No, Really, It Was Her Father

They told me, ‘It must have been your grandfather or your great-grandfather.’ They thought I was lying and looked at me like I was crazy.” — Hazel Jeter, daughter (that’s right, daughter) of Civil War veteran Silas D. Mason, First Maine Cavalry

As a nice coda to Veterans Day observances, check out this National Geographic piece on a select segment of U.S. citizens: the living sons and daughters of Civil War veterans. It’s a very select group – the Geographic puts their number at less than 35 – but honestly, that’s pretty good even so, considering that Appomattox was nearly 150 years ago. The piece includes wonderful quotes from the “children,” all in their 90s and upward, along with the Geographic’s typically vivid photography.

Four years ago, I wrote about the fascination of extended genealogical timelines. The cornerstone of that post was the living grandchildren of John Tyler (1790-1862), 10th president of the U.S. from 1841-45 – as in “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” for those of you who keep track of political slogans. They are still going about their business, as evidenced by the current genealogy at SherwoodForest.org, the website of the Tyler family plantation in Virginia. One of the grandsons, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, gave a delightful interview to New York Magazine in January 2012. (By the way, I wouldn’t mind paying a visit someday to Sherwood Forest, which is still in Tyler family hands. According to the website, it even has its own ghost.)

I always love these reminders that, useful as it is to include “typical” generational ranges in sorting out genealogical problems, humans can always throw you for a loop by reproducing when they darn well feel like it.


Notes from NJ’s Wall

There are so very many ways (and people) to commemorate on Veterans Day, but being a Garden State enterprise, the blog takes the occasion to shine a spotlight on the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is located just off the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel, behind the Garden State Arts Center. Official Veterans Day commemorations at the memorial are set for 11 a.m. today, organized by the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation.

• One goal of the Biography Project coordinated by the foundation is to ensure that there’s a photograph to correspond with each name on New Jersey’s Vietnam memorial wall. There are still more than 300 names without photographs. Check the list to see if maybe you recognize one of them and can help.

• A few months ago Sue Kaufman, who with Ivan Kossak writes the always interesting Hidden New Jersey blog, posted a lovely and fascinating piece about Captain Eleanor Alexander, the only woman among the 1,563 New Jerseyans killed in Vietnam. It also links to a vivid and heartfelt letter from Captain Alexander’s fellow nurse Rhona Prescott, who pays tribute to a “supernurse, the backbone of the O.R.”

 


Greetings From 1915, N.J.

Courtesy of the ever-informative Michelle Tucker Chubenko at Jersey Roots Genealogy comes the news that the 1915 New Jersey State Census went live earlier this month on FamilySearch.org.

Michelle’s post will also bring you up to speed on the legislative background behind New Jersey’s state censuses, and why they ended, in case you are like me and find this sort of thing extremely satisfying to know. Thanks, Jersey Roots!


Resource Spotlight: Churches Of Newark (NJ) Archdiocese, By Year

Once you’ve fiddled with GPS coordinates and old address books and decided that you’ve located a great candidate for your ancestor’s Catholic church on a present-day map — you do not want to find out it was only founded sixteen years ago. Save yourself some grief with …

Parishes of the Archdiocese of Newark: Chronological List By Founding Date

It also covers some of the parish mergers that make genealogy in these urban parts so interesting nowadays, although it may not be 100 percent up to date in that department. It’s a starting point, anyway.

 


Resource Spotlight: Photogrammar

Look, I’m completely gobsmacked over here, clicking madly through photo after photo and saying to nobody in particular: “Will you just look at THAT!” Don’t expect any pearls of prose. Why don’t we just go with the description provided:

Photogrammar

“… a web-based platform for organizing, searching, and visualizing the 170,000 photographs from 1935 to 1945 created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI).”

Then hit that “Start Exploring” link and start clicking on any location on that map of the United States. Use the sliding tool bar at the top left to narrow or broaden your time frame as desired.

Leave a note for your loved ones explaining that you’re going to be away from them for a while.

You’re welcome.

