Thursday, November 27, 2008

Children Without Names

On this Thanksgiving Day, 2008, I can honestly say I have much to be thankful for. My children are healthy, growing and learning every day, and Gary and I have jobs in this sagging economy. We even like our jobs, which is almost unheard of. I am thankful for the love and support of close friends. And I am thankful to live in a country that allows me to pursue my dreams.

These dreams include writing this genealogy blog. Sure, there are selfish reasons to do this; I wish to leave my words as a legacy for my own children so they may understand their family history. And it fulfills my inner-desire to write regularly. But in writing this blog, I have also learned the power of communication, of sharing, and of family bonds. The people I have met in the past months because of this blog have enriched my life considerably, and I am so thankful for their presence in my life.

Of course, I cannot forget those people a little closer to home. There are many members of my family that have taken interest in my writings and provide encouragement every week. In particular, I wish to thank my father, Howard Garrison Martin, Jr. Not only has my dad encouraged my crazy genealogy passions for years, he has contributed time and energy into furthering this dream. He has commented on every piece that is published, coordinated correspondence amongst long-lost cousins, and contributed stories detailing his own quests. I'm not sure what might have become of the fledgling posts had he not supported my early efforts. Dad, thank you for everything. I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am excited to present the second in a series written by my dad detailing his own genealogical journeys. I hope to publish many more.

Earlier in this blog I described the first stop in a genealogy road trip by my sister and me after the death of our father in 2000. It told of our emotional experience in Bancroft, a small community in southern, West Virginia. Bancroft was the girlhood home of our mother and the destination for many trips in our youth to visit Grandma Osborne.
After leaving Bancroft and visiting Aunt Betty in nearby Nitro, we traveled north to Morgantown where our father was raised. Morgantown is still the home of Uncle Hubert, who was 80 at the time of our visit. Hubert, or Hube as he is called within the family, is married to Traudl, a gracious host who has lost little of the energy of her youth. Hube, the only surviving sibling of my father, knows the location of paternal ancestors’ burial sites and is a valuable source of family lore.

Although there are many choices for genealogy research on both sides of my family, I have always been drawn to John Wesley Martin, our paternal great-grandfather who served with distinction in the Civil War. John Wesley must have been a busy man having found time both before and after the war to father 12 children with his wife Mary Ann while scratching out a living as a farmer in the hills around Cassville, West Virginia.

Children Without Names

Hube and Cousin Chris guided us to Oak Grove Cemetery where we found the marker for John Wesley and Mary Ann. The inscriptions were very clear and informative but I was immediately drawn to the nearby small unreadable stones. We were told by Hube that these were placed there by John Wesley and Mary Ann to mark each of their three children who died shortly after birth. Reflecting the modest income of a farmer, the children’s markers were of fieldstone - perhaps taken from the family farm.

Although admittedly a strange thing to do, I’ve been known to stop in country cemeteries during pleasure drives to read inscriptions and try to visualize the people who are buried there. I’ve seen many markers that are too worn to read and they had no effect on me. However, looking at the three unreadable stones caused a completely different emotion perhaps because of the blood relationship or the fact they were children. I promised myself to give the children back their names.

The process was not easy. Charcoal rubbing techniques which worked well for me on other stones yielded no results. Cemetery records were helpful but not complete. After despairing that I had reached an impasse, a friend suggested searching pension application forms which were filled out periodically by Civil War veterans in order to continue their pension payments.
And there it was, question #9 on a Department of The Interior Bureau of Pensions forms dated March 22, 1915, “ state the names and dates of birth of all your children, living and dead”. Two years before his death and in his own shaky handwriting, John Wesley had penned the names and dates which were the object of my search: Rebecca , Lulu and “infant son”.

A monument company in Morgantown found a granite stone which could be reconditioned and proceeded with the lettering and installation. Not wanting to disturb the original stones, I specified a ground level marker from which the viewer could also see the originals.

A genealogy crazed relative and I have a running joke about a gigantic family reunion in heaven attended by all the Martins of our lineage both past and present. After all the feasting, drinking, and story telling, the meeting is called to order by Michael and Jillian Martin who started all this by coming to America from England in 1680. The first order of business is to take nominations for the prestigious Martin Family Genealogy Award - an honor given to the relative who did the most during his/her time on earth to document family history. At one time I thought I held the lead in this competition. However, whatever lead I may have had is now diminished as more and more relatives find themselves intrigued by unraveling mysteries within the family.

As Martha Stewart is fond of saying, “this is a good thing”. It could be a close race!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Celebration of a Lifetime

The deadline for this post came and went a week ago. Of course, this deadline doesn't mean a thing. My livelihood does not depend on it nor is it necessary for me to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is a self-imposed, personal goal. I was on course to write an entry for this blog every week and I had accomplished this goal for 10 straight weeks. Creating this has become important to me. So when I simply could not sit down at the computer last Sunday to transcribe my scribbled notes and I knew I had a very busy week at school ahead of me, I took a deep breath, swallowed my type-A blogging pride, and decided it was best to wait until I had time enough to get it right. I still strive for quality, after all. But I'm glad this day has arrived. I know I'll feel better when it is published. Some people drink wine or gamble to make themselves feel good. I write genealogy blogs. Go figure.

Last weekend was a bit of a whirlwind as my family drove from our home to New Castle, Pennsylvania to celebrate my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. It was a wonderful time for family and friends to get together, reconnect, laugh, and reminisce. On the six hour drive home Sunday afternoon, my husband and I talked about the scenes we had just witnessed. I had already written an opening for the blog, wasn’t too happy with it, and began asking Gary questions about the characters involved. Gary opened up like he never had before. And when he didn’t know the answer, he called his sister, Diane, who, with her own family, was about an hour ahead of us on the highway.

I can’t help but smile as the purpose of writing these blogs has once again been achieved without me writing a single sentence. My questions forced these two siblings to seriously consider the impact an older generation had on their lives. And while Gary and Diane knew full well I intended to write about the experience, that was not the motivating factor. The conversation was good for them as they shared their perspectives. And maybe these perspectives will now be preserved for their children.

I certainly do not mean to leave out Tom and Susan, Gary's other siblings. We had just spent the weekend together and they shared equally in this historic event. Their perspectives are reflected in this piece, as well. I was simply witness to the conversation between Gary and Diane, and received immediate feedback from them regarding my questions.

Finally, here it is. In my short blogging career, this is the entry that has taken the longest to write. Not because I didn’t want to write it, mind you, but because I want to capture a few moments of the weekend well. I wrote most of the introduction in the car on Sunday afternoon, and then took copious notes while Gary and Diane spoke by phone. Therefore, it is also important to me to weave in Gary’s thoughts and memories into this story. By adding a few pictures and videos to the blog, I hope this entry is well worth the wait. So…

Imagine eight friends sitting around a kitchen table celebrating a milestone birthday. The setting is simple, the plot all too common. If this scene were described on the back of a novel in the sale bin at a used bookstore, you’d certainly throw it back in a flash. No need to read on. Boring, mundane, routine.

Only a person who truly understands the old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” would know that what the cover does not reveal is the depth of the characterization found within the worn pages. This person might just take the time to crack the binding just once, though, and be absorbed by the emanating laughter. The book takes hold and keeps the reader turning page after page.

The story is so real and so human. It tells how each of the people sitting around the table brings out the best in the others. How they have depended on each other through good times and bad. The weekends at the lake or trips across country, the building of each other’s homes and their plans for the future. No, the cover on this book definitely conceals the treasures found within. And to be that person who takes a chance on this story, you have to be drawn to these characters. You have to understand the significance of this otherwise common setting and plot. You almost needed to witness the event itself to fully appreciate the magic that transpired around that kitchen table, as it did last night at the Murphy's house. I was one of the lucky ones; I was there.

