Thursday, January 31, 2008

Of Mothers and Daughters and Dinner Parties — Part II

The 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?

When my great-grandmother, Emma Gleffe Schröder, first set sail for the United States in 1906, she knew that she would probably never see her father, brother and sister again. It's not known if Emma's mother, Pauline Gleffe, was alive at the time of Emma's departure, but in the German letters that were saved, Pauline is not mentioned.

Emma arrived at Ellis Island with her husband, Leo, and their two sons, Wilhelm (Willy) and Max, on April 1, 1906. Speaking no English and being sponsored by Leo's brother-in-law, Karl Kollat, Emma and Leo settled on the outskirts of Clyde, Ohio. There they found other German-speaking families, and just as important to Emma, a Lutheran Church that she could walk to each week, to listen to the German service.

For my second dinner party, I would choose Emma and her mother, Pauline, as the last two ancestors to share a meal with me. Though I would love to see the land where Emma grew up and where Pauline lived her life, I know exactly when and where this dinner party would take place.

There are very few things my grandmother told me about her mother, Emma. But the one thing she did say was that her mother was a good cook. My dad has also told me the same thing of the grandmother that he called, “his buddy.” So I am inviting myself to Sunday dinner at the Schröder house in Clyde, and Emma and her mother are doing the cooking.

Once they get used to the idea of being together again, I can imagine the two of them clucking and speaking in German, with my great-grandmother translating for me. I would be madly scribbling down recipes and notes and helping with whatever menial chores the two women would assign me.

I WOULD ASK PAULINE (with Emma translating)
What date were you born?
What are the names of your parents?
What date were they born?
What is your husband's full name and date of birth?
What are the names of his parents?
When and where were you married?
Do you remember your grandparents?
What were there names?
Tell me a story about your grandparents.
Tell me a story about Emma when she was a little girl.

Who were your paternal grandparents?
What do you remember of them?
What do you miss about your homeland?
Who was Albert Tuschy and how are the Tuschys related to the Schröder family?
Tell me about your in-laws, Wilhelm and Karoline Quetschke Schröder.
What was the trip to America like?
What is a favorite memory you have of your mother?
What is a favorite memory you have of your father?
Tell me a story about your daughter Anna as a child.
What is your recipe for your Christmas log roll?

I would give them some private time to talk, to cry and to laugh. Then later, sometime in the afternoon, Emma's daughter Anna would stop and drop off her 7-year-old son. For I have chosen to have my dinner party the exact summer that my father stayed with his grandparents during the week.

Pauline and I would fade into the shadows, as Emma, all smiles would go outside to greet her daughter and grandson. We would stand there, the two of us, peeking out the screen door, listening to the casual tones of conversation. Pauline would be watching intently the granddaughter and great-grandson she had never seen, and I would be watching just as intently a father and grandmother I have known so well. We would look up, she and I, our eyes meeting, and both smile in a way that would need no translation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Of Mothers and Daughters and Dinner Parties — Part I

The 41st edition of the Carnival of Genealogy asks the question: If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?

I have been blessed in my life to be surrounded by wonderful people. I would like to tell you that it's because I am such a terrific human being that my karma attracts all these great individuals. But what is it they say? Better to be lucky than good. That pretty much sums it up.

Part of my good luck happens to be that I sit in the generational middle ground of two extremely remarkable, gifted and capable women, my mother and my daughter. My mother I have known for 55 years and my daughter for almost 35. (Sorry kiddo, I hope that wasn't any kind of state secret.) Those are a lot of good years, a lot of shared joys, sorrow and laughter, and I am at least wise enough to realize what a rare blessing I have been bestowed.

It is for this reason that my dinners would be with two sets of mother/daughter ancestors. I chose each set precisely because they were denied the blessing I have lived.

Fanny Thacker Cope died at the age of 22 of consumption. Her eldest child, Elizabeth Cope Smathers, would die of the same disease when she was 30, leaving four children under the age of 7. Lizzie, as Elizabeth was called, must have been heartsick when the coughing, and the night sweats signaled to her that she would not be there to raise her children. If anyone would know how difficult the loss of a mother was, it was Lizzie.

Lizzie was all of 5 when Fanny died. The years between her mother's death and 1900 are blank. And I wonder, after her mother's death did she live with her father or did she live with grandparents? Did they give the little girl the love and support that she lost with the death of her mother? When her father remarried, did she and her stepmother get along? Or did she feel like the extra cog in the hub of her father's new family?

There would come a day when Lizzie's fear over leaving her children would seem too large a grief to bear and that is the day I would choose to whisk her away to my little dinner party.

Fanny, who was so young herself, must have also wondered what would happen to her children, Elizabeth and John. There would be a day when she felt that life had played a cruel joke on her, and that would be the day I would bring her to join Lizzie and me for dinner.

The first question I would ask would be what they would wish to eat. I'm confident whatever magic wand allowed me to arrange this meeting would also allow me to fill the dinner table with any foods that would delight the two of them. Being wives of coal miners, in the late 1880s and the early part of the 20th century, there would be novelty in being pampered guests of a dinner party.

After they had accustomed themselves to the oddness of the meeting, and after Fanny and Lizzie had a few private moments to speak, I would ask them my questions.

