Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“K” is for Karen

Although not a man to be obsessed with material things, my grandfather’s 1952 Kaiser Deluxe was one of his most treasured possessions. In the last 30 years he owned it, it typically sat in one half of the garage, covered with a soft blanket, taken out once a year to be cleaned and waxed. It had been retired from active service about 1965 or so, but from the time he bought the car in 1952 until then, it was used daily.
The Kaiser-Frazer company churned out its first model with the Kaiser Special, a 4-door sedan, in 1947, and continued to produce automobiles in the United States until 1955.  Midway through 1952, Bill Knutz, in Huron, South Dakota, purchased what would be his only brand-new car, at the age of 41.  Typically a thrifty man by necessity, this seemed to be a very uncharacteristic thing for him to do, but he was moving his family from the farm to Gardena, California, had just sold his entire herd of cattle, and needed reliable transportation.  Knowing these facts, It seems like a sensible and practical thing to do.  But knowing his lifelong love of cars, I’m sure he was secretly and thoroughly thrilled about it.
Kaiser Steering Wheel5
Grandpa and I spent much time in that car, as it was his job to entertain me while my Grandma was shopping or getting groceries.  He told me many stories during those hours, and he had me convinced that the “K” in the center of the steering wheel was for “Karen.”  I bought it, hook, line and sinker, well past the point that I should have known better.  There’s still a part of me that loves to think that if Grandpa had his way, that K would truly stand for “Karen.”
An uncle inherited the Kaiser after Grandpa’s death in 1996, and sold it, as I understand, to a collector.  I’d love to know where it ended up, or even some day to see it again.  Wherever it is, I just hope that its new owner knows what very special memories are embedded in that vehicle.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Up In Flames

In the early morning hours on May 8, 1957, a bolt of lightening changed the lives of the Bill and Lillian Knutz family of Beadle county, South Dakota.  They were my grandparents.
Below, left: the newspaper account, as it appeared in the May 8, 1957 edition of the Huronite and Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  Right, the incident as related by Bill’s mother, Elvirta Knutz, in her diary:
Fire“Tuesday night an electrical storm came up and a bolt of lightening struck Bill’s house; they knew it struck but didn’t know it set a fire so they went to bed. It struck about 12 and about 1:30 they all woke up smelling smoke.  Bill went out for a look, Betty did too they saw the kitchen-roof was a blaze; Betty opened the stair door, it was full of smoke and 1 wall was on fire. It just happened the kids and all slept down stairs because of the storm which was a good thing; for they would have been trapped up stairs. Bill was going to phone for the fire department but the phone was burnt out also the electricity. Lillian and the kids carried out things; Bill did too when he got back. Mrs. Ted Walters phoned to us about a quarter till 2 so we went over. They run out of water and so they couldn’t save the house, they broke out windows and carried out things. Everything up-stairs burnt, so did everything in the kitchen and bathroom; some things were saved in the (living) room, some burned. The kids’ clothing all burned except what they had on; Betty was without shoes and Donny had his pajamas on, no shoes. Before we left the scene of the fire some neighbors came with clothing. Every one were helping with donations of clothing, canned goods, cooking utencils [sic], towels, and wash-cloths.”
My mother, who was a teenager at the time of the fire, said the house was actually struck by lightening twice; the first bolt took out the electricity, and the second started the fire.  She also related that her father ran to the neighbor’s house rather than drove, a distance of over a mile away, to use their phone.  When it became apparent that the house could not be saved, the firemen broke out windows and threw whatever of the family’s belongings they could grab, out into the yard. 
The two older girls stayed with Bill’s sister in Huron, and the rest of the family stayed with Bill’s parents.  In the meantime, they began looking for a house that they could move to the farm:
housetobuy (from the Thursday, May16 edition of the Huronite and Daily Plainsman, Huron, South Dakota)


