Monday, November 12, 2012

Wedding Wednesday: Copper Plate Quest: Ethel Cooper and George Leov

The latest copper plate is probably my favorite, from a design perspective.  It is hammered copper, in a very California Craftsman style, and is just beautiful.  But it was clearly used as an ash tray, which has muddled the text a bit.

Ethel was working as a bookkeeper at a printing house in 1920, supporting her parents and brother.  All of her family was born in Scotland.  She died in 1970.

George was born in Austria, and came to the US when he was 1.  He was in the US Army in World War I and died in 1947.  He is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetary.

Their son Warren was born in 1924.  According to his cousin on, he is still living in California, and never had children of his own.  My hope is to return this plate to his cousins, so he can see this lovely token of his parents' wedding.

The Copper Plate Quest started here: Copper Plate Quest, and continued here: Norton and Douglass.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Punishing the Subscriber, Slowing the Server:

(Repost from my interface blog, May 2011)

I have been spending a LOT of time on lately.  It is, I’m pretty sure, a fantastic set of data, but it keeps itself carefully hidden behind an interface that seems designed to frustrate the subscriber at every turn.  In many ways, I feel like I was able to find information more efficiently when I wasn’t a subscriber - and that’s just wrong.

There are 2 main areas where Ancestry misses the mark: workflow and search.  These are both big, gaping, hard-to-avoid areas.  So consider this my UI review, on behalf of Ancestry subscribers everywhere . . . .
When you're getting started in, the most common activity is building out your family tree.  You start with a grandparent or someone, and work your way back, usually getting help along the way through their 'hints' mechanism.  Once you add a person, you can see if they have 'hints' from Ancestry, which are links to data, sources, and other family tree information you can add to the data for that individual.  If a person has hints, they get a little leaf on your slowly rendering tree.  Then you can hover over an individual, see the number of hints they have, and click to see the list.  Here is a screen shot:
The workflow for that person then begins.  But as it is currently structured, the addition of Col. Ball to a family tree will take approximately half an hour.  Multiply that by the thousand or so people in a family tree, and you have a terribly punishing process for the user.  Consider that the process is also not Web 2.0 in any way, but takes dozens of slow trots back to the server for complex rendering and rerendering of data, and you have a process that is painful for the server as well.
Here is the diagram of the process:
Two easy changes would make this a 5 minute process instead of a 30 minute one:
1.  Allow bulk acceptance of hints, or acceptance without having to render and review each individual hint.  While you want to make sure that your sources are correct, there are some sources that you don't have to render individually.
2. Allow access to an individual's record without rerendering the entire family tree.
I have a 50 Mbps connection, so it's not as if the rendering slowness is the fault of my pipe. 
Ancestry has the advantage of being a bit of a Goliath, in terms of the data it has.  So most people who really want to get to the answers about their family tree have to subscribe to Ancestry at some point.  But many, like me, may be feeling trapped and frustrated by the arduous nature of their interface.  And I'm sure there are techies in their offices at Ancestry scratching their heads to figure out how to make the servers faster and the site lighter to render. 
It is somehow more frustrating when the same fix would solve the problems of both groups.  This happens throughout complex web application implementations, and these slight workflow changes are often easy to fix if the internal folks would step back and see the workflow from the user's point-of-view.
Next time, I'll take a look at the second issue - search.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Brookings, Oregon

Oregon company towns were often lumber towns - and Brookings, Oregon, founded in 1907, was no exception.  Brookings was right on the border with California, almost two hundred and fifty miles south of Eugene.  The Brookings history site says:
St. George Hotel
Brookings State Bank

It is obvious that Brookings wanted more than a mill town; he wanted a town town. In 1914, Brookings incorporated the Brookings Land and Townsite Company in St. Louis, Mo. That was the same year that the Central Building was built. Bill Ward became the general manager of the company and of the town. One of his first tasks was to hire Bernard Maybeck to design a model town. Mr. Maybeck is famous for his design of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
The model town may have been some time in the making - one of my favorite pictures is the bank, which is charmingly shack-ish and surrounded by wild ferns.

My great-grandfather Raymond went to Brookings to build buildings, and sent postcards home to Alta.  After their marriage in 1916, Alta joined him in Brookings.  It was hundreds of miles from home for both of them, and must have been quite a newly-wed adventure.

Alta took a picture of her 1917 Sunday School class (looking not very amused), presumably on the porch of the building that the Brookings history site describes this way:  

By 1921, the town had 12 grades of schools, four hotels, a moving picture theater, a church and amusement hall that also was used for town meetings. The biggest amusement was the chickens under the building that would constantly disrupt the church and the town meeting. Numerous letters were written to the caretaker of the building to please remove his chickens.

