Writing An Ancestor Short Biography

Courtesy of Clipart Library

Two weeks ago I blogged about the discovery I made regarding submitting a short biography to my state genealogical society about my pioneering ancestor’s life. I’ve had several readers request ideas on how to get started.

First, relax! You aren’t writing a book so there is little time involved. I think the hardest part is to decide who to select to begin with. For my project, I decided to start with my husband’s lines and select the ancestor that was the earliest pioneer in the area. I then wrote a bio on his wife, their daughter that is my husband’s direct relative, the daughter’s husband, and so on down to his parents. I then did the same for my lines. But that was just me! You can pick anyone you like and go in any direction. Sure, typically in genealogy it’s best practice to go backward in time from present to past but if you already have the research done it makes no difference in who you select to highlight.

Second, if you are submitting the bio to a website then make sure you understand and follow their directions. If you aren’t sure, send a query before you waste your time and theirs.

If the site has a form filler, as mine does, it’s simple to bring up your tree and just type in the info that the form requests. I have two screens on my computer and can definitely use a third (hint, hint hubby!) so this makes the writing easy. If you have one screen only, you could toggle between your tree and the site or borrow a laptop/iPad/kindle to bring up the tree on that device. You can also do a screen print of the ancestor’s information and print but let’s keep that as a last option since we really don’t want to be killing trees for this project.

Next, you are writing in the third person which means you don’t use the word “I.” This is a biography and not an autobiography, which is about you. I’ve written earlier this year about writing your memoir. Biographies are all in the past tense because the person lived then and not now.

Keep it short and simple! Begin with the person’s start in life, such as “James Edward Jones was born on 1 May 1800 in what is now Trumbull County, Ohio. He was the third son and fifth child of Harold and Margaret Ann Hodge Jones.” It’s easy to switch to the next bio by just shuffling the facts presented. Here’s an example:  “On 1 May 1800, in what is now Trumbull County, Ohio, James Edward Jones, the third son of five children, was born to Harold and Margaret Ann Hodge Jones.” 

If you have information about James’ early life add it. You might not and that’s not a problem; just write next whatever you’ve discovered. It might be a marriage and children that follow. Look at census records to determine the career and location. Review the property records you’ve found and include where the family resided. Perhaps a big event occurred during the individual’s life, such as war, famine, pandemic, etc. that should be included. If the ancestor made a significant accomplishment in his community or the world make sure to note it. Most of our forebears did not so don’t feel that the individual isn’t worthy of memorializing.

End your biography with information from the death certificate, if available, obituary, family Bible, or community death index. Note where the person is buried, if known. If a significant contribution was made to the world, then note that as a reminder to the reader of the valuable service that the person made. One of my husband’s ancestors, Samuel August Samuelson, was injured during the Civil War, continued to fight for the Union with a gunshot wound and broken shoulder, was taken as a POW, and overcame his disability to farm 439 acres. He met an untimely death, being killed on his sleigh by a train that was not following safety guidelines. His community was in an uproar and legislation was enacted at the state level because of the accident that killed him. Due to the unfortunate accident, we’re all a little safer around train tracks these days.

Most of our ancestors, however, were simple, hard-working folks who paid their taxes, voted, and left few other records. I believe they should be remembered, too, for doing the best they could during the trying times in which they lived.

Next week, I’ll begin a two-part blog on how I broke through a 44-year brick wall.

Genealogy Holiday Gift Guide

Photo courtesy of Nordstrom

It’s that time of the year again; the dreaded question of what do I get my ancestor-hunting family member for the holidays? Here are 10 gift ideas:

1. Clear Research Bag – I love mine as I can keep everything I need for boots-on-the-ground research in one place. Guards like it, too, as they can readily see you are not bringing in a dreaded ink pen, red especially, into their precious collections. Available on Amazon.

2. Genealogists like to take notes, make lists, research plans, and remember hints that are discovered that don’t quite fit with what they’re currently working on. These notebooks, available in two sizes, are perfect for jotting down ideas and odd finds. Available on Amazon and in a larger format.

3. For the home office, a desk organizer is so helpful! Fill it with the right stuff – mechanical pencils so no sharpener is needed, red pens for underlining important info on lineage society Apps, a transparent ruler to keep those lines straight, plastic clips to hold papers without worrying about rust, a magnifying glass for those hard to read old documents, calculator to determine age, and post-it notes for flagging finds in books. Yes, all are available on Amazon but it’s less expensive at Staples.

4. I’m really trying to save trees but sometimes you just have to print. A ream of acid-free paper, print cartridges, and a packet of sheet protectors are definitely useful. Throw in a binder and your gift is complete.

5. I love my Dymo label maker. I can print out an address quickly for snail mail connections. I’ve labeled binders and file folders so everything can be found easily. In the past, I  even used them for citations, then placed the label on a notebook page so when I went to the library, I could take notes under the citation. I use tech now but if your genealogist is old school, a Dymo is a good way to get them started using tech as it’s simple to install and use.

