Friday, May 26, 2017
On April 30, 1927—the same day Ohioan Arthur James Daugherty was shot and killed while attempting to land his plane in Gardena, California—a local newspaper reported that four immigration inspectors "claimed that they had been assigned to catch smugglers of Chinese from Tia Juana."
That very day, the United Press news wire service had picked up the story and spread it far and wide, at least throughout the state of California, for—with discrepancies, of course—that basic story could be found on the same day in publications as far north as Healdsburg (where, however, the number of federal agents had been reduced to three).
A shooting death such as this required, of course, a response by local law enforcement. Tasked with that duty at the scene of the incident in Gardena was the sheriff for Los Angeles County. The proper procedure was quickly attended to, and preparations for the sheriff's inquest were reported in the news by May 2.
By this time, three aviators were named as suspects in a smuggling ring, and a statement revealed that ten Chinese immigrants were being smuggled into the country from Tijuana, Mexico. The International News Service report carried by the Oxnard, California, Press-Courier that day also mentioned the curious admission that "the Federal men set a 'trap' and shot only when Chaney [the student pilot's instructor] tried to escape."
However, that same day, a different wire service—United Press—reported in a story carried in the Berkeley Daily Gazette that the Los Angeles County coroner had postponed the inquest in response to a request by the federal immigration authorities. The delay would permit the federal office the time they needed to produce witnesses from San Diego who were supposedly key in fingering Daugherty as part of a smuggling ring.
By the time of this report, the number of aviators—each of them named—had increased from three to seven. They were by now characterized as members of a smuggling ring.
The inquest proceedings opened the next day, May 3. By this time, the feds had produced two men, identified as operators of a Tijuana bus line. In their testimony, they were able to positively identify two of the seven airmen "held on suspicion" as men they had met at a ranch in Mexico, but could not provide any further explanation as to how the Chinese aliens were transported to America, nor could they identify any of the planes supposedly used in the suspected operation.
That, at least, was the report provided in a newspaper up north in Berkeley, California. Meanwhile, closer to the hearing itself, a Santa Ana newspaper dated that same May 3 reported that two federal agents "were completely exonerated in connection with the flier's death." This conclusion, delivered by a coroner's jury, was returned after only thirty minutes' deliberation.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Director announced the arrest of six Chinese immigrants with "positive evidence that they had been smuggled across the border."
Thursday, May 25, 2017
When breathless news reports mangle the fine points of a breaking story, I become skeptical over the possibility of a hidden agenda muddying the details. Somehow, when I encountered the news clipping concerning the sudden death of a man—A. J. Daugherty—I started getting that same feeling.
The ambush, by four federal immigration inspectors shooting into a plane during touch and go exercises by a student aviator, resulted in the instant death of Arthur James Daugherty on April 30, 1927. The resultant news reports over the next several days were full of discrepancies. Everything from the number of inspectors involved to the number of suspected Chinese immigrants in tow varied, depending on which day the report was published, and where the newspaper was printed.
When the rush to publish outruns the editorial professionalism of accuracy, something has to be at the root of the race. Since I was pretty sure it wouldn't have been on account of any outpouring of sympathy for the student aviator, himself, I thought I'd take a look around to see if I could uncover any other motivations firing up such rabid interest.
The only blip from history that I could recall was a political maneuver which, at its introduction, far predated this 1927 incident—but then, I was never any good at remembering the dates of history. Dates were what made me detest history as a subject in school, and I still recoil from the practice of noting years of occurrences.
Thankfully, in today's world, minute details like dates are what the Internet is for. Why trouble yourself with remembering when such facts can be googled?
With that simple act, my hunch was verified: though it was in 1882 that American president Chester Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, the law was extended through a number of legislative moves until it was finally repealed in 1943. Thus, this news furor in 1927 was in the very midst of an era in which the country's policy was to ban immigration of Chinese laborers (and, ultimately, their families as well).
I had been aware of this law, thanks to presentations by various Bay area genealogists who have been involved with Angel Island immigration station history. What hadn't stuck with me was the date range—and how recent it was. Nor was I aware of any specific operations to smuggle Chinese immigrants into the country, particularly from Mexico. Discovering this news report was not only a shock from the angle of family history—this was, after all, someone from my mother in law's Flowers line in Perry County, Ohio—but an eye opener to the possibilities for underground activity as a counter-movement against this law.
Obviously, once again, researching my own family's history meant delving deeper into the history of my state, my country, and those specific details of immigration history. Genealogy never stands alone nor operates within a vacuum. We are all part of the historic context forming the backdrop to our lifespan. Interwoven with our culture and its events, our lives couldn't possibly be understood without that broader perspective in our research.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Despite intermittent challenges to one's personal sense of vertigo, the role of student aviator is not one I'd assume to be ridden with drama or intrigue. Not so, apparently, for the aspiring airman who turned out, coincidentally, to have been fourth cousin to my mother in law.
About the same time I unearthed my mother in law's genealogical relationship with Flowers family descendant Arthur James Daugherty, fellow native of Perry County, Ohio, I also discovered news articles reporting his sudden death and suspected role in a human smuggling scheme in southern California.
According to a United Press news wire only two days after the April 30, 1927, shooting which brought about the Ohio man's death, the local immigration official overseeing the agents involved in the incident requested more time for the investigation so that he could "produce witnesses from San Diego in an effort to show that Daugherty was a member of a smuggling ring engaged in bringing Chinese into this country."
Just as had the articles on the shooting incident itself, details in reports I found on the smuggling charges varied widely. Some reports fingered Daugherty as the smuggler. Some named both Daugherty and his supposed flight instructor, Burley R. Chaney. Others indicated up to seven other aviators in a smuggling ring, and anywhere from a few to "a score" of Chinese immigrants who were illegally brought into the country.
Following the unclear reports of the actual incident itself—when student aviator A. J. Daugherty was shot by federal immigration officials sometime during the landing or takeoff of the plane he was learning to fly—journalists turned their attention to the next step in the investigative journey, the coroner's inquest.
All of this unexpected excitement was, for me, quite a startling launch into a genealogical project. And not only was this a local news story I had found, but one which was covered in newspapers throughout the state. Besides the expected coverage in the Los Angeles area, where the tragic event occurred, the story could be found in newspapers in the state's central valley, the Bay area, and even as far north as Healdsburg, California.
What at first seemed to be undue curiosity in what I thought was just a local story—a tragic one, admittedly, but a southern California event—turned out to hold interest for a significant number of people throughout the state. Puzzling, that is, until I took into account the broader historical context of the times.
This expanded coverage, presumably, was not just a reaction fueled by a normal sense of justice in recoiling from such official statements about the "regrettable" shooting which was done merely by those "acting in the line of duty." The expanded focus may well have been due to another political maneuver which happened to be holding sway at the same time.
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Whenever I've run across an outrageous story about a distant family member—say, something like the news articles we've recently stumbled upon, regarding the young aviation student shot point-blank upon landing his craft at an airfield—I've wondered how many members of the family actually knew about the event.
Take the story of John Syme Hogue that I found a year ago while researching my own mother's line—the incredible story of the safe cracker who kept getting away, even when his luck seemed to run out and he actually shot a law enforcement officer. I tried (very circumspectly, of course) to contact current family members who have worked on that same family tree at Ancestry, to strike up a conversation in hopes of detecting whether the man's descendants were even aware of his murky past, but have had no response.
It leaves me wondering whether such news stories even get passed down by family from generation to generation. Or are these the types of stories which prompt the older generations to say, like my own father, "Aaah, you don't wanna know that."
I've heard other people mention how their parents or grandparents were reticent when it came to talking about the past, especially about family members long gone. Sometimes, it was just due to the taciturn personality of the individual being questioned. But other times? Might it have been symptomatic of skeletons in the closet?