I like having the whole history of a town's start within the history of a family - the places that they lived later weren't so new, or so well-documented. Clearly they were excited both by their new marriage and the new town they helped to build.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday's Obituary: Emmett Evans

I have written about my great-uncle Emmett, and how sometimes grief is so great that there aren't a lot of remnants of it for researchers.  And last week, I wrote about my experience in Digital Storytelling, which ended up with a much more personal story than this one, the one I thought was going to do.  But this is still a good story, so here you go, the background to Emmett's death, which I've learned since I first wrote about him in May.

After that blog was posted, I was given the diaries of  Emmett’s sister Norma and their grandmother, Rosa Branson, who shared a house with Emmett’s parents, Alta and Raymond.  Through their diaries you get a more complete picture of what happened. I also found his obituary in the Eugene, Oregon paper - which explained details about his death that my mom had never heard before.
Labelled: Emmett and Fontelle, Just Married 1942.  Norma and Tom are seated.
Norma: Emmy and Fontelle were married in July of [1942] on a hot night in Reno and came home happy young married people to set up housekeeping in Eugene which was to be jumped to Klamath Falls and back to Eugene again.

Emmett went to Klamath Falls for the initial phase of Civilian Pilot Training, or CPT.  In 1939, the Army had only 4500 pilots.  So they created CPT Program.  The CPT operated at 1,100 colleges and universities and 1,500 flight schools. They trained 435,000 pilots from 1939 to 1944. 
Emmett was called up to complete his pilot training with special instrument, night flight and aerobatics training, on March 16, 1943. 

Rosa: Pretty good day.  We just did up the work.  I ironed.  Got a telegram for Emmett to go to Coeur D’Alene Idaho to finish his flying course.  They was here for supper.  Emmett goes tomorrow.  I’ve written to Bertha.  Raymond set out one dozen cabbage.
Rosa, March 17: Pretty good day.  Just did up the work.  Alta went to have her hair fixed.  Emmett and Fonnie went to Portland.  Emmett went on to Idaho.  Dickie stayed with us and the rabbits.  Alta is going to Portland tomorrow to Norma’s.
Between December 1941 and August 1945, there were more than 52,000 Army Air Force accidents in the continental United States.  Nearly 15,000 people were killed in these domestic accidents.  But the CPT fatalities were outside the Air Force numbers.  They didn’t receive military honors and weren’t counted in military statistics.  Emmett was one of the unknown number of CPT pilots who were killed in training.

April 2, 1943.
Rosa: Emmett was killed this AM about 3 o'clock.  Died about 8 o'clock.  Raymond and Fonnie and Bettie went to Idaho.  A sad day for us.  I let Raymond have 20 dollars for expenses.
Norma: April the 2nd found Emmy killed in a plane crash in Coeur D’Alene Idaho, a permanent and awful blow to all of us this sting of which we can never lose.  The baby as yet unborn and unnamed came to the rescue and gave courage when and where it was most needed.

That baby was my mother, born 4 months later. 

The last piece of the Emmett puzzle is tracing his wife, Fontelle, and finding out what happened in her life after Emmett died.  I am working on that, and will have that last piece of the story sometime soon.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Motivation Monday: Digital Storytelling

I am back in the home office, after an amazing workshop by the Center for Digital Storytelling at Stonebridge Farm in Lyons, Colorado.

I went into the workshop with an idea to expand on the story of my great-uncle Emmett, a story I started on Memorial Day, but have learned a lot more about since then.  I'll tell you more about it next post.

But the facilitators at the workshop encouraging me to really examine my research motivations, and construct my story around those motivations.  This is a different way of looking at family history, and while I wouldn't want it to be my only technique, I think that it's a valuable and interesting component of genealogy and history work.

One of my central missions in Genealogy Imaginings  is to get to the stories behind the documents.  While I love the documents themselves, I recognize that not everyone is fascinated by land deeds and wills.  Generally, it is story that connects people, not paper.  So I've always tried to find - or imagine - the stories.  From my first blog entry, about the headstone for Darling Davis, there's been a lot of speculation in my blog approach, though I have other areas where I am more rigorous about my research and facts. 

The Center for Digital Storytelling took me to the next level, and I am very glad they did.  I think it's valuable to look, as a researcher, at what motivates you to follow one thread over another, or to trace one storyline more than another.  Behind those motivations could be some really interesting things about yourself, your family, and your connections to them.

