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Oh Susannah! Genealogy Interrupted Bentz Baker #genealogy

Oh Susannah!  A 107 Year Mystery
by Jenine E. Trayer

“Yep, we are related,” said Marlene with an enormous grin.

“You’re kidding me!” I replied.  How interesting it is that blood finds blood, I thought.  Marlene and I met each other as adults with no realization that we were connected.

Marlene went on to explain that we share a 3rd great grandfather – George G. Bentz.  As a result, his daughter, Susannah Bentz, was my 2nd great grandmother.  Marlene has been into genealogy for years and has made significant contributions in recording graveyard residents in our tri-county area.  She has the mega research to back up any claim she makes, so when she told me of our shared lineage – I knew it to be true.  I dutifully added Susannah to my family tree and set about getting the documentation to back up my own family books.  Now, Marlene isn’t your standard genealogist – she is also a story collector.  We have a shared love of going deep into the history and the lives of the people we research, and we both enjoy visiting the graveyards to take pictures of the tombstones and add the photos to our individual family collections.  As we stood in Barrens Salem Union Church Cemetery on a bright summer day, Marlene showed me the gravestone of Susannah’s husband – Cornelius Baker.

“Where is Susannah?” I asked.

“Don’t know,” said Marlene.  “There’s no marker for her and I ought to know, one of my projects was researching the church records and recording this cemetery.*  Some say she remarried and that she isn’t here.  Maybe with a new husband.  Others say she is here, that they just never marked the grave.  Regardless, she’s not in the church records.  I don’t know where she is.  It is a mystery.”

Can you hear me rubbing my hands together?  Can you see me grinning?  I just so love mysteries.

There are folks in your family tree who sit quietly, watching you plod through inaccurate records, wrong attachments, and what seems like 6 million Jacobs.  Then, there are those that no matter what you are doing, or whose tree you are researching, decide that it is high time you pay attention to them and insert themselves somehow, some way, in your daily schedule, even if you haven’t looked at that particular family tree in months – or in my case — years.  They have a mystery, and they have decided that you are the person that is going to solve it.

That was Susannah.

And she haunted me.  Oh!  Not all the time!  Here and there.  Life is busy.  Five years would pass before I got back to Susannah and figure out where the heck she went.  Ancestors do not vaporize – they just play hide and seek.  Now and then I would ask Marlene if she’d found anything further on Susannah.

Nothing.

Susannah was an interesting character.  A spitfire.  Brave and courageous.  A woman, at least for one day in her life, to be greatly admired.

Clowns to The Left of Me – Jokers to the Right – Here I am – Stuck in the Middle With You**

June 27th, 1863 dawned with a light mist across the rolling Barrens – a valley of green farms sliding easily into their growing season, clutches of woods brimming with life strangely silent as dawn struggled over the horizon.  Rain the night before left the land smelling sweet, and morning came late under the overcast sky.  Susannah moved silently through the near empty house into the yard out front, stoking the fire in the brick oven outside – she was baking bread today.  As much as she could.  She knew that the welfare of her family depended on it.  She’d spent the night working by sputtering candles – praying that the dough would rise right.  It wouldn’t make do to have this bread fall flat.

An electrified shiver ran down her spine.  For a moment she forgot to breathe.  The fear that they weren’t safe clawed at her throat.  What if it all went wrong? gnawed at the back of her mind like a rat chewing on a maple stick.  Out in the yard she patted the old horse and whispered in his ear.  He had a part to play today.  Yes, he did.

No.  They were fine.  She knew that.  In her gut she knew it.  She had done the right thing and she would face this day with as much courage as she could possibly muster.  Moving inside she kneaded the dough for the second time.  Absently, she stroked the handle of the butcher on the table.

Crawling.  They were everywhere.  8,000 confederate soldiers flooded into a 30 mile radius in less than 24 hours.  They were in Dillsburg to the north, 9 miles away, and down south in York – just 13 miles.  They were in Hanover, more southern still – 21 miles.  And in the town of Rossville, just by-n-by, they’d taken over the station.  Everywhere.

There were rumors.  Some said the confederates weren’t so bad.  Treated you nice-like.  Offered to pay you with their phony money.  Others, though, they said that they could be mean.  Burn you out.  Defile you.  Kill your children.  Steal all you had.  It was hard to know which rumors were true.  Some?  All?  None?  At 31, Susannah fully understood the risk.  Sweat trickled coldly down the small of her back.  A week ago she’d put a plan into place.  Her part was the last to carry out.

Flour caked on her apron, her hair stuffed under cloth so the color of it didn’t show.

She slipped that old butcher knife in a hidden pocket on the underside of her apron.  She’d stitched it just for that purpose a few days ago.  She hoped that she wouldn’t have to use it; but, this was war.

The dough on its last rise, she re-checked everything – the house, the barn, the yard.  Nothing.  Not a single fresh chicken feather.  Not a piece of clothing that didn’t belong to her, not a scrap of extra food and definitely not a weapon other than the hidden knife.  The only thing prominently visible — a large, empty basket she’d made for herself sitting on the front porch steps, and a garden with herbs coming into season – too soon for the other vegetables.

She stood in the doorway.

Willing her heart to slow.

It wouldn’t be long now.  She could feel it.  Again her eyes skimmed what they would see and she was satisfied.

Just herself, the old horse, that basket, and a half rotted quilt thrown over the bed.

They came after most of the loaves were out of the oven.  Because it was overcast she wasn’t exactly sure of the time.  She knew that the aroma would draw them, she just didn’t know how long it would take.