However, the plans changed when they found a house in town, pictured at right, and purchased it on May 20.  Bill made daily trips to the farm to do his chores.  The new house was just a half block from the home of Maurice and Loretta Sloan, their farm friends who had recently moved to town.  My grandmother and Mrs. Sloan maintained their close friendship for the rest of their lives.  My grandfather continued making daily trips to the farm until he sold it about 1972.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Terror and Glory

Our cold, South Dakota Christmases were always warmed up by the excitement of gathering with our large family of cousins at my grandmother’s house on Christmas eve.  Besides a multitude of squirrely children of all ages, there were wonderful Norwegian treats such as krumkake and lefse, and a dinner consisting of lutefisk smothered with melted butter.  And every year, after dinner and before opening presents, one of the granddaughters would be selected to read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke, Chapter 2.
There was a cluster of granddaughters within four of five years of age of each other, of which I was the youngest, and then a few more younger than I.  And every year I watched as one of the older ones was hand-picked by Grandma to read the Bible story.  What an honor!  I watched in awe as Sheila flawlessly read the verses; and the following year it was Julie’s turn, and again, I was so struck by what a beautiful job she did, and how “grown up” they both were.  Then, it was Cheryl’s turn; Cheryl was a little closer to my own age.  Cheryl did a wonderful job too, but I was a little miffed that I hadn’t been selected myself.  The following year, Cindy was the chosen one.  Of all my cousins, I was closest to Cheryl and Cindy.  So I was mad.  Really mad.  I’m sure they both managed to shine beautifully in their moments of glory, but I never noticed, because I Was Mad.  Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that Grandma had started this tradition with the oldest granddaughter, and was working her way down.  But I suspect I would have been mad anyway.
After Cindy finished her reading, Grandma approached me and gave me the honor for the following year.  I went from mad to terrified almost instantly!  I fretted for a few weeks, then put it out of my mind until the following Thanksgiving, when my anxiety began anew.   And, a few weeks before Christmas, when I took a look at the passage in the Bible, and saw words like Cyrenius, Judea, and a lot of others I couldn’t pronounce, I was ready to leave the country and come back after the holidays were over!
But my moment of honor came, and I did fine.  I really don’t remember who got The Nod for the following year, or the year after that.  Once my feelings of adoration, anger, terror, and glory came and went, who did the reading didn’t seem all that important anymore.
Despite the mix of emotions I had over this tradition, two years ago I decided to revive it within my own granddaughters.  I’m up to three of them now, although only two can read.  And I sincerely hope that as the years go on, none of them get jealous or angry or stressed about it.  Because this is the unparalleled story of hope and redemption for all people, and that, after all, is something to celebrate. 
Have a Blessed Christmas! 

Graphic courtesy of Atlantic Fish

Friday, December 17, 2010

Future Friday

First, I’d like to thank Jenn at Your Growing Tree for the idea of Future Friday.  The idea is to get us thinking about helping future generations to know *us*.  I’ve taken some time to evaluate all of my current genealogical “goodies” and have picked one particular area of focus: family stories and biographies.
More and more, genealogy-related documents and transcriptions are making their way online.  Twenty years from now, finding facts about individuals in our family trees will probably be easier than ever.  But finding personal information about these people – likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies, personality traits, life experiences, etc. – will be equally as hard without someone recording this information now.  To address this in my own family, I have set a few of goals for 2011:
1) Take the time to jot down a few notes about my more “recent” ancestors, those whom I knew personally, or knew through family stories.  To keep this goal a realistic one, I am not going to write formal biographies, but instead will concentrate on recording as much as I can about as many people as possible.  I (or someone else) can always take the time to write a more “polished” biography in the future.
2) Complete a personal biography.  No amount of documents can help you get to know an ancestor like an autobiography.   I had resisted doing this for my own life, primarily because I don’t think I’m that interesting.   However, several of the personal biographies I have begin with, “I’m only writing this because my daughter insists,” or “I don’t understand why anyone would ever want to read this, but...” so perhaps it will be the same with my story and my descendants.  I was inspired by, a free site that allows collaboration among people in getting stories and timelines recorded.  (I have no affiliation whatsoever with this site, nor its creators.)  While I don’t feel compelled to put my stories online, they do offer a number of “question sets” that were easy to use and were very effective in reviving old memories.  I started writing my story several years ago, and set it aside when life got busy.  This coming year, I’m going to attempt to get it up to date, or at least make some significant progress.
This would also be a great “group activity” if you’re getting together with siblings, cousins, etc., for the holidays.  What great fun it would be to get a bunch of them together, with a pot of coffee, a digital recorder, and one of these question sets!  The result would be a priceless gift for our descendants.
There are many other ways in which a family historian could assist future generations, but with a limited amount of time available, this is what I will be tackling.  Did I just make a New Year’s Resolution??

