Thursday, December 31, 2015

For Auld Lang Syne

At long last, we've come to those final, fleeting moments of the year. At the stroke of midnight tonight, we kiss goodbye 2015 and welcome with open arms the promise of 2016.

Not that this day won't be spent in some last-minute scurrying. There are the hard-working students and teachers who, realizing their last chance to sleep in and laze around is rapidly coming to a close, are diligently resisting all familial efforts to catapult them out of bed until after noontime. On the other hand, there are the Scrooges among us who have waited to the last moment to bestow their largess upon well-deserving charities, in hopes of bettering their tax standing with impeccable timing; for them, the race is on to beat the clock's midnight stroke.

And then, there are those of us who, realizing this is the last chance they'll have to buy the software that will enable them to download all of their data from their tree(s), are in panic-stricken buying mode, trying to locate any leftover copies of Family Tree Maker before it becomes obsolete.

Or not.

The great majority of the rest of the world goes on, oblivious of such personal dramas. And they, as do each of us, likely find their mind centering on those acquaintances, young and old, long-standing or just-met, who have made the difference to them despite this past year's angst. It is those friends-who-stick-closer-than-a-brother—as well as some real brothers and sisters—who make life shine brighter for us.

Some of those acquaintances, of course, are the kind faces that flood our memory. We never want to forget them. Others, however, at least in this digital age, are friends without faces we've ever seen face-to-face—except, perhaps, as pictures shared on social media, or a blog, or other electronic means of communication.

Though you and I—with rare exceptions—have never met, if you are a regular here at A Family Tapestry, you are among those acquaintances I'm warmly including in this reminiscence of the past year. Thank you for being there—reading, commenting, sharing thoughts and passing along links. May you have a bright year ahead of you, attain the goals you've been striving for, and rest in the warmth of friendship and family—both close at hand and brought close by the wonders of the technology at our fingertips.

For old times' sake.

Above: "Sledding on a sunny winter day," oil on canvas by German landscape painter, Walter Moras; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Time to Meet the Family

If we were to wind the clock backwards on fugitive John Hogue, at this critical juncture in his criminal career, and step far beyond the "prominent Kanawha Valley family" the Winnipeg newspaper insisted was his heritage, would it have been a surprise to discover that this convicted murderer could claim as his second great grandfather the fourth—and even now the longest-serving—Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court?

The man holding those honors was, of course, John Marshall, whose name and significance is recognized in this country today, even though he held that esteemed position from 1801 until his death in 1835. The line of descent connecting him to that unfortunate relative awaiting his appeal in a 1917 jail cell in Windsor, Ontario, also wound its way through the Harvie family, of which I have several relationships, myself.

John Marshall's only daughter, Mary Marshall, married Major General Jacquelin Burwell Harvie. Among their children was a daughter, Virginia, who married a doctor, Spicer Patrick, who eventually settled with his family in Charleston, West Virginia. One of those children was their daughter, Susan Harvie Patrick, born in Virginia in 1854, but married in Kanawha County, West Virginia, in October of 1872.

This is where the family story encounters a slight complication. Though married in 1872, by the time of the 1880 census, Susan was back in her parents' home—along with two of her three children. The oldest of the children, it turns out, was enumerated at his uncle's residence. Susan's husband had apparently died within that same year.

Not long after—September 3, 1884, to be exact—Susan married John Syme Hogue, a Charleston civil engineer held in high esteem in his community. With her second husband, she had four children, naming her eldest after his father.

This child, born in 1885, became that same John Hogue who, by 1916, had been wanted in a half dozen cities for engineering feats of a very different sort. Why he didn't follow in the occupational footsteps of his father—or, for that matter, his next-younger brother Andrew—I'm not entirely sure.

What I can be fairly certain of, though, is that his brother Andrew maintained just the right sort of networking connections to insure one was still seen as a respectable member of the community. Enough, that is, to be able to enlist the support of the state's governor in his quest to disentangle his brother from the mess into which he had ensnared himself in that escapade up in Canada.

Above: Genealogical Chart of the Marshall Family, produced circa 1900, which is displayed on a downstairs wall of the family's Richmond, Virginia, home. Showing descendants of John Marshall and his siblings, out to the level of their great-grandchildren, it can be better viewed here, courtesy of Wikipedia, by clicking on the image in the media viewer, then enlarging it to better read the details.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Teetering on Technicalities

Remember that saying, "Have his day in court?" Perhaps no one today takes that as a serious measurement of a legal timeline. Back in March, 1917, though, the provincial courts of Ontario may have taken that concept more literally.

While the trial of the suspected murderer of Canadian immigration officer William Jackson may have seemed like an open-and-shut case, a mere one day's hearing in court may have been a bit too brief for propriety's sake.

By the time the verdict was announced—guilty—followed all on the same day by the sentencing, the various newspapers covering the process across both Canada and the United States all had their take on what was to follow next. Ontario law in 1917 provided two sentencing options in such a case: death on the gallows or life imprisonment. Ontario Supreme Court presiding justice Sutherland opted for the more swift and final penalty, and scheduled its implementation for May 17—barely two months after the case was tried in his court.

For one thing, The Wisconsin State Journal—still miffed about the robbery committed by this same man at the Orpheum in Madison the previous May—had continued to insist on identifying the murderer as James Stewart. Only with their March 8 coverage of the verdict did they finally admit that James Stewart was only an alias.

The Evening Chronicle in Marshall, Michigan—county seat and site for the court case to which "James Stewart" was being extradited for his safe-cracking crime in nearby Battle Creek—was a little faster on the uptake, publicly admitting that James Stewart was merely an alias with their coverage on February 27. They still got the real name wrong in that article, though, fingering him to be James Hogue.

The Manitoba Free Press, back in Winnipeg where this whole extradition process began that January, finally got it right when, in their March 25 report, they announced the murderer's correct name—although altering the date for his execution, moving it up to May 10.

It had been as early as March 8—barely the day after the trial—when the convicted murderer's attorney began preparations to appeal his client's case. He felt there were grounds to do so: his contention that the presiding judge had failed to properly instruct the jury "in detail" on the concept of "culpable homicide."

Perhaps he had a point. Likely inherent in the case was the suspect's contention that the gun used in committing the crime was unpredictable—a hair-trigger response when first handled, but, as was readily evident when used the second time in the face of his impending arrest, unable to be fired at all.

No matter what the grounds for that original decision to appeal the verdict, it was through what unfolded in the process to secure that retrial that confirmed the suspect's real identity. For by the end of that same month, back in his hometown of Charleston, West Virginia, the suspect's brother had begun the process to intercede on behalf of his wayward sibling. It was Andrew Hogue who, enlisting the influence of his state's chief executive, Governor John J. Cornwall, hoped to have a new trial granted for his brother—whose name was not James at all, but actually John Hogue.

As the Winnipeg newspaper explained how things really were, back home in West Virginia, "John Hogue is a member of a prominent Kanawha Valley family."

Above: "Jeune homme à la fenêtre" (Young Man at the Window), 1875 oil on canvas by French Impressionist, Gustave Caillebotte; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Seeking Swift Justice

What do you do when you stumble upon the fact that someone in your family tree had a colorful—or downright infamous—past? You follow the trail, of course.

That was what we began to do in the week leading up to Christmas—until the holidays insisted we set aside the series—with the story of a man known as John Hogue. No, James Gordon. No, James Stewart. Or maybe it was James Emmerson.

Whoever he really was, he had a penchant for switching surnames to go with that "James" moniker. And no matter who he was, he was now arrested for having shot a Canadian immigration officer who was in the process of escorting him back to the United States, where he was to stand trial for safe cracking in Michigan.

