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Posts Tagged ‘Genealogy’

My Aunt Min isn’t really my aunt. She was my grandmother’s aunt. That makes her my great aunt. Her sister Catherine was eighteen years older than her so she was nearer my grandmother’s age and lived with her when they were old ladies together. Aunt Min lived to be 99 years old and I was privileged to know her. I remember her as a little old lady with white hair and it wasn’t until I started my family history search that I came to know her as a real person who was a child at one time.

She was a young girl of five when the Civil War began. As an adult she had several tales to tell of the times. One was about Stonewall Jackson. Unbelievably I found the story in a book called Shenandoah Voices. Folklore, Legends and Traditions of the Valley, by John L. Heatwole. Like all genealogists (yes, you know you do this), when ever I see a book related to anywhere my ancestors lived I check out the index for their surnames. Lo and behold there was her name – TWICE. Ordered the book of course and devoured it as soon as it arrived. As well as Aunt Min, there was reference to another great aunt and my great great grandmother

Seems Minnie Hedrick (my aunt Min) was swinging in a pear treeone day in June of 1862 after several days of rain. Soldiers on horses paused to drink water from the well in the front yard. Min, being Min immediately went up to one of the big horses and told the soldier not to go up that road ’cause it was all muddy from the rain. He told her he’d been up many a muddy road and that wouldn’t bother him. As they left she asked another soldier who that was and he told her it was Stonewall Jackson. All through her life Aunt Min cherished the experience and told the story often. It was retold in her obituary when she died in 1956 at age 99.

Aunt Min second from the left

The second story involved apple butter (my favorite) and renegade soldiers. Minnie was only eight years old when Sheridan descended on the Valley. The family had such valuables as they owned and meager foodstuffs hidden away as did everyone in the Cross Keys, Virginia area. The farm had been searched more than once but one morning when the women were alone, a Union soldier came riding up to the gate. He demanded their silver or money. They told him they had none. As he went into a rage and started opening and emptying the kitchen cupboards, my grandmother Eliza, Min and her sister Lizzie went to hide in the attic.

When the boy in blue discovered them gone, he started to searching the house and eventually climbed the ladder to the attic. Terrified, Eliza grabbed the closest thing at hand, a gallon size crock of apple butter and threw it at his head. Her aim was true and the soldier died almost instantly.

Eliza and little Min dragged him out of the house and up to the orchard and buried him in a sinkhole. She never told anyone until she was very old. Unfortunately, there’s someone’s ancestor who will never be found.

She married and lived most of her life in Washington, DC, became widowed and lived for awhile with her unmarried son Earl. She had several children, all gone now but maybe I’ll find some of her descendents. I don’t remember when she died in 1956 although I should and she is not buried in the family plot in Petersburg, Virginia. That’s a mystery for another day and I do love a mystery.

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You can’t go home again. Well….. you can but it’s a pretty bumpy trip. Things have changed, people have moved and you feel the disappointment of discovering that childhood is just a memory and you really are that old woman in the mirror. But I digress.

Last year when I visited my daughter in Pennsylvania, I also spent a few days with my brother and sister-in-law. Of course my brother and I had to do the sentimental journey and visit the old neighborhoods.

First row House

First place we visited was the house we lived in when my brother was born. The sad little row housewasn’t as big as he remembered. It was run down, in need of paint and the postage stamp sized front yard was full of weeds. It was just a big disappointment. But I took pictures for remembrance. I had never lived there but he had so that was important to me.

Second Row House

The second place we visited was the house where the family lived when I was born. I marched right up to the door to ask the resident if it would be o.k. to take some pictures. I was hoping he would ask us in but it was obvious from peaking in the door that he was awaiting the Horders TV production team to arrive any minute to start filming. We did chat for a while and I told him that the tree out front was planted by my father the year I was born. He said there used to be a lot of trees on the street but they had all died except for the one in front of his house. I took pictures of the house and the tree. We moved from there when I was about two years old.

Finally we went back to the old neighborhood, the house that I remembered growing up. It was gone. Just……  gone. It had been torn down years ago. I wasn’t shocked because my brother had told me it was gone. But it was startling to see that vacant lot where once a home had stood. I remember my Dad used to say that if they ever tore our house down the rest of the block would fall since we had a three store and the rest of the block was all two-story. But our house was gone and the rest of the block or row houses still stood. I saw that the first house’s address proved that three houses had been torn down, not just mine. They must have been very narrow houses even though I remember our house as being big. Very big. I scooped up a brick left behind on the vacant lot where my childhood home had been, (that gave TSA cause to pause when it showed up in my luggage x-ray), took a bunch of pictures, got back in the car and turned my back on the old neighborhood. I won’t go back.

Sad for sure, but a good way to remember that the people hold your heart and memories,  not the places. My brother and I spent the evening doing the  “remember whens” and the “remember whos” until tears ran down my face with laughter. It was a good journey down memory lane but I guess you really can’t go home again.

