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. Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com, 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. Ancestry.com 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 Ancestry.com 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 [Ancestry.com. 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.