of the barn. While out of view from this vantage point, the parking lot below belongs to the hotel in which we were staying. Perched on the crest of the hill, also just beyond this view, is the imposing spread of a Hilton hotel. A busy, four lane thoroughfare snakes its way around the foot of the hill, leading to a main, north-south freeway artery that can take a traveler all the way from Los Angeles in southern California to Port Angeles in Washington state, just below the Canadian border.

As many times as I've visited Santa Rosa, I've somehow missed the fact that this gem of a building still sits here in this spot. I had to find out more about it, first by getting outside and walking the length of the parking lot with my husband, who obligingly took several photos from umpteen angles (and hillsides) with his phone.

Then, back at home, I wandered through the Internet to see what could be found about our latest discovery. Since the barn itself sported a sign proclaiming "Fountaingrove Round Barn," that was our first clue, and thus no surprise to learn that Santa Rosa is actually home to not one, but two well-preserved round barns--make that three, if you stretch the parameters to include the entire Sonoma County, of which Santa Rosa is the county seat.

You just have to know Santa Rosa and the culture and ambience there to appreciate that this barn was originally part of the complex for a utopian community founded in 1875 in what once was a rural area well outside the city limits of Santa Rosa. The barn itself was built in 1899, as part of the winery established by the Fountaingrove community. It was built by a contractor from nearby Napa, John Clark Lindsay, under the direction of the community's second leader, known by his alias as Nagasawa Kanaye—one of America's first Japanese immigrants, who ironically came here from New York, as a protege of the poet who established the Fountaingrove community.

Though classified as a round barn, the structure left behind by the utopian community is actually a sixteen-sided building, now owned by the same corporation operating the hotel in which we stayed. Though the sign on the side of the building was apparently placed there in the 1990s, it is hard to tell whether any further work has been done on the project to convert it to more modern uses. Right now, it just looks like a relic preserved for all to view—if they can spot it amidst the trees on the hillside—as they rush by on the many roads nearby, built to accommodate the rapidly-expanding borders of the city which now claims it as part of their own heritage.

Above: photographs of the Fountaingrove Round Barn, now part of the city of Santa Rosa in northern California; both photographs courtesy of Chris Stevens. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Matrilineal Tiptoe

It's a struggle to find my way backwards through my matrilineal line, once I hit that brick wall of my third great grandmother, Mary Taliaferro Rainey. For one thing, her lifespan sits squarely astride the great divide of the 1850 census: married and out of her father's household from 1850 onward, no names on census records except heads of households prior to that point.

However, from that discovery in the 1870 census, showing my third great grandmother in the Georgia household of one Charles and Mildred Taliaferro, it is possible to infer who her parents might have been. This, of course, allows us to tentatively proceed with assuming the makeup of my matrilineal line before this stopping point.

We've been over this routine before, of course—but that was back when we last slammed into that brick wall. Not knowing for sure, I felt stymied, and left well enough alone (barring some irresistible rabbit trail snares which you know I followed).

That was then. Now, I need to somehow pick up the trail and move forward, so it's time for a recap. Here's where we are:
  • We assume (for the time being, or at least until finding something to disprove this well-founded assumption) that Mary Taliaferro Rainey, Thomas Rainey's wife, was my third great grandmother's mother. We've already spent a painstakingly long time examining that possibility.
  • That Mary, in turn, would be daughter of Warren Taliaferro and his wife, Mary Meriwether Gilmer—as well as sister of their son Charles Boutwell Taliaferro in whose household, after her death, her two children, Thomas and my Mary, lived during the 1870 census.
  • Mary Meriwether Gilmer was daughter of Thomas Meriwether Gilmer and Elizabeth Lewis—she of the surname that just made me chase down that rabbit trail that led to confirming me as umpteenth cousin to explorer Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame.
  • Elizabeth Lewis, in turn, was daughter of Thomas Lewis and his wife, Jane Strother.
  • Jane, with a lifespan stretching from 1732 to 1820 in Virginia, now becomes my new brick wall ancestor.
There's no use bemoaning my fate at the foot of yet another brick wall, however. For each of these women, I need to trace back down the line—a reverse genealogy—of each daughter of each mother, to see if there is any nexus with my exact match mtDNA mystery cousin.

