Sunday, April 14, 2019

My Grandparents Never Took a DNA Test

The rising star of genealogy seems to be DNA, the scientific aspect of family history that suggests relationships between people.  If none of my grandparents ever took DNA tests how would my taking a DNA test in any way connect me to them?  If their genes are not currently available for testing it seems like a closed case.  I'm more than a little skeptical about how a DNA test can tell who my ancestors are and where they lived when there is no DNA for those ancestors (unless, of course, someone dug up a cemetery plot and found a few strands of hair still intact).  I acknowledge that DNA testing might help me find living relatives but I doubt it will connect me to ancestors.

I'm a novice to DNA but there are a few things I've learned as I've researched.
  • There are three types of DNA tests:  mitochondrial/mtDNA (passed from mothers to their children); Y-DNA (passed through the male line); and autosomal.  Autosomal gives the most results. 
  • If I were to take a DNA test, the testing company would identify living relatives only if they had also taken a DNA test with the same company. 
  • The ethnicity estimates continue to change as companies add more and more individuals' DNA result.  Because each company who offers testing has its own collection of DNA samples ethnicity estimates can vary from company to company.  Estimates will change as more people take DNA tests.

Resources (interesting and helpful though, obviously, not all-encompasing)


For now I believe I'll follow the lead of my grandparents and other ancestors by not taking a DNA test, though perhaps I'll take one sometime in the future.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "DNA."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Is it a Brick Wall or Should I Just Be Patient?

When I think of a physical brick wall I imagine a height that prevents me from seeing what's on the other side from where I stand.  I imagine that if I walk some distance, I'll come to the end of the wall and be able to walk around to the other side.  I always imagine a brick wall as a temporary hold up, an imposition, an obstacle to overcome.

In my mind, a brick wall is not a dead end, either in real life or in genealogy.  In real life, if I really want to see what's on the other side, I won't give up.  In family history, if I really want to find the event, the record, the ancestor and come to the proverbial brick wall, I don't give up, either.  I research every possible way I can think of and when I turn up nothing helpful, I give research a break and wait.  New ideas come, new places to search, new records collections become available online....   I think brick walls in family history are often (though not always) due to the lack of availablity of records and that eventually I'll find what I seek.

That being said, I seem to be walking along a brick wall hoping to get to the other side regarding several ancestors.

Henry Carl Meinzen is the ancestor I've been searching for the longest.  Born in Germany in 1837, immigrated to the U.S. in 1866, I have yet to determine his birth location, his hometown, and his parents' names.

John Froman is a great-great-grandfather whose parents I have yet to find.  He died intestate in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, in 1871, leaving behind a pregnant wife and six children under the age of 12.  I'm unable to find a death record (other than court documents for his intestate file), a place of burial, or information about his specific place of birth. 

William Doyle, a great-great-great-grandfather, died in Northumberland, England in 1838.  I've found only church records of his death, burial, and marriage; no birth or christening record, no grave marker, nothing else.

Abel Armitage is another great-great-grandfather for whom I can find no death record (though I have found some records for his early years in Yorkshire, England).  He just disappears, last known alive in Jefferson County, Ohio, in 1881, then gone.  

I was going to write a list of ways we may arrive at a brick wall but the round-up of posts below cover most of my ideas and/or offer some great ideas for breaking down, going through, around, or over a brick wall.

May the brick walls in your family history research crumble!

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Brick Wall."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Sunday, March 31, 2019

When You Get Just the Clippings

My mom was an avid reader of newspapers.  Not only did she like to read them, she liked to clip articles, obituaries, cartoons, poems, and any other item that took her fancy.  As a four- or five-year-old child I followed in her footsteps, at least as far as the clipping went.  One December, possibly after having discovered and learned how to use scissors, I began clipping "articles" and stuffing them into my little desk in our kitchen.  Mom was not happy to see the desk overflowing with long strips of newspaper.  While I could use scissors just fine, I obviously couldn't tell where one article ended and another began.  My older brother persuaded me that since Christmas was coming and so was Santa, I should get rid of the clippings and not cut any more.  I'm sure Mom was grateful to my brother for his intervention.

The sad thing about the articles my mom clipped is that she didn't include newspaper information.  No name, no date, no city of publication.  (Though she sometimes included a family relationship.)  All those wonderful obituaries and so many of them said things like "...died on Friday... in the city" or some other information that was not helpful without other details.  Perhaps, to my mom, seeing a newspaper article about an event in a person's life somehow validated the event.

Mom cut out the three articles above.  The first is the announcement of her own marriage to my father; the second is an obituary of Gust Froman, one of my father's great-uncles; and the last is an obituary for William N. McClelland, the husband of one of my father's Doyle cousins.  The last two are not relatives whose information would have been written down with specific dates included, at least not in information my parents kept.

