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When I was a young girl, my mom mentioned something in passing about my Grandad’s brother.  What? A brother? I thought my grandfather was an only child. So I pressed her for some elaboration. The story she told (which had to have come from her dad or his parents) was that Letis Johnson was 13 years older than my grandfather, and that he was “crazy”.  My grandparents had to commit him several times to the Insane Hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Sometimes Letis would come home for visits. One time he threw a brick through the chicken coop.  Another time he was so engraged he tried to cut off my grandfather’s ear. Grandad carried the scar the rest of his life.  Mom also mentioned that it was believed Letis had falled at some point in his infancy or early childhood, and it was thought the fall had caused some sort of brain problem.

As a young girl and teen, this story was fascinating. A loony great-uncle who died at the age of 28.  As a budding family historian over ten years ago, this was the type of information that needed to be delved into.  But as a mother – it was heartbreaking.  I wrote about this in Katie’s Story.

On the Friends of Allen County website (Friends of Allen County), I found information that showed that Letis had been admitted to the Fort Wayne State School (Home for Feeble Minded Youths) due to epilepsy (probably caused by the fall), and he died from pneumonia.  What makes this story even sadder, is that it happened decades before there were medicines to help with epileptic seizures. Today, Letis could be a functioning member of society.  I don’t know if he attended enough school to be considered educated.  I don’t know if he ever felt romantic love for someone.  I don’t know if he felt all alone when he was far away from his family.  And until two years ago, I didn’t even know what he looked like.  Then I found the pictures.  Suddenly I had a face to go with the name.

So the question I still go back to – was Letis really “mad” or just suffering from a medical condition?  Epileptic seizures have ocurred in many people throughout history – from Biblical times until now – sports figures, celebrities, and normal people trying to live their lives. How debilitating one must feel when a seizure strikes – especially in a time when others wondered what the person had “done” to be cursed with this illness. Did Katie and John (my great-grandparents) blame their son for having epilepsy? Themselves? The universe? Or did they just feel helpless?  They weren’t wealthy enough to travel to a “big” city to have a fancy medical doctor treat Letis – if there even was a treatment then.  All they could do to protect themselves, their younger son, and their home was to send him to a place where he would be treated, cared for, and kept from hurting himself or others.  My heart goes out to my great-grandparents because that type of decision must not have been made lightly.

So the Great-Uncle I didn’t know much about, has aided me in the way I look at the other members of his family.

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Even though this is supposed to be “wordless” – I thought this picture would be great for “hump day”!!!

(Original and digital photo held by Wendy Littrell. Photographer – Unknown. Taken with my mom’s camera to be used by my mother however she wanted.)

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GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

This picture (to the left) was taken in 1954; location – Japan when my parents were stationed at Tachikawa with the Air Force.  My impression has always been – what a sad tree!  I believe this was the only type of tree that would work as a “Christmas” tree – short of buying an artificial tree from the Base/Post Exchange. I hadn’t been born yet but my sister and brother were the children who had “visions of sugarplums” for that year’s Christmas.

This picture (to the right) was taken about 1968 when I was a little over 7 years old; location – the house I grew up in east of Dayton, Ohio.  I obviously have some teeth missing!  Those pants were not purple – from what I remember – but blue. This is the artificial tree we used – it was only a year or two old because I remember having live trees when I was very small.  Mom used this artificial tree at least until the time I was 18 years old and then I think she gave it to my cousin. This tree is set at the corner of the living room and formal dining room. From what I remember, this was the same location it was set year after year. During my childhood, Christmas dinners were always at our house. Those who attended included my maternal grandparents, my sister, her husband, and two kids, my brother and his wife (and later their son), and sometimes my brother-in-law’s parents.

