Sunday, December 27, 2009


Aunt Polly was the aunt I probably saw most in my childhood. During the school year she taught music or was a school administrator in the Cleveland area, but she came to my grandparents' home, just 3 doors down from my house, every few weekends, for the longer holidays, and spent a good part of the summers with us in the Ridge.

Whenever she came home it seemed that she brought some treat or toy or gift for me -- and possibly also for my brother and sister, too, though I don't remember.

Though her name was Pauline she insisted on being called Polly. She never liked the name Pauline, refused to respond to it, and corrected anyone who called her by that name.

She was the youngest daughter of William Carl Robert and Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen. She was born December 27, 1927.

Aunt Polly enjoyed travelling and photography. When she came home from trips she put together slide shows and we all sat and watched them. It seemed like a pretty big deal to me, in the mid-1950s, to see color slides of Hawaii and hear about her experiences there. At that time, in little Mineral Ridge, it was very unusual to know people who travelled to such exotic places.

It is probably because of her that we have so many photographs of my siblings, my cousins, and me when we were children. I am grateful for those photographs.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

I wish for you and yours a happy celebration of Christmas.

I hope you have family close and that you'll cherish time with them.

I hope you'll share memories of times that brought you closer, times that help them realize your love for them.

It's a good time to share memories of your parents or grandparents, too -- memories of people the younger family members didn't know or didn't know well.

Merry Christmas to you!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Whose Toy Was It, Anyway?

I asked my brother if he had any particular Christmas memory he could share. He described a train set he received.
When I was a wee lad about 2 or 3 my dad bought an American Flyer train set for me. It ran around an oval shaped track, had no spurs, it just ran in circles. It did have a section of track where one of the cars could go on it and two springs on either side of the armoured car carrier came in contact with raised sides. When you stopped that car on that part of track and if the button was wired to that part of track, you could press the button and the platform on the railroad car would swing to one side because the armoured car was heavy enough that it tilted the ramp and the armoured car would be discharged. There was a coal tender on this train. It was a 4-8-2 configuration with Pennsylvania marking on the side. As I remember, there was a switch. In the off position nothing happened, in the on position the train made a chugging sound like a real train would make. Outside of those two features, it was a model electric train.
He continued the story with this memory from when he was about 5 or 6 years old and told what happened to the train in later years:
Anyhow, this particular Christmas my dad and Grandpa Meinzen got down on the floor and started playing with it. I tried to get involved and was told that THEY were playing with it and when they were done, I could then play with it. I remember feeling hurt somehow by that. After all, it was my train, not theirs. They were grown men. Why were they playing with my train?

I can't recall how long that event took to transpire. I can't remember the exact day it took place. I think it was Christmas Day, but I'm not sure. Why this memory sticks in my mind I don't know.

In subsequent years the train was again put up around the Christmas tree for awhile. Later, it was relegated to a box and put in storage.

Years later, as an adult, I got it out. It still worked but the body of the train was starting to disintegrate and the draw bar on the engine would not pull the train. I tried to glue it back together but more parts broke off.

Eventually, I sold the train to a collector, thus I no longer have it.
Poor kid. I hope they didn't play with it too long.

Do you have a memory of someone else playing with your toy?

Opening image from
Randy Moody's website
Second image from
American Flyer Trains Horizontal Rules

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Have you ever met someone with a personality that sparkled? A person who made you feel like you were the most interesting, most important person in the world? Aunt Tressa had such a way about her! Whenever I spent time with her, I felt like she thought I was the most special person in the world. I suspect that my siblings - and everyone else who interacted with her - probably felt the same way. I honestly don't know how she did it. Perhaps it was just her sincere interest in people, especially in those she loved.

Aunt Tressa is Tressa (Doyle) Wilson, my father's half-sister. They shared the same father, Gust Doyle, but different mothers. Aunt Tressa was named for Gust's mother and her own grandmother, Tressa Rose (Froman) Doyle.

Though she was short, perhaps not more than 5' tall, every inch of Aunt Tressa was packed with enthusiasm, energy, and joy. She once told me that whatever work she had to do, she just decided that she would enjoy it. And I believe she did!

