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?