Can you tell me a story you remember about Lizzie as a little girl?
Tell me about your mother, Clarinda.
What do you remember about your grandparents?
Was your grandfather Nicholas Nimrod Thacker or Nimrod Nicholas Thacker?
What was your grandmother's name?
Tell me a story about your grandparents.
Do you know the names of the parents of your grandmother and grandfather?
Where did they come from in Louisa County, Virginia?

When and why did your branch of the family add an extra “e” to the name Cope?
Would you tell me how you met your husband, Elmer Smathers?
Would you tell me a story about your mother?
Can you tell me what you remember about your mother's parents?
Can you tell me the names of your father's parents?
What do you remember about your paternal grandparents?
Can you tell me a story about your son, Walter?

I would like to ask Fanny if she knows who her father is because I believe Fanny was born on the wrong side of the blanket. But as much as I would like to ask, I won't. It would seem rude and ungracious.

Then during dessert, I would sneak in another guest. I would bring in Lucille, Lizzie's eldest daughter. Lucille was not quite 7 when Lizzie died. She would later tell of being given a locket of her mother's red hair at the funeral. This would be the only momento she would have of her mother's. And many years later when she and her sister had finally been reunited, they would decide to look for their younger brother, Walter. Instead of finding their brother, they would find his eldest son. Lucille would recount the story of the locket of hair to her nephew and his wife.

We would talk about what became of each of their children. I would offer pictures, and tell them they had not been forgotten. I would let the three women have their private moments, and then our time would be over.

Tomorrow, I will post about my second dinner party.

Until Next Time! - Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 30, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Monday, January 28, 2008

I'm Feeling Cranky!

I'm feeling cranky. Why you ask? Am I not getting enough bran in my morning cereal? No, that's not the problem.

Has my panty hose finally become so tight that the circulation to my head has been substantially diminished, you query? Nope, but nice guess.

Have they stopped producing Pepsi or Ballreich potato chips? No, thank goodness that's not it either.

No, the crankiness started a few days ago when I first heard about the Presidential/Congressional rebate they want to send my way. Sure, at first, I was excited at the prospect of a bunch of Benjamin Franklin's making their way into my waiting palms. But then I got to thinking about the reason this wad of cash was coming my way.

Both Washington and leading economists are worried about a recession (though the “experts” keep telling us that we have a fundamentally sound economy). The folks in Washington suddenly realized in an “I could have had a V-8 moment” that you and I were spending more on groceries, gas and utilities and were therefore no longer spending money on non-essential things.

All this fiscal responsibility on our part has been affecting the fundamentally sound economy in a fundamentally unsound way. (Hey, aren't these the same people who keep telling us we need to save more for retirement? Gees, I wish they would make up their minds!)

And this led me to think about other items I am now spending more money on than I had in the past, like, for example, NARA reproductions.

NARA imposed a 103% increase last October on reproductions of Civil War pension files, and a 131% increase on land entry files. All of which NARA said they needed in order to cover the cost of doing these reproductions. Except of course, initially they said they really, truly, absolutely needed a 238% increase on the Civil War pension files and I don't know, maybe it was just a case of somebody's calculator needing new batteries, because when all was said and done they only needed a 103% increase. (But that was only for the first 100 pages, anything after that they decided they needed an additional $.65 a page.)

So the 26 pages that I received in great-great-grandpa's Civil War pension package, which cost $1.43 per page, would now cost me $2.88 a page. And the cost of GGGG grandpa Ezekial Anderson's compiled 1812 military record, which cost me $8.50 for each of the two pages it contained, and would now cost me $12.50 per page. The four pages in GGG grandpa Joseph Good's land entry file, which cost $4.44 per page, would now cost $10 a page. Well, you get the idea. (I did get a bargain of 160 pages for $37, which would now cost $ 114 — boy am I laughing myself silly over that one!)

The joke is, of course, that you never know exactly what you are going to get when you order from NARA. Twenty-six pages or a hundred pages — it's all a mystery until you open up the nice little envelope. Of course, you are dealing with the government, so you can feel safe that they will charge you in an appropriate fair, what it cost them manner.

Anyway, the whole idea of the IRS, a governmental entity, sending me money so I could turn around and send the money back to NARA, another governmental entity, seemed kind of ironic — and irony very often makes me cranky. Maybe I SHOULD go check the bran content in my morning cereal.

This is me ranting — Until Next Time!

For a serious look at the valuable information to be gleaned from Civil War pension files, see a series of posts at “Genealogy — Diggin up Dirt”
starting with the January 5th post “The Fat File” and running through the January 20th post “Clearing Up Facts.”

Note this post first published online, January 28, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Friday, January 25, 2008

An ‘Ah-ha!’ Moment

So, I learned a few days ago that my great-great-grandmother Fanny McCune, whom I had been unsuccessfully looking for the last seven years, actually was Fanny Marcum — which explains why I couldn't find her! Technically her name was actually Francis Thacker. Her mother, Clarinda Thacker, had Fanny (or Francis) four years before her marriage to Enos Marcum.

My family had discovered the McCune name from her daughter's death certificate. Having recently purchased “Evidence Explained,” I was being a dutiful family historian and adding my huge backlog of death certificate information to my software database.