Aunt Tressa provided me with generations of names and dates, and the stories to bring my family to life. I met my grandfather, Gust Doyle, and his parents, William and Tressa (Froman) Doyle, through her. I'm so very grateful for her generosity in sharing her memories and for the time she took to do it. On one visit, she gave my daughters and me a tour of the farm where she and my father and their father grew up, sharing stories, memories, and answering our questions; she took us to the cemetery and showed us the graves of family members whose memories I hope to preserve; she shared photographs that I treasure; and she gave us a tour of Stoneboro, where she and my dad grew up.

I am also grateful to her for her enthusiasm, her love of life, and her great example. I cherish the memory of having an aunt like her. If she were still with us, she would be celebrating her 88th birthday. She passed away from cancer a few years ago at much too young an age. What a loss to those of us still here. I miss her.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Tressa!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Only Two Christmases

The postcard to the left was mailed on December 22, 1911, just 3 days after Beulah Gerner and Gust Doyle were married.

The postcard below was mailed on December 21, 1912, a year and 2 days after they were married -- and just two months and one week before Beulah gave birth to twins.

Neither postcard was mailed to or from them, but I appreciate the fact that they were from the time period when my grandparents were newlyweds.

I hope those were happy Christmases for my grandparents. I hope there was love and peace, joy and happiness in their home. I hope they were warm and cozy in their farmhouse.

I would hope this for any ancestor, but I especially hope these things for these particular grandparents because Beulah lost one of her twins 3 days after the baby was born. And then Beulah passed away in early March, 1913.

The two Christmases when these postcards were in use were the only ones my grandparents, Gust and Beulah (Gerner) Doyle, spent together.

Playing for the Camera

These two photographs are the only ones I have of my grandparents together. Beulah Mae Gerner and Gust Doyle were married on December 19, 1911, in Butler, Pennsylvania, and lived in Stoneboro after they were married.

In the photo at the left, Beulah is standing on the left, Gust is seated in front. The lady in the middle (with the unusual hairstyle) is Beulah's older sister, Leota.

I suspect that both of these photos were taken in the summer of 1912 at the Doyle farm in Stoneboro. I suspect that because this photo was printed as a postcard and on the back Leota had written to her mother asking that one of her siblings meet her at the 6:00 train. (How I wish I'd made a copy of the back! I copied only the fronts when I had the originals a number of years ago. I'd just barely started thinking about family history and didn't know enough to hold on to every scrap of evidence!) Leota was probably visiting the farm for a few days. If this photo was taken in 1912, Beulah was probably already pregnant with my father and his sister. Of course, it's possible that the photograph was taken before they were married and taken some other place than the farm.

In the photo to the left, we recognize Gust and Leota. But who is the man standing in front?

My brother and his wife were visiting one day and asked to look at family history photographs. When they came to these two, I commented to my brother that I knew who was in the first photograph, but I didn't know who the other man was in the second photograph. He chuckled and said, "Well, that's Beulah."

Looking at these photographs, I have plenty of questions.
-- Was it a special occasion? I wonder because they seem to be dressed up.
-- Where were these taken and when?
-- Who was the photographer?
-- If that really is you, Gramma Beulah, dressed in men's clothing, which man's clothes were they? And what was he wearing while you were wearing his clothes?
-- Where did you change?
-- Is there a story behind these photos?

I think that my grandparents must have had a healthy sense of humor. I think it's fun that they were still playing as young adults. I wish they could tell me the details of these photos and the events of that day.

As a side note, Leota was 3 or 4 years older than Beulah. Aunt Brendice, Beulah's younger sister by about 7 years, told me that Leota was with Beulah when her babies, my dad and his twin sister, were born. Beulah's family originally planned that Brendice would stay with Beulah to help after the babies were born. When little 3-day-old Leila died, the plan changed and Leota stayed. After Beulah died, Leota continued to stay for some while and took care of my father, Lee.

Leota married Frank Riss sometime before 1920. From what I can tell, she had only one daughter who she named Beulah. What a kind tribute to my grandmother.