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wedding Wednesday – 47 years later

In her diary entry of Saturday, March 30, 1957, my great grandmother Virta Knutz recalled the day she married her husband Will:
“47 years ago today we were married and such a day as it was; it rained, hailed, wind blew hard and it blizzarded all before noon but that did not stop me; Delbert [her brother] took me to the depot and waited with me till the train came; I had to go to Huron (from Esmond) to meet Will. Henry Thompson and his girl Stella were there to be married at the same time we were; we were witnesses for each other. We ate our dinner in a hotel which is now torn down and there is a gas station and truck parking lot there now. After dinner we were married and did some shopping and drove home; we used horse and buggy those days, had to drive about 7 miles; got home I got my first meal for us; which was (as I remember) bacon and eggs and potatoes.”
Above: Their marriage certificate
They would celebrate eight more anniversaries together before Will’s death in 1966.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The End of an Era, Rapidly Approaching

Tonight I’m feeling a bit wistful at the thought of finally completing my grandmother’s quilt.  It’s been a project that on one hand, I have treasured, but on the other hand, has had me terrified – terrified that the finished product would not be something that my grandmother would have liked, or that I would not be up to completing the task correctly.
There have been some major hurdles – trying to decipher the pattern for the blocks by trial and error - coming up with a design that incorporated both my grandmother’s blocks, and my aunt’s dark gold border around them - finding era-appropriate fabric - and making that fabric look “old” so that it would blend in with the 1940s feed sacks my grandmother used.  These problems solved, I was making good progress reproducing the blocks until I figured out a way to “improve” them, and ultimately rendering most of them unusable in the process.  Frustrated, I set the project aside for more than two months.  I finally got inspired again last night and salvaged four of the blocks, to complete the corners.   I was able to keep the dark gold border done by my aunt, thereby making this a “three generation quilt.”
This evening, as I pin-basted the quilt to the batting and backing, listening to the howling wind and snow outside, I thought of the first quilt I ever made – a Dresden plate made from another grandmother’s blouses.  It, too, was basted on what was (up until tonight) the worst blizzard we’ve had since moving here, twenty-some years ago.  It seems I do my  most significant work while the snow piles up outside.
Basting completed, it will next be hand-quilted, once I come up with a design.   I’ve jumped the most difficult hurdles with the quilt and it should be easy enough from this point on, which almost makes me a little sad.  After 70 years, and three generations, the quilt is nearly complete.  It will be the end of an era. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

100th COG Edition - There's One In Every Family: The Upbuilding of a School District

