Time marches on

If you would have told me five years ago that things would be as they are now, I would have scoffed.  Never would I have imagined the life changes that have occurred in the past two years. Sure, in the scheme of family life, the kids grow older, go to college, move away while time moves us along as they begin to move forward to form their lives and their futures. Some of those life changing events brought me to the darkest period of my life thus far. My kids mean the world to me, and not being around them much due to the inevitable “growing up” has been a tough adjustment for this recently divorced father.

Yesterday I had one of those moments where emotion takes you down fast.  Being the end of the semester, dad duties include picking up no longer needed furniture for the move back home for summer.  The boys and I borrowed my sister’s land yacht of an SUV to pick up the items, too large for a car, from my daughter’s apartment. We laughed and teased each other as we made trips back and forth from the apartment to the vehicle.  Those moments made my heart swell with happiness to see all three of my children smile and laugh and interact in their inheirent sibling relationship. How utterly amazing to see what fine young people they are becoming. How I miss those times when we were all home together.

We all went for dinner at “Five Guys” before the boys and I headed home, leaving the daughter to enjoy her last few nights of college life before her friends all leave for the summer. Her social calendar is full as usual and can only imagine the antics she and her friends enjoy.  I love hearing her stories about their times together, makes me long for the carefree, simpler times I spent back in undergrad, but alas, time marches on.

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Driving back home, with my two boys was both joyous and sad at the same time. Riding home in the dark, silent tears of joy fell down my cheeks as I remembered how much I miss seeing them every day and extremely sad for not wanting our time to end. Joyous because we laughed together and sang together in the car to those songs made famous in the 70’s and 80’s by those one named bands. Bursting with pride and awe as the youngest sings EVERY word to “Piano Man” by Billy Joel.  They all three love “my music” as well as their own choices. Joyous because both of the boys and daughter have beautiful voices and sing like angels even though they will deny their talent. Joyous in the fact of their comedic timing my children continue to entertain myself and and share with others. They never cease to dumfound me with their quick wit and humor with what seems so effortless to them. How blessed I am to have children that are part of my genetics.  I see so much of family in each of them.  I only hope that they catch a glimpse of how special they are, how amazing each of their personalities are. How blessed I am to be allowed to be their father. Hope and pray they know how much this sentimental “old man” loves them no matter what.

 

Another birthday and ramblings

Life accelerates faster as we get older.  As we become adults many feel that time quickens with each year.  Of course annual remembrances of one’s birth make me nostalgic.  Birthdays have always been a big deal in my family, at least in my immediate family as I was growing up.  My mother has always been the “party organizer” and many times enjoyed throwing a shindig for various occasions.  From the time I celebrated my first birthday there were numerous relatives and friends attending those parties until my teenage years.  My mother’s family was always finding a way to get together for just about every holiday or event.  My grandmother took care of her parents so her siblings and their children would often gather at grandma’s to celebrate the good times and the sad times.  Grandma’s nieces and nephews remained close after their grandparents’ death.  Even though I never met grandma’s parents, the family stories were passed down and the gatherings continued until about the end of the 1980’s until the extended family began moving to various parts of the country.  I miss  playing softball, frisbee or volleyball with all ages, listening to the adults talking, telling stories and laughing.  I felt that those of us younger ones were more like brothers and sisters than 2nd or 3rd cousins.  We all enjoyed getting together and in the summer months,  it was usually an all day event.  Potato salad, pie, dogs, burgers, homemade ice cream, you name it, we had it.  We would start at noon and often last until about 9 or 10 at night usually around the campfire, singing either around the piano in the house or just in the yard.  The laughter and or singing would ring out from the front yard on the hill through the summer evenings.  I felt so safe, protected and proud to be a part of a family that shared these events.  I long for those times, where the innocence of being a child hid all the damage our families endured causing hurt and unrest in the lives that have drifted apart.  We enjoyed each others company without being petty,  shallow or judgmental towards each other.  Well, in my memories of a being a child, everything seemed happy and carefree.

It is funny to go back to the announcements in the local paper mentioning how many people attended my 1st and 2nd birthday parties.  Local news of who was visiting who, what parties were being held for who and sometimes the guest list was even added. I have found lots of information in certain columns during the 1930’s.  Many papers carried columns with local news almost to the point of a gossip column.  Many times you can glean information of who visited for Sunday dinner, what relatives were visiting from out of town, what activities certain students had for their class like an old fashioned taffy pull.  If you get a chance to look through old newspapers whether on the microfilm at the library or in a collection, you may find information about the locals that may give you more of an insight into daily lives.  My favorite find was an announcement about my 3rd great grandfather throwing a surprise party for his wife with over 100 relatives and friends celebrating the event.  I guess the “party” part of the family has been happening for generations.

