The Mysterious Byrd Family

Skipped blogging last weekend because I was consumed by work from my other job – lots of teaching units were cut in my district and I was tasked with making new schedules for students.  Planned on blogging yesterday and got attached by wasps so my hand is swollen and I’m typing with only one hand now so this will be short!

Did the Tombstone Cake work in helping me find new info on my brick wall ancestors?  Sort of!  I ended up selecting Hannah Byrd, one of my paternal 4th great grandmothers, who was born in New Jersey and died in Ohio.  

With all the way to spell Byrd – Bird – Burd – Berd, it’s always made the search difficult.  

My mistake was thinking that she was born in Sussex, New Jersey as that is where her husband’s family was from.  I decided to research the only other Bird that lived in Trumbull County, Ohio at the same time she did and discovered he was born in New Jersey but not Sussex.  Looks like his father was born in Sussex but moved shortly after marrying to southern New Jersey.  So I’ll be following the trail to see if I can connect the two as they are about the same age and could be siblings or cousins or not.  

Funny, though, I decided to randomly pick a Kindle free book for October and chose Spellbreaker, a fiction story about a young witch in London who does not cast spells but breaks them.  Sort of like a female Robin Hood who helps the peasant farmers when the Baron claims they never paid rent and have to repay.  Had to laugh as one of the main characters just happens to be from Barbados.  My goodness, those Hollingsheads just won’t let me move on!

A Strange Way to Select a Genealogy Research Project

Had a strange Sunday morning courtesy of my family.  

I got a wake up call from one of my adult kids asking me to list my top 12 dead ancestors that I needed  info on.  That made me laugh as I was thinking yesterday I need to move on from my Duer-Hollingsheads who I found a wealth of info for over the summer and now things have dried up.  Like most of the world, I’m over the pandemic and am starting to make plans for when we can travel again. While gardening, I thought I would list relatives I planned on researching by geographic region so that I could identify areas for trips in 2022 (yeah, I’m being overly cautious here.)

Within minutes I emailed my kid a list of 24 ancestor brick walls – 12 on my side and 12 on my husband’s side.  

A few minutes later I got another call that said, “Mom, you have to pair that list down to 12 total!”  Okay, sigh, 6 from each list.  

Since I was already on email I started reading and found I had two Ancestry messages over night and one email message addressed to my website.  Two were regarding Leiningers and one was Harbaugh.  People who discovered books and photos as they were cleaning and looking on Ancestry or my blog, found the named folks on my tree.  They were hoping to give the items a new home. Since I didn’t list one Harbaugh or Leininger on my brick wall list, this was personally hysterical as those two lines always seem to nudge me when I am working on other family.  

Minutes later, my kid brings over the cake pictured above.  On each tombstone is one of the names I had supplied that are a brick wall.  The chocolate pudding cake with cream cheese frosting was delicious.  The “dirt” on top is crushed Nilla wafer cookies dyed with food coloring.  Child had bought the cake mix at the start of the pandemic and said, “Let’s bury this thing and move on.” I agree!

I also got a homemade awesome Ancestor Hunter T-Shirt.  Neither of my kids have interest in genealogy but they are crafty and when the mood strikes, no telling what they’ll come up with.  

The weather was beautiful so we decided we’d have cake and coffee outside.  I was walking down the cobblestone path my husband had installed several years ago and took one step off onto the “grass.”  Unbelievably, my right leg sunk to mid calf.  My kid grabbed me as I sunk, originally thinking I had lost my balance and was about to fall. 

There is a reasonable explanation of why the ground gave way in that spot – we had a heavy rain last night and several years ago, a 200 + year old oak tree had been growing there.  We had to have the tree removed after a third of it blew down in a hurricane. The roots have been decaying for years and we guess, with the heavy rain, the ground just collapsed.  

I’ve never been stuck in quick sand but it was a creepy feeling to all of a sudden just sink into the ground.  I had difficulty pulling my leg back out of the hole.  Don’t know if my ancestors were ticked off or not but it was weird to be holding Daniel Hollingshead’s candy tombstone while I sunk over a foot into the ground. Yes, I know I need to move on from Daniel but I am still searching for his lost Bible so he remains up on the top of my list. 

We settled down to eat a slice of cake and child says, “I had real trouble with one of the tombstones. Catherine Jarvis’s keeps falling over and hitting Wilson Williams.”  Umm, Catherine was Wilson’s daughter-in-law!  They lived near each other in Long Island, however, Wilson’s “stone,” which I have blogged about in the past, is no longer in the cemetery next to his wife, Margaret Hicks.  It was this same child of mine that had discovered that at the Family History Library several years ago.  Of course, with no interest in genealogy, there was no remembrance of the names and the finding. 

If there’s a message in all this I have no idea what it would be.  I re-read my original Wilson and Margaret posts you can find here and here. They are still on my brick wall list as I need further proof of their parents.  Family lore gave me the parents’ names but I have no proof of that.  I’m thinking that’s who I need to research this afternoon, along with Catherine Jarvis.

If I find something wonderful I will definitely share it and use this unique approach again!  Since the world has certainly gone insane a novel way to research just might be what’s needed.  Consuming the name of a dead relative on a candy tombstone is weird but fits right in with the spirit of the month.  Happy Hunting!

That Creepy House in Your Neighborhood

It’s October and even though 2020 has been a nightmare, it’s my annual month to blog about the creepy in genealogy.  Last week, I wrote about my new neighbors and this week, I got another new set as a family moved into the rental next door. 