As I write this account I am driving home from New Castle, Pennsylvania. Actually, my husband is driving, one son is asleep, and the other two boys are arguing over a new video game. I should be working on a presentation for school tomorrow, but I am not. The first snow is falling and I can’t get the images and sounds from last night out of my head. I just need to write this down. It’s like the reverse of writer’s block; I can’t do anything else until I get these thoughts out.

Yesterday was my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. Reginald Stephen Murphy was born on 15 Nov 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio, the fourth of six children born to Ronald and Valeria Murphy. I could continue with the genealogy of his family, but that would not help alleviate my need to write about yesterday. So the rest of the Murphy family tree will have to wait.

Reg and Bonnie Murphy’s four children have been excitedly planning this weekend for nearly a year. Each had ideas for the best way to celebrate, but all were united in their belief that this birthday should be a family affair. Nothing extravagant and as little stress as possible was the motto. All of the children, and eight of ten grandchildren, would be present. In the end, a surprise party was planned and my family would be instrumental in its successful execution.

The cold, windy night provided the first glimpse of the Pennsylvania winter ahead, but the bitterness did not dampen spirits. Reg was certainly surprised when he saw his other three children at the restaurant, and was even more overwhelmed by the reception of friends and grandchildren waiting for him at his home. With cameras rolling, Reg showed this emotion as he blew out the candles on his cake.

As a testament to his friendship and loyalty, many close friends braved the weather and journeyed to Penny Lane. Of these friends, six, in particular, are most special. This group, forever known as “the gang,” has been friends since high school. Throughout their lives they played cards together, they bowled together, they celebrated births and consoled each other in difficult times. Every Christmas Eve was spent at the Murphy's, every Christmas night at the Yoho's, and every night between Christmas and New Years at a different friend's house. The families always spent every Memorial Day and Fourth of July at Lake Latonka near Mercer, Pennsylvania. Nearly every Saturday night for the remainder of the year the gang met at Troggio’s Restaurant. Rarely a week would pass without some form of gathering. Many serve as godparents for children of friends. Greetings of “Aunt” and “Uncle” are commonly heard from Gary’s generation. The bond among the friends in this gang is almost tighter than family.

By 7:45 p.m. all but two of the surviving original members of the gang had arrived. Those that could not move well found a seat around the kitchen table right away and stayed put. Those still mobile played musical chairs around the house while serving food, clearing dishes and socializing with other guests.

Eventually, the allure of laughter and storytelling brought Reg and Bonnie Murphy, Wayne and Betty Jean Yoho, Bob and Joanne McClintock, Mary Lou Hannon and Rosemarie Andrews together around a single table for the first time in many years. The voices of Tom Hannon and Chuckie Andrews were missed as they are every day; Russ and Dee Capitola are currently home bound but called in their best wishes during the festivities.

Like waves formed after throwing a stone into a puddle, the children of my husband’s generation, the kids who grew up together as close as siblings, formed a semi-circle around the table. Side comments added their own perspectives to stories told by their parents. By generation, inside jokes hung in the air as thick as smoke. Those of us who married into the family sat on the outer ring watching this incredible event unfold. And it was from the comfort of a living room chair that I began to take notes, thinking this is the stuff genealogy blogs are made of.

Someone in the crowd suggested we record the conversation unfurling at the kitchen table. Gary set up the camera on the counter and let it roll, unbeknownst to the guest of honor.

Analyzing the cast of characters, there is no doubt that Wayne Yoho has served as the group’s comic relief since its inception. His jokes and antics are legendary. In one of the few lulls in the evening, though, while everyone was trying to catch their breath from laughing so hard at one of the many stories told, Wayne turned philosophic. “We never made much money but we had a hell of a lot of fun.” Nothing seems truer.

The biggest laughs of the evening came at the expense of the most unassuming man around the table. Bob is a very good sport. He is one of the oldest of the group and quite possibly, the healthiest. Bob, Wayne and Reg graduated from high school together, joined the Navy and worked for the railway. He is a true gentleman and maintains a dry sense of humor. While Reg is second in command to Wayne’s outspokenness, Bob is confident to stay one step behind. This does not mean that he isn’t involved; rather, Bob’s leadership is simply more understated than the rest.

For example, Bob is the kind of man who steps forward to speak at a funeral when no one else will. It is this thoughtfulness, his affinity for the computer, and the belief that he will outlive all of the rest, that the group has nominated him as the official eulogy writer. As Rosemarie said, “Just write one for each of us now, save it on the computer, and pull it up when you need it.”

In addition and in true form, Betty Jean dared Bob to grab her breasts while she lay dead in the coffin at her own funeral. This dare was given partly as a testament to their friendship, but partly because Bob would be the least likely to actually go through with the action. Turning red and sliding his chair back from the table, Bob raised his hands in mock surrender as if he could not fathom participating in such an act of disrespect. In the next breath and with a crooked little smile, Bob started toward Betty Jean and quipped, “Why don’t I just practice now?”

Later, while taking a group photograph to commemorate Reg’s party, Bob snuck up behind Betty Jean and grabbed her breast. No less than four cameras captured the shot. (Unfortunately my flash was a bit sluggish and the image is blurred. When I receive another, clearer version, I'll replace the one I have.) Laughter erupted once again and Reg was the happiest I had ever seen him. He was surrounded by family and friends. It was as if time stood still. He, Bonnie, and their friends had fought off the signs of aging and had mustered the energy to be together one more night.

Back in the car on the Sunday afternoon drive home, Gary just got off the phone with Diane. He was thoughtful as he recounted, “Everyone there understood how important it was to reconnect with people you love. It was more than a physical effort. This group of people has been together for over 60 years. They are family and they need each other.”

Since I began writing the snow has stopped falling and the sun is fading quickly to my right. Gary and I have had great conversations. We have collaborated with other members of the family by phone to fill in missing information. We have even debated the appropriate time to turn these blog entries into a book. Having a hard copy version of this is probably the best way to preserve significant moments in our family’s history, moments like Reg’s 80th birthday party and the importance of “the gang” in his life. Creating a book is a goal I will tackle in the years to come. But there is no hurry and I’m not expecting a best seller. But when I’m ready to pursue this dream I’ll make sure the description on the jacket cover is as special and exciting as the stories found within.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Farm and Its People

My grandmother was a complicated woman. You'll just need to trust me on this. But the one thing that is certain about Gertrude Ann Connell Cook was her love of the farm on which she was raised. "The farm" was a constant source of inspiration throughout her long life. She spoke often about relationships with her father, her Aunt Mary that raised her, and her many siblings. I have hundreds of photographs of the house, the animals, and the land situated near Milton, Indiana. This place was obviously the hub of the Connell family, nuclear and extended.

Even in her later years, when she would mistake me for a long-deceased sister as we sat in her room at the nursing home, my grandmother would recall the days the girls would walk through the fields chasing a dog or a horse. I finally realized it was better to just play along at these times, and taking cues from years of listening to family lore, I slipped into the role of Elizabeth or Frances. The sisters were certainly best friends, and "the farm" was where they shared their most memorable moments together.

So I should not have been surprised to find a handwritten manuscript detailing every nuance of "the farm" in one of the boxes of genealogical treasures I found among my grandmother's belongings after she passed away. Except I was. This finding absolutely stunned me. On several sheets of wide-ruled notebook paper, neatly aligned back in the plastic wrap with the remaining blank sheets, was the following account. My grandmother's schoolteacher handwriting is so recognizable while the emotion contained within the words is not. She obviously used her writing to express her softer side, feelings that did not come easily in other relationships. There is no date on the script, and no evidence as to why it was written or why it stopped so abruptly. The considerable amount of notes in outline form at the end of the original, not contained here, makes me believe she was attempting to write an autobiography.

I hope one day to finish the work my grandmother began. She understood the significance of preserving family history and has given me the gift of her memories, in her own words. "The Farm and Its People" has provided a glimpse into the life of my grandmother that I didn't know existed. She was still a complicated person. But I'm beginning to understand her a little bit more.

