Genealogists get to be good at reading between the lines - and in seeking out historical and cultural information about those people that we are researching. I've been researching one William M. Kiker, from Anson County, North Carolina, and it was only a few days ago that I found his compiled military service records (CMSR) online at Fold3
(formerly known as Footnote). There are about 23 cards online, digitized images of the muster rolls that were taken every few months. Most of them just note "Present", and it's only by reading the regimental history of the 43rd Regiment, North Carolina Infantry, that I discovered that William Kiker fought at Gettysburg in July 1863. One card, dated July/Aug. 1864, says simply, "hands of enemy".
William was captured in May 1864, and according to another card, was transferred to Elmira, New York, on July 8, 1864.
I started wondering - what was in Elmira? Why take him there, instead of one of the other prison camps? So (naturally) I looked it up. I discovered that Camp Elmira (known as Hellmira by the Confederate soldiers) was opened just two days before William arrived there, and housed over 12,000 prisoners. Over the following year (which included a particularly harsh winter) one quarter of those soldiers died from disease, malnutrition, or exposure. On William's North Carolina pension application was noted the fact that his eyesight was failing, and he was in very poor health. No wonder.
But William wasn't the only one in his family who was involved in the Civil War. His brothers Louis J. and Frank D. Kiker also served, in the same unit. Louis, although wounded, survived the war. Frank did not. He died of a fractured leg at White House Landing, Virginia, June 10, 1864, a month before William was taken captive.
Reading between the lines helps to put faces to these names; to start wondering what life was like for them before, during, and after the war. Although all of my Civil War ancestors fought for the Union, my children have ancestors from Mississippi who fought for the Confederacy and were also taken prisoner.
Sometimes, instead of the stories driving us to find the records, it's the other way around.
They've been in a box in my closet, under my bed, and now in my office, for well over 20 years now. I am fortunate indeed to have the complete set of my Grandpa Maurice L. Reed's journals that he wrote in almost daily from 1927 to 1957. Written on yellowing lined paper, between cardboard covers tied with string, these are treasure chests of genealogical information.
Back in 1974, when I first had access to the journals, I decided to read them straight through, and make notes along the way. I just found the list of notes I made on that first reading:
1928: Ervilla Varran & her mother Mrs. Van Wagoner visited [Ervilla Varran would be the future stepmother of the not-yet-born Mary Stoelt, who would marry the not-yet-born John Chase Reed, son of Maurice & Ruby Reed]
1932: Dad Chase is living in Grand Rapids. Maurice used to live in Sturgeon Bay, and left when he was 8 years old.
1935: Ruby & Mabel attending their high school class reunion in Bear Lake
1936: wrote of the life & family history of Henry H. Chase
1937: reminisces about their wedding day in Columbus, Ohio
description of Percy and Mary Reed's golden wedding anniversary
sent birthday card to Grandad Reed in Miami, 98 years old this month
1938: Beem family reunion in Hillsdale
1941: wrote up history of the Beem family
1942: registered for the draft
1943: describes rationing (and includes some ration books)
1945: youngest daughter in hospital with pneumonia; saved by penicillin which was on sale this week for the first time
1946: bombing of Hiroshima
1948: knowing how to type kept him from going to war in Europe during World War 1
1949: oldest daughter & her husband sail for Bolivia as missionaries
1951: wedding of John Chase Reed & Mary Stoelt (this is really funny to read, as Grandpa had some pithy observations to make!)
1952: sold house [in Lansing] for $9950; "not one regret"
1952: Reed family reunion in Beulah
Reed family reunion in Beulah, 1952: my mother Mary Stoelt Reed is 2nd from left in dark dress (my dad, Chase Reed, is looking over her shoulder); Percy and Mary (Beem) Reed are in the center, and Ruby (kneeling) and Maurice Reed are to the far right.
1953: Maurice helps Dad Reed write his obituary (and writes his own)1955: Ruby left her Bible (once her mother's) to be rebound [and here I'd like a respectful silence, with me moaning in the background....A family Bible! With the potential of unlocking a 30-year brick wall! It's been long gone. Oh........]1957: In Flagstaff we drove around a bit. Ruby had received cards & letters from relatives there as a child (see my post on The Luggage Tag)1957: Wrote up "Recollections of an Old Timer" for the Beulah paper And I'm facing the fact that even though I've read these journals through a couple of times, I have not done so recently. It's very possible that there's some genealogically important information that slipped under the radar. I've also discovered that rereading a source I've read many times before can make new information jump off the page. I think I have my reading cut out for me for awhile!
