Home Renovations Then and Now


Oh, the joys of home ownership! We started our mostly do-it-yourself project with gutting the kitchen the day after Thanksgiving. I was hoping it would be done by Monday, President’s Day, but it isn’t going to happen because the microwave that was supposed to be delivered Saturday got pushed back to Monday because of a snafu between the store and the delivery person and the window installer who was supposed to install the new windows on Monday had a family emergency so I don’t have a date for when that will be finished. We’re still waiting on four trim pieces for the cabinets that never came in last month with the rest of the order and hubby can’t finish the backsplash and the floor tile until the window is in and the trim is done. And that’s just the beginning of the project!
We’re removing the rest of the tile in the house on Tuesday, installing new sliders, painting and then adding new flooring over the upcoming months. Most of our belongings are in boxes in the guest room and the furniture is piled up in the living room. The chaos is making our cats neurotic and I can certainly empathize with them. When it becomes overwhelming, I try to focus on how lucky we our compared to renovations back in the day.
Sometimes in genealogy we get so wrapped up in finding an elusive record that we don’t stop to think about the life experiences of those we are seeking. Here’s an interesting thought – ever since the first home was constructed, generations of our ancestors have gone through renovating their dwellings. Perhaps it was rebuilding after a fire or flood. Maybe it was enlarging to accommodate a growing family. Possibly it was updating to a newer and better style. No matter the reason, I found mention of home improvements in the diary of Mary Ann Eyster Johnson that I could identify with. Here’s some of my favorites and why:
On 11 June 1884, Mary Ann noted that it was “Clear & pleasant. The Brethren met at Meeting House to enlarge the kitchen and build furnace.” The Meeting House was located across the street from the Johnson’s home. Hmm, we upgraded the air conditioner and heater just prior to renovating our kitchen. I can’t imagine having to build a furnace, though.
We called in a plumber to connect up the new sink after the counter top was installed. I have city water so I didn’t need to hire “…Pump borers came this evening, too (sic) of them.” The borers finished their work two and half days later. Some of my neighbors have wells for lawn irrigation purposes. A typical install now is a half day.
Mary Ann’s home did not have indoor plumbing. On 19 January 1904, she noted that the “Pump frose (sic) up.” Thank goodness, I only went a couple of hours without water in the kitchen when our new sinks were installed. Going outside to pump water must have been miserable. Discovering the pump was frozen, even more so. Makes me appreciate my plumber!
I was without a stove for the last week. Mary Ann wrote on 10 June 1882 “Put stove on porch.” Every summer the stove was moved outside as it was too hot to cook in the kitchen. In September, it was moved back into the house. I am so thankful we don’t have to do that!
Besides the stove, each summer Mary Ann, “Took up the room carpet.” Since we’re going to be putting in wood flooring we’ll be adding area rugs but I don’t plan on taking those up in the summer. There’s no mention of tile flooring so Mary Ann never had the joy of thinset removal.
On 18 May 1882, Mary Ann “White washd (sic) kitchen.” Hubby repainted our kitchen white last weekend. Great color choice, Mary Ann!
Although Mary Ann would not have had a dishwasher or microwave, she did experience appliance delivery. On 7 January 1904, “Andrew brought out our new washing machine. Cost $2.80 cents, freight and all.” That equates to about $72.23 in 2016 dollars.1 If only I could buy a new appliance for that price! Wonder if she tipped delivery man Andrew?
Courtesy of Sharon Kinney, here’s a photo of Mary Ann’s home:

Since I’m now an “expert,” those sure look like standard windows to me.

1 Inflation Calculator, 1904-2016; digital database, in2013dollars.com (http://www.in2013dollars.com: accessed 18 February 2017).

Lighting the Path to a New Life


I’ve just returned from attending an awesome conference in New York City. I love New York, no matter what season I visit! Usually I think about my husband’s lines that were residents there during the New Netherland years but not this time.
Perhaps due to the current political climate and the fact that one of my colleagues couldn’t travel with us as she was taking her U.S. citizenship exam, I instead thought about a family emigration story on my maternal side.
My great grandmother, Anna Grdenic Kos, arrived in the U.S. with two of her surviving children, my grandmother, Mary, and my Great Uncle Joseph, on 16 July 1913[1].
Anna’s husband, Joseph Sr., had come earlier, on 10 January 1910, to establish himself in America[2]. He was employed by the Pullman Company in Chicago after leaving the military life as a cavalry officer behind him in what was then Austria-Hungary.
Anna was raised as a country girl; a farmer’s daughter who was shy and thoughtful. Anna never spoke about the boat passage; all that I know about the trip was from the recollection of daughter Mary who, as a pre-teen, felt it was her duty to entertain the other passengers with her operatic voice. Personally, having been raised in a household with both Anna and Mary, I also believe the underlying reason was that Mary hoped for fame and fortune in the new world and when she received praise and cash for her songs, she, like many immigrants, seized an opportunity.
Joseph Sr. had traveled from Chicago to meet his family upon their arrival. Knowing the trip was long, he arranged for an overnight stay in a hotel in New York City prior to the family departure via train to their final destination, a Pullman owned apartment in Chicago.
I’d love to know exactly where the family slept on their one night stay in New York City. I do know it had a wonderful bathtub that Mary appreciated.
Anna and the children had never been in such a great city and although Mary was disappointed the streets truly weren’t paved with gold, Anna fell in love with the array of merchandise in store windows. So last Sunday, as I walked down 34th Street and window shopped, I tried to imagine the shock and awe Anna and Mary experienced as they took in the wonderful sights. Having just learned that her new apartment came with electricity, Anna fell in love with a lamp she saw in a storefront. Joseph Sr. informed Anna that the delicate lamp would not survive the long journey ahead. Disappointed, Anna swore one day she would own one. A few weeks later, Joseph purchased the lamp at Marshall Fields in Chicago. The treasured lamp still remains in the family:

I’ve always wondered the name of the store where Anna first spotted the lamp. Mary could only recall that the shop had clothes that she was much more interested in than a lamp. My guess is it was either Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s.
The family and the lamp continued to stay in Pullman housing in Chicago until the spring of 1919. The photo below was taken shortly before they moved to Gary, Indiana; Mary had wed and her husband, John, along with her father, Joseph, had found new jobs at U.S. Steel.

A neighbor, Joseph Jr., Mary with her oldest child, Dorothy, Dorothy’s Godmother

The lamp survived that relocation and several others. It’s light has shown over 5 generations of owners and hopefully will continue for many generations to come.
When I see the Statue of Liberty’s lamp I am reminded of my family’s journey and the story of our very own lamp. Each time I turn on the light I think of the words of Martin Luther King, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” It is a message appropriate for today and well worth remembering. That little light of mine connects me to my ancestor’s past – the good, the bad, the ugly – and gives me hope and strength for whatever the future might hold.
This Little Light of Mine

[1]New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, “Mara Kos,” 16 July 1913; digital image, Ancestry (http: Ancestry.com: accessed 10 February 2017), citing NARA microfilm T715_2130.
[2] New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957, “Josip Kos,” 17 January 1910; digital image, Ancestry (http: Ancestry.com: accessed 10 February 2017), citing NARA microfilm T715_1400.
[3] Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love, Cleveland, Ohio: Collins, 1977) 47.

My Grandfather’s C-File Has Finally Arrived!


I’ve blogged before about the long wait for my grandparent’s US citizenship records that I requested last May and I finally received my grandfather’s on Monday. The best part was the Declaration of Intention which provided a picture of him at age 48. I have his engagement photo from 1916 and his marriage photo from 1917, a few in the 1920’s but none from about 1930 through 1950 so this was a real treat! He’s in a suit and tie looking quite dapper.
The biggest surprise was to see his signature. This is the only time I have ever seen his handwriting. By the time of my birth, my grandfather was legally blind so he never wrote anything.
There were a few errors in the document. The first was the spelling of my mom’s name. Instead of Dorothy she is recorded as Dorty. I laughed at that! My grandfather spoke perfect English but he had trouble with the th blend and pronounced it as tu. Reading my mom’s name reminded me that he used to call her Doro and if he had to say her real name, it did sound like Dorty. Her name was spelled correctly on the Petition for Naturalization.
My grandmother’s birth date was recorded as August 4th, 1901 and should have been July 18, 1900. I have no idea how the month, day and year were wrong on the Declaration of Intention. The month and day were right on the Petition but her birth year was 1903.
My grandparents were from the same village in Austria-Hungary and I never thought about how they knew each other from childhood. Being 8 years older, he had always known my grandmother and that was something I had to wrap my head around.
The document stated he was 5 foot 7 inches and that surprised me. In my head, he’s tall and I would have guessed 6 foot. Of course, I was small so that could explain a lot. My grandmother was barely 5 foot so he did seem to tower over her.
I never knew that my next door neighbor, Charles Bauer, was one of the witnesses. I loved Mr. Bauer – he always gave me money on Halloween, let me play with his dog and often inquired about how school was going. He swore he knew my grandfather since January 1, 1929. The other witness I had heard about but never knew, Rudolf Silich. The Silich’s had children that were the same age as my grandparent’s kids and lived across the alley from the family. They moved about the time of my birth and never returned to visit.
Still waiting for my grandmother’s information!

Perseverance Amidst Adversity – The Ancestry of Three George Harbaughs

Happy New Year! I started the year off by completing one of my resolutions – to publish an eBook. Perseverance Amidst Adversity – The Ancestry of Three George Harbaughs (ASIN: B01N7O2NOE) was submitted for publication about an hour ago. It will be available on Amazon.com within 72 hours at the bargain price of $3.59. Extensively researched, this true story follows three generations of Georges and their loved ones during a time of tumultuous change in the United States. Perseverance is the background story for the next eBook I’m writing, Thanks to the Yanks, which will detail the experiences of an Indiana farm boy during World War I. I also plan on indexing a diary and then publishing it as an eBook which will be the 3rd in the series.
I plan to continue blogging twice weekly and will be a guest blogger for several genealogical organizations, too.
I’d love to hear your goals for 2017. If you haven’t identified them yet, no worries – I’ll give you some ideas in my next blog. In the meantime, I wish you a year full of great genealogy goodness!

Watching the Waistline – Diets from My Family’s Past

Just had my annual physical and was happy with the results.  I always brace for the doctor lecture about losing weight.  It didn’t come, though, because it’s hard to tell someone to diet when the lab results are all good. Still, I know it’s not healthy to be carrying around extra weight.