That was on January 27, 1917. It was no time at all when he appeared before the local magistrate in Windsor, then at a preliminary hearing on February 2. His case was to be tried before the Ontario Supreme Court, beginning on March 5, with Justice R. Sutherland presiding.

After the formalities of jury selection, the proceedings began in earnest at 9:30 on the morning of March 7.

I don't know whether the term "swift justice" was meant to be this literal, but by 5:00 that same evening, the jury retired to begin their deliberations. That, too, took surprisingly little time, and the jury returned later that same evening to announce their verdict.

Within minutes, the suspect was under sentence: he would die on the gallows on May 17.

Above: "A Backstreet in the Snow," 1895 watercolor by Irish impressionist landscape painter Walter Frederick Osborne; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Last Tally for 2015

Since the end of February, back at the beginning of this year, I've made sure to keep a count of my progress on the four family lines I've been researching. Twice a month, I've posted that tally—checking how many additional relatives have been added to my paternal and maternal trees, as well as those of my husband's parents.

Granted, twice a month is not the same as every two weeks. Sometimes, there's been a greater grace period between tallies. Like this month, when the holiday rush made it much more feasible to check that last count of the year after Christmas, rather than before the big day.

Of course, that helps me end the year with an extra large helping of time—which will either result in an encouragingly large leap forward...or disguise a woeful lack of progress. I'll let you be the judge.

Unlike last month, when total focus on my maternal line—in hopes of uncovering that nexus with my mystery cousin at long last—eclipsed any progress on the other three lines I'm seeking, this month saw a bit of a backlash. I spent more time on my mother-in-law's line, mainly in hopes of resolving a number of DNA matches. And yet, after all that work, I still don't know anything more about how my husband matches these other people.

For better or for worse, here are my numbers for the second half of December.

On my maternal line, I pushed ahead with the addition of 163 ancestors and their relatives to my genealogy database, bringing the total to 6,868. Admittedly not as stellar as the nearly 600 I had added for the previous report, but progress is progress—even if only adding one solitary name. I contacted one additional DNA match—though we are still puzzling over what connection we might share—out of the eight more matches I've received, bringing my total number of DNA matches to 975. My most recent match occurred on the twentieth; considering the holidays, I suspect there won't be many more until things return to normal, non-holiday mode in January.

As has been the case for months, there are no additions to my paternal tree—nor to my DNA matches on the paternal side. I haven't had any matches to my father's line since July 13. Considering the small size of the family and their name-changing, puzzling history, I doubt I'll make much headway for several more months.

That's been the case on my husband's paternal line, as well, though I'd like to see it progress more. I keep hoping for someone in Ireland or Canada to test and turn out to be a match. Looks like I'll have to keep hoping.

The pace has quickened on my mother-in-law's line, though. This is thanks to a number of reasons. For one thing, joining the D.A.R. has spurred me on to seek out documentation on those patriot lines I know would make my sisters-in-law eligible for membership. In addition, I've stumbled upon another branch in their Ijams line—a large family which, moving from Ohio to Iowa, seemed to successfully pass along that large-family tendency down through the generations.

Thanks to all that, I've been able to add 229 names to the database, bringing the total on my mother-in-law's line to 2,632. With the addition of nine DNA matches through December 21, there are now a total of 568. I've been corresponding with one additional potential second cousin about just how she matches that line—while we've yet to make the connection, I'm sure we'll arrive at a conclusion soon.

While it seems so incremental to track this progress twice each month, when I look back to the beginning of this record-keeping segment, the long view makes for an encouraging thought. When I started in February, I had less than 1400 names in my maternal tree, 143 in my paternal tree, less than 700 in my husband's paternal tree, and barely 900 in his maternal tree. Now, the numbers stand at 6,868 for my maternal, 150 for my paternal, 923 for my husband's paternal and 2,632 for his maternal tree. Taking the long view shows me that slow and steady is the best way to get to that goal—no matter what it is. But the best part is, just seeing those numbers go up, week after week, provides the encouragement that fuels the progress even more.

Yeah, I know that constantly rising numbers are an unreasonable hope. At some point, the rising arc will stagger under the impossibility of an infinite winning streak. And even if they did keep going up, it wouldn't guarantee that I'd meet my real goal: to find the nexus with my mystery cousin.

But in the wake of all this progress, I'll leave a data stream rich with details that will help numerous other DNA-matching cousins find out just how we connect. Even if I lose one, I'll win so many others.

Above: "In Deep Winter," oil on canvas by Austrian industrialist and landscape painter, Richard von Drasche-Wartinberg; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Today may be the day after Christmas to you, but for me, it begins my most favorite week of the year.

Perhaps it is owing to all those years spent growing up back east. Here, where I now have managed to escape all that snow, a White Christmas is out of the question, so no one gives it any thought. The official start of Christmas, a la California, begins before the crack of dawn on Black Friday. Consequently, if you were to take a noontime break from your festivities on Christmas day to drive into town, you might encounter a few already-stripped Christmas trees unceremoniously discarded by the roadside, awaiting the next day's trash pickup.

Back east, though, where the possibility of a White Christmas loomed much larger, it actually looked like Christmas, even on the day after. Or the week after. Actually, make that the entire month afterwards. Back in New York, Christmas actually had an afterglow.

That was the week when, freed from the constraints of school teachers and homework assignments, grade school children could make forts and tunnels out of the snow in preparation for the inevitable snowball fight. When it got too cold, they could shed their snow-soaked winter togs and curl up with a cup of hot chocolate and imagine far-off worlds while playing with their new toys.

It was a dreamy time. And I never outgrew it. I may have developed an unhealthy distaste for the snow—adulthood's shoveling chores tend to sour one on the prospect of more snow—but I haven't forgotten the magical week when the mellowness of Christmas still lingers.

This is the week when I didn't mind not taking the week off from work, for even behind my desk, the Christmas mood permeated every task. It became my week to gear up for the new year—set out plans in the new year's calendar, organize folders, connect with coworkers and associates I hadn't had time to reach out to during the rest of the year's hectic blur.

Even though I no longer work away from home, it was easy to carry that habit with me. The serenity that seems to radiate from the Christmas just past helps to center the mind and open it to anticipate big things for the year ahead—stuff on which anyone could thrive.

In that atmosphere, I pull that east coast Christmas cocoon just a bit closer to me. Even though I no longer am surrounded by the snow—the excuse the other side of the country uses to continue its holiday celebration—I still play those Christmas carols. I still enjoy that warm cup of mulled cider. I curl up with one of the books my thoughtful husband and daughter surprised me with, just the day before. And I imagine the possibilities for the upcoming year.

It occurred to me the other day that perhaps that very mood of this favorite week of the year is why I chose a certain song as my favorite Christmas carol, year after year. Its classic English beauty—music set by composer Gustav Holst, with lyrics by poet Christina Rossetti—is augmented by its presentation by the Gloucester Cathedral Choir.

If you don't mind savoring another Christmas carol—despite it being the day afterwards—please join me in enjoying In the Bleak Midwinter and see if it doesn't recapture that old-fashioned lingering Christmas mood for you, too.

A note, if you are reading this post via email (rather than on the Internet): If the embedded video does not show up for you, you may view the choir singing by clicking here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Photo Finish

It's Christmas day. While some children may be saying, "Finally," I'm just glad I got to the finish line before the clock ticked past the midnight mark. I can remember wrapping those last few packages way after that time, some years.

There's something about a lifestyle so full that we can't squeeze anything else into our schedule—not even Christmas. Never mind that we get plenty of advance notice—we can, after all, plan on next Christmas falling on December 25, 2016—there never seems to be enough time to finish up all those details.