I've come to the point where I've decided on the families I'm going to write about for my portfolio - for the kinship determination, and for the conflicting evidence report. In the last few days I have been looking through the binders I've compiled on those families, and I've had the startling realization that there are big, black, gaping holes in my research.
What? I don't have a death certificate for my great-grandfather Henry Chase? I do have my handwritten transcription of the death record I found in Manistee County, Michigan when I visited in 1983 (odd, because he actually died in Grand Traverse County), and I also have extensive medical records from the Traverse City State Hospital. But not his death certificate.
Off goes an email to the Grand Traverse County Clerk.
I can't believe I never thought of obtaining the will and/or probate records for several grandparents and great-grandparents. Probate records for Ruth (Prosser) Chase MIGHT give me information on her daughter Edna Strunk, who was living in New York at the time of Ruth's 1915 obituary, and hasn't been seen since.
So I'm writing a request to the Manistee County Clerk for those records.
A will for John Hickox, who died in Medina, Ohio, in 1835, might reveal the names of his grown children by his first marriage. It might even reveal names of siblings back in New York, which would enable me to figure out where in New York he lived before coming to Ohio.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has Medina County, Ohio, wills on microfilm; next time I order film for a client I'll order a couple of films for myself, as well.
Yes, it's past time for me to start treating my own research as I would my clients'!
Several months ago I was talking with my daughter, who was recounting a conversation she'd had with her boyfriend. She told me that they'd been talking about marriage, off and on, for several weeks, and he had asked her what "being engaged" would mean to her. She thought for a moment, and said (since they're both avid computer gamers) that it would feel like "leveling up." The term "boyfriend" just didn't fit any more, and she was ready to reach for the next level. Just last week he proposed, and so she (and I) have reached a new level. I'm now the mother of the bride-to-be!
I've thought about that a lot, over the last year, and I've decided that it applies to me, too, in my search for greater expertise in my genealogical research and reporting. When I decided to intensify my education and try my best to become a "professional", four years ago, I had no idea how much I would learn along the way. The steps I have taken since have felt just like stairsteps, some of them shallow, soft and carpeted, and some of them more like rugged cement blocks half my height!
One of the first things I did was join the National Genealogical Society, and then I took 3 of their online courses. I hesitated at the title of the course called "Introduction to Genealogy" - I'd been doing research for 30 years; would it teach me anything new? I was very surprised to learn some basics, in both that course and the ones on census records. Although I received (and studied) the NGS Quarterly, most of the articles were way above my head. I joined the APG and started attending meetings. I created business cards, and became an Expert Provider with Ancestry Expert Connect. I sent for the NGS Home Study Course on CD's, and began the lessons. That was two and a half years ago, and in that time I have learned about records I didn't know existed. I have learned the importance of correct source citations, and I'm still learning how to write them. I've developed the skill of critical thinking, so that now when I look at a record, I think, "but how do I KNOW this is the person I'm looking for?" I just finished the final lesson of the Home Study Course: writing a biography of one of my ancestors. That was a rigorous exercise in footnoting and citations - and it actually looks almost like an NGSQ article.
There has been a lot of discussion over the last couple of years, online on blogs and Facebook and Twitter and email lists, about the value (or not) of certification. I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks - I'm going for certification purely for myself. I want the assurance that I'm producing quality work, that will pass stringent standards. I can look back at the work I was doing six months, a year, or two years ago, and see how far I've come.
I still have a few more steps ahead of me, but I'm hoping to be able to compile a portfolio and submit it next year. Here's to "leveling up"!
This afternoon I decided (for various reasons) that it would be a good idea to set up a Google alert for anything with my name, and found to my surprise that my Ancestry Expert Connect profile is still up on the internet! You can click here
to read it....
In our house, one of our favorite musicals to watch on DVD is The Music Man. Today when the mail came I started singing: O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street, Oh please let it be for me! O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin' down the street, I wish, I wish I knew what it could be! I just love it when the mail comes and I have genealogy records to open and drool over! Today in the mail I received a report and documents (a marriage and death record, and a will) from another researcher in London (yes, England) and a check for my first article for Archives.com, that I'd almost forgotten about. I used to wait for the mail hoping to receive letters from relatives, vital records from county courthouses in Michigan, and copies of obituaries from libraries all across the country
. Now that I'm doing client research, I'm every bit as excited when I get a mailed (or emailed) response to a query I've sent out, providing vital information that can further my research, sometimes in very surprising ways. These are just some of the items I'm waiting for:
- Social Security application for a woman who was born in Austria and died in Connecticut - it'll reveal when and where she was born, and her parents' names
- Death certificate from Wisconsin, needed for a DAR application
- Civil War pension records for a man who was born in England, and fought in a Wisconsin infantry; I'm hoping it will reveal his exact place and date of birth, along with his date and place of marriage
- Microfilms of probate records from Fulton County, New York
- Interlibrary loan requests for two books of Alabama county histories
- Response to an email about retrieving a marriage record from Mexico
- Two birth records from London, England
- Death certificate from Oregon, needed to verify a maiden name, date and place of birth
- Microfilms of probate records from Eau Claire, Wisconsin
- Response to an email about naturalization records in Connecticut
- Death certificate/probate records from Manistee County, Michigan
Have I mentioned how much I love the sound of the mail truck arriving?