On this my 41st year of existence, I am missing some who have gone before me.  A friend, who I had the pleasure of singing with a few years back, was tragically killed in a car wreck this year on my birthday.  This got me thinking about my Aunt Sue (my dad’s sister) who has been gone 8 years now.  Dad’s family was not close like my mom’s side.  We got together with the cousins and aunts and uncles usually around Christmas and sometimes once in the summer.  Aunt Sue and her family lived near us until I was about 5 when they moved to Indianapolis.  I got to spend time with them on occasion. I remember one time in particular they made what our family called poor man’s candy (peanut butter and sugar that you mix together and then squeeze out of a baggie).  After they moved,  we saw them maybe once a year which became less and less as we got older.  Families get busy, have their own children, deal with struggles of the past and the normal struggles of life just to make the best of what we can.  She was diagnosed with cancer, went into remission and lost with her 2nd battle with cancer.  I went to see her a couple weeks before she passed.  She wasn’t very responsive because was on oxygen and heavily medicated sitting in her chair trying to rest.  She didn’t really say much… we all knew it wouldn’t be much longer.  She said a few words to me, I just sat beside her and watched her breathe.  I always knew she loved me even though we weren’t close in proximity. My aunt was a strong woman, she endured things in her life that most people could not tolerate, forgive and survive as a child and adult.  When she opened her eyes and smiled at me, I knew she was telling me she loved me.  On my birthday in 2004 I got the call from Dad that she had passed away that morning.  Did she wait until the 4th to go and let me know she was thinking of me?  One may never know, but selfishly, I think she may have.  I  always remember to especially think of her on my birthday and how much she meant to me.   You are missed Aunt Sue, thank you for loving me and staying strong when it may have been easier to give up on life.  I celebrated your memory on my birthday with a small helping of poor man’s candy thanks for the laughs and the memories!

 

The Illusive Ancestor

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend from high school who commutes, on occasion, to Washington DC. We had been talking about getting together and hanging out to catch up. He mentioned that he would be spending a week in DC this past July and asked if I would like to hang out for a week. Of course, being the genealogy hound that I am, I thought of visiting the National Archives to look for original records for my cousin Levi Coffin (Underground Railroad) and a Civil War ancestor, of which we knew nothing about. Chris was very gracious to let me go along so I could “root” while he was working. It was an excellent time catching up and a phenomenal experience uncovering over 90 pages of material for my “illusive” ancestor.

Researching the Civil War Pension records was something I had never had the chance to do before. Despite all the security checks and waiting in line to get to where you need to go, I found the staff at the National Archives to be exceptionally patient and helpful. After you locate your specific records by military unit or pension file number, you must request them to be pulled by a certain time, to which they are delivered to the research room. What I found when I opened the folder was amazing. To know that I was looking at records no living relative in my family had seen since the last document had been added over 116 years ago was emotional and very overwhelming.

My 3rd great grandfather Israel Dodge Miller had enlisted in Company L 45th Indiana Volunteers on September 2, 1862 and again in Company C 11th US Infantry on December 2, 1862. He was wounded at Spotsylvania, Virginia in May of 1865 where his leg was amputated below the knee on the battlefield. After his return home, he married Mary Elizabeth Carman on June 1st, 1865 in Brookville, Franklin County, Indiana. Not much information was known after this other than that I knew he had two daughters. None of the living relatives know what had happened to him or know anything about when or where he died.

In Israel’s pension file I found depositions from his wife Mary, daughter Anna, his son William (who I knew nothing of), his brother William, Mary’s father and brother as well as cousins and neighbors. All of these letters contained unbelievable amounts of unknown information. Mary mentioned that they were engaged for 7 years before they were married in 1865. He was a teacher (as am I) before he enlisted. His daughter was also a teacher at the local school in the town where I live in the 1890’s. Mary mentions about their life together, losing a son who was 8 years old, how the war affected him and that he had trouble keeping things together and often struggled with suffocating fits in his sleep.

I found the letters requesting his pension most interesting. He seemed to be described as unstable and not capable of handling his affairs and deserting his family living with different friends and cousins in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. His wife and brother explain that his father left when he was younger to head West for the Gold Rush and was never heard from again. His mother was admitted to a local institution where she died. Their children were farmed out to friends and family to survive.

