Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Proud to Call Him My Cousin: Tony Gordon

JFP & Tony Gordon, 2006
collection of the author

The link below is to a video of a dedication ceremony held on Veteran's Day in suburban Chicago.  It honored all veterans, but, in particular my cousin, Tony Gordon, my father's nephew.  The bit about him starts about 21 minutes in, and is marvelous.  What it doesn't mention is, not only did Tony do one tour in Vietnam, but three.  Sadly, he passed away a couple years ago from cancer.  What a wonderful tribute from his community.

I am proud to have called him my cousin.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Shedding Those Genealogical Pounds

     As we move many of our genealogical tasks to digital formats, some of the tools we used years ago become obsolete.  They retreat further and further into the backs of drawers, closets, and attics, rarely to be seen.  Among those items in my household which qualify are:  more than one typewriter, the personal microfilm reader (this was sold by a microfilm rental company which has long been out of business), and the plastic film canisters (have kids now ever seen rolls of film?) filled with quarters and dimes, for those library jaunts requiring many trips to the copy machine.
     I ran across one item that I've decided to let go, but not without a pang of regret.  This is a briefcase given to me as a gift by my mother, Joan L. Eckerson Anderson, in the very early 1980s, at the start of my genealogical career.  It's nothing special in terms of value or appeal:  the brand is an Airway, and it seems to have been constructed of imitation everything.  But, its significance to me is that it represents the support and love of my mom.  She found my work in genealogical research something to be proud of.

     Recently, I finished Geoff Rasmussen's book, Kindred Voices, in which he talks about letting your ancestors guide you in your search for their stories.  He referenced a funny quote I'd never heard before.  It's something like, "I've never seen a U-Haul following a hearse," which is another way of saying you can't take it with you.  My mother ignored this, and really did try to take it with her.  Now that she's gone, however, I believe I can let the briefcase go without causing hurt feelings.
     She did leave me something to replace it with, in a roundabout way.  My sister sent me this lovely leather case that had been in my mom's house:  one of her thrift shop finds.  I had glanced at it once and admired its handsome construction.  The rumor was that it had belonged to a college instructor.  Its nearly-new condition may have had something to do with the fact that it weighs about 40 pounds empty!
     This Christmas season it found a new purpose:   housing a stuffed animal collection.  I'll find other ways to re-purpose it during different times of the year.  While this may be a comedown from the halls of academia, it's far better than hiding in the dim shadows of the closet, banished by the iPad.  
 Thanks, Mom!

Friday, November 6, 2015

William Thompson: Fiance material? Perhaps...

John Alden and Priscilla wedded - McLoughlin Bros, 1903
     We've all been there:  an acquaintance or relative starts seeing someone romantically, and we begin evaluating whether or not they make a good pair.  Whispered conversations take place, and judgments are passed.  
     Most of us, however, don't expect to see our opinions lead to a fine levied against the would-be groom by the court system, which is what happened to an indignant William Thompson, in Colonial Massachusetts.
     On my first trip to the Massachusetts State Archives recently, I was treated to a lovely facility with many indexed records.  While scrolling through a microfilm of volume nine of the Massachusetts Archives Collection, I spotted an intriguing entry.  Volume nine of the collection is described by a title made for browsing:  "Domestic Relations."  The index, besides giving a name and page number, gives the nature of the case.  I think I could have spent the entire day looking up the statements in these cases, so vividly detailed were the pictures they conjured up.  This index appears to have been created at some point much later than the events, but was still very old.  The archives' website describes the collection as a whole:   "...includes original records of the governor, Council, General Court, secretary, and treasurer, is an important source of records for early Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.  The collection is unique in the quantity of seventeenth-century records it contains, and this richness continues throughout the eighteenth century, with voluminous amounts of Revolutionary materials."  

Detail from Volume 9, Massachusetts Archives Collection, photo by the author
     At some point in May of 1653, the following testimony was given:  "Petition of William Thompson to be excused from a fine laid on him, because he proposed marriage to Sarah Cogan, without first consulting her friends."
     Time didn't allow me to pursue the ultimate fate of William's pursuit of Sarah.  Was this a standard approach taken, when protocol was ignored?  Was she embarrassed or offended by his attentions?  Or did they experience a life together?  No matter the cause or the outcome, I had no problem picturing her "friends," the early-day Puritan busy-bodies, whispering behind their hands to each other.  After long days of labor in a harsh environment, followed by long hours spent at religious services, the couple's drama was perhaps a bright spot.  
     When we engage in modern-day gossip, we certainly aren't doing anything new.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