I had done about three of these, when I came to the death certificate of Lizzie Cope Smathers, Fanny's daughter. Hmm, I said to myself, looking at the record under 200% magnification, that McCune doesn't look very clear.

So, I went to take a quick confirming look at the death certificate of Lizzie's brother — John Ceope. (No, that's not a typo; this family started adding an extra “e” to their name — no doubt just to confuse me.) John's daughter, Claudia, had been the informant and she had listed the name Fanny Marcum for the mother of John.

Now, I'd like to say that this was the “AH-HA!” moment for me, but no, it wasn't. Because instead of thinking Ah Ha, I was thinking — Hmm, the granddaughter didn't realize that her grandmother's last name was McCune.

So, I set aside Lizzie's death record, and went on to the next one. A little while later all that putting sources and citations into my database was getting a bit old, and I was itching for a reason to stop. So, on a whim, I went onto and typed in “Francis Marcum,” and as I expected no viable candidates appeared in the search results. Not wanting to end my little break quite that quickly, I then typed in “Fanny Marcum” and once again, as expected, no match for my Fanny.

Still not ready to face the large stack of death certificate input that lay ahead of me, I typed in “Francis Markum,” and there she was aged 16 in the 1880 census. Some simple searches on, a cross check to the Vinton County Web site and some more searching on Ancestry and things that hadn't made sense before now suddenly did.

So about 45 minutes after I should have had my “AH HA!” moment, the light bulb finally went on. Funny to think that if I hadn't gotten “Evidence Explained,” hadn't been taking care of database housekeeping matters, hadn't had online access to Ohio Death Certificates, hadn't subscribed to and hadn't been looking for an easy distraction, it might have taken another seven years for me to solve the riddle of Fanny McCune/Marcum. Sometimes, genealogy is just like that.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 25, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

News to Know — FamilySearch Labs Records Online

I'm not sure if everybody who reads this blog realizes all of the cool things going on at the FamilySearch Labs Web site. They have been indexing a whole slew of different types of records. Some are already available and ready for viewing online. So why should you care? Well, for those of us living here in Ohio, the ability to see the actual death certificates from the Ohio Historical Society's own Death Index is enough to make you do a genealogical happy dance. That's right you can SEE THEM, SAVE THEM, PRINT THEM.

To view the records, you must first register. You can do that by going here Next, you have to be patient while you wait to get your confirmation e-mail telling you that you have completed the registration process, and can now go online.

Not all the records available for viewing have been indexed, but the Ohio Death Certificates are not only searchable, but there are advanced options that allow you to search, for example, by a mother's maiden name. Of course, the indexing is only as good as the information that was supplied on the actual death certificate, but the possibilities of finding lost siblings for great grandma or great grandpa are lovely to contemplate.

Records (that's the ACTUAL IMAGES) available for viewing that have been indexed and are now searchable include:

1. 1900 US Census
2. 1895 Argentina Census
3. Freedman Bank Records 1865-1874
4. England, Cheshire, Register of Electors 1842-1940
5. Maryland, Cecil County Probate Estate Files 1851 -1940
6. Freedmen's Bureau Virginia Marriages ca 1815-1866
7. Georgia Deaths 1914-1927
8. Utah Death Certificates 1904 -1956
9. Ohio Death Certificates December 20, 1908-1956

Other records are available for browsing (such as 1942 World War II Draft Registration cards, which are about 30% complete), along with indexes or abstracted information (such as Ontario Deaths 1869-1947 or Texas Death Index 1964-1998) which have been indexed and are searchable.

I have to admit when I first heard about the agreement brokered between The Generations Network (parent of and the FamilySearch folks allowing free access to at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, along with 13 of the largest regional family history centers, I wondered if that meant that FamilySearch may have quietly agreed to stop putting records online that people could view for FREE. I'm suspicious that way. I guess only time will tell how this all plays out for the little guy living out here in corn country.

If you would like to be a part of the indexing movement going on at FamilySearch Labs, you can read the details at

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 23, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Somebody Had A Good Last Week

For Jasia of Creative Gene ( last week turned out to be a fairly good week. She won Blaine Bittinger's free Genetic Genealogy Test ( on Saturday and earlier that week a second blog, Creative Genealogy ( was listed in Kimberly Powell's post “10 Genealogy Blogs Worth Reading” at (

If you haven't visited Jasia's Creative Genealogy Blog, you might just want to check it out — scrapbooking, photo tips and more to help marry your creative spirit and genealogical endeavors. My heart still belongs to her Creative Gene Blog. Her writing is like the hot cup of chocolate she mentions in her intro for this edition of the Carnival of Genealogy — warm, satisfying and that lingering sweet taste on your palate. My proof — Jasia's entry, “It's a Small World After All,” that is included in the 40th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy (

There are 21 other great reads from this month's edition. The theme focused on connections that each genealogist has made with living relatives. If you've been thinking about reaching out to “touch someone” in your own genealogical quests, these stories will be inspiring for you!

Congratulations Jasia! And congratulations go to each of the 10 talented bloggers who made Kimberly's list. Kimberly also has posted a list of over 40 of her favorite blogs at . Most are on my own gotta read list and since our Web site doesn't support blog rolls, I'm betting Kimberly won't mind if we use her wonderful list as a surrogate. She's been kind enough to give brief descriptions of each.

