Monday, May 30, 2016

Always Remember to Never Forget

With gratitude to those who gave their all
to preserve freedom for so many.  You are remembered.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

When Dixie Paper Meets Family History

I thought this commercial was too fun.  (You never know when family history
will be the topic of conversation.)


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Dark Time in American History

I spent part of the months of April and May in what may be one of the darkest times in America’s past:  I was reading The Witches: Salem, 1692.  I came upon it while browsing the new books at my local library.  It was standing on the shelf, prominently placed at eye level.  I passed over it the first time but then remembered it was Women's History Month, picked it up for a quick flip through the pages, and took it home -- where it sat until mid-April.

I knew of the Salem witch trials but little about them until reading this book.  If that is the case with you and you only want a brief overview of that time and those events, I suggest you view Wikipedia's article Salem witch trials.  If, on the other hand, you'd like to delve deeply into the times, events, and lives of the people in Salem Village and several surrounding towns in 1692-1693, you might appreciate The Witches.

Nearly 80 people are introduced in the book, each with a story that weaves in and out of events and touches on the stories of others throughout the 400+ pages of text.  Individuals include ministers, villagers, accusers, accused, authorities, and skeptics.  (If you think you might need a cheat sheet, start it early.  A person identified on one page may appear again several paragraphs and six pages later, or a chapter or two later.)

As Schiff chronicles the events of the trials and their aftermath, she tells the background and history of individuals and their interactions in the community.  The reader learns about property sales and purchases, disputes over boundary lines, longstanding debts, etc.; court proceedings; marriages, deaths, and remarriages among families; interactions and feuds between different families and their ancestors; occupations; wealth and poverty and its rise and fall; and of the church's previous and current ministers and the difficulties they faced with their parishioners.  In short, nearly all aspects of life in that time and place are covered to some extend:  society, environment, religion, law, transportation, etc.  

A few things I learned from this book are that
  • Puritans may not have been as pure as one might imagine.  The behavior of some were not what I would call Christlike.  They believed in the Bible but they also subscribed to sorcery, superstition, and witchcraft to explain what they did not understand (even down to bruises on the arm).
  • To be accused of witchcraft and claim innocence was almost certain to land one in jail, or worse; to admit to witchcraft and repent may have saved one's life.
  • Torture was not omitted in the effort to obtain an admission of guilt.
  • Life was hard in the 1690s; life in prison was miserable.  Even small children were chained in dungeons.
  • One represented one's self in court.  The point of a trial was to establish the guilt of the accused, not to determine the facts.

Having read the book I still have a hard time understanding how things could have gone so far awry.  From the perspective of more than 300 years I can't help but wonder why they didn't question the initial accusers, 9- and 11-year-old girls.  And yet, I remind myself, people of that time did not have the advantage of psychology to help them understand the behavior of others or scientific knowledge to understand the world around them.  I kept hoping that a simple explanation for the accusations of witchcraft would be revealed -- rotten potatoes that caused bad dreams or some drug found in the water that caused hallucinations.  It wasn't until near the end that Schiff discussed possible explanations for behaviors and actions.

Aside from the witch trials, this book presented plenty of detail about life in that time period.  If you are interested in social history and happen to have ancestors from Salem (Village or Town) in the late 1600s, or even if you've found ancestors living in that time period in another place in America, you may be interested in this book.  It reinforced to me the ease of our lives in the 21st century; a gratitude for the freedoms we have in the United States; and a deeper appreciation for the wonders of modern sciences.  I'm grateful not to have lived through that dark time in America.


Copyright © 2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Family Tree

I recently discovered the song "Family Tree," written by John Forster and Tom Chapin, and thought you might enjoy hearing it.  If the box below doesn't work, click this link.


Should you like to sing along, here are the lyrics.
Family Tree

Before the days of jello
Lived a prehistoric fellow
Who loved a maid and courted her beneath a bamboo tree.
And they had lots of children
And their children all had children
And they kept on having children until one of them had me.

We're a family and we're a tree.
Our roots go deep down in history.
From my great great granddaddy reaching up to me,
We're a green and growing family tree.

