Friday, September 17, 2010

If you can't smile, don't come in.

I woke this morning to a slate-gray sky and cool breezes blowing across my bedcovers. I love to sleep with the windows open and will covet every morning for the next two months until the frost sets in. My mother scolded me as a girl for running around in my bare feet: "Donna May, Dr. Schneider's already told you that you'll catch pneumonia... put some socks on." I'd roll my eyes and make a u-turn back to the bedroom. Why she felt the need to throw Dr. Schneider into the conversation, I'll never know as his office visit lollypops were no match for her oak twig switches. To this day I associate doctors with tubesocks.

Winter mornings, I'd sprint from my bed to the livingroom and straddle the floor furnace in my long cotton nightgown and let the warm air fill me like a balloon before heading for the bathroom. Floor furnaces in those days were large natural gas burners with a blower and an iron gate fitted tightly across the firebox, then dropped into a crawlspace or basement such that the iron gate was flush with the flooring. The trick was not to step on the gate least you end up with a nasty burn. Except for a small gas space heater in the bathroom, the floor furnace was the only heat for our house and so on really cold mornings, Mama would crank up all the burners on the kitchen stove, light the oven and leave the door open. At night, she'd twist bathtowels into long snakes and stuff them under the cracks in the front door to guard against "blue northerns."

A cousin left some comments in the blog's photo gallery last night, but didn't leave her contact information, and so I'd ask each of you to please leave an email address; your stories are so important. So thank you cousin, you were correct in that I had the photo of great aunt Eliza and Maggie Pigg right, but the woman in the center was 2nd great grandmother Millie Tucker. Uncle Thurman (Walter Thurman Hicks) gave me his collection of family photos to copy; included is great grandmother Julia Pigg Dudgeon's scrapbook. I loved the the inscription you left on the photo of her and great grandfather Dudgeon and thought it a fitting title for today's blog.

The book is full of newspaper clippings about townspeople from Orrick, Missouri, clippings about the state of the war (WWII), recipies and dozens of poems and inspirational thoughts. She made a scrapbook for her grandaughter and my aunt Rosemary that's been passed down to me. In the back is a poem entitled "Memories of Home for Rosemary."

"I am thinking of my childhood home, that's many miles away
Where we lived down by the school house and where we children loved to play.

The old house is torn down now, but the cedar tree still stands. And I like to think things over when I had things at my command.

There was my brothers and my sisters, mother and dad, the Lord was very good to us and the good times that we had.

We didn't think about it then, but now that it is gone, we do.
How we gathered around the old piano, dad loved to sing and we did too.

The war came and took two brothers, and two cousins away far over the sea, God spared them to come back to the good USA.

It was close by the old Missouri River where we attended country school and church, but we all were very happy, just the little Dudgeon bunch.

Grandma and Grandpa were glad to see us, we were all sure of that. Santa made his trip so regular with his white whiskers and red hat.

But we are grown and I am married, and have a daughter of my own. But our minds go back to childhood where our cares were all unknown.

What good times we had at Christmas, Aunt Laura and the children came. Mother, Dad and Uncle Cecil, but now we have began to roam.

I am going back home some day, to where I spent my early life, those happy days of childhood we will cherish and forget the strife." (signed Memories of Grandma Dudgeon 1947 -- Dad 59; mother 47)

The ceramic floor tile feels cool to my feet this morning. When the seasons turn is when I miss my mother the most and would call just to hear her voice, and get a weather report. I told her once that she was grounded from the Weather Channel, and she giggled. Reaching for a clean t-shirt this morning, I bypassed the socks just to hear her whisper "Donna May, Dr. Schneider said..."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Martha Allen Carrier

August 5, 1692 five residents of Andover, Massachusetts were led to the gallows and, in front of a large crowd of witnesses, hung atop Gallows Hill in Salem for practicing witchcraft. The frenzy behind the Salem witch trials was based on the testimony of three young girls: Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Susan Sheldon, and reinforced by townspeople who used the accused as scapegoats for their own misfortunes and to escape persecution. Four of the condemned were men, including John Proctor, the main character in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible." The lone woman was an Andover housewife named Martha Carrier. It is Martha, my 8th great-grandmother, I'd like to honor today.

She was born Martha Ingalls Allen in 1643 to Andrew Allen and Faith Ingalls, two of the original 23 settlers of Andover, Massachusetts. In 1674, she became pregnant with the child of an older Welsh servant, Thomas Carrier, who she married. The newlyweds relocated to Billerica. In 1676, they were blamed for a smallpox epidemic that claimed the lives of thirteen people including two of the Carrier children, Martha's father and two brothers, her sister-in-law, and a nephew. A group of selectmen ordered the family to leave town immediately or pay a surety of 20 shillings per week if they wanted to stay. The Carriers were barred from entering public places. Although Martha, Thomas and the other children were afflicted with the disease, they survived. This was later was used as evidence of Martha's "special powers."