I come from long lines of fat people so I like to believe it’s genetic and not lifestyle.  That’s actually delusional on my part as they all loved food and so do I,  My grandmother’s best gifts were cookbooks of which I inherited many.

With the holidays approaching, hubby and I decided it would be wise to be more selective of our food choices for the next few weeks.  My hydroponic garden is doing awesome with the warm days and cool nights so I have a bountiful supply of organic lettuce, kale, and cabbage.  Only 3 tomatoes so far but it’s early for a Florida harvest.  Same with the peppers, broccoli and cauliflower but that’s ok, too.

With the weather cooling off I decided it would be a good idea to make my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage recipe.  About 15 years ago I took all of the family recipes, retyped them and had three books made – one for each of my kids and one for me.  I also included anecdotes about the recipe, such as the awesome beef stew from the Lutheran Church Woman’s Guild Society’s cookbook that was attributed to my sister-in-law  When I first made it and let her know how good it was she had no idea what I was taking about.  Turns out, my mother-in-law submitted the recipe because she wanted to have her daughter’s name in print.  We chuckle every time someone mentions beef stew.

Since food was always a big deal in our family, I wanted to pass down as many stories as I could and adding them to the cookbook insured they would be remembered.  By creating a cookbook, I also eliminated wear and tear to the originals.

I don’t know why but instead of going to “my cookbook” I pulled out one of my grandmother’s old ones and there was her “Miracle Diet” consisting of apple cider vinegar.  I don’t know where or when she got it so I did a little internet searching and discovered that no one else can figure out that diet’s origin.  I can assure you it didn’t work for her.  This got me thinking of other diets.

I found this on a blog by Peter and Drew Greenlaw from 3 March 2016:

“Dieting goes back at least as far as the 3rd century BC, according to Louise Foxcroft, author of Calories & Corsets:  A History of Dieting Over 2000 Years.  She says that followers of the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates recommended a diet of light and emollient foods, slow running, hard work, wrestling, sea-water enemas, walking about naked and vomiting after lunch.”  I guess this was also the first documented recommendation for purging.

I’m making a great leap here but my maternal line was originally from the Greek island of Kos. Hippocrates’ medical school was located on Kos Island.  I can only imagine my ancestors going to Dr. Hippocrates and being given the fat lecture and his diet.  Clearly, that diet didn’t work either or it would have been passed down.

Happy Hunting!

  

John Duer, Where Art Thou Buried and Other Duer Mysteries?!

My last post, Records Breadcrumb Trail May Lead to Wrong Conclusions, and an earlier post, Circular Migration Patterns-How History Repeats Itself, 30 May 2015) noted my research of my Duer line.  My latest hurdle is finding the burial location of John Duer, my 3rd great grandfather.

I know from his Indiana probate records that John died on 25 February 1885 in Adams County, Indiana.[1] John and his second wife, Margaret Martz Searight, were living in Jefferson, Adams County, Indiana in 1880, along with their two children Charley, age 14 and Lucinda, age 12.[2]  Adams County, Indiana is adjacent to Mercer County, Ohio where both had resided with their first spouses.  I’m descended from John’s daughter, Maria, with his first wife, Mary Jane Morrison.[3]

I’m discovering some interesting information regarding John and Margaret and I wish I could connect up with relatives who might be able to shed light on my findings.  The first “odd” event was John and Margaret’s marriage on 11 December 1864.[4]  How that is odd is that first wife, Mary Jane, did not die until 10 July 1866.[5]  No divorce documentation has been found.  Nothing leads me to believe that John was a polygamist; he was raised as a Presbyterian and his father, Thomas, was buried in a Presbyterian cemetery in Trumbull County, Ohio.[6]  The Justice of the Peace for the second marriage was a third great uncle of mine on another line, John Leininger.  The Leiningers were Lutheran.  Since Mary Jane’s tombstone clearly states she was “the wife of John Duer” and there was only one other John Duer living in the area at the time who happened to be her son who was married to a Carolina Kuhn, this isn’t a case of mistaken identity.  I’m positive that the John Duer that married Margaret was not John and Mary Jane’s son John (Jr.) as I have his marriage certificate to Carolyn in 1863.  John Jr. and Carolina’s first child, John (of course!) was also born in 1866.  Likewise, John Sr. and his second wife, Margaret’s first child, Charles, was born in 1866.  I haven’t been able to find the exact birth date but remember, first wife didn’t die until July 1866.

If John Sr. and Mary Ann had divorced, why would Mary Jane’s tombstone inscription note her as a wife?

Figure 1Mary Jane Morrison Duer Tombstone[7]

To further support I have the correct John Duer, his will probated in Adams County, Indiana not only mentions his children from his second marriage to Margaret, but Angeline, his youngest daughter with his first wife, Jane.[8]

John and Jane had ten children; at the time of his death six were known to be living.  Yet, he did not note any child from the first wife in his will except Angeline.

There could be several reasons for the omission.  Perhaps his older children, as well established adults, did not need financial assistance.  Maybe there was a falling out and the older children were no longer speaking to their father.  Angeline, Mary and James, children from his first wife, were living in Adams County, Indiana while the other children were living in Mercer County in 1870.  Although geographically these counties are next to each other, perhaps John decided only unmarried children living in Indiana would receive compensation.