The Farm and Its People, by Gertrude Ann Connell Cook

The only ones left who shared this world with me, will tell me that I didn’t get all my facts straight, but I’ll remind them this is the way I remember.

Once you have lived on the land, been a partner with its moods, secrets and seasons, you say to this land, “You are part of me.” I wasn’t born on this farm, but moved there before I was two. I have been a part of the thousand sounds, sights and smells. I again am sitting under the maple tree in the front yard. There were just two at first, I remember-then another grew up tall and husky on the other side of the graveled drive. We had a rope swing on the one on the north side. The ground warn smooth in a hollow where we would drag our feet. On either side of the front entrance was a tall cedar tree. I would sit and wonder how can I ever climb to the top? I think I climbed everything tall on that farm. Along the fence of the yard, that enclosed the garden side, were cherry and pear trees. Along the road in front was the catalpa (pop corn) tree. In the front corner of the road and garden side was a lilac tree that I loved, it was my corner to be alone, to dream, wish and imagine. In a family of nine, it was useful.

All around this yard was a fence-a picket fence, a big picket swinging gate at the driveway. We had all the old fashioned plants and flowers, tiger lilies, roses, violets, star-of-Bethlehem, a soft red blooming bush. On the other side of the drive there were lilac bushes, more trees. This side was fences from the horse field. The driveway led past the long open porch, on the south side of the house. To the back of this yard and to the south was the buggy shed-outside of this on the driveway, our father would shoe his horses- Bessie, Silveretta, and others driven to the buggy, I cannot remember the names. Right next to the buggy or carriage shed was the chicken house. These were torn down in later years. I can barely remember them. The drive way went thru the yard, went to the carriage shed around the back of the house thru a gate, down a hill, into the barnyard. Walking straight thru the driveway, you went down a hill, past the smoke house. At the bottom of the hill was a well built wooden, spring house. The water was cold and fresh, gushing from this spring-it went into troughs in the spring house out the back into the horse trough. In the spring house we put the milk in crocks. Some of the milk we let the cream come to the top which we skimmed and put into the churn to make butter. I used to like to churn, and work the butter, add the salt, and put it into rolls. The plug would be pulled first to let the buttermilk run out. I never liked buttermilk. In later years we had the separator. It was in the kitchen, one in the corner near the cellar door. How I hated that separator! Washing those discs!

In later years a huge walnut tree grew over the spring house, but the wooden house was replaced by a cement block house. It was never the same. When the boys caught fish they used to keep them in the horse trough. The land was swampy around the springs. We use to make water wheels from buts of shingles and sticks-this spring water went out into the horsefield and there was a little stream. Along this stream, willow trees grew. Paul and Mary Margaret made a Flying Dutchman between a couple of trees in the horsefield. We had a lot of fun there, until one day Frances flew off and wrapped around a tree, knocked the wind out of her-we though she was gone. I never played there much after that. In the barn lot, not far from the horse trough was the duck house. I never liked the ducks much. I never liked to get them off the old canal, or from the horsefield streams, in the evening. It was Paul’s job for many years, until some of the rest of us grew up, and it was passed down from one to the other. Whenever I smell the mint from fresh mown (cut) hay, I think of the horsefield.

The horses wore a dusty path from the horse barn, over the railroad, over the bridge, to the horse trough-then back to the barn again-from the field in the eve to the fields in the AM-morning, evening.

For many years there was a tame white crane that lived in the canal and along the bank. It was so tame we would talk to it. For some reason, someone from town shot it.

In the barn lot with the spring was a cluster of buildings. The plotted double corncribs with yellow ears showing. The tool shed, filled with the planters, plows, etc. with the long sloping roof. We would hull the walnuts, put them on the roof to dry. In later years Dad had his blacksmith shop. The building used to be in the orchard, and later was moved for the blacksmith shop. The granary was a forbidden place for us in the orchard, but we liked to get in there, with our bare feet and walk in it, chew some wheat, and make chewing gum. We almost lost Olin in a corn slide in a half filled corn crib, one time. That was scary and we were lucky to save him. The girls used to use the empty corncribs for play houses. Horse shoes were used as horses (“playlike”). An impaired horseshoe horse would have a rag bandage with brick dust sprinkled on the bandage and tied on one end of the horseshoe. We would have families of paper dolls that lived in the corncrib houses. Whichever one was playing at the time and whoever was the oldest, that family was always one penny richer than the other families.

Going thru this barnyard there was a bridge over the canal, and then crossed the railroad. We all loved the horse barn, stalls for the work horses, Old Molly and Joe, etc. harness on pegs along the walls, behind the stalls-smell of hay in the haymow-crunch of corn in the feed boxes-hay thrown down from the hay mow and sometimes a handful of brown sugar thrown in the feed boxes from the sugar barrel beside the door. Then there was the cow barn attached to the horse barn. There was a box stall for the mother and colt.

Back of the barn, several feet away ran a branch of the White River. We had the “old swimming hole” the ripples to wade in, islands to wade out to, etc.

Morning and evening the Big Four train would steam past the barn and thru the farm. The crew would whistle as it went by. In the summer, the crew would often stop the train at the curve just past the barn and go swimming in the river.

The canal that ran along the railroad was the one built for the waterway of the horsedrawn barges. The levee for the horse and driver was still there thru the farm. We all played along the canal, watched the frogs, turtles, fish, crawdads, snakes, etc. The turtles would bury their soft shelled white eggs in the soft dirt along the bank. This was south of the bride. North of the bridge, on one side the R.R. and the other side the springs from the bottom of the hills at the orchard. In the winter the springs would freeze on top from the spring water still flowing underneath and would have a ripplelike frozen bank. We would slide down these on our skates on to the frozen canal. I can remember getting up before breakfast, before school, by moonlight, and skating on the canal. The ice like glass.

In an open spot where there was sort of a hollow, watercress stayed green all summer and winter. Many trees grew along this hill from the orchard to the canal. Buttercups bloomed in the spring water. We had paths thru these hills-made by animals and us. Wild cherry, wild plum etc. bloomed in the spring. We loved the big wild cherry tree.

All kinds of apples were in that orchard. In the beginning it was always sprayed. We had golden delicious, red delicious, grimes golden, morden blush and many others. We used to take wagon loads of crabapples to the White’s cider mills. The big barrels of cider (which turned to vinegar when stored). We would have two layers (shelf like bins) of apples in the cellar up until spring-along with the bins of potatoes.

There were several hills at the end of the orchard near the corncribs. Some of the boys and girls with Paul guiding the framework of an old springwagon, with his knees and feet, we would start at the top of the hill, and fly down and up the hills and most of the time end in the canal.

Someone broke a statue of the Blessed Virgin. Of course these statues were always blessed. Aunt Mary saw to that. We buried the pieces under a wildrose bush in the orchard. Everytime we passed this bush we would genuflect. There were two old tombstones in the orchard. I wish we had taken care of them. Perhaps they were picked up in clearing.

We loved the old woods below the barn. The honey tree at the turn of the woods. We followed the dry river beds in the summer, swung from the wild grapevines, picked white violets under the honey tree-wondered about “Cold Springs”-knew where to find the mushrooms-we cherish memories of Frances’ birthdays with the wiener roasts.

In the fall let me smell the fragrance of wheat and I see Dary Christ rattling up the road, smokestack puffing smoke, turning in the lane tooting the steam whistle. In the house the long table pulled out-chairs all around-the water buckets and stand on the porch, with the roller towels-store mean bought-the next morning wagons from the fields-strawstacks piling up-the wheat wagons going to the mills.

Our nearest neighbors were Harry Ward on Stant’s (not Stant’s then) corner, Ed. Wilson’s across the fields-Grandma Conney-(Montgomery’s) Mart Kellam-Uncle John Callan-Rufus (Harper Lindsay) Oliver Wallace- I have ridden to town on the back of Harper Lindsay’s springwagon. We used to gather wild strawberries along Wilson’s road. When we got home, all we had was a big red stain in the skirt of our dress. We never thought of eating, we brought them home, even if we had nothing but a juicy stain.

