Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How Important Are Family Legends?

I grew up listening to all sorts of legends about our family's history.  My parents were from eastern Kentucky, and they passed on stories they had heard from their parents, which had been from heard from their parents, which had...

You get the idea.

In the genealogical world there is much discussion about correct citations of our sources.  There probably isn't a genealogist alive that hasn't wished they could go back and do things a little bit better.  I remember thinking, "Oh, I'll always remember where that was."  Then, life got in the way and I don't have a clue.

But, back to the family legends - perhaps we ought to listen a little bit closer to those stories.  Try as I might, I could not locate a single fact in our family's history that pointed to our having Dutch lineage.  But, Dad insisted that was what this ancestor was always called.

Dutch.  Dutch.  Dutch.  Deutch?

Yep, that was it!!!  The line was German!!!  That made a lot more sense, because a lot of the German foods and traditions were passed on through the family.  I just didn't realize it.  The sausage, the sauerkraut, the Christmas legends, etc.

But, one legend still continues to haunt me.  One of my mother's grandfathers was Robert H. Stevens/Stephens.  He fought in the Civil War.  He settled back into Elliott County, Kentucky.  He died.

A few years after his death, the legend was that a Doctor Brown (?) was supposed to assemble a skeleton as part of an exam.

The legend was that Robert's grave was disturbed.
The legend was that someone ran upon Doc Brown in the woods with a big pot of boiling water.

The legend was that a hand floated to the top.

The legend was that Doc Brown kept a skeleton hanging in his closet for years.

Now, this all makes for some wonderful storytelling.  But, that's not what I'm after.  I'm just trying to find where he was buried.

A few years ago, my uncle told me that a picture existed of Robert, and that it was hanging in the home of a cousin who was in her 80's.  I really wanted to see it, and perhaps take a picture of it.  He told me to go up to the house and knock.  If there wasn't an answer, just look through the door, for it was hanging right inside within viewing distance.

Now, we are talking Kentucky.  You just don't do something like that.  But, I figured there wasn't any other way to see that picture.  My husband and four young children drove up to the house, and I told them to stay put.

I knocked on the door.  There was no answer.   Looking at the hound dog out of the corner of my eye, I took my chances and looked through the door.  It was hard to focus, but that's because just an inch away on the other side of the glass was another pair of eyes looking at me!

I thought for sure I was dead.

This was my mother's dear cousin and childhood playmate.  She reminded me so much of my mother - same hair, same arms, same laugh.  I wanted to get right to the point, but there are some very important points to remember when visiting someone in the south:
1.  Do not, under any circumstance, rush.  If you're foreign, or from the north (in my case, Ohio), you've got to earn their trust.
2.  Ask how the garden was this year.
3.  Ask how the family is doing.  Include the hound dog.
4.  Talk slowly.  Don't try to imitate the "twang".  You'll just sound silly.
5.  Again, don't rush.  Things go at a different speed.  Adapt to it, no matter how anxious you are to get the information and get on the road.

We had a wonderful visit as she shared such fond memories of my mother.  We did finally get around to talking about family, and I asked her about the picture that was indeed hanging on the wall.  She took it down for me to look at, and I gave it a good "goin' over".

I was amazed at the family resemblances that were in this man's facial features that have carried right on down through the generations.

I asked her where she had gotten it.  She slapped her leg and said that some people up the holler had been tearing up their linoleum and ran across it.  (People often placed layers of newspapers and other papers between the floorboards and the linoleum to help insulate against the cold.)  She said Robert's name was even on the back of it, though I didn't ask her to take it out of the frame to look at that.  I kind of wish I had.

