Friday, May 7, 2010

VE-Day: The WWII Persian Gulf Command, the first American soldiers in Iraq

Today is VE-Day, and as we fight on in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am taking a blog entry to remember the first American fighting force in Iraq, World II's Persian Gulf Command.  My grandfather was stationed in the Persian Gulf from 1943 until 1945, as part of the 762nd Railway Shop Battalion.  The main purpose of this unit was to maintain the tracks and trains that ran war supplies into the Russian Front, and sometimes ran refugees out of Russian and Poland.  They called themselves 'The Forgotten B***ds of WWII" but the war might have gone very differently without them.

When American soldiers went to Iraq, they were given this guide.  Reading it, I am amazed at how little has changed.  I've also read Joker One, and wonder what the soldiers in our current war would make of the information my grandfather was given, including these samples:

YOU HAVE been ordered to Iraq (i - RAHK) as part of the world-wide offensive to beat Hitler.
You will enter Iraq both as a soldier and as an individual, because on our side a man can be both a soldier and an individual. That is our strength—if we are smart enough to use it. It can be our weakness if we aren't. As a soldier your duties are laid out for you. As an individual, it is what you do on your own that counts—and it may count for a lot more than you think.
American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could. 

Iraq Is Hot! As a matter of fact, you may be so busy when you reach Iraq that you won't see much of anything for awhile. Probably you will feel Iraq first—and that means heat. Blazing heat. And dust. In the daytime Iraq can be one of the hottest spots in the world. If you happen to travel by train in the daytime, the leather seats may get so hot that you'll have to stand up. Most work is done between 6 a.m. and noon and perhaps an hour or two in the early evening. And yet the nights of these hot days are often uncomfortably cool. 

You probably belong to a church at home, and you know how you would feel towards anyone who insulted or desecrated your church. The Moslems feel just the same way, perhaps even more strongly. In fact, their feeling about their religion is pretty much the same as ours toward our religion, although more intense. If anything, we should respect the Moslems the more for the intensity of their devotion.
There are four towns in Iraq which are particularly sacred to the Iraqi Moslems. These are Kerbela (ker - be - LAA), Nejef (NE - jef), Kadhiman (KAA - di - MAYN) (near Baghdad), and Samarra. Unless you are ordered to these towns, it is advisable to stay away from them.

The guide proceeds to give a list of dos and don'ts (don't spit or smoke near mosques, do respect the Moslem women, etc.)  It also includes a list of useful phrases and conversions, and a history of both the country and the Muslim religion.

These soldiers supplied Russia with 192 thousand trucks and thousands of aircraft, combat vehicles, etc.  In 1944, there were 30,000 US soldiers serving in Iraq and Iran.  My grandfather was primarily stationed at Ahwaz, working on the diesel train engines that ran the supplies.  After VE-Day, he was sent to Munich to repair damaged engines in Germany, in order to get supplies moving through the rest of war-torn Europe.  He didn't get home until early 1946.

We have made so many mistakes in the current war in Iraq.  Maybe one of them is our lack of history, our inability to look back and remember the soldiers who were there before, their experiences, and their potential insights.  The veteran's group for the Persian Gulf Command was essentially disbanded in 2007, because there weren't enough veterans left to gather and remember.  But their stories are worth reading, and their contributions to the war should be remembered on this day. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day: My Grandmother The Electronics Technician

"When I was a working lady, you could be a secretary or a schoolteacher. I was an electronics technician."

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, to commemorate and celebrate the contributions of women to science and technology. My theory is that much of our progress is so recent, we all know a pioneer or two. So I am celebrating my grandmother, the second woman in engineering at Tektronix, Inc.

My grandmother is a pretty unique individual. She started telling us dirty jokes when we were in elementary school. She was the first person I knew who had two piercings in each ear. And she insisted that all notes be addressed to Ms., not Mrs.

When my dad and uncles were kids, they played cards for their allowances in the back of the car on Sunday drives, and she cheated. Growing up in Northern Colorado, she held pussy-willow swallowing contests with the boys in church and didn't understand why she wasn't allowed to roller skate in the post office. So she's always been a bit on the wild side.

She worked at Tektronix for "25 years to the day," from the 1960 to 1985. She started out in production, which was almost all women. She began in "Small Parts," where they soldered the tiny components of oscilloscopes and vacuum tubes. She didn't say, but I could see where small hands might have been advantageous.

There was one woman, Connie Wilson, in the entire engineering department. One day Connie said she was looking for a technician, and told my grandmother to apply. So my grandmother became the second woman in engineering. She says she was never treated badly, more as an aunt to the young male engineers. She also remembers that Howard Vollum, one of the founders, always parked in the farthest lot and walked in, refusing a special parking space. She respected that gesture a lot.

Jean Auel
, the author of The Clan of the Cave Bear series, also worked at Tektronix then. She was a Mensa member, and brought Mensa into the company to run tests on the employees. Connie and Grandma took the test too, and scored in the top 10% of all Mensa members. Apparently the rest of the engineers were a little chagrined. She went to a few meetings, but they were 'wild' and she stopped going. Her definition of wild boggles my mind.