Tramps stopped by for something to eat. We always gave them something to eat. Aunt Mary gave them sandwiches. They had our place spotted for that. Gypsies camped down the road under a big oak tree. We were afraid of them. One time they stole a dog-Ponto. Dad tracked them all around, but we never found Ponto.

We always had a garden. In long ago days we had rhubarb, horseradish, asparagus, gooseberries, strawberries, and will you ever forget the garden by the river by the barn?

There were 320 acres of cultivated fields, woods and pasturelands.

In our world there were Father, Mother, Mary Margaret, Paul, Elizabeth, Gertrude, Frances, Cornelius, Blanche, John and Olin. I can’t remember the name of Agnes? Hubble who used to help at the house for a while. Then there was John Kraus who came as a hired man. He stayed on and became a part of us. When I was 13 my mother died. Olin was barely two. Mary Margaret was a senior in H.S. Our mother’s family lived in Glendale, Ohio. Aunt Mary and Grandpa Driscoll came to live with us. I cannot remember my mother very well. Aunt Mary was a mother to us. She taught us the beauty of nature, hills, music, sunsets, skies, her church and religion meant so much to her.

Aunt Mary had a millinery store on Fountain Square in Cincinnati. She catered to the “carriage trade.” Always she would fashion hats from bits and pieces. I remember a beautiful leghorn hat-a beautiful black heaver she had with her when she came to live with us. They had so many lovely things.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Great Aunt Betty

How do you possibly thank someone who opens up his or her heart to you without expecting anything in return? How do you explain the instant bonds that are formed among strangers when they share an extraordinary experience? What is the value of information that will never make the history books but answers long-standing questions about your personal history? These are the questions that swirl through my mind when I consider the connections just recently made with my Great Aunt Betty Osborne and her children Judy, Jeanne and David.

Aunt Betty is my father’s aunt. She was married to my paternal grandmother’s brother, Joe Osborne. Betty and Joe met while in college and their young marriage survived the separation of military service during World War II. After Joe’s release from a military hospital in Texas, the family moved to Nitro, West Virginia and raised their three children. It wasn’t until recently that Betty moved from Nitro to be near her daughter Jeanne in Missouri. She is a vibrant 88 years young with a very sharp memory.

To tell the truth, I hadn’t heard much about Aunt Betty and her family until these past few weeks. I don’t think we’ve ever met. But I do know that my grandmother, Ruth Osborne, and her younger brother, Joe, were very close throughout their lives. They visited often as adults and ensured their children knew each other well. My dad has fond memories of his cousins, aunt and uncle. Yet now, although still technically strangers, Betty and I share a common vision. We both desire to preserve the family’s history and we are working toward that goal. She is the link to a generation of people whose memorable moments have remained slightly elusive to this day. This blog brought Betty and me together; we will continue to use is as a forum to safeguard our shared vision.

Recently, I sent Betty a series of questions that highlight her own family’s genealogical data. As I told her, it is important for me to understand a bit of her life story before I delve into her interactions with the Osborne family. I also included several writing prompts to spur specific memories of the Osborne’s. My dad helped facilitate these prompts.

Evidently, Betty was ready to write. Within a few days, she had written answers for every question and promised more in the near future. Her insights into the lives of the Osborne family members are particularly valuable as there is very little documentation that exists today. As an example, no one is really sure of the name of Ruth and Joe’s grandmother. It is one of the greatest mysteries of my short genealogical career. Possibly, with Betty’s help, it will be solved.

It is with extreme gratitude to Betty and her children (who continue to send me wonderful family photos to add to my collection) that I can publish the writing prompts and recollections here.
1. When I first met Joe through a college friend from New york, we went to a Sunday supper at the Methodist church in Buckhannon, W. Va. After the church service, Joe walked me back to the dorm. 'The rest is history!!!' We were happily a couple for over 50 years.

2. Joe and I got married on Saturday, January 14, 1939. Joe knew he had to leave college at mid-term (after his father had his stroke). We went to Oakland, Maryland to be married. He and a friend had made a trip to Maryland to get the license three days before the 14th. Addy and Phyllis McKown made the trip to Maryland with us thru a snow storm. Had to keep our marriage a secret because I couldn't live in the college dorm if I was married. Joe lived in a boarding house until the end of the semester and then went home to Plymouth.

3. My first impression of Joe's parents was : Met the senior Osbornes in March of 1939. When I was in Charleston on spring break at my college roommates home, Joe had gotten a job with Monsanto. Took me to meet his parents at that time. Mr. Osborne was in a wheel chair (he was very pleasant). Mrs. Osborne was not quite as receptive. They knew that we were married, but I did not. (Now I know she was concerned about their circumstances - and about help Joe could provide.)

4. Joe remembered his father as: Always thought Joe had great respect for his father. Really didn't talk too much about his parents.

5. Joe remembers his mother as: Great respect for his mother - helped her in anyway he could. Talked about errands he helped her with, chores about the house. The years after she and Dorse moved to Bancroft he visited weekly and after the war, when we had no car, would go by Greyhound bus for a visit. Approximately about 15 miles from Nitro.

6. Joe's siblings were: Macel and Lesa (half sisters). John, Edward, Gilbert, Ruth, Harry Clay, Dorse and Joe. (Harry Clay died Nov. 5, 1918) before Joe was born. Died from the flu epidemic of 1918.

7. Joe's overall relationship with his family was : Kept in close touch. Visiting often with Ruth and family in Wheeling; John and Gilbert in Roanoke, Ed, Lesa and Macel in Charleston.

8. A memory of Joe's childhood that he shared with me was: As a boy scout - his troop was to attend a church service - he was concerned about his shoes and asked to go get new ones. His mother nixed the idea, but his father took him to get his new shoes!

9. My favorite memory of Anna Osborne is : When Anna was living with us during her last years, she would express concern why Ruth wouldn't come home instead of living with 'that man' in Wheeling.

10. Dorse was special because: He really was special under such dire circumstances - Being crippled and hard to communicate. He was always cheerful. His last years in Bancroft he enjoyed walking to the local post office to get the mail and greeting he would get from the people he would meet. He looked forward to the church services at the local Baptist church. His hobby was collecting match book folders and received many from relatives and friends. Enjoyed listening to the radio and the last year of his life watching TV. They went without a TV for a long time because Anna was afraid that their assistance from Social Services would be put off. The family finally bought them a TV. (Badly crippled from a type of meningitis - 1917 era) Was always special and well cared for by family.

11. During the WWII years, the Osborne family: Joe was drafted in the Army- trained in Texas -served in Germany in the infantry - wounded and returned to a hospital in Texas - injuries slight, Thank goodness. Meanwhile, Judy and I went to Charleston to live with Paul Engle (Macel's husband) and his infant daughter Sara Jane. Joe's half-sister Macel Engle had just given birth to Sara Jane. Macel died in childbirth - a shock to all the family - Paul had Sara Jane in a childcare home, so I volunteered to move to Charleston to care for Sara Jane. This helped Judy and I, too - as I couldn't afford to stay in our house at the time. I believe the Army pay was $100 a month!!!We 'lived together' for a period of three years 'til Joe was released from the Army Hospital in Texas. We then moved back to Nitro. Lesa and lee Johnson then took care of Sara Jane until Paul re-married.
12. My children regard Abe and Ruth : 'My Kids' loved Ruth and Abe. Visited them more than the Aunts and Uncles from Virginia, but really always enjoyed our extended family.

13. My best memory of Wheeling is: One visit in the early years '40's we went to a park in Wheeling in the evening - enjoyed dancing to a live orchestra! Also on a few visits we played golf.

14. The last time I was with Ruth: Really can't remember the last time I was with Ruth. I do remember the terrible feeling Joe and I both had hearing about her death. She and Abe had both come to Charleston when Joe had his first aneurysm surgery in 1975. Joe came home from work when he got the news and sat out on the back steps and cried. They were very close.