Here is the story I ended up telling.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Talented Tuesday: Tracing The Cake Lady Gene

My sister, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure, is a Cake Lady.  Here she is behind her creations at a friend's recent wedding as proof.  She bakes, perfects, decorates, frosts, and uses all those around her as very willing guinea pigs.  We guinea pigs are convinced she could probably make a nice living at it if she had the confidence.

We knew she came by this from my dad's side of the family.  Our great-grandmother Marie Mauracher was a pastry chef when she came to Colorado from Austria in 1921, though the passenger list has her as a cook.  Her pastry was the stuff of family legend, so we figured that was where the Cake Lady Gene came from.

But today, when preparing for my digital storytelling workshop (more on that next post), I found this note among the poetry of our maternal great-grandmother, Alta Branson Evans:

Nov. 1953
My last day at Cake Decorating School
To my teacher, Orma Farnham
It's really been a pleasure, working with you my Dear, 
I've looked forward to every lesson, but not sleeping too well, I fear.
I wake up at 4 in the morning and make roses until 6 am
Alta and Raymond Evans
But mine never turn out like yours
For yours really are just gems
Now here it is, our very last day,
and my Wedding Cake's ready to go,
How I wish I could make lovely things like you
For yours are truly just so.
But maybe with practice I will improve
Can't really get very much worse,
And maybe a little bit better, who knows,
I've room for improvement of course
There'll be many times when I'll think of you
And wish you were standing by, just to give me
A little helping, for I'll need it and that's no lie.
But always give out with your charming smile
For it helps falters along life's way
And now may God bless you and keep you my dear
So my prayer in His name, I pray.
Love and Best Wishes, 
Alta Evans

So apparently the Cake Lady Gene came from both sides.  Marie Mauracher, I have been assured, was never lacking in self-confidence, so I may have found the source for the lack of confidence as well.  Clearly, more things are hereditary than I ever expected.  Now how to prove to the latest Cake Lady that she can make a go of it?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Talented Tuesday: 170 year-old Embroidered Linen

At Christmas 1937, my great aunt Dorothy got a note and a gift from her aunt Lila.
If you wish to preserve it as an antique, I would suggest you put it under glass in a frame or as a tray . . . It must be one hundred years old.  The cloth (linen) was woven by your great great grandmother Laura Potter.  The flax from which it was made was gathered by your great grandfather Thomas Brayton Potter and your great aunt Olive Potter.  She also did the etching on it . . . I hope you like it and preserve it for as long as possible.

The little box with the linen that was sent to Dorothy is now in my possession.  I don't know how old it is, precisely.   Laura Potter was born in 1783.  Thomas Brayton was born in 1820 and Olive in 1833, so if the flax was gathered by them, it must have been done in the 1830s or 1840s.  Olive's embroidery may have been done later.

It must have been quite a process, the creation of this beautiful, soft linen.  Growing the flax, gathering it, combing and spinning the thread, and then weaving such fine cloth.  Laura was clearly a precise weaver, it is beautiful work.  My sister (also a Dorothy) is a weaver as well, so one wonders, as with quilting, about the heredity of such a gift. 

Front of embroidery
Back of embroidery
Lila's letter to Dorothy talks about the other embroidery that Olive had done for her nieces, so it was clearly her love as well as her talent.  As someone who does embroidery, I encourage you to appreciate it not from the front of the piece, but from the back -- that's where you see the real skill, in the neatness and smoothness of the back of the piece. 

So it is probably about 170 years old now.  And (ahem) it is still not preserved, sitting in the box that Dorothy received in 1937.  It's been 75 years since Lila made that request, I am going to get to work on it.  But in the meantime, I wanted to share its loveliness with you all.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Colorado Forest Fires: Perspective

So my state, like many others, is dry and burning - partly due to lightning, partly due to human beings.  The smoke is constantly in the air, the news covers little else, and I have Inciweb open all day long.  The High Park fire is along a stunningly beautiful canyon and river, the Waldo Canyon fire is where I went hiking as a kid, and the Weber fire is near Mesa Verde, one of the most humbling ancient sites in the country. 

Being a history geek, I wanted context, perspective, a sense of where this fits, so I hit the Colorado historic newspaper archive to see what turned up.  Here are a few of the gems I found.

Record Journal of Douglas County, June 3, 1939
From 1939, a fireworks-ban story so relevant that it could have been reprinted yesterday, with virtually no changes to the wording.

From 1944, a prescient prediction that the helicopter developments made in WWII will revolutionize firefighting in difficult terrain.