Perhaps it's a time-morphing conspiracy. I always think I'm going to get way more done in a day than actually turns out to be true. I am certain it is the fault of some mad scientist in control of a vast time machine—but I'm afraid to pull back the curtain and face up to just who that conjurer really is.

I have a friend who has lately been bemoaning how her busy-ness has precluded engaging in the stuff she likes to do. "I need some me time," she complained. The solution? She scheduled one day a week to serve that very thing.

"But you're retired," I wanted to point out. "You can do anything you want all the time."

We take our work-week frenzy home with us, on vacation with us, even into retirement. While we may blame it on the boss, peer pressure, expectations from "them," or any host of others, perhaps we've just swallowed a lifestyle whole, and haven't realized it. We do it to ourselves.

Since I am into family history—who all the people were that made me into who I am, what they were like, and how they received the life story that made them who they are—I sometimes wonder how much of life's frenzy had actually been inherited. Is it in our DNA? Is it a gift of an unmet second great grandfather that I have musical inclinations? Who gave me my singing voice? Does that then mean that my ancestors obsessed with study of law and politics have shackled me with the same interests?

Who's the one who made me constantly rush to meet all those deadlines? That's what I want to know!

While wrapping those last minute packages yesterday—including one I bought last June and forgot about until, thankfully, last night—I got to wondering whether it might be my ancestors whom I have to thank for the "just so" holiday compulsions I've inherited. Who was it who had to have every edge of the wrapping paper folded back before finishing off the job with double-sticky tape? I'm fairly certain I can blame my Depression-era ancestors for that "recycling" urge to re-use boxes year after year—meaning, of course, having to put up with storing them away until the next Big Event. I might as well be saving rubber bands. I am a child of my mother. But who did she get this from?

At about that time every year, I yearn for a better way—a less thing-focused Christmas. A time free of frenzy. A moment to spend with family now, instead of being driven by the ghosts of Christmases past—and the relatives who commandeered them.

I hope, by the time you read this, you have had time to settle down from all the frantic rush to get ready. I hope you have found a contemplative moment to share with the ones who make life meaningful for you. And I hope, if you are like me, you find the inspiration to face up to what irks you about the-way-things-always-were, thank your ancestors for their well-meaning genetic input, and meld the best of the past with the tools of the future for a less frenzied approach to life.

Above: Print from 1888 painting by German artist Ludwig Blume-Siebert, "Ein Herzensgeschenk" ("A Heart Gift"); courtesty Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Blog Caroling 2015:
The Genealogist's Christmas Carol

Every year, in ample time to be enjoyed before Christmas, a genealogy blogger of note would put out a call for fellow genea-bloggers to share in a festive digital event: Blog Caroling.

This year, however, there was no clarion call for contributions issued from its customary source. Thankfully—for we all enjoy our moment to share—a dear friend of footnoteMaven picked up the trumpet to issue the call.

As Pat Richley-Erickson—better known to some as DearMYRTLEexplained,
Our beloved colleague, and editor/publisher of Shades of the Departed, the divine footnoteMAVEN, came up with the idea of blog caroling on a winter's eve, many long years ago. This year, as gift to fM, we continue, as any good genealogist would do, by celebrating the tradition. With fM's permission, of course.

What to share of all the many holiday favorites? Something, I decided, that would match the year now passing. Unlike other years, which at their close brought sadness, this year was one of celebration. I thought of our daughter's now-finished marathon through her college education, complete with its highlight, study abroad in Ireland, and immediately wanted to feature an old Irish traditional tune.

"But what about the Amy Grant song," my daughter asked. She was thinking of Heirlooms, featured on an old Christmas album—conveniently entitled A Christmas Album—we've heard every December since before she was even born.

I didn't remember the piece—until she played it for me. Then, I recalled the melody—and Amy Grant's hallmark performance of it—quite well. But the lyrics...they never had registered, I guess. Sometimes, we hear things so many times, their meaning becomes dulled to us.

"It talks about the very things you do—sifting through the old letters, photographs, family memories," she explained.

And sure enough, once I took a look at those lyrics, I could see her point. It's just that I had never noticed it before. Never thought about it in the context of the very things that mean so much to me. Apparently, they meant just as much to the lyricist who wrote those words to this Christmas tune—a melody I'll now never hear without dubbing it, "The Genealogist's Christmas Carol."


Up in the attic
Down on my knees
Lifetimes of boxes
Timeless to me
Letters and photographs
Yellowed with years
Some bringing laughter
Some bringing tears

Time never changes
The memories, the faces Of loved ones, who bring to me
All that I come from
And all that I live for
And all that I'm going to be
My precious family
Is more than an heirloom to me

Wise men and shepherds
Down on their knees
Bringing their treasures
To lay at his feet
Who was this wonder baby yet king
Living and dying
He gave life to me

Time never changes
The memory, the moment His love first pierced through me
Telling all that I come from
And all that I live for
And all that I'm going to be
My precious savior
Is more than an heirloom to me

 My precious Jesus is more than an heirloom to me

Perhaps you've heard that tune so many times, you've lost track of the lyrics, too. Sometimes we are so much into our projects, are so deeply infused with the process, that we forget to take a step back and take it all in afresh. May this Christmas respite permit you the fresh ears and fresh eyes that bring you a fresh joy and renewed vigor for a new year.

From the cut, "Heirloom," written by Amy Grant, Brown Bannister and Bob Farrell, first appearing in the 1983 album, "The Christmas Album."


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Usual Holiday Rant

In two days, it will be Christmas. Whether we're ready for it or not.

I promised myself that this time, I would be ready. I really have the system down pat. My plans call for the Christmas card boxes to be pulled out the day after Thanksgiving—that bleak shopping no-man's-land forbidding the sane any exit from one's own residence—and with eggnog or mulled cider, accompanied by those time-honored carols, conjure up enough Christmas spirit to get me through a hundred handwritten messages.

The tree was to be purchased the first weekend of December—certainly no later than the tenth—trimmed, lit and decorated within the next day or so. It would be a lovely family affair, with each ornament's resting place chosen with care for maximum effect. The conical trimmed shape of an accompanying rosemary bush would complement the tree's effect in miniature, laid out on its golden charger on the coffee table nearby. Lights scattered among evergreens, placed on top of bookshelves, would provide a pleasing visual effect to blend with the mood-inducing scent of the fresh Noble Fir.

Of course, there would be disrupters to this seasonal timetable.

First, it was our dear daughter who, last year at this very time, was begrudgingly making her way home for the holidays from a dream semester in Ireland. About October this year, she longingly pined for Christmas in Ireland again, recalling the wonderfully un-stressed holiday there and surmising the leisurely pace was owing to willingness to haul out the Christmas decorations early and gradually.

All right, I figured, I'm game for that. I can pull out the goods in mid-November.

My "gradual" scheme was to start with the linens: change the everyday towels in the bathrooms to holiday ones before Thanksgiving. That would be my surreptitious start. I had some vaguely Christmas-y hand towels that would fill the bill, complete with Christmas sentiments—you know, the usual "Peace" and "Joy"—embroidered on the borders, each word decorated with a motif of evergreens.

That was my first hurdle: looking at those festive greetings every day. My Inner Editor struggled with this. Why? Each towel presented a different word. While some would be taken as nouns—peace and joy, for instance—when it got to "Hope," I encountered a semantic pivot point. In a quite Marie Antoinette way, one can both have hope and do it, too. But the worst of it was when I realized the collection included a towel embroidered, "Believe." Suddenly, my bathroom towel holiday cheer list was composed not simply of nouns, but verbs as well.

This would never do.

