52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: School

To me, she never spoke about her girlhood. Never a mention of her family and siblings…never a word about growing up and helping her parents in their grocery and cafe…unspoken, untold, unsaid.

My maternal grandmother, Isabella Mary Boultinghouse, grew up in Bloomington, Osborne County, Kansas. Whenever we talked, she spoke of farm chores, Saturday night square dances, needlework, and the Busy Bee Club. I knew the names of her best friends. Once in awhile, I heard snippets of news about the neighbors. In my presence, she appeared to live in the present.

As I began my genealogy quest, my grandmother had passed away ten years earlier. In researching, I stumbled across the digitized version of her weekly county newspaper…published every Thursday. What little gems could be uncovered from that Osborne County Farmer?

As a student at the one room Bloomington School, each term she received a certificate for no tardies or absences. Her parents taught her that a girl being educated, responsible, and on time were important. I wondered what her best subjects were and who were her best friends.

She finished her formal education at the age of 16. Then, in the paper, I spied a gem that was totally surprising. She was the teacher for a year (1919-1920) at Bloomington School because the previous teacher was on a leave of absence. She never shared this with me…I became an elementary teacher myself. Wouldn’t she have wanted me to know since we held this in common?

When my Grammy passed away in 1996, she left me two things: a gold-plated fountain pen and a watch on a ribboned pin. Now I am thinking: did she wear the watch and use the pen when she was a school marm? Maybe, that was her way of sealing the connection.

Bloomington School

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Character

My Uncle Joe and Aunt Emily, 1939

I have always loved the expression “He is such a character!” My Uncle Joe was one of those legendary characters. He owned a bottling company and beer distributorship in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia. He was well known throughout the neighborhood and as a parishioner of Saint Josaphat Church (ethnic Polish). Kind and generous was my Uncle Joe. He was a teddy bear of a man…big guy with a heart of gold.

During the time period of the 1930s to 1970s, beer distributors attended an annual meeting in Philly so prices could be set for the year. Some of the meetings could get quite heated. Speaking in his booming voice, Joe was known to be fair and honest. He was never afraid to voice his opinion if someone became what he considered unreasonable.

When I was an adult, my uncle Stan passed away. Joe drove us to the funeral which was a couple of hours away…in his Cadillac. We stopped on the way at a private club so we could freshen up. When we arrived, an employee met us at the door to relate that the club was closed that morning. Uncle Joe boomed out, “Tell Mr. Schmitz that Joe Javie is here!” The gentleman went to tell Mr. Schmitz. When he returned he announced, “Mr. S said to tell Mr. Javie that he and his party are welcome to have any drink or food that they wish.” So, Uncle Joe’s name could open doors.

My Uncle Joe Javie was often called the “Mayor of Manayunk”. Manayunk actually has no mayor since it is a section in Philadelphia. Sometimes, he would get mail addressed to him as the mayor. Of course, he answered and investigated any requests and inquiry!

Joseph John Jaworowski (1913-1992) was born of Polish immigrant parents. He learned the food and beverage business from his parents. At his funeral, hundreds of family and friends gathered to tell their favorite stories about the character of a man, Joe.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Free

For William, Amos, John, and Andrew, it was the government reaching out with a free gift… not entirely free as it had an $18 filing fee and the promise of five years of time. It was the Homestead Act of 1862 which was signed into law by President Lincoln.

Each of the men started their collected journeys from different starting points: William from England, Amos from Illinois, John from Ohio, and Andrew from Maine. Two of them were Civil War veterans. One possessed wanderlust in his soul. One felt a need to move on.

All of them followed the rules for claiming their free land. They built homes on the property and made improvements. They gathered witnesses to attest to these truths in completing their paper work. They placed ads in the local paper to state that they had completed the requirements and to let fellow townspeople know that the land was officially theirs.

They all had many things in common. They all settled in Osborne County, Kansas. They all are in my line of grandfathers. They all had a love of the land. They all were willing to make sacrifices to care for their homesteads. Thank you, Grandfathers.

The men who enjoyed the free gifts were William Henry Stevens, Amos Howell Boultinghouse, John Nickel, and Andrew Storer.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Groups

Discovering this group was quite the find for me. It would be the key to testing my genealogical research skills in bridging the generations to me. Did I have all the necessary documents? What learning experiences would this heighten for me?

Many branches on my tree host Kansas pioneers. Several years ago, I came across a project sponsored by the Kansas Council of Genealogical Societies entitled Forgotten Settlers of Kansas. Three levels of certificates were available based on the years ancestors settled in the state: Territorial, Pioneer, and Early Settlers. I had four 2nd great grandfathers and one great grandfather who fit the pioneer categories.

Following the directions for organizing the documents took focus. Labeling of sources was required with attention paid to details. A blank five generation pedigree chart was provided from a PDF document. At that time, it was not possible to type directly on the chart…it needed to be done by hand…five generations on one sheet. Thank goodness I have good handwriting skills as I had to find the finest black felt tip pen.