My grandpa came from Russia,
My grandma came from Prussia.
They met in Nova Scotia,
Had my dad in Tennessee.
Then they moved to Yokohama,
Where Daddy met my Mama.
Her dad's from Alabama
And her mom's part Cherokee.


Now one fine day I may go
To Tierra del Fuego.
Perhaps I'll meet my wife there
And we'll move to Timbuktoo.
And our kid will be bilingual
And though she may stay single,
She could of course co-mingle
With the King of Kathmandu.


The folks in Madagascar
Aren't the same as in Alaska.
They got different foods, different moods
And different colored skin.
You may have a different name
But underneath we're much the same.
You're probably my cousin
And the whole world is our kin.


You can tell that this fellow has done his research, though sadly he provides no documentation.

You can listen to John Forster sing more songs here.  


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ellis Bickerstaff, Member of the Grand Army of the Republic

When I learned a few years ago that my great-great-grandfather Ellis H. Bickerstaff served in the Civil War (for 100 days during the summer of 1864), I wondered if he was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).  I recently became aware that FamilySearch has Pennsylvania's Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records from 1865 through 1936.  I knew that in later years Ellis lived outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, so I decided to search the records.

There he was in Box 4, Image 109, Line 57.  Ellis often appeared as E. H. Bickerstaff in other records, too.
As I followed the line of information across the pages I knew this was my ancestor:  every piece of personal information in the record aligned with the information I'd already found from other sources.  (Click either image to view it larger in another screen.  Or go to the link just above the first image.)

Here is a transcription of the above record.
Number [on page].  57
Name.  E. H. Bickerstaff
Age.  30
Birthplace.  Steubenville, O.
Residence.       "     ["Homestead" is the location above the ditto marks.]
Occupation.  Carpenter
Date.  May 2 64
Rank.  Private
Co.  D
Regiment.  157 OV [Ohio Volunteer]
Date.  Sep 2 1864
Rank.  Private
Co.  D
Regiment.  157 O  [?]
Length of Service.  100 days
Cause of Discharge.  End of Term
Date of Muster into G.A.R.  July 29/82
When Honorably Discharged.  [blank]
When Suspended.  [blank]
When Dropped.  [blank]
When Dismissed  [blank]
When Reinstated.  [blank]
Nature of Wounds Received.  [blank]
When and in what Engagements Wounded.  [blank]
[Indecipherable due to darkened image.]

FamilySearch's Source Citation
"Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records, 1865-1936", database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 23 April 2016), E H Bickerstaff, 1865-1936.

I was thrilled to find this record but I still have questions about the books in which the records are found.  I went to the beginning of the book to see if I could find more information about how it was organized, the dates within the book, the location of its creation (if narrower than simply Pennsylvania) but found little to help me be more accurate in my personal citation and record-keeping.  The wiki at this link gives more information but doesn't answer my questions.  I will have to dig deeper.

Ellis was 30 when this record was created.  Because I know his date of birth (April 11, 1840) from other sources I can calculate that this record was created after April 11, 1870 and before April 10, 1871.  (I was unable to find a date of creation on the record.)

When this record was created Ellis was living in Homestead, Pennsylvania, but that he had been living in Steubenville, Ohio.  Ellis and his family were enumerated in the 1870 U.S. Census in Steubenville so the move to Pennsylvania came after June or July, 1870, and before April 10, 1871.

Knowing that Ellis was a member of the GAR may help me find newspaper articles from the late 1800s and early 1900s noting his membership, which may lead to a photograph.  (We can always be hopeful.)

My thanks to Michael John Neill for his post Pennsylvania, Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records, 1865-1936 which alerted me to this record set.


Copyright © 2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Celebrating, Honoring, Thanking Three Generations of Nurses

To commemorate National Nurses Day today I'm celebrating three generations of
nurses in my family.

Both my mom and my sister graduated from Trumbull Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Warren, Ohio; my mom in 1937, my sister almost 30 years later.  My daughter received her associate degree a few years ago and her B.S.N. this past December.