Persevere, I told myself. This was only mid-November. We still had Thanksgiving to get through, let alone Christmas. I put on my best red-nosed grin-and-bear it face and tried ignoring that blaring Inner Editor. I was doing marginally well with this approach until I spotted one more thing: while all the sprigs of evergreen sprang to the left of their holiday greeting word, one greeting had its branch stuck on the other side. Obstinate. Could it have been sending a message with that one contrary word—which happened to be "Joy"?

And so the weeks flew by. Always a list with more To-Dos than hours in which to do them. In the interest of trying out this de-stressed Christmas roll-out, a la Ireland, I thought perhaps it would be more reasonable to send out my hundred greeting cards in more modest batches on a daily basis. Rather than sit for hours on end (while guzzling unhealthy holiday drinks, I might add), I could compose those cheery greetings while stationed at my standing desk—a much more holistic touch, don't you think? Then, not only would this holiday be de-stressed, it would also be more virtuous for my health.

That didn't work either.

The last of the cards went out yesterday. As there somehow seems to be a lack in the alacrity with which the Post Office handles their business, my friends and family close to home here in California will likely be enjoying receipt of an unprecedented New Year's card.

On and on it went. Through sickness and health—wait a minute, I thought that was our marriage vows—through rain and heat and gloom of night, the Christmas machine pushes us to the impending delivery date. Somehow, within a mere forty eight hours, it will no longer matter what's been done and what has not.

That, in fact, is usually the key to the true de-stressed Christmas: not to stress over the lists, the stuff, the things-to-do, but to luxuriate in the relationships we have—between friends, among siblings, with parents, with children, with spouses and all the significant people who have made our life what it is, and become our bolstering encouragement to turn that life into what it should be. Those are the real gifts in our lives, the ones which, when opened, keep giving back, again and again.

Above: "Tobogganing," print from 1885 watercolor by Canadian artist Henry Sandham; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Pause to Reflect

In the midst of a manhunt, pulses are racing, adrenaline is pumping and the focus is solely on the goal: catch the fugitive. Once the chase is over and the one sought has been captured, all the details begin to settle into place.

By late morning on January 27, 1917, Windsor police had captured the man who, two days prior, had killed a Canadian immigration official with his own weapon, then jumped from the train which was carrying him back to the U.S. border to face trial in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The man arrested at the Essex House hotel that morning—checked in as James Emmerson—was now booked into the Windsor city jail under a different name: James Stewart. Carefully following protocol, the police agency had searched the man and relieved him of the five dollars cash and handcuff key secreted in his pocket.

Perhaps due to the seriousness of Stewart's crime, his case seemed put on a fast track to justice. On that same day—January 27—he was seen by the local magistrate, though given no chance to plead. He was remanded for a preliminary hearing, scheduled for the following Friday, February 2. The trial itself was set to be heard in the Ontario Supreme Court beginning on Monday, March 5. If convicted of murder, according to Ontario law, James Stewart faced the death penalty on the gallows.

The slow-motion decompression that must have followed that tension-riveted two-day chase surely turned into a time to reflect. The newspapers back in Winnipeg, where the extradition journey had begun earlier that week, as well as in Battle Creek, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin—and doubtless those of a handful of other cities which Stewart had wronged—all churned through every detail they could turn up, seeking ever more fuel to stoke their headline-generating machine. Though The Wisconsin State Journal sniveled that Stewart was "too sleepy to talk" about the Orpheum robbery in Madison the previous year, the papers still managed to jointly piece together a mosaic of the aftermath of the chase. 

"This is what I get for being kind to you," were reportedly the last words of Marshal Jackson to his assailant. Though earlier stories had pictured Steward as handcuffed, later reports seemed to indicate that the immigration official escorting Stewart had allowed him the more comfortable traveling condition of being freed from his manacles.

For his own part, Stewart had insisted that "he was good to me," and that Stewart didn't intend to harm the marshal. He had planned to brandish the weapon merely to "show him I meant business."

On the other hand, Stewart had insisted that the weapon was "a hair trigger gun."

"I scarcely touched it when it went off," Stewart insisted, according to the Madison newspaper. Yet, when Windsor police closed in on him in his hotel room two days later, the newspaper reported that though Stewart had pulled the trigger several times, the gun failed to work at all.

In the aftermath, everything was settling back into place in Winnipeg, as well. Reporters reached editorial consensus on the identity of both the suspect and police escort—finally agreeing that he was Marshal William N. Jackson, a man born near Petersborough, Ontario, who once served as sheriff of Fargo, North Dakota, before returning to his own country and settling in the Winnipeg area. He was about fifty years of age at the time of his murder, leaving behind two grown sons and two daughters still at home with their mother. Plans were in place for the Dominion government to take charge of Jackson's funeral, with assistance by the Knights of Pythias.

Back in that Windsor jail cell, the man "too sleepy to talk" doubtless had a lot on his mind. He had just spent the last two days—cold, winter days—holed up in a hay loft four miles outside Windsor. Besides the immediate physical deprivations of the ordeal (not to mention, their emotional impact), I can't help but wonder whether James Stewart—or whoever he was—gave any thought to the family he had left behind. The ones of whose whereabouts he insisted he knew nothing were about to be the ones he would never see again.

Unlike those modern disrupters seeking their fifteen minutes of fame, it seems the last thing Stewart wished to claim was the platform being offered him by the editorial muscle of two nations. Perhaps, rather than yield to the hounding of those Madison reporters keen on his comments about that safe-blowing back at the Orpheum theater, he found a more comfortable respite, deep in the arms of Morpheus.

Monday, December 21, 2015

"The Biggest Manhunt of a Year or More"

Being a stranger who was passing through town would not normally attract much attention, especially if the town were the size of Windsor, Ontario. With a population approaching thirty eight thousand at the start of 1917, the main city in the county of Essex was bound to have visitors traveling through, often. Besides, this was that week of January when the session of the Essex County Council was being held there.

Two Leamington men had traveled from the opposite end of Essex County to be in town for the council meeting. Sitting at the restaurant at the Essex House where they were enjoying breakfast, they noticed another man enter and take his seat nearby. Being that the Leamington men were from out of town, themselves, perhaps it might have seemed unusual for them to size up the stranger, but they did.

The stranger—a thirty year old man named James Emmerson—had just arrived in town and had checked himself in at the hotel for an overnight stay. There didn't seem to be anything particularly noticeable about him, with one exception: he had a finger that had been amputated at the second joint.

Perhaps this stranger seemed just a bit too oblivious to the buzz that had gotten everyone in town into a furor. Posters with printed descriptions had been passed around the city and far into the surrounding area, urging residents to be on the lookout for an armed and dangerous man wanted for murder of a Dominion immigration official. Though bloodhounds had been called out, two days prior, to assist in the manhunt, and though they had searched for three miles beyond the point at which the assailant's tracks were first spotted in the snow, the unsuccessful chase had been called off. Posses from several of the surrounding towns, however, were still vigilant.

The Leamington men, by now having just completed their breakfast, must have cast some meaningful glances between themselves, for they quietly compared notes with what they had read of those wanted posters. One of the telltale identifiers mentioned in the posters just happened to be concerning a finger amputated at the second joint.

Rising from their table, the Leamington men strolled leisurely to the door. Once outside, though, their pace quickened as they headed straight to the city's police headquarters.

Three Windsor officers were assigned to the case, and hustled back to the hotel.

By this time, James Emmerson had finished his own breakfast, stopped at the front desk to request a call to his room at three o'clock that afternoon, then retired upstairs to his room. He had had a very full couple of days and needed some rest.

He had not been up there long when the door to his room flew open, and three Windsor police officers stood facing him with their guns drawn. Though Emmerson immediately drew the weapon he was carrying, one of the officers lunged for his right arm and knocked the revolver to the floor, then with his two partners, pinned Emmerson to the radiator and subdued him.