“You there!  Old woman!” and the tight exchange began.  They went through the house, the barn, and checked the back woods.  She lied.  And she lied.  And she lied.

“No, I have no husband.  I am a widow.  He died in an accident on a neighbor’s farm two summers ago.  No, I have no children. I am alone.  Sadly, I have not been blessed with such a treasure.  I bake bread for market and the neighbors.  No, I have no livestock other than the old horse out there in the yard.  He and I – that is all there is.  I buy the supplies I need with the bread I bake.  See?  I just finished it for sale today.  That is how I survive.  Take it.  You can have it.”

When one of the soldiers made a move to plow through her garden she stepped forward, her hand quickly grasping the handle of the butcher knife hidden beneath her apron; but, she didn’t pull it out.  Not yet.  It was just a garden.  Not worth dying for.  Instead, she said, “You there! You stay out of my garden.  Nothing yet come in. Look close and see for yourself.  You don’t have to tromp through it and ruin what ain’t there.  If you come back around harvest, what will there be for you to eat then if you destroy it now? Take the bread.  Use my market basket there on the porch to carry it.  Go on and take it!”

They gathered up the bread and discussed the horse, determining that it wasn’t worth the trouble of taking.  One soldier muttered that they should just drop the bag of bones where it stood, startled when Susannah whipped the knife out from under her apron brandishing it wildly, slicing the blade through the air like her German Berserker ancestors. “Take the bread!” she bellowed.  “Leave the old horse be!  It is God that comes between thee and me!”  In all honesty, Susannah wasn’t sure if they meant herself or the horse.  But, as God was her witness, she wasn’t taking any chances for both their sakes.

The soldiers laughed.  Shook their heads.  Someone mentioned with crumbs falling from his mouth that it was good bread, even though the baker was old and obviously touched in the head.

And they were gone.

Susannah watched them from the front porch until they were only specks in the road, gripping the butcher knife in a shaking, sweating hand.  Finally, when they rounded the bend, she sat down in a billow of dirty apron and dusty dress on the porch step, her stiff fingers slowly uncramping.  The blade thudded softly on the wooden boards of the porch and skittered into the grass beyond the rail.  She bowed her head, closed sticky eyes, and clasped both hands over her heart in gratitude.

The soldiers did not come back, nor did they go down the road and head up to what is known today as Ski Roundtop.  In the telling of this story, you must understand that the mountains here are not like the great Rockies or the southern Smokies.  From the air they look like the humps of the Lock Ness monster, soft and undulating.  Here, for seven days in the fragrant woods, protected by that gnarled old stump of a mountain, hid Susannah’s husband and three children with two wagons of supplies, all her livestock, and her most beloved possessions.

In the early morning of the 29th of June and the afternoon of the 30th of June (depending upon who was stationed where) the confederate soldiers in Susannah’s area received word that they should advance to Gettysburg.  They cleared out of York without harm; but, battled with Union soldiers in the streets of Hanover on the 30th with a toll of 350 dead (only 21 miles away from Susannah), wounded or missing, and marched an exhausting trek through Dillsburg — this time robbing the stores and the post office, and stealing all the horses as they headed toward the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with more than 51,000 casualties, including 7,863 dead. Susannah would learn later that she’d brandished her butcher knife at the infamous J.E.B. Stuart’s Calvary.

It is unclear on precisely which day Susannah took on the horsemen – it could have been anywhere from the 27th of June through the 1st of July, as cited by the historical accounts in the endnotes of this article. As she had only one visit by the soldiers, the correct date may actually be the 1st of July, as Rossville is smack in between York and Dillsburg, and the Calvary moved from York, through Rossville, and into Dillsburg en masse on that day on their way to Gettysburg.  Susannah lived just outside of Rossville. A few of the soldiers could have broken off from the column in search of animals and food, scouting a particular radius as the men moved along.  However, as the confederates appear to be milling around in the area of Dillsburg and Rossville during the entire 7 day period – it is difficult to tell.

Susannah’s family returned by the 3rd of July to their home because her son, Daniel, then aged 5, recounted to all who would listen later in his life that they heard the cannon fire of Pickett’s charge on the 3rd of July as he stood on his mother’s front porch. He told the story so often through his 80-odd year lifetime that it was even mentioned in his obituary, the only change being that he was 8 years old in the newspaper clipping rather than 5.

Life moved forward for the Baker family after that fateful day.  Susannah birthed a total of 7 children who  all lived into adulthood and had children of their own.  She survived the death of her husband, Cornelius, now interred at Barrens Salem Union Cemetery in York County.

And then she disappeared.
For 107 years.

Genealogy Interrupted – The Search for Susannah

The mind is a funny thing.  You present yourself with a genealogy mystery and thoughts prick at it repeatedly.  Shaking it.  Turning it upside down.  Relating other things to it and then pushing them away.  Five years after Marlene and I stood in that graveyard on that pleasantly warm day, I found myself wondering once again what happened to Susannah; but, this time I was determined to ferret out the answer.  Not too long ago the state of Pennsylvania opened up its death certificate collection much to the delight of many a genealogist.  Oodles of mysteries could now be solved (or be created where there wasn’t one to begin with) and Marlene and I both celebrated our good fortune.

However.

Susannah wasn’t there.

You have got to be kidding me.

Seriously?

How could there not be a death certificate?