It's interesting to note the changes between nurses' dress 50 to 75 years ago and now.  When my mom and sister graduated they were required to wear white dresses, white shoes and stockings, and white caps (which indicated the school they attended).  These days, nurses wear scrubs, sometimes in hospital colors, and comfortable shoes.  In earlier times nurses went through nurses' training, taking courses and working in the hospital as early as their first few weeks in training.  These days nurses attend college and must have a bachelor's degree.

I've been in the hospital enough times to appreciate a good nurse but it wasn't until last month, when I read The Shift:  One Nurse, Twelve Hours, Four Patients’ Lives by Theresa Brown, R.N., that I truly began to realize and appreciate the attention, knowledge, and skill of nurses and the juggling act they perform on behalf of their patients.  My mom worked for only a short time as a nurse but my sister worked for many years and my daughter has worked in a hospital for a few years.  I'm grateful for the service they performed/perform for their patients.

Well done, Mom, Marsha, and Brenna!  Thank you.  Happy Nurses Day.

The date for National Nurses Day is always the same, May 6, as are the dates for National Nurses Week, May 6-12. 


Copyright © 2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May Celebrations Among Relatives and Ancestors

This is May's list of birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate among my relatives and ancestors.  I'm especially wishing my brother a Happy Birthday, and also thinking of the births and marriages of many of our mutual ancestors. 

With a limited number of dates in a year I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that there are several births and/or marriages on the same date, and yet it does.  Most of the overlaps are in different families, but there are two sisters born on the same date (eight years apart) and their sister married on their birthdays (about 40-50 years later). 

Living Family Members
May 20    Bob D.

Foremothers and Forefathers
May  5, 1810  Robert Laws, a paternal 3rd great-grandfather
May  8, 1851  Lydia Bell, a maternal 2nd great-grandmother
May 12, 1854  Elvira Bartley, my paternal great-grandmother

Among My Collateral Lines
May  7, 1856  Rachel Anna Thompson
May  8, 1859  Josephine Bell
May  8, 1905  Theodore Moses and Laura Bell
May  8, 1936  Burton Kenneth Gettings and Veronica June Meinzen
May 10, 1849  John W. Bickerstaff
May 10, 1937  Leonard Miller Fair and Elizabeth Zerelda Hendricks
May 12, 1886  Russel Rhome
May 12, 1920  Clarence Leroy Bickerstaff
May 13, 1933  Joanne Ferrell
May 15, 1892  Ethel Clair or Clare Gerner
May 17, 1873  Ida Adelia Gerner
May 17, 1886  Mabel Lodenia Gerner
May 20, 1854  Matthew Laws
May 21, 1850  Ann Armitage
May 22, 1899  Naomi Faye Meinzen (or possibly 1898)
May 26, 1904  Agnes M. Pressell
May 27, 1909  Elizabeth Zerelda Hendricks
May 27, 1935  Kenneth Alfonso Gerner and Lydia Ann Troyer
May 28, 1890  David Wood and Margaret Doyle
May 28, 1919  Paul Victor Gerner and Ethel M. Knox
May 29, 1917  Elizabeth Ann Meinzen
May 29, 1948  Charles Fredrick Gerner and Josephine L. Nittoli
May 30, 1903  Cecil E. Hashman

Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary, dear family!


Copyright © 2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Lifespans of My Great-Great-Grandparents - SNGF

Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week suggests we share the birth and death years of our 16 great-grandparents and tell how long they lived.  Lifespans of my ancestors are always interesting to me, perhaps because I wonder how long I'll live.  I've already lived longer than two of my great-great-grandparents. 

Andrew Doyle (1836 - 1908) lived 72 years.
Elizabeth Laws (1845-1910) lived 64 years.

John Froman (1841-1871) lived 30 years.  (Died of unnatural causes.)
Catherine Saylor (1844-1928) lived 84 years.

Christian Gerner (~1820-1899) lived 79 years.
Mary (or Elizabeth) Stahl (~1824-?)

Dixon Bartley (~1806-1900) lived 94 years.
Rebecca Smith (1820-1899) lived 70 years.

Carl Meinzen (?)

Abel Armitage (~1821-?)
Eliza Hartley (~1813-?)

Ellis H. Bickerstaff (1840-1907) lived 67 years.  (Died of unnatural causes.)
Emma Nelson (~1845-1878) lived 33 years.

