52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Winter

Yes, m’am…yes, sir…our little group of Southern belles rocked the Forest Hills neighborhood of Winchester, Virginia, during the 1960s. We were like sisters, and we were attached at the hips. If you saw one of us, you would quickly see the rest of us. Peach, Smitty, Cleo, and I were a solid four. Sometimes, a few other girls would be tagging along; but we were the core group.

When the snow would fall and accumulate a few inches, we could be found dressed in layers and heading with our sleds to our famous Feagans Hill. Other kids in the neighborhood went there, too, and there was plenty of fun space for us all. The hill was right in the center of the street, but few if any cars drove down it during the day…the dads had driven the cars to work.

The fun would begin right after a breakfast of Cream of Wheat and hot tea. We had to get our insides warmed up. Putting together the warmest layers of clothing we could fit together: undershirts, flannels shirts, sweaters, pajama bottoms, pants, scarves, hats, and gloves. We were the forerunners of the Stay Puff Marshmellow man (from Ghostbusters) trudging up the hill. Sometimes, we were unrecognizable to each other. Our gang would be gathering.

The first flight of the day was the most exciting. We would line up and with our hands and arms gives ourselves a starting push. We were laughing, we were screaming, we were singing, we were propelling ourselves down the hill.

When we reached the bottom, we would all cheer and salute the hill. We were having the time of our young lives…not realizing the memories we were making. Off we went to take another ride. Around noon, we would head home for a short lunch break and to change into dry layers. Mom would be ready with warm bowls of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.’

Our afternoon session would begin when Cleo would stop by for me. We would pick up Smitty and Peach. We would sled until dads started coming home from work. Being wet and cold played no part in our snowy playtime. We were the queens of Feagans Hill, and we rocked that neighborhood.

Postscript: This blog is dedicated to my best friend Cleo who died unexpectedly two years ago. I just know she is laughing it up by the side of the Lord reliving our girlhood escapades. Love you, girl!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Next To Last

Mina Storer’s next to last choices, her next to last decisions…was that how newly created widows thought? When some decisions had already been made for her, what would happen next? First, there were the grief and the shock of Wash’s sudden death. Second, there were widow’s weeds to place like a mantle over her shoulders. Third, there were family members to rally, consult, and console. How was the 74 year old farm wife expected to continue on her own?

Mina’s husband, Wash, had been ill for several years due to emphysema. It came from harvesting crops, and the small grain dust that invaded his lungs. Doctors could offer no relief, and suffering from the hardship of struggling for breaths had worsened Wash’s will to fight this condition. Evidently, he made a secret plan that would help himself and his wife. No one knew of the secret. The plan would unfold in time.

The spring of 1946 had brought visitors to the farm. Their son Leslie and his family were visiting from sunny California. Three of their eight children had moved off the farm when they reached adulthood. California was touted as the place to live with year-round warm weather and better jobs. Leslie had urged his parents to relocate, but his pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Osborne County, Kansas, was Wash and Mina’s home…they would not leave their farm.

During the last week of the visit, Wash put his plan into action. One morning when the rest of the family was out of the house, he left this Earth to find peace in the next life. He knew that without him by her side, Mina would chose to leave with son Leslie. Maybe with three of her children  with her in California, she could have warmth and sunshine in her final years.

And so, Mina made her next to last decision. She would go to California to live with three of her children. The remaining five would care for the farm and make it prosper. Sometimes, newly created widows find comfort and solace in those next to last decisions…maybe.

Postscript: Mina (Sarah Almina Nickel) and Wash (Washington Irving) Storer were my great grandparents. I never met them, and I have only two pictures of them. Mina lived for 11 years with her daughter Hattie in Fullerton, California. She died peacefully in her sleep after which she reunited with her beloved Wash.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Thankful

Heavenly Father, bless our gatherings today. Bless our memories of those who share Heaven with you and are missing from our tables. Bless our ancestors who brought us to this home of America and its freedoms. Bless our family members who each contributed traits and qualities to the people we have become. Bless us for hungering for that which is righteous, holy, and sacred. We ask that we be strengthened to pass along these blessings to our descendants. We thank You in the name of Jesus Your Son. Amen.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Random Fact

Did they know? Had they received the word? Were they envisioning the best or the worst? When the news came, who or what brought it to them? The time was one hundred years ago…November 12, 1918. Two mothers who held their sons’ safety close to their hearts and prayers were waking up on their homesteads in Kansas. It was the morning after…could they sense it?

