Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Thoughts on Writing Tragic Events in Family History

This has been a truly tragic week already. On Sunday evening, my husband and I rushed to our neighbor's home to find their small child had been accidentally hit by a truck, leading to his death. The hours that passed and the days that have followed will forever be engraved in our memories. It made me think and feel many things, some too personal to share in this public format. However, one particular thought keeps crossing my mind: How do you write about a tragic event in your family history?

The First Question

Maybe the first question should be: Should you write about a tragic event in your family history? Many of you may remember when I blogged about the death of my grandmother's child and the coal mining accident that took the life of my grandfather. One of the reasons I decided to include these tragic stories in my family history was that my uncle had tried many times throughout his life to write about it, but couldn't. I felt the stories needed to be told and recorded for future generations. I was far enough removed from the events to be able to write the story without significant distress.

Don't Wait Too Long

It is fine and even practical to wait a time before recording your story after the event has happened, but don't wait too long.

The uncle I spoke of, Uncle Willard, arrived after the slate fall...only in time to drag Grandpa's body out of the mine...only able to witness the very end. My other two uncles, Millard and James, were in the mine right beside Grandpa when it happened, but I had never asked them a thing about it. They both died years ago and now I will never have that part of the story. I didn't want Uncle Willard to pass on before I had a chance to hear his story at least.

Remember, though waiting is good, waiting too long may cause the story to be lost forever.

Does Telling the Story Help the Teller?

When I asked Uncle Willard to tell me the story some 50 years after the event, he had difficulty. Not difficultly remembering the details of the accident, but rather dealing with the emotions it still stirred up. Would it have helped him back then to speak of it, or to write the day's events down? Did it help him now knowing the story was being preserved to pass down to other generations?

When I interviewed my aunt and my mother about what they remembered the day their father died, they too struggled to get through the story without losing their composure. They had never talked about it in-depth either. I wondered, did they want it recorded like Uncle Willard did?

These are some great questions to ask yourself and the others involved in your tragic stories. Genealogists love a record made at the time of the actual event by someone with first-hand knowledge. But sometimes, writing about a horrible tragedy when it is fresh in the mind is far too difficult. Even still, talking or writing about the event and one's feelings can in some instances be therapeutic to the survivors. You will need to decide based on each instance and consider whether telling the story helps the teller or not.

Other decisions you might consider is the when to about the event and in what format to record the story (i.e. written, audio only, or video.)

Do tragic stories help our descendants?

I don't know. I think so. When it's quiet, I can still hear the crying of my neighbors when I arrived on the seen. I mentioned to my mother that it was the most heart breaking sound I could have imagined. She said she remembered her mother waking in the night, crying and screaming, "Why! Why did you have to leave?" as she carried Grandpa's clothes around the house. I think that hearing that story made me realize...the heart can recover, at least somewhat.

I reflected on Grandma's lost child and husband and yet, she pressed forward, raised her other children, and lived and loved her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her story gives me hope. Hope for my neighbors, hope for myself, and hope for others in the mist of horrific circumstances that life can go on.

Conclusion

I hope my thoughts on writing about tragic events in your family history have made you consider the idea of writing your stories. If you have a tragic event that is too difficult to write yourself, consider asking a trusted family member or friend to write the story for you. You never know how your story will help and sustain a descendant in the generations to come.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Following the Wrong Family Line: Not a Mistake after All


I followed the wrong family line! Gordon Johnson was born about 1827 in Tazewell County, Virginia.[1] He married Cosby Green in about 1849. I thought Gordon was the “right” guy. I had been doing the family history of my cousin’s paternal line when I stumbled across Gordon and Cosby.

Sadly, it was the wrong family line. However, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Gordon wanted to be “found.” You see, Gordon didn’t appear with his family in the 1870 census. Cosby was listed with five children ages nine to seventeen. I wondered where he was. His last child was born in about 1861. Then, I knew. Gordon must have been a soldier in the Civil War.

I couldn’t help myself. I had to find out what happened to him. His story ended up being fascinating and down-right uncanny.

Following Gordon in Time

I first found Gordon at age 23, listed with his wife, Cosby, and a baby in the 1850 Lee County, Virginia census. The 1860 census found Gordon again in Lee County, Virginia with his wife and six children.  She was obviously quite the busy young mother! By 1870, Cosby was head of the household with five children.[2]

My next step was to see what was available for Civil War records online. FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com both have several databases available for Civil War research. I did a military search for Gordon on Ancestry.com and found many good matches.