When you were a kid, I bet there was a house in your neighborhood that the older kids told you was haunted or where a witch or a monster lived.  In my memory, there were two homes that I was warned to stay away from late at night.  (In reflection, I was never let outside late at night so why in the world I would be afraid is beyond me today.)  

The first house supposedly had been used during the Civil War as part of the underground railroad.  Late at night, anguished crying was heard coming from the basement.  

The second house, though, was only two homes east of my grandparent’s house.  It was on the main road, route 6, and set far back from the street.  The small front yard was overgrown with vegetation and even midday from the sidewalk, you couldn’t really see a house.  My one year older than me neighbor, Carol, insisted that monsters lived there and would eat children.  She heard this from her older wiser brother, Tony.  She dare another neighbor, Raymond, and I with walking up the front door and knocking on it.  We must have been about 8 or 9 years old.  I took the challenge but only got a few steps toward the house when I turned and ran back to the safety of my friends.  Raymond got about as far as me and also turned back.  When we challenged Carol to do it, she shrugged and said she wasn’t stupid and wouldn’t take the risk.  

Just like holding our breaths when we passed a cemetery (ironic, isn’t it, as genealogists we certainly don’t do that now!), we’d stop breathing when we rode our bikes or roller skated past the house.  Later that summer, on the wooden telephone pole on the south side of the sidewalk, a nail had been driven into the pole and lots of leaflets hung down.  I ripped one off to read it with my friends but we didn’t understand most of what we were reading.  We decided it was dangerous so we ripped all of the papers down and debated what we would do with them.  Should we leave them on the ground?  That was littering and not good.  Should we take them and throw them in a garbage can?  But if they had a spell on them we would be transferring it to our home.  Guess it never occurred to us to walk around the block, down the alley and place it in the spooky home’s own garbage cans.  We opted to leave the papers on the ground.  

Shortly after, my mother somehow got wind of what we had done.  Perhaps our next door neighbor, Mr. Bauer, had spotted us or our loud arguing over what to do had alerted her that something was up, since no one had air conditioning in those days and everyone knew everyone else’s business.  I was so proud of myself for fighting “evil” I told my mother I had ripped down a pamphlet and it was from the monster and we were stopping others from getting eaten.  I remember the pained look on my mom’s face.  She told me I must go back, pick every pamphlet up and put them back where I found them because there was this law that said there was free speech and I was breaking it.  Huh?!

I didn’t like disappointing my mom and now I was afraid as my friends weren’t with me for back up on my newest quest.  I tried to get out of it by saying I would do it after lunch.  Mom said no lunch until I did the right thing.  I told my mother if I never came back for lunch it was because the monster ate me.  She told me, as she had many times before, no monster was going to do that.  She said she would accompany me and I immediately felt better.

I picked up all the papers though some had blown into the street.  She retrieved those.  We tidied them up and I couldn’t reach the nail nor did I have the strength to punch the paper through the head.  She ended up doing that for me; one pamphlet at a time.  We then went home for lunch.

Over lunch, mom asked me why I thought monsters lived there.  I related Carol’s story.  She told me that two people lived there, an elderly widow and her invalid son.  We should respect their delicate condition.  After lunch, she told my friends the same thing. 

Carol must have told her parents as the next day she told me that her parents said my mom was liar and that the family were monsters.  Calling someone else’s mom a liar was fighting words and things got heated.  We didn’t come to blows but we did huff off mad at each other.  

At home, I told my mom what happened and she laughed.  I saw no humor in the situation.  I wanted her to tell Carol’s parents they were liars.  My mom sat me down to explain that people have different views of life and that Carol’s parents had fled Spain’s dictator, Franco, just a few years earlier and that they would consider a Socialist sympathizer a monster which evidently, was what was on the pamphlets.   That afternoon my mother explained political systems.  Prior to then, my understanding was democracy was best and per the the nuns in school, we should always thank God for not being raised in communist Russia because there, the government made children tell on their parents who prayed at home and the parents would be killed.  

So before I start getting hate mail, my mother was a staunch Republican.  Those long dead nuns probably wouldn’t be happy with me for thanking God that my mom didn’t live to see the current state of the world but that’s really what I’m most glad for this week.

Today, I live between two families who are strongly supporting opposing candidates.  My neighborhood is up in arms over one of the signs that has a word I would not publish in my blog and is visible to children who play in the park across the street.  Others are saying it’s free speech. The neighborhood association rules prohibit political signs but the board refuses to act.  

When the world gets to be too much, I find solace in genealogy.  I always get insight from those dusty records and the lives of the deceased.

I decided to do some genealogical sleuthing to discover info about the occupant “monster” from my childhood neighborhood.  It was a good way to take a break from my own brick walls (had a major disappointment that I’ll share in the future, sigh) and learn a little bit more about the people I knew as a kid.  

I approached the task the same way I would with a client; writing down everything I did know.  Using Google maps I got the address.  Looked at the property tax records which wasn’t very helpful since the family I was searching was long gone.  From previous experience, I know that most of the city records are missing; when the city went into foreclosure the county requested the property records but not all were delivered according to county officials.  The city officials dispute that (of course). I would also have tried to check the vertical file at the library but unfortunately, the city has shuttered all of their libraries due to financial difficulties.  

Using online sources only, I began to investigate the family residing in the home.  Census, death certificate info, immigration records and family tree information gave me additional information to ponder.  I never met the family that lived in that house in the 11 years I lived two houses away.  I now have a greater insight on them; they really did have a difficult life.  

Maybe the answer is praying that more people take the time to learn from the past so we can all have a harmonious future.