Because this situation with Arthur James Daugherty was different—after all, I only knew about this news story as of last week because of the news clippings linked as hints to his file at Ancestry—I took the opportunity to write to the person originating the link. I can't tell how close that relationship is, but if the person is willing and able to give us a behind-the-scenes report, there are a few things I'd like to ask.
For one thing, I'm curious how many of the Daugherty family back home in Perry County were aware of what happened to one of their native sons. Was this the gossip on everyone's lips, back in Somerset, Ohio? Or was it circumspectly hushed in consideration of the grieving—and likely, surprised—family?
Then, too, I'm sure the question on everyone's mind had to be: was he guilty as accused? Was A.J. Daugherty really a smuggler? Or was he just the unfortunate innocent caught in the crossfire of misinformed but zealous law enforcement agents?
Of course, these are factors which seem to have no bearing on genealogical research—but for those, like me, who have self-styled their research as family history, these questions are quite pertinent to our goals of accessing a fuller picture of the individuals who people our family trees.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Partying like it hasn't been anything close to 375 years, the city of Montreal put on a memorable festival that I got to be part of, after all. When I saw fellow genea-blogger Gail Dever's post at Genealogy à la Carte last week on the events planned for the 375th anniversary of the founding of Montreal, it seemed as if all the hoopla would be over before our family could even get to the city.
As it turned out, our bus from the airport arrived downtown Saturday afternoon just in time for the city's parade to delay by over an hour—then abort—the route to our hotel. Thanks to that unexpected turn of events, the three of us found ourselves trudging along, suitcases in hand, for ten blocks—and miles behind the featured guests of the city—until we made it to our destination.
Even then, we didn't truly miss the scene. With our internal clocks still on California time, we were awakened at what to us seemed like 6:30 the next morning by windowsill-vibrating music from the live band passing in front of our hotel. In a move that couldn't have turned out more precisely if we had planned for it, the parade route—which differed from the twin routes snarling traffic the previous afternoon—brought "the giAnts" passing by, seven stories below our own window.
From that vantage point, we were afforded a birds-eye view of a "Petite Géante" and her dog, followed by her "uncle," a deep sea diver in town for the city's anniversary celebration. The three, up to thirty-plus feet tall marionettes operated by lilliputian humans heaving ropes on pulleys, were the brainchild of French street performance troupe, Royal de Luxe, which have taken their creations on tours of 170 cities and now to their premiere in Canada with the Montreal celebration.
That's not what brought us to Montreal, of course—although getting here in time to take in that feature was a plus. My husband has been invited to speak at a conference being held here this week. While he is busy at work, I'll be touring the sights of the city with my daughter serving as my interpreter in the rare instance in which this bilingual city might not respond in my native tongue.
We will take in the history—and, considering my daughter's presence, the archaeology—of this long-established French colony in the next few days. Though time prevents me from my original plan—I had hoped to travel from Quebec to neighboring province Ontario to do some research on our Tully ancestors who arrived there much later in the mid-1800s—that genealogy-based mindset which helps me seek connections and roots in any given situation will stand me in good stead as we explore a city rich in historic context of its own.
Above: View from a cafe window during Montreal's 375th anniversary celebration; photograph courtesy Wren.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
When it rains, it pours, as some say. When we do the rainmaker dance to get my old frankenputer to work again—allowing precious access to old research files tucked away in cyberspace for years—we get a veritable deluge.
In this case, that is a good thing.
The primary beneficiary in that endeavor was my mother-in-law's Flowers line. Now that I've re-opened that old file—predating Internet-era research, for many of the records—I now can cross-check that with verifications found online. Double-checking my work from decades ago, without even trying, I'm zooming forward and the count on that tree shows it.
Last time I checked my biweekly count, I had amassed 10,843 individuals in that tree. In these past two weeks, that number has jumped 383 to total 11,226 people. I'm still in the midst of verifying all the records I'm moving over from my old file, but most everything looks right. In some cases, the number has gone backwards as I discover and remove duplicate entries in this intermarried line of ancestors.
Perhaps subconsciously seeking balance between both sides of our family, I tried to ramp up my progress on my own mother's line. I added 145 names to end this biweekly count at 10,035. Not as much as I had done on that easy project for my mother-in-law, but still a good amount of effort. Besides, I can now say both moms' databases have crossed the ten thousand mark. You know: parity.
Despite all the wonderful DNA sales happening—first for DNA Day, then around Mother's Day—the results for those tests apparently haven't yet hit our match lists. My matches at Family Tree DNA only increased by twenty three, leaving me at a total of 2,048, and my AncestryDNA matches increased by fifteen to total 581. One bonus was that my results finally came in at 23andMe: 1,197 in total, although only one match is as close as the second to fourth cousin range. Thankfully, that person is an avid genealogy researcher, so we are carrying on a merry conversation in search of our most recent common ancestors.
My husband's DNA matches seem to be just shy of those exploding sale results, as well. His FTDNA count is now 1,335, up thirty three, and his AncestryDNA results are at 273, up twelve, with 23andMe holding steady at 1,276. At least no more "cousins" are pulling out of the matching side of 23andMe's offerings to cause his count to go backwards.
With all the progress these past two weeks, I'm hoping the amply-augmented trees will provide some cousin bait to help sort out those mystery matches in our DNA accounts. There are some matches who definitely seem to fit certain branches of our trees, though we can't yet find the paper trail. The "in common with" function hints that this is what likely is the case.
As for our two neglected paternal trees, I know I need to get back to cleaning up the records and hunting for more hints, but that will have to wait another week, as we head to Montreal this week for a first visit to the eastern region of our neighbors to the north.
Saturday, May 20, 2017
Just one week ago was the annual conference put on by the National Genealogical Society. It was in Raleigh, North Carolina. I wasn't.
I had a friend who got to attend. She had a fabulous time, connecting with friends she hadn't seen in years. I was jealous. The moment she got back home, I plied her with questions over lunch—my desperate attempt to feel like she had stuffed me into her suitcase and brought me along.
So alright, then. I'll get my chance when I head south—on my side of the continent—to attend the conference of the Southern California Genealogical Society. It's my favorite. I've been to every one since they've added the ISOGG-inspired DNA Day five years ago.
Two days ago, I got my registration confirmation in the mail, so that mood is ramping up. This year, the SCGS Jamboree has added half-day workshops for those of us who prefer to go in-depth into specialized topics, and would rather get our learning in a hands-on format. No surprise that I'll be zeroing in on a DNA workshop for that extra Friday morning session.
Like my friend who attended the NGS conference earlier this month, I've come to realize that conferences add more value to their attendees than just the sum total of the material learned in each workshop session. Conferences are a time to make new connections with like-minded people, but also a time to be exposed to people and ideas quite different than those to which we are accustomed. As we broaden our experiences, we expand our capacity to learn.
Those learning opportunities, however, are partially uncharted. An adventure, our path through the conference jungle can take off in any direction. The syllabus may be charted, but what we take away with us, as we exit the workshop room, can be vastly different than what the person seated next to us may have discovered.
More than that, the face to face encounters come with no map. There are so many possibilities to meet someone—a distant cousin, someone from our hometown, a researcher fascinated by the same minutiae that have consumed us this past year—but when we all enter the registration lobby on that first morning, we have no idea what is in store for us among those hundreds of fellow-attendees. The only way to discover a connection may be to reach out and talk to a stranger.
A terrifying thought, indeed.
Just over two weeks from today, I'll be driving down to Burbank, California, to attend DNA Day and Jamboree. Three weeks from tomorrow, I'll be wrapping up my last post from Jamboree for another year. Yep, it will be over just as quickly as that.
