Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Like Father, Like Son

My maternal grandfather, Fred Harmon (1921-1993), and his father, Edward Harmon (1883-1960). I think this photo was likely taken in the late 1930s perhaps at their home in Henry, Codington Co, South Dakota. Anyone recognize the type of car that might be?

Photo privately held by Tracy's mother, Middleton, Idaho, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Ben Arvel McNeal

Headstone of Ben Arvel McNeal, my great-uncle. He was only about 3 1/2 months old when he passed away on 12 September 1920. I can't imagine the heartbreak of his parents, Charles and Della Grindstaff McNeill. Ben is buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Cemetery in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. My dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney, took this photo for me in November 2004.

Monday, October 26, 2009

COG 83: Tone Deaf in a Family of Musicians

This article is written for the 83rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. The topic is musical instruments. Do you play a musical instrument or did one of your family members? What instrument did you or they play? If no one in the family played an instrument, tell what is your favorite instrument or band and what is your least favorite one. Hosted By Janet Iles who authors the blog, Janet the Researcher.

I'd like to think that I got all the good genes and none of the bad.

And then reality sinks in.......

The one thing I've always wanted was to be able to sing....and carry a tune while doing it. As it is, I should really only sing while driving or perhaps in the shower. But most especially I should be only singing while alone so as not to offend anyone else's delicate ears. The irony of this situation is that I am descended from many fine folks with musical talents. Apparently that gift did NOT get passed on to me.

Now this isn't to say that I haven't had some musical training. There was a year of piano lessons using the Suzuki method when I was in about the third grade and then there were the four years of clarinet in the school band (grades six through nine). By the time I finished ninth grade and was ready to transfer to the high school (I went to a three year high school), I decided that band was just not for me. I had no desire to march around the football field at halftime or be in the pep band for basketball games. The musical compositions were becoming more difficult and I was not keeping up to that skill level. And frankly I was having a hard time determining when I was sharp or flat. I knew if I was wildly off key but when it came to fine tuning I simply couldn't tell if I was off key. And so ended my not-so-illustrious musical career.

If I consider all the musical talent in my family, I'm almost embarassed by my own lack of skill. My maternal grandmother grew up in a small town in eastern South Dakota, so there were a lot of long cold winters with little activity. To counteract that they would have a house party of sorts. My great-grandparents each came from a family of 7 siblings, so there were many aunts and uncles on both the Hanson and Hiby sides who would gather with their instruments on a Saturday night and play to the wee hours. As a result, my grandma can play the piano by ear but she never really learned to read music. Her brother can play accordian and piano by ear. He still lives in this rural area of South Dakota and plays for a lot of senior citizen groups. I think he owns at least three pianos and nine different accordians.

If they weren't making music, they were listening to it usually by means of the Grand Ole Opry on the radio on Saturday nights. My grandma also remembers her dad driving the family into town one evening and parking on the street next to an auditorium or dance hall. It must have been summertime because the door to the building was opened and out poured the live music of Lawrence Welk. She even remembers catching a glimpse of him. As a child, I remember having to watch reruns of old Lawrence Welk shows which I found to be incredibly boring. The only thing I really enjoyed were the bubbles and the ladies' pretty dresses. Funny what you remember........

And obviously musical talent does run in my grandma's Hiby line (originally spelled Hoiby), because we are related to Lee Hoiby, famous American composer best known for his work on "Summer and Smoke" by Tennessee Williams. Another famous work he is well known for is Shakespeare's "The Tempest". While the Hoiby/Hiby line is Norwegian, Lee Hoiby's mother's line was Danish and apparently very musically talented.

On my paternal grandfather's side, the McNeills were known to have some musical talent. I previously have written about my great-grandfather, Charles McNeill, and his ability to make his own fiddles. I have long known of his talent and it never ceases to amaze me. I recently caught the tail end of a PBS program on the Queen Family of Jackson Co, North Carolina, which is southwest of Mitchell and Yancey counties where my McNeills are from. The Queen Family has a similar Scots-Irish background and are all very musically talented. I can only envision that perhaps my own McNeills, including my great-grandpa Charlie, may have had this type of talent for the old mountain songs and bluegrass.

Even my husband comes from some musical background, including his own stint in the high school band playing saxophone. His father used to sing in a barbershop quarter. His maternal grandfather, Chester Kosinski, played the trumpet in an orchestra and in the 1930 U.S. Census in Bloomfield, Essex Co, New Jersey he listed his occupation as an orchestra musician.

Alas, it appears that even with all this talent coming before me I am destined to sing off-key. But it hasn't deterred my own love of music.