Thomas' past is somewhat sketchy. According to Carrier family stories, Thomas's exceptional physical size (he was said to be over 7 feet tall) strength, and fleetness of foot, led him to be chosen as one of the King of England's Royal Guard. In 1649, when Charles I was put on trail and sentenced to death, it was Thomas who acted in the historic position as executioner. Unfortunately for Carrier, Charles's son Charles II would re-take the throne and gain control the country. In May 1660, Charles II ordered the arrest of those responsible for his father's death. Carrier adopted the surname "Morgan" and escaped to America around 1665. It seems that Carrier lived an unsettled life at first, moving three or four times between Billerica and Andover. Although the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony did not approve of Charles I, they also did not approve of regicide. The facts behind Carrier's actions may have found their way to the new colony and played a part in Martha's undoing.

To make matters worse, Martha took charge of her father's estate. She immediately ran into friction with her neighbors, threatening vengeance upon those she believed were cheating her or her husband. She was described by Magistrate Cotton Mather as "a woman of a disposition not unlikely to make enemies; plain and outspoken in her speech, of remarkable strength of mind, a keen sense of justice, and a sharp tongue."

In an excerpt from "Historical Sketches of Andover" the author notes that most of the accused confessed and thus averted the extreme penalty of death. Only Martha did not, at some time, make an admission or confession. "From the first moment to the last, under all the persuasions and exhortations of friends, under denunciations and threats of the magistrates and examiners, she held firm, denying all charges, and neither overborne in mind nor shaken in nerve, met death with heroic courage." Martha's three eldest children: Richard, Andrew, and Thomas were accused of witchcraft with their mother and tortured until they confessed. Their seven-year-old sister Sarah was not accused, but afraid and prompted by the interrogators, made to testify against her mother in court.

Several women accused confessed that Martha had led them to practice. Ann Foster said she rode on a stick with Martha to Salem Village, that the stick broke and that she saved herself by clinging around Martha's neck. Her nephew, Allen Toothaker testified that he lost two of his livestock, attributing their deaths to Martha. Samuel Preston blamed the death of one of his cows on Martha stating that they'd had a disagreement and she'd placed a hex on the animal.

On August 19, 1692, Martha and four men were carried through the streets of Salem in a cart, the crowds thronging to see the sight. Even from the scaffold, Martha Carrier's voice was heard asserting her innocence. Her body was dragged to a common grave between the rocks about two feet deep where she joined the bodies of Reverend Burroughs and John Willard.

On October 17, 1710, the Massachusetts General Court passed an act that "the several convictions, judgments, and attainders be, and hereby are, reversed, and declared to be null and void." They ought to have extended the act to all who had suffered, rather confined its effect to those in reference to whom petitions had been presented. On the 17th of December 1711, Governor Dudley issued his warrant for the purpose of carrying out a vote of the General Assembly stating "by and with the advice and consent of Her Majesty's Council, (to pay) the sum of 578 pounds to such persons as are living, and to those that legally represent them that are dead." Martha Carrier's family was awarded 7 pounds, 6 shillings.

On Tuesday, March 16, 1999, the Board of Selectmen from the town of Billerica, Massachusetts voted to rescind the banishment of the entire Carrier family as an "appropriate gesture" to the Carrier family. It was unanimously approved.

In October of 1995, I booked a two week's vacation just south of Bar Harbor, Maine in a little fishing village overlooking an inlet. I'd hoped to visit all of the lighthouses along the coast and then rather play the rest of the vacation by ear. After the first week's sampling of fresh fish and realizing that most of the lighthouses were off coast, decommissioned, or simply lighted totems and not reachable by car, I rambled south along the coast toward interstate 95 and home. It wasn't a planned detour. Passing through Danvers, Massachusetts enroute to interstate 90, I noticed the signs for Salem. And took the exit.

Early in October, the town had already started preparing for Halloween celebrations. Banners flying from poles and windows accented by the golden red leaves painted a watercolor backdrop against the wrought iron fencing and granite stones in the memorial graveyard. Following the curve of the rough-carved letters with my fingers, I read "Martha Carrier, Hanged, August 19, 1692." Grandmother.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I worked for JP Morgan Chase a couple of years ago and spent the better part of two years in Bournemouth, England and Hong Kong. While I was in the UK, I drove all over England and Wales (including the Isle of Anglesey) but did not make it north to Scotland. So beautiful. It's all so beautiful. Scotland is next on the agenda, but I'd like to find my ancestor family first and so more research.