So bring on Old Man Winter, and dry your eyes over the never-ending writers’ strike — here is some great reading to keep you entertained.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 22, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Monday, January 21, 2008

In Honor of Martin Luther King Day

In honor of Martin Luther King's birthday, I am presenting two links in my post for today. The first is a link to a Web site that carries the text of Dr. King's speech given in August 1963 — almost 45 years ago. Though we hear snippets of it every year, you might find a full text reading of the speech interesting. Dr. King's words are still beautiful and inspiring some four and a half decades later.

What does Martin Luther King Day have to do with genealogy, you ask — maybe nothing or maybe everything. The U.K.'s “The Observer” posted an interesting article back in July, called “The Genes that Built America.” I find it curious that I discovered this piece written in a British publication rather than an American one. It's long and thought provoking. Maybe thought provoking enough for some to find it troubling — for me it has provided some moments of reflection and introspection. You can read it here:,,2124456,00.html.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 21 , 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Friday, January 18, 2008

Correction to My Post about My Grandmother

I received a very nice note from my daughter who liked my post about her great-grandmother. She did, however, correct me on one thing. Though she admitted to loving grandma's cookies, she admonished me with:

“But to call her cookies your children's favorite totally undermines the memorable goodness of Grandma's zucchini bread. I remember it being so good that you'd forget that there was, you know, zucchini in it!”

I stand corrected, that's two votes for cookies, and one vote for zucchini bread. Unless, of course, I get a similar note from her brothers. As my daughter would say, who knew?

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published, January 17, 2008, online at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sources and Citations — How T-Ball and Genealogy Are Sometimes Alike


January 17, 2008
Sources and Citations — How T-Ball and Genealogy Are Sometimes Alike

I remember going to my youngest son's first T-ball game. All that compressed little boy energy hung over the field like a gray cumulonimbus cloud getting ready to burst. The coach positioned each child on the field and they were prepared, that ball WASN'T going to get past them.

The first batter swung, connected and a dozen gloved wonders took off in pursuit of the ball. Two of the “teammates,” the quickest to arrive at the spot where the ball eventually rolled to a rest, tussled with each other to take control over the precious trophy. All the while, the batter, flushed with success at having batted his first ball, in his first game, easily ran the bases. Coaches gestured wildly, fathers screamed, “Throw the ball, throw the ball,” older siblings smirked, and mothers beamed with lopsided smiles at their misguided offspring.

The problem wasn't, of course, a lack of enthusiasm or commitment on the part of the young players. The problem was they had yet to learn the fundamentals that would allow them to play the game the way it was meant to be played — baseball at its best is its own form of poetry.

The same could be said of my first experiences in genealogy. I had the enthusiasm. I had the commitment, but I hadn't yet learned the fundamentals that would allow me to do the research and the recording of information in the way it was meant to be done.

I realized early on the value of recording where the information came from. Without documenting the source of the information, it was hard to go back and determine how or why I had added an individual to my family tree. So I added this information to the note section of each individual.

At some point, it dawned on me, AH HA, there was a section of the software made expressly for this purpose, and I began, I'll admit, to put the information haphazardly into the appropriate section.

Sometime after that, I realized that there was no consistency in how I was entering the information. I dug out my old APA style guide, and struggled to use the information I found there to come up with some kind of standard.

By this time I HAD A MESS! I did some online searching, and found several articles on the subject. Each time I thought I had it figured out, a new problem would arise. For example, the death certificate I received in the mail and the one I found online, should they be recorded in the same manner?

As each new online source became available, I became uncertain what appropriate form the citation should take. Enter Elizabeth Shown Mills's new book, “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,” which tackles among other things, just this type of quandary. As of today, I have my very own copy of Ms. Mills' book to read and thumb through at my own leisure.

I've only gotten as far as the Table of Contents and the Forward — already I'm impressed. She sums up the whole idea of the quest for evidence and the need to evaluate sources so eloquently:

“History is not a collection of raw facts we simply look up and copy down. The past is still a little-known universe that we explore with curiosity and confusion. As we probe its depths, we appreciate resources that save us time. We crave materials we can confidently trust.”

So simple, so beautiful, so true!

So take note, family and friends, I will be holed up for a while devouring the author's thoughts, words and most of all, guidance so that my database will finally be exactly what it was meant to be.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note: If you would like to learn more about “Evidence Explained,” Miriam Midkiff of “AnceStories” did a nice review at

Note this post first published online, January 17 , 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

My Grandmother, Anna

58 — That's the number of facets found on a round, full diamond. The glittering sparkle that you associate with diamonds comes from these flat polished surfaces. No matter which way you look at the diamond, no matter what the distance, or the angle, you cannot see all the facets from one single view. Some of the facets always remain hidden from your sight.

People then, are a lot like diamonds. No one person can ever view all the facets of another.

Grandma was a petite, feisty woman. I cannot imagine that there was ever a day, or even a moment when there was the least bit of ambiguity in my grandmother's life. She was always so certain of the correct thing to do in any circumstance, that it is hard for me to imagine her in any other way.

Grandma didn't hold conversations as much as she held inquisitions and intense conversions to Grandma's way of thinking. I remember once, when my children talked me into letting them adopt a homeless cat, that my daughter named Super, I was a little apprehensive of Grandma's reaction.