We were both disappointed.  One night I sat down, determined once and for all to figure out what the heck happened to Susannah.  I spent all evening and into the wee hours of the morning going wide – a term Marlene uses for checking all children and all siblings.  I checked every census of every sibling (argh), and all of her 7 children, all of their spouses, and all of their children (just in case she’d moved in with a grandchild late in life).  I checked public on-line trees.  I dug into obit research (hear me weeping – south central Pennsylvania newspapers of this tri-county area are still not on-line even though the capital city of the state is here).  Confusing, too, was that my Susannah (funny how you put ownership rights on them) seemed to have a clone running around at the same time with the same first name and maiden name. Born one year earlier than my Susannah; but, with a different list of children – therefore there were two Susannah’s with a Bentz surname born a year apart.  Every time I thought I’d finally found her?  It was that other Susannah.  To get the obit with all the information, I needed a date.  Without the date – no internment information (in this case) could be found.  And, without the date I couldn’t travel to the York Historical Society and look in the microfiche of the prominent newspapers of the time, nor could I go through the archives for any will or probate information without a date, or near date, of death.

Bang head on desk here.

This is ridiculous.

I went out on my front porch and looked at the starry sky.  I took a deep breath and I said to no one in particular, “I will find out what happened to you, Susannah.  I know I will.”  I went back into the house, sat down at the computer, and thought.  It was not logical that the death certificate was not there.  Granted, she could be one of those odd ones that the record never got transcribed, or was lost; but, something told me this wasn’t the case.  I’d pulled several others that night without a problem.  There was one thing I’d noticed – as with all genealogy records – these new records also had errors – transcription errors, written errors, lousy handwriting, and witnesses who didn’t know bupkis about their own relatives.

It’s a given.

You get used to it.

So, I said to myself, “Let’s assume someone, somewhere, made a mistake.  And, let’s assume that even though I set my search wide enough to account for that – it didn’t work.  I will misspell the name as many ways as I can possibly think of, and try that.”

Bingo!  First shot out the gate.  It was a transcription error based on horrendous handwriting, both on Susannah’s last name AND on her parents’ last names (father and maiden mother) – which is why my search wasn’t working the way I needed it to.  And what a shock it was when I read where she had gone.  No wonder no one knew where she was.  It was a family secret.  They just said they didn’t know where she went because where they put her was an embarrassment.  During my research, I could not understand why, in old age, Susannah was not with one of her children – it was absolutely common for the times and I’d found many other folks in my tree that way.  One daughter was taking care of a senior parent already– her husband’s – so she would have had her hands full.  The lot of them must have gotten together and voted, is all I can think of, because

They put her in the Harrisburg State Lunatic Hospital.

And you know what those places were like back then.

After hitting that print button for Susannah’s death certificate (it now being  5 in the morning) I texted Marlene that I’d finally found her.  I was so excited that I just couldn’t wait.  I’m sure Marlene was not particularly amused.

Susanna Bentz Baker died of dementia in 1909 at the age of 73.  Perhaps she was violent – perhaps not.  She was under the care of the doctor who signed the certificate from July of that year until her death in September.  It is uncertain if she only entered the hospital in July, or if she was committed before.  Five years after her husband’s death she is listed as a servant in a stranger’s home, and there is no census information covering the time from the servant listing to her death – a total of 9 years. When her husband passed, she would have been about 59 years of age.  The next census after her husband’s death shows her at 63 functioning in the role of a servant. What circumstances led to the estrangement of mother and children after the death of the father, forcing Susannah to take on the role of hired help?  Or, perhaps, being the independent individual that we know she was, it is possible she refused to live with any one of them – opting to make her own way now that she had the opportunity and freedom to do so.

More secrets!

Her place of internment is still not known; but, now I have solid avenues to pursue.  Although the death certificate said she was removed to Dillsburg, she may not be in the same cemetery as her husband as there are several graveyards in the area.

I will find her.

And I will put her story to rest.

Sometimes, we who live in the present experience difficult hurtles in our lives.  We tend to be somewhat narcissistic – forgetting that those who have gone before us have also struggled – and won the greatest battle on their life path.  Stories of our ancestors, particularly if they displayed some kind of mental prowess, compassion, unconditional love, courage, or fortitude of spirit can light the way in our own dark night of the soul, reminding us that we, too, hold the keys to our own destiny, and we can win just as those who have gone before us.  Too often we look at history as facts and figures and forget the humanity – not realizing the power of the individual chronicle – the uniqueness of that one life – and the gifts that their actions have given us.

Thank you, Susannah.

 

Sources and Endnotes:

  • The historical time-line of this piece is a bit garbled; however, it does tell the reader of the thefts in Dillsburg and an assumption of how many men marched or road through the streets of that town as seen by an eyewitness of the time. Local History of Dillsburg, PA by A. N. Eslinger – (originally a locally printed chapbook now found on-line) “On June 28th, 18G3, part of the Confederate Army came into Dillsburg on Sunday afternoon. This was part of Gen. Ewel’s Corps. They were under the command of Col. Jenkins.  They camped overnight just a short distance south of the borough. They sent squads of their soldiers into Dillsburg for provisions, such as bread, meat, coffee, and tobacco, and offered to pay for it in Confederate script, but it was worthless to our people. They left the camp on Monday morning the 29th, after taking all the good horses in the borough and from the farmers all around the county.  On the following Wednesday, July 1, 1863, the battle of Gettysburg opened in the cannonading could be heard distinctly and Dillsburg, and on the same day Stewart’s Calvary passed through Dillsburg. They numbered probably about 8000 under the command of Gen. Fitz Hugh Lee and Gen. Wade Hampton. They robbed the stores and Dillsburg, and the post office of all the money and stamps and even the postmaster’s overcoat, and all the goods they could find in the stores. And burned the Garrison in Carlisle while Hampton led his brigade about a mile outside of the town and camped at Mumper’s farm.  Before morning they got word to come to Gettysburg immediately so they all left during the night for the battlefield.  This was the last of the Confederate Army in Dillsburg and it was a happy riddance to our town and the vicinity.”  —http://www.archive.org/stream/localhistoryofdi00esli/localhistoryofdi00esli_djvu.txt
  • Weather on the days of this story – “A Gettysburg man by the name of Rev. Dr. Michael Jacobs, a math professor at what was then called Pennsylvania College, had a strong interest in weather and recorded his observations three times a day, every day, even during the battle. As a result, the “Meteorology of the Battle“, was published, and it gives very specific details on the weather at the Battle of Gettysburg and the role it may have played in battle. Susannah lived approximately 25 miles from Gettysburg. “The rain continued at intervals until Saturday, June 27th at 7 a.m. the precipitation being 1.2 inches.”  The following two days being overcast with an average temperature rising slowly into the 70’s.  The 28th and 29th were overcast. http://www.gdg.org/Research/Other%20Documents/Newspaper%20Clippings/v6pt1l.html http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/battle-of-gettysburg-150th-ann/14824506
  • http://www.yorklinks.net/cw/ – on June 27, 1863, the Confederate Army marched on York County soil. Entering Western York County along present-day Lincoln Hwy., Route 462 and East Berlin Roads, an entire division of rebels entered York County. Hanover Junction rail station was raided on June 27. On June 28, York became the largest northern town occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Also on June 28 a skirmish was fought in Wrightsville. The burning of a mile-long covered bridge halted the Confederate advance. On June 30 the two opposing carveries clashed on the streets of the town of Hanover in southwestern York County – a daylong battle that involved over 6500 soldiers and resulted in over 350 killed, wounded, or missing. The Confederates were then recalled to Cashtown and Gettysburg.
  • Had all gone according to plan, over 30,000 Confederate soldiers would have been in York County on June 30, instead they were sent to Gettysburg for a battle of epic proportions that would unfold in the first days of July. Oddly enough, nothing in York was burned or destroyed other than a covered bridge to stop their approach during the brief occupation.  This most likely due to General Lee’s standing orders: “Lee gave strict orders for his army to minimize any negative impacts on the civilian population. Food, horses, and other supplies were generally not seized outright, although quartermasters reimbursing Northern farmers and merchants with Confederate money were not well received. Various towns, most notably York, Pennsylvania, were required to pay indemnities in lieu of supplies, under threat of destruction.” –source — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Gettysburg
  • Susannah Bentz – Born 30 January 1836 in Warrington, York, PA. Death: 30 September 1909 – historical source – death certificate.
  • Pickett’s Chargewas an infantry assault ordered by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee against Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s Union positions on Cemetery Ridge on July 3, 1863, the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg in the state of Pennsylvania during the American Civil War.
  • Susannah’s Civil War Story was told to Marlene Badger in an interview with John Baker, son of John Rae Baker.
  • The Harrisburg State Hospital was known as Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital from 1851 to 1937. It’s rumored to be the site of some violent poltergeist activity. The hospital was closed in 2006 and the building currently is used for office space. The movie “Girl, Interrupted” starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie was filmed here.

 

**Stuck in the Middle with You – Steelers Wheel (Song)

Genealogy Forms for Easy Research #genealogy

by Jenine E. Trayer
copyright 2016

Several years ago I created a number of easy to fill out forms to use in my genealogy research.  I’m sharing them here so that they can assist you, too in your exciting mystery tour of finding your ancestors!  Click on the underlined word for a downloadable pdf of each of the documents I created.

Multipletodo — A Multiple To Do List with hints on the side of what you are looking for.  This document is especially handy when you are visiting physical sites and don’t want to forget any data you would like to retrieve.

Gravediggertodo — This task sheet has two large blocks to write in and has two lists on the left.  The first list is what you have collected (so you don’t go looking for it again for the same people) and what you still need to find.

Newspaperrecordsheet — This is one of the most useful forms I have created.  My husband and I pull a great many newspaper records to add to our genealogy files.  This form gives a big space for you to paste your photo copy of the article as well as cite the information.  Not only have I used this for our genealogy work, I’ve utilized it for my research on Braucherei practitioners through history as well.  The sheet looks very nice in your genealogy binder collection and clearly provides all relevant information.

newspaperrecordsheetlarge — Sometimes news articles are rather large, or span several columns that are broken by ads and such.  This record keeper has a larger space for those more voluminous pieces.  It does not have the cite information box; but, it does have a note box where you can cite your source easily.

FamilyMysterySheet — This is one of my favorites!  We all have those family mysteries — too many people with the same name in multiple generations and  you lose someone, or everyone says they are buried at so-in-so cemetery, but there is no record — or, you find a large number of mistakes in the records you are searching (no wonder you can’t find them — how could you possible turn the name Hinkle into Pucknell?  But, they do.  Oh, yes they Do!  You say to yourself, “This person did not just vaporize.  I will find the record, I will discover what happened to them!  I shall overcome!” And, you will.  I like this form because it carries your thoughts and notes as you journey through time — sleuthing and pondering, considering and eventually…succeeding!  Your journey is just as important as the records you are researching.  It is an experience worth recording for generations to come.  Use this form to show those who come after you the hard work that you did!