Today's post will be short and I will leave with a funny story: in November 1997 I decided on a whim to visit northern Wales and so bought an airline ticket, rented a car and leased a self-catered cottage about .5 km from the ocean in Llyngwril (just south of Fairborn). The first thing I found upon arriving at the cottage (which was a renovated dairy barn on a beautiful farm) was that almost everyone in that part of Wales takes vacation in November: northern Wales was pretty much deserted. Which was okay with me anyway. Llyngwril is a very small town with no real market; just a sundry store combined with the post office. The propriator was a very nice woman who quickly took me under her wing and ensured that I had a "vocabulary" lesson each day (bore da, nos da, diolch, and dim diolch). Each morning, I'd pickup bread, cheese and some meat or vegetable for the day and bring my Ordnance Survey for Wales & the West Midlands and she'd send me packing to a new destination. One morning I announced that I'd like to hike across the foothills of Cadair Idris to "Doog-eh-loo" and then take the bus home. "Where?" she asked. "Doog-eh-loo" I replied and pointed to the spot on the map. "Oh child, that's Dol-geth-cley" and laughed. (I was looking for Dolgellau). Thereafter, I packed my Ordnance Survey in my rook sack and simply pointed when asking directions.

The reason, of course, for sharing this story is a reminder to use all available resources when researching; sometimes the most helpful are right in front of us.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Showing Honor

Yesterday, I was invited to give a short presentation at the local Family History Center's training session. Although I'm not a member of the church, the members have always made me feel like part of the community.

The director of the program asked me to talk a bit about this blog site, which I did, but not from a techinical perspective. The LDS church members are compelled to "seal" family members, be that in this lifetime, or by researching deceased family members and then sealing them as a family in heaven. I'm not sure how to address that concept as I tend to be more pragmatic about the afterlife, but I do think it a wonderful concept and simply the act of researching one's ancestors with that in mind is born out of love and respect.

Each time I uncover another family member, I'm humbled by the lives they've lead. In my search for Ellen, I turned toward her husband Alfred's family for clues. Alfred's father, Abner Barrie, married Elizabeth Joiner (or Joyner)from Panbride, Forfarshire (Angus) Scotland in 1878. She and Abner immigrated to Ontario, and later to Paterson, New Jersey. My guess is that Ellen's step-brother, John Gordon, who is listed in the 1900 census as a machinist...and Alfred worked together. Interestingly enough, they only lived about 2.5 miles from one another. Alfred was a machinist at the time, working at the Magnus Metal Company. More about Alfred and Ellen later.

By the way, thanks to my first cousin Barry Howard and to my first cousin 4 times removed Lou Smith for sharing their research. Today, I thought I'd write about our common ancestor, Abner Joiner.

Abner was born the 24th of July 1783 in Pennyculk, Midlothian, Scotland; I don't yet know who his parents were. Abner married Isobel Aitchinson the 30th of September 1803. At the time, he was a Private in the 51st Edinburgh Militia. What makes Abner so interesting is that he was a career soldier:

25 July 1794 -- 24 July 1802 Private, Clan Alpine Fencibles
28 January 1803 -- 25 February 1813, Private, Corporal, Sergeant, 51st Edinburgh Militia
26 December 1813 -- 9 January 1816, Private Corporal, Sergeant, 93rd Regiment of Foot
1 April 1817 -- 21 December 1826, Private, Corporal, 51st Edinburgh Militia

He was retired at age 45 at Blinking, North of Aylesbury, Norfolk with a good conduct record due to ill health, ague, dropsy, rheumatism and asthma. The notes state that his health issues originated in camp at Sutton Coldfield in 1812 after exposure to cold and damp, and that he'd been recommended to Chelsea Hospital for Pension. Abner was 5' 5.2" tall, with brown hair, grey eyes, and a pale complextion.

This evening, I've changed both the color and the black print cartridges and have had to reload my printer's paper supply twice. There's so much that I don't know about early European history. So much to read. But as I close for the evening, I'm reminded that at some point during the spring of 1812, two of my ancestors may have been standing on opposite ends of a field in Ontario. My mother's ancestor: Joseph Roi--a French Canadian fur trader, and my father's ancestor: Abner Joiner. Both men of honor.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blog Fade

Walt reminds me daily to write, least my site suffer from "blog fade." Rather than summarize the past two months of research, I thought I'd post a couple of paragraphs from a letter from my great Aunt Margaret about her mother and father's family.

"I was born Margaret Joiner Barrie on December 23, 1915 to Alfred Barrie and Ellen Hold Barrie in West haven, Conneticut. My father was a machinist who was born in Patterson, New Jersey, but had moved to Canada for a while where he went to trade school two or three years. I did not know my grandfather Barrie, but I do vaguely remember my grandmother, who spoke with a real Scottish "brogue" -- I could hardly understand her. My father came from a large family -- four sisters and four brothers. One of her sisters, Margaret, was a teaher of special education children and had lost her arm as a young girl climbing under a train. She never married, nor did her sister Anna May, who was also a teacher. These two sisters were very good to their mother and I remember that they bought her a house in later life.