I can imagine my parents trying to remember the date of one of these deaths by remembering what else had happened in close proximity to the date.  "Was that the year we bought the new Ford?  The leaves were beautiful colors when we drove to the funeral so maybe it was in October."  "No, I think we'd already had the new car several years...."  And it would go on until they finally remembered the probable month, date, and year.

It takes a lot of research to find the location of a news article like these when the only information is what's in the article.  These are the steps I follow when I do this kind of reverse research.
  1. I check FamilySearch, Ancestry, etc., for any information about the person but especially about where he lived at the oldest age I can find him alive.  The hope is to find a death certificate.
  2. After I've found a death date and location, I search for newspapers that were published locally at the time.
  3. Next I search to find whether those newspapers are available online and where.  If not, I try to find whether a library local to the decedent has the newspapers.
  4. I contact the library to learn whether the newspapers were microfilmed and are available for inter-library loan; whether they have a clippings database that's searchable online; whether they have someone who will search newspapers and send a clipping; or whether they have any other kind of service for obtaining a copy of the clipping.  It helps if I have the date of the newspaper.
  5. If I find the newspaper online or can obtain a microfilm, I perform a date-by-date and page-by-page search for the obituary.
  6. When I finally find the source of the clipping you I record the heck out of where I found it and how the next person can find it too!

If several newspapers were published in the area, it multiplies the work.  And the fact is that some newspapers published several versions each day, each varying from the other with not all the same information included.  Often, only one version is available.

This is the minimum information I record for a newspaper clipping.  I may also include the search process, the names of any librarians or others who helped, the cost, etc.
> name of newspaper
> location of publication
> date of publication and edition
> title of clipping or if in a group of small articles, title of group
> page and column of clipping
> location where I found the newspaper
   > if a physical library I include the address and phone number
   > if online, I include the website name and the url to the image, plus date of access

If you have other tips for finding sources of clippings of obituaries and news articles like these, please share!

If you have clippings, NARA's Preserving Newspaper Clippings is a brief, helpful article.  The Archive Lady: How to Preserve Newspaper Clippings offers a more detailed information about preserving clippings.

And should you like to create your own newspaper clipping, use The Newspaper Clipping Generator.  (I'm not sure how you would handle documentation, though.)

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "In the Paper."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Sunday, March 24, 2019

Twelve Favorite Family Photos

I think family photos are most fun when you can get a little information about them, so I've included that for these 12 favorite family photographs.  I won't be offended if you just scroll down to look at the photos and don't read the captions (which are under the photos), but you're welcome to stop and read if a photograph interests you.

I cannot remember seeing my grandfather, "Bob" Meinzen, smile.  He was a very serious man, older when  knew him than in this photo, probably with worries and concerns that children aren't aware of.  Here he is looking, for all the world, joyful!  He is with his youngest daughter, Polly, and his adorable granddaughter, Dolly.  What a happy photograph!

I love this photo of the Bartley family home and all the details it includes.  It looks like a family reunion, of sorts and was my first introduction to that family line.  It is the home of my father's maternal great-grandfather Dixon Bartley of Bruin, Pennsylvania.  This photo was taken with his descendants some years after his death.

My grandfather, the same one who is smiling in the first photo, stands on the left.  He was a barber in Steubenville, Ohio, for a number of years in the early 1910s.  I have no history of this photograph but wonder if the man next to him is his sister Hannah's husband holding one of their daughters, either Edna or Zerelda.

The littlest of the girls, the one at center front with her arms back ready to send a splash toward the others, is a spunky one, not willing to take the splashes without sending some back.  I think of her as the water sprite and I laugh every time I look at this photo.  To the best of my mother's memory, this is a group of Meinzen cousins in Steubenville, sometime in the early to mid-1920s.

Full of himself, I'd say!  My father as a young man, perhaps in his late teens or very early 20s.  They tell me he had a great sense of humor.  He grew up on a farm and helped with the work from an early age.  Both his father and grandfather smoked a pipe.

Mary Thompson Bickerstaff, my great-grandmother, had nine children, four daughters and five sons.  One daughter died in infancy.  These are the other daughters, from left Mary Ellen/Mame, Mary Thompson Bickerstaff, Cora, and Emma, my maternal grandmother.  I knew all of the daughters.

Like mother, like daughter.  This is Elvira Bartley Gerner and her daughter Mabel.  Elvira's father was Dixon Bartley whose home is in a photo, above.  I find this photo positively charming.  Both stand in work clothes, taking a break.  But it's the pose I most love, with heads tilted to the right.