6. Renew their online subscription to a loved genealogy company – in alpha order, Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, Fold3.com, GenealogyBank.com, MyHeritage.com, Newspapers.com, etc. Go to their website to obtain an eGift Certificate. Many of these companies allow you to purchase now and extend the existing subscription to a future date but check that out before you purchase.

7. Boots-on-the-ground research is still necessary. Get family members together to chip in cash to contribute to the genealogist’s dream archive visit site. In the U.S., it may be Salt Lake City, Utah, Fort Wayne, Indiana, the National Archives in various locations, or perhaps an in-person conference. This gift will just blow them away.

8. Techie, are you? Then use your skills to video record an interview with your genealogist. Flip the tables – they’re always asking you and now it’s time for you to ask them. You can refer to my blog article here for question ideas or make it more personal – ask them “When did you begin your interest in family history?” “What has been the most difficult line you’ve researched?” “If you could meet one deceased ancestor you’ve discovered, who would it be and why?” “What ancestral home location would you love to visit?” “What ancestor just confounds you?”

9. If you’re artsy, then make a gift. My oldest decorated a mug so I can enjoy a cup of tea while I research. I’ve also been gifted over the years with t-shirts and my business logo on the bag noted in item 1. I’d even appreciate a gift basket of healthy snacks. Get creative!

10. Your time – the cost is nothing but the gift is priceless! Sure, you could care less about Great Uncle Waldo who discovered gold in them there hills but your genealogist family member would just love to tell you all about what they discovered. Humor them and schedule an hour or two after the holidays to listen and learn about your ancestors. You might surprise yourself and realize that this gift of heart was also meaningful for you.

Next week, tips on writing a short ancestor biography. Stay tuned!

Reconnecting With Long Lost Family

Courtesy of Pinterest.com

As I write, we’re experiencing our first snowfall of the season. Grab a cup of cocoa and enjoy reading blogs this weekend.

In late September my husband was contacted via Facebook by his first cousin who he had not seen in 50 years. We were not Facebook friends with this line so the message wasn’t expected. In August, after relocating, I wrote on Facebook explaining why we had suddenly pulled up roots in Florida and relocated to Indiana. Another cousin who is a Facebook friend told the cousin which is how my husband got the message. You know family, always playing telephone!

The cousin asked us to let her know when we had settled in our new home so we could come for a visit; the family lives about an hour and a half from us. We made that visit the first weekend in October which was timely, as the family was relocating to Florida for the winter the following week. We had lived in Florida for almost 50 years and never knew that they were coming down for 6 months each year for the past 13 years.

It certainly could be awkward to reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in years, even if there had been no falling out. In our case, we simply moved away from where the majority of the family lived and raised a family, working, and maintaining a home, life just got in the way of keeping up a long-distance relationship. When my husband’s parents were alive they would keep us updated on family events but since they passed we just lost the connections. By the time Facebook came to be, it had been over 10 years since we had any information on the extended lines.

Yes, Facebook and other social media are very good tools to keep in touch with relatives but I’m just not into it. I don’t enjoy learning vicariously about friends and family. I go on it maybe twice a year to catch up. I much prefer text, phone, and face-to-face contact, even if that means Zoom or another service. If you want to reconnect, a message on a social media site is a great way to do that, however. After the initial few messages going back and forth and the exchange of emails and/or phone numbers, someone needs to be brave and make the phone call.

The call doesn’t need to be long, in fact, it’s better if it’s not. After exchanging pleasantries, get down to basic updates, such as we are fine and love (fill in the blank). Being positive is a good way to begin. I’m not saying don’t share bad news. If you’ve just been given a terminal diagnosis and want to reconnect quickly, by all means, share that.

In my case, I asked what a good time for our visit would be and was told any time after 10 AM. I said 11:30 AM would work for us and so the meeting was set. We arrive a few minutes early. I knew that lunch would be prepared for us but I wanted to bring a little something. If you don’t know the family well enough bringing a gift could have been problematic. I decided on a box of chocolates made by a local company. Alcohol, flowers, a desert, or memorabilia that belonged to that line could all work.

Let the person you’re visiting take the lead in the initial hellos. Some families are huggers and others aren’t. Some may still need you to mask up. Whatever the host family requires makes you a good guest.

We started with a handshake and smile that evolved quickly into hugs. Then we got a tour of their beautiful home on a lake. My husband has spoken of this lake for our entire relationship but I’ve never been there. He spent his preschool summers there. It was where he first fell in love with a nameless older girl who was about age 6; he tried to catch a perch with his bare hands for her birthday present. He loved climbing up on a chair to play on an old pinball machine in the family-owned store. The beach house had an upstairs with mattresses strewn on the floor for the children and he loved hopping from one to the other. There was an older man who made funny faces when he thought; my husband imitates him to this day.

Like most visits as an adult, hubby was surprised the lake was as small as it was. It seemed like an ocean to him at age 3.

After the outside/inside house tour, we grabbed a plate and sat at the table for some eating and reminiscing. You can ask if anyone objects to the conversation being recorded or not. I did not record. I also did not take photos. You could also take notes. Since we are living nearby we agreed we’d meet in the spring when I returned to their area to research. Perhaps then I may record and photograph.