On the northern coast of the Land of the Midnight Sun, in the village of Kjøllefjord, a school system was built up from nothing to a thriving environment for learning, by a woman I’m proud to call my grandmother.
KjollefjordAerial   Kjøllefjord, Finnmark
The year was 1925, and 23 year old Lise Klungseth had just graduated from teacher’s college in Oslo, and like every other graduate, was looking for a job.  The market was flooded, and teaching positions were generally hard to come by.  However, Lise had read about Finnmark, and the work of Pastor Otterbeck, who was trying to bring Christianity to the laplanders and Finlanders in the area, many of whom did not speak Norwegian.   There weren’t many teachers willing to go there because, as Lise put it, there were times “when the sun does not shine for two months,” and the area was nowhere near as cultured as southern Norway.  She described Kjøllefjord as “about as far away from home as you can get.”
mapmap courtesy of Google Maps.  The pin marks the location of Kjøllefjord
Lise soon found herself employed in one of the poorest districts in Finnmark.  Her teaching position was split between three different schools, one month at each place, traveling between them by boat.  Her schoolhouses consisted of single rooms in private houses, with no books, pencils or papers.  Lise provide what they needed out of her own pocket.  Eventually, she was “promoted” to only having two schools.
When World War II broke out, the people of Kjøllefjord had to run for their lives.  Lise went back home to her parents’ home, and the following spring, to her sister’s home in Trondheim, where she was offered a very good teaching job.  While there, she received a telegram from the director of schools in Finnmark, asking her to return to Kjøllefjord. Recalling what little she had to work with there, she asked: Do you have a schoolhouse?  No.  Do you have desks for the children to sit on?  No.  Do you have books?  No.  What do you have?  Children.
Something inexplicable led her to say yes, quit her job in Trondheim, and head north.  She said, “I was the happiest person in the world, just like everybody else who was coming back because the Germans were gone, the country was ours and we were able to build it up again.” 
Once there, they were able to arrange for a log cabin, which had served as a hospital during the war, to use as their schoolhouse.  The mayor of the village asked Lise what she needed – she asked for carpenters, and was given them.  She worked alongside them, finishing the rooms and commencing her classes.  She taught from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.  She was able to get three students from Oslo to come and help with the teaching duties.  They made do with whatever supplies they could find, until one day a mysterious box, sent from Canada, arrived at the school, filled with paper and pencils.  More boxes followed – with books!  They never did find out who sent those badly needed supplies, but they were grateful beyond words.
LisaSchool5The new school building in Kjøllefjord 
Lise continued to build up the school, and was eventually promoted to Principal, with six teachers employed, a new and modern schoolhouse, complete with an intercom system, among other "luxuries.”
Her life was diverted from the children of Kjøllefjord in 1952, when she received a letter from my widowed grandfather, who was a lifelong friend, asking her to come to the United States.  She did, and the rest is history.  But I’m certain that leaving Kjøllefjord, where she had invested so much of herself, was probably one of the hardest things she had ever done.  She left behind her permanent gift to that village – an educational system to be proud of.
Lise, on a visit back to her old school in Kjøllefjord, in the 1980s.  Notice her picture on the wall, at left, a copy of which is below.

The Pink Bowl

The pink Stetson Melmac bowl has been a part of our Thanksgiving tradition as far back as I can remember.  It belonged to my maternal grandmother, and only on special occasions did she take it from its designated spot in the buffet.  We would sit around the large oak pedestal table, all the leaves having been added to accommodate the four generations.  Grandpa was seated at the head of the table, and the three kids would fight over the two chairs on either side of him.  I vividly remember staring at the bowl from my place at the table, being too short to see inside, and wondering what deliciously wonderful surprise Grandma had put in it, as it was passed from person to person.  Sometimes it was mashed potatoes, sometimes a vegetable dish, sometimes it was fruit salad.  Didn’t matter.  Anything she cooked was especially tasty, but there was something about that pink bowl... the sight of it still makes my mouth water in anticipation.
After Grandma passed away in 1991, my sister and I were sharing our precious memories of dinner around her holiday tables, when Grandpa surprised us by telling us to take the bowl home.  I like to think I would have insisted my sister take it, but thankfully, it was not an issue.  We were delighted to discover there were actually *two* pink bowls, as pictured in the photo above, side by side.  Now, at each “pink bowl occasion”, we compare notes about what will be served in them, hundreds of miles apart.
It’s hard to imagine a Thanksgiving without the pink bowl, and the precious and comforting memories of times past.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Civilian Conservation Corps Records

