Sunday, February 22, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

You Can't Go Home Again. That's what they say. I never fully understood that phrase. You could always go home. If nothing else, you could always drive by your old home and remember the good times. And I often did that when I found myself back in my hometown.

The one place that was sacred to me in that whole town was the home of my grandparents, where we learned just about everything in life that we needed to know. I learned to hem my pants in that house, and it was in the kitchen that I learned to bake. It was where I learned how to control my temper and behave in a civilized manner. I learned about life and death there - watching with fascination as the guppy had babies, and in sadness when realizing the dog's bed was now empty...

The sight of that big Victorian-style house sitting on the corner lot, with it's white porch surrounded by the brilliant colors of roses, geraniums and zinnias, is a scene that will be etched in my mind forever, and it will still lower my blood pressure considerably just thinking about it. That house was more than just happy memories at Grandma's - it was a haven from the rest of the world, a little speck of normalcy in a life that was anything but normal. Turning onto their street and seeing the house sitting there like a beautiful fortress brings back just as many comforting feelings as it does tender memories.

The old folks had been gone a long time, but still I made it a habit to drive by on my rare trips back home. As I'd turned the corner, the eyes of my soul would see it all over again, and it felt good.

I don't know what happened. Perhaps I'd finally started seeing the old place with my eyes instead of with my heart. As I came around the corner, I saw a house much, much smaller sitting on an overgrown lot. The front steps, which we used to love to sit on, were sagging, and the paint was chipping off. I barely recognized it.

I spent the rest of the day driving around town, looking for something, but not really knowing what. I went to the park where we used to have family picnics. Everyone was gone now - just an empty pavilion remained. I drove out to the old family farm, to the site of the old grocery store, to the cemetery, past all of our old houses. Everyone and everything was gone. At some point, you truly can't go home again, no matter how long you drive.

It was several weeks later, back in the comfort of my current home with my family, working on a family history project, when my thoughts took me back again, walking through the park-like yard, holding onto my grandmother's hand while she taught me about flowers. And it was then I realized that while you can't go back home again, home can indeed come back to you.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chip, chip, chip...

Chip, Chip, Chip... that's what it sometimes takes to bring down a brick wall. Victor Eugene Hall was just about the slipperiest ancestor I've ever tried to investigate. Oh sure, there are difficult ancestors from way back before good records were kept, but Victor did not fit into that situation. He was of this century, and there *should* be a paper trail *somewhere*. Finding it though, wasn't so easy.

I started out knowing that his name was Victor Hall. He was married maybe twice, maybe three times, once to Molly Norene Henard, and they had a son named Ronald. One wife's name may have been Gloria. Another wife's name might have been "Cubby". He had ties to the Kansas city area, and may have inherited land there, somewhere. And he moved around a lot. The relative lack of good clues might have been easier to work with if his name was something a little more distinctive than Victor Hall. Or if he had a lot of descendants also working on their ancestry. But he had only one child, and that child had only 3 biological children. I thought I'd die wondering about Victor Hall.

I started looking for Victor Halls, born in Missouri. I had no trouble getting plenty of hits - but which one, if any, were him? Thank goodness for online resources - I knew his son was born in California, so I consulted the California Birth Index, and ordered his birth certificate. I got a few good pieces of information, primarily Victor's age, and hence knew he was born about 1901.

I started looking at censuses for Victor Halls born in Missouri in 1901 - I had a number of men who could be him. The Social Security Death Index and other online sources gave me other Victor Halls who fit the bill - two born 11 Feb 1901, and one born 11 Feb 1903. What??
One of the men was born in Canada, according to census information, so I tentatively eliminated him. I felt sure that I had found the right Victor at one time, in California, so I found someone to look up the obituary for me. I was disappointed once again to learn that this Victor had been happily married to the same spouse for 52 years, and a had a number of children. Having spent countless hours trying to sort out this mess, I was ready to put it "on the shelf" for awhile.

Late one night, a few months later, I was browsing through some Ancestry databases and noticed that there was a listing of Missouri marriages. On a whim, I entered "Victor Hall" and pressed the Search button. Up popped Victor E. Hall, born 6 Feb 1901, married in Jackson co., Missouri to Reba A. Cubbison. It took a minute to connect "Cubbison" with "Cubby", the name of one of his wives, but once I did, I felt a new hope that this could be him. I still could not connect this Victor with any of the ones in the SSDI, so started looking for Reba. Through the SSDI, I got a date of death and place of last benefits for Reba - Kansas City. I ordered her death certificate, and learned she was buried in Benton county, Missouri, in New Home cemetery. Thanks to Johna at, I was able to make the first major breakthrough in my quest for Victor. Johna had inventoried the New Home Cemetery, and her online data not only confirmed the birth date for Victor, but most importantly, gave me a date of death! I sent an email to Johna to thank her for all of the work she has done on her most wonderful website, and in reply, and sent me a picture of Victor and Reba's headstone! The kindness and generosity of people never ceases to amaze me.

At this point I started organizing my Victor Hall information on a spreadsheet, until I had come up with 5 different Victor Halls, plus the one I *knew* was mine. I went through them, one by one, and kept researching, until I was able to eliminate that particular man as him. I ended up with one, which I could neither eliminate nor confirm as mine.

Armed with a date of death for my Victor, my next quest was for a death certificate and obituary. I could not find what I was looking for online, so scooted over to Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, and located a great volunteer by the name of Electa, who not only got me an obituary, but did so with amazing speed! She must have sensed how anxious I was! The obituary confirmed that this was indeed my Victor Hall. Not only that, but it also confirms that the one remaining Victor Hall on my spreadsheet, whom I could neither confirm nor eliminate as mine, is the right one. Checking censuses has given me two generations further back.


That's the sound made by a big portion of the brick wall hitting the ground, after a series of "chip, chip, chips". I still have a long way to go. I have no idea where Victor was between 1920 and 1942, when his son was born in California. And I have no idea where he was between 1942 and 1953, when he married Cubby in Kansas City. Back to Chip, Chip, Chip...