Having spent those last two days and nights without food or shelter, the stranger from out of town likely did not have the strength to put up much of a fight. For though he checked in as James Emmerson, the man arrested that January, 1917, morning by Windsor police was suspected to be armed and dangerous fugitive, James Stewart—the same man who had, two days earlier, murdered Marshal William N. Jackson, the Winnipeg immigration officer escorting the criminal to Windsor, just before he was to be handed over to Detroit authorities at the river separating the two cities.

Above: View of the Detroit River at the place and approximate time at which Canadian immigration officer Jackson would have handed over Winnipeg prisoner James Stewart to American authorities in Michigan. Caption from 1918 Border Chamber of Commerce photograph: "Only a stream divides Detroit and the border cities." Photograph courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Tracks in the Midnight Snow

In Winnipeg, the crime was known as "the Robinson safe breaking affair," but the man under suspicion for masterminding it was called—at least by one newspaper account—William Anderson. Along with his accomplice, "Sheeney" Holmes, he was arrested and stood trial in that Manitoba city in October, 1916. By the time his sentence—a mere three months—was up, authorities had discovered he was wanted for a similar crime back in the United States.

To accommodate the Michigan jurisdiction which had requested his extradition, the criminal was to be transported by rail, escorted by a Canadian immigration official, to the city of Windsor in Ontario—which happens to lie directly across the river from the American city of Detroit. Then, in the intricate dance between jurisdictions not wanting to overstep the bounds of their authority, the Canadian law enforcement official would board a ferry with his charge to cross the Detroit River halfway, at which midpoint he would consummate the exchange of the prisoner with Michigan officials at the international border.

Just before Marshal Jackson was to complete that journey—the Canadian Pacific Railway train was three miles due east of its destination after midnight on January 24, 1917—his prisoner abruptly brought his manacled wrists upward, then quickly down upon the officer's head, partially stunning him. The momentary pause was all it took for the man to grab the officer's gun and shoot him with it, killing him instantly.

Shackled yet still holding the revolver, the man exited and then jumped from the moving train, apparently leaping without injury to the snowy field below. Though word spread quickly about the fugitive—over the next several hours, posses were formed from several nearby towns to aid in the search, and bloodhounds were called out in the chase—after two days, the trail was lost. Authorities speculated that their suspect had likely managed to slip away by somehow crossing the border into the United States—some even surmising that he had taken the risky route of attempting a crossing of the iced-over Detroit River.

The news traveled quickly back to Winnipeg, home of the slain officer. All in a jumble, the front page story there gave confusing reports on just who it was who had been shot. The headline said the victim was Detective Nesbitt, but in the story that followed, he was identified as Detective Jackson. The conclusion of the report, however, mentioned that there was no Detective Jackson on the Winnipeg force, and speculated that the slain was actually a private investigator in the area, frequently under contract to provide services to the local government.

Is it any surprise then—considering all the confusion in the wake of the uproar—that in the follow up report the next day, all in the same column the fugitive would also be identified by two different names? Despite the details provided by the Manitoba Free Press on Friday, January 26, 1917, concerning William Anderson and his three-month incarceration in Winnipeg leading up to this unexpected climax, perhaps owing to an editorial sleight-of-hand, one report overlaid another, and in one breath the article fingering William Anderson bluntly asserted the perpetrator was a man by a different name.

That other name, incidentally, was James Stewart—the same James Stewart wanted back in Battle Creek for blowing the safe in Arthur B. Mitchell's Billiard Hall.

Photograph above: The Canadian Pacific Railway station in Winnipeg, circa 1920where the journey began on the long trip back east for Marshal Jackson and his prisoner in January 1917; courtesy Library and Archives Canada via Wikipedia; in the public domain.   

Saturday, December 19, 2015

One More Stop

Genealogists sometimes find themselves grumbling when they discover the ancestor they're seeking may have been known by more than one name.

Think, then, of the task facing law enforcement officials in no less than six cities across the United States in seeking to apprehend the man who was known as James Stewart. That man came with at least four other aliases—and that was just the intel gleaned from his handiwork during the year of 1916.

After James Stewart blew open the safe at Arthur B. Mitchell's Billiard Hall in Battle Creek, Michigan, that March, his trail led officers to both Detroit and Toledo. With communication devices one hundred years ago much more limited than our instantaneous connections today, this was not an easy process to track Stewart's whereabouts. The effort to catch up with Stewart in Toledo—just after his release from detention by city police there—may have been a process taking days. Maybe even weeks. No wonder they lost his trail.

Though Stewart did, eventually, feel the need to skip the country—an astute conclusion reached by a fugitive sought by a half dozen law enforcement agencies—he didn't leave right away. It turned out that at least one of the law enforcement agencies hot in pursuit was the police department of Madison, Wisconsin. They didn't even realize they wanted him until two months after his escapade in Battle Creek.

And for good reason: on the night of May 7, 1916, Stewart found his way into the Orpheum Theater in Madison, broke into the box office, slid the small, movable safe into the coat closet to muffle the sound, blew it open, lifted its contents—one thousand dollars—and made his getaway. Nobody noticed anything was amiss until the next morning.

After that incident, wanted posters described the criminal as an "inveterate cigaret smoker," a gambler and "a dope fiend." Notice was posted to every law enforcement agency in the county and surrounding area. James Stewart's "Bertillon Views"—the mug shots from the scientific identification system developed by French policeman Alphonse Bertillon—were even published in the Madison newspaper.

All to no avail. The next time there was any mention of James Stewart was when he surfaced in Canada. And that was only because he had been arrested in Winnipeg, Manitoba—but not until the middle of January in the following year.

Above: Example of "Bertillon Views" of mug shot inventor, French police officer and biometrics researcher, Alphonse Bertillon, taken in 1913; courtesy Wellcome Library, London, available under Creative Commons Attribution only license CC BY 4.0; via Wikipedia.

Friday, December 18, 2015


With several billiard halls in Battle Creek, Michigan, back in 1916—including at least six on Jefferson Avenue—I'm not sure why the one operated by Arthur B. Mitchell became the scene of the crime, but it did.  

Being the proprietor of a billiard hall is likely an occupation bringing with it an element of the unexpected. After all, one never knows what disagreements might emerge from the smoky haze when men get testy about how the game is going.

Closing up the hall for the night, proprietor Arthur B. Mitchell likely headed home, thinking about much more mundane issues than what was about to happen at the shop he had left behind him.

Sometime late that March night, an explosion ripped his office safe wide open—at least enough for someone to lift the $422 stored inside it and make his getaway.

Right away, the sheriff—E.J. Mallory at the time—was on the case. Detective G. W. Colby and Sheriff's deputy F. M. Eddy determined their man, known as James Stewart, had headed toward Detroit. They tracked him there, only to find he had fled to Toledo, Ohio. When they thought they had caught up with him in Toledo, it was only to discover that Toledo police had indeed detained him for four hours—for some other reason, apparently—then let him go.

There were a couple other aggravating factors about this pursuit of the suspect. For one thing, the man they were seeking was likely not a man named James Stewart. Although James Stewart was the alias he had used, the man had also been known as James Gordon. To complicate matters—as was discovered over the next three months—he had also been called James Andrews and James Hogue.

The other challenge was where to look for this fugitive next. After that brief detention by the Toledo police, he was nowhere to be found. Not in Ohio. Not in Michigan. Not anywhere else in the region.

The fact of the matter was, this was no one named James at all—not Stewart, not Gordon, not Andrews. His name was actually John Hogue. And he had just skipped the country.