After all paperwork was completed, I organized the packet to mail. A letter of approval would arrive to let me know of acceptance along with the certificate. Finally, all five certificates arrived. My pedigree charts and other paperwork were printed in the 29th Edition. Every piece of paperwork was given to the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka to be filed in their research library.

Next, I moved on to the Illinois State Genealogical Society to earn pioneer and military certificates for other grandfathers. When completed, I wondered how I could continue. The answer came easily…on to the grandmothers as those women were a major part of the story!

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Father’s Day

Edward Joseph Slabik 1924-2007

I adored him, and he adored me. He was the first man I ever loved. He was my protector, my guardian, my go to guy. He was my dad, Edward Joseph Slabik.

He and my mom were my first teachers. Many valuable lifelong lessons were learned from his experiences and wisdom, his common sense, his sense of humor. Among the lessons learned are these:

*Appreciating, valuing my faith cements my relationship to the Lord. This is the most important relationship in my life and being.

*Friendliness and good manners will take me anywhere. Respect for others should be the bow on the package.

*A sense of humor and a love of laughter are life savors.

*Of importance is putting others first. Sacrifices may be needed, and they are part of your service to others.

*Reading is like breathing, and I should have a stash of books ready to enjoy.

*Listening to music is a tonic that strengthens my resilience. It puts a song in my heart. Singing along with artists is so enjoyable.

*Digging down and finding my roots are part of my inheritance. It is essential to know from where I came.

My father’s gifts to me are a part of who I am. I cherish them. I treasure them. To my dad, I say, “Happy Father’s Day.” May our reunion in heaven be one of joy.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Cemetery

Mount Hebron Cemetery: Winchester, Virginia
Photograph By Karen Nutini

FindAGrave.com invites viewers to make a cemetery visit from right where they are. Much information can be gleaned from tombstones. Sometimes, obituaries are presented. Sometimes, short bios are present.

What if there were no memorials found, no pictures, no bios? Researchers would not be able to make a visit. I decided to help out and join FindAGrave. Making a list of people who had no posting, I looked at online death certificates and obituaries. Aha, now I knew where they were buried. I set out to make a memorial for each of them. I posted that photos of tombstones were requested, and requests were always fulfilled by volunteers.

Some of the people who were memorialized: a childhood friend who died in a car crash when he was in fourth grade; a neighbor who was childless but contributed much to our community; a favorite teacher who was unmarried; and my best friend growing up…all were now memorialized so others could find them. In writing these, a little piece of myself could imaginatively lay flowers at their graves.

The hardest to do was my best friend. I had been unable to visit her grave. I placed a short bio on her memorial to focus on how much she loved her children and their accomplishments. It was a final gift to her to thank her for our 50+ years of love, laughter, and shenanigans.

Finally, I would like to thank the volunteers who honored my photo requests. Some pictures were taken within 24 hours of the request. Some volunteers walked the cemeteries and reported back that the graves were unmarked. You are much appreciated!

A Soldier’s Story: Part II

For more than a day, the Union sergeant lay among the 153 men from his regiment who were wounded and the 71 men who died. Did he drift in and out of consciousness? Did he recall the events of the day before, or were they just garish sounds and nightmares?

He was tended by medical officers in the field. He would be assigned to a nearby barn, house, hay mound, tent, or church in which to recover from his neck wound. Sergeant Henry Couchman was gravely hurt. Would his mother and siblings in Manhattan be told of his fate in battle…he had survived?

That September, 1862, day would begin months long of recovery. He would rest in this small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland, until it was determined where he would be sent next. On 1 October, it was decided that he would be taken by medical wagon train to Frederick, Maryland. It was a distance of 25 miles along rutted, bumpy roads on which the patients would not rest comfortably. The journey would be tortuous to all.

Medical Wagon Train At Antietam
Photographer: Alexander Gardner

Once in Frederick, Henry was assigned as Patient #165, Group Hospital 3, Old Church. The pews from the Episcopal Old Church had been removed and converted into a hospital ward. This group of eight hospitals was set aside to care for patients who required a long convalescence with Henry among them. How did Henry spend his days? Was he able to write letters back to his family?

Three months later on 5 January 1863, Henry left the hospital. Because of his disability, he received an honorable discharge from the U. S. Army. He was given transportation home to Manhattan. What were his thoughts as he headed home? What were his plans for his future?

Notes: Most helpful in finding information about Henry were the following:

American Civil War Forums (https://civilwartalk.com/threads/a-walk-through-the-field-hospitals-antietam-september-1862.162729/)

Fold3.com Civil War Records for Henry Couchman, 59th Infantry, New York

National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Maryland

Terry Reimer. One Vast Hospital: The Civil War Sites in Frederick, Maryland after Antietam. Gaithersburg, Maryland: Signature Book Printing, Inc., 2001. (This book includes a detailed hospital patient list.)