Record Journal of Douglas County, Oct. 6, 1944

And finally, a scene so dramatic that the current fires seem quite tame in comparison:

Though there is comfort in seeing the cycle of forest fires, the differences between then and now are also startling.  The idea that so many mountain lions and black bears would pour out from a fire, and that the firemen would stand so brutally against them, is pretty much unfathomable today.

As they fought these fires, they were looking at them in a really different way - the timber was a resource to lose more than an ecosystem to cherish.  There was no questions of letting things burn - these were assets to be protected.

And there clearly weren't the structural concerns that are at the forefront of even the most remote of Colorado's forest fires today.  The forest were places to work, and possibly play,
but not to live - summer cottages are lost, but not homes.

Record Journal of Douglas County, July 3, 1908
So on the one hand, we seem to value the forests in a more ecological way today, appreciating their value as an environment without as much of the timber industry factor.  On the other hand, the increased proximity of people and forest means that there aren't these dramatic animal scenes, because the forests are relatively empty. 

It reminds me of another burning, best told by Douglas Adams in his book Last Chance to See, of the Sibylline Books.  All the knowledge of the world is contained in the books, but the price for them is more than the people are willing to pay, so the Sybil burns half the books.  Finally, the people are desperate for the knowledge, but only one of the twelve books remains unburned.  They pay all they have for the one book that remains, never knowing what they lost to the fires in their earlier greed.  Adams likens the story to our environment - who knows what knowledge we are losing in our destruction of rainforests, arctic tundra, coral reefs, and timberlands? 

The WWF is trying to record our most beloved places, if you haven't told a story yet, do so at Earth Book 2012Mine is about the grasslands of Wyoming.  Celebrate the wild places we still have, and the brave people fighting to protect them and the homes nearby.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wedding Wednesday: Copper Plate Quest: Norton and Douglass

This is the second entry on the copper plates used in my wedding.  The first yielded a great story, but not any reconnection.  This one, I'm happy to say, can be reunited.

It is the copper plate from the wedding of Ollave Norton and Raymond Douglass in 1918.   Raymond was born in 1894 and died in 1978, Ollave was born in 1897 and died in 1979.  Their whole lives were spent in the Greater New England area. 

Before they married, Ollave was a teacher in Nashua, New Hampshire, and after their marriage, they lived in Somerville, Belmont, and Cambridge Massachusetts.  Here is a picture of their 50th anniversary party, in 1968.  They are on the far left of this picture.

But while their lives centered on Boston, the plate somehow went on EBay, and ended up at my wedding in Colorado.

I contacted the owner of their family tree on Ancestry, and she sent me the anniversary picture.  Her mother and aunt, Raymond and Ollave's daughters, are still alive and looking forward to having the copper plate back where it belongs.  So it is about to make the journey to Rhode Island, a little closer to where it started.  I hope the Douglass family will enjoy having this little bit of history.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thankful Thursday: Isaac Newton and Personal Democracy (Bransons, Part IV)

Newton, By William Blake, 1805
I wrote about William Newton and my imagining about the son he named George Washington here.

But he also had a son, born in 1825, named Isaac Newton Branson.  Isaac was born almost 100 years after the death of his namesake.  So I've always been curious about why that name was chosen, and how it related to the feelings William had about the American revolution.

Newton's Principia was translated into English in 1729, and the concepts of natural law he laid out were key to John Locke's concepts of individual liberty.  In turn, Locke's philosophies were foundational to the United States' founders and their documents.

Summaries of Newton's work and biographies were  available in South Carolina, where William was raised.  Perhaps his education included the works that informed the country, like those of Locke and Newton.

It certainly informed William Blake, in his epic poem Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion, published around the time Isaac Newton Branson was born. Blake was a supporter of the American Revolution himself, helping Thomas Paine to escape Britain.  But Blake saw Newton as the personification of a sterilized scientific world, not as a hero.  He wanted the new country to be a spiritual Eden, not a scientific one, and for him, Newton represented the worst extension of European thought.
I turn my eyes to the Schools & Universities of Europe
And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire
Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton: black the cloth
In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation
Such is the complexity of Isaac Newton's ideas - that they can almost simultaneously inspire such strong negative emotions in Blake, while inspiring such a positive image for William Branson that he and his wife give the name to their son.  But probably this dichotomy is also a reflection of where the United States was in the early days of the 19th century.  It was potential embodied as a nation, and it wasn't clear which way it would go.  