This informal family photo was probably taken around the time I was two.  There I am on my mother's lap with my brother on the left and my sister sitting on the floor in front of my father, his arms resting on her shoulders.

My aunt believes these photos of my paternal grandfather, Gust Doyle, were taken about 1904 when he was about 14, at a small photo booth at the county fair where the photographer had a selection of hats the subjects could choose to wear.  The originals are tiny, each image about an inch square.  Isn't he a good looking young man?

This is another photograph that makes me laugh.  Oldest to youngest, these three sisters are my mom Audrey, Geraldine/Jerree, and Doris Jean/Dot.  It appears to me that Jerree has been charged with helping Dot stay still for the photo, but she doesn't have a gentle touch and holds Dot's head against her stomach.  There!  Take the photo so we can get on with our play.

I love this farm photo of the barn and fields in Stoneboro, Pennsylvania, where three generations of my Doyle family lived, raised cows, farmed, and mined coal.  The barn had been in disuse for several decades when I took this photo and was torn down a few years later.  It was once a beautiful, strong barn.  If barns could talk, what stories might it have told?

This is the happiest photo I have of my parents, Lee and Audrey (Meinzen) Doyle.  By the time I was born, they were incredibly serious about life and there were few smiles and little laughter.  It's fun to imagine that there once was joy in their lives.

So those are a dozen of my favorite photographs.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "12."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Recommending Books for Women's History Month, 2019

My original idea for this post was to list my favorite women's history books from less favorite to most favorite with my most favorite last.  As I reviewed these books I realized that about eight of them rank in the #1 position so they're not really in any particular order, though the last two are my most favorite.  There's a broad range of books --  letters, biographies, memoirs, a cookbook -- from various time periods.  I hope you'll find at least one book you'd like to read, perhaps one that parallels the life of an ancestor your know, or the occupation of an ancestor, or just one that interests you from this collection of books about women in history.

Not Becoming My Mother & Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way.  Ruth Reichl
     The author's mother, born in 1909, had plans for her daughter.  Her parents sent her to music school even though she wanted to be a doctor.  It wasn’t until after her mother’s death that Ruth learned of the sacrifices her mother made so that Ruth could live a different, freer life.
     I thought this was a great family history book, made all the better because Ruth’s mother had left lots of notes, letters, and other ephemera.

Half Broke Horses:  A True-Life Novel.  Jeannette Walls   
     This is a collection of stories (presented in chronological order) about the author’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  Lily told the stories to her daughter -- to impart life lessons -- who recounted them to the author.  Walls commented that Lily was a very real person – she called her a character, with all due respect – but because she didn’t have the stories word-for-word and had to fill in some of the hazy or missing details with her own imagination, she thought the only honest thing was to call the book a novel.
     Lily was born in the early 1900s and grew up on a ranch in the Arizona territories.  If she had had a weaker character or less stamina, her life would have been completely different.  She helped her father break horses when she was six; traveled hundreds of miles alone on horseback to teach school when she was 15; learned to drive a car and fly a plane; and, to a great extent, chose the life she wanted to live, or, at the very least, lived well the life that came her way.  The book is written in the first person and I came away feeling that I had a good idea what Lily would have been like in real life:  a character to love.

The Witches:  Salem, 1692.  Stacy Schiff
     If you have ancestors who lived in Salem or any nearby community in the 1690s you may find this book interesting.  I found it interesting as wells  challenging.  The cast of characters was extensive but their stories were scattered through the chapters.  It gave me a different perspective of life in the 1690s among the Puritans.  While reading I couldn't help but wonder how the people could have been duped by a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old.  I wrote a more extended post about this book which you can read here

Empty Mansions:  The Mysterious Life of Hugette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.
Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
     I loved this book!  The writing was interesting and it was well-documented with nearly 50 pages of notes at the end.  It had photographs in both black and white and color.  And it had heart.  Hugette’s father, W.A. Clark, was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time he died in the late 1920s.  (He was born in common circumstances in 1839 in a 4-room log cabin in Pennsylvania.  He moved from one success to another, accumulating wealth as the years passed.)  Upon his death, Hugette (pronounced oo-GET) and four of her half-siblings inherited millions of dollars.  In the book she was described as “shy” or “eccentric,” but as I read about her life I realized that she was an introvert.  She was incredibly generous with her wealth and derived pleasure from sharing it with others.  She was an artist, a musician, a doll-collector, and a lover of the arts.  She owned paintings by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, among others.  She owned several mansions, yet lived in an apartment until she was in her 80s.  She developed cancer of the face and moved to a hospital, staying there nearly 20 years until her death.  Eccentric?  Yes.  But oh-so-interesting.