For now, Betty Osborne and I remain email correspondents. We will continue to exchange our stories using available technology until we meet in person. I truly hope this will be soon. Every bit of information provided here is a launching pad for new investigations and there is still so much to learn from each other.

So Betty, until next time...thank you for opening up your heart and mind to me during the past few weeks. I feel this experience has brought the Osborne's and the Martin's closer together with a shared vision for the preservation of the family's history. This little blog has certainly worked its magic once again. Your insights are truly remarkable and are now preserved for every future generation to behold. My gratitude is boundless.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In memory of Jerry K.

The Murphy family has many wonderful stories to tell. I’ve already used this blog to preserve the immigrant journey of young Valeria Gallo. Her travels to the U.S. as an infant and the tragic loss of her mother to tuberculosis in Chicago have the intrigue of a Hollywood movie.

Pressing the family for more anecdotal information we find immigrants struggling to live the American dream, Revolutionary War heroes, mistakes made on birth certificates (for example, one member of the family was born in Cuba, according to his birth certificate when, in fact, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio), spirited mothers of newly married young men, artifacts with unusual markings engraved into them, and a man who we believe left his home and family in Pennsylvania without a trace to live out the remainder of his 104 years in Fresno, California.

These leads are a genealogist’s dream. Unfortunately, I sometimes feel I neglect these branches of my children’s family tree for lack of available primary source documentation. We simply do not have many wills, letters or photographs from which to piece together life stories. Given time to interview family members and research local repositories, progress will be made. And I certainly hope this time will come soon. Even then, there will still be many holes and suppositions about the day-to-day life of the extended lines of the Murphy and English families.

There is one amazing story from this side of the family that I feel compelled to share, however, because I do have a lot of information. It is my absolute favorite story that I have researched thus far in my genealogical “career.” It is the story that anchors my passion. I believe it has achieved this status because of the serendipitous timing of the research, advances in technology, the emotional ties that unite families, and the willingness of one man to open up and share parts of his life with a complete stranger. This story also shows that tracking down every clue in a project just may lead to a different, more exciting, story than the one which inspired it.

Therefore, this blog entry is not as emotionally riveting as others may be. It is not like Ruthie's WWII journals, Valeria’s quest to survive, or Lou Ann’s determination to understand the fate of her long-lost brother. In fact, I never met the subject of this story, Jerry Kumery. I’m sure this is the reason for the objective, rather impersonal, nature of today’s writing. However, this story has more feeling to it for me than many others and I hope you come away with an appreciation of this emotion.

The journey that led me to Jerry Kumery was actually focused on his father, Joseph. In March, 2007 my sister-in-law asked me to determine the cause of Joseph's death in World War II. This became the “Research Report Prepared for a Client” section of my Board for Certification of Genealogists application, from which I anticipate receiving my certification in December. I offer the Summary of Actions and Findings as a shortened version of the story and an example of the type of report I produce.

Summary of Actions and Findings

Action: Researched life of Joseph Kumery prior to military service
• Joseph Kumery was born 13 Feb 1906 Chicago, IL (Source Citation: Individual Deceased Personnel File)
• In 1910 Joseph was living with Steve and Mary Gallo and sister “Mary” in Tarentum, PA. (Source Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Tarentum Ward 3, Allegheny, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1297; Page: 3B; Enumeration District: 248; Image: 1574.)
• In 1910 Joseph’s father, Alois Kumery, is living in Chicago and is listed as “widowed.” (Source Citation: Year: 1910; Census Place: Chicago Ward 17, Cook, Illinois; Roll: T624_260; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 798; Image: 751.)
• In 1920 Joseph and his sister, Walerya (Valeria) are living with their father, Aloiz, in Chicago. (Source Citation: Year: 1920; Census Place: Chicago Ward 17, Cook (Chicago), Illinois; Roll: T625_328; Page: 20A; Enumeration District: 995; Image: 404.)
• In 1930 Joseph is again living with his aunt and uncle, Mary and Stephan Gallo in Chicago. Joseph is now 23 and listed as a pressman in a print shop (Source Citation: Year: 1930; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 448; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 745; Image: 537.0.)
• Married Anna F. Smagon
• Richard J. Kumery born 18 Jul 1932 in Chicago, died 25 Feb 2000 in Charlotte, NC (Source Citation: Mrs. Richard Kumery)
• Jerry R. Kumery born 14 May 1934 in Chicago, IL, died 16 Sep 2007 in Chicago, IL (Source Citation: obituary provided by Mrs. Jerry Kumery)
• Enlisted in the army 27 Aug 1942 (Source Citation: U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946)

Action: Ran basic internet search for Joseph Kumery
• Found several genealogy queries from John Helms requesting information on Joseph Kumery’s death on 02 Aug 1945 in France (included)
• According to John Helms’s queries, John Howard Gates was killed at the same time as Joseph Kumery
• John Howard Gates is the uncle of John Helms
• According to John Helm’s information, both soldiers were struck by a train
• Initial attempts to contact John Helms by email proved unsuccessful

Action: Wrote to Department of the Army and requested a copy of the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) pertaining to Joseph Kumery through the Freedom of Information Act
• Information arrived in approximately four months

Action: Uncovered vital information found in the IDPF:
• Joseph R. Kumery was a member of the Corps of Engineers
• Cause of death is listed as “struck by train”
• Date of Death is listed as 02 Aug 1945
• Date of entry on current active service 27 Aug 1942
• Emergency addressee listed as Anna Kumery (wife)
• Beneficiaries: Anna Kumery (wife) separated, Richard Kumery (son), Gerald Kumery (son) same as above, Valeria Murphy (sister)

NOTE: Valeria Murphy is the client’s grandmother. Valeria died 06 May 2000 in New Castle, PA
• Personal effects inventory included in IDPF
• Originally buried in Luynes, Aix-en-Provence (France) Plot E, Row 10, Grave 695
• Disinterred by request from Anna Kumery 09 Mar 1948
• Reburied in St. Adalbert Cemetery, Niles, IL 1948

Through conversation with client, researcher continued search into the life of Joseph Kumery. Attempts were made to contact family members Anna (wife), Richard (son) and Gerald (son).

Action: Search of Social Security Death Index revealed:
• Anna Kumery deceased 08 Nov 1993 Chicago, Cook, IL
• Richard J. Kumery deceased 25 Feb 2000 Charlotte, Mecklenburg, NC

Action: Conducted directory assistance search in Charlotte, NC
• Uncovered contact information for two possible living relatives of Richard Kumery; Toni (wife) and Jerri (daughter)

Action: Researcher wrote letters to both Toni and Jerri Kumery (15 Jul 2007).
• A few days later, Toni Kumery contacted researcher via email (included)
• Toni and Jerri had just moved to Richmond, VA
• Toni confirmed researcher’s information, but had little to add
• Toni provided contact information for Richard’s brother, Gerald (Jerry) in Chicago, and her niece, Jeanne Ziolkowski (Jerry’s daughter), also in Chicago
• Researcher maintains contact with Toni Kumery

Action: Researcher wrote a letter to Jerry Kumery (16 Jul 2007) and Jeanne Ziolkowski (24 Jul 2007)
• Jerry responded by email
• Jeanne responded by email
• Researcher shared pictures electronically, including photos supplied by client’s aunt and one found on a website sponsored by John Helms claiming to be the funeral of John Gates and Joseph Kumery in France
• Researcher sent copy of IDPF through postal service
• Jerry confirms father buried in St. Adalbert cemetery, but was too young to remember much about his father’s side of the family
• Researcher and Jerry Kumery agree to remain in contact and share information as it becomes available
• Researcher remains in contact with Jerry Kumery and Jeanne Ziolkowski