This photo (to the left) was taken in 1991 either before we left or after we returned from Christmas Eve services at our church. This is one of the very few pictures I have of our family by the Christmas tree. Boy, my husband and I look so young!  Our youngest was a few months shy of two years old and our oldest was a month away from 10 years old.  Our second daughter had just turned eight and our son was six and a half.  Over the years, our tree has moved “around” the living room.  We had it in this location for a few years and for the last 10+ years it has been in the opposite corner.  Our Christmas tradition since this photo was taken has rarely changed. There were some years that we went looking at Christmas lights after church. We’ve always had a meal of “finger food” late in the evening – I’ve made sausage balls, cheese and crackers, stuffed shells, deli meat sandwiches, fresh vegetables and dip, and more. The last couple of years we have had Wing Stop chicken wings and tamales from our local tamale factory. The first year we decided on wings, the restaurant was open until 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve so we picked up the order as soon as church was over. Last year it closed early, so I had to go pick up the wings and fries and try to keep them warm the rest of the day. The french fries did not fair very well – so I don’t think we’ll do that this year. On Christmas Day we’ve had the traditional dinner – turkey (and sometimes ham), dressing, mashed potatoes, homemade giblet gravy (and turkey gravy from a jar for those who won’t eat the other kind), green bean casserole, Christmas cauliflower, scalloped corn, and pies.  There were years that I started making cookies in the middle of December and other times, I just don’t bother!  I’ve made homemade chex mix for gifts to friends and family. The last two years one of our daughter’s has had us to her home for the Christmas dinner. Our oldest daughter hasn’t been able to be with us for Christmas in over seven years. For the last 5 years, we’ve enjoyed being with all four grandsons.

The only picture of our family with my mom was taken at my sister’s home in 1999. Our kids ranged from almost 10 to almost 17. That year we had Christmas dinner at my sister’s home and my contribution was my Christmas cauliflower and something else! See the red plaid skirt that I’m wearing? I wore this at almost every Christmas from 1978 until just a few years ago!

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Although this photo was taken in 2008, this could be a photo from today. The Christmas tree is in the same spot – although our present tree is a new artificial tree – and I haven’t added any garland to it. This year I will use strands of beads as garland. Our Christmas this year will begin on Christmas Eve when we attend our Worship Celebration at our church of over 20 years. Then we’ll come back home and eat our “finger food” dinner, culminating in the reading of “The Night Before Christmas” (a tradition since the children were all small) and the Biblical Christmas story. We’ll set our presents out under the tree after the grandkids go to bed and then later, Santa will arrive. He’ll find a cold glass of egg nog in the fridge in case he’s thirsty and a couple of cookies with a note to him on the kitchen table. This year Christmas falls on a Sunday – the first one in six years – so our morning will be very early! I have always had a family breakfast before presents are opened and this year, I think I will have a crock pot breakfast casserole that has cooked through the night. After we eat, it will be time to dig into gifts and take pictures. At 10:30 we’ll be at our church, celebrating the real reason for Christmas. Then it will be home to finish cooking the dinner. Hopefully, I’ll get the turkey in the oven before we leave. One of our grandson’s might not be with us that day – perhaps late in the evening. The kids will be playing with new toys, probably have new movies playing on the TV, and the aroma of delicious food cooking.

GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS YET TO COME

In the future, I hope that we can still enjoy our grandchildren – and further into the future – our great-grandchildren – and our children and families at Christmas. Wherever we are, we’ll still decorate a Christmas tree – big or small. Some of our traditions may continue and some will be replaced with new traditions. We’ll still have some of our tree ornaments – especially the really nice handmade ones that the kids and grandkids have made. Pictures will still be snapped and food will still be eaten. I may prepare a traditional Christmas dinner, yet I see myself changing it in my golden years – especially if there are only my husband and I sharing the holiday together. No matter the year, we’ll always remember the joy of Christmas’s past and the true reason we celebrate the season!

Merry Christmas!

(written for the 113th Carnival of Genealogy: A Charles Dickens Christmas)

all photos – digital and print – held by Wendy Littrell

 

 

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Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings, posted his SNGF via Michael John Neill’s RootDig post, 10 Signs You Have Genealogy OCD, and asked fellow geneabloggers to post their own 10 Signs of Genealogy OCD.  So here are mine:

  1. You overhear people at church, the supermarket, or standing in any line, mention they are headed to Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, or Indiana for vacation and tell them that you have ancestors buried there.
  2. You see an ancestral name on one of your fellow geneablogger’s websites or blog and ask them for a gedcom in order to determine if you are distantly related.
  3. Your spouse asks you if you know anyone buried there each time you pass a cemetery.
  4. You check for library books that mention your ancestor’s regiment in the Civil War in hopes of finding a picture that he might be in.
  5. You read everything you can about Abraham Lincoln because the story passed down mentions that your great-grandfather shook hands with him in hopes of figuring out where, when and how that might have occured.
  6. You check familysearch.org several times a day hoping that there are new or updated databases for Ohio and Indiana.
  7. You pester your local library about getting Ancestry Library edition because your 6 month free trial from your FTM 2011 software ran out and you really only got to use it for about 30 days.
  8. You schedule your Friday nights around “Who Do You Think You Are?” when they have new shows.
  9. Your family knows your genealogy “happy dance” all too well and scatter before you can tell them why you are excited and what new information you’ve found.
  10. The only genealogy information your family wants to hear about is when there are scandals involved – and the closer the ancestor – the better!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this – have you seen yourself in any of mine?