Gramma Beulah and Grampa Gust, I'm remembering you with love on your anniversary. Happy Anniversary!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Great-Uncle Jacob Meinzen's Birthday

Since we're celebrating Jacob Increase Meinzen's birth today, I thought it would be good to show you his birth record from Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Steubenville, Ohio. Looking at it again, though, perhaps it's as much a baptismal record as a birth record, since it records both.

The record indicates that Uncle Jacob was born on December 15, 1893, and baptized on September 15, 1896.

Can you read old German? The historian at the church, which is now Zion United Church of Christ, sent a page with a translation, for which I was very grateful. Since other records were also sent, some without translations, I did search out some German handwriting helps and some genealogical words translated from German to English.

Jacob's application for a marriage license confirms the birth date and indicates that he was born in Island Creek Township, Jefferson County, Ohio.

I have not been able to obtain a copy of his county birth record. It differs slightly from other information. His name is listed as "Jake Carl Mincine" and the date of birth is listed as December 21, 1893. I always wonder about the early county records. From what I understand, there was no time limit for filing the information, so parents could go the next day, or a year and two days later, or whenever they were in town, and complete the information. Accuracy in that circumstance depends solely on the memory of the giver of the information.

So, I'm going with 2 records out of 3: December 15 is Jacob Increase Meinzen's birthday.

You can read most of the rest of Uncle Jacob's life story here.

Happy birthday, Uncle Jacob! I'm remembering you today.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Photos, 1958, 1959

These photographs were made from slides that came in the box from Aunt Polly Meinzen.

The photographs above are of Belinda on Christmas, 1958. That was the year that Aunt Polly gave both of us handmade sock monkeys.

The photograph to the right was taken at Christmas-time, 1959. On the left is David, on the right is Bob. Bob was home for break from Bowling Green State University.

Perhaps we still heated our home with coal. Whether we did or not, there was no energy crisis. Houses were kept warmer and people wore short sleeves, even in winter. Not so in our home in recent years. Sweaters are the norm during the winter months.

The lower photo was taken at my parents' home. After we opened Christmas presents, we always neatly stacked them under the tree again and, unless they were toys, they stayed there until the tree was taken down on New Year's Day.

What traditions did the family of your childhood have? Have you carried any of them into your adult life?

Remember to include the names of the people in your holiday photographs (well, all photographs, for that matter!) and the dates they were taken. In 50 years your descendants will be glad you did!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

You're Born, You Live, and Then You Die

Sometimes, when researching ancestors, it's easy to get into the mindset of searching for names and dates - birth, marriage, and death dates - just to get back one more generation.

But I can't do it that way. Of course I am always elated when I find one of my ancestor's parents and the evidence that supports the relationship. It's cause for celebration. But that name on a census, or any other document, represents a person who lived a life, and I want to find out more about the person, more about the time period or location in which he or she lived. As my searches go further back in time, I suppose it will get harder to find information about individuals, but still I will search with the hope of finding.

My ancestors are not just names on pieces of paper. They are relatives. They are individuals who lived full and vibrant lives. Their challenges and joys were different than mine. And yet we're not so very different. I'm sure my feelings mirror theirs when I am joyful at a marriage, the birth of a baby, the purchase of property; saddened at the death of a loved-one, the loss of a home to some disaster, an injury that caused pain.

I look forward to the time (or eternity) when I can visit with my ancestors and learn about their lives first hand, to hear about their joys and sorrows, their challenges and achievements. How interesting and what fun it will be!

Yes, we're born, we live, (and sometimes marry), and then we die. But there's sure a whole lot that happens between the first and last of those events! For both my ancestors and me!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Past

Are you old enough to remember stickers like these? They're from a Christmas past, but not too long past. Maybe 50 or 60 years past.

I found these at a local recycle center and brought them home because they reminded me so much of stickers that were available when I was a child. These also came home with me because I didn't want them to disappear into a trash bin!

They are the lick-and-stick kind. I haven't licked any of them but they probably taste awful, like most lick-and-stick stuff of years past. There were two different sets and each set had two sheets. Unfortunately, the sheets in each set were stuck together. I scanned them, then soaked and separated them. You see only one set here. I haven't yet soaked the other set.