There's still plenty of work to do before I find myself idling at the foot of this brick wall.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Brick Walls Blocking
the Matrilineal Express

It's been a week, now, since I was reminded of my task to push further on my matrilineal line—that mother's mother's mother's line of ancestors measured in the mtDNA test. The odd thing is that I've sputtered through that assignment so many times, struggling with those brick wall ancestors who refuse to reveal their true documentation, that I can't remember what I've covered so far, and what needs further research.

So, to help keep tabs, we'll take today and tomorrow to review the situation. Then we'll see if there are any promising branches of that line which might yield a connection with my mystery cousin's birth family.

Today's review starts with my maternal grandmother, that same Rubie McClellan whose photos shared with me last week nudged me to revisit this part of my family history research.

Though Rubie Broyles McClellan grew up in Fort Meade, Florida, she was born near the northeast Tennessee home of her mother, Sarah Ann Broyles. It was through Rubie's maternal grandfather, Thomas Taliaferro Broyles, that I have been able to become part of Daughters of the American Revolution, for his maternal grandfather was a Taliaferro from Virginia—but that's a story to review on another day. For this go-round, we need to stick strictly to my matrilineal line.

The state-hopping from Florida to Tennessee didn't end with Rubie's mother Sarah. Sarah's own mother came from yet another state: Georgia. I had heard from my mother that her great-grandmother, Mary Rainey, had been adopted, and when I turned to the census records to see what could be found, I did locate her in someone else's household. That household, however, happened to be headed by someone with a familiar surname—Taliaferro—as well as contain another surname linked to our family, Broyles. Since it was the 1870 census—in which no relationships were noted among household members—I took a gamble in assuming the Mary Rainey and Thomas Rainey listed there were siblings, and went looking for verification in the previous census.

I found a promising entry in the Georgia household of one widow named Mary "Raney" in 1860, and then one with the complete Thomas Rainey family unit for the 1850 census, as well (sans the daughter Mary, who had not yet been born).

With the discovery of those entries, it brought me back to my third great grandmother, Mary Taliaferro Rainey, and another brick wall. If it had also revealed the nexus with my "exact match" mtDNA mystery cousin, it would have sufficed me. But, of course, these stories never conclude with such tidy arrangements—which is why we'll have to delve into yet another generation's tangled story. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

To Be Expected

What happens when you discard all other activities and focus on one solitary goal? Why, something gets accomplished, of course!

I've been so consumed with this mtDNA test challenge: to find the nexus with my "exact match" mystery cousin. Of course, it didn't hurt any that he had the opportunity, last week, to travel to meet a number of relatives in his extended family—people he may only have seen last, within days of his birth. He's come away from that visit with a list of possible names to help build out that family tree a few more generations. Maybe, just maybe, all it will take might be pushing the envelope back just those one or two generations more.

In the meantime, I've stepped up my game as well. In the past two weeks, it seems I couldn't do anything else but work on my maternal tree. (And you thought the only reason I was posting those B-ball pics from a hundred years ago was for the curiosity of the uniforms...)

I will be getting back to that matrilineal research saga next week. But first, of course, it's time for a little accountability in the form of those bi-monthly stats.

It will be no surprise to learn that, thanks to all that focus, I've come to a virtual stand-still on the other trees I've been researching. So, that means zero progress on my paternal line (still standing at 150 names in the tree and, regrettably, zero DNA contacts). Same thing goes for both of my husband's lines (his maternal side toes the line at 2,375 individuals and his paternal line languishes at the same 917 names it's been holding with since the middle of October, neither with any advances on the DNA matching front).

On the other hand, all eggs were put into that one basket, so to speak, propelling the count in my maternal tree to 6,137 names, an advance in the last two weeks of 272 additional entries—all, incidentally, duly confirmed with multiple forms of documentation, thanks to the accessibility of online researching programs.