 

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Our Saturday Night Genealogy Fun assignment from Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, and based on Katie O’s post You Might Be a Genealogist If . . .”>You Might Be a Genealogist If . . . on Where You Came Fromblog, for this Saturday is Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – You Might Be a Genealogist if . . .. We were to make up our own sayings. Immediately several came to mind.

You might be a genealogist if . . . you are driving on vacation and see a billboard touting a county of that state and you say “I know people buried there!” (to which your spouse would reply – “And do you speak to them often?” – yes, this has happened to me!)

You might be a genealogist if . . . you get excited when people show up at your workplace (a church) and inquire about what information there might be about their ancestors who founded the congregation and you start pulling out all the history information, rolls, and other stuff (work? what work?)

You might be a genealogist if . . . you don’t realize how glazed over your siblings or children’s eyes get when you start telling them about the latest connection you’ve documented.

You might be a genealogist if . . . you see a familiar surname on another blog and contact the author to see if they share a common ancestor with you.

You might be a genealogist if . . . you always steer the conversation at family events to dates, times, names, and who has the family bible, marriage certificate from the gr-grandparents, or addresses of distant cousins who might have what you are looking for.

You might be a genealogist if . . . you choose to write the obituary for a close family member in order to list all the first and middle names and relatonships of the survivors and deceased parents, siblings, as well as all of their jobs, education, and hobbies so future generations won’t have to guess at any of that.

You might be a genealogist if . . . you know which libraries in a twenty mile radius have Ancestry Library edition in case you need to go use it.

You might be a genealogist if . . . you get excited and offer all sorts of help when a friend or acquaintence happens to mention in passing that someday they’d like to start doing genealogy research.

That’s mine – and yes, all of the above are true!

Thanks Katie and Randy – that was fun!

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Volunteer as a noun is defined by Dictionary.com as:

a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking or a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

Volunteerism is defined by the same source as above as:

the policy or practice of volunteering one’s time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, esp. in one’s community.

I pondered how being a volunteer and volunteerism correlated with my family history and genealogy.  I can remember many activities that my mother took part in that would qualify as “volunteer”. 

  1. Girl Scout Leader
  2. Church Council member and President
  3. Church committee member
  4. Parent Teacher Organization member
  5. Substitute Teacher (when it was all volunteer)
  6. Working at school carnivals and community festivals
  7. Helping to coordinate her alumna banquets
  8. Driving elderly friends or church members to church, church functions or back home
  9. Hosting women’s or club functions or bridge parties
  10. Driving her teenage daughter (me) and friends everywhere

As a member of several organizations (Parents Without Partners, American Legion, FOE Auxilliary, and a Square Dancing Club), I’m sure she put in a good many volunteer hours.  Through the church, even when she was ill and couldn’t do very much, she still volunteered to cook chickens that would be used for the Tuesday night dinners the church held for the community.

My mom saw volunteerism modeled by both of her parents who were very active in community organizations.  My grandparents either separately or together were members of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (N.A.R.F.E.), American Legion, Eastern Star, and Daughters of America.  My grandfather served on the Council for the Village he resided in and worked hard toward the merger of the towns of Fairfield and Osborn in Greene County, Ohio long before they did merge to become Fairborn.  He also was a Boy Scout leader for many years and a member of the Masons.

My mom’s brother also saw the modeling of this type of volunteerism of his parents and became very active in the community as an adult.  He helped organize the Battle Creek (Michigan) Hot Air Balloon championships; was a member of the Masons and the Lions club; member of the Battle Creek chamber of commerce who started the Leadership Academy; helped with Battle Creek’s sesquicentenial celebration leading to the formation of PRIDE INC., of Keep America Beautiful; and many other activities.

Researching the many volunteer activities and the organizations my family members have been involved, has led me to the conclusion that they were very giving people and have passed on this sense of helping others.  I have spent a good number of years wondering if “no” is part of my vocabulary. 