Above: R. L. Polk and Company city directory for Battle Creek, Michigan, showing listing of billiard halls in 1915, with Arthur B. Mitchell's business about halfway down the list; courtesy

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Trouble on the Matrilineal Line

Though there hasn't been much sharing of specific family history reports on A Family Tapestry lately, that doesn't mean I haven't been churning through pages upon pages of records lately. On the contrary, I have, despite not sharing much of what I've been finding. Perhaps it's just that some interesting stories are more equal than others. Or perhaps the silence has been designed to spare you from enduring some genealogical sausage-making.

However, just the other day, I ran across a document which may have turned all that around. Though not on my direct line, it's a story worth a pause to consider.

When I first pulled up the document—it was a simple border crossing report found on—nothing of note caught my eye. Actually, the digitized image was blurry, making it hard to take it all in. I had to slow down and decipher the entry in each box on the card.

I had been working on my matrilineal line, cranking out some "reverse genealogy" in hopes of finding that nexus with my DNA exact-match mystery cousin. Despite the mtDNA test implying I should look solely at those women descended from my mother's-mother's-mother's line, it just irked me to leave off the task of a generation's documentation without also attending to all the other children in a family.

Thus, over the last several months, I had worked my way back from my maternal grandmother's mother, Sara Broyles, to her mother Mary Rainey, to her mother Mary Taliaferro, to her mother Mary Meriwether Gilmer. For each of those mothers, I had then reversed direction and researched each of their children—and then moved down each child's line, working my way back toward the present as far as I could reach with documentation.

Still, no connection with my mystery cousin's line. So I pushed back yet another generation in the matrilineal line—to Elizabeth Lewis—to repeat the process. Then to her mother, Jane Strother, and to her mother, Margaret Watts.

Then, once again, for each woman on that matrilineal line, the long slide back down to the present.

It was there, tracing the children of Margaret Watts, wife of William Strother, that I found one line's descendant with this unusual border crossing report.

The report was concerning a man named John Hogue. He had popped up on my tree as a possible hint for the man I was researching—John Syme Hogue. Not entirely sure this man's record fit my John Syme Hogue's profile—he was, after all, a descendant of an old Virginia family which included the nation's fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall—I wanted to study this bit of evidence carefully. After all, while there might not be that many men named John Syme Hogue, there were doubtless many more claiming the much simpler form, John Hogue.

The card—an immigration report—was drawn up on February 14, 1926, upon the man's entry into the United States from Canada at Detroit. Although the man clearly was reported to have been born in the United States—in Charleston, West Virginia—the card seemed to have dealt with him as if he were not a native. The form asked if he had ever been in the U.S.—yes, of course—then, when and where. Seeing that this forty year old man had been in Charleston, West Virginia, from 1885 through 1914, would seem enough to indicate he was a resident of that country, likely from birth.

But forms never assume anything.

Despite this man's claim to have been born and raised in West Virginia, when it came to the question, "Name and address of nearest relative," the answer provided was, "Do not know where relatives."

What was this? A case of amnesia? Why would this traveling man not even recall his own family members?

Apparently, from about 1914 to the 1926 date when this card was completed, this man had been a resident of Canada, with a last known address in—I found this out later, since the handwriting was impossible to read—Kingston, Ontario.

It was lumpy details like these that made me start looking more closely at all the other blurry answers on the immigration card. The man was headed for Battle Creek, Michigan, for instance—conveniently, not far from Detroit—but when it came to the entry for "Going to join relative or friend," the response was "Going to Battle Creek in custody of Sheriff." The entry for "occupation" read "Convict." His purpose for coming? "Stand trial."

So, this John Hogue had been extradited from Kingston, Ontario, to Battle Creek, Michigan.

Of course, my first question had to be, "Is this my John Hogue?" But then, no matter who he was, I couldn't resist it; I had to learn the back story. You know my next question was going to be: Why?

Above: Manifest of the United States Department of Labor Immigration Service card for John Hogue, courtesy of

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Connect-the-Dots Mindset

I'm not sure why anyone would have thought that this month—of all months in the year—would make an excellent opportunity for fund raising, but that is exactly what our local council of the Boy Scouts of America decided. And so, just the other day, I found myself accompanying my husband to an elegant breakfast hosted by the council and designated as a "Distinguished Citizen Award" event, partly because I appreciate the person being honored that morning and partly because my husband likes to do what he can to support our local Boy Scouts.

After chit-chatting with endless streams of people I don't really know, we settled into one of those conversations that just seem to grow and grow with more possibilities. It seemed like everything one of us said led to more detail and more desire to respond. If I were diagramming that discussion as a decision tree, the answer at each node would be, "Yes, keep talking." We never got to the end node—until we looked up and realized all the dishes on the tables had been cleared off and everyone had left the meeting room except the kitchen help.

What keeps some conversations going, while others falter before they've started?

I couldn't help notice, while we talked, that with every comment by the others in our group, there was this sense of connection. One idea sparked another. Details initiated observations. I found myself thinking of possibilities—what else could be done, who else would be able to help, why this would be a great opportunity.

This connecting-the-dots urge is not unfamiliar to me. It didn't take long to realize that is the incentive that draws me deeper and deeper into researching my family history. It seems everything and everyone has a connection—to someone, to some place, to some activity. After all, we are social beings. Most anything people have done has required some sort of connection with others—if not in the creation of it, at least in the consuming or sharing of it.

The "Distinguished Citizen" being honored in that morning's event happened to be a local politician who had served both at the city and state level. Perhaps that is what inspired me to notice that role of connections. Politicians are consummate networkers. They have to be—their very existence demands that skill.

While the morning's experience reminded me that the Connect-the-Dots mindset is not the exclusive domain of genealogists—nor is it the trademark solely of politicians—it also started me thinking about just what it is that draws us, as family history researchers, together.

I used to think it was because a genealogist is the only soul in the universe who can understand another genealogist.

Not so, I'm starting to think. Perhaps, rather than that narrow focus on sharing of notes on fathers-of-fathers, what our minds are really seeking are others out there who also thrive on observing the connections between entities in life—not just family members, but any connections.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my favorite local genealogist. As always, we love getting together to talk. We never seem to lack for things to talk about. I used to think it was because we both love genealogy, and we are loathe to spoil that fascination with the My-Eyes-Glaze-Over bummer we can experience when we make the mistake of discussing our latest thrilling discovery with non-fans.

Now, I'm not so sure. Is it really just because of genealogy? Or is it thanks to the tendency of our inquisitive minds to look for connections? Maybe its just because we've found that, in order to have an interesting conversation, our best bet is to find someone else who is handy at observing connections—any connections. Like a heat-seeking missile, our minds hone in on the ways things connect. Then, delight in the discovery. And ramp it up to the next node in the conversation decision tree.

I've heard a lot of family history researchers admit that they are the quiet type. That may be so. Once we can break through that brick wall of silence between strangers, though, even the shy ones can turn out to be interesting. It's those connections that draw them out.

Above: "Skating," lithograph by Canadian artist, Henry Sandham; courtesy United States Library of Congress via Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Everyone Has a Different Story

It may seem like all of us who are fascinated with genealogy are cut from the same cloth. To get a good look at us—scanning the audience at a genealogical conference, for instance—it seems we are a pretty homogeneous group. Taking the time to get a closer look, though, I think no two of us are alike. It seems like each one has a different story of how he or she got involved in genealogy—and why we pursue it.

Although our local genealogical society takes a break from our meeting schedule during the month of December, some board members and committees still keep working on our projects. Since my local society was just given an opportunity to promote our county's First Families program at the library, four members got together last night to work on plans.

During the meeting, we discussed what genealogical goals each one of us had, personally. While endeavors like joining D.A.R. were a common thread—there obviously are going to be some goals we all share—there was a surprising spread in the variety of genealogical interests held by these members.