(and a BIG h/t to my friend Jodie Slothower at the English Department of Illinois State University.)


Another Year Gone By

Slides of missing-person flyers from the fall of 2001, exhibit at National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Lower Manhattan.

Slides of missing-person flyers from fall 2001, National September 11 Memorial and Museum, Lower Manhattan.

This past May, we toured the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. I won’t lie; I had mixed feelings about being a tourist there. I also won’t lie about the museum; I found it stunning in every sense of that word, including the darker sense. It was almost too good at evoking spiraling sensations of confusion, grief and fear.

Overall, I was glad I went with my children, one of whom was four and the other not yet born on that day in 2001. The event is moving from raw memory into history, which presents its own re-discoveries. I always thought I’d told all my stories to my kids, but the museum knocked a few more pieces loose. I had never told them about our little cache of September 11 items that mean something to us, if nothing much in the large scheme of things. Things like the singed scraps of office memos that my husband grabbed unthinkingly as they flew down from the sky underneath the towers. Or the ticket for the dry cleaning to remove the film of dust that settled on his suit. Even (strangest of all!) a sympathy card addressed to me from an anonymous well-wisher, who mistook my husband for a man of the same name who died.

Powerful as the memorial museum is, I can only recommend it with caution. It can cut far too close to home for some people, like my friend who fled her nearby apartment that day, joining a stream of disoriented humanity who were all wondering what the world had come to, and what might possibly happen next. She told me she probably wouldn’t be visiting the museum for a while.

Made sense to me.

For more memories and thoughts, I still think that the collections at the September 11 Digital Archive are well worth a browse.


Goalposts

Two years ago I was in a road-cycling crash, which left me the proud possessor of an itty-bit of metal in place of a piece of my elbow bone. It also left me extremely wary of getting back on the bike, even though I could have broken far worse things than an elbow. Like, this summer is the first time I’ve started riding farther than the supermarket. To confess all.

So when I recently puffed my way through my local park on what I optimistically called a “cross-training walk,” I almost hid behind a bush when my Very Fit Friend (who has run marathons, including the Big One at Boston) entered the path just ahead of me. But she saw me, and suggested we walk together.

Turned out that my friend, although she could still walk me into the dust if she wasn’t feeling kind, was also coming back from an injury.

I told her I didn’t know what I was thinking when I kept going on longer and longer group rides with a crowd whose attachment to bike gadgetry made me increasingly uneasy – all that watching the RPMs and rearview mirrors and heart monitors instead of the road was bound to end in grief for somebody. She told me she couldn’t believe, in retrospect, how hard she pushed herself through one of the worst winters in recent memory, dodging traffic, skidding on ice patches. While neither of us regrets our fitness goals and accomplishments, we’re both re-evaluating what we were doing, and what we want to do next.

This made me thoughtful about those times in life when the forward momentum burns fiercely enough that the risk is not in falling behind, but losing track. For instance: genealogy (of course there is a tie-in).

My hard-charging cycling summer reminds me a bit of how it feels right after I’ve made a breakthrough – like the time I finally confirmed the identity of the family to which my Connors great-grandmother belonged. Oh, that was a time! What a huge family, how many offshoots and collaterals and half-thises and step-thats! I got a bit drunk with power and adrenaline, shoveling names onto the family tree program.

But at length I did slow down, as I always do, and asked myself: What next?

I mean, I could keep adding names. But how much did I actually care about the third great-grandparents of the spouse of a first cousin twice removed? What is the value added?

A long time ago I decided that I was more interested in stories than lists. Which means that every so often I stop collecting the names and start researching the facts behind them. Which means that at genealogy conferences, sooner or later I end up being made fun of by somebody whose database entries number in the thousands rather than my paltry hundreds. (And here I was thinking my paltry hundreds are overkill.)

This is not to say that either of us is wrong[1]. But yes, it’s about the goals, and pulling yourself up by the side of the road every so often, and checking the map, and asking yourself: What I am I doing here?

Is it really where I want to be?

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[1] It is merely to say that I am right.


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