She agreed to let me take a picture of the picture, so I took it outside and placed it under a tree so the sun wouldn't glare on it.  This was before the days of digital cameras, so I took several pictures with my inexpensive Vivitar 35mm to make sure at least one turned out.
Robert H. Stevens/Stephens, md to Rachel M. Burton

I have since downloaded his Civil War Pension File, and learned that he served in the Union Army, and at one point was taken as a prisoner of war.  In the 1890 Kentucky Veteran's Census, he is living at Hogtown, Elliott Co., KY, where he states he had a pain in his side and he broke his foot during the war, possibly due to:  "A sudent jar from shells by cannon".

He's a bit of a hero to me.  He's in the Civil War, he dies, perhaps is dug up and hangs in a doctor's office for years.  His picture stays under the linoleum for years and is finally uncovered.  My husband asked, "Were they singing 'I'm Walkin' the Floor Over You'?"

Smarty pants!  Quit talking about my grandpa!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Combing Research Trips With the Living and the Dead!

One of the toughest things about genealogy research is combing the living and the dead.

Let me clarify!

First of all, I love my living family.  They have helped me become who I am today, both through tears and frustration!!  They are near to me.  They are dear to me.

Second, I love my ancestors, and those that have passed on that are really not that far back in my genealogy.  I love the detective work that goes along with piecing their lives together.

I do not like combining the two. 

While raising a young family, I found it difficult to spread out my research on my dining room table when I knew I might be called away to pick up a child, bring something out of the oven, answer a phone call, etc.  I was never quite sure what I would find when I returned, for the dining room is the hub of our home.  I didn't have a genealogy room that I could simply close the door on.

When we would take a trip, my husband would try to find some time for me to dash into a library while he held the kids at bay in the children's section, or entertain them while I labored in a cemetery.

He never once complained, for we are both library people.  But, we didn't have the chance to spend hours, like we would both love!

Then comes Salt Lake City.

 Mr. Kerry's family was centered in Utah, so we would go there quite often.  Many of my genealogy friends would give me envious glances when they heard I was off to Utah again.  But, most of these trips involved activities with the living - weddings, reunions, funerals, etc.  I cherish those times, but there was never, ever a time for research in the genealogy mecca known as the Family History Library.

Once, when in Utah for a wedding, we stayed in the hotel adjacent to the FHL.  For two days, I longlingly looked out our window as we dressed to go to dinners, rehearsals and then, the wedding.  When the events were over, we arrived back at the hotel when the library only had twenty minutes before closing.  I dashed through the doors, found what I needed, printed it off and had five minutes to spare.

My dream is to go to Salt Lake and learn and research and come away filled with knowledge, sources, and lots of avenues I have not yet pursued.  The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy beckons me, and I want to come!  http://www.slig.ugagenealogy.org/

I can dream, can't I? 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cemetery Adventures...

I have always felt at home in a cemetery.

I was in cemeteries before I was born. My parents took me to cemeteries when they were doing indexing for the Ohio Genealogical Society. While all of my friends were in movie theaters and on the beach on Sunday afternoon, I was in a cemetery with my parents.

I was born into an older family and everyone was dying when I was young, so I went to many funerals and cemeteries. I feel quite at home in a cemetery, thinking of the many times a family has paid their last respects to a loved one.

I've also had some interesting experiences in cemeteries. Two stand out.

I must have been about 12 or 13 years old. It was Sunday afternoon, and we were off to another cemetery. I had talked my best friend, Palm Tree (Alice) into going. One of mom and dad's friends, Brother Steele (who never spoke) also came along.

And...Mom wore a wig.

We were all in various corners, with Alice and I hanging together writing on our index cards. Mom was down on her knees pulling weeds from a tombstone that had sunken into the ground. The information she needed was below the level of the grass and the ground, so she had a job to do.

Then, she came face to face with a snake!

She jumped up and started doing this warhoop thing that mortified Alice and I. I was SO embarrassed. Dad saw what was going on and came running across the grass with a stiff wire brush. (Never, ever use those now!!) He saw the snake and started beating it like that Fat Broad in the comic strip B.C.
But, the ends of those bristles are extremely sharp, and during the first strike, the snake got stuck in the bristles. When he saw what had happened, he slung the snake straight up in the air. That's when my mother looked up and saw the snake coming straight down for her, head over tail.