What's been really exciting—which I'll explain in more detail next week—is that much of what I've uncovered was a branch of the family whose migratory path passed through Kentucky, the very same location to which my adoptee cousin's family history has led him. I hadn't even thought there was a possibility of a connection there, as none of my oral family history stories had mentioned anything of family being in Kentucky, but when you realize the path to confirm mtDNA results is not necessarily the same as pursuing the direct line of one's own family history, it begins to make more sense. What matters in this case is the divergent path of two sisters, somehow placed on the trajectory of the mother's mother's mother's line. Any daughter on that line can be the beginning of an entirely different family history than the one passed down in my own family's story. As long as it includes a biological connection between a mother and daughter—repeated down through the ages—it will still allow a very specialized sort of cousin matching to take place.

Let's just hope the connection occurs before we run out of genealogical documentation resources...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

When the Unthinkable Happens . . .

Sometimes, the mind refuses to focus. How can writing possibly flow from that?

I was so overjoyed for a fellow geneablogger when I learned of her "adventure" approaching this November: a two week trip to Paris. Of course, wifi accessibility permitting, she was planning to post to her blog as she traveled. After all, that is what bloggers do, is it not?

I had first met this fellow blogger online, of course, but since we both claim California as our resident state, we each found ourselves planning to attend the same genealogical conference last summer. Moving from virtual friendship to reality, we made plans to meet in person.

The way I actually met Elise Ann Wormuth, the blogger behind Living in the Past: A Family History, face to face turned out to be quite endearing. We had planned to sit together at the luncheon presentation on the first day of the DNA conference at the Southern California Jamboree. Of course, I ended up talking to someone in the hallway on the way to lunch, and was late. By the time I arrived at the banquet room, it looked like every seat had already been claimed.

Then, I spotted this woman, about halfway up the room, waving a sign with my name on it. It was Elise. She had been watching for me all that time.

How can you forget a person like that? Of course, I read her blog and occasionally interact with her on social media. But that is just plain vanilla virtual reality. A vignette like that first impression of a stranger, met over lunch, goes so much farther than the game face we wear when we're trawling around on our favorite Internet sites.

And so, it was with a pit-of-the-stomach twinge of apprehension that I realized, today, upon hearing the horrific report on international news, that a piece of my world really has touched the very spot where so much pain has just been suffered.

I couldn't help but think of Elise's weary-traveler report, after touching down at the Charles de Gaulle airport just the other day, and her later (but thankfully cheerier and less sleep-deprived) report, posted on the very day in which the attacks were later to happen, after a day about town.

But what I really want to read is her report today. For there not to be a post today would be unbearable. I realize Paris is a city of over two million people, and while the sudden loss of over one hundred fifty lives is shocking, Elise and her party may be far removed from those parts of Paris where so many lost their lives in this tragedy.

Or not.

While Elise certainly didn't write it this way—nor did she ever dream it would happen, I'm sure—this is the type of cliff-hanger post that I'm struggling to hold on for.

Above: "Peace for Paris," image created by French graphic designer Jean Jullien and shared on his Twitter feed yesterday. Becoming an expression of universal solidarity, it has already received fourteen thousand "likes" and has been retweeted well over twenty two thousand times.


Friday, November 13, 2015

The Guys Get Their Turn

Somehow, looking at the photo of the Fort Meade, Florida, boys' basketball team from one hundred years ago, it doesn't seem as dated as the one we saw yesterday for the girls' team.

While the primary difference, for me at least, is that there is no one on the boys' team from our McClellan family—apparently, Rubie's brother Charles was not on the school's team—I thought I'd still share the photo and its companion list of names, in case someone else spots a family member. (If that is you, please don't pass silently into the cyber-night; leave a comment! We'd love to hear about your relative, who almost certainly would be either a neighbor of my relatives or a friend of my grandmother.)

As was true for the photo I posted yesterday, these pictures came to me, courtesy of the Fort Meade, Florida, Historical Society and Museum. They, in turn, received them from my mother's cousin, who had donated them to the museum. Full circle, indeed!