Grandma's opinion, “you should name the cat Fluffy.” And with that, the subject was closed, and for the rest of her life she referred to the cat as Fluffy, never mind what the cat's name actually was.

Grandma was a marvel in the kitchen. She canned all her own fruits and vegetables. Her mustard pickles, a concoction of pickles, lima beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, small onions and carrots swimming in a tangy mustard sauce, can still make my mouth water at the mere thought. And she made bread and butter pickles that no factory made rendition can come close to approximating.

But where Grandma really shined was in her baking. And here is where you will find a divergence in opinion about exactly what Grandma baked the best. My dad would say cherry pie or chocolate cake. My children's favorite would be any cookie Grandma brought to our door. My own vote goes to her chocolate marshmallow cookies. Say, amen, and pass the plate.

Even when Grandma was diagnosed with diabetes, she continued baking her famous goodies, giving all to family and friends — I never heard her complain even once about the unfairness of it all. Grandma realized controlling her diet was a given, and for Grandma knowing a thing and doing a thing were synonymous. Had it been me, I would have hung up my baking apron for good, and told everybody to learn to bake their own, slamming the door hard in their faces.

Grandma had a mischievous sense of humor. She was always trying to trick my father into eating things she knew he wouldn't like. Dad's favorite kind of cake was chocolate, and on more then one occasion, she would show up bearing one of these fine cakes. The twinkle in her eyes, gave her away. Dad wouldn't know what little bonus was added to these fine offerings, but he knew when his mother was up to no good.

One time she added tomato soup, another mayonnaise, zucchini was also an added ingredient — my dad didn't take one bite. Me, I'm not nearly as picky and I would try each one — the zucchini and mayonnaise renditions earned thumbs up — the tomato soup one, not so good. But the most memorable of all was her sauerkraut cake.

It was a beautiful cake, gorgeous to behold, until you took the first few bites and ended up with stringy sauerkraut in your mouth. That one was definitely not a keeper. And dad smiled knowingly and refused her obvious ruse. It was OK with Grandma, there was always another time, another cake, another oddball ingredient waiting to fool my father.

As a child, Grandma had grown up in a German-speaking household, and hadn't learned English until she went to school. Born in 1911, she would have been starting school during World War I. I once asked her to speak German, and she told me she didn't remember. I asked if her parents ever talked about Germany. No, was her quick, end-of-conversation answer. Well, what did she think of Germany, I pressed on. And all she would say, shaking her head, “Oh that Kaiser.” And that was all I ever got out of Grandma on that subject.

My memories of my grandmother are many. She taught my children to play dominoes, proclaimed the color of a brilliant sunset, sky blue pink, and worried about her eldest granddaughter trying to raise three children on her own. Sometimes she exasperated, sometimes she invigorated, and always she stood firm on her views of the world. I miss that twinkle in her eye, her steady hand and even her disgusted shake of the head when she talked about the President, “that old Ree-gan,” as she called him.

Today, January 16 would have been her 97th birthday. Happy Birthday, Grandma. Your eldest granddaughter misses you.

Until Next Time ...

Note this post first published online, January 16, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A conversation with a 3-year-old

I'm pulling out a bottle of cranberry juice from my refrigerator to pour a glass for lunch. This is the first lunch that my Friday friend and I have had since mid-December. He's asking me what the bottle is, and I am telling him that it is cranberry juice and that grandpa thinks it's yucky.

“Well dat not very nice of him,” the 3-year-old tells me.

Surprised, I laugh and agree, asking my young friend if he would like to have a taste of it. He considers it for only a second.

“No, I already hab juice.” A clear definite no if ever there was one.

Apparently, while he considers his grandfather's pronouncement on my juice not very nice, he also considers it very true.

I missed the little guy!

Until Next Time ...

Note this post first published online, January 15, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Thursday, January 10, 2008

An Unintentional Stirring of the Pot — My Response

Note: Terry Thornton of “Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi” did a blog post about my two-part essay on “Finding Grandpa's Grave.” His post, and by extension mine, hit a nerve with one of Terry's genealogical friends. The friend had “spent all weekend brooding over this topic.” Terry posted a wonderful and eloquent answer to his friend's intense response. In order to understand my own response you will want to read Terry's original post along with his comments at the following link:
Terry sent me an FYI letting me know about his update. Having read what the friend had said, I went to bed last night with the friend's words and thoughts dancing in my head. This morning, I got up before work and wrote Terry a quick note with my thoughts. Terry has encouraged me to find a way to work this into a post.

The following is a cleaned up, expanded version of what I first wrote — Terry:

I once worked in an office with a young friend who never had a headache. Being someone who has been tortured with headaches all of my life, never having a headache was difficult for me to fathom. My young friend would ask me to tell her what the headache felt like. She would say she wished for a headache just once, so she would know first hand how it felt. (Luckily, for her, we worked in an office and not a lumberyard. If a two-by-four had been handy, I might have felt the need to oblige her.)

My friend, had no frame of reference, so no matter how hard I tried to describe a headache, the words would fall flat. I try to remember this whenever someone talks of things that I have no frame of reference for either.

My three siblings and I had very normal, very happy childhoods. So, while I would never be able to understand exactly the circumstances that caused Terry's friend to brood all weekend on this topic, as a fellow traveler on this road of life, I can be sympathetic and compassionate to his intense response.