What happens in between those two days, though, can be maximized with some careful planning—selecting which sessions to attend, strategizing with those I'd like to see while there—but will also need a strong dash of go-with-the-flow and improvisation. Yes, I'll connect via social media and the conference app, but I've got to rev up that adventurous spirit to just get out there and say "hi" to a bunch of strangers—who just happen to find the very topic I love, genealogy, as fascinating as I do.
Friday, May 19, 2017
While I'm grateful for the newspapers that help me piece together the story of my ancestors' lives, it can be frustrating to insure that all those pieces fall into place in the right way. Perhaps it's owing to my long-standing doubt of all sources journalistic. Sometimes, I wish I could interview the interviewer about the story he just scooped.
Of course, these may have been the very details puzzling the deputy sheriffs assigned to investigate the April 30, 1927, case of a man shot to death on an airfield in southern California. They certainly became the Gordian knot assigned to the jury trying the case in Los Angeles county courts—and even the difficulties causing the immigration authorities to tap dance while requesting a delay in the coroner's inquest. So I can hardly blame the newsmen trying to report the confusion at the outset.
Only the other day, I discovered this same murder victim was a fourth cousin to my mother-in-law—actually, the two facts came to me almost simultaneously, or else he would have been merely another name in my database with an unusually short lifespan.
To read the eyewitness reports of the incident leading up to A.J. Daugherty's death, the incident would indeed have seemed entirely unjustified. According to the mechanic at the airfield where the tragedy unfolded,
Daugherty had been learning to fly for some time.... He had been going up at noon and in the afternoon for some time, but the air traffic was heavy at these times and Chaney [the flight instructor and owner of the air field] decided to give him an early morning lesson.
What's not to identify with that scenario? I have friends here in town who wanted to learn to fly, and early morning lessons certainly are the usual occurrence, according to them.
On that particular morning, April 30, according to the mechanic, "They went up at 6 a.m. and landed at 6:30."
According to early reports of the inquest, quoting the instructor, Chaney,
I got up at 5 o'clock that morning, went to the airport and told Daugherty I was going to let him "solo" a while.... We took off and landed about three times. Sometimes he drove from the cockpit, and I drove from the back.
In the process of that touch and go exercise, "someone" opened fire. As the mechanic recalled,
I saw them sweep down on the field. I heard some shouting above the roar of their motor and then saw the inspectors raise 30-30 rifles to their shoulders and fire.
Somehow, Arthur James Daugherty got caught in the crossfire.
As incredible as the entire scene may have seemed, the reason for its occurrence was pinned on one accusation: that this student aviator and his instructor were actually suspected of involvement in smuggling—and not of the usual types of cargo, but of human beings.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Sometimes, we are so focused, as we run through the routine of researching our ancestors, that we scarcely diverge from those routine paper trails of birth, marriage and death. Almost as if with the rigors of a checklist, we stick to birth records, marriage licenses, and death certificates—wills, perhaps, and baptismal records for those eras pre-dating our preferred methods of documentation.
I already know how fascinating the journey can be if I allow myself the liberty of a detour through the local newspaper holdings for my ancestors, but in today's case, it was only thanks to another Ancestry researcher posting a newspaper clipping that I noticed anything out of the ordinary in one particular family's story.
In my defense, I was researching the ancestors of a man who turned out to be a fourth cousin to my mother-in-law. Not a very close relationship, to be sure. Still, a story is a story, and once I laid eyes on the newspaper clippings included by another Flowers family researcher, I had to take a look for myself.
This fourth cousin was Arthur James Daugherty, a son of Nora Flowers and Lewis James Daugherty of Perry County, Ohio. He had been born in Somerset, Ohio, on July 8, 1900, but by the time of this breaking news in 1927, he was far from home in the Los Angeles area of California.
I can't really say how long he was in southern California. I only know he was there the morning of April 30, 1927, because that was the date in which he suddenly lost his life.
The clipping included in his file at Ancestry came from an unidentified newspaper, most likely from the files of a family member, for the name "Arthur" was hand-printed along the side margin of the scanned paper in block letters. Though the clipping showed a lengthy article, the unfortunate part of this discovery was that the continuation page was not included. Trying to replicate the article in the various subscription services to which I have access brought up several other reports, but not this one.
The sub-heading on this article, itself, was enough to pull the reader up abruptly:
Target for a fusillade of rifle shots from four immigration inspectors on the lookout for smugglers, A. J. Daugherty, 26, said to be a student flier of Somerset, Ohio, was killed instantly today at a flying field at Gardena.
Details from the body of the article brought up the discrepancies that always make a story-hunter want to know more. In particular, the article noted, "Two strikingly different stories of the shooting were given an hour after it took place."
The one version was provided to the deputy sheriffs assigned to the case by a mechanic working at the air field. The other version of the event was provided by the four immigration inspectors working out of the Los Angeles office of the Immigration bureau. No matter which way would turn out to be closer to the truth, it was clear the newspaper favored the take of the mechanic's report when it buried the inspectors' report on the continuation page.
As far as the eyewitness mechanic was concerned, the one who took this whole surreal scene in as it unfolded, "Daugherty was shot without cause or justification."
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
There I was, sitting at my desk, doing my usual DNA dash through the generations. This time, I was focusing on my mother-in-law's Flowers line. You know my usual routine: push back as far as I can in the generations, then map out the descendant lines for each of the children of that "founder" couple I had identified.
I had recently been working on two Flowers brother from that line who had married two Ambrose sisters. Joseph, my mother-in-law's direct ancestor, had married Elizabeth Ambrose—likely in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, sometime before the 1804 birth of her oldest son—while Joseph's brother, John Henry Flowers, had married Elizabeth's sister Susannah.
I had already worked the line down to the present for my mother-in-law's family—a tedious effort, considering this traditionally Catholic family dutifully produced about a dozen offspring per generation. But now, in an effort to document the possible cousin relationships for any upcoming DNA matches, I had begun the long slide toward the future with the line of Joseph and Elizabeth's siblings, John Henry and Susannah.
In turn, I took each of John Henry and Susannah's children, found documentation on their spouses and then their children. Then, for each of those children in birth order, I identified their spouses and children. With this routine, successive waves of research washed me up on the shores of the present, where I could also wade into corollary material, such as obituaries and other newspaper articles, bringing me in many cases right up to the current.
Emerging out of the 1800s and into the earliest data of the 1900s for one of these descendants, I happened to run into another Ancestry researcher who had attached not one, but several newspaper articles in that individual's file. I clicked over to take a look at these "hints."
Mind you, by now, I was working on a descendant of the oldest son of John Henry Flowers and Susannah Ambrose, named Matthias Flowers. He had married a woman of another surname which has become a familiar name in the Ohio county in which they settled, Perry County. Their oldest son James—at least the first one I could find—had, in turn, married another early Perry County resident, Mary Farley. In keeping with the character of that close-knit Perry County community, one of their daughters, Nora, had married a Perry County native with another of the longstanding Perry County surnames—Daugherty.
It was while researching this couple's descendants that I ran into the set of newspaper clippings that caught my attention. The eldest son of Lewis James Daugherty and his second wife, Nora Flowers, apparently left home and traveled far to the other side of the continent. Why he left his Ohio home, I can't yet say, but his departure must have been after the 1920 census—perhaps even following the 1922 death of his mother.
It wasn't until I found the newspaper clippings embedded among the hints for Arthur James Daugherty, fourth cousin to my mother-in-law, that I realized the reason why I couldn't find any marriage, census, or even death records for him in Ohio. He was now in southern California.
At least, that's where he was for the morning of April 30, 1927, when an event that sparked coverage across the state was summed up in the headlines from an unidentified newspaper at Ancestry: "Student Aviator Shot Down on Air Field at Gardena."
With an introduction like that, you know I had to take a closer look.