The family knows I’m a genealogist so it wasn’t surprising that the talk turned to ancestors early on. I had to laugh when a second cousin remarked that one of his cousins who were not present had done a fantastic amount of research. Yep, I agreed, I sent it to him.

I should have brought my laptop to have my tree readily available but I didn’t. I promised to send two of the second cousins’ info about the Civil War and various other lines we discussed. Keep your promise!

We also caught up on what everyone had done in the time since we last met. Photo albums were passed around.

We were in for a surprise as one of the second cousins was going to take us out on his pontoon for a ride around the lake. We learned that there had been three stores during my husband’s time there; his aunt owned the one he recalled. I asked how the family came to the lake and was informed that the first cousin’s uncle on an unrelated line to us had discovered a cottage there and decided it was a wonderful place in the 1950s to spend the summer, away from the heat and congestion of the Chicago area. Other families came to visit and as property became available, more families made purchases. I learned my father-in-law encouraged his sister, a widower with two young children, to purchase a cottage and then one of the stores. Both sides agreed to help her out which is how my husband came to spend his summers there.

My husband and his older male first cousin laughed at how my husband loved Alley Oops and being held high by the cousin so my husband could dive off him into the lake. Good times! By the time my husband was 6 the cottage and store had been sold. So, how did these first cousins have property there now?

We were told that for 15 years after the sale the family frequently recalled the wonderful times they had there and wanted the same experience for their young children. It took them a year but finally, a cabin came up for sale. They’ve owned a place on the lake since 1976; as other lots/cabins became available they made additional purchases so now they and two of their children have a summer place. The daughter of the aunt who originally bought there also owns a place, along with one of her children. But there was more. . .

As we toured the lake I learned that they hadn’t been aware that there was even more distant kin that was neighbors. Right before the pandemic, a neighbor was having a garage sale. The female first cousin went to check it out and somehow, the conversation turned to funny family names. She remarked that she didn’t think they could top her husband’s cousins’ names – Milnut and Elzine. The garage sale folks were stunned and replied that they, too, had cousins with those names. They also had a number of other cousins who owned cabins around the lake. I’d say, a quarter of the lake cabins are owned by two lines who had become united through a marriage in 1941. And none of them knew they were related until one cousin met another at a garage sale. Weird!

When we returned home I immediately checked to make sure I had the garage sale man’s name in my tree and I did so I was able to let all of them know how they are related. I also was able to explain how Milnut (really Milnett Rosinda Emelia) and Elzine (really Edna Gladie Elzene) were related to all of them.

By reconnecting with a known line, we were able to connect with three other lines that had been disconnected probably prior to the 1960s. It is indeed a small world and finding all of this family in one location was a pleasant surprise.

Now comes the hard part, staying in touch! Make it a point to reconnect every so often. You’ll be glad you did.

Genealogy Relocation Lessons

Image courtesy of Jewish New Teacher Project

Genealogy at Heart has returned! After driving over 1100 miles twice last month and closing on our home two days ago, we are ready to return to our passion – Genealogy.

Relocating is fraught with pitfalls, stress-filled, and physically demanding. It is also an exciting new life adventure, educational, and invigorating. Flexibility is key. Here are some lessons I learned from my recent cross-country move that apply to genealogy. . .

My first thought about my family’s ancestors came about when we were loading a very smelly, rusty old trunk into the Pod. It belonged to my husband’s great-great grandparents who emigrated with their five children from Sweden to Indiana in 1851. The family had three trunks, the largest one was handed down to us; my husband’s sibling has the two smaller ones. Those three trunks held all the belongings of the seven family members.

As we lugged it out of the garage I remarked to my husband how amazing it was for them to fit all of their belongings into those three trunks. Our family of four households had five Pods, one truck, and two filled cars. As we sweated under the Florida sun, hubby said it would have been a whole lot cheaper and less strenuous if we had followed in his ancestor’s footsteps. Could be but immigrating back in the day was also costly; travel to ports, the cost of the ship’s fare, and the long journey that lay ahead weren’t easy.

Hubby and I are returning to the state where we were born and raised. We understand the customs, culture, and language. Many of our ancestors had to learn all of those while re-settling. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been. No wonder why a family moved together and located close to former friends and neighbors who had come earlier.

I had reached out to distant family who I have made contact through family research and asked them for their input as to where we should reside. It’s been nearly 50 years since I lived in my new location and obviously, things have changed. We found their information quite valuable. It never dawned on me to investigate why my ancestors selected a particular location or who helped them when they arrived. That’s something I’d like to do in the future.