Did I also mention I have two left feet?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

SNGF - My Most Unique Ancestral Names

This week Randy's request is the following:

"1) What is the most unique, strangest or funniest combination of given name and last name in your ancestry? Not in your database - in your ancestry.
2) Tell us about this person in a blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or in a comment on Facebook.
3) Okay, if you don't have a really good one - how about a sibling of your direct ancestors?"

I prepared a pedigree chart in my software and discussed some of the more unusual prospects with my husband and oldest daughter, who laughed at some of them that were more unusual. She called them "the people in my computer." She didn't quite understand these are our ancestors.

The general consensus for the most unique name was for my third great-grandfather, Absalom Stroud Pitts, born about 1831 in Indiana and died about 1857 in Iowa. Little is known of Absalom's life, but in 1850 he was living in Lee County, Iowa. On 10 July 1853, he married Medina Sherer (or perhaps Scherer) who was the daughter of Solomon and Mary Sherer. Mary's maiden name may have been Geeding. According to the 1855 census, Absalom and Medina were still living in Lee County, Iowa.

From records given to me by my grandmother, Absalom and Medina had the following children:
1. Zerlinda Jane Pitts b. 11 Mar 1854. She is my second great-grandmother and most frequently went by Jenny. I think Zerlinda Jane qualifies as another of the most unique names in my tree.
2. Joseph Anderson Pitts b. 26 Feb 1855, died 1856
3. Ruth Ann Pitts b. 12 Mar 1856, died 1857
4. James Marion Pitts b. 5 Apr 1857

Joseph died in 1856 and both Absalom and Ruth in 1857. It was a very tragic few years for Medina as she lost two children and a husband. Medina went on to marry three more times and had another four children.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Military Records Denied . . . . Again

This past summer I was very busy crossing things off my "to do" list. This is always a good feeling for me because even as crazy as my daily life can be it still makes me feel like I've done something.

One of the tasks on the list was to try to get my Grandpa Lee's military records. In mid-June, I sat down to write a letter to the National Personnel Records Center explaining the name change from McNeill and that I wasn't sure of the exact spelling of the name McNeill though I knew with certainty the name he assumed. I explained he was either born 2 January 1912, as the census records indicate, or 2 January 1915, like he'd told my grandmother. I listed a period of time in which he would have served between April 1930 (the time of the census) to March 1937 (when he applied for a Social Security number under the new name). I listed possible Asheville addresses that he could have used for next of kin (his parents' home). I even went so far as to include copies of his SS-5 application, the 1930 census, and a copy of the SSDI listing his death in 1971.

I mailed the letter and copies. Then I waited....

In early July, I received a somewhat thick envelope from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Because it obviously contained more than one piece of paper inside, I nearly skipped from the mailbox to the front door where I promptly dropped all the other mail to open this letter. I remember my hands were even shaking a little.

And the letter said:

"Thank you for contacting the National Personnel Records Center. We have been unsuccessful in identifying a military service record for the above-named individual. This does not mean the subject did not have military service, only that we are unable to identify a record based on the limited information you have provided. To locate a record, we must have the veteran's complete and confirmed name, confirmed date of birth, service number (if applicable), in additional to a social security number, branch of service, and approximate dates of service. We regret our response could not be more positive."

Yep, far from positive. The letter goes on to say if I have questions, I can call or mail a response referencing my Request Number listed on the letter. They even kindly sent me copies of the stuff I had originally sent to them, which explains why the envelope was a little thick.

Talk about absolute deflation. Short of going to St. Louis myself and demanding to dig through their boxes/files/filing cabinets for a Lee McNeill (or McNeil or McNeal) likely born 2 Jan 1912 and living in Asheville prior to his joining the Navy to be a pharmacist's mate, I'm at a loss as to what to do next. Is it because I can't give them a service number that they can't find him? Do they not want to search all the possible Lee McNeill/McNeil/McNeals in their database from that time period? I know he was in the service. I have seen a photo of him in his Naval uniform. I highly doubt he would be photographed in uniform standing next to a ship if he wasn't in the service. And no the ship's number was not visible in the photograph.

So the dilemma continues.

Any and all suggestions are welcomed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SNGF - A Family's Increase

I have spent several days pondering Randy Seaver's latest edition of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. This time the task is to calculate the descendants from a set of our great-grandparents, preferably with the most and determine the number in each generation. Here are his instructions.

As I was thinking about this I realized both of my grandmothers each had one sibling who had no children. I always have known this fact, but I never really considered that this was something in common between them. So then I began to think about my each of my grandfathers and it's quite a different story.

