Monday, September 3, 2018
Icons of our Occupations
Today, for those of us living in the United States, is the holiday known as Labor Day. Many of us likely see the holiday as a welcome day off from work. Others see it as the last gasp of summer before the long, hardworking winter months tie us down.
The genesis of the holiday started with the recognition that a day should be set aside to honor labor. The first Labor Day in the United States was designated by the state of Oregon in 1887. Between that year and 1894, when the day was officially recognized as a federal holiday, thirty states had added that designation to their list of holidays.
Buried in between the lines of that often-violent battle for recognition of laborers and the unions which represented them was the shift from a nation which was mostly agrarian—nearly everyone worked as a farmer—to a nation served by people skilled in many different occupations.
For those of us involved in exploring our family's history, though we may be riveted by the quest to learn the names, dates and locations of our ancestors, we can find fascinating details by attending to those other details such as occupation. Because of my use of genetic genealogy, I tend to record not only my direct lines, but also those in collateral lines. Blending that pursuit with my natural nosiness to ferret out the details on distant cousins' lives, I've recently run into some fascinating facts.
Just this weekend, I was doing further work on that never-ending southern connection on my maternal grandmother's line. Since I had finally pushed further back in time on her McClellan line to find connections with some southern Tisons, Charleses, and McLerans, I decided to bring those lines forward to our current times.
Working down one McClellan line—a brother of my third great-grandfather, George Edmund McClellan—I ran across a family which moved from Georgia to west Texas, then Arizona, then, ultimately, to southern California. By that point in the generations, I was looking at a McClellan descendant who would have been my third cousin twice removed. This man, son of George's brother's granddaughter Berta Margaret Davis and her husband John Jones, was the baby of their family.
When he was young, this boy had two interests: learning how to ride horses, and playing his guitar. Those two skills eventually paid off for him when his mother moved the family to Los Angeles. Working as a forest ranger at Death Valley, he was assigned to work as a technical advisor for a film crew shooting a western there on location. Hanging out with the cast and crew during breaks, he played some of the songs he had written on his guitar.
Following up on the crew's encouragement for him to submit his songs to music publishers was what got Stan Jones his start. Though never becoming a household name in the music or entertainment industry, even today we can recognize one of his 1940s hits: Ghost Riders in the Sky. That was enough to get Jones started in a career in both songwriting and acting.
Though he was only distantly related to me—remember, he and I are third cousins, twice removed, something maybe only a genealogist would care about—I thought it was an interesting quirk to learn about my McClellan roots.
Delving into another line of my southern family, a while back I found someone with a very different occupational story. I found this story while working on the line of my George Edmund McClellan's wife, the former Sidney Tison, daughter of Job Tison and Sidnah Sheffield of Georgia.
Sidney Tison McClellan's brother William had a second great-granddaughter who, after all those generations, still remained in the state of Georgia, home of her family's roots. Born in 1918 in Savannah, this Tison descendant—Elizabeth Mercer, my fourth cousin once removed—married a man named Christopher Cashel Fitzsimmons Hammond. You will be relieved to learn he was called, simply, Chris.
Chris attended Georgia Tech, where he received his degree in mechanical engineering in 1934. Like many other young men of that era, he followed up by joining the navy. Eventually back in civilian life, he found work as a salesman with a Savannah company known as The Steel Products Company.
The Steel Products Company was mainly involved in what was called the structural steel business. The company had a side line for which they needed a sales rep; Chris took the job.
That product line of trailers, which the company dubbed Great Dane Trailers, got its start with the dealerships which Chris set up in Florida. With the advent of U.S. involvement in World War II, an army contract catapulted the company—and Chris—into a prime business position, and from there, Chris became an integral part of the company's development.
After Chris Hammond became president of the company in 1953, the company name eventually changed to reflect what had now become its main product line: Great Dane Trailers. From 1973 until the time of his retirement in 1984, he served as the company's chairman of the board. After his retirement, he remained active as a consultant in the trucking industry, as well as in community endeavors, passing away in 2011.
Though the company's current website—with its ten-minute film of the company's history—doesn't mention Chris Hammond's name specifically, every time I pass a Great Dane logo on a truck on the highway, I now can't help but think, hey! I'm a relative! Though a distant connection—and one by marriage, not blood—the link to Christopher Cashel Fitzsimmons Hammond somehow makes seeing that icon of an industry giant, Great Dane, remind me of my family's history.
As I wander through my family's story over the ages, I'm sure I'll encounter more such tokens of the varied occupations which developed as our country grew from its agrarian roots. Not just for Labor Day, but for a deeper appreciation of my ancestors' contributions to the growth of our nation, I've realized that learning about these forebears' occupations provides a richer appreciation of who they were as people, and how they connected with and served their local communities.