I’d also like to research in-depth the transportation methods and routes. Sure, I know the ship’s name but I never took the time to really find out about it. I’ll be looking at the manifest to see how many were traveling from an area close to where my family had left, the size of the vessel, the days in transit, and so on. While we were fortunate to have interstates our trip was not easy. There was a flat tire, overheated vehicles (it was so HOT the day we left!), GPS glitches, construction, congestion, fog, the smoke-filled road from a fire, long stretches without a gas station, and exhaustion. Since hubby was driving the truck, we had to fly back to Florida to retrieve his vehicle and do the drive a second time. We had difficulty getting a flight and finding an Uber when we arrived as the plane had been delayed and it was then the wee hours of the morning. What obstacles did my ancestors encounter? I have no idea.

While packing, I realized that my family heirlooms were now returning to where they originated. I wanted to insure they’d arrive unscathed so I wrapped them well. I’m pleased to report that the few older pieces of china arrived safely. I can’t say that the furniture came in great condition. It never dawned on me that the heat, humidity, and movement would bring out nicks and scratches. The pieces were all bundled in blankets but that probably just made them hotter. I was able to salvage all but our bedroom set by bringing them into an air-conditioned home. I didn’t touch them for a week thinking they needed to acclimate as we did. Then I took a rag and went over them with Howard’s, a product I used in Florida. I had purchased it at an antique store but found it in my new area at Home Depot and Ace Hardware. It restored the luster and hid the blemishes, thankfully.

We have decided to downsize so our new home is much smaller than our last. It was a wonderful time to pass down heirlooms to the next generation who just happened to buy a larger home. Since we live less than five minutes from each other, I can still see them and enjoy using them on holidays. It is an odd feeling, though, to give them up. I guess I’m more of a material girl than I thought! It is comforting knowing they are in good hands for future generations.

Our physical move to our new home takes place next weekend so pardon me if my blog is delayed. I’m hopeful by the end of the month I’ll be back in the genealogy groove.

New Genealogy Tips and Tricks

Courtesy of en.Wikipedia.org. Thinking of you, Ukraine!

I’ve been Spring Cleaning so I’m a tad late on posting today. I’m really supposed to be in a local genealogy society’s Zoom meeting but they are having tech issues so I decided to blog while I wait to be let in.

I’m excited to write that I have FINALLY finished scanning my older genealogy collection from my family. I had so much dust, bits of dried brown paper, even glitter from old greeting cards around that I spent the last week plus majorly cleaning. Amazing how those documents permeated nooks and crannies throughout my home!

After I get the outside pressure washed, my favorite job, I decided to scan additional documents, such as medical records, too. I’d like to go as paperless as possible going forward.

Here is some new genealogy news you might find interesting:

ROOTSTECH may be over but if you attended, you should be getting an email notification of your “cousins” that also logged on for the conference. Follow the link (which expires on March 25th) and then click “Roots Tech Relatives.” My relative number is 8,944 – those would be the people who also have a FamilySearch.org tree that matches the people I have in my tree. A map appears and you can click to see folks from your area and be able to contact them if you like. Another alternative is to scroll down the page and click in the Surname box – adding a surname you are interested in connecting with. The default is your current surname and if it’s like mine, Samuelson, is not going to find you much. There are loads of Samuelsons that aren’t related to us because of Swedish naming patterns. I plugged in my top 3 family surnames – Koss, Leininger, and Landfair and discovered that there were 5 Leiningers in attendance but no one with the other two names.

Have New York City families? Then you’ll love the fact that the vital records are 70% digitized and available for FREE. Check out the link. A list of all available records can be found here.

MyHeritage.com continues to improve its site. If you love timelines, you’ll enjoy their new color-coded ones with graphics. This blog article will explain it.

I’m not sure how I feel about their new Live Story which is a tool for you to make animated videos of your ancestors telling their stories. Personally, it’s a little too creepy for me but if you are into AI and liked Deep Nostalgia, this is definitely for you. Try it out here.

On the more traditional genealogy path, MyHeritage.com has increased its French records by adding Filae’s family trees. That 269 million! Read about it here and there is a link in the article to start researching the records.

Sigh, so many records, so little time. Have a wonderful week searching!

Family Historians Must Talk About the Memories

John Leininger State Line House. Photo courtesy of Robert LeRoy Leininger. Leininger Family History and Genealogy, Columbia City, IN: Self Published, p. 4.

Today’s blog wasn’t my intended topic but as the week evolved, I felt the need to write about recent laws in my state (and maybe yours!) that matter to family historians and genealogists.

Long-time readers know my first career was as an educator; I retired as a Public School Counselor last August. My paternal grandmother taught briefly in Ohio before her marriage. My husband is also a retired educator. His great grandfather was a lifelong teacher and principal in rural Indiana. Although not educators, my Leininger line certainly valued education as they built their house across the Indiana-Ohio state line for the purpose of being able to have a choice option of where to send their children to school. Even back in the day school funding was problematic so when one district had cuts, they simply moved their belongings to the other side of the house and enrolled in the other school district. A novel way to ensure their children were well educated.

I am in favor of the community having a voice in schools and that schools are critical for a region’s future success.

This week, the Florida legislature passed two bills that affect schools. The first allows parents to sue teachers if school personnel “instructs” a student in third grade or under on sexual orientation. On the surface, you might think that discussion isn’t age-appropriate. Children notice EVERYTHING and they ask for information when they don’t understand something. What is a teacher supposed to say when a kid asks why does Jack has two mommies or two daddies? I always replied, “Because each family is different which is what makes them so special.” I can see that today, a parent with an agenda might take that statement to the court.

