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A House History

Earlier this month I needed to search through some old family photographs. I must confess that my photos lack organization. In fact, they are a mess. To find the ones I needed, I had to search through albums (mine and my mom’s) as well as piles and sacks of pictures I have collected over the years but have never taken time to store properly.

One rubber-banded group of snapshots caught my attention. I had forgotten that when we purchased our house, we received a stack of work-in-progress pictures taken when the home was built in 1992. I had tucked the pictures in a cupboard after we bought the place in 2011.

Now the question arises: Should I keep these?

They might prove useful for their X-ray views of the innards of my house. That is probably why the original owners passed them along.

Or I could hang on to them for historical reasons. My home is 25 years old this year. This anniversary would offer a good opportunity for documenting the building of my house, the changes to it over the years, and the people who have lived here. Perhaps I should create a house history using the pictures I found.

Entire websites dedicated to searching and recording a house history exist these days. People like to know the story of their homes. The search process takes time when one lives in an old house.

For my not-so-old house, the work would not take long. Starting with the photos I inherited, I could create a history of the property so far and then document any changes we make in the future. When we leave here someday, we would have a good history of the place to give the new owners.

This small project could mark a start on cleaning up my photo mess. Tackling all prints I have seems overwhelming. Pulling out one group and organizing it properly seems much more doable. A house history sounds like a good winter project.

This Week’s Genealogy Happenings

Sometimes I cannot spend a week focused on just one genealogy activity. Too much goes on around me.

  1. A new distant cousin recently contacted me. She has taken a DNA test with Ancestry. I have not tested with that company, but one of my second cousins has. They were a match. The new cousin asked the second cousin for information on our common Sherman line. Not having much about it to offer, my second cousin referred the new cousin to me. I learned that the new cousin is descended from my Thomas Sherman’s (1841-1912) younger brother, John. Our common brick wall ancestor is the father, Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800-?). I am very excited to have a collaborator for this Sherman research, and I hope we can make some progress together on the Sherman line.
  2. Information from the new cousin equipped me to fill in the descendance of John Sherman. He had been the most difficult of the Sherman brothers for me to trace because he moved around a lot and had such a common name. The new cousin sent me his 1943 obituary, and that opened the door to locating information on his children and grandchildren. I have barely begun the process of putting it all into my database.
  3. Genealogists need and enjoy some social time. Once a month, members of the Colorado Genealogical Society (CGS) meet for lunch. Yesterday we gathered at a new American Indian restaurant. As we ate delicious Indian tacos and shredded bison, we swapped research tales and talked about upcoming training opportunities.
  4. I continue to take time to read the periodicals put out by CGS and the National Genealogical Society (NGS). I often get research ideas from these publications. The most recent NGS magazine has a good article by Michael Lacopo on how to find religious newspapers and use them for research on 19th and 20th century ancestors. I hope to follow through with some of his suggestions to find information on the Shermans and others.

As this week ends and a new one begins, I plan to get back on task. I continue to work on contacting DNA matches at FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe. Wouldn’t it be great if I could find a male Sherman match who would take a Y DNA test? That would move us ahead in finding the origins of Daniel Sherman.

Great American Eclipse

Did you join millions of your fellow Americans to watch the solar eclipse this week? I did.

Months ago we learned that our Casper, Wyoming hometown would sit in the path of totality for this event. What better excuse to have a family reunion?

We invited everyone we could think of to attend a viewing party at the home place, and many people accepted the invitation. We offered free places to stay with relatives while motel rooms were going for $2500 per night. Family members came in from Colorado, New Mexico, and New York for our eclipse party.

They say the population of Wyoming nearly doubled that day as people flooded in. For a time, Wyoming (normally the least-populated state) had more people than other small states such as Alaska, the Dakotas, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The little Natrona County airport handled private planes loaded with eclipse watchers landing every two minutes. We heard rumors that a Saudi prince came in to watch the eclipse from the tarmac.

We prepared for our viewing by collecting eclipse glasses and discarding any that were not properly certified. My granddaughter and I also made a projector box out of an old shoebox, a skill I had learned as a Cub Scout den leader when Colorado experienced a partial eclipse in the 90’s.

The fun began about 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. People grabbed their special eclipse glasses and scanned the sun, trying out the glasses and waiting for the show to begin. It was not long before we could see a corner of the sun disappear.

When it was time for a snack, we served Moon Cake. My mother-in-law has served this at family gatherings for many years, so there was no question that we would eat it on this day. My sister-in-law baked three of them to make sure we had enough. You can find a recipe for it on allrecipes.com. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/19895/moon-cake/

As the eclipse progressed, we gathered everyone to take group photos, some with glasses, some without. We wanted to remember this day.