Above: The Fort Meade, Florida, Boys' Basketball Team, circa 1915, as numbered:

1). Frank Scaggs - Forward
2). Lamar Davis - Sub. Player
3). Theodore (Red) Hart - Forward
4). Bill Enzor - Guard
5). James Barrow - Center
6). Pat Neugent - Guard (Captain)

All the above are transcribed from the list found on the reverse of the team photograph. I'm pretty sure that is my grandmother's handwriting—although a little more girlish than I remember it being. She was, however, always careful to label photos, going so far, in later life, as to mark her children's photos with not only the age in years but also in months (and sometimes days). Talk about being detail-oriented!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Some Things DO Change Over Time

Imagine playing basketball in a dress.

If you were on the girls' b-ball team at school, back a hundred years ago, you would be.

Incredible? I have it in a photograph. They sure did. Or at least culottes. No telling how well they played, but play they did.

Thanks to that set of pictures sent to me from the Fort Meade, Florida, Historical Society and Museum, one is clearly labeled with all the names on the girls' team, including the position each girl played.

On the off chance that someone will be googling their grandmother's name, I'll include the list below. One never knows.

Unfortunately, though, the photograph is quite pixel-y. I can barely make out the outline of my grandmother's face (Rubie McClellan on the far left in the back row)—although some of the players in the front row are more clear. We really are spoiled, now, by the technology we take for granted.

Above: The Fort Meade, Florida, Girls' Basketball team, circa 1915, as numbered:
1). Rubie McClellan - Guard
2). Thelma Smith - Sub. Forward
3). Mildred Fancy - Sub. Jumping Center
4). Marian Yearwood - Running Center
5). Carrie Lightsey - Forward
6). Alma Hattaway - Sub. Running Center
7). Emma Arnold - Guard
8). Lalla Davis - Forward
9). Billie Williams - Jumping Center (Captain)
10). Wilma Dampier - Sub. Forward

All above as labeled on the reverse of the photograph, appearing to be in my grandmother's hand:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On the Eleventh

A commemoration sparked by an event occurring on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month sounds much less sobering to us today than it must have been, subsequent to that original cease fire in 1918. A time to revel in the end of the horrifying "War to End All Wars," it received its first designation as Armistice Day in 1919.

The British beat us to it—owing partly to their head start via time zones—conducting the world's first official observance at Buckingham Palace on November 11, 1919. With President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation later that same day, the United States joined other Allied nations in recognizing "the heroism of those who died in the country's service."

Following the war after the War to End All Wars, a World War II veteran led a delegation that met with then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower, urging Americans to expand the holiday to encompass recognition of all veterans, not just those who died during the first World War. After becoming president—and eight years after the first push to re-envision the commemoration—General Eisenhower signed a bill into law, establishing the day as a national holiday. In the same year—1954—Congress also changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

That hasn't been the end of all wars, of course. Neither has it been the end of seeing our nation's sons and daughters do their part in serving our country in the branches of our military. Collectively, we are commemorating an untold number of veterans—both those still with us, and those upon whose graves we place wreaths of remembrance.

Though our own family has members who have served in the military—those reading along here at A Family Tapestry for the long term will remember Frank Stevens' letters home from the Pacific during World War II—they have mostly been relatives on my husband's side of the family. While I have a grand-uncle and a cousin who served in the Air Force, none in my direct line were of an age to serve during the first or second World War. Because of that, while exceedingly grateful for the sacrifices of others, I am not sensitized to the experience of having someone close serve during war time. I can, however, appreciate how harrowing that must have felt for family members back home during times of international conflict.

Whether you've lived through the years when loved ones went far across oceans to serve our country—and, perhaps, never returned home again—or never lived through those eras, yourself, that service provided by our veterans has touched us all. And made a difference. One for which we can all be grateful.

Above: General John J. Pershing salutes at White House on Armistice Day circa 1938; photograph from the Harris and Ewing Collection, courtesy United States Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Same Kid Look
In Hundred Year Old School Photos

The hair bows may not look the same, but the idea hasn't really changed that much: line up the class in front of the school building, stick the teacher to one side, and snap the picture. Never mind that this photo is over a hundred years old, or that it took place in Florida instead of my own New York, or my daughter's California. I can see in my fair complected maternal grandmother's squinty expression the same struggle I still face in the sunlight. That DNA runs strong.