But Wait - There's More! Selah Graves


     As ancestral sleuths, we are often told that it's a good idea to maintain a genealogical research plan, and keep track of negative findings as well as positive results.  But, just as often, my mind doesn't work like that.  Part of the fun for me, is to trip over a random genealogical discovery.  I have the kindness of others to thank for much of this; people have taken pains to transcribe, and make available online, obscure records that would otherwise be forgotten.
     Take this example:  I don't even remember how it popped into my head to search for my ancestor, Selah Graves, who died in Pike, Wyoming County, New York.  I put together his name in quotation marks, along with another descriptor, perhaps "Pike," and performed a Google search.  Low and behold, one of the results led me to another part of Selah's life that I had known nothing about:  his affiliation with the Masons.
     In 1828, Selah is described as the Master of the Morning Star Lodge, #295 in Pike, Wyoming County, New York.  In this capacity, his name appears on a letter to the state governing board of the Masons, describing the plight of his local lodge.  They had gone from 50 members to 15, "willing to stand the shock against Masonry."  They had used all their funds to build a hall, two of their wealthy members had died, and they were $80 in debt.  They asked if they could forgo paying dues at that time.  Failure to be granted this request would probably result in the Lodge's "Stopping Work."  The letter also records the name L. Couch, secretary.

     From a Wikipedia entry comes the following:  "William Morgan (1774–1826?) was a resident of Batavia, New York, whose disappearance and presumed murder in 1826 ignited a powerful movement against the Freemasons, a fraternal society that had become influential in the United States. After Morgan announced his intention to publish a book exposing Freemasonry's secrets, he was arrested on trumped-up charges. He disappeared soon after, and is believed to have been kidnapped and killed by some Masons.
The allegations surrounding Morgan's disappearance and presumed death sparked a public outcry and inspired Thurlow Weed and others to harness the discontent by founding the new Anti-Masonic Party in opposition to President Andrew Jackson's Democrats.  It ran a presidential candidate in 1832 but was nearly defunct by 1835."
     And so, not only have I gained another piece of evidence that helps me build a picture of my ancestor in particular, but I've also learned something about how he fit into the history of the time, and how he was impacted by a larger story.
     My thanks to Gary L. Heinmiller, who compiled various records of local Masonic Lodges in upstate New York.  The file can be accessed here:  http://www.omdhs.syracusemasons.com/sites/default/files/history/Craft%20Masonry%20in%20Livingston%20County.pdf

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lambert Eckerson home, Fawn River, St. Joseph County, MI

"Residence of L. Eckerson - Fawn River -Mich."
Original photo in possession of the author

     My great-grandfather, John Levi Eckerson, spent many years working his way from Michigan to Washington state, but there are few details of how or why he made the journey.  In 1880, he is found described on the census as "boring wells," and living as a boarder.  This was in Belvidere, Thayer County, Nebraska.  This may not have been a random decision, because his great-uncle, Willard W. Morgan, had also moved there in 1871.  In 1889, John L. Eckerson can next be found in the territorial census for Washington, living in Thurston County, single and working as a carpenter.  An 1891 newspaper notice states that his leg was broken while loading heavy timber onto railroad cars in Centralia, Lewis County.  He had evidently moved across the country living a rough and tumble existence.
     At the ripe age of 44, John L. Eckerson married 20-year-old Estella Channell in Lewis County, Washington.  A newspaper account of the event states that she was "quite a catch."  Perhaps they didn't quite understand her attraction to him, either!
     There is evidence that most of John Eckerson's siblings eventually moved west as well:  his older sister, Helen Butz, and his brothers Frank and Ernest are all found in Washington and Oregon.
     When I began my journey in genealogy, I asked my grandfather, John and Stella's only child, Harold Eckerson, where his father had come from.  The answer was always the same, "Hell's Half Acre!"  This was his way of saying he had no clue.  But if he'd bothered to look at the evidence, the answer might have been different.
     One of the items that somehow found its way west, was this photograph of the home in Fawn River, St. Joseph County, Michigan, where John L. Eckerson had grown up.  His parents were Lambert and Harriet Graves Eckerson, who had come to Michigan from Western New York.  Thankfully, the photograph is clearly identified as being the residence of L. Eckerson.
     There is a teenager standing in the center of the picture.  Is this John, on the cusp of his westward adventures?


Friday, July 31, 2015

No German? No problem! Lurena Largent

     The value of newspapers in our ancestral research can't be stressed often enough.  For those of us whose forebears didn't have the courtesy to leave a large paper trail in court documents, their occasional appearance in the local paper is spotted with excitement.  At last, another crumb to follow!
     But newspapers weren't published for the benefit of someone in the future studying their ancestry.  They were mostly printed on cheap materials meant to be thrown away.  Where they survive, the runs of available copies probably aren't complete.  Currently, online access represents only a portion of what might be locked away in distant vaults.  Where an "index" of sorts is available, it probably relies upon OCR (optical character recognition) technology, which produces either false positives, or misses entries entirely.  Blurred, water-stained pages with antique font are not technology-friendly.
     As is the case when using any sort of record, the biggest obstacles might be those we place in our own way.  Take, as an example, this entry pertaining to my ongoing research into the Largent family, of West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana.
     A search on a newspaper portal for the name "Largent" generally returns a daunting number of hits.  That's because the word "largest" routinely shows up as a false positive.  One has to be prepared to wade through a lot of those, in hopes of finding one where the surname actually appears.  Which is what happened when I spotted "Lurena Largent" in the list of results.  The surrounding language not only was the usual garbled attempt produced by OCR, it wasn't even English, but what I recognized as German.  Here is the actual digitized document:

Indiana Tribüne, Volume 9, Number 203, 13 April 1886

     This image is courtesy of the Hoosier State Chronicles, part of the Indiana State Library.  It currently displays over 362,000 pages of Indiana newspapers.  Note that the title of the paper, the Indiana Tribüne, features an umlaut, a mark placed over a vowel in German and Hungarian.  This labor newspaper was published in Indianapolis for 53 years, claiming in 1898 to have the largest circulation of the German-language daily papers in Indiana.  It ceased publication in 1918, amid strong anti-German sentiment throughout the country during WWI.
     Closer examination shows that Lurena's name appears among those "heirathen," which means to marry or wed.  The names above are "Geburten" or births.  Using other sources, I have established that Lurena Largent is a distant cousin of mine with several removes.  Nothing in her ancestry suggests a connection to the German language.  What little I know of her husband, William W. Hutchins, doesn't either.  I believe these events were routinely copied out of local civil registers for publication.  The inclusion of Michael O'Donnell in the births would seem to confirm that.
     So, what if I'd gone about this search in a different way?  What if I'd looked at a list of available newspapers and said, "Oh, I won't bother with that one, it's in German, and she wouldn't be there."  What if this is the only place she's named?  This is one of those couples whose paper trail is meager. 
     The most frightening question I came away with?  What have I missed along the way?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My (Almost) Brush With Fame: Rose A. Simpson Riney

Rose A. Simpson Riney, photo courtesy Lillie Riney, findagrave.com
     Raking the leaves of the family tree sometimes turns up information that has us excited for at least a moment.  Is it possible we share the ancestry of a famous and well-regarded figure from history?  Or, perhaps we share a talent or characteristic of a more well-known distant cousin?  Sometimes, we get dazzled by the possibilities, and abandon sound research practices, in order to chase "our" star relative.   Luckily, I had studied my ancestry long enough, to know that when I read my distant grandmother's obituary, the last paragraph was based on wishful thinking, not fact.
     Rose (Rosa) A. Simpson was born in Kentucky in 1810, and lived well into the 20th century, her death occurring in December of 1908 in Lewis County, Missouri.  On her 19th birthday, in 1830, she married Richard Riney in Sangamon County, Illinois.  They eventually settled in Missouri, and were instrumental in the founding of the Shrine of St. Patrick in Lewis County, Missouri.  More information at:  St. Patrick Shrine .
     The last paragraph of her obituary would create excitement, to those not familiar with her story.  After all, Boones in Kentucky must all be related, right?  Well, no.

Obituary  published  22 December 1908 in The Quincy (Illinois) Daily Herald

     Besides the vast amount of available, verifiable information about Rosa's family, a quick look into Daniel Boone's own history reveals problems with the newspaper story.  His birth actually occurred in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 1734.  His father, Squire Boone, had emigrated as a teenager to Pennsylvania from England.  Around 1750, the family moved to the Yadkin River valley of North Carolina.  Daniel Boone's earliest trip to Kentucky took place when he was in his mid 30s.  This family had followed the Quaker faith in both England and America.
     Rose A. Simpson did indeed have a Boone surname in her heritage.  Her mother, Mary Alice Boone, was the daughter of John Boone, whose will was written in Washington County, Kentucky, in 1809.  This family had long been connected to the Catholic Church.  An earlier John Boone had donated land on which a Catholic Chapel was erected around 1710 in St. George's County, Maryland.    This family was part of what legend calls "The Maryland League," groups of Catholic families who, beginning in the 1780s, banded together to emigrate from Maryland to Kentucky.  Rose's grandfather, John Boone, was part of the Hardin's Creek settlement, which was later known as Saint Charles, Saint Mary's, and finally, St. Mary.  This part of Washington County was divided off into Mercer County in 1834.
     Interestingly, the newspaper obituary for Rose Simpson Riney published closer to her residence in Missouri, doesn't make mention of a connection to Daniel Boone.  Perhaps, as often happens, a descendant in Quincy really wanted for the story to be true.
     While the Maryland Boones may owe thanks to Daniel Boone for making it possible to settle later in Kentucky, they otherwise may have only shared a connection in the distant past.  They certainly couldn't claim him as their "Uncle Dan."

Note, the excellent online newspaper records of the Quincy, Illinois Public Library have been an invaluable source in my research.  They are available here:  Quincy, Illinois newspaper research .