Of further note: currently, the National Archives is closed due to Covid. Until further notice, it will be unable to scan Civil War Veterans Military and Pension Records for researchers. When this service restarts, guess who will be among the first to request records?

A Soldier’s Story: Part I

It was more than an Ancestry hint. It was an invitation to dig deeper, get more of the story, find some answers. The simple notation stated the Civil War soldier had been wounded at the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg on 17 September 1862. That battle was one of the bloodiest in the conflict. What were the hidden details of this note?

Emigrating from England with his widowed mother and siblings, Henry Couchman was living in Manhattan, New York City, when the War of the Rebellion began. Four months later on 7 August 1861, he enlisted in the New York 59th Infantry, Company C, as a Corporal. He was 22 years old…blue eyes; light colored hair; fair complexion; 5 foot, 8 inches in height. His occupation was listed as a machinist. He was enlisted to serve for three years…his fate would not observe that timetable.

Corporal Couchman, 1861

Henry had been quickly promoted to Sergeant as the regiment was stationed first in Washington, D.C., to help guard the capital city. At first, General McClellan observed and waited for the need to move forward and meet the Confederate Army face to face. General Lee was moving north into Maryland. Maryland was a border state that straddled the Union and the Confederacy. It was a slave state. Time for the two armies to truly engage. Sergeant Couchman would find himself in the midst of battle outside the little village of Sharpsburg, near the Antietam Creek. It was Wednesday, 17 September 1862. Henry was fighting with others in his company near the West Woods. A bullet struck him in the neck, and he fell to the ground. He and one hundred fifty-two of his regiment fell wounded while seventy-one others were killed. What would be his fate now?

West Woods at Sharpsburg/Antietam

This battle would rage for about twelve hours. Who would hear his cries against the background of screaming bullets? Who would see him on the ground amid the dense smoke from gunfire? Did he have a prayer of surviving?

Note: I am currently researching how the wounded were cared for after the battle. My next blog will focus on that research.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: In The Kitchen

“From farm to table” are catch words for today’s marketing approaches. If my Grammy were here today, she will smile and shake her head. She must have been a woman ahead of her time: she always cooked from her farm to her table.

When I visited my grandparents on their Alton, Osborne County, Kansas farm in the summers, my Grammy was as busy as a hen in a barnyard. She raised her own chickens, pigs, and goats. She cooked big hearty meals for my grandfather. During harvest time, she and some neighbor women would gather in her kitchen to cook up the noon day meal. They set up a big table with a piece of plywood stretched across sawhorses. Yep, the table even sported a tablecloth.

The cooking would start early that morning. Hens were gathered and meet their fates at the chopping block. Plucked and butchered for frying in cast iron skillets, the chicken was seasoned with salt, pepper, flour, and paprika along with a buttermilk soak. Can you smell that yumminess frying, sizzling, and popping on the stove? After the chicken was done, flour, milk, salt, and pepper were added to the pan drippings to make the white gravy for the mashed potatoes. Using those little crispy bits as the base for the gravy gave it its perfection of a taste. Yummo! Fresh corn was a grand side dish along with homemade yeast rolls. Then the piece de resistance was being served a piece of homemade pie, possibly boysenberry. Oh, that homemade pie crust (made with lard) and filling made for tasty bites. At the end of the meal, the ladies gathered up the plates and utensils so they could set up washing and drying everything. Often, they washed up the pots and pans before the meal so final clean up would be easier. The men would return to the fields, and the women would return to chatting and catching up. The next week, the farm hands and ladies would set up harvesting some other neighbor’s fields.

When I think about those long ago days in my Grammy’s kitchen, I would love to sit again at that sawhorse table and enjoy that wonderfully cooked meal with her friends and neighbors.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Favorite Photo

The biggest treasures I have ever uncovered…that still make my heart pound and bring tears to my eyes…are black and white family photos. Beautiful, stunning, memory-raising, they escort me back to their given time periods. I can envision that snapshot of a moment as I notice the details all around me. Once again, I can hear the sounds of voices, the glee of laughter, and the vastness of smiles.

My favorite photo, I am asked to share. Which could it be? Who will be there with me? When I think of my father, Edward Joseph Slabik (1924-2007), one definite picture comes immediately to mind. My guess for the year is 1954. We lived in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. My mom, Merna Mae Storer (1924-2014), took the picture in our living room. I was my dad’s little girl, and he always took time to play with me. We would laugh and carry on. Always, he showed great affection and talked with me. He would teach me little lessons in how to throw balls, pat the dog, and run through the backyard. This photo is a summation of the joy we felt with each other.

Two years after my father passed away, I made a scrapbook about his life as part of my grief therapy. The album I chose had a cutout for a photo on the front cover. What would be placed there? I knew exactly what photo…our photo together…a piece of a golden memory from my treasure chest.