I learned that Gordon was living in Lee County, Virginia and was about thirty-six years old on enlistment day. He served for Virginia and did not survive the war.[3] Well, that answered my first question. He was definitely a soldier and he had never returned home.

I also learned that Gordon was enlisted in the 64th Virginia Infantry on 13 Aug 1862 and was mustered out on 26 Dec 1863 at Camp Douglas, Chicago, IL.[4] This is the uncanny part! Guess where I was living when I found this record…yep, just outside of Chicago. What were the odds?! It just convinced me even more that Gordon was cheering me on from the “other side.” “Find me,” he called, “Tell my story!”

Another fun find was in the Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958 in which his widow filed for pension.[5] Did you realize that Confederate soldier widows could get pensions?

The application for pension filed by Cosby was only one page, but she stated that she and Gordon had married in Mulberry Gap, Tennessee.[6] A quick Google search showed Mulberry Gap to be in Hancock County. Hancock County courthouse had a fire and marriage records between 1844 and 1930 were lost.[7] Because of this loss, it is likely this pension record is the only record that states the exact location they were married. This was a great find!

I Hit the Mother Lode

I love using Fold3, especially for Civil War and War of 1812 research. I searched for Gordon and hit the mother lode. There were seventeen pages in the “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia” file. It confirmed he was in Company G of the 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry and enlisted in Lee County, Virginia for three years.

Other new tidbits of information included that he was captured at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee on 9 Sept 1863. He was then sent to Camp Douglas [Illinois] on 24 Sept 1863 via Louisville, Kentucky. He died on 26 Dec 1863 at Camp Douglas, Illinois of phthisis pulmonalis, another name for tuberculosis. At that time, he was buried at Chicago City Cemetery in grave #918. Wow! What a story!

Gordon’s wife Cosby filed a claim on 12 July 1864 suggesting that she was given word of his death at least within six months.[8] I hope she found out sooner, rather than later.

Some Enriching Details

A Google search for “64th Virginia Mounted Infantry” gave me some insight into Gordon’s time in the military and his imprisonment.

The 64th Virginia Mounted Infantry was recruited from the Virginia counties of Lee, Scott, Wise, and Buchanan. They were allowed to stay in their home area as long as they promised to protect the Confederacy. The regiment did not see much “action” or bloodshed, but their mortality rate was high due to their dying of disease as prisoners of war.[9]

Two thirds of the 64th regiment were captured on 9 Sept 1863 at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.[10] Gordon and a couple of his brothers were among those captured.

The winter of 1863 and 1864 were some of the harshest on record. Cold temperatures, insufficient food, lack of adequate clothing, and disease ravaged the camp. By the end of the war, Camp Douglas had housed over 26,000 Confederate prisoners and had over 3,000 fatalities due in large part to the horrible conditions.[11]


Fort Douglas, Chicago, IL. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Soldiers who had died at the camp were first buried in the Chicago City Cemetery, but due to flooding, in 1866, the soldiers were exhumed and removed to Oak Woods Cemetery in a large mass grave.[12] A monument stands there and reads “ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF SIX THOUSAND SOLDIERS HERE BURIED WHO DIED IN CAMP DOUGLAS PRISON 1862-5”. There are large bronze tablets that list some of the dead that are buried there. I checked to see if his name appeared on the tablets…it does.

Conclusion

Even though I had followed the wrong family line and found the “wrong guy,” it was a pleasure to get to know Gordon Johnson. I was kind of disappointed when I learned he wasn’t in my cousin’s family line. But guess what…after more research, I found that it was me who was related to Gordon…through his wife Cosby! I love it when a family history story comes together, don’t you?