I can remember her scooping up rejected circuit boards on a tour of HP in Colorado Springs, and showing us the flaws. I also remember her showing us microscope pictures when we were little, and asking us to spot the differences between two boards.

Two of her sons are chemists and one is a pharmacist, so her love of the scientific and technological must have been contagious. I asked if she would be an engineer if she were a young woman today. It's a tough question, but she says she probably would, she has a knack for it.

For me, my grandmother is at once an inspiration and a reminder that keeping women from science and technology has kept some great minds from fulfilling their potential. Who knows how different the world would be if she and women like her had gotten more and better opportunities.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Census: Independence Rock. A Genealogy Perspective

In Niobrara County, Wyoming is Independence Rock. It is a crucial point along the Oregon Trail, "The Register of the Desert." Carved into the feldspar are thousands upon thousands of names of pioneers. From 1824 on, people stopped and carved their names into this rock, hoping that the relatives that came after would learn that they'd made it this far. One story tells of a woman who writes her name in 1852, after finding her husband's signature, left in 1849. The rock was a way to make yourself and your journey real. It was a way to celebrate how far you've come, and to send a message, full of optimism, to the people that would follow. The census is no different, and no less important.

It is easy to get caught up in the 'NOW' of the census - to worry about the immediate ramifications - redistricting, school funding, etc. But the census is much broader and more far-reaching. Genealogists are big census fans. The census is often the only thread pulling a story together, connecting a family, or revealing insights that have been lost in time.

Some of my family is listed in the 1860 Yamhill County Oregon Census.
You can see the story of the Oregon Trail here, too:
- the journey - Susan Gant, age 6, born "on the plains."
- the migration pattern - the Perkins family has a father born in New York, marries a mother born in Indiana, their first child is also born in Indiana, but the second is born in Iowa and the 3rd-5th are born in Oregon.
- the tragedy - John and Eliza Pennington are raising their two daughters (16 and 14), but also 8 Sportsman children, the littlest only age 1. Like Eliza, the 3 oldest Sportsman children were born in Missouri, so they may be her sibling's children.

This information is unique, it wouldn't be possible to derive most of it from bibles, tax rolls, or other data. Even the questions a particular census asks reflect the evolution of the country. In 1790, the enumeration differentiated between free whites and slaves, but only white men were grouped by age. In 1820, there was a separate free black distinction, and women's ages were tracked. In the 1930 census, people born in Mexico were separate from 'white' but they weren't in any previous census or in the 1940 census. Literacy, sanity, deafness, blindness, unemployment, age at first marriage have all been asked through the years. In the 1940 census, the next to be released, native or childhood language was asked.

The individual data for the census is held for 70 years, so that people can be protected from having their personal information released. This seems so quaint in the digital age, where so much information is known and revealed to the world. But there is a feeling of excitement around the release of each census. The last one released, the 1930, was the first to list my grandparents. The 1950 will be the first to list my parents.

The census is an Independence Rock. It says to future generations that we are here, we matter, we count. It says we have faith that, despite the complexities and challenges of our journey, in 2080, someone will be there. Someone who wants to know who we are.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bransons, Part 1: Henry Clay Branson

This is a family with a series of interesting names, too many to cover in a single post.

It should be stated, first of all, that the father's name was George Washington Branson. George was born in 1832, a hundred years after the original George's birth. So there was clearly a history of applying larger awareness to the child's name in this family.

In 1851, George and family headed west from Illinois to Oregon. There he married Mary Eliza Wood. They homesteaded in Yamhill County. But don't think that just because they were living on the edge of civilization as they knew it, they were less aware of the world around them. If anything, their isolation may have heightened the cultural ties they were determined to make for their children.

Henry Clay Branson, b. 1859 was the couple's first child.
There were at least 2 children named after Henry Clay and born in Oregon: Henry Clay Branson and Henry Clay Huston, 1857-1901. Both were named after this man, Henry Clay.

Henry Clay (1777-1852) was a congressman from Kentucky, the Secretary of State from 1825-1829, and a renowned orator. He was the author of the Missouri Compromise and a founder of the Whig party. In 1844, he ran for president against James Polk. Polk's campaign slogan "54.40 or Fight" proposed fighting Britain for control of the Oregon Territory to the 54th Parallel, above Vancouver Island. The stance appealed to the voters in the East, and Polk won the election in part based on this issue.

But the people in Oregon, who would have been conscripted to fight for this slogan, may have felt differently. I can't find any children named after Polk in the Oregon Territory. Clay proposed seeking a compromise that would avoid possible war with Britain. This was the compromise that President Polk reached in 1846, giving the area between the 49th and 54th parallels to Britain.

In 1857, when Henry Clay Huston was born, Oregon held a constitutional convention. And Henry Clay Branson was born almost exactly a month after Oregon became a state. These families must have been tremendously relieved that a war had been avoided. These Henry Clays, born five or more years after the death of the original, were tributes to the peaceful Oregon that he had proposed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


The name Cindereller has come up a few times. I suspect that it was a romantic name for a young mother to give her daughter - probably a mother that hadn't read the story, but had heard and loved it. These hard-working mothers probably related deeply to Cinderella, and loved the idea of someone whisking a girl off to a life of luxury.