I’ve searched for an obituary for John and Jane and haven’t been able to find one.  I’ve also been unable to find where John was buried.

Kessler Cemetery records are incomplete.[9]  Jane is mentioned in the records, however, John is not.  According to one of the county trustees, the older section of the cemetery has no empty plots.  There is an empty space in Jane’s row so it is possible that John was interred there with no stone.  If they had divorced, why would he be interred close to his ex?

To rule out a burial elsewhere, other cemeteries in Mercer and Adams counties were examined.  No burial location for John was found.  John died before death certificates were mandatory in Indiana so there is no clue to be discovered there.

John’s second wife, Margaret, was also buried in Kessler Cemetery and her burial is notated in the records.  There are no empty spaces in Margaret’s burial location and all surrounding graves have readable tombstones, very similar to Jane’s.  Like Jane, Margaret’s stone denotes her as the wife of John Duer:

Figure 2 Margaret Ann Martz Searight Duer Stone[10]

Margaret was first married to a Mr. Sea(w)ri(gh)te.  She had a daughter, Effie, from her first marriage that was born in 1856.  Effie was born in Ohio so Margaret had emigrated from Hesse, Germany prior to that time.

I’ve never been able to determine where Margaret’s first husband was buried, either.  Oh, these missing men!

Here’s the second odd situation with this family – John and Jane’s daughter, Maria (not to be confused with Mary, another of their daughters) married Henry Kuhn Jr.  Henry was also an immigrant from Germany; he was quite prosperous and well known in the German community in Mercer.  The Leininger family (the JP for the second marriage) were much like the Kuhns; born in Germany they adapted quickly and held many political offices in the community as well as being successful farmers.  Surely these individuals would have all known each other.  Maria and Henry’s tombstone is ornate and also in Kessler Cemetery.  They could have well afforded a small stone for John. Why doesn’t John have one if he was buried there?

Some individuals do not want a stone but I find no reason that John would have been one of those folks.  His father, mother and grandfather had stones, as did both of his wives.  It seems to me that his passing wanted to be forgotten.

As I was researching obituaries I came across the following unsettling article:

John’s wife, Margaret, had met a similar fate[11]

Figure 3 The Fort Wayne [Indiana] Daily News

The son that lived nearby was Charles.

Figure 4 The Evening Republican

Figure 5 The Fort Wayne [Indiana] Evening Sentinel

Figure 6 The Indiana Tribune (in German)

John and Margaret’s son, Charles Edward Duer, was married to Almeda Buckmaster.[12]  I thought she was the “Mrs. Duer” who had died on 1 June 1894[13].  I began to wonder if there wasn’t a sinister side to this line but I’m happy to report that upon analysis, there were two Charles Duers, one in Indiana and one in Ohio.  Both had a loved one die by fire but they were not one and the same.  Whew!  Thought I was identifying a murder suspect for a bit.  Guess it’s just a creepy coincidence!

__________________________________                              [1] “Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999,” John Duer, Volume A-C, page 484-486; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:  ancestry.com:  accessed 16 October 2016), citing Adams County, Indiana Circuit Court.

[2] 1880 U.S. census, Jefferson, Adams County, Indiana, population schedule, page 6 (handwritten), family/dwelling 54, John Duer; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:  ancestry.com:  accessed 16 October 2016), citing FHL microfilm 1254263.

[3] See previous blogs for citations.

[4] Ohio, Marriage Intention Application, John Duer,

[5] Find-A-Grave, database and image (http://www.findagrave.com:  accessed 16 October 2016), memorial page for Jane Morrison Duer (1804-1866), Find A Grave Memorial no. 22503919; memorial created by Teresa citing St. Kessler Cemetery, Chattanooga, Mercer County, Ohio; image by Cousin Becky.  Tombstone states “Jane, wife of John Duer” and clearly shows 1866 as the death year.

[6] Find-A-Grave, database and image (http://www.findagrave.com:  accessed 16 October 2016), memorial page for Thomas Duer (1775-1829), Find A Grave Memorial no. 57798621; memorial created by BLJns75 citing St. Pricetown Cemetery, Newton Falls, Trumbull County, Ohio.  No tombstone pictures but confirmed with a local genealogist in Trumbull who had tripped over Thomas’ fallen stone and had it reset, the cemetery was for Presbyterian’s only.

[7] Find-A-Grave, “Jane Morrison Duer,”

[8] “Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999,” John Duer, Volume A-C, page 484-486

[9] Author to       , Mercer County Trustee, Phone and Email, date, .  Author is deeply appreciative of         for not only scanning and emailing the cemetery records for the Duer family, but including other family members who were interred in the cemetery.            Also physically went to the gravesite to verify that there was no stone for John Duer.  She took pictures of surrounding stones and emailed to the author.  Her dedication is exemplary!

[10] Find-A-Grave, database and image (http://www.findagrave.com:  accessed 16 October 2016), memorial page for Margaret A. Duer (1823-1904), Find A Grave Memorial no. 22546617; memorial created by Teresa citing St. Kessler Cemetery, Chattanooga, Mercer County, Ohio; image by Cousin Becky.

[11] “Burned in Her Home,” The Fort Wayne [Indiana] Daily News, 29 December 1904, p. 1, col. 3.

