Friday, December 11, 2015

The Cap Goes Home

     For the last four years, I've been the keeper of something special - the cap of Lieutenant Joseph E. Leonard of Tipp City, Ohio.  Joe was a World War II pilot in the 417th Night Fighter Squadron.  He and the other member of that two-man crew, Radar Observer Ray Christensen, who was my great-uncle, lost their lives in a battle with German Luftwaffe over the Tyrrhenian Sea.


     There are "family history angels" everywhere - people who find old Bibles, photos, or other family memorabilia in antique stores or yard sales.  They snatch up these treasures and reunite them with their families.  One such angel was a man named David, who found the cap in New Jersey. Surprisingly, Joe's name and serial number were inside.  Unfortunately, David was unable to locate descendants of the Leonard family.  With Joe's close ties to my great-uncle, well, David gave me the cap to take care of in the interim.

Joe Leonard's cap

Inside the sweatband

   From time to time, I would unwrap the cap from its packing, look at it, touch it, and imagine Joe - the young soldier who died with my uncle - wearing it.  I did more research on Joe, and continued to look for his modern-day family, unsuccessfully.

Lt. Joe Leonard

     And every so often, I'd check family trees, looking for someone who had Joe in their tree.  And every time, I would come up empty-handed.  But as I promised David when he sent me the cap, I kept trying.


     A couple of weeks ago, I finally rounded up all the letters, photos, documents and data that I had been collecting on my great-uncle Ray, and decided to sit down and work on writing that story of his short life, and the fascinating years he spent in the U.S. Army Air Force.  I thought again about that fresh-faced young man, the fearless pilot that Ray trusted with his life, and vice-versa.  I climbed to the top of the closet and pulled out the box containing the cap, and once again took it out, looked it over, and imagined the young lieutenant wearing it, dressed sharply in his crisp uniform.  I tried again - and finally, I found a tree that listed Joe, his parents and siblings!  Several emails and a phone call later, I have found the proper home for Joe's cap.  I will re-pack it, and take it to the post office next week, and after 70+ years, the cap will finally be in the right place, at home.

And it feels good.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Day in the Life of a WWII Night Fighter

In a letter dated Sept. 9, 1943, my great-uncle Ray Christensen gives a description of his work schedule in the 417th Night Fighter Squadron, at the time stationed in Algeria, north Africa.

Bristol Beaufighters in flight

"At present I'm on the alert.  We spend 24 hours all dressed and ready to go play with the boys if they get nosey.  [note: they had German planes attempting to fly over] Then we have 24 hours off and then 24 hours on call for big action.  It's lovely country to fly in, especially at night.  It gets so dark you can't even see the wing tips, even though the stars do shine.  Imagine little "Jerry" up there not being able to see and expecting to get a pantfull of hot lead any minute.  No wonder flyers haven't got any nerves left  after a war.  It's good fun though I wouldn't trade for any other branch of the service.  What's worse than Germans is trying to come back over the mountains and land with clouds and fog clear down to the ground.  That's when I've really got work to do.  [note: Ray was a radar operator in a two-man crew] Between the two of us we usually make it.  It's a nice feeling to feel those wheels bump on the ground and hang there."

     Yes, I'll bet it was!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Dust Storm of November, 1933

As a child, I recall my grandparents talking about the dust storms of the "Dirty Thirties," the air being so dark with blowing dirt that Grandpa could not see the house from the barn.  My grandma would tell of stuffing  rags, or anything else she could find, around the bottoms of the doors to minimize the amount of silt blowing in.  One of these terrible dust storms blew into eastern South Dakota in November of 1933, dominating the news coverage in the area for days afterward.

The following photo was taken November 12 in Huron, at 11:50 a.m.  It looks more like midnight than noon...

Excerpts from the local newspaper tell of the difficulties this storm caused:

1933, Nov. 15
The Evening Huronite

Last Sunday's dust storm brought with it a real problem for wool growers.
The wool of sheep which were out in the storm is packed solid with dirt, according to A. D. Randall, president of the Beadle County Wool Growers association.
How to get the dirt out of the wool is a problem which has not yet been solved, Mr. Randall said.

The storm pushed eastward from Beadle County into Kingsbury County -

1933, Nov. 15
The Evening Huronite, Pg. 2

De Smet, Nov. 15 (Special)  De Smet was digging out of the dust today, with a roof torn from the Sanitary market building as its worst damage and a pyramid of thistles almost to the top of the display windows of the J. C. Penney company store the most freakish effects of the wind.
The roof that was lifted from the market building cleared the front wall and crashed in the street beyond the sidewalk, damaging neither the light post nor windows of buildings.  The thistles were piled as if by hand converging to the center of the fifty foot front of the building, blocking both doorways.
Over Kingsbury county the dust storm raged severely, with many bare fields to feed it.