Cindereller Madden 1807-1835, Harrison County, Indiana

This Cindereller was a puzzle, because she was born only 4 years after Grimm first published the German version of their stories, and the Perrault version, first published in 1679, doesn't seem to have had a generally printed North American version. We don't know Cindereller's maiden name, so we can't see how old her mother was, or whether she had immigrated from somewhere where the Cinderella story was being told.

But between 1800 and 1825, J. Wrigley published a tiny (11x7.5 cm)pamphlet version (shown here), that was 11 pages long. Perhaps this is where Cindereller Madden's mother learned the story.

Cindereller McDaniel 1841-?, Cherokee Nation, Oklahoma

This Cindereller appears in the Cherokee Nation census in 1890. McDaniel was her married name, her maiden name was Linden. She was born about 2 years after the Trail of Tears. There was a lot of cultural integration in the community, so although she is listed as Cherokee, her family may have heard this story from the European community members. But there is also a variation that has Algonquin origins, and this story may have travelled south to the Cherokee as well. In this story, the girl has to show her honest and spiritual nature, and is rewarded with marriage to the Invisible Warrior. Also, the 'cinders' have scarred her face, making her sound a lot like a smallpox survivor. But as part of her reward, she is washed and the scars disappear. So this story is about triumph over circumstances, which may have been exactly the right sentiment for the time. Perhaps naming her Cindereller was a reminder that both cultures valued and dreamed of rewarding good and hard-working people.

Cindereller Sumner 1859-1938, Columbia County, Arkansas

By the time Cindereller Sumner is born, the Cinderella story is more common, available in printed form, in opera, in plays. So her name could have come from any number of sources. In researching it, however, I found this book: The Table Book by William Hone. This was a book that was first published in 1826, but continued to be published as an almanac until the 1860s. It is a compendium of all things Mr. Hone wants to share (useful or not), and is 875 pages long. It includes the story of Cinderella and its origins in Egypt. It also has intriguing index items like:
  • Wealth, good and bad effects of
  • Sherbet, receipt for making
  • Diamonds, where and how found
  • Nunneries, girls formerly educated in
  • Mitcheson, Tommy, of Durham
  • Venison, hunted better than shot
  • Fractures, singular advice about
  • Earthquakes, opinions on
  • Powell, the fire-eater
Now if I were a hard-working farm family, without a lot of books, this amazingly diverse one would keep me busy. So here I imagine Cindereller's family reading a little bit of the tome by candlelight at the end of a long day, and going to bed with far-away stories in their heads.

These are my Cindereller imaginings. Have good dreams.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Philadelphia Welfare 1768-1848

Philadelphia Welfare
Born Dec. 1, 1768 in Chiddingstone, Kent, England. Died Jan. 2, 1848, Hever, Kent, England

This weird name has been a gift to family genealogists - it makes it easy to affirm the branch you are following and make connections. But why name your daughter, deep in rural England, Philadelphia? This is before 1776, so what happened in Philadelphia that would inspire someone in Kent to name their daughter?

After all, 1768 would have been a strange time to appear colonist-friendly in England. The Stamp Act had been repealed in 1766, but the colonists were unhappy with the Townshend Revenue Acts on imported goods. Boston was boycotting British goods, with Pennsylvania and New York merchants joining in. Troops were sent to restore order to Boston and protect British ships. With these conflicts, perhaps it was the idea of Brotherly Love that intrigued them.

In 1767, John Dickinson, a Philaldephia lawyer published "Empire and Nation: Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania," a series of pamphlets arguing, from the 'farmer's' perpective, against the Townshend Act. These pamphlets were distributed widely in England as well as the colonies, and perhaps this was the inspiration for Philadelphia's name, though the city doesn't appear in the letters. From his first letter :

From my infancy I was taught to love humanity and liberty. Enquiry and experience have since confirmed my reverence for the lessons then given me, by convincing me more fully of their truth and excellence. Benevolence toward mankind, excites wishes for their welfare, and such wishes endear the means of fulfilling them. These can be found in liberty only, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man on every occasion, to the utmost of his power. As a charitable, but poor person does not withhold his mite, because he cannot relieve all the distresses of the miserable, so should not any honest man suppress his sentiments concerning freedom, however small their influence is likely to be . . .

. . . I venture at length to request the attention of the public, praying, that these lines may be read with the same zeal for the happiness of British America, with which they were wrote.

At least 2 of Philadelphia Welfare's children made it all the way to Oregon. There is no way to know why she was named this way, but it is an amazing tribute to someone's aspirations.

Darling Davis May 12, 1933

I was searching through cemetery lists for the Davis family in Harrison County, Indiana. Some very generous people go around old cemeteries and compile the names on the headstones for researchers. At this page, there was this little entry:

Darling Davis May 12, 1933

Often, when a family has to bury an infant who only lived a day, the headstone only reads "Infant." Sometimes the parents' names are listed. But there is no one else on this headstone. Just the name of a tiny person who was clearly very loved. You don't even know if it was a boy or a girl.

You can feel the fierce determination of these parents, the anguish and grief.