ARTICLE REFERENCES



[1] 1850 US Federal Census, District 31, Lee, Virginia, population schedule, page 351 (stamped), dwelling 657, family 679, Gordon Johnston [sic], digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 27 Mar 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 955.
[2] 1870 US Federal Census, Jonesville, Lee, Virginia, population schedule, page 14 (penned), dwelling 88, family 89, Cosby Johnson, digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 Apr 2015); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 1658.
[3] “U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865,” index, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Apr 2015), entry for Gordon Johnson, born 1826, resident of Lee County, Virginia.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Alabama, Texas and Virginia, Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958,” digital image, Ancestry (www.ancestry.com : accessed 5 Apr 2015), entry for Mrs. Causby [sic] Johnson, widow, Lee County, Virginia.
[6] Ibid. Note the location of marriage is indexed as Troutburg, TN, however after viewing the image, it was determined to be transcribed incorrectly and the location of marriage is Mulberry Gap, TN.
[7] “Hancock County, Tennessee Genealogy”, FamilySearch, (http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Hancock_County,_Tennessee_Genealogy : accessed 4 Apr 2015).
[8] “Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia,” digital image, Fold3, (www.fold3.com : accessed 7 April 2015), entry for Gordon Johnson, 64th Mounted Infantry; citing NARA microfilm publication M324, roll 1044.
[9] Jeff Weaver, “64th Virginia Infantry,” USGenWeb Archives, (http://files.usgwarchives.net/va/military/civilwar/rosters/va64th.txt : accessed 6 Apr 2015).
[10] Ibid.
[11] The Chicago Story that must be Told, Dec 2013, pg. 3; digital image, Camp Douglas Restoration Foundation (http://www.campdouglas.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Camp%20Douglas%20Presentation.pdf : accessed 2 Apr 2015). This number has been disputed over the years.  Most have declared the official number to be about 3,108, however the monument placed at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago gives the number as 6,000.
[12] Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois, para. 2-3, digital image, National Park Service

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ten Tiny Tidbits to Record for Baby



What a wonderful weekend! My sister and her husband welcomed their third baby girl into the family. Eden Rose was born at 3:20 am on the 24th of April, 2016. So adorable!
Andrea and new baby, Eden Rose.

I sat down last night to record the events of the labor and delivery in my journal. What did I include? Here are ten tiny tidbits I suggest we all record for the new babies in the family.

1. Full name and the reason the name was chosen.
2. Time of birth, date of birth, and stats of baby.
3. What hospital was baby born and where is it?
4. How did Mommy know it was "time to go to the hospital?"
5. Who went to the hospital with Mommy and who was present at the birth?
6. Who took care of the other children when Mommy and Daddy went to the hospital?
7. How long was labor and delivery? Were there any problems or difficulties?
8. What was the first thing Daddy said when he saw the new baby?
9. What was the first thought Mommy had when she saw the new baby?
10. Does baby look more like Mommy or Daddy?


Dave and his three little girls.
You may have more tiny tidbits to include; the more the merrier! In our little baby's story, I included that her Auntie Mandie stayed the first night with her in the hospital. Because Mommy had a bad reaction to some medications, she was moved to a bigger hospital some distance away. Daddy was exhausted and had spent the daytime hours with Mommy. Now, in the evening, the two older children needed some attention. Daddy went to be with them and Auntie Mandie went to stay all night at the hospital with Eden. She reveled in the glory of having a little one to cuddle!


Eden Rose on her special night with Aunt
Mandie.
Finally, Andrea was released from the hospital and reunited with her new baby and family. It was a long few days, but the reunion was all the more sweeter. Oh, and I got to hold and cuddle the new little one too!

Me and baby Eden.



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Finished Family Line Questioned...Part II

Back in October 2015, you may have read along as I lamented the false sense of security I had about a "finished" family line. Several genealogists had recorded that my ancestor, Henry Bowser the husband of Catherine Long, was the son of George Bowser and Elizabeth Moyer.

A cousin connection and a new document brought up some questions of Henry and his true parentage. Now, Henry Bowser Sr. and Mary Bowman were a possible candidate for his parents. Read more about that here.

I went to work collecting every record I could on Henry, George, Elizabeth, Henry Sr., and Mary. Without giving away too many details (because I plan to use this in my certification portfolio), Mary's obituary gave her true relationship to young Henry. He was her nephew.

By default, I might have assumed that George and Elizabeth had to be his parents. After all, there were only two couples in question. Right? Nope. When further researching this problem case, I found another possible parent. Daniel Bowser of the Montgomery county area turns out to be another father possibility.

I had to put this research question aside for awhile, but today I picked it up again by chance. I was "cleaning up" some digital documents and found something I had saved. It was Henry and Catherine's marriage record. Actually, it was a duplicate marriage record. Why had I saved two, I wondered? I noticed that they were two different types of marriage record. This one was a small handwritten list. The source citation of each document indicated that these two records were recorded in two different volumes of marriage records held at the Montgomery county courthouse.