When the precious minutes of totality drew near, everyone quieted down as we all gazed at the sky. The air grew noticeably cooler. Finally, twilight descended, and the sun disappeared. Only a brilliant corona remained, and we experienced what appeared as a 365-degree sunset. We could see Venus in the sky above. Exuberant town residents celebrated by setting off fireworks.

I will never forget that moment. We all felt a little sad when the sun slowly began to reappear, and the unworldly vision ended.

My son and his family stayed for a picnic lunch and then prepared to head back home to Denver. Little did they know of the massive traffic tie-up they faced. Thousands left Casper and the surrounding area at the same time. Most needed to travel south on one of two thoroughfares—Interstate 25 or Wyoming Highway 487, a two-lane road. The usual 4-5 hour drive took my son 11 hours to get home. Traffic was backed up for hundreds of miles. Both Wyoming and Colorado urged people not to stop at the border to take selfies.

Luckily, I had the luxury of staying in Wyoming for one more day. My husband/tech advisor and I did some housecleaning at the old home place before we left. On the road home to the Denver area the next day, we encountered heavier traffic than usual but nothing like what had gone down those roads the day before.

We came home with great memories of a great American eclipse and family reunion.

 

Mourning Samson

Yesterday we lost a beloved canine member of our family, my son’s dog Samson. He had been part of our clan for ten years.

Can it have been that long since I received the telephone call about Samson from the animal shelter in San Antonio, Texas? I learned that my son, a newly-minted second lieutenant in the Army, wanted to adopt a rescue dog, a malnourished Great Pyrenees named Samson. Problem was that the Lieutenant had no permanent home address yet because he was on a short assignment at the time. The shelter wanted someone to agree to take Samson in the event the Lieutenant could not care for him. Would I do that? What?

“May I speak to the Lieutenant, please?” I asked.

Of course, he talked me into committing to giving Samson a home if he could not. He told me young Samson had suffered abuse and was severely underweight. With a thick, white fur coat, he suffered mightily in the Texas heat. My son promised to nurse him back to health and take him to his permanent base at Fort Drum later in the year. Fort Drum, where the Army does winter training. A much better location for a dog like Samson.

The Lieutenant was as good as his word, and I never had to take Samson in to my home. With proper care, he regained his health.

The big dog thrived in cold upstate New York, and he romped happily in the huge backyard my son provided for him. Over the next years, Samson oversaw the growth of a family—first a wife, and then three children. He adapted to new surroundings when the family moved to Colorado. All the while, he offered wonderful companionship to his family and served as a faithful watchdog.

Then his hips began to fail. Samson could no longer make mud wallows in the yard or frisk about in the snow. The day came when he could not walk outside to relieve himself on his own. We knew the time was coming to say good-bye to our fluffy friend.

Now he has joined all the other gone-but-not-forgotten doggy members of our family—Timmy, Daisy, Eric, Sam, Thor, Skye, Sunny, Mac, and Bailey. We miss them all.

A CCC Record Sheds Some Light on the Family

As a youngster, I heard that my Dad’s older brother, Owen Howell Reed, had served in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) during the Great Depression. No one ever offered any details, and I did not think to ask. I was vaguely aware that the CCC was a
public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. I knew nothing about where or how long my uncle served.

Some time ago, one of the genealogy newsletters that I read regularly contained an article about how to obtain CCC records from the National Archives. I recalled my uncle’s service and decided to learn more.

I submitted a search request on Form NA 14136 (02-14) to the National Archives at Saint Louis asking whether they had a personnel record for my uncle. I provided his birthdate, birthplace, parents’ names, and hometown at time of CCC employment. They soon replied to tell me they had the record I sought.

I sent in an Order for Archival Reproduction Services with my $70 payment (pretty steep!). Of course they processed my credit card payment right away, but the record never arrived. That was in March of this year.

After nearly three months had passed, I finally sent an e-mail message asking about it to the Archivist who had handled my request. She sent the record again, and this time I received it.

As I read the 12-page file, I enjoyed learning a bit more about my uncle’s life. The file also contained some new family information for me:

  1. It provided a physical description of my 17-year-old uncle in 1940—5’10” and only 125 pounds.
  2. It included the education levels achieved by his parents, my grandfather and grandmother. They had completed the 7th and 8th grades, respectively.
  3. It told me that my uncle had done Very Satisfactory work as an Assistant Education Advisor in Wellington, Colorado for 5 months after his high school graduation in 1940. He left on his 18th birthday to join the United States Army.
  4. I learned that my widowed grandmother had received a $22 per month allotment during the time of his service.

I know that times were hard for my Dad’s family during the Depression years. His father, the breadwinner, had died in 1935, and all the young boys had to work after that. A place in the CCC must have been a real blessing for the family. My Dad surely benefited from that monthly payment earned by his older brother. I am glad I ordered the record to find out more about this chapter of the Reed history.

