The clickety-clack of my great-grandmother’s ‘old lady shoes’ resonated as I toddled after her down the narrow hallway to the old trunk. There, in that back bedroom she and I would sit in the dark brilliance of polished woods, with the old trunk somehow beckoning us as if the face of some minor deity or oracle. Indeed, my great-grandmother treated the old trunk as if it held all the wonders of the world, which, in many ways, it certainly did (and still does…). Continue reading The grafting trunk
I’ve always wanted to know more about the life of my great-grandmother Opal Young (1895–1978). To do this, I decided to see what researching her siblings might reveal about her. By and large, information about her siblings has been limited to meager ‘raw data.’ An interesting exception to this has been the life of my great-grandmother’s brother John Alfred Young (1890–1960). He is called Johnnie on the back of this Hitchcock-like cameo – it is the only known photograph to show him.
Johnnie Young came to California about the time his sister Opal did in the late 1920s. Their lives as children back in Kansas seems to have been pretty normal – other than there were a LOT of people living with them in the Young household. Continue reading Fadeaway
“Oh! Susanna…” No, thankfully, not Mr. Foster’s “Susanna”! Rather, this particular “Susanna” is one who has been bound up in the ‘primordial soup’ of my Chesapeake Bay ancestry for (at least) the last six generations. The identity of my Susanna has only come to light within the last several years. No one had ever heard of her before. She had been all but forgotten – since her death in 1863.
Oddly, the most evident clue that Susanna ever lived at all was hidden in plain sight. Her son, my great-great-grandfather John Henry Record, completed his pension application stating that his father had died when he was four years old – an event which coincided with his being “bound out.” He wrote these statements in the 1890s, and reading his words through the years it was generally assumed (given these terrible circumstances for a four-year-old boy) that his mother must have also been deceased at that date. In fact she was not. Continue reading Oh! Susanna!
He was never spoken of at his grandfather’s table, and no place setting ever arranged for him. Even so, he moved about our 1965 holiday home as if an ‘essential presence.’ I pictured him watching the Thanksgiving turkey being carved as the sweet potatoes were passed, and I saw him sympathize as “we the kids” cringed (and cried foul!) at my mother’s edict to enjoy all of my grandmother’s green Jell-O holiday concoction.
In his mind’s eye he must have watched us move about at Christmas, unwrapping the coveted “I wants” and the gifts of a childhood he should have had, but must have only wondered about. For you see, his place at his grandfather’s table had been given away – to me. Continue reading A place at the table
A year ago last summer I was contacted by a gentleman from Zeeland, Michigan. While out weekend bargain hunting, he had come across an antique photograph for sale at a local flea market. The gentleman wrote with empathy about family history, and he seemed to have at least a hobbyist’s eye for old pictures. His curiosity was piqued by this one particular picture, so he purchased it, no doubt saving it from the fate of some Michigan land fill. He said that the only identifier as to who the person in the photo might be were the words “Grandpa Burson” written on its back.
From what I could gather, the man from Zeeland enjoys following where the clues in any old pictures might take him. Continue reading Returning Elijah
Recently, on a trip to Long Beach, California, I did what most people do when they visit their home town. I did a bit of sightseeing. With my daughter and her fiancé, we hit the urban streets hoping to find the perfect little Italian restaurant. I hadn’t been downtown in literally decades, so it was interesting to see what about my old city had and hadn’t changed.
Naturally, the kids had to listen to me talk about ‘the old days,’ what used to be ‘here or there,’ and of course they had to hear tales of the old roller coaster that went way out over the ocean in a death-defying swirl of creaking bolts and lumber. (I’ve decided it’s sort of fun to watch the kids’ eyes glaze over…) However, a curious thing started to happen to me as we went up and down one of those streets. I became a little boy again. Continue reading A memory bank
There is a remote area in the study of family history. Some will call it a myth, or say it has no proper place in the field of study. It hides from anyone who would study it like a registrar, and rarely cloaks itself in any vital records. I’ve taken to calling it existential genealogy, and while hardly essential, I believe it is something all of us who study or experience family history encounter from time to time.
As a young boy there was no one more revered in my family than my great-grandmother “Mrs. Ogle.” You may have heard me mention her before – with deference being given to her feelings concerning my grandmother’s adoption. Continue reading A tale of two Ogles
One of my ‘favorite’ brick walls (talk about an oxymoron!) is that of my great-great-great-grandfather Stillman Burr. He is reported born in Massachusetts circa 1797, married Zeruah Kenyon at Woodstock, Vermont in 1817, and is believed to have died sometime after 1870 – possibly at Henderson County, Illinois. And yes, I’ve always been proud to have been a part of the Burr “clan” – no matter what bad “P.R.” might necessarily go along with the old name. Continue reading Who was Stillman Burr?
Recently, I was prompted to take a ‘second look’ at my wife’s grandfather, Horace Fenton Bloodgood. Fenton married my wife’s grandmother, a young Spanish girl named Magdalena Murrieta, in Buena Vista, Sonora, Mexico, in 1908 while working for the railroad. (He was 41 and she 16.) Family lore was that the senior Bloodgoods were so outraged by Fenton’s errant disrespect of the status quo that he had already been largely disowned prior to his parents’ deaths and his marriage to Magdalena. Indeed, Fenton was left only the proverbial $1.00 in the will of his father Julius Bloodgood. Continue reading Seduction’s double
We all have them. Yes, those stacks of old photographs passed down to us. They are images from someone else’s life; what can be daunting is that these are pictures we have to appraise even when we know nothing about what they mean. Often disorganized, unidentifiable, and fading, we can’t quite bring ourselves to put them out for the mid-week trash collection. It just isn’t who we are.
In going through my grandmother Alta Sage Lee Dixon’s old photographs, I understand that many of the people in her pictures may always remain unknown to me. Yet I can’t help wondering if there aren’t patterns in her collection. I’m resolved to try and put these “pictures of unknowns” into at least a few “photographic categories.” After all, this is my grandmother’s life – so maybe if I understand how she pictured her own collection, I might understand more about her. Continue reading What the heck are they doing?