Israel’s wife and children seemed to move around to various family members while he wandered. He stayed for a short while at the Dayton Home for Disabled Soldiers, but he left without being discharged. Eventually his family ended up in Fountain City, Indiana where his wife ran the local tollgate to make ends meet raising her three children alone. She lived in the town I currently live and was a weaver for the town. I pass the location of that tollgate every day. I now know more about her life and her struggles as a single mother trying to provide for her family. I can begin to understand the family’s sadness to know that the effects of war had on them losing their father to what was probably post-traumatic stress disorder. We have no photo (at least to date) of Israel, nor any information of his death place or date. The last letter in his pension file is from Belleville, Nevada in 1877. No other correspondence from him exists in our family files or history.

A couple years ago I happened to be looking on eBay for local photos and a cabinet photo labeled “Mary E. Miller, Anna’s mother” was up for bid and I was fortunate to purchase it. She looks very sad and careworn in her photo. Now I understand why. Mary and Israel’s daughter Ella is my 2nd great grandmother. Their family seemed to have more than their share of sadness as Ella’s daughter, Maude, died at an early age leaving my grandfather, Virgil, to be raised by his grandparents. So not only did Ella lose her father to the casualties of his injuries and mental status, she lost a daughter and chose to raise her young grandchildren at the age of fifty-three.

My grandfather was quite the pessimist, always joking in that “glass half full” type of mindset. As I read the letters describing our ancestors struggles, I can see why he would have that frame of mind. I am sure the frustration and sadness the family dealt with would have easily fostered that negative point of view in dealing with life through his great grandmother to his grandmother. Him losing his own mother at the age of 7, not really having his father around after his mother had died would have been a major impact on his life. He also had to deal with losing his 1st wife to cancer losing a lot of his resources to doctor bills and then trying to move on by remarrying my grandmother later. He did his best to make it as a farmer and working night jobs to make ends meet for his family.

I feel completely in awe of how family works. Finding out this information has humbled me and helped me to understand that my grandfather was probably a sad seven-year-old who was the product of five generations of loss, sadness and confusion. To have five generations of losing parents and loved ones to various situations totally impacted my mother and her sister as well as my sister and I. Even though I don’t know all the answers about where Israel died or where he may be buried, I have come to an understanding about his life and the impact it has on my relationships and children. Maybe someday I will be able to figure out the final details, but until then, I am thankful for the records that still exist and can be found if you just keep looking.

Structures don’t last forever…

So… living in the area where my grandmother’s ancestors settled in 1816 has it pluses and minuses.  The pluses of course are easy access to records, you can visit the places they lived and the cemeteries where they are buried to make research a little easier.  The minuses are watching the homes that are still standing crumble and fade away due to neglect.

The “Homeplace” has many fond memories for my cousins and family members.  Even though I only visited it once (when I was in 6th grade) after it had long been sold out of the family, my grandma often talked of how she wished she could have been able to buy it and fix it up again.  Now that she is gone, it seems to be a wish that I have.  I have an strong desire to own land first purchased by the Thomas family.  Land that still has homes those ancestors built.  To have that connection to my ancestors not only in thought but to have a place for family to gather once again and visit and tell stories of what they remember about their childhood.  Three homes once stood on the land purchased in 1816.  One brick structure that burned in 1939 that is believed to have been built in the 1820’s that belonged to Dr. John Thomas;  the 2nd that was built in 1830 by Dr. John’s son James Peirce Thomas (still standing but needs to be saved in the next 5 years) and the third built sometime after 1850 which is where 6 generations of Thomas’ once lived.

This whole resurgence or desire of wanting to live a simpler life in the country running self sufficient, hobby type farm and owning the homeplace has been on my mind for some time.  But now,  after recently driving past the farm,  an overwhelming sense of desperation overtakes me as I see that the barn roof has collapsed. Yes… structures don’t last forever… but they do last longer when maintained.  I suffer from a sense of pride for what my ancestors accomplished and have difficulty sitting by and watching what they built with their very lives disappear into oblivion.  Great memories that will soon be forgotten as family members pass on.

If ever there was a time to buy a lottery ticket… I guess now would be it.  Even though the farm is not for sale… I wonder if someday it will be.  So, here I sit hoping for some miracle to happen to get us out of small town city life into a refuge of solace, peace, simplicity and a reconnection to ancestors and family who had the right idea of country life.

Intuition

So, I have been reading an interesting book entitled “Psychic Roots” by Henry Z. Jones, Jr. Please don’t think I looking to find out if I am psychic, it discusses intuition when researching family history.  Many people have relayed stories to the author about how their being in the wrong place at the right time or just having a “feeling of being lead” to check out a source that doesn’t relate to what they have been researching.