Here’s why I gave that reply to my elementary students . . . When I was their age I was the only child with divorced parents in my parochial school. Not until I was in 6th grade did another child with divorced parents enroll. Pre-Vatican II divorce was a serious offense by Roman Catholic Church standards. We learned that in religion class. I was penalized because my father never came to school functions – the PTA awarded points for parents who attended monthly meetings. Moms got 1 point and dad’s got 5 points. A dad only had to show up once a year and the mom every other meeting to exceed my mother’s perfect attendance number. In May, any student who had parent participation above a certain number would get an ice cream treat. I never got one.

Those were painful times. I thought the world had changed towards acceptance of differences but in my state, we’re slipping backward. Instead, the governor embarrased responsible high school students because their belief system is different than his. But that’s not all that’s happening in Florida.

Teacher training on diversity is being canceled and teacher lessons that imply someone is responsible for actions “committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” that makes a student feel uncomfortable is forbidden. Again, parents can sue the teacher for the lesson. Here’s my problem with this. I’ve blogged about the KKK targeting my maternal grandparents. I’m white and obviously, the KKK hoodlums were white. A parent not liking my lesson or blog can sue me for telling the truth about the past! The law doesn’t protect the victims but the perpetrators. My mother’s trauma as a child enduring the long night she thought she would die is irrelevant in Florida because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of a white child today whose ancestor may have been responsible.

My family is far from perfect and I’ve written about my own ancestor, Daniel Hollingshead, who upped his social standing at the expense of others. I’m not proud to have an ancestor who was complicit and tolerant of his second wife who had inherited enslaved people.

We must remember the past, the good, the bad, and the ugly, or we haven’t learned the lessons. Suing is not the way to deal with uncomfortable topics. My former school district has had nearly 9% of its teachers resign in the past year. How many more will be driven out because they can no longer speak the truth?

Weekly I volunteer at my local train depot museum. The building has two doors; built-in 1909 the law was Separate but Equal. The title of the law was half correct – the facility was separated by race but it was anything but equal. People of color had to share one small restroom while white people had larger, separate facilities. Whites had heat on their side of the wall and a larger ticket window. Their space was also much larger. Equal? Nope! Unbelievably, the building remained separated until Amtrack shut it down in the late 1970s. The law may have been off the books but its effect lingered much longer.

That’s not the only place the law lingered. As a teen, I worked for the City of St. Petersburg. In City Hall was a racist mural and the water coolers had painted above “whites” and “colored.” I had learned about Jim Crow laws in U.S. History class in the north but it never occurred to me that a visible reminder remained in my lifetime. When I questioned it of my director, her response was “You’re a carpetbagger; you wouldn’t understand.” She was entirely correct. I’ve lived in my county for 50 years and I still don’t understand people refusing to accept differences and acknowledge the mistakes of the past.

If the schools aren’t going to be able to do the job then we, as the remembers, must step up and speak out. I’d be interested to know how you take on the challenge.

Tips for Writing Your Memoir

Happy New Year! I’ve been busy in the two weeks I took off for the holidays – I wrote my memoir.

Go ahead and laugh. You, too, can easily record your memories and take this off your To-Do list. A little background info first . . .

For years, every time a funny situation or a strange happening occurred I’d say, “I’m going to put that in my book someday.” I never quantified when “someday” would be. The week of December 6th I got three notices from the universe that it was time for me to get cracking on my life story.

The first happened on St. Nicholas Day which according to my family, he was Croatian. I know he wasn’t but my family culture was such that everyone who was revered was somehow Croatian. Investigating my family stories cleared up quite a few of the tales but we always celebrated his feast day by leaving out our shoes and magically, overnight, they would be filled with treats (think an apple, candy, or cookies). We’d have a pork roast for dinner which I never figured out how that was connected to St. Nick but it was delicious.

This past St. Nick Day I gave a lecture at my local library on interviewing family members. One attendee asked me what to do if he happened to be the oldest family member. I suggested he interview himself. On Thursday of that week, I was volunteering at my city’s historical society when a visitor asked me how long I had lived in the area. I replied, “Nearly 50 years.” and he said, “You’re an old-timer then.” I guess I am but I hadn’t considered the title. The following day I was doing research at a nearby town for an upcoming journal article I’m writing and I overheard the docent give some incorrect information about the surrounding area. I had lived there for almost 10 years so I experienced firsthand what she was discounting. I put in my two cents and she replied, “I guess you should be giving the tours since you’re an old-timer.” Wow, that’s twice in 24 hours. Thanks, Universe, for the reminder.

I went home and seriously considered the need to interview myself. I do have memories that are of historical value and I’d like to recall them now while I still can. Alzheimer’s runs in my family and as we’ve all learned the past two years, life is unpredictable.