My mother had four brothers (Harry, Tom, Bill and Donald) and two sisters (Lillian and Mildred). Lillian was married and had two children: one son (Billy) and one daughter (Anna). Mildred was my mother's twin sister and was married but never had any children.

My mother was born in Coventry, England and her father came to America to work and then sent money for his wife and seven children to come to America. My mother (Ellen) was only about seven or nine when she made the trip across the Atlantic. They all lived in a very crowded five-room flat in Paterson, New Jersey. One day, her mother was cooking with a frying pan and the pan and stove caught fire. Somehow, she threw the pan down the stairs and the fire spread quickly through the house and she was trapped and died. Her father married again a few years late, but most of the kids had to be taken in by other families. My mother had to leave school in the fifth or sixth grade and went to work as a maid in an ice cream parlor. The family was very good to her and helped raise her."

This letter arrived on the heals of my finding a 1900 census for "Nellie" Barrie, her father William and stepmother of one year, Lizzie. On a hunch, I sent a copy of the record to my cousin Barrie Lee who responded yes, that could very well be Ellen. Yesterday, he called and said that he'd run across Aunt Marg's letter.

Yesterday, I also met a cousin in Australia. Alfred's (Ellen's husband) grandmother is also my cousin Lou's 5th grandmother. I'll write more about the Joiners in my next post.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Time Travel

My 40th high-school class reunion is next year and so recently I've found myself searching through Google and Facebook for those kids with whom I shared the happiest memories of my childhood. From the third grade until my senior year, I lived in Dallas, Texas but moved to California in 1978 after the birth of my son. I'd really not been back since.

The first person I found was Judy Bridges. Judy now goes by "Judith" or "Kate" and teaches English and drama at the Hollywood High School of the Performing Arts. She's still beautiful, but I don't know that I would have recognized her had we passed on the street. My recollection is of a willowy 18-year-old with long blond hair and John Lennon glasses. I found her on Facebook: Kate's hair is still blond, but cropped and my guess is that she wears contacts.

Since then, other classmates have contacted me with funny stories, remberances prompting me to dig out my old scrapbook. A genalogical dig into my forgotten past.

The inside cover reads:
November 8, 1969. To Donna on her 14th brithday from Gary, Donnie and Mama.
Beneath is taped the bus schedule for #54 Beverly Hills, #48 Westmoreland which confuses me as the I took the Hampton/Superior bus to school. The schedule was important enough for me to keep, but the memories were not.

There's a photograph of Patty O'Grady and Susan...Susan... I don't remember Susan's last name. Her father was a doctor and they had rabbits. Countless greeting cards for birthdays and Christmas. A card from my grandmother, grandfather and cousin Philip (who must have been living with them at the time) from August 1967 just after having my tonsils removed read:
Thursday night: Get you some ice cream that good for you. Hope you are feeling better by now. This will get 1/2 gal of cream enough for everone. Tillman felling better to night. Friday morning: It nice and cool this morning.
There was a one-dollar bill in the envelope.

The program from L.V. Stockard's 1967 Sweetheart Coronation lists Patty O'Grady as an usher along with Debra Starks. Debbie Starks died that summer from liver cancer. Her mother was our Girl Scout leader and we all called her "Starkist," a play on her last name.

There are spirit ribbons from football games and pages cut and pasted from Tiger Beat magazine about Mark Lindsay and Davie Jones, pressed flowers from mom's backyard, a lock of my hair, valentines, a red-rimmed potholder with a half-embroidered rooster, and a dance card from the Sunset High School Military Ball, February 14, 1970. The dance card is blank. My sophmore class schedule reads:

Homeroom: McCorkle
Spanish: Venable
Study Hall
PE: Ford
English: Trantham
Geometry: Watkins
Biology: Greathouse
World History: Couch

My phone number was FE78804.

There's a straw flower from David Dykeman, a carnation from Kathy Baker and the corsage from Andy Powers and the Military Ball. The Sunset Bison student directory for my senior year and more cards. Another program, this from our senior class play: Our Hearts were Young and Gay. Judy played the part of Cornelia; I was the prop manager for Act III. More cards. School newspapers. Some paper dolls from Dee Dee still in the gift wrap. And bookcovers documenting the transition of my handwriting from bubbles to script to bold print:
Donna loves #######
...sometime in 1969 the object of my affection was marks-a-lotted into oblivion for all time.

This week I've "friended" and been friended by old classmates from high school and college. Each has a fragment of a story I'd forgotten. Walt made a point about the importance of these childhood connections in that they validate our life experiences.