The French Revolution was more predictable, exterminating one royal lineage only to name Napoleon as emperor.  But this American version was not.  George Washington refused the title of king, saying:
“If you have any regard for your Country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your Mind, and never communicate, as from yourself, or any one else, a sentiment of the like Nature.”
And so all the big ideas and philosophical differences were brought down to a personal level.  William Branson was able, in a democratic country that was only a generation old, to define the future he wanted through the names of his sons.  The names, I think, reflect his gratitude for his country as well as his aspirations for it as a whole, and for his sons in particular.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wedding Wednesday: Copper Plate Quest: Hamilton and Spurr

My wedding colors were copper and purple.  It's hard to find copper decorations, so we bought antique copper printing plates from other people's weddings on EBay, set them in the table decorations, and put mirrors at each place so people could read the backwards letters.  These copper plates were used to print wedding invitations, and then given to the couple as a keepsake.  They were usually made into plates or ash trays, though this first one is flat.

For us, it was a great way to get strangers talking at the table, and get my historical geekiness into our wedding.  But it's been ten years, I am cleaning out the basement, and the time has come to find out about the families on these copper plates, and try to get them to their proper homes.

So this is the first in a series of Wedding Wednesday posts, about the invitation shown here.  The picture of the plate is challenging - the copper is shiny and the words would be hard to read even if they weren't backwards, so I've created a facsimile in as close a font as I can find.  Here is the text of the invitation to Mary Clark Spurr and Rev. Alexander Hamilton's wedding:

The year before they married, they both had traveled to Europe - she returned on Sept. 5, 1908 to New York from Liverpool.  He returned to New York from Glasgow on Nov. 4th, 1908.   In my imaginings they met at some event in England, charming each other in scenes out of "A Room With A View" or Henry James novels.  I'm sure there were beautiful dresses, parasols, and a garden party or two.

Mary was 31 and Alexander was 61 when they were married - it was his second wedding.  He was the great grandson of the founding father Alexander Hamilton, and she was a Mayflower descendant (biography).  He was also a well-known Episcopalian minister.  They had two children.  Alexander died in 1928 and Mary died in 1952.
Alexander Hamilton, from Wikipedia

I would love to pass this piece of family history back where it belongs, so let me know if you are or know a descendant of Alexander and Mary.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Those Places Thursday: Ballston, Oregon: Serious Watermelon Eating

This is a postcard send to my great-grandmother in July of 1916 from Ballston, Oregon.  Apparently there was quite a watermelon feast going on!  Some of the faces in this crowd are priceless, particularly the little imps under the watermelon table. I'm also not sure whether the chicken was invited to pose or not . . . .
The back of the postcard reads:

Hello Alta - 
How are you and what are doing to fill the time?  I finally located a print of the  picture I promised to send you and here it is.  Not a very good one but it will give you an idea of the crew and what we had for a treat.  Was over as far as Grandpa's today but couldn't get as far as your place as I would have liked to have done.  Oh!  Pardon me I forgot about that ring I happened to see.  Wishing you good luck and best wishes, I am yours, L. F.
My great-grandmother was newly engaged at the time (explaining the ring reference), but I'm not sure who the writer of the postcard is.  Alta had labeled one person as 'Alta'  (the left person in this picture) though that person isn't the right age to be herself, and another as 'Viola' (the right person in this picture).  I will let you know if I find additional information about this time period and what was clearly quite the picnic.

Ballston was founded in 1878 as a train stop and grain elevator point.   In 1915, a year before this postcard picture was taken, it had 104 residents.  But by the 1950s the railroad had moved on and the town was basically abandoned.  Today it is considered a ghost-town, most well-known for its school building, built in 1855 and thought to be the oldest surviving school in Oregon.  This picture is from 1964, before it was restored and moved to a park.  Today, there is a Ballston community organization which apparently still puts together some rousing  dinners, though watermelon isn't mentioned . . .
(Those Places Thursday is a Geneabloggers event)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Memorial Day: Remembering Without Memories

When there is pain, there are no words.
Toni Morrison

This picture shows my grandmother, her brother Emmett, and his wife Fontelle, before Emmett was killed in pilot training for WWII.

Emmett was clearly adored.  I have many pictures and documents that his mother saved.  I have his baby pictures, his report cards, his high school yearbooks.  But no memories, and no one alive who would remember him directly. 

War has done and is still doing this to so many young people - stopping potential-laden lives before they've had the chance to start.

So what do I know about him?  He was an average student, a little on the heavy side according to whatever chart they were using at the time.   His weight and height were recorded on every report card.  This is a little health card I am amused/amazed by.  It was about 1930, and I can only find one of them, so I don't know if he had to do this every year.  I like that frequent baths and playing outside were priorities equal to eating vegetables besides potatoes!  And I like him - I like his pictures, his report cards, the quirky gentleness I get from his artifacts and the second-hand stories my mom tells.