“Aged Woman Cremated,” The [Columbus, Ohio] Evening Republican, 30 December 1904, p. 1, col. 2.

“Aged Woman Burns to Death in Home,” The Fort Wayne [Indiana] Evening Sentinel, 30 December 1904, p. 1, col. 3.

“Radridten and Indiana,” Indiana Tribune, 30 Dec 1904, No. 110, p. 1, col. 6.

[12] “Indiana Marriage Collection, 1800-1941,” Charles E. Duer and Elmeda Buckmaster, 6 March 1886; digital image, Familysearch (https://familysearch.org:  accessed 17 October 2016); citing FHL microfilm 002321466; citing Adams County, Indiana County Clerk Office, p. 124.

[13] “Fatal Burns,” The Lima [Ohio] Times-Democrat, Vol. X, No. 195, p. 1, col. 1.

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund

Last week I received an email via Ancestry.com from the Research Manager with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF).  The group will be having a candlelight vigil in Washington, DC in May 2017 and reached out to me as I have in my Main Tree an individual that was selected to be honored.

We are not closely related to the fallen officer; Robert Flenner was my husband’s 4th cousin, 3 times removed through marriage to the grand daughter of a Harbaugh.  Since I have updated all the Harbaugh/Herbach family in the U.S., Robert appears in my tree.

I had never heard of the organization and did a little research.  The NLEOMF was founded in 1984 for the purpose of honoring and remembering law enforcement officers who have been killed in the line of duty.  I’m not sure how they select the officers to be honored; Robert Flenner died in 1908.

After receiving the email and checking out the group I went to my tree to remind myself who Robert Flenner was.  I have a large tree and I didn’t recall him.  The citations I had were the 1870, 1880 and 1900 US Federal census, a death certificate that didn’t mention he was a fallen officer (cause of death-cancer of intestines; occupation of deceased-house duties), Pennsylvania Probate, Find-A-Grave memorial and a Social Security record for one of his children.  I did find it interesting that the death certificate noted he was buried in Harbaugh Church Cemetery.  I had visited there on my July research trip looking for the grave of one of my husband’s several times great grandmother.  I must have walked past Robert’s resting place as I was all over that small cemetery on my unsuccessful hunt.  Passed him without giving him a thought!  None of  my found records provided me the event that occurred to warrant being honored.  I looked for an obituary and found the following provided by KimTisha on Find-A-Grave:

Robert Flenner

Ironically, the same day I was contacted by NLEOMF I received a copy of my paternal great grandparents’ divorce records.  I had always suspected the root cause of the divorce was alcoholism because I had found a newspaper article written shortly before the divorce mentioning that great grandpa had been fined for providing alcohol to a known alcoholic.  I was also very aware that NO FAMILY member on that line drank.  So I was not surprised when the divorce documents mentioned that my great grandfather had had a drinking problem for 25 years.  I was stunned, however, by the long term physical abuse my great grandmother had been subjected to when great grandpa was inebriated.  He was definitely a mean drunk!  The records mention the severity of the abuse and it made me sick.

Reading the obituary for Robert Flenner and knowing the arrest he made had prevented another woman from receiving further abuse I was determined to find a closer relative who could represent him at the DC event.

The problem was, I had been unsuccessful in finding any close family members for my husband’s line when I visited the area three months ago.  What to do?!

The internet is a wonderful way to connect so I thought I’d try to locate family by following the bread crumb trail of known records.  I updated Robert’s line and discovered one of his two children had married and had children.  I emailed every Find-A-Grave memorial creator through Robert’s great grandchild.  Most didn’t respond but several wrote back that they knew of closer descendants and would forward the information to them.  I’m hoping that someone is able to attend the Candlelight Vigil in which he will be honored.

More About Will

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 17 Jul 2016.

In April, I blogged about my dear cousin Will, aka, William Shakespeare.  A new study has just been released and you can read the New York Times article by Jennifer Schuessler (30 Jun 2016, p. C1) for details.

Written by historians hungry for any tidbit of evidence about Will’s life the document found by Heather Wolfe of the Folger Shakespeare Library regarding Will and his father’s attempt to obtain a coat of arms unveils much more than the supposition that the Shakespeare men were social climbers.  Way more!

I interpret the direct evidence that Will followed up on his father’s request in 1596 and confirming that Will was the son of John and that the two were close.  If Will had been estranged from his father he would not have taken up the fight to have the arms granted to the family.  Although being a social climber may have something to do with it, I again point to the ancestors of the family who had been socially important back in the day.  Historians are neglecting at looking at Will in the context of his family’s past.  Seeking the arms may have been the family’s way of regaining what had once been lost.

Clearly family was important to the Shakespeare’s as noted that Will’s last surviving descendant, a granddaughter named Elizabeth, used the seal on her will.  Using it would in no way aid her status in society.  Instead, it was the final mark that affirmed her position in the family.

My Cousin Will – 400 Years Later Questions Remain

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 17 Apr 2016.

My cousin Will’s death occurred 400 years ago this week.  Like many of my relatives, Will’s life has been controversial.  There are doubters that say Will was not capable of producing the work that he did in his lifetime.  He’s been called an imposter, a sham and a fraud.  There’s even a website, Doubts About Will, where one may sign a declaration that contests Will’s achievement.