Debbie Starks was in my homemaking class at Stockard Junior High. Her hair was shoulder-length and dark brown and her face full of freckles. Starkissed.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The past couple of days I've traded researching family for researching resources. General housekeeping such as downloading and printing blank census forms, request forms for military and vital records, updating correspondence records and research calendars, and clearing my family junk file. The latter is the most time consuming, least interesting, but most important.

Sometimes when I get a lead from a source not directly related to my parents, I'll throw it in a general research folder. I've learned to attach a post-it note to the item to remind myself where it originated and why I thought it important at the time. For example, the last time I visited the Fayetteville Library's genealogy archives, I found a book entitled "Missouri Pioneers, County and Genealogical Records," compiled and published by Nadine Hodges in August 1973. My maternal ggg-grandfather, Andre Roy is listed as receiving a land claim from Francois Duquette (lower fields St. C-St C.)in December 1808. I've not matched that to the water course and district maps or atlas to determine the location of that land and so before it goes in the indivual's folder, it waits in paper purgatory until I turn my attention back to the Roy family.

In the "Patrons of Ray Co. Atlas of 1877," I found all sorts of relatives: JF Pigg, J Clevenger, R Pigg, JA Potter, LF Elliott, AJ Riffe, HP Settle, most of whom are related by marriage, but who will be useful network resorces when I begin to sort out the tale of a particular ancestor's history.

There's a death certificate for Charles Thomas Dougan who I do not believe is related to me, but one of my distant cousins does and so Charles waits to be validated. From, I printed images from all Hansons in Conneticut from 1900 to 1960 and found a Nels O. Hanson in New Haven buried in the Beaverdale Memorial Park. That's where Ellen is buried and so perhaps another clue.

Oftentimes, I'll print out a copy of a civil war service record or a passport application for someone who isn't a relative just to understand the information available on these forms to help me be more creative in my search alogrithms.

And then there's the internet. I've spent days compiling lists of sources from Cindi's List to the National Archives, genealogy centers and libraries, and my all-time favorite: Google Books. I probably have downloaded a half-terabyte of out-of-print books not just for the source material, but for the network of individuals that surround my ancestor; who they worked with, their community, their dress and way of life.

Yesterday, I hit the motherlode. The Family History Center in Rogers is allowing me to volunteer to help patrons in the library with their research. Each patron has a story and is hungry to share those stories as they search for their ancestors. Not only am I excited about having access to the records on microfilm and the guidance from the library staff, the network of stories the patrons share are helping to fill in the gaps from my own research: a couple who lived through the dust storms of the 1930s; another who ran a radio station in Utah with connections who might help me find copies of my grandfather's manuscripts.

The beauty of networks is in the interaction. One piece of information is helpful to another researcher; their stories help put my research into perspective. I've only just started reading through the material for Family History Center, I have a new issue of Discoving Family History teasing me from the corner of my desk and already its getting late. Walt just dropped off a hot cup of tea, smiling. I'm going to be here awhile.

Monday, April 5, 2010


For the past week, I've logged into my blog site and stared at the blank page, thinking. Somedays, the words simply don't come. Still, I think it important to go throught the exercise; sit, paper and pen in hand and let your mind wander.

Tonight when Walt came in from work, we debated on what to do with the evening: music? a movie? We opted for a quick to run to WalMart for beer (him) and wine (me) and an evening on the deck gazing out over our "postcard." Postcard is what we call our home. The sight off our upper balcony overlooking Lake Ann is very much what you'd find in the postcard rack of any local Walgreens drugstore: the occasional blue heron skimming the lakeshore. The lone fisherman silently trolling his way to the harbor. We milked the remaining strains of daylight afterwhich he retreated to his music studio to compose and I to the library, to write. I logged onto Facebook instead.

Janelle Chandler was online. Janelle and I had been in Ms Trantham's 10th grade English class. We'd just reconnected partially because my 40th class reunion is around the corner and partially because she was always a nice girl and one of the few people I'd remembered from high school. I hadn't talked to Janelle in, well, 39 years.

She answered my chat invitation. For the next hour and a half we laughed about old boyfriends, current interests, marriages, the neighbornood, religion; kids. I laughed and missed my old girlfriend. And my old self.

My 40th class reunion at Sunset High School in Dallas Texas is scheduled for September next year. The class of 1971. It occurred to me tonight that in all the years of researching, I've not documented much about myself. These kids, these adults who knew me when I was 16 and a good student, quiet; who knew me when I was 8 with long legs and curly red hair thigh-deep in the creeks searching for crawdads; who remembered my first crush, my first date: my first heartbreak -- these kids are as important to my family history search as are Andrew and William: and Ellen. Those kids are my life's reminder of its many blessings. Each relative I research brings me closer to something familiar; somthing I recognize within myself and choose to embrace, or to endure.