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
It was nice to learn I made someone else's Mother's Day weekend a bit brighter.
Remember that parcel I sent off in the mail—the package to someone I've never met? The mystery photograph album I'd been wondering about for almost a full four months finally arrived at the first stop on its long journey home from California when it arrived in Oklahoma last Thursday afternoon.
Its recipient—Harry and Alice Reid's niece, Rita—was quite energized as she flipped through the pages that day, and noted the strong family resemblances among the faces which, to us, were merely the likenesses of strangers. Not so to Rita, who recognized many of the names listed on the album's notes. What a delight to see a family's personal treasures reconnected with someone who appreciates the heritage.
In celebration of this first step—mind you, the album still needs to continue on its journey to County Cork, Ireland—I went out and tried my hand at antiquing, once again. This is something out of the ordinary for me; I don't usually find myself drawn to antiques, nor to collecting photographs. But if I could find yet another photograph with enough information attached to sent the thing home, well, I'm certainly game to try again.
Apparently, there are not too many of such old photographs out there to be had. Photographs sans identification there are aplenty, of course, but not any with names attached. Thus, sadly, I returned home empty-handed after this encore foray into the collectibles world.
Or perhaps that points out something I should have realized all along: that stumbling upon this photo album—with just the right hint of identifications attached—was a rare occurrence, indeed.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Almost as an afterthought, on Mother's Day, I posted a few photographs of my mother on my Facebook page. I don't have my mother here to spend time with on Mother's Day—or even where I could pick up the phone for our traditional Sunday afternoon calls—so for the last ten years, Mother's Days have been pretty anticlimactic for me as a daughter. I don't generally share much in preparation for that special day because I don't really have anyone to do that sort of thing for.
I did it, this time, anyhow. And it instigated a few comments almost instantly. Admittedly, the photographs present a striking image, considering these were from a collection my mother used in her portfolio during the years she lived in New York City with the hopes of breaking into the then-thriving entertainment business there. But the comments may also have popped up because not many people know my mother's story.
As a family history researcher, I find it quite easy to dig into old documents and unearth the details on the life of any ancestor long separated from my current era by decades or even hundreds of years. It's quite another thing to tell the story of someone you know quite intimately. Then, too, those for whom the concept we refer to as "Mother" calls up apple pie images, or cuddly recollections of kissed boo-boos, might not find themselves relating to the experiences that come to mind when I think of "Mother."
Far removed from both the image of the pudgy hug-dispenser and the Mommie Dearest nightmares of the abused, my mother fell somewhere in a very peculiar middle ground. How do you explain a mother like that? Partly the product of her immediate family's circumstances—born into the desperation of the Depression years—and partly the reaction to her family's own personality quirks, she was likely a person who traveled nearly an entire lifetime before she found herself—if she did so, even then.
That person-in-process became my mother long before she arrived at the answer to her question. Now that everyone in her generation is long gone, I've inherited all the papers saved—the college term papers she chose to save, the unpublished fiction she tried to market, even the newspaper clippings her proud mother preserved as bragging rights over luncheon gatherings with friends. I could piece the story together from all the scraps found in the files handed to me at subsequent family members' passing, but I don't really need the papers; I already know the gist of it, myself.
It was as if this one person had three lives: the young life of hopeful preparation, first in dance, then in acting; the years of motherhood and return to college for a "serious" career; and the days-turned-to-decades drudgery of working that professional dream in widowhood. She did, almost, seem like three different people.
And then, one day, it all came crashing down. It was a Saturday when she had just—mind you, in her eighties—completed her daily workout at the club that she decided to take a drive out to the hills where she often liked to hike. At an intersection close to her destination, she crossed the path of an oncoming car, and the resultant impact broke her neck. She was still conscious when medical help arrived and she alerted them to her concern about the break.
She was never the same after that incident. Considering her overall health and physical fitness, it took the injury nearly a year to finally claim her life, but she eventually succumbed. In the meantime, I learned a lot about being at the bedside of someone artificially sedated on account of medical necessity.
I also learned a lot about how other people see someone in that condition, as well. While I had the liberty of seeing that mangled mass of flesh as someone I loved, even the most caring of professionals may have had trouble seeing that loved one through the same eyes—for good reason, I understand, but still possibly hampered by stereotyped assumptions. While I saw someone with whom I had had a lifetime's relationship, others saw merely an eighty year old woman.
It was at that point when something occurred to me. Believe me, I've had plenty of experiences working professionally with "the elderly," myself, and I can understand how easy it is to put clients (or patients, or students, or any such classification) in a box. It's easier to do your job when you use labels; they're convenient. But those labels have a way of blinding the very people who need to be able to see what the problem is they are there to resolve.
It occurred to me: find a way to help people see my mother, not as the "old" woman they thought she was—after all, how can you explain a person like this?—but like a person they can relate to. A whole person, not a label on a box. So I made a copy of the photograph I used in yesterday's post and pinned it to the poster board in my mother's intensive care unit cubicle.
The next day, when the usual stream of nurses, therapists, and lab workers came by for their routine visits, they'd stop me to say, referring to the photograph, "Is that her?" Of course, after that question was answered, they wanted to know the rest of the story.
I can't say that incident, repeated for each person assigned to my mother's case, made all the difference, but gradually, I think, it changed the perception, which then changed the way people cared for her, even though she was still comatose and could not provide any prompts through her interactions with them.
Now, though, every time I see that same picture, I can't help but flash back to those painful times in the hospital, awaiting the inevitable, but somehow having it drag on for months—getting better, but not better enough. She was never the same again.
And yet, that's the way our family has ended up remembering her, not as the woman at the end—strong, fiercely independent, intelligent, but eventually broken—but as a summation which, really, was a snapshot of her potential from a more hopeful vantage point.
Perhaps, someday, I'll delve into those files with all the scraps of memorabilia from grandparents, aunt, and local resources, and see if I can take that composite and weave it into a comprehensible explanation—everything that went into the making of my mother. Such a heritage she had from her family—in fact, my sister prompts me to pursue that link potentially gaining us entrance into the Mayflower Society—but such a disjointed combination with the calamity of her times.
Perhaps delving into the lineage society application will become a therapeutic exercise, as would be the telling of the story. Yet, once again, it would be a biography of an insignificant life—but isn't that the point of our endeavors for all the ancestors we pursue? We hope to preserve their stories because...well...just because that's what we want to do.
Sunday, May 14, 2017
As the pursuers of family history, we've documented a lot of information on mothers. Mothers of mothers of mothers, in fact. In the long line of human relationship, every generation brings us yet another mother to add to the pedigree—and learn of her life's story.
Today, as it is a special day for people to be out, doing special things with family, I was going to post a picture of some flowers—I love to look at beautiful flowers—and simply leave a brief sentiment about the holiday, but I couldn't get one thought out of my mind. I couldn't help thinking of my own mother, for three particular details.
For one, Mother's Day, itself, of course—but there were other reasons. My mother's own birthday was close to the middle of May, and invariably fell right on Mother's Day, presenting her with the grown-up version of the child's predicament of having a birthday fall on the most-celebrated gift-giving day of the year, Christmas. There were many such Sundays when we would give my mother her Mother's Day gifts, and then start the celebration up all over again with the traditional trappings for her birthday—all in the same sitting.
There is one more reason I can't help but get pensive about this day, though. Six years ago, Mother's Day was the day I decided to start writing this blog, mostly with the purpose in mind of preserving my years of genealogical research, of course, but also with the intent of honoring my mother, the one who gave me such a rich family heritage.
This year, of course, my blogiversary didn't fall on Mother's Day, but it did lead into that melancholy mood of remembrance this past Monday—and capped it off with my mother's birthday on Friday. And now today, Sunday, a day to honor mothers. Though I can no longer give her a present or even mail her a card, Mother's Day can still be a day to remember.