I can honestly say that I understand and have experienced this type of “feeling” during my research as well.  My grandmother,  Reba Thomas Love, was a descendant of the Thomas family that has been in Wayne County, Indiana since 1816.   Grandma would often tell stories about her family and her ancestors and what she remembered hearing growing up.  One particular story that was told to her by her grandfather (Joseph Howard Thomas) was about a female Thomas ancestor who went to visit family in Troy, Ohio.  She road from Cox’s Mill area (now Middleboro) on horseback, taking with her their youngest child. While visiting with relatives, she died.  No known records or accounts exist to where she is buried or what happened to the child that rode with her.

Wanting to understand more about my history, I began researching to see if I could verify this story.  The biggest problem was that each of the Thomas forefathers were buried next to their wives in Goshen Cemetery.  The Thomas family had been involved in the United Methodist Church at Middleboro for well over 100 years.  Not knowing the Quaker connection was there, I had never researched any records. The Thomas family and relatives are quite extensive in the oldest section of the cemetery, which used to be a preparative meeting for Whitewater and Chester Monthly Meetings.  So… I took a chance to see if there were Quaker connections.  The “cold chills” moment came when I opened the book directly to the entry listing the information I needed. Not only did I find when they transferred  to Whitewater MM, I was also able to trace them back to verify them coming from Centreville, Delaware.  The biggest surprise was to learn that John Thomas had a 1st wife whom most of the descendants for the last 100 years knew nothing about.  She seemed to be the ancestor who died while visiting relatives.  In reading further I discover that he married his 2nd wife Elida C. (Miller) Harned in March of 1825.  Since the 1820 Indiana census lists a woman of Elizabeth’s age living in the household, information narrowed a window between 1820 and 1824 where his 1st wife, Elizabeth, would have passed away.

The next step was trying to figure out what the names of Elizabeth’s parents.  John Thomas and his 1st wife Elizabeth were the parents of our Thomas family in Wayne County.  Their only son to live to adulthood was James Peirce Thomas, who followed his parents to Wayne County in 1817.  It seemed a common practice that many of the sons were named after the wife’s fathers or other male relatives, I took the hunch that it was possible that Elizabeth’s maiden name was Peirce and that her father’s name may have been James.  Once again I stumbled across a “goose bump” citation that dealt with cousins by the name of Hannah Whitaker and Sarah Addleman that were named Peirce prior to their marriages.  Others had verified their connection to the father of these women, his name being James Peirce, but there was never any mention of a sister named Elizabeth.  These families all lived in very close proximity to each other and something kept nagging me to pursue the information.

Finding a copy of James Peirce’s will dated 1802, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, was pretty easy.  It listed his wife Hannah (Way) Peirce and his daughters Elizabeth, Sarah and Hannah, but no mention of their married names.  After locating his wife Hannah’s will in Deleware, dated 1812, everything fell into place with John and Elizabeth (Peirce) Thomas being listed in her will.  My “intuition” in this situation was correct… and yes… again with the goosebumps!  Now the family lines are traced back to George Pearce in the 1630’s in England.  Longwood Gardens in Chester County once belonged to the Peirce family. After locating more information more Quaker records verified more locations and places the families lived and attended church.

Then the final piece of the puzzle fell into place when I discovered Peirce relatives that had moved to Miami County, Ohio and were members of West Milton and Union Monthly Meetings.  There was a death in the family in October 1821 and his widow remarrying in December of 1822.  Oh, by-the-way, her Peirce relatives lived less than fifteen miles from Troy, Ohio!

All I can say is that I do believe that divine providence guides my research and my educated hunches.  Now… if I can just find such a “hunch” and locate the John Thomas ancestral line past his father!

Starting something new!

Okay… so I am joining the rest of the world of blogging.  I was recently inspired by a fellow researcher as he lists what he has found while researching his family.

I began my work in genealogy in 1985 when I had to do a project for US History in 8th grade.  When I began the work, it was very interesting because as I asked my grandparents about my ancestors, I was also told old family tales and many stories about life that I didn’t previously appreciate.  To turn back time and record all of those conversations would be something I would love to be able to do, but memory will have to serve me in this case.

I have always believed that everyone leaves a legacy behind.  Stephen Sondheim said it best that all you can really leave this world is children and art.  To know that I am part of a legacy of hard working pioneers, struggling families, some broken, some well to do, some proud, some not so proud.  These are all part of my history.  We have been given the choice to choose if we want to continue bad habits and carry on certain traditions that have plagued family trees for thousands of years.  I guess that is why I like genealogy so much… it is our own personal story or mystery to solve; to find out why and how I came to be.

Hope I can inspire someone else to find out their legacy as well!  Happy Rooting!