The Cemetery Record Sheets (Front and Back) go beyond the Find A Grave Format, allowing you to make a detailed record of your visit to the resting place of the loved one.  From headstone to footer description, military insignia, shape, size, color, material — there is plenty of room to write as much as you like.  I created a second page so that you can put a photo collage there, or a single large photo.  These records sheets look very nice in your genealogy collection and shows your expertise when gathering that important information!

CemeteryRecordSheetFront

CemeteryRecordSheetBack

The Fast Fact Library Archive Sheet is a series of three tickets you can use when you are gathering information at the library or historical society, etc.  You know how it is — you are only there for a window of time and you are pulling as much information on as many people as you can.  You grab it all and jam it into a notebook or folder so you can sort through it later.  These tickets can help to keep you organized while you are working, or you can use them afterwards, attaching them to the information you gathered until you can sit down and properly annotate everything and put it where it belongs.  That way, those snugly winter afternoons with your hot chocolate, ancestry notes, and documents will be spent in bliss rather than the frustration of spending hours looking for things when you could have been building your scrapbook!  FastFactLibrary

Road Trip!  RoadTripFormpdf This form is all about your journey!  Where did you go?  How long did it take you?  How many miles did you drive?  How much did the fuel cost?  Add a few pictures!  Talk about what other things you saw, or interesting people you met.  This delightful form will help make your ancestry research interesting to friends and family for years to come.

I hope that you enjoy using the forms I created.  They are not for re-sale — they are free to the public to use as you desire in your research.  All forms are copyrighted as my design, which appears on the bottom of each form.  Please post about how you used the forms, and if they are helpful to you!

Keep Sleuthing!
Jenine E. Trayer

The GraveDigger’s Daughter

Barrens Salem Union Cemetery

Marlene S. Bentz Badger — The Grave Digger’s Daughter
Born Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1958

Marlene contributes to the Gravediggersgenealogy.com website through her many years of research.  She lends advice and guidance, and we’re hoping to post some of her hard work in cemetery recording this summer.  Here is her story…

“I’ve spent my life wondering who I am, where I came from, and why I am the way I am. These questions have haunted me since I was five years old, when my brother was old enough to be “my Father’s boy” and my sister danced with the attention of my mother.  Life, as I understood it, seemed to suddenly change.  Usurped and emotionally cast adrift, I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong, and that no one wanted me or needed me.  Left to my own devices, I found my security by spending time walking in the woods, watching the animals, or playing with our numerous pets/animals on our small farm.  And then I found the cemeteries…

On Sunday’s after church when my mother stayed late for her meetings with other members,  I loved to roam the graveyard, wondering who those people were and what they were like. I thought some of those folks in there might be related to me because we shared the same last name.  At times I thought up stories about these interesting souls to pass the time. Out of curiosity I once asked my dad if we were related to them, and his answer was “No, they are all dead”. That struck me as a strange answer, and I never understood it since his parents were buried in that cemetery.

As a young adult I was still curious about those people, and maintained the love of spending time in the cemetery. Oddly enough, my father became the grave digger of several area cemeteries, and I would go with him when I could.  I read the names and dates, and tried to figure out the families, why some died young, or within a few days of each other. I realized that being a Scorpio everything needed to be analyzed and researched fully, and playing detective was something I enjoyed.

Later on, my mother gave me a very small handwritten version of her family tree compiled by my Aunt. At the time, I was too busy being a young wife, mother, and business owner to investigate this information further.  I set it aside and got onto the task of living.

When my daughter’s were grown, and my parents both still alive, I finally had a chance to start working on my family tree. My mother was excited to help me, so she planned trips for us to go to cemeteries where she knew family members were buried. Other times she arranged trips to meet some of her cousins and find out more about her lines. This was great, and finally my mother and I had something in common.  I never spent much time with her because she already had a daughter to teach all the “girly” things to.  Now, all these years later, we enjoyed a special bond, and although it was fleeting, I savor every moment of it.

Working with my mother only took me so far.  With the family interviews exhausted, I still wanted to know more about the Bentz’s in the Barrens cemetery, since that is where my curiosity really came from for this endeavor. As I tried to research this line, I could only get back as far as my great-grandfather. I found the Bentz’s were stubborn and very temperamental, not helpful at all. Information was just becoming available on the internet, but searching was long and tedious and a lot simply wasn’t yet there, or the index features were far from complete.

After months of searching, I found a connection on-line with a Bentz descendant from Connecticut who had been researching the Bentz family. This amazing fellow helped me connect my great-grandfather with my great-great-grandfather and sent me a great deal of information. I was ecstatic! I thought I was finally on my way.   As I looked through the material I discovered that he had lots of names and some dates; but, most of the information did not carry sources to prove his theories.   When I got to my father in his tree…well, he was listed with the wrong name, along with errors on some of the other family members I was familiar with. Once again, I felt like I ran into a brick wall…but then I realized I really hadn’t, I just needed to take the information I received and PROVE it. This meant I needed to do a lot more searching on-line, with many trips to cemeteries, libraries, and historical societies added in for good measure.

As I searched for records of the cemeteries l found out that churches do not have lists of who is buried in their cemeteries, only the purchaser of the lots. As I continued the search I found that cemeteries could be off limits to researches if they are on private land, some have been flooded to make reservoirs for water supplies, and others have been left go to the point the owners don’t know they even exist.