Both of my parents come from divorced homes. In my father's case, he is the first in four generations to complete the task of fatherhood. His great-grandfather had a leg amputated in the Civil War, and lived much of the rest of his life in continuous pain. He died when my father's grandfather was 14 or 15. My father's grandfather was 39 when he died — grandpa was only 6. (Grandpa had lost his mother 3 years earlier to consumption). And of course, for those of you who read this blog, you already know grandpa's story.

I have always loved and admired my father, but it wasn't until I started delving into our family history that I realized what a quiet hero my dad is. How he figured out what it was to be a father, I will never completely understand though it didn't hurt that he married a wise woman. Dad not only figured it out, but he has done the job very well. Because of my dad and mother, my siblings and I had the best of childhoods.

But, even with the best of childhoods, my siblings and I still each have flaws, still each have our own inner demons. It is the nature of life.

As I have said before, I believe there are evil individuals and I believe there are saints. Most of us live in the gray area between. Each of us does the best that we can, given the hand that we are dealt. Sometimes we make mistakes and sometimes we get it just right. Sometimes we soar and sometimes we crash, but most of the time we trudge — trudge, trudge, trudge. Without applause and only the occasional sympathetic hand, there is something almost noble in the way human beings keep putting one foot in front of the other. I hope that gives Terry's friend and anyone else for whom our posts stirred up unsettled feelings, some peace of mind.

This is me, then, trudging.

Until Next Time …

Note this post first published online, January 10, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dumb Genealogical Mistakes I Have Made — Elmer/Elmore

I'm inaugurating a new type of blog post where I confess my past (or sometimes current) sins that I have made while researching my family tree. I know, nobody else has EVER made a dumb genealogical mistake. Or if they have, they are not masochistic enough to expose their sin to the whole world. Makes you wonder about my early potty training, right?

When I first started working on my family history, our family had been told that one of my paternal great-grandfathers was one Elmer Smathers. We knew that he had lived in the Jackson/Vinton/Athens county area of southern Ohio. I became extremely diligent in trying to find “our” Elmer.

I was so diligent that I found two. I first found him in the 1910 census with his wife and four children listed as Elmer Smathers — his children, his wife all matched the known data. I found only one Elmer in the 1900 census, and I found the two Elmers in the 1880 census. El-MER Smathers was the son of Reuben Smathers and El-MORE Smathers was the son of Henry Smathers. I would later learn that the two were cousins.

Because Elmer's name was spelled correctly, I concluded that the son of Reuben was “my” Elmer, the Elmer of the 1910 census. Even when I found a list indicating that this Elmer had died in February of 1910, I rationalized that the family had a reason for pretending he was still alive in the 1910 census.

I imagined several scenarios. Maybe he had to be alive so the family could retain their mining company housing. Maybe he had simply disappeared one day and they didn't know that he had died. Maybe the census taker had interviewed a neighbor who didn't know of Elmer's death. I wove a lovely coat of improbable explanations as I stubbornly clung to my initial conclusion. Hey, I had invested a lot of time into Elmer being THE ONE, he wasn't going to get away that easily.

It wasn't until I actually received his death certificate from the Ohio Historical Society that said El-mer was SINGLE, that I reconsidered my stubborn insistence that Reuben's Elmer was THE ONE. Even when I accepted that this was not the correct Elmer, I was insistent that Elmore could not be correct. The spelling, the spelling I kept repeating.

If my mother, who is much wiser, hadn't written for the other Elmer's death certificate, which instead of being in the Jackson/Vinton/Athens county area as expected, was found in Lucas County of all places, I might have thrown up my arms in defeat. But my mother wrote for the death certificate, and when she finally received it, the information turned out to be for “our” Elmer. It also answered a couple of questions, and in hindsight, made perfect sense.

The moral of the story is spelling, schmelling You can't chip away at facts to make them fit. All you can do is keep an open mind and follow where the genealogical trail leads. You can waste a whole lot of time and energy clinging to a beloved but erroneous theory. And if that isn't enough of a moral for you, try this — Momma always knows best!

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 9, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Monday, January 7, 2008

Genealogical happenings


Let me just let that sink in a little bit. Yep, that's right, this blog is now listed as one of the H.O.G.S. Blogger's on Terry Thornton's HILL COUNTRY OF MONROE COUNTY Blog ( There's a cool emblem and everything! (You can see the emblem here Terry explains that HOGS stands for History, Observations, Genealogy, and Stories. Terry has summed it up perfectly because that's exactly what I write, although I might not have come up with that particular acronym. However, I can tell you that I am very pleased to be considered part of the HOGS network, and feel honored to be in such esteemed company. Thanks, Terry, for including me!

Terry also wrote a nice piece about my two-part essay on “Finding Grandpa's Grave.” I am very humbled by his kind words. Thanks Terry.

Thanks also to Randy Seaver of GENEA-MUSINGS who named those same pieces in his “Best of the Genea-Blogs: 30 December 2007 to 5 January 2008” ( Randy routinely puts together a weekly list of interesting posts. I am happy to be in the company of some very well-written pieces.