I had overlooked this little paper because I found the more detailed marriage record. Though I had not deleted this extra record, I had subconsciously pushed it aside. When I looked closely, right there in black and white, it said "Henry Bowser of Danl."


This is a great find! I am heading over to the probate and guardianship records for the county now.

It just goes to show that "finished" family lines are not always finished. New records are being found each day and make all the difference. The research others had done was not bad research. With what they were able to access in the 1980s, they made the most logical parent choice for Henry. Now, it is our responsibility to check that work and make sure nothing new has come to light.

Happy hunting my fellow genealogists!

Friday, April 1, 2016

April Fools' Day and Other Shenanigans

Wow! I can't believe it is April already. I had hoped to pull a few practical jokes on the kids, but time got away from me. It's early though, so you never know!

I don't remember any great April Fools' jokes as a child, but I'm sure we tried to pull them. Last year, my sister and her husband played a variety of silly jokes on their five children. She cut out a bunch of brown "E's" and placed them in a brownie tin, put egg dying tablets in all the faucets, added googly eyes to several items, and blocked off the microwave.


Even though my family was not into April Fools' jokes growing up, we all loved a good scare. The Bowser family tradition is scaring the wits out of unsuspecting people! I think it is hereditary, because we all love it!

The first story I remember hearing was about my Grandpa Bowser. One day while my dad and his little friend were in the barn, Grandpa snuck around to the side and made lots of growling noises and scratching sounds. He scared the dickens out of the boys. My dad remembers that he had never heard his father laugh so hard, before or since. This has become a favorite story and was even reincarnated decades later.

A few years ago, my two sisters were out in the barn. They had mentioned being afraid to go out there for fear the coyotes would "get them." Dad couldn't resist. He secretly followed them out and began to make the requisite growling and scratching noises. He could hear them frantically talking about what they should do, which only made him laugh harder. To this day, he can barely get through the story without crying from laughing so hard!

Another sister decided to scare my mother one time. She waited until Mom had loaded up the old station wagon with the trash bags to take down the lane. We lived down a long lane and Mom would haul the bags of trash to the end for the garbage man. Chrissie, about eight years old at the time, crawled in the back seat without Mom noticing. Once at the end of the lane, she popped up and said, "Hi Mom!" I'm surprised Chrissie lived to tell that story!

I think the funniest prank or scare I ever pulled was on my son Derek. I know I shouldn't have done it, but like I said, I inherited my desire to scare people, so I can't help it. When Derek was about six, my youngest daughter was born. He was watching me change her diaper one day and asked where her penis was. Oh readers...I mean, you just can't let an opportunity like that pass by. Quickly, I gasped and said, "Oh no!! Where is it?" Derek screamed and said, "DID IT FALL OFF!?" The look of panic was priceless, I am laughing out loud just thinking about it! Oh my goodness. That was by far the funniest scare I have ever given one of my kids. (Don't worry, I quickly let him off the hook and we had a very serious anatomy lesson!)

Why not share some funny stories from your family and personal history today? Don't forget to write them down! I am sure they will become some of your family's favorites. Happy April Fools' Day!

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Finding Every Opportunity

New Bishopric of the Sidney Ward
Left to right: Jim Van Luven (1st Counselor), Bishop Joe Chrisman,
Chad Tennant (2nd Counselor)
These last two weeks seem to be filled with opportunities to share my personal and family history. Last week, my husband was called as a Bishopric member at our church. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you are unfamiliar with what a Bishopric is, it is like a Pastor (who we call a Bishop) and his two assistant pastors. Chad is one of these "assistant pastors." You might wonder what this has to do with family history. Let me tell you!

When I was  a young child, about 8 years old, my father was called as a member of the Bishopric in this same church building as my husband is today. Dad was later called as the Bishop of our ward. Today, my youngest daughter is 9 years old, so very close to my same age then. I was able to share with her, and my other children, how I felt as I was sitting in those SAME pews when my father was called to this position.