And it continued into Brookings County -

1933, November 16
The Evening Huronite, Pg. 2

The wind Sunday attained a velocity of 56 miles an hour in Brookings and carried the enormous amount of 125,000 tons of dirt per cubic mile, according to J. G. Hutton, State college agronomist.
The outstanding feature of the storm was the amount of dust which accompanied it.  From the barren fields and plowed lands the wind picked up the soil and while there were no clouds in the sky, when the wind was at its height it was impossible to see a house across the street and the lights were needed within hours.  This was in town where the buildings partially obstructed the wind while in the open spaces the condition was even worse.
One assistant of the college agronomy department went to the top of the Coughlin campanile and collected samples there, which were fairly large, indicating that a great amount of land was moved, if fairly large particles attained the height of the campanile, 165 feet.

The cost of this particular storm, just in terms of cleanup of homes and businesses, would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars if wages were paid, according to the previous article.  But, during the Great Depression, few could afford to hire help.  It was disheartening, my grandmother told me; she would just get the house clean and the wind would pick up again.  I can only imagine how relieved everyone was when the dust storms of the '30s became a thing of the past.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Lessons Learned From a Computer Failure

It's what we all dread - turning on the computer, and finding it refuses to boot.  One week ago tomorrow, it happened to me.  My computer has not been declared dead quite yet, but it's been in the shop for 6 days, and they are still trying to resuscitate it.  Thank goodness I have my laptop as a backup, as well as my smart phone, but in this last week I've been glad for some of the preemptive things I've done, and I've learned some lessons on other things I should have done better to prepare for this.

My words of wisdom -

First and foremost, back up your data!  I use Carbonite (no connection, no relationship to declare) but there are numerous services out there.  One thing to be cautious of - some unlimited automatic backup services allow you a certain amount of data, and after you have reached that limit, they throttle your backup speeds.  This has been an issue with my service in the past, and I understand that they no longer to this; but prior to the change, I would find files I had created weeks prior had still not been backed up.  Check your backup periodically to see just how fast your files are being uploaded.  Carbonite has a "control center" that tells you how many files are pending at any given time, and also identifies them by name.

In addition, check various file types to make sure they're being backed up.  By default, my service does not back up movie files (as well as others), so I had to be certain that all those file types were included in the uploads.

Second, do local backups.  Huge external drives are relatively cheap; so much so that I have two of them connected to my computer, one set to back up every Saturday night, and the other every Wednesday night (patting myself on the back for that).  Unfortunately, in the month or so prior to my computer failure, I had unplugged the drives for some reason that escapes me now, and I don't recall ever plugging them back in (kicking myself firmly in the backside for that).  The moral of the story is this: just because you haven't had a computer failure in the past doesn't mean it's not coming, so take it very seriously, as if it was just around the corner.  It might be!

Third, go ahead and have your browser save your passwords, if you wish.  It's convenient.  But remember that even though you might have access to another computer, that computer will not help you with all those passwords.  I have no experience with password managers, and in this day and age of abundant hacking, I am not sure I want all my passwords in one place.  Thank goodness, I keep a recipe card file with my passwords managed the old fashioned way - one card for each website/account, and filed in alphabetical order.  Though it's occasionally been a real pain to make a written note of my passwords, and to update the file every time I've changed a password, it's something I am really, really glad I did now.

Fourth, if you haven't already made that emergency boot disk, take a few minutes and do it now.   Also, if your antivirus program has instructions for making a boot disk, do that as well.  If you have a virus that makes your computer inoperable, having virus definitions easily at hand could be huge in recovering your data.  In my particular case, my boot disk did not help, but had the circumstances been different, I could have backed up those new photos of the grandkids that I'd just unloaded from the camera, instead of hoping Carbonite was fast enough to upload them.  And I could potentially have fixed the problem myself instead of having to pay someone else to do it.

Hopefully in the next day or two, I'll have my computer back, complete with a new and improved hard drive, and all my data intact.  Hopefully.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Reading Glued-in Postcards

It's always a thrill to discover a new photograph, such as the one of this lovely large home, printed as a postcard.   But how frustrating to turn it over and find writing - but due to paper glued on the back, it's impossible to read it. 

