Thursday, February 21, 2013

Charles E. SMITH (1878-1953)

Searching for family surnames is great, unless you have a very common one like Smith, Johnson, or Williams, than the task can be overwhelming.  Throw in the first name of John, Charles or William and you can get families crossed.  Such is the case with grandma’s father, he has a common name Charles SMITH.  I know this because I found her on the 1920 census with her father and mother, Mattie.  After she passed I developed my love of genealogy and had no way of getting her family information from her, so I took to the census.
Going back in the census years Charles and his family are found in 1910, and 1900.  Going back further than 1900 was futile because there were five Charles SMITH’s in Illinois and I couldn’t ask anyone who Charles’ parents were to make identifying him easier.  Even the Social Security Index wasn’t helpful because of the seven possibilities there.  When the 1930 census came out I jumped on to see if it would reveal any new information about Papa Charles, what I found only gave me more puzzlement.  He was listed as a widow with four children, where did Nana Mattie go?  And where did the older kids move to?  I only knew where my grandma was but what of her siblings and with a name like SMITH that’s no easy task to work out.  Once I did develop a possible identity to a Charles in Illinois, but that proved to be a false lead.
In 2011, a laptop is purchased for exclusive genealogy use.  My desktop had crashed so I had to re-enter information that I couldn’t transfer out to a gedcom file.  The software that I had been using was outdated so I also learned a new family software program.  So sitting on my new laptop I began to explore and bookmark some websites and made my first search on  Typically when I search either my SMITH or DECKER surnames I get no hits, but I figure why not, it’s worth a try.  I enter grandma’s name and there is her headstone with grandpa’s.  There is a link to her parents.  I take a deep breath and exhale.  Is it possible, I anticipate as the page downloads, that I’ve broken through my wall?  That brick wall crumbled in milliseconds, there before my eyes is the tombstone of Papa Charles and Mattie SMITH.  Papa Charles has links to his parents and the parents have links to other children.  Copies of obituaries are there too and I’ve increased my family tree from a sapling to an oak.  Now knowing the names of Papa Charles’ parents, I find him in the 1880 census.
Here’s a little bit about Charles SMITH.  He was born 28 Sep 1878 to William and Jean SMITH, the youngest of ten children, growing up with five of the ten.  He lived his life in Boone County, Illinois only moving from LeRoy to Capron in 1930.  He helped his father farm the land and upon being married around 1906 he owned his own farm, where his family grew to seven kids.  In 1900 a KAZONE family lives near Charles, what’s interesting is that a Hattie HASKINS is the stepdaughter of the head of household, John.  Could this be Mattie whom he marries in 1906, or is it her sister?  Is Clara, the mother, also Harriet C.?  These are all questions to be explored later.  In 1920 Charles’ widowed father-in-law, Mier HASKINS, is living with the family and six of the kids.  In 1925 Mattie has passed away from illness, but it doesn’t explain why widowed Charles is renting a house for $7 month in 1930, what happened to the farm?  Only four children remain in the house at that point and he seems to be supporting the family as a Chauffer in the Transfer industry, meaning he was a driver.  His obituary says he died in the hospital, after suffering a stroke at home.  There are questions still needing to be answered:  Where did he marry Mattie?  Where is he living in 1940?  What happened to the farm?
Through my aunt’s site at I find additional information on this SMITH family and fill in gaps and click through information that gives a better picture of my family.  I even confirmed a few of Charles and Mattie’s children from a trip in 2008 to the LDS Family History Library, a surprise birthday trip my husband had planned.  He even sat in the library while I rummaged among the shelves.  Definetly a trip worth taking again!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

John H. DECKER 1881-1953 (?)

When setting out to establish my dad’s family background I discover my mom has a copy of his birth certificate which gives the name of his father and mother.  With that information in hand I head out to NARA and learn how to look up people in the 1920 census.  Once the index has been searched, a match identified, microfilm loaded into the machine, I begin scrolling the pages looking for grandpa.  A few whirs and clicks later there he is - his name jumping out at me.  I’m amazed, I actually found him and there before me another group of my family is revealed. 
My great grandfather, John H. DECKER lived with his wife, Lola and six children in Long Point Livingston, Illinois according to the U.S. Census from 1910-1930.  He harvested grain on a rented farm, where his oldest sons helped him with the labor.  John was 25 and Lola 21 when they got married around 1907.  The exact date and place is not yet know, as the marriage record hasn’t yet been located.  Both sets of parents for John and Lola immigrated to the U.S. sometime before they were born.  My great grandparents were educated, both could read and write, Grandpa John completed the 5th grade and Grandma Lola completed the 8th grade.   In 1930 the family owned a radio set, the importance of this to me means they weren’t isolated since they were able to hear the news and be entertained by music or radio shows.  This is also good to know since I was unable to locate other DECKER or GUSTAFSON families living close to them.  A change occurs in 1940, the family is now living in Evans, Marshall, Illinois, again on a rented farm harvesting grain, and four children remaining in the home.
In 1918 my grandfather registered for the World War I draft.  It’s here I learn he is of medium height and build with dark gray eyes and light brown hair.  Since he was 36 when he registered this may have prevented him from serving in the war, as the 1930 census states he isn’t a veteran.  That registration card also gives me his birthdate 2 Nov 1881 in Woodford County, Illinois.  Another draft registration is found for WWII.  More wonderful information is gleaned; his middle name is Harm, height, 5’ 10”, 265 lbs., ruddy complexion, and gray hair – if I could only create a picture from this information.
Several questions still remain about Grandpa John.  Where is he in 1900?  I’ve found some possibilities but haven’t firmly established who’s mine.  At the time I didn’t know who his parents were; I found one possibility but determined that it wasn’t the correct link.  When and where did he pass away and where is he buried?  Where and when was he married to Lola GUSTAFSON?  When did his parents immigrate to the U.S?  In a family tree has given me a death year, and family information, but I want to verify if this is correct.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Uncle Dale