 

A Key Sparks a Conversation

A few days ago, my young granddaughters made a discovery when they visited my house. They found my blacksmith’s iron key. They wanted to know what it was and why I had it.

Their curiosity presented me with a teachable moment and an opportunity to tell them a little about their family history. I explained that they come from a long line of blacksmiths in the Sherman branch of their family tree. My key reminds me of that although it does not unlock anything that I own. It serves as a paperweight.

I have not had it very long. Knowing my family history, my husband/tech advisor gave me the key and several richly-illustrated children’s books about blacksmiths for Christmas last year. Now I was happy to share some information about blacksmithing with the girls.

I explained that the key they found is a replica of antique keys once made by blacksmiths. They were amazed that common household items like farm tools, pots, locks, and keys used to be made, one at a time, by village blacksmiths, including their ancestors. As we discussed the role of a blacksmith in the community, they were relieved that today they have the luxury of visiting a dentist instead of needing the blacksmith to pull a bad tooth with the same tool he used to remove nails from a horse’s hoof.

The girls liked the photos of blacksmiths hammering hot metal at the anvil while wearing heat-resistant leather aprons. They learned new words like forge and smithy and bellows. One of girls recalled visiting a working blacksmith shop at the Littleton [CO] Historical Museum. Now the other granddaughter wants to see it, too.

Not bad for a spur-of-the-moment history lesson.

A New Insight For a Brick Wall Ancestor

My third great-grandfather, Daniel Sherman, seemingly dropped out of the sky into Kentucky in the 1820’s. I know nothing about his life before then. His place and date of birth, family members, and reason for settling in Kentucky all elude me.

He showed up in Morgan County, KY in the mid-1820’s. There he married Rebecca Howe Day on 4 September 1826. After that, his name appears regularly in the Kentucky records until 1863. That April, he and Rebecca sold a small plot of land, and Daniel disappeared from the record as mysteriously as he entered it.

U. S. census records for 1850 and 1860 tell me that Daniel was a blacksmith born around 1800 in either New York or Vermont. Why a guy from that region would relocate to Kentucky always puzzled me. Migration from the far north to the south does not match the usual migration patterns I have seen.

The other day, I mentioned this question to a fellow genealogist who has New York ancestors herself. She came up with a possible explanation. She reminded me that Kentucky is horse racing country, and that industry needs blacksmiths. Could that be why Daniel Sherman went to Kentucky?

My friend got quite interested in this line of inquiry and followed up by contacting the historical society in the last county where my ancestor lived—Madison County, KY. The President of the Society, Tom Black, replied with the following information:

All of Kentucky had lots of horses through the 19th century. Locally, most of them were work horses which also needed a blacksmith’s attention so he could have potentially been servicing them. We had no race horses of note that I am aware of and no local farms that had more than a handful. However, show horses have been a Madison County staple for a long time, and we have seen a great number that were competitive and a few that became champions. All that said, he would have been a busy man if working locally.

Perhaps Daniel followed an opportunity when he headed south. If he became a busy man working as a Kentucky blacksmith, he was fortunate to have four sons. They all learned the blacksmith trade and became working blacksmiths themselves. Some of Daniel’s grandsons followed that profession, too, until it faded away after World War I. Horse country provided them all with a means to make a living.

Taking the Plunge On A DNA Test

The genealogical proof standard has always obliged us to do an exhaustive search for every ancestor. In the past decade, DNA testing has become widely available as a research tool to use in addition to older research methods. Today an exhaustive search means using DNA testing as part of a proof, and many genealogists have tested their DNA.

Although I know this, I still have not completed a DNA test myself. For privacy reasons, I have been reluctant to do so. I have worried about putting my results out there somewhere and about who might have access to this information. Would I open myself to discrimination if my test fell into the wrong hands? Could someone subpoena my results and use them against me in court?

After attending several seminars on DNA testing, it has now become clear to me that I would risk very little if I took a DNA test for genealogical purposes. In fact, I might learn a little more about my family.

I do have some puzzles in my heritage that a DNA test might help me solve:

  1. I have an unknown great-grandfather, a man who contributed 1/8 of my DNA. Having autosomal results on file with a DNA testing company could help me locate his family and identify him.
  2. The same goes for my mysterious German great-great grandmother, who contributed an additional 1/16 of my DNA.
  3. I am curious about my maternal line, reportedly from Finland but whose members resided awfully close to Russia. Is my maternal line truly Finnish, or do we have some Russian? A mitochondrial test could help me find relatives whose ancestors stayed behind when my Finnish great-grandmother Ada Alina Lampinen immigrated to America in 1905.

I have spent years trying to locate information on my unidentified ancestors with no success. DNA testing may be my only hope of ever discovering who they might be. Consequently, my desire to resolve these questions has finally overcome my inhibitions and convinced me to take a DNA test.