I sat back and thought about this mess of missing information.  I finally decided that there was only one thing to do, record the cemetery stones myself so I would have the information and at the same time, create something lasting for future generations. Where to start?  Barren’s Cemetery, of course!  As I worked through the cemetery, I found that ALL the Bentz’s and many other last names in the cemetery were related to me, nearly 75% !  What a thrill it was to complete the recording of the stones. As I worked through the cemetery, I mentally thanked the industrious people during the depression years who recorded the cemeteries at that time so I could include people where stones no longer existed or were illegible at the time of my recording around the turn of this century.   Friends, family members and a Girl Scout troop also pitched in to help.  In the end, the historical societies I gave copies to were just as thrilled with the information as I was. I posted my data on-line through PAGENWEB. Recently I found they changed their web page and that some of the information I sent them no longer exists in their new format.  What a shame!

As I continued to research my family and knowing what I knew about the recordings of the Barrens Cemetery, I came to find out the Dillsburg Cemetery was the same way. I began recording that cemetery nearly 10 years ago, but I had several years that I just could not bring myself to do it. I lost my parents within a year of each other and they were buried there in Section 2. It took me several years to finally be able to write their names in my notebook. I was glad that I started with the oldest sections first since they only had the recordings from the 1930’s and unless you went to the York Co. Historical Society/York Heritage Trust you would have to walk each row and read each stone to see if your ancestors were buried there. Luckily, those sections were the ones that hold most people’s interest. I finished sections 1 & 5 before I lost my parents, and I was glad I did. It has been rewarding to get phone calls from other genealogists looking for their ancestors, and knowing that I can help them with that.

During my Dillsburg Cemetery recording process, I received a phone call from a supervisor of Fairview Township, York County. He explained that he had two tombstones sitting in the township storage room for over 20 years. They were confiscated for evidence in a theft and never returned to the cemetery. Not knowing where they belonged, township employees  just moved those stones around each year like chess pieces when they tried to clean out the storage/evidence room.  Deciding he really had to do something about this, he searched the internet and found my list on PAGENWEB.  From there, he tried to locate someone at the Dillsburg Cemetery Association to help him get the stones back where they belonged,  who told him to contact Cocklin’s Funeral Home, who in turn told him to contact me. We had a wonderful phone conversation and a week later, we met to put the stones back where they belonged.  Now, thanks to my son-in-law who is the current gravedigger, the stones cannot be removed unless someone breaks them.  The Mitchells now rest in peace knowing their descendants can find their burial location with ease once again.

As a semi-seasoned genealogist, I have found that I love to share what I have found with others. Whether it is family information, how-to’s for researching, or time helping others with their family tree quest.   I can tell you that, at times, your important family search endeavor will lead you down paths that you would never have thought to go. You will meet some of the nicest people while doing the research.   You will discover that some family members become your friends, and some friends become your family.

Below, you will find a few ideas for researching your lineage.  If you have any suggestions, please share them with us. We would like to make a page of suggestions and how-to’s for researching.

1.    When searching on-line and through  numerous trees, import the new information into a separate family tree file to use for clues as to where to go from here. DO NOT take their information as gospel. DO NOT import to the family file that contains all your verified information.

2.    Only work on one surname at a time. If you don’t you may confuse yourself and keep researching the same information over and over again, wasting your time.

3.    Always, always, always document your sources of information, whether living relatives, other family trees, historical books, wills, marriage, birth, and death certificates, church records, tax records, census records, or other records. Document whom you received it from, where you located it, and when you received it. Make a copy for your records if possible.

4.    Use a filing system that works for you for easy reference, whether it is putting it in a notebook with sheet protectors, or in a filing cabinet.

5.    Always use acid-free paper and supplies. Make copies of information if you know it was before acid-free paper.

6.    Always identify people in photos. It is usually better to use acid-free labels to put your information on, and then stick to the back of the photo, or make sure you use a pen that will not bleed through the picture. NEVER write names on the front of the photo. Past generations had a habit of that if they actually bothered identified the people.  This information bleeds over time or rubs off depending upon the quality of the pen and the original photo.  You could always put your pictures in photo albums that have labels to write on beside or under them, then you don’t destroy the pictures for future generations.

7.  Don’t rely solely on your computer for storage.  Back up your computer data frequently, make a spare copy of all your data on CD’s even though you have an external hard drive.  Make sure you always have a paper copy that reflects your on-line information.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog entry.  Please feel free to post your comments.  Need Help?  You can e-mail me at:  marlenebadger@yahoo.com

Fraktur — Artistic Family History Gold Mine Then and Now

Marriage Record designed by Jenine Trayer in the Fraktur fashion.

Last summer I visited the Perry County Historians in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, looking for those elusive Drayers.  We actually found one along with his wife, and after some local census diving we even found their grave — with a whopping huge tree growing right out of the center!  Perry Historians also had another treasure trove, a compilation of Pennsylvania German Fraktur in a well researched volume published for the society.  The book came with my membership, and at the time, I stuffed it in my backpack and thought I’d take a look at it…whenever.  Months later, looking for specific information on Pennsylvania German designs I realized that the same symbology found on the Frakturs could also be found on hex signs, pottery, quilts, butter presses, etc., from the same era.

Wouldn’t it be nice, I thought, to craft some of my own Fraktur for my family and friends?  I spent about a month researching the topic, ordered several books, and found an amazing amount of information about what the people in my family (and my husband’s) may have been like a hundred years ago.  Sure, it is one thing to sift through census records, directories and church records; but, it is another when you “come to know them” through other means, such as their art, literature, and music.