Addresses in hand I left my uncle’s, drove back to Chicago and flew back home.  It was about this time that I hit a fork in the road that distracted me from furthering my family history for a few years. It was in preparing for my first child’s arrival that the passion for genealogy came out and I wanted to learn more than just the names of my dad’s family, I wanted to learn it all - where they came from, how they got there, why did they choose that place to settle, and so on.
Uncle Dale provided that first glimpse.  His was one of the addresses acquired when I visited with Uncle Tom.  My little family was living in Ft. Campbell Kentucky at the time.  He and his wife travelled down to visit us bring stories and photos to share.  Until that time we had sent Christmas cards, and may have talked on the phone once or twice.  The moment that I learned they were coming I was riddled with anxiety.  The moment I saw him I was struck by how much he looked like my father and even though I felt awkward I was comforted by how easy it was to talk with him.  Both he and my aunt readily shared as much as they could about my dad, the family and had even brought some photos they had.  I learned that a house fire and destroyed some early photos of the family, so there weren’t very many of younger years, yet what was before me was gold.  I need to get copies of those photos or find a way to get them off the tape I have.
All the things I learned of my family that day were a little daunting.  Bad blood existed between the two families that had been married together, one brother isolated himself, there was a family farm in Wisconsin, and so on, but my dad’s stories were the most surprising to me and when I shared with my mom she was shocked.  I did my best to recall all of it when I got home and wrote it down.  I didn’t worry too much though because I figured I would ask again for the stories and record them later for the family.  That day would never arrive.  Over the years I stopped in and visited my uncle whenever we traveled in the area and listened to stories about him and would ask him if he recalled someone, it was good times.  Upon moving back to Colorado I got a phone call from my uncle and I don’t recall what the diagnosis was, but essential what I do know is that my uncle had a tumor on his brain that created Alzheimer’s and before he passed away we went and visited with him.  My aunt says that he talked of that visit often before the dementia took over and he was gone from us.  He’ll always be in my heart and I’m glad that I started a conversation with him.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Meeting Grandma

After reconnecting with grandma in 1988 I talked to her on the phone or exchanged letters with her and learned about my dad’s family; he had 4 brothers and a sister.   She even sent a picture of herself and I stared at that picture to see a glimpse of my dad.  Life was great having grandma back in it.  Part of me wanted to understand what had happened, why so many years had passed since we had talked, part of me didn’t want to broach the subject.  I didn’t want to sound accusatory to my grandma since I had just found her.  Yet, the kid in me who still hurt from her dad’s sudden and unexpected departure from her life didn’t know if grandma realized how much I had needed and missed her being in my life.  Since then, I have come to accept that life is just not that black and white.
       In 1995 I decided to plan a trip to visit my grandma.  I had wanted to before but it never worked out due to schooling or money.  At this point in my life I had finished school and had a stable paying job, now seemed the best time.  A work connection helped me to get a good deal on a flight and car rental and I sent a letter off announcing my intended visit.  I was excited for my adventure the day of the flight, with packed bags my ride to the airport came and soon I was in the air Chicago bound.  Landing in the hustle and bustle of Midway airport was a little daunting.  Unfamiliar places, sounds and activities were giving me anxiety, I wasn’t sure which way to go and eventually found my way to the car rental.  Armed with a map I sat for a moment in the car and thought what am I doing, am I ready for this?  I took a deep breath and headed into Chicago traffic.  Finally out of Chicago and driving south towards Thomasboro I’m excited and elated to be in the same area as my family has lived.  Traveling down the road I’m looking across the fields of farmland.  Soaking in the environment, looking west and seeing the horizon of the sky, only the mountains are missing, but the area surrounding me doesn’t seem so bad.  I make it into Thomasboro and locate my grandma’s house.  I drive up, no one’s home.  I call - nothing.  Eventually I go find a place to stay for the night, eat and take one more drive by grandma’s.  Still no one.  I find it odd, I had written to her letting her know I’d be visiting her on this date.  Maybe’s she’s just out later than expected.  With nothing else to do, I head back to the hotel and wait until morning to try again.  After breakfast, the next day, again no answer at the door, no cars, no calls answered.  I start to wonder if she had gone out of town before getting my letter, or if something else had happened.
       Close to my grandma’s is a gas station, I go inside, ask for a telephone book and look up one of my uncles who is supposed to live in the area.  My hands start to tremble as I’m dialing the number; I’m hoping this is the right person.  “Hello.”  “Hi, is this Tom?” “Yes” “Is your mom Anna” “Yes” “This is Mary from Colorado.  I was wondering if you knew where she was?”  “Mary, I’m glad you called, we just found your letter a few days ago and tried to call but you had already gone.  Grandma passed away in October.  She hadn’t been feeling well and went in to the hospital.”  Hearing this, my knees got weak, I trembled and when I responded it was so hard to keep the tears out of my voice.  Once the words came out that she was gone I wanted to hang up, I felt light-headed.  I mustered up some willpower finished the call and got into the bathroom before I broke down.  I wept behind that locked door for a very long time.  I had waited too long and missed my chance to see my grandma.  A few hours later I went and met my uncle and his wife.  He shared with me some family history, but didn’t really know a lot about his grandparents.  He gave the address to my aunt and another uncle.  Even though I didn’t get to see my grandma, I still got my family and have made some wonderful discoveries since.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding a brother and sister