The Civilian Conservation Corps, one of the most popular New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered jobs to unemployed young men.  Most of them, aged 18-24, were from families on public relief during the Great Depression, and had few other prospects for employment.  Some three million of them applied, passed a physical, and made their promise of a minimum 6 months’ service, before they were sent to work constructing parks, planting trees, working on public roadways, and constructing buildings on public lands.  In return, they were given room and board, plus a small wage.  They were required to send money to their families back home.
I had heard that my father-in-law, Bob, had taken a job with the C.C.C. when a young man, but had no details.  While we know a fair amount about his life, the years from 1930 to 1950 were somewhat fuzzy.  I contacted the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis several times inquiring about records before finally receiving an answer informing me that his records were available.  I filled out the paperwork required, sent in $60, and waited.  Within two weeks, I had a packet of about a dozen pages of information. I was hoping what I found was worth the cost and the persistence.
Through the information found in these records, in addition to information I already had, I was able to put together a fairly good timeline.  The family moved from Hand County, South Dakota to Spearfish sometime in 1937.  Bob attended his first year of high school in Spearfish, but went to work at the Red Owl Grocery store in January of 1938 as a “helper”.  He worked there three months, and was unable to find another job until his enrollment in the C. C. C. in July.
He was AWOL for 3 days after Christmas in 1938, and “AWOP” for five days after that, all for unknown reasons.  He was “Absent With Out Pay” from 6/19/1939 (the day his step-father passed away) to 6/26/1939 (when he was discharged) for “Emergency Leave”.  Before the year was out, Bob, his mother, and his siblings had relocated back to their home in Hand County.
I learned a few personal details about Bob that I had not known.  He was barely 17 when he quit high school to go to work, but during his first three months with the Corps, he expressed interest in completing some high school coursework.  Had he put aside his own education to help his family financially?  Or had he quit school for other reasons?  The interest in completing high school was apparently still there.
I learned that Bob considered himself best suited for work as a mechanic, but was hoping to work as a traveling salesman after completion of his C. C. C. enrollment.  While he did work at implement and hardware stores, he never did sell his wares on the road.
I didn’t know he was small kid - 5’5” and 124 pounds – when entering the C. C. C. camp.  Upon his discharge a year later, he had grown an inch, and gained 11 pounds.  Later photos of him depict a slightly stocky build.
He was called “honest and reliable” by his camp adviser, and described as an “able and dependable workman.” He enjoyed reading while at the camp.
While the C. C. C. file did not reveal any surprising news, it did present a snapshot in time of Bob’s youth, his interests and abilities, and his character.  Since he died young, learning these little bits of information from whatever sources we can find is especially important, as there aren’t many people left who knew him directly, particularly at this stage in his life.
Some of the more interesting pieces of information in the file, besides the basic birth date, birth place, and address, included an educational and work history. Results of the physical exam were also in the file.  Work preferences, as well as the kind of work actually done, was also noted.
To find if your Great Depression era ancestor has C. C. C. records available, write to the National Personnel Records Center, Civilian Personnel Records, 111 Winnebago Street, St. Louis, Missouri, 63118-4126.  Be sure to include as much information as you can about your ancestor: name, birth date and place, home address, parents’ names, specific dates of C. C. C. employment, if known, and any other applicable information.
Bailey, Thomas A., "The American Pageant: A History of the Republic", D. C. Heath and Company, Boston.
Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy (

Friday, October 15, 2010

Why Seeing it With Your Own Eyes is a Good Idea

There were a million reasons to skip stopping at the cemetery – we didn’t know where the grave was located.  It was a huge cemetery.  We had a lot of work to do at the library.  We wanted to squeeze in a visit to another town.  It was nearly lunch time.  We already had a picture of the grave, supplied by a distant cousin.  So, other than a haunting feeling (no pun intended) that we should stop and pay our respects, there really wasn’t a logical reason to bother.
Such was our “quick” day trip to New Ulm, in Brown county, Minnesota.  We were actually going there to do some research on my husband’s Ulmer relatives, but his great-grandfather Conrad Schlechter and Conrad’s second wife Mary Fischer Schlechter, from another branch of his family, were buried there as well.  After the death of Conrad’s first wife in South Dakota, he left his family and moved to New Ulm, where he met and eventually married Mrs. Fischer in 1922.