This week, FamilyTreeDNA has a sale on test kits. For a $70 savings, I just ordered an autosomal test and a mitochondrial test. Will I find answers to any of my questions after I submit my test results?

Travel Goes Awry

This week we have seen much press and social media coverage of an incident aboard a United Airlines plane in Chicago. Like so many others around the world, I have watched in horrified fascination as the story unfolded—viewing the video, listening to news reports, and following the Twitter commentary. Late-night talk show hosts roasted the airline. We have many witty Americans who suggested numerous new slogans for United Airlines (see #UnitedAirlinesNewMottos).

Apparently, the man on the plane committed the sin of quietly boarding the plane with his valid ticket and then taking his assigned seat. Suddenly, the airline decided they wanted that spot for a non-revenue flyer, leaving no room for the man who thought he was on his way home. The crew ordered him off. When he refused to comply because he needed to get home, they brought in law enforcement to compel the unarmed, elderly man to leave. These reinforcements quickly bloodied the man, knocked out his teeth, and rendered him unconscious. Then the thugs security officers proceeded to drag him down the aisle and out of the plane. He ended up in the hospital for three days. The airline called this incident a re-accommodation, saying they had asked nicely for so-called volunteers first.

As the week progressed, I was surprised to learn that many airlines follow the same procedure of boarding ticket holders only to turn around and force them off the plane before departure. Numerous people have come forward in recent days to tell stories of how they, too, have been checked in, security screened, and settled in their seats only to be randomly selected to leave the plane. One man said he had been threatened with handcuffs. I saw videos of other passengers crying and pleading to stay on the aircraft so they could get to weddings, funerals, graduations, etc. on time. Airline staff always turned a deaf ear. It reminds me of the Shirley Jackson short story, The Lottery, where townspeople stone to death a randomly-selected neighbor.

A couple of questions have come to my mind after the United incident:

  1. Why did United think this type of extreme action was necessary in this case? The plane was meant to fly to Louisville, a 4-hour drive from Chicago. When United could not lure anyone to give up a seat on the flight, why not secure other means of travel for the crew instead of inconveniencing their paying passengers? Several options occurred to me, including a flight on another airline, a limousine or rental car, or a private plane. After the delays on the flight in question, the crew would have arrived in Louisville at about the same time.
  2. Why is airport security getting involved in situations where the airlines have intentionally provoked passengers entrusted to their care? These are not situations where an individual has come aboard and then become violent or posed a threat to anyone. Perhaps the airlines would find a better way to meet their own needs if they had to hire their own bouncers for disagreements they instigate.

And a final question: What does all this have to do with genealogy?

Well, genealogists must travel sometimes for research purposes or to attend conferences. Now, in addition to worrying about TSA intrusions on the ground, flight delays for weather or mechanical reasons, and normal fear of flying, we must sit apprehensively in our assigned seats while dreading what the crew might do to us before the plane actually takes off. We must wonder, will I be the one told either to leave or to risk getting beaten up and sent to jail? Will I have to watch it happen to someone else?

Because air travel was already so unpleasant, I have not flown in three years. This year, however, I decided to make a trip to Germany to see some family villages and to go on tour with my choir. The timing of the United incident, just weeks before my own trip, has really raised my stress level over my travel plans. I can only hope that flying overseas on a customer-friendly foreign carrier will help me avoid an abusive situation. I am not frightened enough to cancel my trip, but I know it will take a great incentive for me to ever schedule another one, especially on a domestic flight. I would rather drive or take the train.

#ShameOnUnited

Historic Newspapers Come Up Short

My ancestors Thomas Sherman and Katherine Whoever-She-Is lived south of Indianapolis around the time of the Civil War. At least I think they did. He registered for the Civil War draft at Nineveh, Johnson County, Indiana in 1863, but that is the only mention of him in that location. I would like to find more.

This week I combed all the Indiana historic newspaper databases I could find searching for Thomas’ name:

  1. Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/) has nothing for the 1860’s Nineveh area.
  2. Hoosier State Chronicles (https://newspapers.library.in.gov/) has several newspapers from Johnson and nearby Bartholomew County, but few issues from the 1860’s survive. I found no mention of Thomas or any of his family.
  3. Library of Congress Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) has no newspapers from the Nineveh area during the 1860’s.

Thomas and Katherine seem to have been very obscure people who resided in a sparsely-populated area. He lived in Indiana between census years, and I have not found a likely candidate for her on the 1860 census. His name did not appear on the Johnson County land ownership plat for 1866-7. I have spent another week searching for them only to turn up nothing.

Not to be discouraged, I still have more to do before I can claim to have made an exhaustive search for these people. Slowly I am working my way through my research checklist. I still need to search church records and tax lists. These records present more of a challenge to locate, so I looked in other places first. Surely my ancestors left behind more than a Civil War draft registration.