The problem has always been I wasn’t sure how to start. I decided to try by speaking to my computer. I opened Microsoft Word and on the ribbon, clicked “Dictate,” then started speaking. The program types whatever you say. If you have issues typing effectively and efficiently this is a cheap way to get your thoughts down on paper. Notice I said “cheap.” Yes, there are programs you can purchase but I wanted something instantly I didn’t have to pay for.

I talked for a few minutes and then looked at what was recorded. It wasn’t bad, considering some of the information I was saying was not in English. Was it correct? No, but it was close. The bigger issue was that Word does not add punctuation. If you say “period” after your sentence it will type out the word “period.” Same with commas. Sigh.

It took me longer to go back and edit what I had just said than it would have if I had typed it in the first place. Even so, I would not have been able to start this project had I not spoken first. Staring at a blank Word document or a piece of paper was not going to move me forward. I am extremely verbal so I had to speak about what I wanted to record to begin the project.

Once I began I had no writer’s block. The memories just flowed, however, they didn’t flow in chronological order. That’s okay, too. My goal was to just let my brain download my life while I typed.

I didn’t care about spelling or grammar. If I forgot someone’s name I’d just leave a few spaces or hit the tab key and keep writing. Funny but the name would later resurface and I could go back and insert it in the space.

I didn’t write every day but I nearly did. I spent about 8 hours writing on the weekend and only 1-3 hours during the weekdays. I also decided to skip the years my children were small because I had created scrapbooks for them that recorded the good, bad, and ugly of those times. I refer to that in my book.

I have the free version of Grammarly and that helps tremendously with the spelling and punctuation. It underlines using a faint red line to highlight what needs possible correction. You just click on the underlined word and options are given to you.

Word of caution – the recalling of all of these memories does result in some odd dreams so be aware of that occurring. Nothing sinister, mind you, just a mix of your life events. For example, I dreamed about my deceased mother and a maternal aunt, along with a living cousin who was holding a beautiful baby. My aunt told me she had something important to tell me. I then woke up. I had written about the cousin’s first child the day before. Just want to warn you that your dreams may become extremely vivid while you’re writing.

Here’s what my plan now is . . . I’m going through my old photos and inserting them where appropriate in my story. Seeing the photos evoked a few more memories that I hadn’t recalled so I added a couple of paragraphs here and there. I was amazed that for the most part, my recall was fairly in chronological order. The most out-of-order time was in my college years. I don’t know why that was the case and I’d be interested to hear if you have the same result. I had completely forgotten about one of my husband’s first jobs and which summer we had gone on our first vacation. Was it between freshman and sophomore year or sophomore/junior?

Here’s another item to put on my to-do list; I discovered my photos are not in the order I want them to be so I’m creating albums. I use Google Photos and Dropbox to store them as I’m paranoid about losing the originals to a disaster. I’ve scanned them all but they were saved by when I scanned them and not by the person so I’ve got to work on that someday (when the universe tells me to haha.)

I’m almost done adding the photos and will then pull out my genealogical file on myself and look at documents. I have two from the hospital where I was born and they both have a different time of my birth. Lovely, right? My mom came up with the third time so I will never know for sure what time I arrived into the world. I’ll include both documents that wouldn’t be readily available to a descendant.

I then plan to have the story saved to a hardcover book, probably through Amazon but I’ve gotten that far to make a final determination. I’ll keep you updated when I get there and please let me know what you’ve done, Dear Reader, as I’d appreciate the input.

Here’s to Your Story in 2022!

Genealogy Old-timer

Photo courtesy of wallpaperflair.com

It’s Official – I have been named an “Oldtimer.” I knew this would happen someday but I never expected I would get the title twice in 24 hours! The first award was made by young visitors from Tallahassee who asked me how long I lived in my area. I had switched shifts with another volunteer at the historical society because it was her birthday (Happy Birthday, Barbara!). When I replied nearly 50 years though I spent my early years in the midwest the man replied, “You’re an old-time Floridian.” I guess I am though I don’t feel old at all!

Early the next morning I decided to go on a cemetery hunt which was just awesome since I haven’t done that since the pandemic began. Hubby and I visited an unincorporated area of the county where we once resided. We decided to stop at the local historical society first to see if anyone could direct me to living descendants of the Garrison family as I am writing a journal article on a tragedy the family endured. My kids used to volunteer at this historical society when they were in middle and high school and I haven’t stopped by in many years. My oh my has it changed! I was remarking how impressed I was with the refurbished pine floors, window shades featuring historical photos, and new exhibits when a docent said, “These are the original floors.” “Yes,” I replied, “but when the building was restored over 25 years ago they left the floors with all the stain buildup and I see they’ve been stripped; they look amazing.” “You sure are an old-timer,” she said, “I don’t think you need me to give you a tour.”

I certainly wanted a tour and kept my mouth shut, as much as possible, as she took us room to room. I didn’t correct her when she said the kitchen was original – nope, I clearly recall the roof leak about 1997, and the then director was frustrated that the roofing company had provided no warranty and the County Commissioners refused to give any more funds. That’s about when the idea to have a Tea Party to raise money began. I still have the hat I created for my daughter to wear as a server. I guess it’s about time we donated it to the museum! I have photos, of course, to show it being worn in the building. Except, they probably wouldn’t take it.