I could not even make out the postmark, which was especially frustrating.   My husband had a fantastic idea, which ended up solving the mystery.  All we needed was a bright, LED flashlight - 

The  card was postmarked Melrose, Minn., Oct. 1914, and was addressed to Casper J. Kluthe of Howell, South Dakota, and was from Henry Eikmeier, his brother-in-law.  It reads, "Melrose Oct 30 1914    Will be at Orient next Wednesday Nov 4th   Hope you will meet us
Henry Eikmeier"

Being able to put a date to this card also helped to date photographs from visits of the Eikmeier family to the Kluthe family; prior to being able to read this postcard, I was only able to guesstimate the dates within a few years.  In addition, I can add another date/place to the Eikmeier timeline.

I have a number of old photos and postcards that have been glued into albums, and the unfortunate part is that most of those albums had black paper rather than white, so this tip won't work for every situation.  But in this case, it saved the day.

More Fun -and Haunted - Finds in the Office

This is the second-oldest item I've discovered in the bowels of my office - the oldest being a commencement program from 1884 - but this item is interesting as well.  It's a 1919 calendar from Turlock Mercantile Co. in Turlock, California.  Besides its age, I thought the overall design of the calendar was interesting.  Although a little ripped up and some water damage, the calendar portion looks like it was never used.

The Turlock Mercantile Building as it looked in 2014, photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Many businesses have inhabited the building over the years, from the dry good business that started it all, to retails stores, offices, even a boarding house above.  It started out as a wood building, and was bricked later.

An article in the Turlock Journal notes that paranormal investigations were done at Turlock Mercantile building in 2008.  Numerous reports were made over the years of strange noises and ghost sightings, so some amateur investigators decided to look into it, and got strange results themselves - the article says it better than I could:  "[They] got more than they bargained for when rattling noises began and the front door alarm went off right in front them. Even more spooky were the sounds of footsteps and a six-digit phone number being dialed the recorder picked up and the unexplained ending of the tape, even though the reels were still turning."

At that point, they brought in the professionals who did their own investigation and concluded that the ghost of the building's founder, Horace Crane, was among many that still called the building "home."   If you want an interesting read, consult the original story at

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

More Office Finds

Today's find is a Cadillac advertisement from the January 6, 1923 issue of "The Country Gentleman."

Monday, April 13, 2015

Help your Lookup Volunteers Help You

Research or lookup volunteers are anxious to help others with their genealogy research, mostly because we've all been helped so much ourselves.  But burnout is a problem that can easily be avoided with a little consideration for those trying to help you.

1) If you find yourself beginning your email with "Looking for any information..." stop right there. Consider this from the perspective of the volunteer.  I have delved into whatever resources I had, and come up with a nice amount of information to send back to the requester, only to be informed that they already had that information.   When you ask for help, rarely are you looking for "any" information.  You've already got *some*... do your volunteer a favor and tell them what you have, and specifically what you'd like to find.  Please be respectful of our time and effort.

2) Clearly state what geographic area and what time frame is involved, don't just give us a name.  Many of us have our contact information on many state and county sites as volunteers;  we don't automatically know where your ancestors are from or when they lived.

3) Read carefully what your volunteer is volunteering to do - if I have a particular book I'm willing to do lookups from, please don't ask me to go to the courthouse and get a birth certificate.

4) Please don't request information that you could easily find yourself using Google.

5) Most of us do not have infinite knowledge of or resources for your family or area of interest. Sorry, I do not know who paid for your great-great grandfather's grave stone. Sorry, I can't send you a photo of your great-grandmother's class reunion.  Sorry, I don't know why your ancestors moved from Indiana to Illinois.  (These are all real questions I've been asked.)

6) If you have a white list set up for your email, add the volunteer's email address to it.  Don't ask us to fill out a questionnaire to be able to send you your results.

4) Most of all, please say Thank You!  Chances are, your volunteer took time away from their own research to help you out, so acknowledge our efforts, even if we didn't find what you were looking for.  A little appreciation is all the pay we get - please do give us that.

Postcards from the Past, Part 2

More postcards from the collection of Elvirta Graves Knutz.

A postcard Virta received from her aunt and uncle, with a PS of 
"Virta, do you suppose you will ever look like this?"
(she never did)

 From 1911


Postmarked 1908

 from 1908

And my personal favorite ---

 Postmarked 1915.  Sent to Virta, then a young wife, from her mother. 
Should we read between the lines?


Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Pinup Girl

Yes, I'm still cleaning out my office.  I began chipping away at a tall pile that was threatening to avalanche, and discovered a box of old paper items I bought at a garage sale 2 years ago.