Saturday, May 13, 2017
Several months ago, I decided I would explore the books out there, written by family historians seeking to share what they've found in their research. I purchased several examples, and even posted reviews on some of them in past "Off the Shelf" posts.
Then, life happened, and I detoured, following the ever-shiny new book to read. Granted, some of those books were worthy reads. Or at least kept me occupied on cross-country flights. Each one served a purpose—usually tying in with whatever project currently consumed me.
It's time now, however, to migrate back to that original intent: to explore the books fitting in the category of the kind of book I can see myself writing, based on my own genealogical explorations.
Since one of those books aligns nicely with all the World War II letters home which I transcribed five years ago from my father in law in the Pacific arena, I thought I'd grab this particular book—finally!—for this month's read. Not to mention, since this is May, and we are headed towards Memorial Day, it's a timely selection, despite its publication date over four years ago.
The slim volume I slipped off my shelf and into my travel bag for this month is Doug Eaton's tribute to American military veterans for "the service and sacrifice our veterans endured in order that we may enjoy all of our freedoms." When I was originally in pursuit of examples of how others had written up a family history—or personal experience during times of significant military history—someone had recommended this book to me.
The book is called, simply, Letters From Walter. A story of one serviceman and his family, the narrative is built around a collection of letters sent to an aunt and uncle in Indiana by Walter Hawes, assigned by the U.S. Army to Italy and northern Africa during World War II.
Around the core of those letters, author Doug Eaton relied upon the input of family members to create a biographical sketch of the subject, Walter Hawes, including that of Wilma Hawes Connely, Walter's sister.
While I'm interested in the letters, of course, I'm also taking a long look at the text to examine how others go about handling the blending of letters home with the memories of the family members who received them. I've tried to select an assortment of treatments—from simple to complex, brief to extensive—as I attempt to inform myself about what works and what doesn't, in the writing of family history.
Before reaching any conclusions, I suppose it would be helpful to survey the reading public about which formats worked best, in their opinion, and why. While I certainly don't have the resources of any slick marketing firms to access a wide and random sampling, I do have friends and fellow readers—like you, of course—who could provide input. Have you read any family history examples of letters home from the war front? Do you have any to recommend? If so, why?
Friday, May 12, 2017
In my other life—are you surprised that I do anything other than genealogy?—our family has operated a training business for several years. It just so happened that this week was the very time for a crisis to descend upon our humble office, requiring the extraction of a document which, unfortunately, resides within an outdated computer which is no longer operative. In other words, if it is possible to call any computer an antique, this one qualifies.
This computer boasts an operating system which predates the turn of the century. Hence, despite it also housing the precious cargo of a lifetime of genealogical research in an also-antiquated database management program (oh, yeah, and also that business document), its age had long ago mandated my removing it from online connectivity.
Still, things were quite manageable, as far as the genealogy records went, as long as I could keep firing up the old curmudgeon as needed. Of course, I had been engaged in a steady removal of necessary files for conversion and transfer to more updated systems as time allowed.
One day, though—well, more like one of those times when things that go bump in the night wake you up, wondering—I heard a noise. It sounded like a cat, losing his feline grip on the back end of my computer stand and tumbling, un-cat-like, into the morass of technology wiring below. Next thing I knew—or, in this case, didn't know—when I fired up the old computer the next morning, nothing happened. Not even a click.
Everything seemed like it was in order, down below in that spaghetti-bowl outlay of cords, but I knew that, out of those countless connectors, at least one of them wasn't quite making its connection. I set that task aside for another, more compelling time.
That time arrived this week.
Desperate to retrieve what turned out to be the only version of a form with a code we needed to access, we had to find a way to coax the old machine to turn back on. What is it that's said about desperation? Necessity is the mother of invention? In this case, thankfully, it became our inspiration. The right connections were made and the franken-computer begrudgingly came back to life.
After the business of the day was taken care of, it occurred to me that, while the antique was still in running order, I might re-start my retrieval project. I'm now back in business, set to rescue those fourteen thousand names in the family tree which was my first line of defense following the tedium of an era back when family history was reconstructed by inked notes on paper—an era in which you could smell the history you were releasing with every turn of the brittle page.
I worked well into the night, harvesting old transcriptions. When it got too late to work, I had to face the reality that what I hadn't yet rescued might be forever lost, if the machine wouldn't boot back up again after I shut it down for the night.
When we think of antiques, we think of items with an existence originating within a time span far removed from our present day. That way of thinking works well for the accoutrements of the nineteenth century, for instance, but we seldom think of items from our own lifetime as antiques. When we see our existence as part of "The Present," we don't even consider our own experiences to be history-worthy. We just think of those things as part of the "here and now." But even computers have a history—and some old junkers are quite worthy of the term "collectibles," if not outright antiques. And mine is one of them.
I'm just glad my antique is back in working order.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
We are surrounded by the fingerprints of history. The only thing we need to do is learn how to dust those prints—to preserve them.
That lesson was cemented in my consciousness as I struggled to pin an identity on the faces in the mystery photograph album I had found in a local antique store. How was I to know, when I first lifted it from the basement box where it had been stored, that it would connect me, a casual shopper in Lodi, California, with a family five thousand miles away in County Cork, Ireland?
The simple items we find as we make our way through our everyday life may turn out to be much the same as that photo album I stumbled upon. Photographs, old newspaper clippings, even street signs or old houses contain shreds of a saga from our past. We can only read those details if we care to learn enough to recognize the signs and pursue the trail to the past. But that trail is there, bidding those who heed to follow.
Now that I've followed the trail from unidentified faces in a photo album to the now-disclosed identity of the family who once assembled it, I'm remembering other items which had, at some point in the past, seemed to call my name, beckoning me to pursue another micro-history. There were the street signs bearing the name, as it turned out, of some of my family's specific ancestors. There were pieces of furniture once belonging to now-long-gone relatives. There likely are house histories for the places where my family once lived. And, oh, the photographs—some of which are still faces without any names.
The epiphany of this experience has converted me into an evangelist for the ubiquity of history—and, beyond that, to encouraging people to open their eyes to that history and find ways to decipher it, preserve it, share it, and, when possible, return it to its rightful owners.
Perhaps, deep down, I nurse a secret hope that someone, somewhere, will stumble upon a hundred-year-old photograph of one of my ancestors. Or pull out a drawer full of junk in an attic somewhere back east, and find a letter addressed to someone in my family.
I think all of us who finger the strands of our own genealogy harbor those same hopes. Hopefully, we can find ways to step away from the straight path of the typical documents we've always come to expect will harbor our family's secrets, and wander among those other possibilities. I've certainly taken inspiration from the document-poor Irish, who have learned to glean genealogical information from such unlikely sources as century-old dog licenses, for instance. I want to free myself from the restrictions of thinking I can only learn about my family by doing the BMD chase, or sticking with decades of census records. Wandering through old newspapers from the family's hometown may paint a much more interesting picture than those dry vital statistics. What if a gift of a new discovery awaited us as researchers in some of these other, unlikely places?
Better than that, what if we all crowdsourced our discoveries—you looking in your town for the names and faces that, perhaps, would turn out to aid me in my search, while I, on my side of the continent, look for items which conceal just the details you were seeking? It is not that inconceivable, considering we are all surrounded by the tokens of history. While giants like FamilySearch or Ancestry or any of the other genealogical companies do their part in digitizing large swaths of documentation, each of us can do our small part in adding to the data stream with our own discoveries, too.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Every story has a plot, characters and conflict resolution to carry it along. It also—at least if it is captivating enough to be mind-bending—carries a meta-message. This theme sometimes serves to tickle our altruistic—or at least sophisticated—side in tempting us to think the effort we are participating in (trading our precious limited time for a running stream of tens of thousands of words) really is, after all, for a worthy cause. We are educating ourselves. Or enlightening ourselves. Or vicariously experiencing someone else's agony which will somehow make us, afterwards, emerge a better person.