As I mentioned, we had a photo of their graves, and by looking at the background details, were able to zero in on its location rather quickly.  I snapped a few pictures of my own, we paid our respects, and on the way back to the car it occurred to me to check the back of the stone, just in case there was a verse or something special on it.  What I found befuddled me.
Melchior Hippert, 12 June 1858 – 14 May 1888
Katharine Hippert, 30 Oct 1883 – 20 July 1900
Richard Geisinger, 06 Feb 1855 – 13 May 1911
M. A. Hippert, 28 May 1888 – 17 May 1918
Otto J. Geisinger, 14 July 1890 – 14 July 1932
In addition, there was a small, flat stone on either side, one that read “Otto J. Geisinger, July 14, 1890 – July 14, 1932” and one that read “Mother.”
Mary was born in 1862, and died in 1938.   Who were the Hipperts?  And the Geisingers?   I had not heard these surnames before.  Were they friends from Germany?  Perhaps Mary’s siblings?  Why were they all buried together? 
We went to the library, and I immediately began looking at census records while my husband looked through the surname file for these new names.  In the next few hours, we learned that Mrs. Mary Fischer Schlechter was born Mary Dauer, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lorenz Dauer.  She first married Melchior Hippert (1858-1888); their children were Katharine (1883-1900), Dora (1885-?), and Melchior A. (1888-1918).  The year after Mr. Hippert’s death, she married Richard Geisinger (1855-1911) and had one son: Otto J. Geisinger (1890-1932).  After Mr. Geisinger’s death, she married Carl Fischer.  Whether this marriage ended in Mr. Fischer’s death or divorce is currently unknown.  She then married Conrad Schlechter.
Besides being able to put together the pieces of this family puzzle, we learned that the Geisinger’s operated the Chicago House hotel in New Ulm, and we obtained a photo of it.  In addition, we acquired a photo of Mary Dauer Hippert Geisinger Fischer Schlechter (whew!).
The Chicago House Hotel, New Ulm, Minnesota
Mary Schlechter
The new information and photos were great, but the most valuable thing I received that day was a lesson – taking the time to consult the original, whenever possible, be it a book, document, or gravestone, is crucial.  It may not always pay off in a wealth of new information, but then again, it just might.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mystery Monday – What Am I??


This … umm… “item” belonged to my grandmother, Lisa Hammer, who came to the United States from Norway in the 1950s.  I suspect it had something to do with making lefse, or some other Norwegian treat, but I’m not at all certain.  It’s relatively heavy, and would make a great weapon!
Has anyone seen an item like this?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Zumbro Hill Cemetery