One woman mentioned her delighted surprise in discovering a direct family line stretching back to a king of England. Another bemoaned her lack of royal blood and more likely connection to mere Russian peasants. There was talk of Cajuns and Acadians and les filles du roi, all mixed in with work on the genealogies of people who had settled in our own county since its formation.

Even when considering how each of us got started in our genealogical pursuit, I suspect there are almost as many variations to that story as there are people taking up this passion.

While it is certain that not everyone in the world has an interest in genealogy, in this world of genealogy, I am learning that, though we are all researching genealogy, each one of us can tell a different story.

Perhaps that's what is behind the proliferation of genealogy blogs: people want to tell their family's story. They want to share what they've discovered. And then—hopefully—to connect with others interested in the same family lines. Looking at the stories already published in this wide array of genealogy blogs—according to Geneabloggers mastermind, Thomas MacEntee, now approaching three thousand in number among English-speaking participants—it is easy to see the many twists and turns that go into how each family's story shapes up.

Perhaps it is those endless permutations that make genealogy so fascinating. It's not just the call of the ego—this is my family's story—but the theme and variations of the story of generations. It's that fingerprint of identification that weaves my descendant-of-mere-Russian-peasants story differently than it does yours.

Sometimes, it's not just the content of our story—the finding of our ancestors and all the details belonging to them—but the process of the story, as well. Not just the who-did-it, but the how-did-it, too. And meshing the two stories together brings yet another aspect to the picture, strengthening the narrative.

Above: "Arrival of the Brides," by British artist, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hidden Behind That Surname

Ever get stumped with a surname and have to give up the chase to find that line's family history? What's in a name, anyhow? Is it like Shakespeare's rose—by any other name, just as sweet? Or can surnames tell us a story that might just reveal some history about our own family, as well?

Reviewing all my extended family surnames last week, I recalled just where I was stuck on my mother-in-law's line. In particular, one sticking point on her matrilineal line was the surname Metzger.

Of all my mother-in-law's family lines, this is the one for which I can go back only the briefest way—to their appearance in the Perry County, Ohio, census of 1850. In some enumerations, the Metzger family origin is designated as Germany. At other times, it is listed as Switzerland.

I can't pinpoint why, but I've always had the hunch that my mother-in-law's families came from the region once called Alsace-Lorraine in war-torn France Germany France. Even though I've never found solid documentation for this hunch, over the years of researching these settlers of Perry County, Ohio, I've seen a number of indications.

Naturally, when reader Intense Guy added his comment about a grade school classmate with that very surname—Metzger—whose family once lived not far from the French city of Metz on that German border region, I couldn't resist following that rabbit trail. Seeing that city's name—and how closely it resembled that surname—I couldn't help wondering whether there was any connection between the city's name and our family's name.

This made me realize: in exploring any surname-focused rabbit trails, navigation tools are in order. These, at the very least, must include maps and surname histories.

I took a quick look for information on that city, Metz, which Iggy had mentioned. Sure enough, it was in France, up against the current-day border with Germany, just below Luxembourg. While not quite part of the current French region of Alsace, it certainly was a key city of the former German Empire's Imperial Territory of Alsace-Lorraine.

It would take some research using a historical map to see where the oft-moved borders for that region might have been before 1850—about the time our Metzger family emigrated to the United States. If they were indeed from this region, since its southern-most reaches stretched to Switzerland, perhaps that explains the varying reports of their origin. Remember, census enumerators were to record the then-politically-correct jurisdiction for immigrants' hometown origins, not the regional designation those people had always called their home. Gone, under such a system, would be any mention of specific regions—whether Alsace in France, or Posen in Prussia, as I discovered quite by accident when researching my own paternal grandparents.

But what is in the name, itself? Does "Metzger" have anything to do with "Metz"?

While it is sometimes challenging to find reliable reports on the history of a specific surname—I'm thinking avoidance of all glad-handing "coat of arms" sales representatives here—I did take a tour through the Google listings for history of the name Metzger.

Right away, I got reminded of something I learned years ago, when my sister-in-law, Air Force wife that she was, residing in Germany, made the discovery that the word "metzger" means "butcher" in German.

Is Metzger an occupational name? Could be.

Is it a German name? Seems likely. After all, though there are many in the United States with that surname, Metzger ranks as the nation's 1,558th most common surname. Hardly a Smith or a Jones. In contrast, in Germany—where you would expect a name like that to have originated—the surname ranks as the 337th most common name.

Interestingly, though, Metzger as a surname ranks similarly in France to its rank in the United States—with a rank of 1384. Why would all those people in France—4,751 as of 2014—have a German surname?

Perhaps it is because their ancestors had lived in the region once taken over by the Germans and dubbed Alsace-Lorraine.

As for how the surname found its immigrant way through America, is it no surprise that, in 1840, the highest concentration of that surname's frequency occurred in Pennsylvania—and then, by 1880, had dispersed westward to Ohio, Indiana and Illinois? This is the same pattern seen in our own family.

Most surprising to me, as I trawled through all the surname histories that came up on my Google search, was a report published by the New South Wales (Australia) Board of Jewish Education. While the article partly concerned not just Jewish surnames, but the evolution of surnames in general, it included a listing of occupational names, including Metzger, meaning butcher.'s listing of the surname's history, surprisingly, confirmed the Jewish connection, noting that it was not only an occupational name for people from southern Germany, but also for those with an Ashkenazic heritage. Who knew?

For all the political turmoil suffered over the centuries in that tiny region of Alsace and Lorraine, I wish I could find out whether that was the motivation that urged our Metzger family to pick up and leave home, heading far away to pioneer territory in central Ohio. If that were the case, it wouldn't be the sole example. After France lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War, history recounts that many fled from the now-German annexed land, heading west to rejoin France beyond its relocated border. While that event took place in the early 1870s—over two decades after our Metzgers' emigration—that was not the first or only such scenario. This politically-disputed region likely provided many other inspirations for its residents to pick up and leave home for good.

Above: "The Exodus," 1872 painting by Alsatian artist Louis-Frédéric Schutzenberger, depicting the emigration from Alsace to France after the region's annexation by the German Empire; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Off the Shelf:
The Billionaire Who Wasn't

Yes, even in the midst of the hectic holiday season, there has got to be time for books. I've committed to making the intentional lifestyle change of re-incorporating old-fashioned book reading into my schedule, despite the rush of the season.

Perhaps it is thanks to that very frenzy that I was drawn to the book that I've reserved for my December read. While everyone else is mindful of what they will be getting, come the Big Day near the end of this month, I wanted to focus on a very different kind of giving: the kind that can't give back. Perhaps that is why Conor O'Clery's 2007 title resonate with me right now—The Billionaire Who Wasn't.

You see, back in 1988, Forbes magazine—the kind of publication which should know these things—had listed billionaire Chuck Feeney as the 23rd richest living American. What Forbes had missed was the quiet maneuver masterminded by Feeney four years earlier, in which he had established The Atlantic Philanthropies by transferring the bulk of his wealth to this foundation. In other words, the billionaire he once was, he now wasn't.

Though very few knew about Chuck Feeney's generosity over the decades, by 1997, the story was out when, faced with extenuating legal circumstances, he decided to explain his mode of anonymous philanthropy through a New York Times article. "He gave away $600 million and no one knew," explained the title of Judith Miller's January 23, 1997, article.

By 2012, Forbes got over its 1988 richest-American gaffe and had dubbed Chuck Feeney "The James Bond of Philanthropy." By then, that $600 million gift tally had exceeded $6.2 billion.

