Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Year Two

I realized the other day that I’ve been writing down and posting my genealogy stories for two years now.  It prompted me to recall my favorites from year two…

Some stories caused me to learn new things…

» In Ezra Alger, I learned more about the Civil War’s infamous Andersonville Prison, while doing research for a friend of my husband’s.

» Writing Typhoid Fever and Tuberculosis caused me to learn more about two diseases that carried away many of your ancestors and mine, even into the 1900s.

Some stories were about the Amish research I’ve done for friends and clients in Indiana…

» Jonas Stutzman, Amish Eccentric was about a very “colorful” character who was also a significant figure in the history of the Amish in the United States—“White Jonas,” the first Amish settler in Holmes County, Ohio.

» An Amish Tragedy told the story of Jacob Lambright, an ancestor of many present-day Northern Indiana Amish, who met a tragic end.

Some stories were about my own family...

» Otto & Elsie told the story of one of my aunts and how she came to be raised by relatives.

» Josephine Carriveau was about my favorite branch of my husband’s family—the Carriveaus.  The stories just keep on coming from that branch of the family!  Josephine was my husband’s great-aunt—his grandmother’s older sister.

» A Civil War Widow Applies for a Pension was about my husband’s Alwood great-great-grandparents, what I learned about them from his Civil War Pension file, and how I came to love again.

» Hazel’s Quilt told the story of a quilt that I have the privilege to own, handed down to me from my mother-in-law, who told me its story when I visited her recently at her nursing home.

Some stories were especially close to my own heart…

» The Telegram was one of my numerous stories about my father’s World War II experiences—this one about the injury that almost killed him and how his mother first found out about it.

» West View Farm was about a place very dear to me in childhood—my Grandpa and Grandma Erickson’s Illinois farm, and the shocking change I encountered the last time I visited it.

"Remember me in the family tree
My name, my days, my strife;
Then I'll ride upon the wings of time
And live an endless life."
—Linda Goetsch

Monday, November 10, 2014

Military Monday: The Fire

This photograph shows one of the papers from my father’s WWII military file.  I include it here not because of its great importance in the story of his military career—but rather, for the burn marks around the edges.  Anyone who has done (or tried to do) research on a WWI or WWII military ancestor may know where those burn marks came from.

My father, Robert Wallin, told me many stories about his time in WWII, and I have his letters home to tell me more.  Like countless aging baby boomers with fathers who fought in the war, I wish I had asked him so much more—and written it all down or recorded it.  So a few years back, I decided to order his military records from the National Archives.

My father was in the Army, so his records are found at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Navy records are stored elsewhere.)  Unfortunately, the NPRC had a catastrophic fire on July 12, 1973.  The National Archives website says that 80% of the records were destroyed for Army personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960.  That covers World War One, World War Two, and the Korean War—what an extensive and  devastating loss!  (Many Air Force records were also destroyed.)  No duplicates, microfilm, or other backups were kept.  And since there were no indexes, there isn’t even a good listing of what was lost.

 I found out more on the Stars and Stripes website.  The fire started on the sixth floor of the building in the middle of the night; no cause was ever determined.  It burned out of control for 22 hours as 43 fire departments battled it.  It took 4½ days and millions of gallons of water before the fire department declared the fire extinguished.  The sixth floor was destroyed, and the records on the floors below were soaked with water.  The records of 18 million veterans were lost.

About 6.5 million partially burned, water-soaked personnel files were salvaged.  Over forty years later, preservation specialists are still working on restoring them.  It takes the equivalent of 30 full-time employees to respond to the requests of those, like me, who are looking for records from the damaged collection.  Of the 5,000 requests per day that the NPRC receives, they estimate that about 200-300 are for those damaged records.  Those requests go to the specialists at the Paper Treatment Lab, who call the burned records the “B-Files.” 

After the fire, the B-Files were taken to the vacuum-drying chamber at the nearby McDonnell-Douglas aircraft facilities.  The vacuum chamber, which was built to train Mercury and Gemini space program astronauts, was now put into service in taking 8 tons of water out of each 2,000 milk-crate-sized containers of wet documents which the chamber could handle per drying session.  The files were then indexed and stored, to be handled again only if a document request is received.

I was fortunate that my father’s military and medical records (which were extensive) survived the fire—although barely, as the photo shows.  Some had burn marks and some had water damage stains, but at least I received the file.  The records for my grandfather, Sture Wallin, who served in World War One, are entirely gone, so I was told in a letter from the NPRC.  To my knowledge, no one in the family recorded any details whatsoever of Grandpa Wallin’s service, and no papers have survived.  Gone forever.

The MissouriNet website says that, incredibly, the NPRC continued to use the old building until 2012!  The NPRC “now has a new state-of-the-art building with some serious ways to prevent a fire from destroying national records.”  Thank goodness for that.