Don’t Sing at the Table:  Life Lessons from My Grandmothers.  Adriana Trigiani
     Trigiani's grandmothers, born in the early 1900s, were recent immigrants with strong ties to Italy and Italian traditions.  Both worked in the clothing industry when young, married, and raised children.  One opened her own blouse factory with her husband.  The other, widowed at a young age, supported her family as a couture seamstress in Chisholm, Minnesota.  The author touches on dates and locations but she focuses on her grandmothers’ attributes, personalities, the lives they lived, the morals they lived by, and the values they held.
     Her grandmothers were wise women with sage advice and I learned (or was sometimes reminded of) excellent rules to live by.  (“Pay your bills.  Clean up your debts as you go; let the obligation to pay off the debt fuel your ambition. . . .   Have a moral code that elevates your thinking, and your behavior will follow. . . . Take a chance, and when you fail, take another.  There is no limit on risk; aim high and aim true.  Be bold.  Be different.  Remember who you come from; you owe them because they gave you the ticket to this adventure.  Honor the debt.”)
     In some ways I think this is the kind of book that every family historian should write about an ancestor he/she knows or knew.

In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer.
Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
     Irene was a 17-year-old Catholic nursing student when war came to Poland.  She was captured, escaped, then captured again.  When she saw the atrocities being committed, she chose to help:  food under the ghetto fence at first, then transporting people in horse-drawn carts under piles of straw, then finally harboring a dozen people in the basement of a Wehrmacht major’s villa.  She was “only a girl” but she did great things.  Well worth the read.  In fact, as I was reading it I was thinking this is a true life thriller.
    I have often wondered what the Holocaust victims thought when they saw blue skies, birds, other beauties of nature.  Irena wrote,
     Surely, the evil being done in my county must be a poison that would ruin the soil, tarnish the air, and foul the water.  Sometimes, when I thought of the amount of hatred dwelling in Poland, I was surprised to see that the grass was still green, that the trees still flourished their leaves against a blue sky.
     And yet they did.  It is a terrible irony of war, that nature itself does not rebel when man turns against his brother.  I have seen nightmares take place on beautiful spring days.  The birds can hop from one branch to another, tipping their heads and honing their small beaks against the bark while a child dies in the mud below.

She Left Me the Gun:  My Mother's Life Before Me.  Emma Brockes
     Several times Emma’s mother said to her, “One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.”  Her mother died without telling her and Emma sets off to learn about her mother’s childhood in South Africa and her immigration to England by tracking down all of her aunts and uncles and traveling back to South Africa.  Excellent sleuthing for those who know living relatives.
     Emma said, “I think about it [her mother’s childhood to adult experience] afterward, what I am doing and why.  The stronger reaction, I think, would be to walk away, to honor the firewall my mother put between her past and my present and to carry on with my life.  But I can’t....  While she was alive, it was none of my business.  Now, unless I make it my business, it will follow her into oblivion.”

Bold Spirit.  Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America.  Linda Lawrence Hunt   
     Hunt put Helga in time and place and shares it all with us.  Helga walked across America with her daughter to earn $10,000 to save her home and farm from foreclosure.  And then her story was silenced until the smallest thread was found and shared by one of Helga’s great-grandchildren.  Hunt discusses reasons why stories might be silenced.  Read a previous post here.

A Midwife's Tale:  The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785--1812.  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
     Martha Ballard was 50 in 1785 when she started her diary.  She wrote daily, usually just a few sentences:  always about the weather; usually about her comings and goings; the births and deaths attended; her house and garden work; and sometimes about the events in the community around her.   I love the interpretations and discussion which follow the diary entries in each chapter.  Thatcher's words add further light and insight.
     I think Martha Ballard is a hero to me.  She was such a faithful woman.  She served so many people in so many ways.  She was spunky:  she was still digging in her garden, starting new beds, and planting until she was 76, a year before she died.  I think she was an amazing woman.
     I loved this book.  I posted a more extensive review here.

The Midwife:  A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times.
Jennifer Worth
     The setting is 1950s Poplar, an area of London, England, near the docks where the primary dialect is Cockney.  Nurse Jennifer Lee works as a midwife with a group of nuns who serve the women of the area.  Most chapters are self-contained stories, though some stories continue for several chapters.
     One of the interesting aspects of the book is being able to learn how the author's perspective changed as she came to learn about and know the people she served.
     If you're interested in language, dialect, accents, and slang, be sure to read "On the difficulties of writing the Cockney dialect" in the appendix.  It's a dozen pages of fun.
     Jennifer Worth wrote two sequels to this book:  Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End.  The first year or two of PBS series "The Midwife" is based on these books.

Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.  Mildred Armstrong Kalish
     This was a fun book.  I enjoyed the author’s writing style and the experiences she shared.  She included recipes, homemaking tips, etc.  She said she grew up thinking that certain expressions were one word:  agoodwoman, hardearnedmoney, agoodhardworker, alittleheathen, agoodwoolshirt.  Worth the read.

Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey.  Lillian Schlissel
     Great book!  I have so much appreciation for those women.  Just amazing some of the experiences they had.  One of the women, Amelia Stewart Knight, was 3 months pregnant when they started the journey and nearly due toward the end when she was climbing up a mountain over rock, and back down the other side of the mountain.  One woman talked about three days of rain with children and a newborn baby and nowhere to get dry.  Another woman said that when they finally arrived to their destination, her husband drove her to the barren land on which sat a tiny sod hut and said something like, “Isn’t that the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen?”  The women never mentioned being pregnant in their journals/letters.  The nearest they came was to saying “ill.”  Amazing women!!!
In the end, a woman who came through the journey felt she had won her own victory.  The test of the journey was whether or not she had been equal to the task of holding her family together against the sheer physical forces that threatened to spin them to the four winds of chance.  It was against the continual threat of dissolution that the women had striven.

The Tin Ticket:  The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women.  Deborah J. Swiss
     This was nearly edge-of-the-seat good.  I could hardly put it down.  Most of the narrative focuses on two Scottish teen girls sentenced to transportation to Van Diemans Land.  Their paths later cross with that of a mother and her daughter who were also sentenced to transportation.  It’s a compelling story.  The women in this book triumphed over adversity beyond my imagination.  I posted a more detailed review here.

Farm Wife:  A Self-Portrait, 1886-1896.  Virginia E. McCormick
     I enjoy this book immensely.  It is taken from the diaries of Margaret Dow Gebby, an Ohio farm wife.  It set me down on a farm during the same time period when my ancestors farmed.  The content is presented topically and is edited heavily from the original diary but the editor included some very helpful and insightful comments between diary entries.  All of the diaries are available at the Ohio Historical Society.  I wrote previously about this book here.

A Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered.
Miss Read (Dora Saint) 
These are two brief books of memories and reminiscences of her childhood and her grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  I love her language, not to mention her sweet reminiscences.  This would be a great book for a descendant who had grand/great-grand parents who lived in England in the early 1920s.  The pen and ink illustrations by Derek Crowe were fabulous. The books were also featured as a Wishful Wednesday post.

Annie's Ghosts:  A Journey Into a Family Secret.  Steve Luxenberg.
Luxenburg's mother had always claimed to be an only child.  It wasn't until after his mother died that he learned that she had a sister who had been kept hidden for decades.  Read it for the story, all the while learning ways to search for an invisible female ancestor.  (Surely you have one hidden somewhere behind a brick wall?)  An earlier post about this book is here

Mrs. Beeton's Every Day Cookery and House Keeping Book.
Mrs. Beeton
What list of women's history books would be complete without a recipe book?  This one dates from the 1890s and includes some of the most unusual recipes I've ever seen.  See more about it here.

American Grit:  A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier - book coverAmerican Grit:  A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  Emily Foster, compl.
This is a collection of letters written by Anna Briggs Bentley, a Quaker who, in 1826, moved from Maryland to Columbiana County, Ohio.  Anna was about 30 when she moved to Ohio with her husband and their six children, all 12 or younger.  One child died before the move and 6 more were born in Ohio.  She left behind  her mother and eight younger siblings in Maryland.  She had been raised in a genteel family with the comforts of money, servants, the society of friends, local shops, etc.  She was not a born pioneer, but she was strong-willed, determined, and willing, along with her family, to "carve a homestead out of virgin forest with the sweat of their labors."  As I read the letters I saw Anna move through the years from abject homesickness, to acceptance, to comfort.  I highly recommend this book if you'd like a glimpse into the life of a frontier woman from 1826 onward.  See a more detailed review is here.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies:  How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science.  Joyce Sidman 
    This is a children’s book but probably written at a 5th-grade or higher level about Maria Merian, a girl who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1647.  Because her stepfather was a painter and engraver she learned to draw, to mix paints, and do various other things in his studio/shop.  She was interested in butterflies, known then as “summer birds,” and was able to find the time to examine, observe, and draw them.   She became a wife and mother but never gave up her love of watching and drawing nature.  I thought this was a wonderful book and especially liked the combination of Maria’s own illustrations, additional drawings, and photographs to show details for the text.