       My family starts with me, then there’s mom and dad, next is my dad’s parents and my mom’s parents, and so on.  And that’s my pedigree chart.  All of my family history up to 1997 I had got from my mom, she would tell who an aunt or cousin was or who her mom’s parents were, and who my dad’s family was-because he had passed on when I was three.  I have a memory of being on a plane with my mom and brother.  We went and saw my dad’s family; it had to have been really close to the time my dad died, because I remember my brother being very small.  I remember being at my grandma’s house and it was an old farmhouse, she lived in Illinois, and the part I remember is the staircase and shelves with knickknacks on it.  My grandma in Colorado, my mom’s mom, also had a knickknack full of shelves in her kitchen and both grandmas had all sorts of treasures crammed on those shelves.
       Some years later around 1988, I rediscovered my dad’s mom.  I found her name and address in some papers my mom had.  I also found a letter she had once written talking about my older brother and sister.  I found out about my older brother and sister only a short time earlier from my mom’s friend.  I was surprised and a little hurt that I didn’t know about them and no one knew where there were at that time.  So I set out to find my brother and sister, I wrote a letter to my grandma and asked her about them.  Then I started talking with my mom about them and asking questions.
       My dad had been married before and had two kids.  The kids lived here in town while my dad was alive and I don’t know how much longer after he was gone.  Anyway after some detective work, I did find my older brother, I don’t remember if I talked with him on the phone or sent a letter.  Anyway, we drove up to Grand Junction and picked him up at the train station and brought him home.  It was weird to look at this person and know he was my brother.  In movies or TV shows when people are reunited there’s tears and hugging and apparent joy, but for me and him, it wasn’t that.  I don’t know what thought when he first met us.   It was tense and eventually words were said and feelings were hurt and it took some time to get over.  I met my sister in 1990, after I graduated high school.  I had driven to California and visited family, then drove up the Pacific Coast to where she lived in Washington.  That was an awesome trip, one that I want to take again.  Reuniting with my sister had a different feel than with my brother, it was emotional, but it was joyful.  I liked having an older sister. 
       Now we all talk, have families and keep in touch.  It’s great to have siblings.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Family History Writing Challenge

This year’s family research goal is to break through my walls on my female lines.  By planning my research I’m hoping to analyze and organize my current research and plan how to further those female lines and record the progress through the writing challenge. 
In my sixteen years of genealogy research I have on occasion suffered from clickitis – that thing that occurs when you stop taking notes during your online research and continuously click through websites and can’t remember where you found that piece of information or you recognize a site that you have visited before, but can’t remember who you searched, so you start looking again. 
I first began collecting genealogy data locally making copies of available information, being on a limited budget, my research didn’t move much further than what I had found.  Discovering genealogy resources online is when the serious collection of data began, and a lack of sourcing and chronicling occurred.  Some years later I discovered my error and knew I would have to make the painstaking chore of sourcing and chronicling all that data.
This chore was taken seriously, because I wanted my research to have a solid reputation and with that desire I would learn the tools of the trade.  Essentially, learning to plan research and implement those plans will be a second goal of my writing challenge.  I started doing my research with one surname and followed collateral lines until I ran out of sources.  So I wonder how much further my research will go with goals and planning.