The following is a loose page ripped out of an old, unknown risqué publication.  I wish it had a date on it!  I'm going to guess 1920s.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Postcards from the Past, Part 1

My great-grandmother, Elvirta Knutz, loved postcards, as did her extended family.  As a result, we have a nice collection.    I'll share a few here.

Theodor Eismann, Leipzig and New York, Illustrated Song Serie [sic] No. 1814
I love how pleased the little girls look to see their brother getting a spanking!

Anglo Life Series  

"If you have no money why you needn't come around"

Cleaning Day.  Postmarked 1911 with a one-cent stamp.

Postmarked 1914


Sunday, March 22, 2015

No Lika Dat Pill

Another of the interesting finds in my office:

I have no idea what time period this came from - perhaps someone will recognize this pope and will be able to help.  I'm going to guess 1960s?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Preserving old cassette tape recordings

Recently while cleaning my office (an adventure that deserves its own post) I ran across a tub of old cassette tapes that my mom gave me.  Most of them had belonged to my grandmother.   What a variety of tapes there were - my favorites were of my then three-year-old son singing nursery rhymes and telling stories, and another of my older son, who used to babble into a tape recorder instead of cleaning his room - he hated to write letters, and this is how he communicated with his great-grandparents.  There were also our kids' band concerts, a tape my grandmother made of children's songs in which she played on the piano and sang, as well as her funeral service and a recording she'd made of my husband's band from 30+ years ago, among others.  These cassettes are so old, and anyone who has ever dealt with this sight knows why I've been so uneasy about them.

My promise to myself when cleaning the office was that I'd start at the door and work my way around the mess - one item at a time, skipping nothing.  Many things were piled up in the office because I didn't know what to do with them, or I knew what I wanted to do but didn't know how to go about it.  I was about halfway through the room when I came upon the box of cassettes, which fell into the latter category.  I decided it was time for a learning experience.

It actually went easier and faster than I expected.  Typically, the motto "Anything That Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong" applies to me!  But it was an impressively smooth process.

First, I needed software.  I downloaded the free Audacity program ( and installed it.  There were a couple of settings I needed to tweak for recording - first, I needed to set a Recording Device - I clicked the drop down arrow and chose "Line In."

Second, I selected a Recording Level.  I used the slider to set the level at about 75% first - and adjusted after doing a test recording.  I found mine worked best at 100%.

Next, I got my hardware ready - a computer, a Walkman, and a plug.   The whole setup, unimpressive as it is, looks like this:

I used a stereo plug (3.5mm) with two male ends.  I plugged one end into the headphone jack of the Walkman, and the other end into the computer, using the Line-In port with the "sound waves" icon - caution!  Do NOT use the headphone or microphone jack for this - I understand you can damage your computer by doing so.  Because this was new to me, I decided to use my old Vista computer rather than my newer one with all my genealogy files on it.

Next, I selected a cassette tape and put it in the Walkman.  On the Audacity screen, I hit the "record" button, and pushed "play" on the Walkman.  I recorded about 10-15 seconds, then hit "stop" on Audacity and on the Walkman, and played back the digitized file by hitting "Play" on Audacity.   My initial recording was hard to hear, so I adjusted the Recording Level on Audacity, and turned up the volume on the Walkman as well, and made a few more test recordings until I was pleased with the results.

Record/Stop/Play buttons on Audacity
When I was ready to being recording in earnest, I created a new file by going to File --> New in Audacity.  I got a new window.  I noted whether or not the cassette was a 60 minute or 90 minute, and planned to be sitting there when the tape stopped so I could stop Audacity as well - it will keep right on going if you don't, resulting in file sizes way bigger than you might want.  I hit "play" on the Walkman and "Record" in Audacity.  

When the file was done recording and I had hit "stop" in Audacity, I saved the digitized file by going to File-->Export Audio.  Using "Save Project" results in saving as an Audacity format rather than a sound file, which is great if you need to further tweak your results before exporting as a sound file.  But if you want just the sound file, go with Export Audio.

A dialog box comes up which allows adding additional information such as artist and track, which is optional.  Then "Ok."  The file then saves the recording as a .WAV sound file with whatever name you give it, and in the directory of the user's choice.

Audacity does a lot more than this - I found several tutorials on YouTube that showed what could be done with the program.  Someday I'll learn more, but for now, this does just what I need it to do to preserve those old cassettes in a better format.

Public domain photo of tape courtesy of
Disclaimer:  This is what worked for me - but I'm no expert.  You are encouraged to read some of the many tutorials on the web to educate yourself on the process.  I have no affiliation with either Sony nor Audacity.  :)