I had no idea, when I took on the adventure of exchanging a few bucks for an old discarded family photograph album, that when it finally left my hands, it would leave me with a message. But it did.
With the first steps I took on this adventure—trying to figure out who the album belonged to—I only saw it as an experiment in applied genealogy. Form hypothesis and test. Use research techniques; document results. Repeat.
By the end of the marathon, I had not only explored the genealogical pathways between Lodi, California, and County Cork, Ireland, but I had received an epiphany of sorts—not about the process of genealogical research, but about the meta level implied by that genealogical process.
Part of that message I already had intuited from years of research prior to this experiment: the roots we untangle in our genealogical research are really the very fine strands of the micro-histories of many, many reiterated lifespans. Genealogy is really history; it's just history of "insignificant" lives.
Plying my trade to this mystery photo album reinforced that message about genealogy. With this album, I held in my hands the keys to the history of a family I had never met.
With that one experiment—the challenge of finding the album's originator and returning it to the family—I re-awoke to the wonder of that meta-message. History is embedded in much of the life we see as we pass, unaware, through it. While we may call that discarded album a bit of ephemera—the scraps of paper from which we may, if we know how, reconstruct the story of someone's life—it is an object within which is embedded history.
History is all around us—micro-history, admittedly, but history, nonetheless. It is our task—much like the sculptor who saw the angel in the marble and carved until he set him free—to release that history from the paper chains of the ephemera in which it is bound and present it to the world, reassembled, to allow its potential message to have its impact on others.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Today—likely long after you read this post, depending on the juxtaposition of your time zone and mine—a package will be hand-delivered to the local branch of the United States Post Office on the first leg of its journey home. It's a small package, less than eight inches wide and five inches in length. Inside will be the carefully wrapped album, the pursuit of whose secrets have captivated me for the past four months.
I say the first part of its journey home, because it must make a stop in this country before venturing across the ocean to reach its ultimate destination, when it finishes a round trip begun over eighty years ago. The shortstop is located in the American state of Oklahoma, where someone remembers, as a child, having exchanged letters with the Irish originators of the package. Perhaps this package was once the Christmas gift sent from County Cork by her uncle and aunt, Harry and Alice Hawkes Reid, in 1936. Now, many years later, Rita would like to see the actual photograph album, herself, and wonders if it was, indeed, the very item she thinks it was.
The album will likely reach its destination in Oklahoma in a matter of days. Rita will likely share it with her immediate family—especially with her daughter, Lollie, who has been so kind to help make the arrangements for me to speak with Rita by phone, earlier this month.
And for the rest of the journey? The album will have made its rendezvous in plenty of time for that second part of the trip. Later this year, Lollie will be traveling to Europe, and will hand carry the album back to County Cork, where it will be reunited with the granddaughter of the couple who sent it out, so long ago.
It's indeed been an incredible journey. For me, it's been a chance to travel through history—to learn about the Penrose family and Waterford crystal, then to learn about the Hawkes family's Penrose namesake and their business entities which created variations on those original crystal inspirations, both in the British Isles and in America. It's been a story which spanned two World Wars, three countries, and several generations.
Most of all, it's been an adventure I never dreamed I'd be a part of, back at that crucial moment when I picked up that tiny photo album forsaken in a basement bin of an antique store, and wondered if those three names contained inside its covers—Iris, Ruby, and Penrose—would be sufficient to lead me to the identity of its owners, eighty years ago.
Monday, May 8, 2017
It's been six years since I sat down on Mother's Day, 2011, and composed my first post at A Family Tapestry. It took all of those six years for the view count on that one introductory article to make it up to a measly 243 hits, but enough people came through, over the ensuing years, to garner five comments from kind people (even if one of them was my niece). Things like that take time to grow.
Since that first post, a lot has happened in the genealogy blogging world. Genea-guru Thomas MacEntee came, saw, conquered—and decided to move on. His blog roll of "over 3,000 genealogy and family history-related blogs" is now frozen in time. This may not be a surprise to those who, like Julie Cahill Tarr, noticed the decreasing rate of posts in the genea-blogging community—and hypothesized about causes for such a change.
Meanwhile, in the commercial genealogy world, the numbers seem diametrically opposed to the (presumed) plummeting readership in the for-free blogging world. Television productions sponsored by the likes of Ancestry.com and ads for DNA test kits ratchet up the public's interest in finding their roots. Wouldn't that spill over into the domain of genealogy blogs?
I know my numbers, though modest, have increased over the years. For that, I'm thankful. But I also see the uptick in my analytics following the airing of Who Do You Think You Are? or Finding Your Roots or the Genealogy Roadshow. A little genealogical inspiration can go a long way in influencing audiences to seek other like-minded options.
But...blogs? This is the age of tl;dr. Social media should be just the fix for this, not blogs. Right?
Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow instigated a lively conversation on her blog recently when she asked, "Is Genealogy Blogging Dead?" Her conclusion: "Blogging isn't dead; it's just different." Just like movies didn't kill book lovers and ebooks didn't crush print publishers, I suspect blogging has its own niche. And yes, it is changing.
Despite a shifting readership and corresponding change in reasons people pursue genealogical information, I think there will continue to be a group of people still finding blogs to be a useful—or at least enjoyable—investment in time.
Perhaps, though, the difference between genealogy news services (or other professional genealogy blog outlets) and avocational bloggers is that the one writes for the bottom line—payout from what the readership will consume—while the other writes from the heart. For the voluntary blogger, there is little to no financial incentive; we write what we want to say. That is not exactly a promising business model, to say the least. Nor does it accurately predict whether the pull of an audience will still be there to draw the best out of us as we write, tomorrow.
I've always maintained that this voluntary blogging should actually be a conversation, not a monologue. Though that may not be the inspiration leading other genealogists to continue blogging, I know it has been for me. As long as I still feel there is someone there stopping in, periodically, to talk back at me, I suppose I will continue the practice. And I have faith that there are still people out there, willing to give a shout out—or at least an understated tip of the hat—to fuel my resolve to keep going.
Perhaps my alarm at these questions about the demise of blogging fingers a conviction that this is not so much an issue about blogging, per se, but about community. As the genealogy world has moved from face-to-face society meetings, to queries sent to print newsletters and journals, to chatting in online forums, to Facebook groups, as long as we are able to maintain a collective sense of community, that is the important goal.
Genealogy research may seem like a solitary endeavor, but for that very reason, it needs to be counterbalanced by our reaching out, plying each other with our hypotheses about research and organization and all things genealogical—if for nothing else, for the humanizing touch of bouncing our ideas off other minds. When I see signs of people advocating rolling back the carpet and retracting yet another venue for connections, I become alarmed, and want to serve up an antidote.
I wonder how many of those languishing blogs cited in others' observations experienced a corollary drop in reader comments; in a be-the-change-I-want-to-see epiphany, I start thinking I should share the burden by going out and commenting on others' blogs in the hopes they can be resuscitated. After all, nobody wants to perform for an empty auditorium.
Will there be a seventh year for A Family Tapestry? Though we can never guarantee the future, as long as I have a story to share, an ancestor crying out to be remembered, and some friends to cheer me on as I write, I intend to run this relay race another year.
I hope other bloggers continue to join me, despite the whispers (or maybe shouts) of those thinking it's time to dismantle the venue and head for the next big deal. As small as our genea-blogging world may be, we are still making a contribution. Whether our posts are just the thing someone needs to read today, or the answer someone will stumble upon in ten years, we've hung out our digital shingle for others to find. Let's encourage our readers to get vocal and talk back—make our posts an invitation to visit, not just read and move on.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Sometimes, it pays to go back and review old notes, old projects, and other broken-down trails to the past in our family trees. Since I needed to update my progress again—yes, it's been another two weeks already—I thought I'd remediate those forsaken tasks.