Mina Storer lived with her husband Wash on a farmstead near Alton. They had eight children, among them their five sons. One son was married and lived on his own farm. Three of the sons were mere children and teens. Their second son Andrew Earl was 21 years old and remained at home. He was the one who touched Mina’s heart the deepest at the moment. He had left home to travel 130 miles away…a distance for him. He had left in the spring of that year. He was at Camp Funston, near Fort Riley. Because of his ability to handle horses, he had been in training as a provisions wagoner. When called to battle, he would bring food and other supplies to his fellow Army men. He waited to be sent to France, but the orders did not come. He would train other farm boys to handle wagons and horses. Andrew had come home for visits when on furloughs. Her boy had remained safely in the homeland. When would he officially make it back to them?

Naomi Boultinghouse live with her husband Lafe on a small homestead near Bloomington. They had four children, three girls and a boy. Their son Edward Ralph was 21 years old. He had not lived at home for several years. He loved the nomadic life and floated from job to job. Most recently, he had been a roustabout on a Wyoming oil field. At times, he also wrangled horses. He was an expert with a rope and rifle. When Uncle Sam called, he joined a unique group of soldiers from the Midwest who had much experience in working with horses and wagons. He left Wyoming for Camp Greene, North Carolina…he had never been this far from home. He became an ammunition provisions wagoner. He left for France in December 1917. His letters home told of his safety behind lines. When would he officially make it back to them?

Mina and Naomi awaited for several months for the return of their boys: Andrew would be discharged in spring 1919 while Edward would be discharged in summer 1919. Andrew came back to work on the family farm, would eventually marry, and stayed in Osborne County for the rest of his life. Edward would return to Wyoming to continue working on the oil fields. He would marry and eventually roam to Nebraska and Colorado.

On October 22, 1922,  at ten o’clock on that Sunday morning, Mina and Naomi would make another connection. Mina would be the mother of the groom while Naomi would be the mother of the bride. Andrew married Edward’s sister Isabella. Andrew would become my grandfather, and Edward my great uncle…just a random fact.

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52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Bearded

Charles Boultinghouse

Charles Amos Boultinghouse

Okay, I agree…Uncle Charlie is not bearded. BUT I have few pictures of my long ago ancestors. He was the only one who sported facial hair so he won the spotlight for this week. Introducing Charles Amos Boultinghouse (1857-1930), my 2nd great uncle.

Uncle Charley lived through changing times from a childhood spent in the shadow of the Civil War…from adolescence spent in migrating from Illinois to the unknown plains of Kansas…from adulthood spent learning to be a fireman in a capital city. Add to that the magic of venturing with friends to the Yukon and the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898.

It has been less than a year since I met Uncle Charley face to face. Before that, he was just a name in the list of children of my 2nd great grandparents. When my cousin Nicky shared the contents of an old family album, Charles appeared. Who was he? Where could I start with knowing him as a person? The 1887 edition of the City Directory told me that he was a fireman in Topeka, Kansas. He was with Engine Company One and rented a room in the city hall. How did you become a firefighter…the rest of his family stayed either in DuPage County, Illinois, or Osborne County, Kansas, where they farmed and homesteaded? His death certificate listed him as “retired fireman”.

He was married for a time to a widow with three living children: Olivia Jones Lodge. According to the 1900 Census, Olive ran a boarding house in downtown Topeka; and Charley was one of her boarders. By 1910, they were married…Olivia lived in the boarding house while Charley lived in a room at the fire station. Another mystery about Uncle Charley and his life appears.

Just this past week, I searched the Kansas State Historical Society for records about Topeka’s fire department.  I hit pay dirt: personnel records for the firefighters are searchable. So…this is where Uncle Charley’s story is leading me now.