Action: Researcher once again attempted to contact initial reference, John Helms.
• Searched internet for all postings that list John Helms’s email address
• One of the sites found presents a combined genealogy project conducted by John Helms and his cousin, Dan Vendetta
• Researcher contacted Mr. Vendetta, summarized project on Joseph Kumery, connected Kumery to John Helms, and solicited help in contacting John Helm
• Mr. Vendetta wrote back immediately via email with contact information
• Researcher wrote a letter to John Helms requesting any information he has on Kumery through his own research into the death of his uncle, John Gates
• John Helms contacted researcher by phone on 19 Aug 2007
• Researcher and John Helms agreed to exchange information and photos by mail
• John Helms confirms individual in two of Kumery’s pictures is John Gates on 27 Aug 2007
• John Helms provides two additional photos featuring Kumery and Gates

Recommendation for future research:
• Obtain birth certificate from Cook County (IL) Clerk’s office for Joseph R. Kumery (DOB 13 Feb 1906) to launch research into earlier generations of Kumery family
• Maintain contact with Jerry Kumery’s family, Toni Kumery, and John Helms. Each of them has a vested interest in this research and has been, and will continue to be, helpful participants.
• Investigate other members of the Kumery extended family, including Joseph’s parents (Aloycius Kumery and Wilma Bercik) and his aunts, Mary Bercik Gallo (Stephen) and Agnes Bercik.
• Research other WWII documents that might detail the accident that killed Joseph Kumery

The researcher wishes to thank the client for inspiration and encouragement throughout this project. The researcher also feels tremendous gratitude for the gracious contributions provided by the members of the Kumery family.

The outline, above, detailing months of research and communication, cannot accurately describe the joys of piecing together a story that was once just bits of family lore. And this story could not have come together without the documentation contributed by other interested parties. Jerry Kumery’s death on 16 Sep 2007, just a few weeks after we began our correspondence, was devastating to me on many levels. Certainly, my feelings cannot compare to the loss his immediate family felt so deeply. Yet, he had been so open to my research and seemed genuinely interested in helping preserve the stories for his own immediate family, as well as, my husband's family. He understood why this type of research is so important. He embodied everything good about genealogy and he continues to inspire me to this day.

I will forever cherish photographs and pages of emails that Jerry and I exchanged during the summer of 2007. I made a point to introduce myself to his wife on a visit to Chicago, and I will continue to send periodic cards and letters to keep the connection between the families alive. The primary source documentation available in this story allowed me to fill in the holes and come to know the people behind the paper. That is what genealogy research is all about. Jerry Kumery is a shining light for us all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

And so the real story begins

Lou Ann remained seated while everyone else left the room. My second genealogy class had just finished and the participants were off to their next activity. I felt good about the discussions that had just transpired and the exchange of stories was enlightening and inspiring; the idea of pursuing low-tech research really hit home with the members of this class. Using modern technology just wasn’t their style. Lou Ann had been particularly insightful, allowing glimpses into her past throughout the previous hour. But now, seeing her sitting there, I casually thought she may need help reaching her cane and was quietly hoping I would assist. The cane was hanging on the back of a chair just out of her reach. But she motioned for me to sit, instead. As I took the chair next to her, she said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.” Her wrinkled face relaxed as her eyes seemed lost in memory. She rested her hand on mine for emphasis. Or was it for support? And so the real story begins.

For the next 30 minutes Lou Ann and I sat around a small circular table in the middle of the activities room at Ponder Creek Estates. The table was covered with photos, letters, and other documentation that I brought as evidence of low-tech genealogy research. My argument is that SOMEONE has access to the information you seek; you just need to have the patience to find that person and ask the right questions. And, although modern technology may make the process faster in some cases, I must admit that the personal connections born through interviews, letter writing, and phone calls certainly make the research more memorable.

Lou Ann, however, was not contemplating her next research option. Rather, she was lost in a memory some 67 years old. In her slightly shaky voice she explained to me that her brother, Walter Collis Payton, had joined the Navy in the early 1940’s and was assigned to the U.S.S. Pillsbury as a Seaman 1st class. The 314 foot Clemson-class destroyer, named for John E. Pillsbury, was operating in the vicinity of Borneo when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor. Just two days after Roosevelt’s delivery of his famous speech, proclaiming December 7, 1941 as "a date which will live in infamy,” the Payton family of Kentucky received the devastating news that their Collis was “missing in action.” That was the last official word of him.

Lou Ann was just 19 years old when Collis went missing. She contends the Navy never found a body or made any official explanation of his status. There was no burial, no memorial service. A young man left his Kentucky home and no trace of his legacy remains today. It is a mystery in her eyes how a man can simply vanish off the face of the earth.

Possibly more troubling to Lou Ann are the “sightings” of Collis back in the states after the war. Her eyes narrowed as she told me the story of returning to her apartment after a weekend away with a friend in post-WWII years to learn from a neighbor that her brother had stopped by to visit. She quickly determined that her younger brother, the only brother she had left, had not been in the area. The description of the visitor from the neighbor matched Collis. A second story describes a scene where a slightly older Lou Ann feels certain that she sees Collis walking down the city street. When she called out to him, the man intentionally quickened his pace, found the first taxi cab, and disappeared without looking back. Lou Ann contacted a military official and explained these unusual sightings. To her dismay, the Navy had no comment.

The eyes soften for the final recollection, the recent receipt of a letter from a woman identifying herself as the daughter of Collis’s long-time girlfriend. While the woman does not claim to be Collis’s biological child in the letter, she does expound on her mother’s life-long love for the man. Lou Ann feels certain the woman is trying to make familial connections.

At the end of the conversation, Lou Ann, once again said, “I don’t know why I told you these things.” It was my turn to rest a hand on hers. “It is important to ask the right people the right questions. I may just be the right person to help you solve this mystery.” She allowed a warm smile, thanked me for my time, and finally reached for her cane.

All I could do on the drive home was formulate a research strategy to discover the facts that would lesson Lou Ann’s pain. It is obvious that the 86-year-old still longs for her big brother and needs answers to the lingering questions that continually haunt her. What happened on the U.S.S. Pillsbury in the days after Pearl Harbor that caused Collis to go “missing?” Why didn’t the Navy communicate more with the family? Is it possible that Collis survived the war?

A preliminary online search found three relevant documents. First, the Register, World War II Dead Interred in American Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil and World War II and Korea Missing or Lost or Buried at Sea offers conflicting information. It lists Walter C. Payton’s last known status as “missing” alongside the death date of 10 Dec 1941. Supposedly he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for his sacrifice. Lou Ann made no mention of a Purple Heart during our conversation. Next, the State Summary of War Casualties from World War II for Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Personnel indicates Walter Collis Payton’s type of casualty is “killed in action.” Third, a summary of the Pillsbury's WWII activities explains that it was involved in heavy action with the Japanese for several months after Pearl Harbor before finally sinking 01 Mar 1942. There is much more to learn about its history.

While I may have found three pieces of evidence quickly using modern technology, it will still take letters, phone calls, and many hours of dedicated, focused work to reach any type of conclusion. Low-tech sleuthing at its finest. I’ve already drafted a letter on behalf of Lou Ann to the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records) in St. Louis requesting more detailed reports. As next of kin, Lou Ann is entitled to this information (if not classified) under the Freedom of Information Act. My experience with requesting military records has always been positive, yet slow. We should not expect to receive news for several months.

So now it is a test of patience. I will continue to research Collis’s life in the hopes of uncovering some clue that has remained hidden for 67 years. I will document every lead and preserve evidence for review. Lou Ann and I will patiently wait for news from the Navy. She cannot completely relax, yet. Collis Payton may be the subject of the research, but the real story lies with Lou Ann. Her will to keep Collis’s esteemed legacy alive is remarkable, and I’m honored to help preserve his rightful place in history.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reflections on turning the big 4-0

I am not a “doom and gloom” kind of gal. In fact, my glass is always half full. This is the part of my personality that, I believe, has led to my success helping students and families through the roller-coaster ride of middle school. I see the light at the end of the tunnel, celebrate strengths, support weaknesses, and maintain high expectations throughout the entire ride. When it’s over, most people are appreciative of the optimism.