Mom ran out from under her wig.

Alice and I just wagged our heads. Brother Steele was trying to hold his face together to keep from laughing. I wanted to tell him to just go ahead and bust out and laugh, but I didn't. Oh, well.

The second incident directly involves me.

I had a broken foot once again. I was heavy. I was unstable. I was in a cemetery.

Sisters Ferne and Betty and I were in a Kentucky cemetery, which could be anywhere - soggy bottomland, mountains, backwoods properties, high grass, old stones, etc. You name it - we've been there.

We were looking through a familiar cemetery once again to make sure we had all stones recorded. The three of us were scattered around, with me over closest to the top ridge of the burying ground. It was high up on a hill. (People were buried high up so the floods wouldn't get the graves saturated.)

I was copying the information from a tombstone that looked a little bit like the Washington Monument. It was on the crest of the hill, and there were names on all four sides. I kept wondering if these people were buried in a pinwheel.

I had a walking cast on that looked like a "moon boot". It was solid and didn't bend much. As I'm walking around all four sides of the tombstone, I hung on to it to keep my balance. Suddenly, it toppled. I grabbed on to it so it wouldn't break further, and cradled it in my arms. I also lost my footing, fell, and began rolling down the side of the hill - hollering the whole time. A true genealogist.

My sisters heard me, but couldn't see me. When they finally saw where I had landed, they stood on the hill above me, dumbfounded. The first thing out of Betty's mouth was, "Good night! Is the tombstone alright?"

Yes, girls. It's was alright. So was I, in case anyone was wondering...
A stiff wire brush.  Never, ever use this to clean a tombstone with.  They're great for killing snakes, though.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Learning the Hard Way - Again!

I guess I've always been one to learn things the hard way.

During this time of year, my parents' garden would have been pretty much over and cleaned up.  The final weeks of summer would have been spent "puttin' food by".

But, the apples kept on producing for a bit longer.

We had thirteen apple trees on our property.  Most of them were the Golden Delicious variety, and in my opinion there is none better!  All of the delicacies that can come from an apple came from that particular apple - applesauce, apple butter, apple pies, apple crisp, fried pies, sausage and apple stuffing, you name it!
But, I learned a very hard lesson from dried apples, i.e. dehydrated apples.

My mom and her mom kept a supply of dried apples to make stack cakes.  At many southern funerals, a stack cake was almost always on the food table.  It was a staple.  It required dried apples.

Mom would peel, cut and slice bushel after bushel of these beautiful apples.  We had no dehydrator, so most of the time she used the oven - sometimes even the back window of our car.  If it happened to be humid, which it often is in Ohio, it would take a little longer.  Dad did build some screens to dry them outside.  This helped to prevent flies from getting on them.  Sometimes they even dried them in front of the fireplace. 

Mom stored these dried apples in big, half gallon jars or plastic wear. 

One day, I happened upon some and decided to eat some.  She warned me not to eat too many.  I also had a bottle of 7Up. 

Big mistake.

She warned me to slow down on the apples, and for goodness sakes, don't drink the 7UP!!  But, I was thirteen years old, and I knew more than her.

So, I thought.

Oh, I can't even begin to describe the pain and misery I was in as those apples began to rehydrate!!!  I laid on the bed and rolled back and forth all night trying to calm everything down that was going on inside of me.  I just had to let nature take its course, and watch my mom wagging her head with that "I told you so" look.

I guess I should have listened and watched the older generation better than I did.  They preserved and prepared so they would never have to depend on anyone else to take care of them.

I miss them...