In my search for understanding more, I learned about the amazing European mix of the German speaking Americans, who immigrated from where, when, and why.  I learned that many Germans refused to sign their names on documents when they entered this country, not because they couldn’t write; but, because they were suspicious of authority.  Dumb Dutch didn’t mean stupid — it meant not understanding the English language.  I also discovered that most of the Germans who entered this country between 1700 and 1800 were highly literate, and prided themselves in their ability to read and write…German.  From studying the typeset prevalent of the era, I discovered how transcription errors occurred from one printed document to another.  The common typesets for German letters made “s” and “f” look similar, the same with “k” and “t”, and a few others.  No wonder finding the correct spelling of a name can become a nightmare when searching through your lineage!

As a result of what I learned, I designed a full web page on Fraktur, giving a little history, examples, and a glossary so that when you are doing your research on your family line and run across that German word or two, you’ll know what it means.  The page also includes two downloads for you to add to your own genealogy scrapbook — a Birth Record and a Marriage Record — shaded, but uncolored.  These are .pdf files and easy to download — 8.5 x 11 inches to fit in your scrapbook.

If this subject sounds interesting to you, please visit my website at http://www.gravediggersgenealogy.com/Fraktur_Art_for_Record_Keeping.html

 

The Trouble With Harry

The Trouble With Harry
by Silver RavenWolf

When Mick and I first sat down together to work on his family history, I said, “Okay, let’s start with what you know.”  He listed the names of his mother and father, then the names of his grandparents, amended with “I believe.”

I frowned.  “What do you mean — you believe?  You don’t know?”

My husband grinned.  “Can’t you just plug their names in the computer and all sorts of good stuff pops up?”

I have this cocked eyebrow thing I do when I’m irritated?  Yeah.  I was doing that right then.

“Its not my fault,” he said defensively.  “My Dad’s father died before I was born and his wife passed away a few years after my first or second birthday.  I didn’t know them, so I’m just not sure.”

I sighed.  “And there isn’t anyone you can think of that you might be able to ask for more detailed information?”

“Nope.  We weren’t a particularly social family to begin with.  I do know that they lived in Wellsville — if that helps.”

I sat back in my chair, brain-wheels spinning as I tossed around genealogy sleuthing options.  “Okay, then,” I finally said, feeling a little more hopeful, “this shouldn’t be too hard.  At least we have a general time frame on when they passed away.  We’re talking about the early 1960’s, so they may be in the Social Security Death Index, and their obituaries should be available…somewhere.  Maybe the Bulletin — that paper serviced that area at that time…”

Thus began the search for the elusive Harry and Margaret.

The first option for us because of our lifestyle (busy) is always the internet, and that’s where we began.  Mick and I took turns searching for Harry and Margaret.  Although I love Ancestry.com, without a decent birth or death date, there were no little leaves for us, just dried up sticks that lead to nowhere.  After seven paid-for on-line services, a plethora of free ones and a good twenty hours of searching we came up fairly empty handed.  Through on-line census records, we could trace Harry as a child and young adult, but came up empty handed after 1920.  The same for Margaret, stopping at 1930.  We moved on to other resources.  From a business directory listing in 1928 we discovered that, for a time, Harry was helping his Aunt Annie with the shoe business in Carlisle, which is most likely why he wasn’t with Margaret in 1930.  From newspaperarchive.com we netted a few interesting articles on Harry.  On January 31, 1937, Harry was mugged and lost $100 and two checks, in 1951 his son was killed in a motorcycle accident, and in 1956 his grandson died in a trailer fire (another story).  In 1957 Harry went into the hospital for a few months and then was released.  Nothing after that.

The Social Security Death Index was a bust.  We discovered later that neither he nor Margaret appeared in that index because they didn’t collect any benefits.  I even called the funeral home that took care of his son, hoping for information.  They were less than helpful, promised to get back to me, and then never did.

At this point I was getting irritated.  I knew that Harry’s obit would get me the dates I needed and most likely his cemetery of eternal rest; but, not having either birth or death dates, trying to find that elusive little news item in the archives of the dailies at the county historical society would take me loads more time than I had.  I was hopeful that a weekly paper at the time might net us the information we needed, and so I pursued my original idea of The Bulletin, only to find out that some idiot at the library threw them away, and that the microfiche of this paper was supposedly at the town historical society.  When I asked to view the microfilm I was told that it was in such poor shape that I would have to go to the state archives.  At the state archives they told me they didn’t carry any newspapers and that I would have to go to the state library, which by the way was only open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday thanks to Pennsylvania state budget cuts, which had also hit the archives to the tune of dangling ceiling tiles, leaking roof and duck tape holding the women’s bathroom stalls together.  No kidding.

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.

Had this been just any old ancestor, I probably wouldn’t have been so irritated (okay, so maybe I would have) but, it truly bothered me that this was my husband’s grandparents for pity’s sake, and he should be able to at least find the graves to give his respects if nothing else.

Finally, one night I sat down at the computer and said, “Harry.  Enough is enough.  It’s time to find you!”  I spent several hours cruising those same services I used before, hoping I’d missed something, when I happened across a message board.  Five years ago, someone in their quest for information on another person, mentioned Harry — and gave his birth and death date.  Whoopppeeee!  I was on a roll.  Where there was a Harry, there had to be a Margaret!