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters.  Anne Boyd Rioux
     This is the history of Little Women, including how it came to be, and Louisa May Alcott and her life and home/family challenges.  Her father was not a great provider for the family and they lived in poverty most of their lives.  Little Women is, to some extent, autobiographical.  The author also discusses film versions of the book; its cultural and literary influence; whether it’s a book for boys as well as girls; and books and movies descended from the book. 
     In a way, I think of this book and Little Women as a treatise on the worth of women's lives.  Here are a few quotes that may lead you to think along those lines.
    Abigail Alcott [Louisa's mother], said regarding her husband’s not earning a living for his family, “I do wish people who carry their heads in the clouds would occasionally take their bodies with them.”
     In a paragraph discussing [Louisa's father] Bronson Alcott’s not earning a living for his family causing them to live in poverty, “Louisa once said in her father’s presence, ‘It requires three women to take care of a philosopher, and when the philosopher is old the three women are pretty well used up.’”  And later in the paragraph, “During the Fruitlands episode, Abigail wrote in her journal, ‘A woman may perform the most disinterested duties.  She may “die daily” in the cause of truth and righteousness.  She lives neglected, dies forgotten.  But a man who never performed in his whole life one self-defying act, but who has accidental gifts of genius, is celebrated by his contemporaries, while his name and works live on, from age to age.  He is crowned with laurel, while scarce a stone may tell where she lies.’  Louisa also sought to redress the wrong of Abigail’s life, making it her mission to honor her mother’s legacy.  If Mr. March is largely absent in Little Women, Marmee permeates every page.”
     In a review of the film with Winona Ryder, “Syndicated columnist Donna Britt believed other reviewers’ warnings that ‘nothing much happens’ were tantamount to saying that women’s lives weren’t worth making films about.  She praised the film for ‘honor[ing] life’s small wonders’ in a culture that is ‘hypnotized . . . by ever-more-wizardly special effects, stupid sex tricks and the “thrill” of cringing at yet another creative way to kill.’”

Letters of a Woman Homesteader.  Elinore Pruitt Stewart   
     Elinore was a spunky lady and a great story-teller, but beyond that, she had a very positive outlook which shone through in her letters.  And such experiences!  She moved to Wyoming in 1909 as a young, widowed mother of a 2-year-old to be a housekeeper for a rancher.  She determined to file her own claim for land and make a go of it.  She married the rancher, but more, she also succeeded in claiming land and growing enough food to feed her family for a year.
When you think of me, you must think of me as one who is truly happy.  It is true, I want a great many things I have n’t got, but I don’t want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine.  I have my home among the blue mountains, my health, well-formed children, my clean, honest husband, my kind, gentle milk cows, my garden which I make myself.  I have loads and loads of flowers which I tend myself.  There are lots of chickens, turkeys, and pigs which are my own special care.  I have some slow old gentle horses and an old wagon.  I can load up the kiddies and go where I please any time.  I have the best, kindest neighbors and I have my dear absent friends.  Do you wonder I am so happy?  When I think of it all, I wonder how I can crowd all my joy into one short life.
Read a more detailed review here.

Book of Ages:  The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.
Jill Lepore
     Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Franklin Mecom, is an unknown; a common, ordinary woman who lived a quiet life doing what needed to be done to stay alive and help her family.  She just happened to have a famous brother.  You can read a previous post here.
      In talking about the challenge of writing a biography when so little about Jane exists, Lepore said,
This is dispiriting.  For a long time, I was so discouraged that I abandoned the project altogether.  I thought about writing a novel instead.  But I decided, in the end, to write a biography, a book meant not only as the life of Jane Franklin Mecom but, more, as a meditation on silence in the archives.  I wanted to write a history from the Reformation through the American Revolution by telling the story of a single life, using this most ordinary of lives to offer a history of history and to explain how history is written:  from what remains of the lives of the great, the bad, and, not as often, the good.
It's no wonder Lepore says, “History is what is written and can be found; what isn’t saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by earth.”   And, “What remains of anyone’s life is what’s kept.”

Happy reading!


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

And the Prize for Largest Family (among my ancestors) Goes to . . .

. . . Fred and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner who had 16 children.  Eleven of the sixteen children are pictured below.  The two oldest sons, Alonzo and Alfonzo, and the youngest yet-to-be-born three are not in the photograph.  The date of the painting or photograph below about 1893 or 1894.

The 1900 U.S. Census indicates that Elvira was the mother of 16 with 14 children still alive.  In those times it is uncommon for all children in a family to live to adulthood, so it amazing that all but two of Fred and Elvira's children became adults.  The who who didn't live long are Claire, who died of poisoning, and Netta or Meta, who died as an infant of liver problems.