Dried Apple Stack Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cooked dried apples
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening and sugar; add beaten egg, molasses, buttermilk, and mix well. Sift flour, soda, salt, and ginger into a big mixing bowl. Make hole in center of dry ingredients and pour in creamed mix, stirring until well blended. Add vanilla, stir well, and roll out dough as you would for a piecrust. Cut to fit 9-inch pan or cast-iron skillet (this amount of dough will make 7 layers). Bake layers for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. When cool, stack layers with spiced, sweetened old-fashioned dried apples. (See recipe below.) Spread between layers and smooth around sides and top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, or beat egg whites into a meringue and spread on outside of cake. You may brown the meringue if desired. Prepare cake at least a day before serving it and put in refrigerator (it will keep several days, if necessary, in a cool place). To serve, slice into very thin layers.
Cooked Dried Apples*
Put 1 pound apples in heavy pan and cover with cold water. You may need to add water several times to keep apples from sticking to pan. Cook until soft enough to mash. While still hot, mash apples and add 1 cup brown sugar, 1 cup white sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon cloves, and 1 teaspoon allspice.
*If dried apples are not available, cook several pounds cooking apples with a little water. Add spices and sugars as listed above, and cook until mixture is very thick.
http://www.community.berea.edu/, "Appalachian Heritage, A Literary Quarterly of the Appalchian South", Fall 2004.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

History and Geography in the Lives of Our Ancestors

Harriett Beecher Stowe wrote:  “Every individual is part and parcel of a great picture of the society in which he lives and acts, and his life cannot be painted without reproducing the picture of the world he lived in.”

Family history is so much more than just the names and dates on a pedigree chart or in a genealogy program on our computers.  I believe that "genealogy" involves basic vital information and goes straight back.  "Family History" encompasses the histories of those families.

For each ancestral family, 
Years ago, Curt Witcher spoke at a conference I was attending.  As usualy, his talk was inspiring and made me want to go right home and get started researching better.  The title of this particular presentation was, "Doing the History Eliminates the Mystery".

So true.

In the classes I teach, I try to emphasize just how important this can be.  Let me share some pointers:

1.  Learn all you can about the area your ancestors lived in and study this material.  Look at the time period, their nationality, the neighborhood.
  • County histories and “heritage books” may be particularly helpful, though the data may be incorrect.  Use the information as a springboard to take you to the original records containing primary sources.
  • The family may have followed general trends that pertained to the area.
    Obtain atlases and topographical maps to study the geography, and claim those maps as yours!  They may help you to determine why your ancestor traveled nearly 20 miles to go to a courthouse in a neighboring county, as opposed to 5 miles to the one in his own county.  Perhaps there was rough terrain and mou
    ntains that you can't see on an ordinary map.
  • How did the family arrive?  Were there watercourses?  Did they run a ferry on the river?  Could they have had a mill?  Did they come through mountains?  Did poor weather affect the crops and the economy, effecting a move?
  • Collect materials about libraries, archives and courthouses in the area, as well as their location and hours of operation.  www.usgenweb.com
2.  Check out the neighborhood and collateral relatives.
It might be wise to bypass indexes and go directly to the records themselves.  

  •  You are the one that knows your family and different spelling variations.
     Families did not live in alphabetical order.
     Study the family in the proximity of its neighbors.
     Whole communities were known to migrate.
     They witnessed each other’s deeds and wills, and attended          church together.
    Tax records and deeds often showed neighbors.
     Land was described by whose property it bordered
3.  Join a society in the ancestor’s geographic area.
  • If they have a website, visit it frequently.
    Many societies collect pedigree charts, family group records, or ancestor file cards from its members.
    Most societies publish a newsletter and accept free queries from members.
4.  Join a local society and be active.
  • Local societies offer learning opportunities and workshops.
5.  Consult with an expert in the geographic area where your ancestor lived, and/or hire a professional researcher.

Above all, avoid presentism!  This is when we place today's morals, values, manners, speech, routines, hygiene, etc. upon people who lived in another time and place. 

Step outside the normal routine of collecting documents.
Explore the area’s history.