To paraphrase Prissy from “Gone With The Wind” — I don't know nothin' about no DNA. When it comes to anything scientific, there seems to be a black hole in the center of my brain where all scientific expressions and explanations go immediately upon my hearing them. Not to worry, Blaine Bettinger of The Genetic Genealogist (, posts on this very topic, and he has kindly
divided his archives into categories. One of the categories, DNA for Newbies, must have been written just for me (or maybe, you).

If that isn't enough to wet your appetite, Blaine is running a contest and the prize is a FREE genetic test. If you want to check out the details go to

Until Next Time — GO BUCKS!

Note this post first published online, January 7, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Friday, January 4, 2008

Grandpa's Final Resting Place — Part Two

If you have worked on your own genealogy for any length of time, you know that tracking the females in the family create more challenges than tracking down the males. Marriage is the chief culprit here — every time a female marries, you have to start anew picking up the trail. So, trying to find my father's half sisters seemed daunting.

As I tried to formulate a strategy, I decided since the sexton had given me the dates of death of grandpa's second wife and my half-uncle, I would once again request obituaries to see if I could pick up further clues. And my uncle's obituary gave me the clues I needed to find one of the aunts.

Here, in the interest of protecting the privacy of both of my half-aunts, I am going to be purposely vague. I can tell you that the clue was sufficient enough for me, with some specialized help, to make a few calls to track down a phone number for the older of the two aunts.

Again, each new nugget of information was passed along to my dad, and together we would decide the next step. As it turned out, this aunt had lived in different parts of the U.S. but at that very moment was living in Toledo and not far from where we now knew grandpa was buried.

What to do? Dad and I discussed at length whether or not we should initiate contact. After all, we didn't know if dad's half sister knew that she had older half siblings. We didn't want her to think we wanted anything from her but the communication of one half sibling to another, no strings attached.

It was decided that I would make contact with her, explain the situation, and give her information about my dad, along with his phone number and address. She could decide if she wanted to pursue communication with him.

On a Sunday night in November of 1995, I made the call. It took me several attempts at dialing before I finally had the courage to complete the phone call. I had a few weeks to get my head wrapped around the idea of having a half-aunt. Considering the fact that my call came without any warning to her, my newfound aunt handled the phone call extremely well. I told her who I was, and that I was calling on behalf of my father, who was interested in connecting with her.

I gave her bits and pieces of dad's life, partly because I wanted to give her the sense of what a wonderful person my dad is, and partly to alleviate any concern by her that her newfound relatives had ulterior motives for the sudden communication. Then I let her know that this was the only contact we would be initiating with her, and that if she wanted to get in touch with dad, it was completely at her discretion. I gave her dad's name, phone number and address and let her know that he would be taking an extended vacation after the first of the year, and wouldn't be back until late Spring.

I don't remember how long a period of time went by, it could have been weeks. But one evening dad came over to my house excited because he and his half sister had connected. The following year, when my parents came back to Ohio, the three of us went to meet his sister.

When she opened the door, I knew instantly it was my half aunt. She reminded me of one of my dad's sisters. As a child, I adored this particular aunt, and seeing the resemblance made me feel instantly at ease with dad's “new” sister.

We talked at length, shared stories and pictures. Her memories of her father were warm and nice, and she gave us a mental picture of grandpa that we had not been blessed with previously. The visit was wonderful. At the end, my new aunt pointed us to the cemetery and gave the three of us a general idea of where to look for grandpa's grave.

We fanned out looking for the tombstone, and quite a bit of time passed before I reached down and brushed away the grass clippings form the top of one of the marker's. There, amid stray bits of grass, was my grandfather's name. It had taken our branch of the family 50 years, but that day we finally paid our respects to grandpa.

My dad and his half sister still are in contact. They are the only two of Grandpa's twin families that are in touch.

As for my grandfather, I think that there are evil individuals and I think there are saints. My grandfather, like most of us, lived in the gray area between. He lived his life the best that he could, given the hand he was dealt. Sometimes he made mistakes and sometimes he got it just right. He chose two good, strong women to mother and raise his children, and the world is a little bit better because he did.

Finding Grandpa's final resting place and meeting an unknown aunt were my “greatest genealogical finds ever” and it happened BG (before genealogy).

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!
Note this post first published online, January 4, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Grandpa's Final Resting Place — Part One

(Note: Craig Manson of “Geneablogie” wrote a post on December 31 titled, “The Greatest Genealogical Find Ever …,” which you can read at his new blog Web site. The link for the post is (My real wish for 2008 would be that I could use hyperlinks like everybody else!) He challenged his readers with the question, “What is your version of the greatest genealogical find ever?” Below is part one of my answer.)
My grandfather died of a burst appendix at the age of 36. My dad was 13 at the time, and because his parents went through a very miserable divorce, my dad hadn't seen or talked to his father for a great many years.

Off and on, the subject of where grandpa was buried would come up. We knew he had been living in Toledo at the time of his death, and we had made half-hearted attempts to locate his grave without success.

At the time, November 1995 — five years BG (before genealogy), I knew nothing about death certificates — as for instance, they often contain the name of the cemetery where the deceased is buried. But I did know that obituaries sometimes included burial information. So, I called the information line at the Toledo Lucas County Library and explained that I was searching for the obituary of my grandfather. After being transferred to the correct department, they told me they did have my grandfather's obituary and for a small fee, they would fax it to our own Birchard Public Library.