Tonight's blessing was Janelle.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

01001000 01101001

Yesterday's post was all about data. I'd received some information about my great-great grandparents; not information about the person, information about statistics. Names, dates, locations. With one new piece of information, I launched into a full-blown internet investigation researching my typical databases and then turned to my files; making notes, implying relationships and then a study into the history of the community where they were living at that time until I looked at the the clock in the bottom right-hand corner of my computer and noted that it was almost midnight, and I was cold.

Walt has refilled my cup of tea twice with a reassurance that I'll be up in 20 minutes. Almost done for the day. That was around 9:30. He's asleep on the couch. A dog under one arm and another laying across his feet, the house is still.

For Christmas this year, he made me a picture frame. Two pieces of thin lightly-stained oak bent into a half-circle with a quarter-inch slit along the top just the perfect width for displaying a single photograph. On the front, a brass plate engraved: 001100101 00110110. In binary code, that translates to "56." My current age.

Today, the frame holds a picture of my mother. The frame serves as a reminder that I prefer a world that's orderly; one where enough data can set things right: binary. In a binary world, I know when I've made a mistake and can take corrective action. In a black and white binary world, I am safe.

Our home overlooks a lake guarded by the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks. I've chosen not to put curtains or shades on the windows, opting for stained glass transoms. The last vestages of the day's sunlight danced in blues and greens across the room as it reflected off the frame's brass plate. I stopped typing for some time as the sun set and the little frogs outside my window started their night song. The frame was Walt's gentle assurance of love and a reminder that all the shades of the rainbow live between what is black and white. And that life, if lived to its fullest, is not safe.

I know that Ellen is waiting for me, but think tomorrow that I'll try to find out why Andrew and William brought their families to America.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Random acts of Kindness

I've heard arguments from my family against posting photographs and information about the family on a public website. doesn't share information about living individuals, and the rest is publically available through city directories, census records and a hundred other sources. Sometimes information I share is of benefit to others. Sometimes, like tonight, a stranger will send me a gift.

One of the photographs attached to my gg-grandfather, Andrew Barr, spured a comment from the Pastor of the Seymour Congregational Church in Seymour, CT, the Reverand Greg Dawson. My gg-grandfather Andrew Barr and his brother William became church members; William on January 2, 1870, and Andrew in 1875. This morning (Saturday), he followed up my thank-you letter with a page of additional information: Andrew's wife Jane Hannah, borh January 1856. Joined the church May 1, 1875, Died March 10, 1921 in Beaverdale CT. Buried in the Seymour Trinity Episcopal Cemetary. They were married in NY City in 1874. Two of the children, Mamie (b. 1873) and Albert A. (b. Dec 18, 1887) are listed as members, as is my great grandmother, Annie Jane (b. 1883). Anne and My great-grandfather Charles Clifford Hanson were married and joined the church in 1898. She died in 1939 in Beaverdale, CT and is buried at the Beaverdale Cemetary. (There's a conflict with Anne's age, but I'd rather reconcile data than have no data at all!)

The information on William shows that they were a Presbyterian family in Ballymony, Ireland. William J. Barr was born September 1843 in Ireland. He joined Seymour Congregational Church on January 2, 1870. His first wife, Nancy, joined the church with him. I don't have information on what happened to Nancy, but later he married Elizabeth C Ward (b. 1844) and joined the church May 24, 1868. Elizabeth transfered to the church from 3rd Presbyterian in Ballymony, Ireland. She died August 2, 1914. William and Elizabeth had 1 son, James H. Barr (b. 1873) who married Annie E. (b. 1876) in 1895 and joined the church in 1925. In 1930, the couple moved to the 1st Congregational Church in Ansonia, CT.

The 1880 census shows Andrew and William as immigrant workers at the New Haven Copper Company. Both boys and their families immigrated from Ireland; Andrew, his wife Jane and six-month old daugher Anna Jane on July 7, 1873 on the Corinthan (previously named the Damascus), part of the Allen Line shipping company. At that time, the trip from Ireland to Montreal took about 10 days.

William and Andrew's families lived in the same complex in 1880. According to the census, William's son James was born in Conneticutt. I've not yet found William's immigration records, but will guess for the time being, that it was around 1868 or 1869. From the kindness of a stranger, I know they were protestant. I know they were from Ballymony, Ireland and where they are buried.

When I find that someone has linked to my research, I take a look at their tree and research to see how we're connected. Perhaps I have something else that may prove helpful to offer. Perhaps they can answer a question for me. But user "seymourcongregrationalchurch" doesn't have a tree.

Just a random act of kindness.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Obvious Choices

Years ago, I suffered from bad headaches. It was a chaotic time in my life and after spending quite a bit of money on counselors, neurologists and beta blockers, I found that all I really needed was order. Today, my kitchen cabinets are in order: peas, corn and tomatos each in their respective rows. Flour, sugar, and cornmeal are sealed against pantry moths and labled neatly on the front and top of each opaque container in red Sharpie. Each morning, I get up on the left side of the bed, hit the bathroom, then the coffepot and check email. Before bed each night, I dim the lights in the bathroom, pour a full tub of water and add bubbles. I picture the stress and unresolved frustrations of the day draining from my fingers and toes into the bubbles. And then I pull the plug.