I had promised the original director that I would, upon my death, donate our family’s sheet music collection as she wanted the museum to be known for its musical history as it had the original piano and violin from the family who had built the house. My youngest used a computer to archive the holdings in the late 1990s. Now, I’m told, they have moved to a more minimalist approach so there is no library for researchers to use. I couldn’t get confirmation of what happened to the books, photos, and sheet music they once had.

Or what happened to all the furniture. It once had been set up like a house, though most of the pieces were not original to the location. Each room now houses only 1 piece of furniture – the boy’s room has a carved dresser, the living room has the family’s piano, etc. It’s an interesting way to display the items and allows the visitor to set up the rest of the furniture as they can only imagine.

I’m all for change but I’m also for preserving the past. I love the new look but I sure wish that some of the old items could have been preserved somehow. Somewhere is a happy medium I hope archives and museums can achieve. If you are planning to donate your family items, make sure you have an understanding with the organization of what they’ll do with your items if they change their focus!

After the visit, these two Old-Timers high-tailed it over to a pioneer cemetery and found the graves we sought in about 10 minutes. Trying to clean up the stone for a pic set off a fire ant colony. No bites, thankfully! I clearly had forgotten the perils of cemetery visits.

Now that I’m a reigning old-timer I’ve decided I’m going to blog more about my memories of living in Pinellas County, Florida. The area has changed so dramatically since I was a high school teen I couldn’t have imagined then what it has become. Strangely, it doesn’t even seem like so many years have passed. Recollections – here I come!

Forgotten Jane Morrison Duer

Courtesy of Cousin Becky on Find-a-Grave. Burial in Kessler Cemetery
Courtesy of Cousin Becky on Find-a-Grave. Burial also in Kessler Cemetery. John Duer was married to Margaret at the time of his first wife, Jane’s burial, in 1866.

Why was Jane Morrison Duer divorced from her husband John after about 37 years of marriage and eleven children together? Jane followed John from her native Trumbull County, Ohio to Killbuck Township, Holmes, Ohio and on to Mercer County, Ohio over their long years together. What would cause the relationship to end? I have a working hypothesis but no proof. This was a family most likely stressed by societal and personal crises.

Of the 11 children, 5 predeceased Jane. The couple’s first child, a female, died between 1830-1840. We only know of her existence from the 1830 census record’s tick mark that she was in the age group as being “under 5.” No grave has been discovered for her so she remains nameless.

The next child, William, was certified as insane at age 23 in Holmes County and sent to the Ohio Lunatic Asylum. There are only two other records found for William. In the first, he was listed in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census as an insane laborer, age 30, residing in the asylum in Columbus, Franklin, Ohio. That is correct but his birth in Germany is not. That’s interesting to note as his sister and several siblings did marry into the Kuhn family that were immigrants from Germany. Maria, William’s oldest surviving sister, had her birth place listed in error as Germany on her death record provided by her son. William and Maria most likely were born in Trumbull County, Ohio before the family relocated to Holmes County in the late 1930’s.

The second document is a notice in the newspaper, the Holmes County Farmer, on 14 March 1861 recommending that community members write to him and the 7 other “inmates.” I infer he must have been the longest committed as his name appears first. Although alphabetically his surname would be recorded first the others listed are not in alpha order. The article states that “some of these poor unfortunates are supposed to be incurable.” Most of his family had moved on to Mercer County, Ohio by the time the clip was published. No death date has ever been found for William so I suspect he died at the asylum. I am waiting for the organization that holds the records to reopen as they are closed due to the pandemic.

Next oldest son, Thomas Ayers, relocated to Winterset, Madison, Iowa by 1860, enlisted in the Civil War and died unmarried and likely childless of Febris Typhoides on 5 May 1862 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Daughter Maria wed Henry Kuhn and the couple lived two residences away from Jane and John in 1860. Henry enlisted in the Civil war, leaving Maria to raise their young children. During this time period, John and Jane divorced. Although no record has been found, John remarried in 1864, two years prior to Jane’s death. John relocated with his second wife to Adams County, Indiana where he had two deeds for land. Neither deed had then wife Jane’s name on them. When John died, Maria is not named in his will. Maria’s death certificate names both of her parents.

Son John B. had married first in 1860 but his wife Keziah died a few months after the marriage. He then married Carolina, one of the sibling of Maria’s husband, in 1863 and moved across the state line to farm in Adams County, Indiana. He seems to have had a falling out with his father as like Maria, he is not named in John’s will, even though he was residing in the same county as his father. Marriage records found do not name John B.’s parents. No death certificate for him as been located.

Mary Ann was found living with John and his second wife in 1870, however, she also was not named in his will. She may have had a falling out with her sister Maria as shortly after mother Jane’s death in July 1866, Mary Ann took Adam Kuhn, Maria’s brother-in-law, to court in Mercer County. Pregnant with Adam’s child, the unmarried couple could not agree on a financial settlement. Adam, in December 1866, was jailed by Jacob Baker, who married my 3rd great aunt, Caroline Bollenbacher, as Adam refused surety.