Former Bishops, Left to right: James Chrisman, Sr., Arthur Bowser (my dad), Mark
Zelnick, Del Cabe, Randall Frisbee, and Joseph Chrisman (son of James Chrisman)
After the calling was announced in church, the new members of the Bishopric and their families met in a small room. Now this was really something special. As I looked around the room, I realized that there were five former Bishops in the building that day, one was my father. After our meeting, I could not resist mentioning this unique event. We gathered all the former Bishops and the newest Bishop for a picture! This was part of my personal and family history. These men, especially my own father, had been the spiritual leaders of my entire life. Each one had influenced me in a significant and positive way. With this picture, I plan to share with my descendants this special story.

I was nostalgic for several days and found myself finding any opportunity to share a family history story. This morning, my two older children and I were reading about Nehemiah in the Old Testament. If you remember, Nehemiah was a good man. He was working to rebuild the walls in Jerusalem, yet he was continually thwarted by a few individuals. We applied this to our own lives today and how when we are doing the Lord's work, we are sometimes bombarded by those who would hinder the work. Because of our faith and knowledge, we know that the Lord's work cannot be deterred. He is there to help us when we ask.

My dad, Art Bowser, playing on a little tractor.
Somehow, this discussion turned to a family story from many decades ago. When my father was a little boy, I believe he was between 3 - 5 years of age, he was riding on the tractor with his dad. Grandpa was pulling along the disc tiller and Dad fell off. The sharp tiller went directly over his little body. He should have been gravely injured or worse, but he had not one cut. My children and I talked about how some would chalk this up to a coincidence, but what was it really? A miracle. In fact, this miracle saved the life of a little boy who then went on to do the Lord's work in many small ways. He served a mission, he served as a Bishop, he has been a great father and grandfather. Oh, my heart was full!

In conclusion, if you look for opportunities to share your personal and family stories, YOU WILL FIND THEM. I am convinced that our descendants will be inspired by our stories and find value, comfort, and wisdom from each of them! Have you had an opportunity to share a story today?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Recommitting to My Own Family History

Expo Hall at RootsTech, 2016
I have been in debriefing mode since my return from RootsTech 2016. Looking over my notes, reading through syllabus materials, and shuffling through the many business cards and pamphlets I picked up has been great! But this morning, I decided I wanted to put my experience into one statement. Here it is: My experience at RootsTech recommitted me to my own family history.

As a professional genealogist, I am nearly always working on "someone else's" family history. As a blogger for RootsBid.com, I am often writing "how-to" articles to inspire others to search out their families. I try to set aside one day a week for my own family genealogy, but sometimes I feel too tired or too busy. I need to recommit.

At RootsTech, I heard many stories of companies and individuals who are setting aside specific amounts of time for their own family history. Even some big genealogy companies encourage their employees to set aside time each week to work on their personal genealogy.

I was inspired by former Governor Mike Leavitt when he shared his goal to write 1000 personal history stories! And Bruce Feiler, keynote speaker on Thursday, shared that successful families are families who "talk... lot."

It doesn't take a lot of time to start a habit of sharing your personal or family history. Mike Leavitt's 1000 stories were usually only a few key sentences about a particular event in his life. It was a darling story he shared when his young daughter asked, "Do babies come because you get married?" Mike was on his way to a meeting and didn't want to short-change the conversation so he told her he would love to talk to her about this when he and "Mommy" could talk to her together. She then answered, "You don't know, do you?" Ha, ha!! We all got a laugh out of this sweet little story that was only a few sentences long.

If writing is not your "thing," be the family storyteller. Bruce Feiler stated that successful families talk about what it means to be a family. They share the good stories and the bad. Children who know their family history are more successful and able to overcome obstacles and trials.

My favorite handout from the Expo Hall.
Now that I have proclaimed that I am recommitted to my own family history, here are a few of the steps I want to take.

1.) I will dedicate 3 hours of time per week to sourcing and verifying my old family tree. While doing so, if a story has not yet been provided, I will include a short three sentences about one event in their life.

2.) I will be more consistent about holding the "Ancestor Birthday Bashes" I started last year. These ancestor birthday parties are a fun way to share the family history with the younger generation. (You can read about my epic ancestor birthday bash here: http://rootsbid.com/blog/6-ideas-to-throwing-an-epic-ancestor-birthday-bash/)

3.) I will use my personal journal time to make a regular accounting of the extended family happenings at least once a month.

There are many more goals I could make, but I have learned that sometimes "less is more." That just happens to be one of my dad's favorite quotes. See, I'm getting started already!

So, what was your take-away statement from RootsTech this year?

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