NPRC building photo:  National Archives

Monday, November 3, 2014

Military Monday: A Dad and a Hero

This paper from my father’s military file tells the story of something he did in March 1945.  (I will tell the story of the burn marks on his records in another post.)

The paper reads as follows:

“First Lieutenant Robert M. Wallin, 0538229, 120th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, is awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action on 26 March 1945, in Germany.  Although enemy fire was so intense that it killed one man and wounded eight others, Lieutenant Wallin and his comrades left their sheltered positions and exposed themselves to enemy fire to evacuate three of the men to the rear where they received medical attention.  By his heroic action, Lieutenant Wallin aided in saving the lives of his comrades.
[Entered military service from Illinois.]
L.S. Hobbs, Major General – U.S. Army Commanding”

The amazing thing is this:  Dad had just spent five months in a military hospital recovering from serious injuries sustained on the front lines the previous October.  So it’s certainly not like he thought he was invincible…  And how could he?  He had seen more horror and death by this time than anyone should have to see—stories he told me late at night when I was growing up…  Stories of comrades dying in ways I can only hope their families never knew.  Dad’s very first day in combat, his closest friend in the unit was blown up and dismembered, and Dad had to gather the pieces and lay them with the man’s dog tags.

According to my father, stories like what happened the day he got the Bronze Star weren’t that rare.  What was rare was having a superior officer see or find out what happened, and then take the time to write it up.  Just from the few stories Dad told me late at night, I know of at least two other times where he was in this much danger.

One of them was a situation similar to this one.  Dad (a platoon leader) told me that one of his men was badly wounded during a battle.  Dad crawled across a field to the man, and realized right away that if he had run across the field standing up, he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell the story.  He had a struggle of conscience as to what to do…  The man had both a broken arm and a broken leg, so he would have to be carried back across the field, through enemy fire—and it looked like the man outweighed Dad by fifty pounds.

Dad asked the man, “Do you have a family?” and the man answered, “Yeah, a wife and three kids.”  Dad told me he remembered saying to himself something like, “Oh, crap!”—knowing what it was he thought he should do, but not wanting to do it.  But he hoisted the man onto his shoulders and staggered back across the field.  Both of them made it back alive.

In the case of the Bronze Star story, it was Dad and several comrades who evacuated three men.  We’ve all heard the motto of “no man left behind,” but it’s still incredible that young soldiers can summon up such courage in the face of such danger. 

If my father and his comrades hadn’t made it back to their “sheltered positions” alive that day, I wouldn’t be here today.  But because they did, three other men went home to quite possibly have children of their own as well—perhaps even someone who is reading this story today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Skeletons in the Closet, Revisited

The other day I was thinking about a client for whom I did two ancestry binders in the last couple of years…  I discovered something in her family tree that no one looks forward to finding—slave owners.  It reminded me of other skeletons I’ve found in people’s closets (including my own)—which brought to mind a post I did last fall on the topic.

Follow this link to see the post.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Hazel's Quilt

When Hazel Garver made this quilt in the 1940s, she couldn’t have known that one of her descendants would be writing about it 70 years later.  For Hazel, it was just another household task—but for me, it’s a piece of art and a treasure.

Several years ago my mother-in-law, Donna, gave me this very special quilt, and when we visited Donna recently in Jenison, Michigan, I took the opportunity to find out more about it.

Donna’s mother, Hazel Alwood Garver (shown here with husband Walter), raised fourteen children in a tiny farmhouse in Clare County, Michigan.  (I have written about Hazel and her family before.)  Hazel made quilts out of necessity, as a way to keep her children warm in the beds they shared.  But she also put thought into her designs, Donna told me; the fabric choices weren’t just random.  The quilt tops were made from pieces of old clothing that were too worn out to be handed down one more time.  The backing was a piece of cotton or flannel—pink in this case.  The batting layer in the middle (added for warmth) was usually an old, worn blanket. 

Donna remembered some of the pieces in this quilt, which she guessed that her mother made in the 1940s.  A blue plaid piece came from an apron belonging to Hazel.  Another plaid piece of red and gray came from one of Hazel’s dresses.  Donna said that her mother would share and exchange fabric scraps with her friends and neighbors, so they all would have a nicer variety to work with.  The other women, especially her good friend Lois Denno, were generous in sharing their scraps with Hazel, knowing she had fourteen children to keep warm.


Hazel would have sewn the pieces together using her Singer treadle sewing machine; there was no electricity in the farmhouse.  The three layers would then be layered together, and the underneath layer was turned up around the edges onto the top layer and machine-stitched in place all around.  After that, the ties (which can be seen in the close-up photographs) were added, to keep the layers in place.  Donna said that the children would help with that part. 