One thing I have learned in my 35+ years of genealogical research, and that is that you have to keep up with the times. Continuing education is absolutely vital, in order to learn about new records and resources, new ways of writing reports, major archeological finds (such as the Confederate Camp Lawton
just discovered near Augusta, Georgia) and other genealogy news. Back in the olden days, I used to have to attend a genealogy society meeting or conference in order to hear lectures on subjects that interested me. Now, I can sit at home in my recliner and watch a webinar (web-based seminar) on just about any subject you can imagine. In the last two weeks I've watched webinars on organizing my genealogy files, finding my ancestors in historic newspapers, and how to to use Google+. And I learned something new with each one! If you're wondering how you can find out about these webinars, here is the place to go:
GeneaWebinars is the "gathering place" for
genealogy education. It lists upcoming webinars (free and paid) hosted by Legacy Family Tree, RootsMagic, Thomas MacEntee, DearMyrtle, and many others. Topics range from how to use DNA, where to find FamilySearch Wikis, finding your Revolutionary War ancestors, and using Second Life. There's even a webinar on How to Attend a Genealogy Webinar! So, whenever you have a few minutes, find a webinar to watch. You'll learn something new, I guarantee it!
This is my professional, certification-bound, genealogy institute educated self talking to the enthusiastic hobbyist I was just a few years ago. If this applies to you, too - listen up! These are NOT valid sources!
- Ancestry Family Trees (ESPECIALLY those that aren't sourced)
- Family Group Sheets from whomever (ESPECIALLY if the creator is unknown)
- Printed books with lists of names and dates, but no narrative and no sources
Going back to searching out original documents now.....
According to my grandfather's notes, after Mary Ellen Reed died in Florida in 1896, her husband James Lawrence Reed married again three more times. Living here in Washington State, I was especially intrigued by the family notes of his last marriage - to his first wife's youngest sister, Dora Curtis Phillips. According to Grandpa Reed (who would have been a young adult himself, and who probably heard his parents discussing it) James came out here to Seattle to marry Dora, and when the marriage didn't work out he returned to Michigan.
When I was working at the Seattle Public Library, a couple of times I went upstairs to look through the old Seattle city directories, but I was hampered by not knowing what time period James was out here in this area, and by the fact that James Reed is a very common name. Then a couple of years ago, when I was exploring my new subscription to GenealogyBank, it occurred to me to try to find James and Dora Reed.
First I found newspaper articles about the death of Dora's husband, James Phillips, in Olympia (not Seattle) in 1911. Then I tried the Olympia newspapers from 1911 to 1920, and found that James Reed and Dora Curtis Phillips married in 1913, and the story of their messy divorce was splashed all over the newspapers in 1915 and 1916.
Some of the reporting (see the article below) was really flowery and hard to believe that some reporter wasn't making it up.
Well, this really got up my curiosity! So I found directions to the Washington State Archives, and drove there one day, hoping to find the divorce records. Since I hadn't called ahead, I had to wait while the staff went down into the basement to retrieve the file. When she set it on the table in front of me, I was surprised to see that it was several inches thick, and dumbfounded when I opened it. There lying on the top were two hand-written letters by my great-great grandfather - one of them to Dora, and the other one to his brother-in-law Levander Curtis in Tacoma.
Other interesting papers in the file were the court records of the divorce, which actually took place after James L. Reed had gone back to Beulah, Michigan, claiming that Dora had thrown him out of the house. There were affidavits taken by a notary public in Beulah, testimony of James' son Percy Reed, and Carl Tinkham, a family friend. Both of them testified that James Reed was a peaceful, home-loving man, and that all he had brought back with him from Olympia was his quilt, clothes, his shoemaking tools, and $50. Percy testified that he had known Dora for about 50 years, and she was "high tempered and quarrelsome." James said, "She constantly nagged me and wanted me to get out of the house and leave, saying amongst other things that I was an old gray headed devil, that I had better get out and go back to Michigan..." For her part, in the Thurston County Superior Court, Dora testified that "Defendant has been guilty of extreme cruelty against the Plaintiff in that he has at all times been extremely jealous....so jealous that he has not wanted friends of the Plaintiff to visit at the home, becoming angry when the Plaintiff spoke to and recognized friends on the street
, has accused her of infidelity and unfaithfulness..." I think that James' letters were used against him in court, because the divorce was granted and Dora was given the house and land that they had purchased together, leaving James with nothing but his tools, dependent on his son for help. In his letter to his brother-in-law in Tacoma, James wrote, "but I am 75 and don't expect to have to stay anywhere much longer."