Sometimes, the smallest introduction becomes the beginning of another friendship. Here is to you, Uncle Charley.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Frightening

What is frightening lies in the heart of the beholder as some authors have observed. A meaning of frightening can be that which brings anxiety…that which is outside one’s comfort zone…that which creates uncertainty and discomfort in one’s mind, heart, and soul. Did these ancestors of mine know the meaning of frightening as such?

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George Soule was an indentured servant who came with the Winslow family aboard the Mayflower in 1620. The ship was originally headed to the Virginia Colony so that they could settle north of Jamestown; however, the ship was blown off course. Was George one of the puke stockings about whom the sailors jeered and teased? Was this new journey in his life perceived as frightening?

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Hannah Frost Mears was the wife of Benjamin Dows (Dowse). On April 19, 1775, her husband joined other Minute Men when the call was sounded to go to Lexington. The men were joining forces against King George’s soldiers. What would this truly mean for their future lives? Was this rebellious action in their lives grasped as frightening?

 

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Maria Magdalene Kramer had come to America in the early 1840s from France. She was a school girl raised in a convent. At the tender age of 15, she married 25 year old Amos Howell Boultinghouse who swept her off from Manhattan to the plains of Illinois. She became a farmer’s wife. When they had been married less than 20 years, her husband enlisted in the Union Army…55th Illinois, E Company. She was left to take care of her children and a farm with an uncertain return of Amos. Did she feel isolated? Was this time of her life felt as a frightening hardship to try her soul?

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Andrew Earl Storer lived with his wife Isabella Mary Boultinghouse and two young daughters on a Kansas farm at the start of the Depression. Income was unsteady. Dust storms were ravaging the fields. His father suffered from emphysema which affected his ability to farm. Several of his brothers and sisters were moving their families to the golden state of California. Andrew’s family and his parents decided to stay rooted to their farms and wait it out. Was this decision a frightening fear of the unknown?

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Merna Mae Storer had grown up on that mentioned Kansas farm. She was determined to move to the city of Topeka. She was also determined that she would not be staying and doing man’s work. After graduation at the age of 17, she packed her suitcase and rode the train to the state capital. She had gotten a job as a secretary. World War II had begun, and women were needed to fill men’s shoes. Did she find it frightening to venture out and grow quickly into adulthood?

These grandparent ancestors along with my mother overcame a form of fright to create new visions and life goals. Can frightening lead to fortifying and defining? Family history has proven it to be true and beautifully so.

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Cause Of Death

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Well, here is the true story about Crazy Bill. He earned a place among the famous and infamous of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. He was the last of his kind. Yep, his last photo that was taken in 1912 hangs in a historical society’s board room to remind bers of his last days on Earth. How did Bill meet his Maker?

William F. Reed, according to the 1910 Federal Census, lived with his wife Sarah in Quincy Township. He was a laborer in a foundry. He and Sarah had been married for one year, and Sarah’s eight year daughter lived with them as well. Well, some of that information was not true: Bill and Sarah were not married.

In the spring of the next year, Sarah took a job at the Pennsylvania State Forestry School in the nearby township of Mont Alto. She worked in the kitchen and  lived at the school. She and Bill had split up. Bill was not happy about that. One morning in May, he took the trolley to Mont Alto. He wanted to see Sarah, and he wanted the pictures and letters he has sent her back. He intended to confront her that very day and get back his property. When he arrived, he found her in the kitchen. He told her what he wanted. She replied that the articles were in her room, and she would get them. When she returned and handed him what he came for, he told her that some letters and pictures were missing from the stack. She informed him that she had burned the missing pieces. Bill became enraged. He took out a gun and shoot her three times. He left the school and reboarded the trolley home. He told the conductor and passengers that he had just hurt his girl…she was hurt bad…

Over a hundred years later, I would meet William F. Reed. I was working on my husband’s family tree as I added his 2nd great uncle. Ancestry had a copy of his Pennsylvania Death Certificate. As I read it over, my eyes opened wide. The primary cause of death was hanging and fracture of vertebrae. The secondary cause was listed as legal execution. I started a newspaper search to find out exactly who William F. Reed was…he was the last man executed by hanging for murder in Franklin County. Sheriff Walker maintained that Bill went to the gallows in a calm manner. Before his final walk, he asked that everyone forgive him…he had already forgiven those who hurt him. So, Crazy Bill passed into Eternity with forgiveness in his heart.