Sister Maria and her husband Henry was close to Adam as evidenced by their naming their son, born in February 1866, after him.

Mary Ann and Adam’s child must not have survived as there is no further court records of payment. He married an Elizabeth or Catharin Harper in Van Wert, Ohio 16 January 1868 and went on to have 5 daughters before dying at age 44, possibly due to injuries sustained during the Civil War when he fought in Union Company F, 99th Ohio Infantry.

Mary Ann married first, James Furman in 1875 who must have died shortly after the marriage as she married second John L. Ceraldo in 1879. John’s first wife had probably died as the child, Daniel, shown living with Mary Ann and John in 1880 would have been too old to have been theirs together. No record is ever found again of the boy who is presumed to have died. Mary died in 1909 in Michigan; her husband named John Duer as her father but her mother’s name was unknown. Although she had married after Jane’s death, why would she have not informed her husband in their 30 years of marriage what her mother’s name had been? Like Maria and John B., Mary Ann was not named in her father’s will.

Son Prosser remained in Holmes County, Ohio after the rest of the family relocated to Mercer County. He enlisted in the Civil War and died at Stones River, Tennessee on 2 January 1863. He did not marry or have any known children.

Daughter Sarah Jane married another sibling of Maria’s husband, Phillip, in 1870, four years after Jane had died. Sarah was also not named in her father’s will. Although she died in 1920, no death certificate or obituary has been found for her.

Son Mark Duer disappears from records after being found in 1850 with the family in Holmes, Ohio. He likely died there but no burial location has been found.

Son James William was found living with John and his second wife in Adams, Indiana in 1870 yet he, too, was not named in John’s will. When James wed in 1887 he named his mother as Sarah J. Marisum sic Morrison. James would have been 18 years old when his mother Mary J[ane] died. How did he not remember her name? Perhaps because she was called by her middle name and he thought of his sister Sarah and not Mary as having the first name as his mother. He spent the rest of his life living in Adams County where he was killed in a bike accident. He death certificate names his father as John but the mother was listed as unknown. It was completed by his son, Elra Leroy. Elra was born 6 years after his grandfather John had died. How did he remember John’s name but not the name of his grandmother Jane?

Youngest child, Angeline, was named in her father’s will. She is the only child of John and Jane’s to be named. She was living with him and his second wife in 1870. She married in 1874 and remained in Adams, Indiana until her death in 1933. Like her siblings, her father John is named on her death certificate. Her mother is recorded as Catharine, born in Ohio. The information was provided by Angeline’s daughter, Effie. Effie probably remembered her grandfather as she would have been 9 years old and living in the same area as him when he died. Where Effie came up with her grandmother’s name as Catherine is unknown as there is no Catherines in the family; her paternal grandmother’s name was Nancy.

Jane is buried in Kessler Cemetery and according to the trustees, the records are incomplete. They do not show who purchased the plot or if her husband John is buried next to her as family lore claims. There is a sunken area that appears to be burial next to Jane but records do not exist to state who is interred there. There is no tombstone. John’s second wife was buried in Kessler but in a different location. John is not buried on either side of his second wife. What is obvious is Jane’s tombstone that is boldly engraved “wife of John Duer” even though she wasn’t at the time of her death.

I suspect daughter Maria purchased the headstone as she was the only child still residing in Mercer County at the time of Jane’s death that had the means to afford it. Maria’s husband was a prosperous farmer and active in the community. In my opinion, Maria wanted the legitimacy of the first marriage noted for eternity.

It’s likely that Margaret’s children paid for her tombstone and wanted to show the world they, too, were legitimate so also engraved their mother as the wife of John.

The year 1866 must have been a tremendously difficult time for Maria. She had 5 children age 7 and under, her parents had recently divorced, her father remarried, her husband was away fighting for the Union in the Civil War, she has a brother that was committed to an insane asylum, 5 deceased siblings and her sister files a bastardly charge against her brother-in-law. What a mess!

But my underlying question is why did Jane and John’s children not hand down their mother’s name to their spouses/children?

Perhaps the state of the union, along with the loss of so many children caused Jane to suffer from the same melancholy as her son, William. John may have abandoned Jane for a new relationship with the widow who owned property close to his newly purchased land across the state lines in Indiana.

I believe Jane was forgotten by her adult children because it was too painful to remember those difficult times. They did not want to inform their children of their mother’s and brother’s mental state. No family member I have reached out to was aware of Williams insanity commitment. The family just didn’t speak about painful situations.

Last week I received a call from a clerk with the Mercer Ohio Common Plea Court. She had searched for a divorce record for John and Jane between 1860 and 1866. None was found. Perhaps John abandoned Jane and the paperwork was filed in Adams County, Indiana where I’ll be searching next. It’s possible that single document may help me better understand the straw that was the backbreaker of the relationship. The search continues!