The minute we saw this photograph for the first time—it arrived via email this week from the Fort Meade Historical Society and Museum—we laughed to see the pixel-y replica of the same in-the-sunlight facial expression we knew so well from my mother and my aunt. If the photo had been more clear, perhaps it would have been a snap to see the same in photos from my own school days. It's amazing how these details stay so constant, generation after generation.

The reminder is quite timely, in fact. It was this past weekend that I resolved to dig out all my work, pondering the connection with my mystery cousin—the adoptee whose mtDNA test fixed him with me at an exact matching level. Somehow, he and I share a mother's mother's mother—somewhere back there through who knows how many generations—that is our most recent common ancestor.

Only we can't yet find that supposed common ancestor. We've checked, believe me. We're both back to the early 1800s in our independent reckoning, and neither of us has turned up a surname that connects with the other's matrilineal line.

Yet, if the science is right—and it sure seems to be gathering convincing evidence that it is—the two of us are connected. Somewhere, that is, between now and, oh, about a thousand years' worth of genealogical calculations.

Just like that squinty expression shared by my maternal line, the ability to focus intensely on a project may be another shared genetic trait—and it may just be a trait shared back through several more generations, too. Thanks to that persistence, this week may have provided a breakthrough, for him and for me.

Promising myself to focus on those matrilineal lines, I've been working on branches for which I had only question marks before—but thankfully am now finding further clues.

And my mystery cousin? He is right now on a trip to meet the extended family of his birth mother, the woman he met, incredibly, back at the beginning of this year. Along with the people he's meeting, he's gathering family histories and data passed down through the family. Some of the details he's finding are actually gaining him some genealogical traction. There's that laser-like focus showing. Hopefully, when he returns home and we compare notes on our latest finds, it will soon reveal that name we share in our family's trees.

Above: The Fort Meade, Florida, grade school class, circa 1910, which included my grandmother, Rubie McClellan (top row, third from left) and her brother Charles (front row, third from left). 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Beautiful Babies of Bygone Years

It was while I was holding my own beautiful baby that someone said, "Don't blink; she'll be grown before you know it." And that's the way it's been.

I suppose the same might have been said to Sarah Broyles McClellan, just after the arrival of her third and last child, William Helms McClellan, a little over one hundred years ago. Still, she made the decision that led to preserving his small spot in local history, ever since his photo debut in the Fort Meade, Florida, Annual Baby Contest.

Who knows how Bill—or Mac, as he came to be called in adulthood—might have felt about the honor. After all, he did win the contest in 1916. But those are the kinds of accolades one can't outgrow fast enough.

After growing up in Fort Meade—well, at least until his father, Rupert Charles McClellan, decided to move his dental practice to the much larger city of Tampa—Bill eventually served in World War II in the United States Army Air Force, and was also an Air Force veteran of the Korean conflict, attaining the rank of senior master sergeant.

In civilian life, he was employed by the Pasco County, Florida, Sheriff's Department, and also kept up his military association through membership in the Air Force Sergeants' Association.

Still, one has to wonder how a man like that might have felt about starting life off as the Beautiful Baby Photo Contest winner for his hometown. Was that the deep, dark secret he was compelled to hide from his closest childhood friends? Would the guys have laughed him to scorn?

Perhaps it was a mom thing. And despite the perennial "Aw, mom" complains uttered over the centuries by growing boys, for some reason Bill McClellan never gave up the photo which eventually came to be in his possession at the passing of his parents.

How do I know? The photo was sent to me by the Fort Meade Historical Society, which in turn received it from Bill's daughter.

And where do you suppose she had gotten it?

From the blushing son of a proud mama who just knew he was a beautiful baby.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Matrilineal Management

Anniversary dates can sometimes be subtle reminders of family now gone, but other times, they can just about smack you upside the head.

The other day, in our rush to get out of town, we almost missed a delightful email from someone we hadn't seen since last August. The email contained photographs and scans of handwritten notes—something I wanted to take more time to examine, once we made it to our destination. But because of the contents, I also wanted to connect with my mother's cousin. I knew she would want to see what I had just received.