Note: In the above picture, Bill’s hands are bound with handcuffs as he awaits trial.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Ten

 

 

Why is it that some ancestors remain a true mystery as to character and personality until a little detective work is done? Finding just the right resource to add the Sherlock to Holmes does the trick! I found answers in a weekly newspaper printed in Osborne County, Kansas…Osborne County Farmer which was published each Thursday. My second great grandparents James and Mary Emily (Weaver) Nickel came to life on those pages. Small town newspapers are a treasure filled with little happenings of local interest. Here are ten of those happenings that I found that brought this couple to life for me.

First, James and Mary settled on a farm in Tilden Township. James’ father John lived with their family. John had obtained the land through the Homestead Act. I learned their reason for coming to Kansas from Ohio…free land.

Second, James was a successful wheat farmer who sold one harvest of 500 bushels for 77 cents/bushel. He was a successful horse trader. He purchased a thresher and helped his neighbors cut their wheat and corn. I learned he was hard-working and resourceful

Third, on Mary Emily’s 50th birthday, he planned a surprise party for her. Remember that small town papers infuse articles with little tidbits and asides. The couple was touted as “real good people and pioneers to the area”. As the report does, James wanted to fry up chicken for the party; however, he could not bring himself to behead the chicken. He called upon his neighbors who were invited to the party to “help fix the grub”. I learned that Mary Emily and James enjoyed planning parties and get-togethers. He was thoughtful of his wife. He could not clean a chicken to fry.

Fourth, on his dad John’s 70th birthday, he again planned a surprise party. At that time, to turn 70 was quite the honor. John’s elderly pals were invited. They toasted to being some of the oldest men who were once the pioneers of the county. I learned that James honored his elders.

Fifth, James volunteered to take care of a section of the county road. I learned that to be a citizen volunteer was valued by him.

Sixth, when Mary Emily died in 1903, her obituary spoke of her virtues as a loving wife, mother, and neighbor. She was a member of the Eastern Star, where she volunteered for many duties. She was praised as being faithful. I learned Mary was well-loved and honored.

Seventh, James lived by himself for several years after Mary’s death. His father lived with him. Together, they took care of one another until Papa John passed. He decided to rent his farm and move into town. He was a caring son to this father in old age. James decided to rent his farm and move to town.

Eighth, as James went to rent his farm, it was discovered that he did not actually own the land. His father did not have a will so the land was divided among James and his children. One of James’ son stated that he owned the farm from a transaction with Papa John that had never been recorded. It turned into a legal battle that involved the whole family. The trial went to jury. The verdict was that each surviving family member would receive a section of the land since the “buyer” could not produce a record of the sale. It was a legal mess that produced fractured relationships. I learned that every family has its battles…some settled in court.

Ninth, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Osborne County, the newspaper helped publish a remembrance book, The People Came. The local historical society lent a huge hand in helping to organize the layout of the book. Those who wished could write about their pioneer ancestors. Pictures could be included. The book would be arranged by the names of the township with families in alphabetical order. Most biographies contained birth, marriage, and death dates along with names of children…very factual with some snippets and stories. James and Mary Emily’s “couple biography” was included. Included was a picture of the couple, which had been cropped from a family picture. How wonderful to see their faces! Sadly, the faces of their grown children had been edited out. The entry told of the couple’s lives devoted to one another. The entry did leave out one important fact…

Tenth, when fleshing out Grandpa James, I finally located his obituary from 1923. According to what I knew, James had been a widower for 20 years. Surprise, surprise, surprise…his obituary stated that he had a widow. He had married for a second time. What?! He had remarried. Strange that entry in The People Came made no mention of her. His great grandson had submitted the biography. A new mystery: why was the second wife never included in James’ biography?