When I got the call that the obituary had been faxed, I drove immediately to Birchard Library. Unfortunately, it did not give the name of the cemetery where grandpa was buried. Had I been more experienced, I would have realized that the name of the funeral parlor, which the obituary did provide, offered another avenue of information.

However, I remembered the story that grandpa had remarried and had four children with his second wife, and that one of the children had sadly died an accidental death. I knew the approximate year, but I did not have his name. I called the Toledo Lucas County Library once again. They were reluctant at first to help me with so little information to go on, so I explained what I was trying to do, and the very nice woman on the other end of the line agreed to help me. This unknown angel found the correct obituary and once again faxed it to Birchard Public Library.

This time the cemetery was listed. I reasoned that there was a good probability that the boy and the father would have been buried in the same cemetery. Also included in the obituary were the names of my Dad's half brothers and sisters. In addition to the boy who was deceased, there was one more brother and two sisters.

I knew these other siblings existed, but somehow seeing their names, they were suddenly real people to me. Another idea was beginning to take shape. What if I could find one of these half siblings?

I called my Dad, telling him what I had found. I told him I would be calling the cemetery to see if they had his father listed. I also told him the names of his half siblings, just to test the waters. I didn't want to do anything my father didn't feel comfortable with, and I didn't want to get any of his hopes up, so I said nothing about my idea of possibly looking for one or more of his half siblings .

He seemed interested in knowing his half siblings’ names. He repeated the names back to me to be sure he had the names correct and then gave me his blessing to call the cemetery to see if I could find his dad's grave.

I was ecstatic when the sexton said he indeed had my grandfather's grave listed. Success.
Then I asked if there were any other individuals buried there with the same last name — he checked. In addition to the young boy I knew had died, he read off the name of my grandfather's second wife. This was sad, but not unexpected. Then he read off the name of my dad's other half brother.

I can't begin to explain the sorrow that engulfed me when I heard the name of the second half brother. Though his death had occurred eight years earlier, for me his death occurred that day. How can you feel grief for someone you didn't know existed? I don't know, but my sorrow was real and so were my tears. I cried for myself. I cried for my father. And I cried for both uncles I had never known.

I called to tell my dad what I had found. I could tell he too was affected by the news of his half brother's death. I asked my dad how he felt about me trying to find one or more of his half sisters. I told him I would keep him informed every step of the way, and that I wouldn't make any decisions on how to proceed without getting his permission. He gave me the green light to proceed, and I hung up the phone wondering what I should do next.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of “Grandpa's Final Resting Place.”

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 3, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Other Voices of Genealogy

My writing style tends to be a casual, slightly irreverent style of prose. Sometimes I come off a lot more of a “smart aleck” then I intend. My fear is that when I do this that I might be casting an irreverent light on the subject of genealogy and family history, and that is certainly not my intention. I love this hobby of mine, and I have a great admiration for anyone who puts his time and effort into finding and recording his family's history.

With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the other voices of genealogy that you might find interesting or useful. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. These are just some of the blog posts that caught my attention, and I thought were worth passing on to you, dear reader.

Juliana Smith writes the “24/7 Family History Circle” blog. She was browsing other genealogy blogs and came across the Carnival of Genealogy's Christmas Wish edition. Her own wish had to do with organizing and the post of December 9th,, is definitely worth checking out if organizing is on the top of your to do list for 2008.

Randy Seaver of “Genea-musings” made it really easy for me to find his wonderful post about suggestions for beginning genealogists, when he put together his own Best of 2007 posts. His May 22 posting, “12 Suggestions for Researchers” ( acts both as good advice for the beginning researcher, as well as a nice reminder for those of us who have been working on our family genealogies longer.

Denise Olsen, of the blog “Family Matters” is light years ahead of me in matters of technology. She had a very interesting post on using Skype for research matters in her December 20 posting, “Keep in Touch with Skype” She promises more posts on this in the New Year, and this is definitely a subject I want to know more about!

If you haven't heard about “Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace” by Elizabeth Shown Mills, which was published in 2007, you should definitely read the review done by Miriam Midkiff on her “AnceStories” blog. You can read her review at,

Becky Wiseman at “Kinexxions” found a discrepancy in dates for her fifth great-grandfather, Bela Goodrich. Unfortunately, her plight is not uncommon, and you can read all about it in her June 19 posting, “Gravestones don't lie? When did Bela die?” So Becky, which dates have you decided on using?

Terry Thornton of “Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi,” put together a list of his favorite posts for 2007. The winner hands down for me was the one titled, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let's not talk about this …” Terry, born and bred in Mississippi, talks about his family's participation in the Civil War. It highlights one of the most tragic chapters in United States history, as well as spotlighting what a personal tragedy it was for those involved. You may think you understand the Southern view, but things are not always so clear.

This is a subject close to my heart, because while all my direct ancestors fought on the Northern side of the conflict, they had cousins, nephews and uncles living in Virginia, some who fought for the confederacy and some who were Unionists. You can read this very well-written and thought-provoking piece at

These are just some of the other “voices” of genealogy that you might want to read.

Until Next Time — Happy Ancestral Digging!

Note this post first published online, January 2, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online