My little routines still rouse a chuckle from the family. About three weeks ago, my husband was making Saturday-morning waffles. A favorite. I'd emptied the large container of Bisquick into a storage container, labled the container and thrown away the box to guard against pantry moths. Gathering the milk and eggs on the counter, he stared open-eyed at the opaque container labled "Bisquick" and asked for the whereabouts of the box. After ten years of making Saturday-morning waffles, he'd not memorized the recipe. I fished the box out of the recycle bin and carefully pinned the recipe for waffles, pancakes and biscuits (just to be on the safe side) in bold red Sharpie on the side of the container.

There's a lesson here. When I begin researching a person, I begin with the obvious choices: the family bible, old address books, letters and greeting cards, Google, the archives on, and when I've reached my wit's end, I pick up the phone and call someone.

Reseaching a "deadend" can be exhausting and a bit depressing. I've often put away my research for weeks at a time when I couldn't get a lead. Sometimes, this resting period is all that's needed to get fresh eyes and a new perspective on the trail.

I was pretty excited about the response from Christ Church in New Haven, so I requested death certificates for both my grandparents: my grandmother's would validate Ellen's maiden name; my grandfather's would validate his parents. I'd Googled Ellen's name, my grandmother's name and hadn't gotten any further. My grandmother had two sons from a second marriage; I'd tried their names last year with no result, and so I let that trail die. Last Friday, the certificates came in the mail.

That was just the juice I needed. I Googled Ellen Holt. Nothing. didn't provide any links that I hadn't already researched and incorporated into my files, so I started reading through what I'd already written. Great-grandfather: Alfred N Barrie. His and Ellen's children. My grandmother's marriage to Earle Barr Hanson; my grandfather. Their son Don, my father. My grandmother's marriage to Charles Howard; their sons Nick and Barrie. I saw my uncle Nick when my father passed away in 2005, but had misplaced his contact information. My uncle Barrie I'd not seen since...well, I don't remember ever meeting him.

I started with the obvious choices, in this case, my father's old address book. The book dated from the early 1970s when he was an executive in the carpet business. The brittle pages all bore his handwriting: neat capital letters with a sporatically circled "i". The section marked "H" was full of Hansons and Howards; all six listings for Barrie Howard marked through with a heavy black pen. But all showed that he had lived in North Carolina.

Barrie Howard turned up a half dozen hits on Google. One included a photo. There was no denying the family resemblance. I clicked on the YouTube link for his Summertime cover; he's a musician. The video included a contact phone number. We talked for a good half hour sharing quick stories, email addresses and laughter. I have cousins.

One of which is a project manager at the Library of Congress. My cousin Barrie Lee Howard, Jr. One step closer to Ellen.

If you'd like to hear my uncle sing:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One step forward, two steps back, step to the side, dip and turn.

You might ask if I research every day. The answer is yes. That doesn't mean that I log into or launch Family Tree Maker every day. If all I do is click on a suggested link and incorporate the findings of one record or integrate a distant cousin's tree into my own, then I'm missing the point.

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading a book called "The Worst Hard Time" by Timothy Egan. The book made the New York Time notable's list and was on the "Buy 2, Get the 3rd FREE" table at Barnes and Noble. There isn't anything specific about the Hanson/Hicks family tree in this book, but it does talk about the great dust bowl disaster of the 1930s.

On the trip home from Orrick, Missouri after dropping off mom's grave marker, Walt and I stopped by Lampe, Missouri to visit my Uncle Thurman Hicks; one of mom's brothers. He had a box waiting for me full of old photographs. I'd also brought some photographs for him to identify. Through the course of an afternoon's conversation I found out quite a bit about the world of my mother's childhood and left with even more questions. My mother had spoken about "the flood" many times. The flood of 1951 took my grandmother's piano, linens and the crops. Thurman named the faces in the photographs and I wrote quickly, hoping there would be another day for questions. When he came to the photograph of the Riverside Home, he stopped. Thurman Dudgeon and Julia Pigg Dudgeon had grown prize-winning watermelons. I had always thought that their daughter Frances and her husband Tillman Hicks, my mother's parents, had lived in a house next door. No, Thurman said. Tillman was a sharecropper.

I'm only on page 167 of "The Worst Hard Time," but already have found the impact that the dust storms of the 1930s had on Missouri and the rest of the midwest's farmers. Dust pneumonia caused by the top soil blown from Oklahoma, Kansas and the Dakotas ate away at livestock, women and children. The great depression and drought took all but the most stubborn and those with nowhere else to go. The rains didn't return until 1940; by then, mom had graduated high school.