Lauran Peters at the University of Oregon just sent me a copy of the obituary they published for him.  He was killed in a plane crash near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho on April 2, 1943.

But here's the striking thing in this box of papers and photos that is all I have of Emmett:  no mention of his death is found anywhere in my great-grandmother's papers.  She wrote moving poems in memory of her uncles, her minister, a singer she liked, and others.  She wrote sweet notes to 'gold star mothers' with whom she must have sympathized.  She poured her heart into poems and songs about these losses and memories.

But either she didn't write anything or my grandmother didn't keep anything related to Emmett's death.  And that gap is a powerful memorial in itself.  It is a raw darkness, that void, pouring from a wound so deep it couldn't be discussed as openly and easily as more superficial heartaches.

So this week, when you head out to pay your respects, maybe bring an extra bouquet and leave it at a grave that looks like it's been forgotten.  It could be the grave of someone who doesn't have a family to remember them; the grave of someone whose descendants have moved too far away; or the grave of someone who was so deeply loved that the rememberers themselves can't bear to visit.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Quilts, cont. Maybe it's hereditary?

One of my mom's whole-cloth quilts.
My mother is a quilter, and our house is warmer, more colorful, and cozier thanks to her talent. So when some kind person put this little story up on, I couldn't resist it:
In the Abraham Tharp cabin, Abe and the two Yocom brothers, Thomas J. and Hathaway, were telling the family about their trip to the California goldfields.  Margaret and the daughters sat at the quilting frame.  She was angry; Abe had not brought quilting needles with the cloth for these quilts.  Elizabeth was using the only quilting needle.  She screamed; the needle had split at the eye, and the steel had pierced her finger.
Exasperated, (Margaret?) Mary raised her voice, "You're as worthless as they come."
"What's the ruckus about?" Thomas J. asked.
"I'd give anything for a package of quilting needles," Mary answered.
Thomas J. had in his pocket a packet of steel quilting needles he had bought in California to give to Elizabeth on her birthday.
"What will you give me for a package of quilting needles?" he asked.
"Anything you want, but you don't have any needles."
"If Elizabeth is so worthless, I will take her and give you these needles."  He threw the package on the quilt.  The men and boys crowded around.  "Before these witnesses I give you these needles for Elizabeth."
On January 16, 1851, Thomas Jefferson Yocom, 22 years old, and Elizabeth Tharp, 15 years old, were married in Polk County, Oregon Territory.

Margaret and Abraham are my mom's 3rd great-grandparents.  They started along the Oregon Trail in 1845, and got a land claim in Polk County on September 28, 1846.  The Yocums came across in 1847.  But in 1849 the call of the California gold rush was irresistible.  Abraham, along with the Yocum brothers and many other Oregon pioneers, took off for the gold rush, leaving the women behind for many months.  Margaret had 6 children, the youngest were 2 and 3.  No wonder her temper was a little frayed. 

In order to get their own 640 acre land donation claims, the Yocum brothers had to be married, so there was a lot to motivate them and not a lot of options in a sparsely populated county.

This is a picture, also from Ancestry, of Elizabeth.  She and Thomas had 10 children.  Hathaway, Thomas' brother, traded a surly white ox to Abraham for Elizabeth's sister Mary.  Hathaway and Mary married in 1852, and Abraham supposedly felt it was a good trade, since they both "ended up with things they couldn't tame."  They had 7 children.

The little tidbits like this make the Ancestry thing more human and less mechanical - it is a way of finding the stories that someone else has handed down, and adding a little sense of heredity to the hobbies and habits of the people you know and love.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mother's Day: The Murder Quilt

The Murder Quilt, 1915
 Oregon Historical Society
One of my favorite short stories is  Susan Glaspell's A Jury of Her Peers, published in 1927.  In it, a woman has been arrested for murdering her husband.  But a conviction requires motive, and the sheriff's men head to her home to look for one.  Two of their wives come along to gather clothes for the woman in jail.  As the wives look at the woman's kitchen, quilt blocks, and dead pet, it is suddenly and painfully obvious why the woman killed her husband.  They feel guilty for not being better friends, and deep sympathy as well.

"I might 'a' known she needed help! I tell you, it's queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together, and we live far apart. We all go through the same things--it's all just a different kind of the same thing! If it weren't--why do you and I understand? Why do we know--what we know this minute?"