A story for another day presents itself…I bet Osborne County Farmer will bear no clues to help solve that one.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Down On The Farm

 

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As I ambled down that farm lane in Maine, I readied myself to come face to face with my 4th great grandfather. I knew few facts about him. He was born in 1752 in a coastal Massachusetts town. He and his young wife migrated to New Hampshire before the start of the American Revolution. He was a private in a Patriots’ regiment. He signed an oath pledging his life and fortune to the cause of independence from the mother country. He and his family moved to a settlement in a part of Massachusetts that would soon form a new state, Maine. His name was Joseph Story. When he went to claim that land, the clerk entered his name as Joseph Storer. Many in that family would keep that spelling for generations to come, including my grandfather and my mother.

As I ambled down that farm lane in Maine, I walked off that path. I went in a different direction. Before I could meet up with Joseph, I wanted to know more about him. I discovered that most of those Maine farmers grew crops and raised livestock to care for their own families. Those men did other jobs so they could trade, barter, earn a few dollars. What did Joseph  do as his side job? I could not find the answer. My initial findings indicated that he and his wife Rachel raised ten children. Later, I found four more children for a total of 14. Several died in infancy. Many of them would survive into old age.

As I ambled down that farm lane in Maine, I rounded a bend and prepared myself to meet Joseph and Rachel. Surely, they will surprised that I can see into the future. What will be the expression on their faces when they find out that they will pass on this gift of wanderlust to their sons, to their sons, and to their sons? The Storers will wander from Maine to California…from sea to shining sea.

 

 

 

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Unusual Sources

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My grandfather Franciszek Slabik on the right…member of the Prussian Army

Being a speaker of fluent English was not a skill set he possessed. Often he spoke half English-half Polish. Conversations were short with often answers of yes or no. He studied my little girl face with a twinkle in his eye as if he were amused with me, his little Marysia (Polish for “little Mary”). He was my dziadzu, my grandfather. He was widowed, and I had never met my grandmother Anna. He lived with my aunt and her family in Philadelphia. He said that long ago he had been drafted into the Prussian army…he had a picture in his uniform. He claimed to have been a good soldier. He told me that he was from Warsaw. He never spoken about siblings. He only had his three children and their families. Basically, those facts were all I knew about him…language separated us as well as distance. I possessed only a handful of pictures of him.

Fifty years later, I began the quest to find my grandfather’s family. My grandfather and his children had all passed away along with his friends. I turned to my cousins with whom he had lived. They offered few clues. Where could I start…I had one small goal…to find the name of his parents. If I could find their names, that would be a great treasure to me.

I started with dziadzu’s death certificate. The informant, my aunt, did not know their names. (It is odd to me that many of the death certificates I have researched where the child of the deceased was the informant, he/she did not know their own grandparents’ names.) No obituary was found. Where to next?

I found him in the Ellis Island records as coming to America in August, 1912. His father was listed as his departure contact and a brother Jan as his arrival contact. The information was hard to read. His information on the Hamburg Passengers’ List was written in German in thick ink…the letters ran together. I did find a transcription and a translation. (Since the time of that research, researchers can visit http://www.familysearch.org and view the Ellis Island records…much easier to do now…more information is listed.)

Research took me next to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s archives of marriage applications. In making the request, I had to state as many of the facts about the bride and groom that I knew. I was not even sure of the marriage year. This process was done by mail and took several weeks. When the records arrived…BINGO…the names of his parents were listed. The document was written in Latin, the language of the Church. The kindly archivist had transcribed the application for me. His father was Jakob Slabik, born in 1837. His mother was Agata Kendra, born in 1849. They were farmers in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains. Their names leapt off the page and engraved themselves on my heart. I could call them by name now.

In continuing research, I obtained copies of my grandfather’s naturalization papers and his passport application when he returned for a visit in 1956. To this day, I have found just a few crumbs, just a few morsels of information about my grandfather and his people.

Unusual sources…maybe, not to most. The most work was the thinking process of where information could be gleaned, finding addresses of where to write for records, obtaining record numbers to attach to inquiries. My “computer brain” keeps scanning for other ideas and other searches. With so little with which to work, it seems almost impossible to solve the puzzles. Perhaps, one day the paternal side of my family tree will blossom with the names of my Polish family.

Postscript: Actually, my grandfather was not from Warsaw. I discovered that often immigrants claimed to come from the closest large city from which they came. It has been quite a task to pinpoint exactly where my grandfather was born and raised. Wonder what small goal I should make now…