I can honestly say I’ve never worked so hard to photograph a cemetery.  While I was fairly sure the person I was looking for was not buried in that cemetery, I thought as long as we were that close, we should check it out.  From Forestville, Minnesota, it was about “6 blocks and up the hill.”
Road to Cem2
Actually, it was well over a mile from where we were able to park, and a long, dry, dusty walk in the unseasonably warm 89 degree sun.  Sweating profusely, I thought then about turning around, not being prepared for anything too physical, and certainly not dressed appropriately for a hike, but since we were approaching the hill where the cemetery was located, I thought the worst was over.  But the climb up the forested hill was not something that two fat, middle aged people should have attempted in the heat of the day.  Had I known just how far up the hill this cemetery was located, I’m not sure I would have continued, but once there, the solitude and peace was incredible.
The photo above shows the semi-cleared area where the cemetery is located, and just to the right of the center, you can see the two still-standing stones, the remainder of them on the ground.  Having climbed that long, steep hill, I have to wonder how these pioneers managed to get the caskets up there. 
Lewis Adams died July 12, 1862 at the age of 27 years.  He was a “cooker” by trade, born in Germany, and lived in Forestville with 17 year old Susan Adams, in 1860.
Above, Lydia Luvia Bassett and little Hokah Bassett.  Lydia was born in 1839, and Hokah was born in 1855.  Hokah died in 1856, and Lydia in 1858,  They share a stone with Samuel Smith, 1786 – 1862.   Below are individual small stones, broken, for Lydia and Hokah.
Samuel Smith was born in Stratford County, New Hampshire on  July 7, 1786, and died at Carimona, Minnesota on Oct. 24, 1862.
Joseph Bisbey died Nov. 12, 1863, at the age of 49.  He was a farmer, a native of New York, and the husband of Sophia Bisbey.
Riley D. Brooks, son of Hiram S. & Amanda M. Brooks, died August 10, 1869 at the age of 3 months and 27 days. 
Above, Major James Foster, and his wife, Jane, who farmed in Forestville township.  The former was a native of Pennsylvania, and his wife a native of Ohio.  Some of their children, as listed in the 1870 census, were James (19), Catharine (17), Sarah (15), John (14), Mary (11), and Josephine (8).
Patrick O’Kane, a Forestville twp. farmer, was born about 1810 in Ireland.  He was married to Ann, and in the 1870 census is living with her, his daughter Lucy (a 24 year old schoolteacher), Mary (18), and John (21).
Elizabeth (1801 – 1867), James (1789-1876), Samuel (1821-1871) Riddle. 
Abner Runals, 1788 - 1860
According to a plaque at the cemetery, there are a few additional burials there, but I was not able to locate the stones.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Evidence Revisited

I spent some time this morning drinking a few cups of coffee and reading the latest issue of the “Shades of the Departed” online magazine – it took several cups of coffee because the articles are so inspiring that I find myself sidetracked frequently.  After reading Joe Bott’s article, “Celebrating Dead Fred,” I had to pause to re-search his site for any new family photos, and then got as far as footnoteMaven’s “Photography & Mourning” article before being motivated once again.
Her article featured photos of mourning brooches – small pins or brooches that may have originally been created for other purposes, later being a mourning/remembrance keepsake, or may have been created specifically out of the death of a loved one.  I immediately thought of a lovely little pin that was the subject of a recent blog post.
To quote Elizabeth Shown Mills in her book Evidence Explained, “The case is never closed on a historical conclusion.  Just as scientists revise their theories in the wake of new discoveries, so do historians.  Any decision we make today could be changed tomorrow by the discovery of previously unknown information.”  With that quote in mind, I dug out the tiny little keepsake box containing the pin, a baby’s hairbrush, a tiny child’s thimble, and a small glass vial that originally had a screw-top of some sort, long since gone.  It reminded me of one of those necklaces filled with holy water, or a empty, to hold a remembrance item, similar to this one being sold online:
As a whole, it looks as if the items in the box are keepsakes of a specific person’s life, which I had originally assumed to be true, and still believe.  However, *which* person specifically, may be up for debate.