You may have guessed I’m talking about my cousin, William Shakespeare.  He’s my 13th cousin 17 times removed.  His ability to write the works that are credited to him has been disputed for years.  I believe that Will was responsible for the work that bears his name today.  Here’s why:

Although there are some renowned individuals who are doubters I am not swayed by their views.  Just because someone is an outstanding writers, thinkers, actors, directors or statesmen does not mean they are correct.  Think of our Founding Fathers who viewed equality as not including women and people of color.

One of my favorite authors, Mark Twain, is a doubter but I believe his reasoning is false.  Twain bases his doubt on the fact that not much is known about Shakespeare’s life.  That is not true.  Although there may not be many records left from his life time that is not surprising given the time that has elapsed since his death.  Throw in war, fires, mold, and so on and it’s miraculous anything is left.  Twain also questioned how Will could be knowledgeable about the law but wasn’t a a barrister.  In Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s character, Jim, is a person of color.  Saying Will couldn’t have knowledge of the law is equated to Twain not being able to write about Jim since Twain was Caucasian.  Twain had no personal knowledge of living life in the skin of a black man so should we then believe that some other individual besides Twain wrote Jim’s story?  I think not.  Twain also wrongly believed that if Will was really born in the small town of  Snitterfield the town would have capitalized on Will’s fame as Hannibal, Missouri did while Twain was alive.  Since that didn’t occur, Twain believes that the Will from Snitterfield couldn’t possibly have authored the works.  A lot changed in the 200+ years between Will’s life and Twain’s, not to mention the cultural differences between Great Britain and the U.S. Twain’s reasoning is not logical.

Doubters do not believe that someone of such humble social status could possibly be a gifted writer.  The son of a glover from a small village is not thought to be able to produce the works that he did.  As an educator, I disagree.  Brooks-Gunn and Duncan (1997) concluded that “It is not yet possible to make conclusive statements regarding the size of the effects of poverty on children’s long-term cognitive development.”[1]  Leonardo da Vinci was considered a genius and yet, he was an underprivileged child.  His parents were unmarried and due to his social status, he was not permitted to attend the schools that his half siblings did.  Geniuses are born across all social economic levels.  No one doubts Leonardo and this is no reason to doubt Will.

Doubters mention that Will had “lost years” as there are gaps in knowledge of what transpired in his life between leaving his village and arriving in London.  Leonardo da Vinci had similar gaps; the History Channel believes aliens were involved with Leonardo.  I lean towards the theory he traveled and so did Will.  One can pick up much from observing the world around them and that’s my explanation for how both geniuses gained their diverse cultural knowledge.

Doubters claim that there must be numerous men named Shakespeare since the surname was spelled in various ways on surviving documents.  Doubters must not have any experience with genealogy!  I do not have one census record from 1840-1940 that spells my maiden name the same and that is in a much more recent time period than when Will lived.  There was no common spelling; the first known published dictionary in England was in 1538 by Sir Thomas Elyot and for the record, this was the original title:  The Dictionary of syr Thomas Eliot knyght.  Notice the words I bolded.   See my point?!

Perhaps there were a number of men named Shakespeare at the time Will lived.  A genealogist is able to separate the identities of those men.  Certainly there is no 100% guarantee but I would think if there were two or five or ten William Shakespeares living in Snitterfield at the same time an examination and analysis could narrow down which Will belonged to which parent and was the writer. I suspect there was only one, using spelling variations.

The Doubters question why the works purportedly written by Will were not attributed to him until seven years after his death.  They point out that is not only unusual but unheard of in the literary world.

I’m not surprised there was a delay.  The remaining individuals who had been close to Will were most likely trying to capitalize on what once had been.  After seven years, with no one taking over Will’s place, the actors needed to resurrect fame in the shape of The Folios.  Why does Hollywood make sequels?  Didn’t Disney remake The Jungle Book for release AGAIN?! (On a side note, the coming attractions look good so yes, I’ll be spending money to see it even though I already know what happens.  Hmm, no wonder the actors brought The Folios out again!)

We must also remember Will was not writing for publication so it’s not surprising that his works weren’t initially credited to him.  Will was writing for theatre.  I only know of five 16th century comedies and tragedies remaining.  During the Medieval period, theatrical works were not very original nor well preserved.  Prior to Will’s time, most theatre was religious stories brought to life; they encompassed mystery, miracle and moralism.  Once the Protestant Reformation came about, theatre shifted and farces were accepted.  Will wrote all three.  His plays brought in crowds who didn’t care who wrote the script.  Attendees wanted to simply be entertained.  Do you know who wrote your favorite television program from twenty years ago?  I don’t and really don’t care who did.  The scriptwriter, much like the prop mistress or the understudy, was unimportant and would remain in the wings.

Besides, Will wasn’t going to make any pounds by selling the script after the play closed.  No one would purchase Hamlet to read by candle light at the time. There was no store in the theatre to sell mementos of the event.  Will was a scriptwriter; he only became an author when the fame of his scripts spread.  When others wanted to put on his plays to draw in the crowds and make money, his role changed.  Compiling his works together transformed him from script writer to author.

