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.”