This attitude does not mean I completely ignore signs of pessimism by closing my eyes, covering my ears, and pretending I’m in some far away fairytale land. This would be silly. Rather, I’ve been told that I can generally roll with the punches, weigh the pros and cons of a situation, and set forth on a path that leads to the most positive outcome. It’s not always easy, but then life isn’t supposed to be easy. (I’m certain my parents said this to me when I was a child and it has stuck.)

Considering all sides of a situation is much easier in a professional role than in my personal life. The emotional ties are just not the same. It is easier to get overwhelmed with negativity when you are emotionally involved with a situation. For example, I am facing my 40th birthday in just a few days. My wonderful husband took me out for an early celebration last night and while sitting on a bench eating our ice-cream cones we had a serious discussion about how we physically feel different when we become 40 years old. By “different,” I mean worse.

Of course, Gary had several years to prepare for this discussion since he is six years older than I am, but he empathetically supported my personal revelations. For me, my eyes have worsened significantly over the last few months to where I panic if I don’t have my glasses nearby. I laugh at the memory of when I used to wake up and take kick-boxing classes before work, settling now for a short, leisurely stroll with the dog to the end of the driveway, and back. Yet I still dream of the long-distance bike rides with the kids and hope one day to make this dream a reality.

The conversation over ice cream left us laughing at how things have changed since we met and married in 1994, when we were both young and fit. Now, we are both happy to be healthy enough to enjoy our family and friends. Not everyone is as fortunate as we. In fact, many of our family members have had their lives cut short by disease or accident, and I wonder just how our lives might have changed if these ancestors had been given the opportunity to live full lives.

It is truly unfortunate how many people died at a young age due to disease. Take a look at any 1910 U.S. Federal Census, for example, and see how many children a woman had given birth to compared with how many of these children were still alive. The comparison is staggering; it was very uncommon for every child born in a household to survive through childhood. Tuberculosis took thousands more lives, especially in the early 20th century. My great Aunt Elizabeth died of pneumonia she caught when she traveled down to Cincinnati to witness for herself “the great flood” of 1937. With advances in medical care, so many of these people would be able to overcome their fateful illness and make a complete recovery.

Just like today, it is the young, healthy lives cut short by accident that are sometimes the hardest to comprehend. My great grandfather, Howard Lee Cook, is an example of this tragedy. On a rainy, Sunday morning, July 4, 1920, Howard and his wife, Eva, were driving a few miles to Centerville, Indiana to visit Howard’s ailing mother. According to the newspaper reports, “[Mr. Cook] was driving from the north and had stopped to allow a fast train from the east to pass. The noise of the westbound train is supposed to have deafened Cook so that he did not hear the train coming from the west.” (Richmond Item, July 6, 1920, page 1, column 4).

In the end, Howard was killed instantly. Eva “evidently tried to jump from the automobile, but was not far enough to escape injury. One of her legs suffered a compound fracture, her back was bruised and nose broken. The attending physician at Reid Memorial hospital state last night that it was thought she was internally injured. Her condition is extremely critical” (Richmond Item, July 6, 1920, page 1, column 4).

Howard’s death at 44 years old was devastating to the family and the entire community. My grandfather, Harold Cook, was just 16 at the time and the only child of Howard and Eva. No one may ever know the reasons why he did not accompany his parents on this trip, but the presumption is he stayed behind to prepare for the celebrations that would occur later that day. It is daunting to think that I would not be here had my grandfather been in that car.

But, because I am here and I continue to look on the bright side, I rejoice in that I have gained so much from this tragedy. My grandfather immediately became a strong, independent leader who cared for his injured mother and learned the benefits of working hard for a living. He was successful in both his professional and personal life, allowing his own children to grow and prosper. I have wonderful memories of my grandfather. My great grandmother, Eva, also became stronger through her ordeal of recovery, recording every single event about the ensuing trials with the railroad and her medical procedures. Even after she remarried, Eva kept journals and diaries, and I am proud to have possession of these valuable documents. They are a genealogist’s dream.

In the end, turning 40 isn’t so bad. It allows me to reflect on the past and dream for the future. I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful that my parents raised me to be honest, caring, and hard-working. I am thankful for the education I have received, and the opportunity to return the favor by providing an education to others. I am reminded of this point, especially, as Howard Lee Cook’s 1893 Indiana Common School diploma is hanging in my office at school. The piece of paper is so much more ornate than my own college diploma, and his early death forces me to appreciate, every day, the time I am given here on Earth. In reflecting on the past it is obvious that my family has truly been my biggest blessing.

With our ice cream finished and heading into the movie theater, Gary and I both agreed that the second half of our lives will be even better than the first half. We have goals for ourselves and for our children, and we are trying to create an environment for all of us to be able to successfully achieve these goals. While I may not be able to see very well or beat the kids in a race across the yard, a great future lies ahead. Knowing that we will celebrate life every day keeps the light at the end of the tunnel shining brightly.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

How it's supposed to be

Beginning this blog just five weeks ago, my expectations were simple. I wanted a venue in which to preserve, for my children, the stories I have discovered through my genealogical research. I figured my immediate family would follow it regularly because I have the blog program email them every time I post a new story. They have no choice. I would guilt my close friends into reading it simply so they would know what I am so excited about all of the time. But in these few weeks something truly amazing has happened, and my view of the possibilities of this little blog has expanded one hundred fold.

You see, people I have never met are reading MY blog. And these people are telling other people to read it. And these people are deciding it’s time to reconnect with cousins they haven’t spoken to in decades. When cousins from all over the country decide to reconnect, they recount memories of their youth, share stories, and add their own very unique perspectives on family members and events. In a 28 Sep 2008 email, shortly after I published my Grandmother Ruth’s War Diaries piece, my father wrote, “Your blog is having an amazing effect in reuniting me with people I haven't seen in years!” The power of the internet is beyond comprehension.

I quickly asked my dad to put into writing the story of how he and my Aunt Kitty reunited with a beautiful photographic portrait of my grandmother. It is the story that I use when I address a new class for genealogy education. It is a powerful example of human nature that drives us to know and understand where we come from, and the will to preserve the objects and stories we know are important for our family’s (or another family’s?) continued legacy.

The following account, therefore, was written by my dad just a few days ago. It’s been an oral history until this time. I still want to use this site as a venue to share stories about the families I research that my children will grow to appreciate, both on my side and my husband’s. But I do understand the possibility of expanding this mission to include outside sources. If you have information that supports any published post or new information that I can research and develop, please feel free to email me ( Thank you for your continued interest.

Gary Martin writes,

“During the summer after my father passed away in 2000 at age 92, my sister Kitty and I embarked on what we called a roots tour. The long road trip to West Virginia was inspired not just by Alex Haley’s book entitled Roots, but by the treasure trove of genealogy material dad left behind. Being age 62 and 58 at the time, we realized that this valuable material would go to waste unless we researched and organized it in a way which would gain the interest of our own children so they would carry on the effort in the future. The material included pictures of people we didn’t recognize and letters from people we didn’t know.
Both my mother and father were born and raised in West Virginia, a territory which split off from Virginia and achieved statehood as a result of the Civil War. Life in the southern part of the state where my mother lived continues in the southern manner retaining a strong dialect and many southern traditions. Morgantown, in the northern part of the state where my father lived, is more similar to nearby Pennsylvania and Ohio in terms of language and customs.
There are many aspects of our trip which are worthy of being recorded. But this first note will focus on our experience in Bancroft, West Virginia searching for and finding the home of our maternal grandmother, Anna Belle Osborne:

Bancroft West Virginia - Returning After 50 Years
For those who haven’t ventured off the main roads in West Virginia, it can be a frightening shock to knock on a door expecting a friendly welcome only to come face to face with someone who tells you to get the hell off his property. People living in West Virginia's hills and hollows don’t like strangers, especially those who don't drive a pickup truck. Even worse is a shiny new foreign car with out-of-state plates. They’ve been known to grab a shotgun to emphasize their point. Those of you who are old enough to remember the movie “Deliverance” can appreciate this.
Although not in the very rural part of the state, Bancroft has always been an extremely poor community with many residents at the poverty level or below. After taking a few wrong turns, we found the home where our grandmother once lived and debated the next step. It looked like no one was home so I voted for turning around after taking a few
pictures, My sister, being much braver, said no way, we must knock on the door. Standing back to permit a quick retreat to the car, I watched as she climbed the stairs to the porch and knocked.