I have to admit that I love - have always loved - paper, and magazines, and photographs. In a word, ephemera. Generally, if it's paper, I like it. All the better if it has colors on it.

My love of paper caused some trouble one Christmas many years ago. Perhaps I was a difficult and challenging child, stubborn and strong-willed. (They are different, you know.) That year I was probably only 4 or 5 and not yet in school. I clipped newspaper "articles" just like I'd seen my mother do. I couldn't read but I could certainly cut on the lines. And cut I did! I cut lots and lots of "articles." So many, in fact, that my mother became upset with me. They overflowed the drawers of a small child's cupboard that sat in our kitchen. Yet I wouldn't part with the articles. My mother asked my brother, Bob, to persuade me to throw them away. I don't remember if there was a trade-off, a bargaining chip, but if there was, it was probably that Santa wouldn't visit me if I didn't do what my mom asked and get rid of them. Santa's pretty important when you're 4 or 5, so out they went, and peace was restored.

Isn't it strange the things we remember? Sometimes it's the very little things that stay with us. Do you have a Christmas memory of a small thing like that?

Times were simpler, I think, during the years when Christmas stickers like these were made and used. Sometimes I wish I could turn the clock back to those times. Not to be a child again, but to have the simplicity.

I wish you a Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Best Gifts

They sent photographs.  They wrote down memories and sent them along.  They answered questions -- lots and lots of questions.  Some sent family group sheets.  Some emailed.  Some paper mailed.  They contacted me in a variety of ways and gave me many different things, some tangible, some not.  Did they realize they were giving me gifts or did they think they were just answering my questions and sharing what they knew?  Whatever they thought, they have given me some of the best gifts I've ever received.

"They" are the following people, in no particular order:

My Aunt Dot tirelessly answers my questions about our Meinzen and Bickerstaff families and life in Mineral Ridge, Ohio, a generation or two ago.  If the answer to my question isn't in the forefront of her brain, she ponders and thinks and later, when the memory appears, she shares it with me.  She has shared many sweet memories of her grandparents, Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff.

I contacted Betty (Harris) Wilson at the suggestion of Aunt Dot.  They are cousins and Aunt Dot thought Betty might know more about the Meinzens and Armitages since Betty grew up and stayed in the family hometown of Steubenville, Ohio.  In addition, Betty's mother, Mina, had an unforgettable memory and Aunt Dot thought perhaps Aunt Mina had shared lots of information with her children.  Betty surprised me one day with some photos in the mail:  pictures of Henry C. and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen on what was probably their wedding day.  She also sent a photograph of Elizabeth's sister, which led to some other research and an understanding of why Elizabeth and her sister didn't know their mother's name.

Danice Ryan is keeper of the Jefferson County Genweb page.  I found her when I first began online searches for my Bickerstaff family.  We corresponded via email many, many times and she shared such wonderful sources, details, and stories.  We learned that we are both descendants (gggranddaughters) of William Bickerstaff and that our great-grandparents are siblings.  Danice was so very generous to send me many, many pages of the research she'd been doing for more than 20 years - not only Bickerstaff family, but also the Nelson and Holmes family lines.  What a sweetheart she is!

Elizabeth (Meinzen) A., Uncle Jacob Meinzen's daughter, sent photographs, a few of which you can see here.  She was an infant when her father died, so she had no memory of him.

Aunt Tressa (Doyle) Wilson, my father's half sister, answered question after question about her father, Gust Doyle, the farm, her grandparents, William and Tressa (Froman) Doyle, and others in the family.  She sent lists of families and siblings with birth and death dates.  She shared anecdotal information - the stories that bring people to life.  And she sent photographs.  I'm so grateful to be able to get to know my family because she was willing to take the time to share with me.

Elaine W. has shared photos, documents, family information, and so many stories that sometimes I begin to think I personally know some of the family members I've never met.  Elaine grew up and lived in Stoneboro where my father was born, and heard stories that other family members told.  How wonderful that she lived among those tellers of family history stories, that she listened and remembered, and, finally, that she shared.