Growing up, my mother washed our clothes in the bathtub and hung them on a line in the back yard. In the winter, they hung strung up throughout the bathroom, kitchen and garage. My brothers and I all hopped in the rinse water together until I was 12, churning what soap remained into a frothy light blue soup. We walked everywhere the bus couldn't take us. Saturdays, we had macaroni with ground beef, tomatoes, onions and garlic. Sundays were pinto beans and cornbread. She sang Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral as her fingers danced across the piano and when she laughed, she'd catch her breath and not make a sound. When she talked of her childhood, it wasn't of the tenant farmer's house next to my great-aunt's farm. Of the younger brothers and sisters she raised or getting up long before daylight to spread lime on the corn and potato fields before school. She spoke of Grandpa Dudgeon's watermelons. Grandma Dudgeon's Sunday silk dresses and the ladies that would come share sweet tea in the parlor.

Nothing new on Ellen yet. Although I did find through the that my g-grandfather Alfred's (Ellen's husband) brother Joseph was born in Ontario, Canada on 21 July 1889 [ Ontario, Canada Births, 1869-1909]. Another puzzle piece: their mother's name was Elizabeth (Joiner) Barrie.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Start at the End

When I first started documenting the family tree, I had an advantage. My cousin Belinda had created a GEDCOM, the file type used by most genealogy software packages, and had printed a copy of her research for my mom. Although most of the information from their research was correct, parts were missing. As I read through the names and comments on the printed files, mom launched into stories about one cousin or the next all the while making corrections. I took notes as quickly as I could but realized that, for my mother,the exercise wasn't about documenting facts. Mom wanted me understand these distant relatives and to do so meant putting down my pen.

The sweat from the ice melting in my glass of sweet tea lay a pattern on the table cloth as we talked. Her father was Tillman Hicks from Tennessee. A young man who'd made his way to Missouri looking for work, Tillman settled in Orrick living and working on the farm of William J Pigg and his wife, Julia Ann. Julia was the daughter of Joseph Roy (Roi) and Mary Louise Challifoux, French Canadian fur traders who had originally settled Fort St. Louis, and later, the Egypt valley. Lifting my glass, I reflected on the small rivers branching outward from the imprint in the table cloth. Each seeking its own path.

It begins at the end, this genealogical journey. We start with ourselves and branch outward, then turn and reflect.  My mother wanted me to know the Roy family were pioneers. Risk takers. Joseph also had to be a good businessman. His clients were the native Osage Sioux, settlers, and investors from the east. His brother-in-law, Joseph Revard, joined Louis and Clark as they passed through Fort Osage enroute westward.

October 31 of this past year, my husband Walt and I drove to Orrick to place a marker in South Point Cemetery for my mother. The marker lies midway down a steep hill at the foot of her father's grave. Next to him, my grandmother, Frances Dudgeon. Above her, her parents Thurman Dudgeon and Julia Pigg. And as you look to each side, you find great aunt Eliza Potter and her husband, the Elliots, the Tuckers, McMullen cousins all winding upward to a stand of oak trees shading a wrought iron plot with my distant grandparents Joseph Roy and Mary Louise Challifoux.

Sometimes when I reach a roadblock in researching one of my ancestors I stop and listen to the rustling of the leaves on another part of the family tree. As I was writing this afternoon about the Roy family, I received a call from the administrative assistant of a church in New Haven, CT. On a hunch, I'd written to all of the churches in the area searching for a clue that might lead me to Ellen. Christ Church called back. Her last name was Holt.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Finding Ellen

Sometime in 2000, I was visiting my mother and as we sifted through photographs of long dead relatives I held one in my hand a bit longer than the others. The photo was of my father and his grandparents. As I looked at the photo, my mother retelling familiar stories about my father and his mother and how he danced at their wedding with his mother until everyone had drained the band and the gin, I asked "tell me about the woman in the photo, mom. Tell me about Ellen." "Well, that's Gram Barrie; your father's grandmother. She was English."

My father died in 2005 of cancer. My mother passed this last year the day before Mother's Day. But their lives together ended in 1961. Family stories have always been important to me probably more so in light of the lack of aunts and family picnics and Sunday visits to grandparents. Sometime in 2000, I realized that we had family stories. I just didn't know them yet.

I started documenting our family history. Today, I have over 2,000 relatives dating back to the late 1400s. It's not just knowing their names that interests me. I want to know about their lives. Why did they come to this country? Why did they stay?

The branches of my family tree have spread like an old oak. Some winding long and laden with fruit. Some jutting like a spur from the base of the trunk with no apparent purpose. Perhaps the search for all of these relatives has now led me to just one. Finding Ellen.