John Thomas Thompson (~1850-1923) lived 73 years.
Lydia Bell (1851-1930) lived 78 years.

Click through to Randy's post on Genea-Musings and look at the comments to see links to others' Saturday Night Genealogy Fun posts this week.


Copyright © 2009-2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Traveling Through Time to Meet Henry Meinzen

Run!  jump!  fly back in time!  If only it were that easy.  There are so many ancestors I'd like to meet, to watch, to interview, to visit with, to learn from.  I know the experiences of some of them are similar, especially those who lived during the same decades.  But their times were so different from mine, and they've all left so many unanswered questions.

Henry Carl MeinzenHenry Carl Meinzen is my biggest stumbling block and the man I'd most like to meet at the moment.  He is my great-grandfather, my mother's paternal grandfather.  I've been researching Henry for a number of years.  I search everywhere possible, learn a little, and eventually reach the end of options (for the time being), then return to him again a number of years later hoping to find more.  From various sources I've learned that he was born on July 25, 1837;  came to the U.S. in 1866; and settled in Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio.  Elizabeth Armitage and Henry Carl MeinzenThere, in 1870, he married 17-year-old Elizabeth Armitage, an immigrant from England.  At 32, Henry was nearly twice the age of his young bride.  Together they had 15 children, only six of whom outlived them.  Elizabeth died in 1920 at the age of 67; Henry in 1925 at the age of 88. 

Having searched every possible currently known U.S. source for him, I have been unable to find a confirmed record of his arrival in the U.S., nor information of his homeland (let alone his place of birth) other than from census records which vary from year to year and tell me he hailed from Prussia or Hanover or Germany.

To tell me about his life and the kind of person he was, I have one snippet of anecdotal information from my aunt who was about four when Henry died, a few other tidbits from contemporary newspapers, and an obituary.  He sounds like a character and I'd love to get to know him.

Were I able to jump back to the past to spend time with Henry I would like to ask him a few questions.  I'd start with the nitty gritty ones.
  • Where were your born?  
  • What was your full birth name?
  • Who were your parents?  I know you told your children your father's name was Henry Carl Meinzen, but you don't seem to have mentioned your mother's name.
  • Meinzen does not seem to be a common name in German records.  Did you change your name and/or the spelling when you arrived in the U.S.?
  • Was Elizabeth Armitage your first wife?  I ask because you were 37 when you married her:  that's a little late for a first marriage.  If you were married before please tell details about your first wife, marriage dates, and what happened to her.
  • How did you meet Elizabeth?  
  • What are the names and birth dates of all your children?  The 1910 U.S. census indicates that Elizabeth was the mother of 15 children but I've found only 14.  I'd like to create a complete family group for you. 
  • How many siblings do you have?  What are their names and birth dates? 

 And then there are the questions I'd like to ask him about his life.
  • Tell me about your education.  Did you attend school?  If so, for how long?  What kinds of things did you learn?
  • What was your home life like as a child?  Did you have kind parents?  Did you have chores?  Did you live in the country, in a village, in a town, in a city?  What did you like about where you lived?  What did you not like?
  • Did you serve an apprenticeship in Prussia?  What training did you receive?  Your obituary states that you were a carpenter and wagon maker.
  • Did you serve in the military in Prussia/Hanover?
  • What prompted you to come to America?  Did you come alone?  Did you have family members who were already here and settled?
  • What was your departure date and from which port did you sail?  On what ship did you travel?  Did you travel alone? 
  • When and where did you arrive in America?  Where did you live before you arrived in Steubenville?  Your first papers for naturalization were filed in Belmont County, Ohio, the county neighboring Jefferson County.
  • Did you work as a carpenter / wagon maker in the U.S.?  Did you have your own shop or did you work for someone else?  
  • You had a variety of jobs in Steubenville.  How did that come about?

And a few more questions.
  • What was your favorite food?  Favorite color?  Favorite item of clothing?
  • Who were your childhood friends?  What kinds of activities did you enjoy?  Did you have favorite games?
  • What did you miss most about your homeland after arriving in the U.S.? 
  • What was the most joyful experience of being a parent to 15 children?  What kinds of activities did you enjoy with them?  
  • What do you think were your biggest successes in life?
  • What regrets do you have about your life?