The children are
                Ida Adelia  1873-1904
                Alfonzo F.    1874-1952
                Alonzo J.    1874-1940
                Lana Ellen    1875-1943
                Edward G.    1877-1917
                Della Virginia    1879-1968
                Mary Alma    1881-1952
                John N.        1882-1970
                Bessie Leota    1884-1973
                Mabel Lodenia    1886-1974
                Beulah Mae    1888-1913
                Warren Franklin    1890-1957
                Ethel Claire    1892-1897
                Netta or Meta Mildred    1894-1894
                Brendice Kathryn    1895-1996
                Paul Victor    1898-1972

Twelve of their adult children in the photo below are, from left to right, Della, Alonzo or Alfonzo, Alma or Leota, Alonzo or Alfonzo, Lana, Edward, Fred, Paul, Elvira, John, Mabel, Warren, Beulah, and Brendice.

The other family among my ancestors that comes close in size is that of Henry and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen, my mother's paternal grandparents' family, who had 15 children.  Sadly, by the time the parents died, there were only six adult children still alive.

These days I can't imagine having such a large family.  Imagine the cost to feed and clothe so many, not to mention education and, these days, electronic devices!

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Large Family."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Saturday, March 9, 2019

A Bachelor Uncle's Sad End

As often happens in our family history research, we find the beginning and end of a person's life but little about the events between those dates.  This is so with one of my bachelor uncles, Edward C. Meinzen,  one of my maternal grandfather's brothers.  Had I been interested in family history when I was younger, I might have asked about him.  But, in truth, I doubt anyone would have told me much because of the way he died.

Edward was the fourth child and third son of his parents, Henry and Elizabeth Meinzen.  He was born in on March 5, 1879, in Jefferson County, Ohio, where his family lived.  The little I know about him comes from census records, city directories, his death certificate, and two obituaries.

In 1900, the census records his age as 19, living with his family in New Alexandria, Cross Creek Township, Jefferson County, Ohio, and working as a farm laborer, probably on his father's farm.  Steubenville city directories between 1904 and 1909 tell me that he worked at LaBelle Iron Works.  In 1910, at the age of 28, he was still living at home with his family but by this time the family had moved into Steubenville.  That census gives no employment information.  Plenty can happen in ten years' time and, sadly, we often can't know details of events in the years between census records or even from one city directory to another, a fact that is so for Edward.

The next record for Edward is his death certificate.  He died on November 15, 1911.  His cause of death is noted as "opium poisoning, suicidal" with a contributory cause as a mental breakdown two years earlier.  I'm wary to take the doctor's word that it was suicidal, especially without family information to corroborate that allegation.  I know that opium (and its derivatives heroin and morphine) were were easy to obtain in the early 1900s.  In fact, the Bayer company sold heroin as a sedative for coughs.  Did Edward first try cocaine to relieve some physical condition?  Were users aware of the addictive properties of opiates?  The answers are lost in time.

Except for the census records and his death certificate, the anecdotal information I have about Edward's life comes from his obituaries where I learn that he had been in poor health for a year with a physical and nervous breakdown, and died of a complication of diseases.  He was a young man of good habits, industrious, capable in his work, and admired by many friends and respected by all who knew him.  He had worked at LaBelle Iron Works as a stationery engineer for 10 years.  He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, Schwabenverein, and the Third Presbyterian Church.

Gravestone of Edward C. Meinzen,
courtesy of Joyce & David Humphrey
In today's world we know the damage drugs can do and the addictions they cause.  It's possible, and perhaps likely, that Edward did not know.  Yet how I wish his life had not been cut short.  How I wish circumstances and his choices had been different.

Uncle Edward is buried in Steubenville's Union Cemetery, Section Q, Lot 203.

It is a sad end for a bachelor uncle who died at the age of 32.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Bachelor Uncle."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

My First--and Only--Visit to a Courthouse

A year or two ago I went with my daughter to a nearby bank so she could change some information.  When she showed her ID with her married name, we learned they required a marriage certificate to access her money or change any of her account information.  The courthouse was a few blocks away so with three little grands in tow, we drove to the courthouse's parking garage, trekked across the busy main street, and rode the elevator up twenty-three flights to get to the room where the marriage records were kept.

That was my first and only visit to a courthouse for anything related to genealogy and, of course, it was not to do research.  But, if I'd needed to do research in Franklin County, Ohio, I would have been thrilled.  There were huge ledgers on open shelves which anyone could pull out, search for the record, then photograph it.  Or, perhaps, it could be taken somewhere for a photocopy. 

It is a wonderful thing to have so many court records available online at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other websites.  It is also fabulous that we can call, email, or write a letter to a courthouse, ask about the availability of a record, request for a copy, give our credit card info, and receive the copy in a few days or a month.  I try to imagine what getting a court record was like before photocopies.  One would have had to trust the accuracy of the person copying the record by hand.