The note reads: “The little baby’s hair brush belonged to Myrtle Lair age 1 in 1889.  The photo pin is her at the age of 10 or 12.”  These things very well could be Myrtle Lair’s, but Myrtle had a little sister, Allie May Lair, who died at the age of 11.  Finding the article in Shades this morning made me wonder if this pin was indeed a mourning brooch, and these items the only remaining keepsakes from her short life.
As I looked through the box once again, I realized that these articles, with the exception of the vial, are specific to a child’s life.  The vial could be representative of either a child or an adult.  The box itself, in very old lettering, says “Birth Announcement.”  Myrtle Lair lived to be 52 years old.  Allie Lair died at the age of 11.   And who authored the note?  To answer that question, I had to imagine who possessed this box over the years.  Myrtle and Allie May’s sister Nettie was my great-great grandmother, and oldest daughter in the family, and their mother died young.  She had many items that belonged to her parents.  She lived her last years with her daughter Lulu, who seemed to have been the recipient of most of the family heirlooms.  Lulu died as a spinster in 1986.  My aunt, Lulu’s niece, likely got this box from her, and then it came to me.  I do not believe this is Nettie’s handwriting, but could have been Lulu’s.    Allie May died 18 years before Lulu was born, and there was quite a geographical distance as well.  Perhaps Lulu knew these items belonged to her mother’s sister, and Myrtle was the only one she knew of.  Or perhaps she was right in stating that these things were Myrtle’s.
Myrtle, however, outlived her older sister Nettie by six years, which makes me wonder how her baby keepsakes would have ended up so far away, in Lulu’s possession, when there were nieces and nephews still in Myrtle’s area?  In contrast, little Allie May, as well as their mother, died while Nettie was still in the immediate vicinity. 
I have a copy of a portrait of little Allie May at the age of 3, and I also have a picture of Myrtle as a young woman.  I think the photo pin resembles Allie May much more than it does Myrtle, but the girl in the photo pin has an outwardly wandering left eye, as does Myrtle.  However, with the portrait of Allie May being a painting rather than a photo, I could understand if any particular imperfections might have been altered, especially if this painting was done from a photo after her death.  I know of no paintings of the other children.

Above, Allie May Lair at the age of three
Above: photo pin of Myrtle?
Above: Myrtle Lair, as a young woman
Of course, all this is nowhere near sufficient to say that the girl in the photo pin is Allie May Lair, but it does cause me to wonder, and to go back and take a look at the evidence once again.   Now, coming up with a plan for further research is in order, but this task might be difficult if not impossible.
So, in the meantime, it’s back to Shades of the Departed.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown.  Evidence Explained.  Baltimore, Maryland: 2007.  p. 27               Shades of the Departed, Oct. 4, 2010 issue                                                                    Pendant photo (sold at):

More on the Loyal Americans

Many thanks to Debra Wilson, who has solved the mystery of the Loyal Americans by finding the following pin:
which bears a striking resemblance to the one I found:
The top pin was associated with the Loyal Americans of the Republic in Springfield, Illinois; the name of the organization was changed to Loyal Americans in 1915.  The following year, the name was changed to Loyal American Life Insurance, and then Loyal American Life Association in 1917.  In 1934, the Loyal American Life Association merged with the Ben Hur Life Association.
The Loyal Americans of the Republic was incorporated and commenced business on November 7, 1896 in Springfield, Illinois, with E. J. Dunn as its president, and H. D. Cowan as secretary. 
The name on the pin would then date it to about 1915.  Some of the other items found in the box belonged to the Lair family (or their descendants) of Princeville, Illinois.  Based on these facts, I would speculate that the pin belonged to Lawson F. Lair (1833-1923), of Princeville.  I might possibly have belonged to his son, William L. Lair, but because I have never seen any of Will’s belongings in my family’s possession, I would tend to think it belonged to Lawson.  However, Lawson’s probate file does not mention him having any insurance at the time of his death in 1923.
Again, thank you, Deb!
Sources (besides Debra):                                                                       Fourth Annual Insurance Report of the Ninth Biennial Period by the Commissioner of Insurance of the State of North Dakota for the Year Ending December 31, 1906 (p. 464)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mystery Monday – Loyal Americans?

This “Loyal Americans” pin was found among some old items I was given.  I don’t know who it belonged to, the geographic region it came from, nor a timeframe.  I could not find information on similar pins on the internet.  
I thought perhaps this might be a pin for the AOLA - Ancient Order of Loyal Americans, but their symbols seem to be different.
Ideas, anyone?