For starters, this past week has not produced a banner run on research. For my maternal tree, I gained the same number of individuals as I had in the previous two weeks: fifty four.
Don't ask me how I planned that; I didn't.
That leaves my maternal tree at 9,890—still shy of that ten thousand mark I've already crossed for my husband's maternal line. Not that this is a competition or anything, but it seems so much easier to rack up the numbers, over on my mother-in-law's Catholic side of the family. Right now, that tree stands at 10,843, including the addition of sixty six names this past two weeks.
My paternal line...well, that didn't budge one bit. It has a miserable 403 names, same as it has had since March. Maybe someday.
On that Irish-roots line for my father-in-law, however, going back to review forsaken progress pays off well—at least, in some cases. Yesterday was my day for finding lots of leads, including finally identifying the other John Tully in our family, a relative I knew existed but could never find documented. I even knew he didn't live in Chicago with the rest of the Tully immigrants, but settled just across the state line in Hammond, Indiana. But I could never prove it—until this week, that is.
In cases like that, when it rains, it pours, as they say. Without hardly trying, that one lead opened the way to fill in a branch for several generations. I'm not yet done with that task, but have already added thirty one people. My father-in-law's tree now has 1,117 people, some of whom I fervently hope have decided to do their DNA test.
On the genetic genealogy side of the equation, I'm hoping the recent sale at the end of April will send more close matches our way. Not much has been happening on that end, lately, although I did have an interesting email from someone contacting me, for a change.
Even though follow through on contacting matches has been less than promising, the number of matches keeps inching upwards, thankfully. My husband's Family Tree DNA count is up thirty to 1,302 matches. Mine is up thirty seven to 2,025. AncestryDNA is also slowly moving upward, with nine more to total 261 for my husband, thirty eight more making mine a total of 566 matches. I'm still waiting for my results at 23andMe (six weeks and counting, tick, tick, tick). And my husband's match count is actually shrinking—now at 1,276, down nine from the last time I checked.
While it's not my policy to attempt connecting with distant cousin matches—I only send emails to matches at least at the second to fourth cousin range—I got a message from an AncestryDNA match estimated to be "good"—not "extremely high" or even just plain old "high"—at the range of fourth to sixth cousin. Merely "good" is highly unlikely to produce anything helpful on the paper trail, I thought—until I looked at the person's surname. Yep, that one will fly: an old colonial family whose surname intertwines with several others in my history for generations. It's nice to be able to exchange notes with someone keen on discovering these matches and seeing what else we can share about our mutual heritage.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
With the inspiration of having just returned from a trip home, I thought I'd focus on giving a few records from the Big Apple some digitized sunlight. I spent time this week indexing records from the collection at FamilySearch called New York, New York U.S. District Court Naturalization Records from the Southern District. This was an assortment of various records included in the naturalization process during the years 1824 through 1946.
I usually focus on record sets which somehow impact the areas of my own family history pursuits, so in a way, I'm really helping myself by helping these records get online in searchable order. But I realize even this microscopic effort blends with those of thousands of other indexers to make records accessible to someone for whom this makes a difference. Recently, the FamilySearch blog shared some notes of thanks from people researching their own families around the world, whose efforts benefited from the work of indexers.
Once a new indexer downloads the simple program and learns the basics on how to do general indexing routines, it doesn't take much time to index a batch of records from FamilySearch.org. Usually, one batch includes ten records, and each record set provides prompts to help the indexer know which entries to make in each field in the program. I usually try to index record sets listed at an intermediate level of difficulty, but there are easier categories with which to start, for those wishing to build their confidence at the beginning.
I find the hardest challenge to indexing is sometimes nothing more than deciphering some sloppy handwriting. Even if it were abysmal handwriting, I can rest assured that, if I made a mistake, there is always a second indexer also going through the same process; if our two interpretations of that handwriting disagree, there is a third person—an arbitrator—who can step in and make the judgment call. It's all a teamwork effort, even though each of us work in the comfort and seclusion of our own homes at varying times of day or night. Together, we make a difference so others can find the exact record they've been seeking.
If you haven't yet tried your hand at indexing, I highly recommend it. I consider it my token of appreciation for all those times someone has helped me with my family history research over the years. It's one small way of giving back to the genealogical community.
Friday, May 5, 2017
Sometimes, we can't possibly find documentation to justify our theories about family history details. In such cases, we sometimes must satisfy ourselves with noting our recollections and hoping for the best that those stories are made as accurate as possible.
How can you document the journey made by a parcel sent in the mail? In the case of the mystery photo album I found in a northern California antique shop, all I know is that I found the thing in Lodi, California. How it got there is a tale sans documentation.
We do, however, have a family member's memories. We've met Rita, a niece of the couple—Harry and Alice Reid—who sent this photo album from Cork, Ireland, as a Christmas greeting in 1936.
When I questioned Rita about her hypothesis concerning the route taken by this photo album to arrive in northern California, she was quite certain about a few things. For one, as a young girl living in the family home in Buffalo, New York, she had taken to exchanging letters with her aunt and uncle in Ireland. Because of the family's connection—Harry's brother Richard was Rita's father—Rita was also sure that hers would have been the family most likely to have received the holiday gift from Ireland.
However, the 1936 album—if it was sent to Richard Reid and family—would have been addressed to their home in Buffalo, New York. Granted, the family later moved from Buffalo to California, but they moved to southern California, not the northern portion of the state. That is a difference of hundreds of miles.
As she had mentioned to me, Rita herself left California after the war—that being the second World War. She is fairly certain the photo album would have remained with her mom at their home in San Bernardino, California.
But then, her mom eventually left California, herself, moving to Arizona. Because the by-then deceased Richard Reid had only one son, Rita feels it is likely that her mother had left the album with her father's namesake. And that is where we need to pick up the chase, even though this post-1940 time period leaves us without the usual genealogical documentation we are accustomed to relying upon in our ancestor searches.
While I can't be quite sure, it seems this younger bearer of the Reid surname may have been a military man. I was able to find a transcription of a World War II enlistment record for someone by the same name, with same year of birth as our Richard. A promising detail: the place of birth indicated on the enlistment record happens to align with the blip of time the Reid family had moved from New York to Michigan—could that mean this was our Richard Reid? Additional details included the fact that, at the time of his enlistment, this man lived in the same county in California as our Reid family.
Interestingly, a person who seems to be this same man—the brother Rita thinks may have received the album—later surfaced at a residence in a place called Contra Costa County.
When you learn the meaning of the county's designation—basically, in Spanish, the name means "opposite coast"—you realize its northern California location on the other side of the San Francisco Bay puts it quite reasonably within a range to reach its final stop in a long journey at that antique store in Lodi. This county is so close to that Lodi location that its most prominent landmark—a set of peaks known as Mount Diablo—is clearly visible from the western edges of the city of Lodi.
While I can't yet determine whether Richard, the son, was ever married or had children of his own, I do know he passed away in that northern California county. However, he died in 1985, making it doubtful that a subsequent estate sale would have been the impetus putting that photo album on sale in an antique store. It's my guess that there might have been a wife or other family member who then inherited his personal papers, and held on to all the memorabilia until that person eventually passed from the scene.
If that is indeed the route the Reid family's photo album took—from County Cork to Buffalo to Riverside and San Bernardino to Contra Costa County—there is one additional observation that occurred to me about the album's long journey. At the beginning of this series on the photo album, I mentioned I started this quest because I was inspired by a blogger who has made it her mission to rescue what she calls "orphan photographs."