The courthouse records I used most during early days of research were those from Jefferson County, Ohio.  Within the past five years the courthouse transferred many of their oldest records into the hands of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society whose leaders arranged to have them scanned and published on FamilySearch.  (See a list of available records here.)  Sadly, most are not yet indexed so searching is necessary, but having them available in my home on the computer is preferable to travelling two hours without guarantee of finding what I'm looking for.

Before images were available online I wrote letters to several courthouses and received photocopies.  I learned that not all courthouses are amenable to helping researchers, and some did not respond to letters at all.

One of these days I hope to get to the courthouses that don't have records available on FamilySearch, particularly Butler County, Pennsylvania.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "At the Courthouse."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Family Photograph, Circa 1950

Perhaps the first thing you notice about this photo are all the cracks, bends, and scratches across its surface.  Who knows what trauma it saw in its life.  My mom liked it enough to save it in her photo album, scratches and all.  Her later memory dated it to Christmas, 1951.  I would date it closer to late 1950.  The baby on Mom's lap was born in January, 1950, and looks about a year old, hence my date estimation.

Except for the fact that my sister's beautiful face is missing, I love this old snapshot.  There is my brother, in play clothes, wearing a delightful, happy smile.  He sits close to my father who is dressed in a suit and tie with a serious expression.  Beside Dad sits my smiling mother wearing what seems to be a casual dress.  I'm the baby in my mother's lap wearing a dress.  And sitting in front on the floor in front of my father is my sister, also dressed in play clothes.  We can't see her expression because she performed some pre-digital photo editing. 

As much as I love it, this is a curious photo to me.  Why was my father the only one dressed up?  Why did he look so serious when the others looked so happy?  And why did my sister scratch out her face?  Where was the photo taken?  Who took it?  And, my usual question when I look at old photographs, what happened just before and just after the shutter snapped?  I hope my brother or sister will remember where and when this photo was taken, perhaps who took it, and the story that goes with it.

The photo editors in the Facebook group Random Acts of Photo Restoration perform some amazing miracles on photos in worse condition than this one.  I know someone could remove the cracks and creases but I'm not sure about my sister's face.  My husband suggested I find a photo of my sister taken at about the same time as this photo and ask if her face could be replaced.  It's worth considering, just so long as an explanation accompanies the repaired photo.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Family Photo."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Married Fifty Years - Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

Thanks to Randy of GeneaMusings and Marcia Philbrick of Heartland Genealogy for the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week.  

This week's challenge was to answer these questions.
How many of your ancestors were married for FIFTY years?  What is the longest marriage of your ancestors in your tree (from marriage to first death of a spouse, or divorce)?

I guessed there would be few long marriages among my ancestors because it seemed like there were so many early deaths.  I was surprised to learn how wrong I was.  You may also notice that some marriages are not included; that's because I don't have accurate dates for them or do not know who the ancestors are.

These are my ancestors and the lengths of their marriages:

My parents
Lee and Audrey Meinzen Doyle - 49 years (1938-1987)

My grandparents
Gust and Beulah Mae (Gerner) Doyle - 1 year 3 months (1911-1913)
W. C. Robert Meinzen & Emma Bickerstaff - 59 years (1914-1973)

My great-grandparents
William and Tressa Rose (Froman) Doyle - 51 years (1885-1936)
Frederick K. and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner - 53 years (1872-1926)
Henry C. and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen - 50 years (1870-1920)
Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff - 49 years (1891-1940)

My great-great-grandparents
Andrew & Elizabeth Jane (Laws) Doyle - 45 years (1863-1908)
John and Catherine (Saylor) Froman - abt. 10 years (~1861-1871)
Christian and Mary/Elizabeth (Stahl) - unknown
Dixon and Rebecca (Smith) Bartley - 61-63 years (~1836/1838-1899)
Abel and Eliza (Hartley) Armitage - 9 years (1847-1856)
Ellis and Emma V. (Nelson) Bickerstaff - 17 years (1861-1878)
John and Lydia (Bell) Thompson - 51 years (1872-1923)

My great-great-great-grandparents
William and Martha (Reay) Doyle - 13 years (1825-1838
Robert and Elizabeth (Thompson) Laws - 47 years (1834-1881)
Jacob and Elizabeth (Shaefer) Saylor - 20 years (1838-~1858)
William and Susanna/Susan (Holmes) Bickerstaff - 63 years (1830-1893)

Across five generations:
Only seven of my ancestral couples had marriages of 50 years or longer.
The longest marriage was 63 years.  Another couple may have been married 63 years (but the marriage year is still uncertain).

Thanks for the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy and Marcia.


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

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