My Grandpa Fred's parents, Edward Joseph Harmon and Kate Nellie Arthur, had four boys of which three lived to adulthood. The descendants of Edward and Kate are as follows:

1. Children = 4 (all deceased)
2. Grandchildren = 7 (one deceased)
3. Great-grandchildren = 16 I think. This number includes my sister and me. Besides us, I've met perhaps only two others in this generation.
4. Great-great-grandchildren = I don't even know how many there could be. I know I have two children of my own that fit into this generation. I am aware of at least 5 others, but know there are more.
5. 3rd great-granchildren = I am aware of one baby born in 2008.

So on my Grandpa Lee McNeill's side, his parents Charles Lafayette McNeill and Della Winnie Grindstaff had five children of which four lived to adulthood. The descendants of Charles and Della are as follows:

1. Children = 5 (all deceased)
2. Grandchildren = 11 (3 deceased) I have communicated with two in this generation as well as the husband of another grandchild
3. Great-grandchildren = at least 8 known (me, my sister and my two first cousins plus 4 cousins of which I have emailed with one) I would expect there could be another 5-10 in this generation that I know nothing of. This also excludes any step-great-grandchildren in this generation of which I know of one.
4. Great-great-grandchildren = well again my two girls count here and a first cousin to me has three children. I know there is at least one other. This again excludes any step-relatives in this generation.

So what this tells me is that I have spent a lot of time focusing on the prior generations i.e. the deceased, but haven't focused so much on the living descendants. I have two reasons (read: excuses) for this. First, if you have read any of my prior posts on my McNeill ancestors, you will know that up until a few years ago we didn't know much about Lee's past. So there have been a lot of letters and emails (think of cold calling) done to try to make contact with some of the right descendants. That explains my paternal side, but on my mother's side (Harmons), I think the seven cousins all lived in such different locations around the United States and with limited funds it was difficult to get all of them together. However, it is my hope in the next year or two to have a mini-reunion with those six remaining cousins. Three of the six remaining cousins all live in a close geographic area that makes it easy to get together and we are only a few hours from them by car. So that leaves the two remaining cousins and the widow of the deceased cousin to come from Utah, South Dakota and Arizona. Think it could happen? We'll just have to see how persuasive I can be!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Have I bitten off more than I can chew?

Alas, hindsight is always 20/20.

I have been researching my family history for over a decade. In that time, I used a software that I can't even remember the name of but didn't really stick with it. I was really only researching one branch and didn't hardly have any names to add. Then I converted to FTM2005 in earnest and used that to record data. By that time my tree was growing to maybe 500 or so people. However, time constraints held me back from really going full force with that software.

Then, did something that I thought (and still do think) was a great idea: they introduced online family trees. It enabled me to set up a tree and directly attach my census records to the people. It enabled me to share this family tree data with people who could easily view it by surfing the 'net. Because I wanted the ability to share data but was also concerned about privacy, I came up with the "great" notion to create 4 online family trees, one representing each of my grandparents. I did this so that a cousin on my paternal grandfather's side wasn't also seeing info on my maternal grandmother. So I went along in oblivion adding records (probably at least 1500) and people (approximately 2000) between the four trees. I connected with other researchers and as I did so I sent them an invite to my private family tree. I worried about someday merging this data all into one file but felt confidant the GEDCOM format would work just fine.

So this year "someday" came. While I have enjoyed the ability to have online access to the trees with the records attached right to the people, it has had some drawbacks. First, how do you send info to people that don't have internet access let alone have a computer? That would mean I'd have to export a GEDCOM file, import it into FTM2005 and create a report to print. That's not too terribly hard but would require some cleanup, but I wasn't really pleased with the report options available in FTM2005.

I have also always relied upon the website to maintain the appropriate sources for the records I attached. So as I began to enter the blogging community first as a reader/follower, I noticed many discussions about proper source citation. My concern over a lack of accurate and/or consistent sourcing also drove me to look for other alternatives.

So after researching software alternatives, I settled on a new software package that specifically promotes the sourcing options using the Evidence Explained! style by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Then began the hard work. I exported the largest of the four family trees into a GEDCOM and imported it into the new software so I could get the feel on how it worked. After I was fairly comfortable, I then exported the remaining three trees and slowly merged them into the one I'd already set up in the new software. I think that was the easy part. The harder part was establishing what happened, if anything, to the website sources when the trees were exported.

I created a source report from the software that was over 200 pages long! That should be enough to scare anyone off from doing this project. I now have to convert every one of those "free form" citations into something that matches the Evidence style. I am slowly working my way through the list and have focused on one specific line to work on as I work my way through. As I am going through and creating the citation, particularly for the census records, I am transcribing the information so I also have that in my notes. So it really is serving a dual purpose but boy is it time-consuming.

Needless to say, it has been a very tedious task and one I only work on when I'm home alone or when the children are already in bed. It'll take me a month of Sundays and then some to finish this task. Wish me luck.........