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.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Oldest

Among the treasures of my oldest childhood memories is my first home in Falls Church, Virginia. This is where I came home from the hospital after my birth. This is where I met and bonded with my first playmates. This is where I learned to roller skate and ride a bike. This is where I made mud pies and played in the dirt. This is the Westlawn neighborhood.

I decided to take an online journey back after discovering old photos. It would be simple to just type in the address of 1008 Westlawn Drive and my old home would magically appear. What!?! The house numbers had all been changed to digits beginning with 6700. (Weird since my part of the street started Westlawn Drive…a current map even showed that.) How would I mentally retrieve images of the houses on the street by thinking of old neighbors down to the corner? I could not do it. Where to go now?

I googled the street name and tried to find where my home could be. I looked at real estate listing and Zoom. No answers. I typed in “neighbors on Westlawn Drive”…bingo I found a listing of names. I remembered that our next door neighbors had never sold their house and had passed it on to their daughter. Their daughter had never married. I knew their last name started with a P and was Italian in ethnicity. Well, double bingo! There was their name…yes, the daughter still lived there. At our house, the people that bought it from my parents in 1956 still lived there. Well, holy cow! I looked at the houses on Zoom. My home had 2 bedrooms and 1 bath and was a rancher. The current owners had added a second story, 3 more bathrooms, and 3 more bedrooms. My parents had paid $7,000 in 1950. This home was valued at over $850,000! My parents always said that if they had to buy that house again, they would not have been able to afford it…true.

In looking through my first neighborhood, many houses had been updated on the outside while others had not. My old neighbors had not updated the outside. I had remembered that there was a big rock at the end of their walkway…the rock was still there.

My next question about my oldest memories…why did the city of Falls Church change the house numbers…and where is that answer? I am going to find out.

PS I did use Ancestry to see if I could find any of my first neighbors. I found high school yearbook pictures of some of my friends. I could a death certificate for my neighbor, Tony P, in addition to his marriage certificate. I found neighbors on FindAGrave. I thank them for being such good people.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Namesake

Stevens 50th Wedding Anniversary: My grandmother is the girl in the middle row with a flowered hairdo.

Well, bless my bloomers…nobody ever told me that. I had to figure it out all on my own. The clues were right there calling out my name to pay attention to the details. Right there, by golly! Why was I so slow in figuring it out? So here is my story.

Climbing up the family tree is an awesome adventure. Gathering names, dates, and locations fills out the branches. Getting the big picture of how we all fit together in our families is an honorable task. It is only natural to notice who is named after whom as names are often repeated. For some confounded reason, I never gave thought to these ladies. I was too busy checking out the male namesakes.

There she stood, my maternal grandmother. Her name was Isabella Mary Boultinghouse. She was the baby sister of the four children…three girls and one boy. Her two older sisters were both originally named…first time that there were a Pearl and a Helen. The boy’s first name, Edward, was shared with his father’s middle name. It wasn’t until I looked over a picture from 1916 when a family photo was taken of Isabella’s grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Her maternal grandparents were William Henry Stevens and Isabella Anna Couchman…Isabella, Isabella. My wheels were turning. What about her middle name of Mary? Why, her paternal grandmother was Mary Magdalina Kramer, who had married Amos Howell Boultinghouse! Now, my brain was making the connection. It was clear how she was named.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that I was named after my grandmothers. Hmmm, how could that be…their names were Grammy and Babcia? I was too young to know that those were their “grandma names”. Later, I would make that connection of Mary (Isabella’s middle name) and Anna, my father’s mother. I am Mary Anne Slabik-Haffner. The connections one makes as she touches the leaves on her family tree.

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Family Legends

Discovering family legends is like finding a gold nugget. Some nuggets are right on the surface and staring the finder in the face. Some are buried beneath the surface and waiting to be assayed. Some are merely pyrite, fool’s gold, with no great truth or value.

The journey taken was not a call to the gold rush of family discoveries. The little nuggets of stories were hidden among bedrocks of facts and dates. Nothing shiny lie on the surface. It took a keen eye and focus to spot the nuggets.

The legends were discovered in sifting through digitized copies of a small Kansas county weekly newspaper, The Western Empire. The print was so tiny that it needed enlargement to view the sparkle of the nuggets. The nuggets belonged to my second great grandfather. He was touted as a pioneer in having settled newly established territories in what would later be the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kansas. On those Kansas plains, he was recognized as a sheep farmer, who prospered by selling parts of his flock each year along with their fleeces. Raising hard working, God fearing children was a sparkling character trait of both him and his wife Mary Etta. Using a grant from a Mississippi agricultural college, he raised cottonwood trees on his property as the plains yielded only a small amount of tree groves. Tiny nuggets of his life story that may have gone unnoticed…undiscovered…untapped.

These nuggets of truth and value were left behind by Andrew Storer (1817-1895). He came with his wife Mary Etta Soule and family to Osborne County in the 1870s. One tiny nugget was that he brought the first pig to the county…that little piggy rode in a covered wagon to its new home.

A lesson learned is that flecks of gold and little nuggets of truth lie right in front of the genealogical miner…find your treasures!