Some women had a full quilt-sized wooden frame in which to stretch the three layers, but not Hazel; there wasn’t room for a big frame in their tiny home.  Hazel had a smaller frame that rolled up the quilt like a scroll, with one long strip exposed at a time so that it could be hand-tied.  After the knots were in place all over the quilt, all the ends were cut to a uniform length.

I asked Donna if her mother would work on the quilts in the evening after her children were in bed.  She said that wasn’t possible, because the kerosene lamps weren’t bright enough.  Hazel had to work on her quilts while the children were in school.  As soon as one quilt came off the rack, another one was started—there was always a need. 

I wondered if Hazel kept making quilts even after her children were grown.  Donna told me that wasn’t the case—in fact, the quilt I was holding was the last one Hazel ever made.  Hazel had a stroke one day in her friends the Dennos’ orchard, and one arm and hand were never strong again.  She slowed down after that, and wasn’t able to sew very much.

I promised Donna I would take good care of her mother’s quilt.  I am glad to own a piece of Garver history and to know a little more about the woman who created it.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Annie Oakley, a/k/a Phoebe Ann Mosey

Annie Oakley - born Phoebe Ann Mosey. (Older info says Moses, but the best recent research proves that it was Mosey. She never talked about her childhood.) I'm still trying to find a connection between Annie and my husband's Mosey ancestors.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Military Monday: James Edward Larkin, Delayed Casualty of War

Not all casualties of war are immediately apparent.  My father, for instance, began smoking in the front lines at Normandy to steady his nerves, and the habit stuck with him, killing him 49 years later.  Another example is my friend Suzanne’s great-great-grandfather.

James Edward Larkin of Concord, New Hampshire was an officer in Company A of the 5th New Hampshire Infantry.  He enlisted on September 28, 1861 and was mustered out on October 12, 1864.  During that time he and his unit were in the thick of many battles, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor.  He wrote this on December 13, 1862, two days after the Battle of Fredericksburg: 
“Saturday morning I thought there was little prospect of my ever writing to you again.  I wrote a few lines on a card and left it with Calvin to send you in case I should fall—and what saved me but kind Providence.  We advanced for a half mile in the face of Batterie and Infantry where it was almost impossible for a mouse to live, yet I came off safe.  We lost three Captains killed and two Lieutenants—every commissioned officer was killed or wounded except three—Capt. Pierce, Lieut. Sanborn, and myself.  The night after the battle I was in command of the regiment or all there was now of them.  We expect a fight tomorrow.  All the regiment we have now is 72 men and if we have to go in again we shall do the best we can…  I am in an old house tonight and have but a small piece of candle, so you must excuse me for not writing more.  Yours in life and death, J.E. Larkin”
 Two years later, he wrote this: 
“I write you tonight with great anxiety and feelings you can never know and I could not describe them should I try.  I am confident that the great struggle for Richmond is at hand, and a desperate battle is about to be fought…  It has just been decided by orders to proceed to Deep Bottom and that means Richmond.  I think sure if we take it, it will be a glorious thing, but if we fail I cannot tell the results.  I don’t know what force besides our corps is to be engaged.  I trust I shall come out safe but should I fall, you must do the best you can.  I am conscious of the charge and responsibility you have and I feel your great loss should I fall—but the Great Dispenser of Events does all things well and we must be governed by His will; our destinies are in His hands.  I have made arrangements with Doctor Weber to sell my horse and furnish you with the money should you need it and he said he would do it, until you can get the insurance and my back pay.  I shall leave this with the Doctor to send you in case I fall.  God bless you all.  How I long to embrace you and our little darlings once again.  James E. Larkin”
James survived the war to come home to his wife and son and daughter and worked as a painter and then a postmaster.  He wrote this to his daughter in 1872:  
“Fourteen years ago today, you came to us to gladden our life.  It seems but a short time, but in the brief space you have lived, has transpired the most important events of our history.  You can never know what it cost me in feelings to leave you for those three long years of war, every day feeling you might be left fatherless.  But I thank God I was spared to come back and see you develop into womanhood... You can never know until you have children of your own how closely your life and happiness is interwoven with ours.  I send you this ring.  May you live long to wear it and may it remind you of the never ending love of your affectionate father.  James E. Larkin.” 
Sadly, his beloved daughter died in 1884.  His wife followed in 1907.  Who knows what pain he carried?  When he had to bear it alone, it apparently became too much for him.  In 1911 James’ life ended at age 79, at his own hand. 

I suppose only a soldier can understand the pain of a soldier.  My father would tell us stories, terrible stories sometimes, usually late in the evening when his guard was down.  I always sensed that what he told us was just the tip of the iceberg.  It makes my little problems and disappointments and so-called hardships seem so trivial...  God bless our soldiers, one and all.