That is only part of the story. What really happened was that, through our research efforts, I and another of her readers had helped her return a particular portrait to a descendant of that subject. In gratitude, that descendant had sent my blogging friend a gift to help support her purchase of even more photographs to reunite with family. She, in turn, decided to share that gift with her readers who had helped make that return possible—including me.
Thus, cash in hand, when I made my first foray into an antique shop in emulation of my mentor, I was spending money provided by a person who happened to live in Contra Costa County. The photographs I found to buy—the mystery album we've been discussing here—may have traveled all the way from Ireland to the very same county in California from which the funds later originated, provided by a total stranger, to make the purchase.
Thursday, May 4, 2017
When speaking of the photograph album I found discarded at a local antique shop, to say it came from far away may be true, but certainly needs some qualifying modifiers.
Since the shop where I found the album is in northern California, using the term "far away" certainly was an accurate reflection when I discovered the place of its origin was County Cork, Ireland. Even realizing that the family to whom it was originally mailed may have lived in Buffalo, New York, could permit usage of that same terminology; a cross-continental distance certainly merits the descriptor, "far away."
The next step in the photo album's journey, however, might—at least in some people's minds—bring it much closer to that northern California location, but I don't consider it so. To understand that, you need to know the distance between the next stop in the saga of the album and its final point of purchase was over four hundred miles.
Still, four hundred miles is much closer than the five thousand miles the album traveled from its origin to its most recent point of discovery.
One challenge, when trying to determine just how the thing landed up in my hands—after all, this is not the story of my family I'm telling you—is that at this point, we are entering an era not easily documented, from a genealogical point of view. When Richard Reid faced his untimely death, it was two years beyond the last available census record in the United States. While online resources do reveal some records later than that 1940 enumeration, we still enter a different research domain.
What may not be accessible via online documentation has been covered, thankfully, by information provided by one of Richard Reid's daughters. This, too, interjects another research challenge: by entering the domain of living persons, genealogists have traditionally made every endeavor to respect the privacy of those people. For those wondering, I do have Richard's daughter's permission to use her first name and the basic outline of her hypothesis as to how the album ended up in northern California. But by the same token, at this point, I will refrain from hyperlinking any assertions to corresponding documentation, as I would generally have done in other posts about genealogical research.
At some point after her father's passing in 1942, Rita and her family moved from their home in Buffalo. Sometime later, her mother ended up on the other side of the country, living in the area east of Los Angeles, around Riverside and San Bernardino. Eventually, Rita's siblings moved elsewhere, as they launched out as adults. Rita, herself, left California "after the war," and, having married a military man, may have moved more than just that once.
Still, if Rita's family was the recipient of the Christmas family album sent by Richard's brother Harry and his wife Alice, it is likely that the album—if they kept it at all—made the journey with Richard's widow Amy and her four children as they left Buffalo to move to southern California.
That, however, doesn't quite explain the rest of the story as to how the thing went the additional four hundred miles to reach the northern portion of the state. To tell the rest of that story will require an introduction to yet another member of the family.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Let's take a look at the details of Richard Reid's life—the one member of the Henry Reid family most likely to have been the connection between the 1936 photo album sent from Ireland by Harry and Alice Reid and the antique store in northern California where I found it eighty years later.
We've already learned that Richard was the next-oldest brother to Harry Reid, arriving in 1887, three years before Harry's birth. We can confirm that relationship, handily, by the 1901 census in Ireland, showing the family still living in the same place—Grange in County Cork—where Richard had been born.
While I can't yet find any passenger records confirming his arrival in Canada, we were able to learn his arrival date, thanks to the 1921 Canadian census, in which Richard was now living with his wife—the former Amy Lucking, a British immigrant who likely met Richard somewhere in Ontario—and a baby daughter.
Though Richard and Amy were living in the northern part of the city of Toronto in 1921, that wasn't an arrangement which lasted for long. By 1922, a border crossing report from the United States immigration service showed Richard temporarily leaving his wife at their then-current residence in Windsor, Ontario, while he sought permanent residence for the family in Buffalo, New York.
Judging from an entry in the 1925 New York state census, Richard succeeded in his effort, for the family was by then living in a Buffalo apartment building at 17 Walden Avenue.
Finding the border crossing record provided us with another small observation about this Reid brother we're currently discussing: at the time of his immigration to the United States, he was five foot seven and one half inches in height, with brown hair, blue eyes and a "fair"—a later report from his World War Two draft registration card described it as "ruddy"—complexion.
That later document also revealed another detail about Richard: he was diabetic. So it was stated on the reverse of his draft registration, completed on April 27, 1942, in Buffalo, New York, where the family had remained—but for a brief stint in Detroit, Michigan—since their immigration to the United States around 1922.
It wasn't long after that, though, that Richard—whether on account of difficulties from his diabetes or from another cause—died, on the first of December in that very year. He was only fifty five at the time of his passing, leaving Amy with four children still in the home—three teenagers and a daughter in her early twenties.
That specific loss may be the very trigger catapulting the family from their adopted home in Buffalo to seek other living arrangements much closer to that northern California antique shop where I eventually found the Reid family's photograph album.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
The key thing to remember when researching large families is that any one of those siblings can hold the key to unlock the brick wall mystery keeping us from our answer. In the case of the mystery photo album I found in northern California—the one originating far from there, in County Cork, Ireland—we've discarded the possibilities from one side of the target family, and moved on to the other side of the family. In other words, rather than following possibilities from album creator Alice Hawkes' side of the family, we are now looking at her husband's side of the family.
Alice's husband, Harry Reid, also came from a family with many children. In fact, before Harry's parents were married, his father's first wife had also had several children before her untimely death.
We could follow a careful routine of obtaining all the details on each of the Reid children in turn, by date of birth, and examine each for possibility of a nexus with a California-bound descendant. Since we've already obtained a hint from Harry and Alice's granddaughter Heather, though, it would be more to the point to hold up that hypothesis for examination. And we've begun that process, with the phone call to Heather's mother's cousin, Rita, this past weekend.
Rita, as we've discovered, is a daughter of Harry Reid's next-oldest brother Richard. According to Rita, her father was born in Ireland—in County Cork, we can presume—but moved to Canada. In fact, it was quite easy to confirm Rita's report, now that genealogical documentation is handily available. In a quick visit to irishgenealogy.ie, I was able to pull up this record from the birth returns of the district of Bandon, showing Richard to be son of Henry and Elizabeth Wolfe Reid, born on May 7, 1887 at Grange.
There may need to be some reading between the historical lines for just how Richard ended up moving to Canada. However, once again, it was easy to locate an explanation of that fact, thanks this time to Ancestry.com. Dated April 5 of 1915, record of Richard's signature on a declaration when he signed up to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force may provide a key to how and why—or at least when—he moved from Ireland.
Apparently, this document represented the right Richard Reid—after all, this could be a name held by many, both in Ireland and in Canada—for it showed his application, indicating his place of birth in Grange Cottage on that very same May 7, 1887. He gave his next-of-kin to be Henry Reid, still living at that same address.
Indeed, Rita's father did serve in the first World War, and, according to Rita, he had been trapped in a trench at one point during his service. Fortunately, we have the vantage point of looking back through history to Richard's story, and can see that he survived his service and returned to Canada, where he can be found in the city of Toronto in the 1921 census.
That document includes the detail that Richard had immigrated to Canada in 1908. But that is not all we discover by locating that Canadian census record. By 1921, not only had Richard Reid survived the war, but he had returned to his new homeland and settled down with a wife. He was, by then, also the proud papa of a baby girl. That, however, begins a new chapter in his life, as well as a convenient moment to pause in our recounting of it—for with the next step, the family will find themselves moving once again.