My Tree

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I have to admit, I’m not a real good genealogist. So far I haven’t checked out any wills, deeds, property sales or anything like that. And I hop around a lot. When I get bored not finding anything on one ancestor I hop over to research another. All the books tell you not to do that. It’s a genealogy no-no. But I have a lot of fun with my family research. I mean, it’s all out there somewhere and as far as all that boring stuff is concerned, it’s not going anywhere. I am confident that it will still be there if I ever get around to going after it.

But talking to people, finding obscure jewels of gossip and factoids about the family makes me smile. It’s the detective spirit in me I guess. I love a good mystery. Here’s one thing I did early on in my journey that really paid off. At the time I didn’t have a lot of information. I knew where my grandparents were buried because I’d been to several family funerals there. My father is buried alongside them and his were the only dates I had.  One Saturday afternoon I got out my paper with the names on it and called the Blandford Cemetery office in Petersburg, Virginia. A very nice lady named Jackie answered the phone and I asked her if by any chance I could get some information from their files. She said “sure”.

I gave her the surname I was looking for and boy, did she give it to me! Every person in that cemetery with the same last name was fair game. Apparently it was a rainy Saturday afternoon in Petersburg and Jackie was bored. She gave me the names of all of them, birth dates, death dates and more information then I could have hoped for. Before the 1950s the cemetery records contained the place of birth and the cause of death for the deceased. The German tradition of everyone being buried together meant that most of the children were buried in the family plot. That is how I found out that my grandmother and several of the older boys were born in Rockingham County, Virginia. Never knew that. I thought they came from Petersburg,  Philadelphia or North Dakota. That’s the only  places I ever heard of when I was growing up.  She also gave me all their addresses when they died, funeral homes that took care of the arrangements, birth dates, etc. I ended that afternoon with a new best friend and tons of data to include in my family tree. I spent the rest of the day grinning like an idiot.

A few weeks later, trying to get my hands on my grandfather’s death certificate was proving to be a complicated chore. But because of my new friend Jackie, I knew the funeral home so I called them and asked if they had records that went back that far. Apparently they keep those records forever and the gentleman I talked to informed me that I wouldn’t find a death certificate in Virginia because my grandfather had died in Philadelphia and was shipped home to be buried in Petersburg. Well that little tidbit made all the difference in the world. With it I was able to find a death certificate. Never did find an obituary though.

So the next boring afternoon you’re sitting around wondering which direction to take your research, back up, regroup and do some thinking outside the box. The least normal idea just might pay off.

Grandmother Volz

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Facts and figures make up the bulk of information that genealogists collect, chart, and savor. We’ve got those dates memorized, got the family names etched in our memories and we’ve got city, states and street names documented solidly on our family trees.

You may know that grandpa was a miller. Or grandma could have been the first female doctor in her county. But unless you are blessed with diaries and family papers, you don’t know much about the day-to-day lives of all those people who make us who we are. And you may never know. But with a little detective work you can find out what was happening around them while they went through life.

As an example let’s look at my great-grandfather who was a private in the Confederacy. I did find his army records in the national archives and paid a handsome price to get a copy of them. What I learned was shocking. It appears that every so often during the whole war, he went AWOL, then came back. What? How could that be? My ancestor a deserter? No way.

Enter a great magazine named Civil War Times. My local library has this magazine and it’s full of Civil War history as well as what was happening in communities both north and south during the war. What I found out was that in the South they thought the war would be short-lived. They only signed up for one year so they had to have all kinds of incentives to keep the boys fighting. I discovered that my ancestor like a lot of farmers, went home every spring to put a crop in the field. So he wasn’t a deserter after all. He was just a farmer who needed to provide for his family.

Another ancestor of an extended family member migrated from Ireland along with so many of his relatives. What was happening in his life to encourage them all to immigrate at the same time? A short history lesson about the potato famine answered that question fast. So now I had insight into his life. He lived in a rural area, probably a farmer and couldn’t feed his family because of the potato famine. So many Irish immigrated to the United States and Canada for the very same reason. Second only to the Germans, the Irish immigration was one of the largest groups of new citizens to North America.

So many magazines like Civil War Times, Military History, Colonial Times, WWII or Wild West will give you a peek into the life styles of our ancestors. You’ll find occupations, hair styles, fashion, and lots of little details that you just don’t know from reading facts and figures.  The larger bookstores like Books-A-Million and Barnes and Noble have huge magazine sections. You can sit there for hours, making notes and not spend a dime. But it is nice to buy at least one magazine so you don’t appear a total cheapskate.

Libraries also have many, many magazines of interest to the genealogist. And some libraries will get a subscription to one that you want to read if you ask them.

Civil War Wife

I know it’s not as great as finding diaries, family Bibles, journals and letters but magazines that tell the history of different periods when your ancestors were alive can help you put a little flesh on the bones of your research.

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I just love the digital age, don’t you? Technology improves, information on the internet swells and genealogy research becomes easier. A birth certificate here, a family tree with your ancestors in it there and your own tree grows and grows. It’s like watering weeds.