Embracing a concept he dubbed "Giving While Living," Chuck Feeney is intent on divesting his foundation of its remaining holdings by next year. True to his promise, an announcement last month detailed a multi-year mega-grant to two universities—one in San Francisco, one in Dublin—to establish a Global Brain Health Institute, focused on stemming the rise of dementia.

The Conor O'Clery book that explains the Feeney story—I admit, I've already started reading—starts out with a quote of Andrew Carnegie, which states in part,
This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: first, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds which he is called upon to produce the most beneficial results for the community.

Of course, I'm certainly no billionaire. But I yearn to learn a lesson from those who have discovered how to give effectively. Then again, every one of us living in this country is rich—we just haven't broadened our perspective enough to realize that bigger picture.

Interestingly, the kernel of Chuck Feeney's philanthropic convictions may have sprung up from his own family's roots. A son of Irish-Americans, he grew up in a modest suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, just outside New York City. The author includes vignettes of Feeney's growing up days during the Great Depression, his neighborhood, his family's attitudes about hard work and getting through difficulties. That, of course, comes as no surprise to those of us keen on seeing how family history shapes each of us.

Other than the background story of Feeney's roots, there will likely be little in this book to apply to genealogy. Still, as I've realized while reading the other books I've picked up since starting this book-reading project, sometimes it's what we discover in the interface between the words we're reading and the ideas they spark that makes the difference. Having not even read this book—or any of the others on my book shelves I've yet to crack open—I already can predict that this is where the value lies in reading.



Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Season For Giving Back

During this season in which everyone—meaning well, I'm sure—rushes around in that annual frenzy of gift buying for everyone on "the list," I often wish for a different way. Yes, I know the reason for the season sprang from a kernel of mind-boggling generosity. We need to keep focused on that kind of gift. So while everyone is distracted with gift-giving, I'm starting to think about giving back.

In the genealogy world, in particular, I'm thinking of all the people who have poured themselves into the lives of others, helping them learn, making genealogical collections possible, connecting resources and researchers. Some of those people have been doing that kind of giving back for years. While generosity is its own reward, surely such angels could use a kindly-bestowed "thank you" every once in a while.

In the digital genealogy world, there is room for giving back, as well. Perhaps in the online world, because it is sanitized from the touch of human interactions, we lull ourselves into a detached sense of entitlement: "they" are out there, putting documents online, creating indices, sharing website links. Somehow, if "they" doesn't have a face, we forget to treat "them" like the real people they are.

I'm thinking primarily of resources like the website, where their overwhelming multitude of digitized documents may sometimes make us forget that it's real people who volunteer to "index" those records, one by one, so we can access them online. Sometimes that grand scale of enormity beguiles us into forgetting that it still is real people who provide the traction so we can access those useful resources.

I'm not suggesting that a full halt be called to the holiday season—hey, do you think the gal who can't yet bring herself to give up her Windows XP-driven genealogy program has got her Christmas tree up for 2015 yet?!—but that we plan to provide ourselves with an antidote.

I'm thinking about those quiet moments in the lull between Christmas and New Year's Day—now only two weeks away—and how I like to take that week to settle in and do the quiet work of organizing the upcoming year's utilities and tools. That would be an excellent time to do some giving back—like some indexing. Think of it as a form of thank-you note: a silent gesture that says "I appreciate all that others did to help get me started on my research, and now I want to help someone else the same way."

Anyone care to grab a glass of eggnog, pull up a cozy chair, and join me in a season of giving back?

Above: "The White Veil," landscape by American artist Willard Leroy Metcalf circa 1900; courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Of Software Zombies
and Franken-Computers

That deafening outcry you heard last Tuesday was the sound of countless Family Tree Maker customers reacting—negatively, if you couldn't tell—to's announcement that it will be discontinuing sales of its desktop software.

The announcement itself prompted well over seven thousand Ancestry customers to weigh in on the decision, a response which brought on the management's acknowledgement that the still-remaining comments were "curated" and addressed in a follow-up post which itself generated nearly four hundred additional comments.

All was not quiet in the genea-blogging world following that bombshell. Dear Myrtle hosted a Google Hangout on Air on Wednesday—after which she embedded the video on her blog—asking, "Is there life beyond Family Tree Maker?"

Widely-followed geneablogger Randy Seaver re-posted Ancestry's announcement on Genea-Musings, as well as his take on the situation and a logical analysis of the options available to FTM users and an updated list of alternatives—complete with sales details as other vendors rush in to capitalize on fill in the void.

Online reactions were instantaneous. Up in Canada, Olive Tree Genealogy creator Lorine McGinnis Schulze offered her own version of "Keep Calm and Carry On." Leland and Patty Meitzler provided a link to a petition being circulated to implore Ancestry to reconsider their decision. Most telling was the sidebar showing how many "likes," Tweets and other shares there were in response to the announcement. News has a way of getting around. The Family Tree Maker announcement even has its own hashtag—a less enviable token than you'd usually presume from the world of Twitter.

Still, despite the angst over this turn of events—especially at what one observer reminded us is "the busiest time of year,"—I can't help but side with the calmer voices amongst us:
  • Sales stop the end of this month, true, but customer support continues for another year.
  • There are other genealogy database management options out there.
  • Perhaps commercially-developed genealogy-specific software "solutions" are not the best option, after all.
  • There are still ways to use "discontinued" programs.

True confessions time, here: can I tell you which version of Family Tree Maker I'm still using? Yeah, I know I have the FTM 2014 version in a downloadable disc...somewhere in my office. But that's not what I use. Yeah, still.

Perhaps you remember my rant, back when Microsoft made its own product-killing announcement about discontinuing support for Windows XP. My main reason for frustration then was that that meant the last straw for my genealogy database management program. At least, that's what I thought.

It turned out that my version of Family Tree Maker actually was designed to be compatible, not with Windows XP, but with Windows 95. Yes, that's right: my desktop-resident database program of choice is Family Tree Maker—version 4.40. And yes, it still works.

Back before the earth's crust cooled, and the company selling Family Tree Maker was not but Broderbund, my 1998 version was the program I relied on to gather all the notes, resources, and behind-the-scenes odds and ends for my own family tree. Somehow, I made it what I needed it to be. Yes, upgrades have come and upgrades have gone—not to mention buyouts and company takeovers—but I kept chipping away at my genealogical unknown and adding the tally of those conquered mysteries to my database.

Somehow, before I looked up, I had an annotated collection of well over fourteen thousand names. The system worked for me and—thanks to a husband who isn't afraid to gut the innards of a computer and replace them to his liking—despite having moved on to an upgraded computer with its newer operating system and sleek online capabilities for the rest of life, I still use that old clunker FTM software. It's a dinosaur and I know it, and it's on a computer that I no longer need to use to go online. We'll just keep calm and carry on with our software zombie and the Franken-computer that keeps it alive.

The fact is, computer-based and online commercial entities will come and go. Remember the dot-bomb era? There's a reason they called it that. Nothing is forever—especially when it shows up online. Some things don't even last until the warranty's out, let alone a lifetime. Get used to it. We all need to learn our lesson from the various online properties that were here—BIG—yesterday, gone tomorrow.

Even though they may seem like it, online properties are not part of the public square. Don't be fooled by the trappings of forums and instant feedback. If an Internet entity is a commercial entity, it is private property—even if you posted your thoughts, your work, your research on that company's site. And when that company decides to pick up its toys and play elsewhere, that is its prerogative. Yeah, it's nice when big companies listen to the little guys. But they don't always do that.

If that reality sounds harsh, forgive me. I certainly sympathize with every FTM user's dilemma. But it's not that difficult to see the handwriting on the wall. This time, that handwriting was talking about Family Tree Maker. But there will always be a next time. Our task is to see it and take heed.   
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