He lived to be 98. All of this serves to emphasize how many records there are, in state and county and local archives, that are not online and perhaps never will be. The Washington Digital Archives is one of the best state archives websites in the country, but the marriage of James L. Reed and Dora Phillips is not recorded. If I hadn't gone to the Archives in person to search for the divorce records, I would never have found the letters and court papers telling the sad story of James and Dora.
Back when I got all those papers of my grandfather's, one of them told an interesting story about his grandmother, Mary Ellen (Curtis) Reed, who died when my grandfather was about 5 years old. She had gone to Central Florida to visit her two daughters, Eliza Reed Ellett and Edith Reed Lamoreaux. Eliza became ill with blackwater fever (a serious complication of malaria) and died on April 2, 1896 at age 26. A week later her mother Mary Ellen Reed died, just five days short of her fiftieth birthday. They were buried together in Love Cemetery in Center Hill.
Verifying this story was an entry in Grandpa's journal, dated March 27, 1958:
"Went on to Center Hill, where my grandmother Reed and her daughter Eliza died and were buried 63 years ago. I wanted to see the graves and find out grandmother's first name. Eliza married Pelham Ellet and went to Florida with him to live. Lawrence was born of the union, and later she contracted blackwater fever. Her mother came down from Fennville, Mich. to care for her, caught the disease, and died nine days after her daughter. We found the cemetery very neat and well cared-for, a beautiful place. The inscriptions read:
Elize Reed Ellet
Apr 8 1869
Apr 2 1896
Gone but not forgotten
Ella, beloved wife of
James L. Reed
Born Apr. 16, 1846
Died Apr 11, 1896
We found two other graves in the cemetery:
Charles G. Lamoreaux 1861-1944
Edith Reed Lamoreaux 1866 - 1948
In August of 1975, on my way to Tallahassee to start my senior year of college, I drove through Central Florida to Sumter County, where Center Hill is located.
I found the cemetery without too much trouble, and parked my VW under the Spanish Moss. I found the same graves that my Grandpa Reed had, but left without looking around any further.
And in October 2008, when my daughter Stacy and I were in Florida for my high school reunion, we took a side trip to Center Hill (actually, two - because we couldn't find the cemetery the first time!). This time, because of all my research, I knew a little bit more about the family. Nonetheless, I was surprised and touched to find a grave for 1-year old Percy Lamoreaux, the son of Edith and Charles. He had died in April of 1895, just a year before Edith's sister and mother died. I imagine it was with mixed feelings of sorrow and joy that Edith took her sister's young son Lawrence to raise as her own.
And there I thought the matter stood, until the other night when I looked again at the album I received last fall. With a rising sense of excitement, I noticed photographs that were obviously taken in Florida, among palm trees and orange groves. Then I looked closely at a photo of a steam roller called the Okeehumkee, and looked it up on the internet. It turns out that it was a well-known ship (there's a mural
of it in the Florida House of Representatives) that traveled up and down the Oklawaha River in the 1890's in - Central Florida.
This is the photo in my album, and there is a photo exactly like it in the Library of Congress photographic collection, here.
And here's a photo that intrigues me - I think it's taken aboard the Okeehumkee, and perhaps it might be my great-great grandmother, Mary Ellen Reed. I think maybe she and her daughters took a pleasure trip before coming down with the fever.
And as for Edith and Eliza, I believe I've found photographs of them, as well.
This is one of the few labeled photos in the album, of my great aunt Edith Reed Lamoreaux, my great grandfather Percy Reed's sister, which was probably taken in Florida, between 1896 and 1910. In fact, I think it may have been taken in 1908, because on the page opposite is a photo of Lawrence Ellett and his cousin Orville Reed (my grandfather's brother).
It had not occurred to me before, but obviously after Mary Ellen and Eliza died, the Michigan relatives continued to make the journey to Florida to keep in touch with Edith and Charles Lamoreaux and their nephew Lawrence. At some point they moved to Miami, where Charles died in 1944 and Edith four years later. And somehow in all of this, the album was left behind, to end up in someone's garage sale, and eventually to find its way back home to me.