The Doubters believe that Will was illiterate.  There were local schools that Will may have attended.  In fact, the Blackfriar’s Theatre in which his plays were performed shared the venue with the Children of the Chapel, a choir composed of children who attended local schools.  They were quite the sensation and scholars think that Will was a tad jealous of their success as he wrote in Hamlet about the “little eyasses.”

Here’s what school was like at the time Will lived:

“The schedule for school
7:00-7:30, Dancing
7:30-8:00, Breakfast
8:00-9:00, French
9:00-10:00, Latin
10:00-10:30, Writing and drawing
10:30-1:00, Prayers
1:00-2:00, Cosmography
2:00-3:00, Latin
3:00-4:00, French
4:00-4:30, Writing
4:30-5:30, prayers, recreation, supper …

Boys were educated to be able to read and write to be members of society. The most important part of their teaching was memorization and recitation. They had to be proficient in Latin.
When boys were six to seven they started grammer school. Classrooms were very strict.
In younger grades they focused on Latin grammar and vocabulary and in older grades they read poetry and studied the stories of writers. Most boys started out as apprentices in grammar schools. Sons of richer families attended university’s and inns of court.[2]

There is no doubt that Will was literate.  Doubters question the remaining few copies of his signatures and believe the handwriting might not be his but that of court clerks instead.  That is possible and a moot point regarding whether he wrote his works or not.  It is also possible that he was in declining health which could have made writing difficult.  My handwriting is not what it was in my youth so variations in signature can be expected.

Doubters also are concerned that not one letter he may have written survives.  For the Kinship Determination Project I just completed, not one letter survives from the 2nd generation individual who was known to be literate.  There are only three surviving documents with his handwriting, two as a young adult and one in middle age.  He won an award for writing but the piece he wrote no longer exists.  He died just 70 years ago.  I’m not surprised there are no surviving letters from Will.  I wonder how many letters the doubters have from their great grandfathers.  Take that back several generations and I’d expect none.

Doubters wonder why so many of Will’s plays take place in the upper class and how he could possibly have known what their ways were like.  If they looked at Will’s ancestry they would have a better understanding.  Will’s mother was Mary Margareta Arden, a descendant of Siward de Arden.  The Ardens, according to Burke’s Peerage, Volume 1, are one of only three English families that can trace their lineage back to Anglo Saxon times.  Sure the family fortune wasn’t what it had been by the time Will was born but as a once affluent family, Will would have had knowledge of the glories of his ancestor’s pasts. He’s also related the the Beauchamps, Vernons and Bromwich’s.

My maternal great grandparents would be considered as peasants today.  They were poor farmers after my great grandfather was let go by the Austrian-Hungarian cavalry for being injured.  They were illiterate.  They were immigrants.  They were not, however, lacking in culture.  They passed down the stories of being the descendants of PL’s, noble men and women who had been recognized by a long ago king for bravery in the distant past.  My grandmother, their daughter, loved lavishly set tables, the latest fashion and travel.  One may ask how it is possible she had acquired such refined tastes coming from such humble beginnings.  It was always in her.  She aspired to culture and attained it.  You may have a similar story in your family.  Why do the doubters not understand that Will was writing about what would most interest those that did not have it but really wanted to. Why do pop magazines have Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, on the cover?  Because it sells.
My connect with cousin Will is through the Ardens and my line twists and turns and at the time of Will’s life, a contemporary great grandfather of mine would be Francis Hollingshead.  Does the name Hollingshead ring any bells?  Francis was a cousin of Raphael, the renowned historian. They likely new each other and I often thought that Will may have “borrowed” Raphael’s work, jazzed it up and offered it to the masses.  Historical fiction of his day.  I have no proof but it’s a hunch I’d like to explore when I’m done with my BCG portfolio.

That leads us to answer the doubters that question why Will wrote so much about Italy and not about himself and his community.  Perhaps Will visited Italy in those lost year or maybe his teacher had.  He was taught Latin if he attended the town school so he would have gained knowledge of the language.  Geez, I was also taught Latin in elementary and my teachers gave us knowledge of other countries.  Trade between Italy and England was not unusual; he could have met visitors when he was in London. Remember, too, that England had once embraced Catholicism which was rooted in Italy.  Will’s father had been Roman Catholic.  As such, he may have been in closer contact with Italian customs that we now know.  Definitely would have been something to keep quiet about!

Doubters also wonder why Will never wrote a play about his own life experiences or about Stratford-on-Avon.  People rarely wrote autobiographies in the 16th Century.  Will was writing to bring people into the theatre. Why would he write his life story or about his neighboring countryside?  No one would spend money on something they already knew.  People won’t part with their hard earned income for something that is not novel or necessary.  Clearly, the theatre isn’t a necessity so novelty had to be what drew in the crowds.

Doubters question why Will did not record the death of his 11-year-old son in one of his sonnets.  Perhaps it was too painful but I think that he understood his life experiences were not that much different from the collective human experience of the time.  His pain was no greater or less than anyone else.  He wrote what he thought would interest the populous.  Childhood death was commonplace and a part of life in Will’s time.  There was no need to write about something that so many experienced.

I do not doubt William Shakespeare was the writer of the sonnets that are attributed to him today.  As we approach the 400th Anniversary of his death I use his words in remembrance, “This above all: to thine own self be true”. – “Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;.” – (Henry VI, Part III, Act V, Scene VI).