Before heading out the front door, I tried forwarding the email—complete with those photos, of course—but apparently, had the wrong address. The email was promptly sent back to me with the twenty-first century equivalent of "addressee unknown" stamped boldly across the cover page.

"Oh, well, I'll call her when I'm on the road," I reasoned, and got on with packing and shipping that luggage out the door.

Being that I'm on the west coast and she is on the opposite side of the country, I caught her—I promise, I didn't plan this—right as she and her husband were sitting down to dinner. Isn't that just how such phone calls are destined to be? I quickly told her my mission—to snag an updated version of her email address—and tried to let her go.

"But what was in the email?" she protested. Cold dinner or no, she wanted to know.

Doing a quick mental tabulation, I realized that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that there were five scans included in the email. I hardly wanted to be the five thousand word cause of a delicious home-cooked meal going cold, and tried to assure her she would see for herself, as soon as we drove through the hills and arrived at our destination.

That didn't satisfy her. And so, I had to tell her the whole five thousand words' worth of story.

It actually didn't take that long. I explained that the email I had received was from the people we had met on our Florida trip, when we stopped at the Fort Meade Historical Society and Museum to search for any sign of our McClellan family in their treasures. Then, I began describing the photos I received.

I started with the first one—a photograph of a baby displayed in the artistic wrappings of a turn of the century blanket. The minute I told her that baby had won the "Beautiful Baby" award for 1916, she interrupted with gusto. That baby was her father, William Helms McClellan, born in 1915 and raised—at least in his early years—in the tiny municipality of Fort Meade while his father served as the town's dentist and, for a while, as their mayor as well.

Not only was my cousin a good guesser—figuring out the photo was of her father—but she had an additional surprise. Those were the very photographs she had donated to the museum a few years back. Now, somehow, they had made their way to me.

That little revelation stuck with me over the next few days. I started thinking of all the unfinished business on my matrilineal line—some of which I had deliberately put on hold until I could return to Florida to do further research, this time in the state archives and on site at the family's properties—and decided maybe now would be a good time to do some cleanup.

Then, wafting in to settle upon that introductory decision came thoughts of another matrilineal duty I've been neglecting: pursuit of the nexus with my mystery cousin, the adoptee who turned out to be one of my only two exact matches on my mtDNA test (the other match being, not helpfully, also an adoptee). My mystery cousin and I have both been pushing back on our matrilineal lines (now that he's met his birth mother), and though we've made it to the early 1800s, have yet to discover who that "most recent common ancestor" might have been.

Perhaps it's time to start back to work on my matrilineal line, I thought.

Something kept on lingering, though. And then I realized why my mind couldn't let go of this part of my family tree: it's November now. And that reminded me of that anniversary date. No wonder my mind has been circling around that maternal line. It's my mother's sister who died just two years ago in early November.

I took a look at Find A Grave to make sure of the date, and to my horror realized that my aunt's entry wasn't even there. I double checked on the cemetery listings, and while I could find my grandparents, I couldn't find my aunt.

Add another task to that matrilineal to-do list. Not only to add the entry, but to pull up my copy of the headstone photo. Those Find A Grave volunteers aren't just the ones "out there" doing the work. Those volunteers include people like you and me. We need to do this stuff, too.

I had been working on that matrilineal family tree behind the scenes, here and there, cleaning up shaky leafed hints where I found them, and, when finding old genealogical books with more information, tentatively adding names to the mix—pending adequate documentation, of course—but maybe now is the time to get back to examining that tree in earnest. Maybe it is a female descendant from yet an earlier generation who will be the key to that matrilineal match with my mystery cousin.

With fresh thoughts of our most recently lost member of that matrilineal line, perhaps now is the time to do so. In memoriam.

two sisters at their grandparents home in Tampa Florida in the mid 1930s

Above: Two sisters share a moment on the front steps of their maternal grandparents' home in Tampa, Florida, circa the mid 1930s; photograph from the private collection of the author.
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