The fellow who came to the door was wearing a vest with bullet pouches and looked like we awoke him after a long night out on the town. His scary demeanor and voice reflected this. When Kitty mentioned that we were the children of Anna Belle Osborne’s daughter Ruth he became even more agitated and vocally loud. He warned us “not to move an inch” and that he had to get something from the barn. As he disappeared from sight I was inching my way back to the car trying to remember how to set off the emergency alarm.

Kitty looked scornfully at me as only a sister can so I reluctantly stayed expecting the worst and wondering if my estate plan was up-to-date. After several minutes he came back on the porch holding a dusty picture in a battered frame. It depicted our mother in her late teens or early 20s. He introduced himself as "Bill".

Bill's whole appearance had changed. Earlier he was loud and threatening, now he spoke softly with tears in his eyes. He gently cradled the portrait before handing it to us saying that the picture had been in a corner of the barn for decades since he first purchased the property. His buddies teased and gave him a bad time for not throwing it out. His response to them was that some day someone will come knocking on the door and I’ll be able to give it to them as a gift. At this point all three of us were crying while standing on the porch looking at the picture and trying to carry on a conversation through the tears and sniffles.

Afterward he took us on a tour of the home and accompanied us to the local cemetery where we found the grave site of our grandparents and other relatives. We exchange Christmas cards and continue to feel very humble in the face of this once in a life time experience.
Even though this event occurred eight years ago I remember it as if it happened yesterday and think of it often. I'm convinced that the interest in genealogy and esteem for ancestors common in the south is the reason Bill held on to the picture for decades and withstood the ridicule of his friends. As an example, he told us that his father took responsibility for keeping up the grave sites of the families' relatives and stressed to him as a child that he would someday bear the same responsibility. Bill visits the cemetery monthly for this purpose and has talked to his young son about taking over for him someday.

Without getting too philosophical, the event is a microcosm of our everyday lives. So many positive life changing events happen by accident instead of thorough planning. If we hadn't stopped for lunch before searching for our grandmother's home, we would have missed out on this conversation with Bill and never known about his treasure. What if I had based my opinion of this man solely on my first impression? I would never have discovered the basic kindness of his character.

The lesson I took away from Bancroft is to get out of your comfort zone, forget your preconceived notions, and aggressively put yourself in a position to be surprised. It's difficult to do especially when getting older but more than likely the result will be a pleasant experience.”

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Valeria Murphy meets the Big Bad Wolf

A brick wall provides a very concrete image in a person’s mind. You can run into it, try to climb it, or you can huff and puff on it all day long, but the perceived strength of the immense structure overrides any attempt to conquer it. The wall keeps you from getting somewhere you want to go, possibly prohibiting you from achieving some goal that you’ve spent a lifetime trying to attain. From a distance, the brick wall keeps you from reaching your dreams.

The brave, patient person understands that the wall is never going to admit its weaknesses unless a perception changes. And for perception to change, perspective must change also. Our brave soul must walk up to the wall and study it from within three inches, and from there she sees the inconsistencies that lie between the bricks, the weaknesses in the mortar, and the plan develops to overcome the obstacle.

The lone figure standing at the base begins to scrape away the mortar around one brick of the monstrous wall with any object she can find, natural or man-made. After a few painstaking moments, the bonding material begins to crumble. A few more scrapes around the rectangular form cause the brick to wiggle. Human hands wrestle the brick out of the wall and the figure immediately basks in the stream of sunlight shining through from the other side of the wall. Progress is made.

One by one the bricks fall and a pathway leads to the other side. Once through, the view might be everything the person had hoped. Or, perhaps, another brick wall looms in the distance, twice as large as the first.

Enough of the corny imagery. It was tough for even me to write. Yet, there is a very good reason why a genealogist uses the term “brick wall” to describe a problem which she cannot seem to solve. Some researchers spend years and years scouring documents, traveling to distant lands, interviewing descendants, yet the answer to the essential question driving the research remains elusive. Until, of course, perception and perspective changes.

It just might be a random phone call, letter, or email that sparks the renewal of passion, the will to continue scraping. Or maybe the chance meeting of someone sharing a similar interest generates new enthusiasm. Genealogists often refer to serendipity to describe the implausible intersection of two events occurring at the same time.

Whatever the case, brick walls in genealogy can be overcome. A researcher simply needs to have the fortitude to get so close to the issues that surround the problem that she might just feel overwhelmed by the immensity of it. Then, she must find the determination to begin scraping away at the data that seems most insecure. Finally, she must willingly accept inspiration in any form that comes her way with renewed vigor. It may take months, years, or even most of a lifetime to reach the other side. Yet the journey is definitely worth the wait.

I’ve mentioned a few genealogical brick walls that I am currently sizing up in a previous blog. My great, great, great grandfather, Turner Dunnington Martin, is probably the most frustrating at this time. I haven’t changed perspective, and I need to. Yet there have been other brick walls that I have tackled and made significant progress. Understanding the events that shaped the early life of my husband’s grandmother, Valeria Murphy, is most notable.

To make a very long story short, no one in the Murphy family is truly confident about the chronology of Valeria’s childhood. Valeria, herself, didn’t remember, as she was too young. What we do know now is that Valeria traveled by ship with her Aunt Maria Gallo from their native Hungary in 1905 to be reunited with Valeria’s biological parents, Alojos and Wilma Kumery, in Chicago. Maria’s husband, Stephen, was also in Chicago. Shortly thereafter, in February 1906, Valeria’s brother, Joseph, was born. Then, in December 1908, a tuberculosis epidemic took the life of Valeria’s 26-year-old mother, Wilma.

The details of Valeria’s life after this tragic event are clouded and undocumented. However, we surmise that Maria (Mary) and Stephen Gallo became the guardians of Valeria and Joseph. We also believe that Valeria kept in contact with her biological father in Chicago for some period of time. Yet, there is no primary source to prove any of these direct and indirect relationships. A birth certificate does not exist in the United States for either Valeria (since she was born in Hungary) or Joseph (was not required in Illinois when he was born.) So many immigrants were dying of tuberculosis by December 1908 that obituaries were not written for most, and the death record for Wilma heeds no information about her children. There are no court records, wills, or adoption papers. For all intents and purposes, Valeria and Joseph became the children of Mary and Stephen Gallo beginning in 1908 and no one ever questioned their relationship.

Sorting out these details has been an interesting journey and the subject of a project I undertook as part of my Board for Certification of Genealogists portfolio. I hired a researcher in Valeria’s hometown in Hungary (now part of the Czech Republic) to do preliminary searches for birth records, but that became very complicated and expensive. I was left with an abundance of seemingly unrelated information to piece together to form my final opinions. The most compelling came from the 1930 Chicago census that lists Joseph as “nephew” living with the Gallo's, and then Joseph’s World War II army documents that states Valeria Murphy is his “sister.”

There are still many details to the story of Valeria Murphy’s childhood that still need to be discovered and sorted out, but I no longer feel it is a brick wall. I chose to take this project on as part of my BCG portfolio forcing my perception and perspective to change. I had to dig in, become overwhelmed with the situation, and look for weaknesses in the information. I was fortunate to have help from family members, and there were more than a few serendipitous moments along the way. Finding the primary sources that will “prove” my theories of this story may be on hold for a while, but rest assured, I will come back to it.

The moral of this story is that brick walls are made of sand and water. With time, patience, and a little bit of luck, the structure that once seemed so immense and impenetrable can be broken down.