It is a story about the importance of women's deep understanding of each other - an understanding which is sometimes enunciated too late.  It gets lost in gossip, competition, jealousy, and the sheer exhaustion of daily wifehood and motherhood.  In Glaspell's story, it takes a murder to finally turn that understanding into sympathetic action.

This is a similar story, but it is a true one . . .

On October 8, 1915 William Booth was shot and killed in Willamina, Oregon.   Witnesses saw a man in a dark shirt and hat near the river where William was found.  They saw Anna Booth walking to visit her sick mother, and William Branson walking down the same road a little later.  Witnesses also suspected Anna Booth of having an affair with William Branson, her long-time neighbor and a cousin of the Bransons in earlier blogs. 

The Medford Mail Tribune, Oct. 19, 1915:
It seems that in the peaceful village of Willamina, William Booth, a farmer, was slain. The arrest on suspicion followed of William Branson, an employee, and of Mrs. Booth, wife of the murdered man, whom village scandal stood ready to accuse of undue intimacy. They were arrested because the authorities did not know who else to arrest.

The first trial of William and Anna began in late November 1915.  From the start, the women of Willamina attended the trial and quilted the crazy quilt shown above.  They quilted in squares, which were later sewn together.  For 15 cents, community members could have their names embroidered into the quilt.  Many of the names embroidered were also prosecution witnesses.  The quilt itself was a raffle prize, and the proceeds from the raffle went to William and Anna's defense fund.

So it seems that somewhere between the gossip and the accusation of murder, women in the town determined to act on their allegiance to Anna.  Today, the "Murder Quilt" is an Oregon Historical Society artifact, and the subject of a PhD thesis.  The accusations of adultery are thought to have originated in William Booth's mind, not in fact.  So the quilt may have been a product of the village's collective guilt.  Women couldn't sit on juries in Oregon until 1921.  Once they realized the mistake that was being made, the women had to turn to the skills and options they had available, and the quilt was the result.

That first trial resulted in a mistrial, as the jury couldn't reach consensus.  But they were convicted in a second set of trials in March of 1916.  Both received life sentences.  Anna's mother died 10 days after her conviction was handed down.

These convictions were overturned by the Oregon Supreme Court, but William was convicted at a 3rd trial.  Anna, desperate to get back to her children, agreed to a manslaughter charge with a 1-15 year sentence.

Photo from Why Some Men Murder
In May of 1917, another man, William Riggin, confessed to the crime, and went to great lengths to show that he had done it, where he had hidden the gun, etc.  He was already in jail for stealing a gun, and made the confession without being asked about the case.  He said he had fought with Booth because Booth had accused Riggin of being a 'con' and was jealous of Riggin's attention to his wife.  Despite a variety of statements that supported Riggin's claim, the District Attorney refused to reopen the case.  In 1919,"Why Some Men Murder" included a full investigation of Riggin's statements and a plea to reopen the case.

But both William Branson and Anna Booth were still in the State Penitentiary in the 1920 Census.  Anna's daughter Laura was living with her sister Laura Jones, and her son Ermel was living with her brother Walter.  Late in 1920, we know that William Branson was finally pardoned, and he went on to marry and have children of his own.  It isn't clear what happened to Anna, I can't find her in the data after that 1920 census.  The quilt remains, but the woman herself has disappeared.  I am continuing to search . . .

So it is Mother's Day, and these are the stories I have in mind: stories of women who helped each other in the end.  

 Margaret Atwood said "Forgiving men is so much easier than forgiving women" and it's true.  We are too likely to tend away from forgiving, supporting, and reaching out to each other.  And who knows what the consequences might be, for ourselves, our sisters, or our neighbors.  Poor Anna, living with a jealous and angry man, whose life was ruined because people saw her talking to a farm hand she'd grown up with and came to the wrong conclusion. No wonder so much work went into that quilt.

May we find ways to connect with the women around us this Mother's Day, whether they are mothers or not, whether we approve of their habits or their children's habits or not.  We may have nothing in common but the strong sheer wonder of womanhood, but that should be enough.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bransons, Part III: Hellen and Troy

Troy Branson 1875-1954
Hellen Branson 1877-1918

Yamhill county, the blue line is the Willamette River
George Washington Branson's family (see Bransons, Part II) lived on a farm in Yamhill County, which the Willamette River runs through.  From 1869-1887 the farmers of the Willamette Valley had their own newspaper, the Willamette Farmer. “We strive to make it interesting and readable,” an early editorial declared, “and hope to see it in the hands of every man and women interested in lands, agriculture and kindred interests.”