At the age of not yet 50, I have been a Girl Scout Leader for two of my daughters; spent many years on the Christian Education board at church and the Cemetery Board; have now sat on the PTA as a board member and officer for 4 years; helped with one of our community organizations via our church by helping to make lunches for low income families during the summer; as a coordinator, treasurer and public relations chair for a parent organization; and other activities.

So how do I pass this on?  Will my volunteerism or that of my mother, my uncle, and my grandparents impact the lives of my children, grandchildren or the great-grandchildren yet to be?  And how does one go about volunteering without it being all about them?  Helping others – either within a structured organization or individually – is not to make a name for oneself.  It shouldn’t be done with the thought that others will think more highly of you.

Volunteering in the name of genealogy should take on the same thought process.  If you are in the position to help someone – whether it is spending an hour at the local libary looking up obituaries or a census index; going to a nearby cemetery to photograph/transcribe a few headstones; or pointing someone in the right direction – you should.  Just because it is the right thing to do.  Someday you may need that type of help.  Very limited. Very specific.

I don’t know how much I’ve contributed to other’s research however I have received communications from very, very distant cousins or people researching the same surname as I am, and I’ve at least responded or sent them my own communication.  If nothing else, I hope they feel that they aren’t out in the genealogy research “world” without a paddle – that someone else has read their query or message board post.

I’ve been helped immensely by volunteers.  Not only has a kind lady taken pictures of the requested headstones for me but she photographed other family members’ headstones and spent several hours at her local library researching the names and sent me news clippings.  And she didn’t want one penny for her time or her postage.  That is a volunteer – being selfless and not thinking about what was in it for her.

Two of my relatives in my Johnson line along with myself have pooled our resources and research and share everything about our shared lines that we find – including questions about whether we are on the right track. 

That is volunteerism through genealogy.

Another definition of Volunteer is someone who signs up, enters, and serves in the military.  Even though our service men and women do receive pay from the government, by offering to sacrifice themselves in order to assure our freedom – that is still volunteerism.

I’ve had many ancestors and family members who have volunteered in such a way.  My grandfather for WWI, and went on to serve until the Korean War.  My dad and his brothers who served during WWII and even beyond.  Cousins who served in the Viet Nam War.  Children of first cousins who served in the first Gulf War.  A great-grandfather who served in the Civil War.  Others who serve now – although not in a battle zone.  This type of selfless sacrifice has also been passed down through the generations.

Humanitarian?  Philanthropic? – they all add up to VOLUNTEER!

This post was written for the 88th Carnival of Genealogy.

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I’m a day late on a Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post (thanks for the topic, Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings!).

Several of my Best of 2009 moments came from items that fell into my lap so to speak.  After my mother passed away, I found many documents and photos that I hadn’t been looking for, but was very excited to find. 

  1. My maternal grandparents’ framed Marriage Certificate, my maternal grandmother’s parents’ marriage certificate and their parents’ marriage certificates!
  2. Birth Certificates for my mother and her siblings and my maternal grandparents.
  3. My maternal grandparents’ wills (I’d seen these when they had passed away but now have the actual documents and all the letters and court papers through probate.)
  4. Very Large Portraits of Ancestors.
  5. Address books that gave me some clues about family residences and my grandparents’ friends.

Looking back on my posts in 2009, I’ve picked a few that I consider my “best”:

  1. January 24 – Meeting Julia. I was able to learn a little more about my paternal grandmother’s sister via this biography.
  2. February 18 – Additional Research Techniques. I highlighted how researching a book on Coshocton marriages enabled me to put some pieces to a family puzzle together.
  3. March 2 – Childhood Enemies – Adult BFFs written for the 11th Edition of Smile for the Camera.
  4. September 30 – The Box, part one of a 2 part post that concluded with the October 1st post –  The Calendar. This was one of the items I found at the bottom of a trunk at my mom’s house and told the intimate story of my “baby” aunt’s brief life from my grandmother’s perspective.
  5. October 17 – Mingling of Families and Murder. This post was very challenging as I tired to untangle how two sides of my family were forever entwined.

I also realized just how helpful others can be.  Not only did a lady take pictures of headstones for me via Find A Grave, but she did some research at her local library and sent me some news clippings.  I also connected with a distant Goul cousin who mailed some very valuable family history information.

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