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.