I suspect, from these questions and the way they are asked, you might get the idea that I'm a little frustrated with Henry.  You would be right.  How can a person live 88 years and leave so little information behind?  Were I able to talk to Henry in person I would like to develop some rapport before pummeling him with questions.  I would not be so blunt:  kindness is always the best approach.  After all, he is my great-grandfather.  And Heaven knows, he could be a cantankerous old man who needs coddling and a gentle touch. 

I have full faith that I will one day, on the other side of the veil, be able to meet and talk to Henry Carl Meinzen.  I look forward to that experience.

This post is a contribution to Elizabeth O'Neal's April 2016 Genealogy Blog Party at Little Bytes of Life.  The theme is time travel to an ancestor.  I could have told details about the times in which Henry lived but chose, instead, to focus on the questions I'd like to ask to learn about him.  I hope you'll click over to Elizabeth's blog to see other participants in the Blog Party.  Thanks for hosting, Elizabeth.


Copyright © 2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Gerner Family Portrait - Treasure Chest Thursday

Of Frederick and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner's 16 children, 13 lived to adulthood, married, and had children of their own.  When there are that many children one knows that the family photos, photo albums, and heirlooms are bound to go in many directions.  As far as I know, none came in the direction of my father, Lee Doyle, their grandson through their daughter, Beulah, because she died soon after giving birth to my father and his twin sister.  After that time my father's contact with his maternal grandparents was limited.  I'm grateful when other of Fred and Elvira's descendants find me and my blog posts about the Gerner family and share photographs and other information they have. 

The original image that came to me is at right.  It almost looks like a painting or drawing but I think it was a photograph that had been painted on.  For the photo at top of this post I removed the background, straightened the oval, and added a little contrast.  Since I don't have the original photograph there's no way of knowing how close to the original the photograph I received is.

Fred and Elvira are seated in the center of the photo.  If the suggested date of 1892-1893 is accurate Fred would have been 44 or 45, Elvira about 38 or 39.  She would yet have three more children after this photo was taken.  There is no doubt that the parents are Fred and Elvira based on other identified photographs.  The children were identified by one of Fred and Elvira's grandchildren and it's possible they are mislabeled, but the apparent ages and gender of the children fit with their known family.

In this photo of their living children only twins Alfonzo (Fon) and Alonzo (Lon), the second and third oldest children, are missing.  They would have been 18 or 19.  Here's a little information about the others in the photo, beginning with the back row and coming forward.  All ages are based on the assumed date of 1892 or 1893.

Back row:
  • John, born in November, 1882, and would have been about 10 or 11.
  • Lana, born November, 1875, would have been about 16 or 17.
  • Edward, born July 1877,  would have been about 15 or 16.  Though married, he died in November, 1917, before having children. 
  • Ida, born May, 1873, would have been about 19 or 20.  She died in October, 1904, a few years after marrying and having a daughter.  She was Fred and Elvira's firstborn. 
  • Della, born February, 1879, would have been about 13 or 14.

Center row:
  • Mary Alma, born January 1881, would have been about 11 or 12.
  • Fred, born September, 1848
  • Bessie Leota, born June 1884, would have been about 8 or 9.
  • Elvira, born May, 1854

Front row:
  • Warren, born July 1890, would have been about 2 or 3.
  • Ethel Claire, born May 1892, would have been about a year.  She died in April 1897.
  • Mabel, born May 1886, would have been about 6 or 7.
  • Beulah, born September 1888, would have been 4 or 5.  She died April, 1913.

I'm impressed by the fact that every individual is looking at the camera, almost as though they are look through time, directly at all who view the photograph.  This is the only photo I have of both Ida and Edward.  Looking at their beautiful faces and knowing they both died in young adulthood tugs at my heart.  And there are the others who died so young -- Beulah and Clair.  Photographs are such a blessing.

This photo came from Jeanine, a descendant of Beulah's brother Warren.  I'm so very grateful to her for her willingness to share this treasure and that she volunteered permission for me to post it.  Thank you, Jeanine.


Copyright © 2009-2016 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.
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