But from 1873 until about 1880, the Willamette Farmer fell in love with a subject that was as far afield from the daily lives of its readers as it was possible to get: Schliemann's excavations at Troy.  And the Bransons, in their farmhouse full of seven children, clearly fell in love as well.  Read some excerpts of the Willamette Farmer articles, and picture a big family at the kitchen table, reading of this far off time and place at the end of their long days:

Oct. 5, 1872: He is disappointed at finding no trace of Trojan civilization, but intends to continue his search and reach the virgin earth trod by the first inhabitants of the laud, if compelled to dig to the
depth of fifty feet. He hopes to shed light, by his excavations, on "the greatest darkness of pre-historic time, and to enrich science by the discovery of a few curious pages of the most ancient history of the great Hellenic nation." 

Dec. 28, 1872: The latest excavations at Troy have led to the discovery of a burnt house at the depth of forty-seven feet, which contained the complete skeleton of a Trojan woman with her gold ornaments.  The bones of a child were also found in the original soil.

Sonya Schliemann, wearing jewels from the find.  

Sep. 6, 1873: The telegraph brings one of the most poetic themes for an editorial that the heart of man could wish for.  It gives the details of a great discovery made in the course of an antiquarian's researches on the site of the ancient city of Troy . . . Mr. Schliemann yesterday returned from Troy, having completed his excavations after three years of labor by a grand master-stroke.  He has discovered the palace of Priam and a large treasure in gold and silver.  He has carried away with him forty large cases containing various articles, also 15 baskets of real treasures.  I saw in his house today gold goblets and vases, which shine just like the gold of our age.

May 14, 1875: (The editors continue the romance, in a piece titled "Aged Beauties") Helen of Troy was over forty when she perpetrated the most famous elopement on record, and, as the siege of Troy lasted a decade, she could not have been very juvenile when the ill-fortune of Paris restored her to her husband, who is reported to have received her with unquestioning love and gratitude.

April 20, 1877: (Alongside an article on Schliemann's latest excavations at Mycene, an article titled "Literature Among Farmers") It is often said of farmers that they are an "illiterate set."  This is spoken more in contempt than in candor or in truth.  From pretty extensive travel, I am well convinced that the farmers of Oregon, in comparison with other States and other countries, are not "an illiterate set." . . . where does literature shed a bright halo, and leave a brilliant luster in its course? In our homes; around the fireside . . . Literature, in all ages, has been a solace to the weak, a prop to the tottering, a guide to the lost, a shield to the innocent, health to the sick, light in darkness, knowledge to the ignorant.

And so, in 1875, the Bransons have a son, and name him Troy.  In 1877, they have a daughter, and name her Hellen.  (Schliemann, it should be noted, named his own children Agamemnon and Andromache . . )  All of the romance of a different age, the excitement of the excavation, and their balance of their daily lives and their literature are crystallized in these names.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Story From The Small Town Papers

One of the families I have been working on has deep roots in Kentucky, a place that takes its history seriously.  There is a fantastic resource, Kentuckiana, which includes archives of small town newspapers.  In the 1880s-1920s, these newspapers were much more intimate than the newspapers of today.  They were, in many ways, the first social media.  In them, people recorded travels, illnesses, family events, business announcements - everything that we see on Facebook or Twitter today.

They are challenging to research - the indexes aren't always accurate, the scans can be hard to read, and finding a continuous thread is almost impossible.  But the stories make it all worthwhile.  From the vocabulary to the insights of the newspaper editors, you can get a warm and vibrant picture of the people in these towns. Here is an example:

This is a 3 article story:

July 7, 1907: Mary Carter held a "Chin Music Party" or "Talking Bee" at her home in Carter's Landing.  Alfred Miller and his brother Everett attended.  "Chin Music" is a slang term for idle talk, used by Stephen Crane in the Red Badge of Courage.

August 28, 1908: P.B. Greenwood (one of Mary's relatives) held a "rag" with dozens of young people attending - including Mary and Alfred.  The Notes from the editor on the party said this:
Alfred and Ed. Miller, Stoy Hawkins and Richard Carter, all young swells of this place, are trying to sprout a mustache.  Now wouldn't that tickle you?  Will the young ladies please sit up and take notice.
At the time Alfred was 21 and Mary was 26.  Apparently the mustache was a hit . . .

January 14, 1909: Alfred and Mary's engagement is announced.

January 19, 1910: And a year later, the editor (known as 'old mule' in his column), meets the baby . . .
The marriage and birth dates could have been gotten elsewhere, but the stories in the paper add such humanity and humor to their identities.  It took hours to piece these fragments together, but I love the story that results.