[1] Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. J. (1997). The effects of poverty on children. The Future of Children: Children and Poverty, 7(2), 61.

[2] https://prezi.com/aa9cpyjcvg8j/education-in-1564-1616-in-england/

A Haunting Visit in New Orleans

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 7 Feb 2016.

Last week was the first time I’ve returned to New Orleans in years and when a co-worker suggested going on the ghost tour I was reluctant.  I told the story of my haunted honeymoon and that made everyone accompanying me wanting to go on a tour even more.  I’m glad we booked, we had the most awesome tour guide, Dr. Z., whose knowledge of the city’s history was phenomenal!  I sent him the following story as I’m interested in discovering the history of what my husband and I experienced.

We stayed in the French Quarter around December 27-30, 1977.  Our hotel was on Canal Street but I don’t know the address.  The experiences we had during our visit have stayed with us all these years and we’ve never quite had anything close to that happen to us again.

When we checked in for our delayed honeymoon the front desk employee told us not to open the door to the balcony as the building was old and the condition of the balcony was not safe.  Of course, being young and foolish, I did not heed his warning.  As soon as we put down our bags I was drawn to the door to see the view.  I opened the door with the intention of just getting a better picture but after taking a step or two on the balcony I felt it was safe enough to go to the edge and take pictures up and down the street.  My husband did not accompany me, he stood in the doorway and watched.

When I was done photographing I closed the door and we began to unpack.  We heard children outside the room running and laughing.  There was loud smack on the door which we assumed was made by the kids.  We were ready to go out and explore the city so we opened the door to leave, expecting to see the kids who had been playing but no one was there.  We didn’t really think much about it at the time, we figured they had just gone into one of the other rooms.

We aren’t heavy drinkers so we were not drunk when we came back to the room hours later.  Sometime between 2 and 4 AM we were awakened by the sound of a cannon blast.  It sounded like the annual Gasparilla parade near our hometown so we turned over and went back to sleep.

The next morning we inquired at the front desk what event had occurred in the city in the middle of the night.  The clerk said he didn’t know.  We left for breakfast.  Realizing we were going to run out of film we went back to our hotel room after eating.  Again, we heard children running and laughing in the hall.  Again there was a thump on the door.  Then there was another thump.  My husband opened the door and there was no one there.  An elderly couple was coming out of a room down the hall.  My husband asked them if they had seen children.  They said they hadn’t seen or heard anything.  Creepy, but we shook it off as we were going to see the King Tut exhibit and we wanted to get in line as early as possible.

That evening, we again were awoken by the sounds of cannon fire.  My husband got out of bed, went to the door and opened it.  No noise.  He climbed back into bed and there was another cannon blast.  He went to the balcony door and opened it.  No noise.  I was spooked so he told me that it must be the old plumbing in the building, someone showering or flushing the toilet.  I believed him and went back to sleep.

The next morning the children woke us up.  My husband said he was going to say something to the management.  We dressed as the door was repeatedly thumped.  Again, no one was there when we opened it.  We stopped at the front desk on our way out and my husband told the clerk about the children and the cannon.  His response, “You went out on the balcony, didn’t you?”  My husband said he hadn’t, which was true as I was the one who had.  I felt like a child getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar!  I said, “I only opened the door to get a better picture.”  The clerk sighed.  He said he’d talk to hospitality about the children.  I have no idea what hospitality had to do with the children but I figured maybe the staff had brought their kids to work during the Christmas break.  He had no explanation for the cannon fire.

That night I awoke but not to the noise of cannon fire.  I have no idea what roused me from my sleep but I felt heavy and warm.  I opened my eyes and in the dim light coming through the windows I saw an old man sitting in the chair by the balcony door.  He looked harmless and was staring straight ahead, not looking at us in bed.  I was too afraid to scream.  I just lay there and squinted to watch him as I didn’t want him to know I was awake.  I could hear my heart beating and I wanted to run but I couldn’t move; the only control I had was to open and close my eyes.  He had a beard, cleanly cut, can’t say if his hair was white or grey and it appeared he was in some sort of uniform but it wasn’t ornate.  It was a jacket with maybe brass buttons, and trousers made of the same material as the jacket.  He was deep in thought and somehow I knew he wasn’t going to hurt us.  At that point I was afraid my husband was going to wake up as I didn’t want a fight in the room.  I just wanted the man to leave but I had no idea how to make him go.  Just then the cannon blast occurred.  My husband sat up in bed and the man was gone.  I completely fell apart!  I cried as I explained what I had just seen.  Fully awake the cannon blasts were loud and clear, it was not due to old plumbing.  We had planned to leave at 5 AM to return home but we had had enough – we quickly packed and went to the lobby to check out.  It was about 4 AM so the man and cannon fire must have occurred about 3:30 AM.  My husband told the desk clerk we were leaving because of the noise.  I asked him if our room had ever been reported as haunted.  His bored reply, “All the time.”  I sputtered that there had been a man in the chair.  He just shook his head in agreement.  My husband recommended that visitors be warned.  He said, “The whole city is haunted.”

Apparently so, after taking the Haunted Ghost Tour last week.  Some stories were sad, some were brutal – man’s inhumanity to man is just disturbing! If I discover who was haunting our hotel room I’d like to gain a better understanding of their lives.