Years ago when my Aunt Brendice (Gerner) Davis was still alive, I wrote to her and asked her questions about her parents and her childhood.  Because she took the time to answer them, I learned that her mother, Elvira (Bartley) Gerner, acted as a midwife in her community and had her own horse and buggy, which she harnessed herself whenever she needed to go somewhere.  Aunt Brendice also sent photocopies of the births and deaths pages from the family Bible.  Because of these I was able to learn the names of all of Aunt Brendice's siblings.  To the right is Elvira with her daughter, Mabel.

It seems that Aunt Brendice had given most of her photos to her son, Don.  He very generously gave me many family photographs - with individuals identified! - and shared memories of his grandmother and his mom's siblings.

Bessie (Gerner) S., Don's cousin, also shared family history information with me, including naturalization papers and a will.  She has been a keeper of the records for her family and sent me information about and photos of her brothers and sisters, their spouses and families.  We've conversed on the phone several times and she's shared stories about her grandmother.  She remembered that Gramma Elvira had a beautiful singing voice.

David Bartley is a very careful and thorough researcher.  I found my ggrandparents, Fred and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner, at David's website, One Pennsylvania Bartley Family.  His expertise and skill at researching are an inspiration to me.  He goes back many, many generations and has included as many family members as he's been able to find.  We corresponded via email and he shared photos and anecdotal information.  David's ggrandfather and my ggrandmother were siblings and children of Dixon Bartley.  David is a very generous cousin.  At left, courtesy of David, is Dixon Bartley's home.

Remember the excitement you felt as a child on Christmas morning when you opened a box and found a gift that was perfect?  Perhaps it was something you hadn't thought about before, but when you saw it, you knew it was just what you'd always wanted.  And it was the best gift.

These family stories, documents, and photos I've received are like that perfect gift.  They are the best gifts!  The saying goes, "It's better to give than to receive."  I believe that.  I hope family members who read this blog will think of the stories and photos posted on it as gifts, too -- my gifts to them.

Copyright © 2009 Nancy Messier. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Very Generous Cousin!

This is Don, my cousin -- to be exact, my first cousin once removed. He is celebrating his birthday on December 4. In this photo he is with his mother, Brendice, who is my Grandma Beulah Gerner Doyle's sister. This photo was taken on October 9, 1995, the day Aunt Brendice celebrated her 100th birthday.

Don is generous beyond measure. When I started digging for my Gerner family, I found Don's nephew, Rick, who gave me Don's address. When I wrote to him to ask about his mom and her family, he spent time making notes about names, dates, and locations, and then wrote brief memories of his Gramma Elvira Bartley Gerner and all of his mom's brothers and sisters and some of their families. I love learning a little about my relatives - what they did, how and where they lived, so it was wonderful to have that information. But beyond that, he sent photos -- old photos! -- and told me I could call them mine! Those are photos I cherish because they allow me to put faces to names.

I wish you a very happy, happy birthday, Don! You're a treasure! Thank you for the photos and all the help you've given me.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ven Tings Look Dark Undt Blue

I'm not ready for Christmas. I'm not ready to post any of my old Christmas postcards yet, or share Christmas stories, or post Christmas photos from Aunt Polly's box.

But this postcard was among some other old postcards and I decided to share it. It was mailed in April, 1913. My dad would have been about a month and a half old, though the postcard itself has nothing to do with my dad, my ancestors, or other family.

I like the two rosy-cheeked, jolly-looking children, and I love the "accent" that's part of the language of the words. I know the children are Dutch but I can almost imagine a German accent in the words, too. Might my Grampa Henry C. Meinzen have spoken with an accent similar to this one?

This card makes me think of brick walls and how frustrating they are when I search and search and search, having looked in every possible nook and cranny to find evidence of an ancestor, and come up with nothing. I guess it's important to keep a sense of humor about ourselves when we're searching. After all, it's not the end of the world to have a high brick wall separating me from my ancestors' information. And maybe a little laughter can give a new perspective which. in turn. may possibly present to the mind new places to search.

Just a few random thoughts. Do you like the postcard? Did it make you chuckle? Does it relate to your family in any way?
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