But can you trust the data you gather? If it proves to be wrong, how can you get it corrected? For several years I’ve been trying to get another generation back on a gg grandfather who lived in Virginia but was born in Maryland. In checking records on another ancestor, I found where this one was listed in several public family trees. I was so excited. It listed his parents, grand parents and siblings, etc. Then I noticed something that didn’t quite jibe. North Carolina was given as the birth place for this guy. So I started going forward and found that someone had taken my great grandmother and plugged her and her husband into their tree, showing her as the daughter of their gg grandfather with the same name as mine. John Hedrick’s a pretty common name. Especially in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Apparently in North Carolina as well.

So I checked several others and found they had all done the same thing. After contacting one of the owners of the tree, she responded that she had just copied the information from another tree. Advising her that the information was not correct and everyone descending from that mistake were now listed in her family tree and we were not related. Her response amazed me. “Oh well, I got it off the internet, so it must be right. I think you are wrong.” Really? I have asked her to remove it from her tree and have contacted several other tree owners but so far, no luck. I guess I’m going to share granny whether I like it or not, but I am sad for other researchers who will be misdirected.

Another case of misinformation that I contend with just cracks me up every time I think about it. I had heard rumors that my mother’s birth certificate was wrong so I got a copy of it for my records. Oh boy was it ever wrong!  According to the State of Pennsylvania, my mother was born in June, not July, and spelled her name with an i instead of an e. It also says she is a male. Yes, you are reading this correctly. It says she is a male. Please believe me when I say my mother was not a male and did not have a sex change. I don’t even think they had sex changes in the early 1900s.

Frances Claire Craven

Have you ever tried to convince the State of Pennsylvania or any other state for that matter, that they were wrong and could they please, just this once, correct a century old mistake? Forgetaboutit! 

So I live with these little gigglers, make notes on my own tree and not let it worry me. I can always use a good laugh.

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Genealogists are a ghoulish bunch. We talk about dead people all the time, we spend hours in cemeteries where we rarely know anyone buried there and we get absolutely silly about obituaries. If you find a printed obituary about one of your ancestors you may have hit pay dirt for information. One thing to remember about obituaries is that the person who gives the information out usually knew the deceased well and the data is pretty accurate. Mostly.

Looking for inspiration to make a hit one boring day, I called the library in the town where most of my father’s family are buried. I found that the library had copies of all the old newspapers and the research librarian spent about two hours on the phone with me, finding all the obituaries she could based on death dates I gave her. I immediately sent off a check to cover copies, postage and a small donation for the library since they didn’t charge for genealogy help. In a few weeks I received a large envelope full of goodies. I spent the better part of a day reading all the obituaries. It was just like Christmas. You know that feeling. You know you do.

A good example of serendipity is the obit I received for my Aunt Agnes (my father’s older sister). My aunt Agnes was a character. She was one of the oldest of the eleven kids and my father being the youngest, she practically raised him. She drove an automobile before you had to have a license in this country, picked wild Muscadine grapes and made wine every year, held every office a woman could in the VFW auxiliary, USO and always won the best hat award at her Half Century Club meetings. Her and my Aunt Mabel went to funerals for people she didn’t even know, and when one of my uncles died, she would stay at the funeral home all night long so they wouldn’t be alone. And when the funeral was over, she would go back to the cemetery and spend hours just sitting and talking to her brother.

Even with all I thought I knew about her, the obituary gave up some great stuff. I learned that she was born in Baltimore, MD, and I always thought she was born in Petersburg, VA. I knew her grandfather was from Maryland but didn’t know the city. On a hunch I started searching Baltimore and made a few connections. I also learned that she belonged to many more groups than I had thought.

Obituaries can reveal real treasure for the family historian. Read them carefully, they’re solid gold.

Agnes Whitt

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Of all my ancestors I’d like to go back in time to meet it would be my paternal great grandmother Catherine (Hedrick) Sipe. She married my great grandfather Archibald Hewston Sipe shortly after he came back from fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. She gave birth to my grandmother in January of 1869 and died in March the same year. I wonder if she died from complication of child birth. Seems possible but without documentation I’ll never know.

Catherine F. Sipe

A few things about her tombstone leave me with more questions than answers. For one thing it says Consort of Archibald  Sipe.  Unusual to use the word consort instead of wife. I do have a copy of their marriage bans so I am pretty sure they were married. Or did she change her mind and not to marry the man? Soon after she died the baby was left with Catherine’s parents to raise. Archibald moved on, finally marrying his third wife and settling in North Dakota not very far from the homestead of Catherine and her husband, my grandfather. But that’s a story for another day.

Also she is buried over by the fence of the cemetery instead of with her mother and father which is the German custom. Burials along the fence of cemeteries sometimes indicate a suicide, witch, harlot, take your pick. Several years ago the DAR mapped the entire cemetery but made no note of Catherine. What’s that all about? I only found it because another relative went to the cemetery to look for it and sent me the information.

In the dark and wondering why, I will continue to try to find the answers.

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