The following weekend, Mick and I drove to the York Historical Society.  While he headed off in a different search I asked a library helper what newspapers were available in Harry’s time period.  She led me to a cabinet and pulled out the York Gazette Daily (a newspaper I’d never heard of) handed me the microfiche and told me how to use the machine.  At first, I was elated because I found the obit; but, my heart sunk as I eagerly scanned the page.  The obituary didn’t state where Harry was buried and I could tell the family was totally unprepared for his death because the article indicated that place of internment had not been chosen.  I made a copy for our files, sighing as I plopped my fifty cents into the machine.  I felt like I was never going to find Harry (or Margaret).  What made it worse, Harry had the unmitigated gall to drop dead at 3:20 in the afternoon on a Friday.  Although York had a Saturday paper, they didn’t have a Sunday paper.  By Monday, Harry was old news, and his place of internment never made print.

I trudged out to the main room of the library.  “I’m going outside for a break,” I said to my husband.  He looked at me quizzically and followed after me.

“What’s the matter?” he asked after we got outside.  I leaned against the brick wall of the building and told him I’d found the obit; but, it had little to share.  Harry (and Margaret) were still among the missing.

He nodded and we just stood there, enjoying the beautiful day.  “You know,” he said, “when I was a kid, York had more than one newspaper.”

“The helper only showed me the one set of file cabinets,” I said.  “Maybe there was only one paper in that time period.”

“I don’t think so.  I’m sure I remember the Dispatch.  I never heard of the one you looked in.”

We talked about other things and then retreated back inside.  Once again, I headed for the microfiche room.  This time I examined all the file cabinets in the room.  Sure enough, there was a row that held the York Dispatch.  I pulled the fiche and once again slogged through the reel.

Bingo!  I found Harry, and I found where they laid him to rest. I was ecstatic!

In that moment I learned several valuable lessons in genealogy.  First, never give up.  Your ancestors, I think, take great pride in making you work for it.  Second — never take what you are told by anyone at face value (the helper only showed me one paper even though I had originally asked for all papers in that time period).  Third, not all newspapers run their obits, death and funeral notices in the same way.  For example, a death by injury often is posted as a news item that turns into an obituary all in the same article.  There are straight obits (one’s that you would expect) and many times a few days later Funeral Notices (that give less but can help just the same).   Dates of death and print dates of the event can vary widely.  If you can’t find the obit, always look a week before and two weeks after the death date, especially in the older papers.  And, finally, not all obits are printed the same — different newspapers due to press times, space, and policies may not share the same information.

With gusto I slapped my fifty cents into the machine with a big fat smile, printed my copy and peered at the obit.  I frowned.

I found Harry, alright, and I’d discovered where he was buried.  Prospect Hills.

Oh…no.

Prospect Hills in York, Pennsylvania is a beautiful cemetery.  There is one small, teeny-tiny problem…it is super big.  It is a dillion times bigger than any cemetery I’ve ever seen.  You’d never be able to walk it and find someone in a day, let alone a few hours.  I trudged out into the library section with the obit dangling from my hand.

“Well?” asked Mick, looking up from a file.

“I found him.  But…”

“Don’t tell me…”

I nodded.  “Yep.  He’s in Prospect Hills.”

Mick laughed and shook his head.  “Now what?  We can’t walk that graveyard.  We just don’t have the time.  Its too big.”

“Right, ” I replied, “but we’re lucky that they are still operating and adding landscaping and monuments.  That means that they will have some type of record keeping.  Now we call Prospect Hills.  We will find Harry, and when we do, we’ll find Margaret and their headstone should tell me her date of death, and if we’re lucky, her birth year.  Then we can consider this bit of mystery closed!”

Lesson number ninehundredandfortythree — never assume anything in genealogy.

The people at Prospect Hills were marvelous on the phone.  After explaining that Harry was Mick’s grandfather, they pulled the card file and found him.  As a note, had Harry not been a direct family member the price for searching their records is $45.00 an hour.  “He’s in a plot that holds eight.  There are five family members there,” said the secretary enthusiastically.  “Come out on Friday and one of our employees will take you to the gravesite.  I see there’s a big headstone.  That’s nice.”

“You’ll escort us to the gravesite?” I asked in wonderment, thinking of all the hours Mick and I had already spent searching lonely, sun scorched graveyards this year in triple digit heat.

“Absolutely!” she said.  “The cemetery is very large, it is the least we can do.”

I was so excited that I forgot to ask who all rested in the plots before I hung up.  Maybe we would find Robert Francis, too.  He was the son who died in a motorcycle accident in 1951 and up until this point, we hadn’t been able to find where his estranged wife stuck him.  (And yes, there is a reason that I worded it just that way).

Bright and early Friday morning Mick and I headed for York.  I had my camera and notes (just in case) and felt a sense of accomplishment.  One mystery, I hoped, would finally be solved.  We would find Harry and Margaret, discover her birth and death dates, take a picture of their final resting place, record the information and move onto the next mystery (which was Robert Francis).  I smiled and my heart beat faster in anticipation of our accomplishment.  We drove into the well maintained circular driveway, met with the employee, and drove down the winding roads of Prospect Hills, surfing through a sea of tombstones.  Finally, we pulled over to the side of one of the long lanes and scrambled from Mick’s truck.  I almost dropped my camera I was so excited.  I chattered to Bill-the-employee as we walked, bringing him up to speed on our mystery of the elusive Harry and Margaret, which probably bored him to tears.

“Its over here,” said Bill, holding a piece of paper and pointing to the back of a large headstone as we hurried to the gravesite.  I rounded the stone and stood there blinking.  What the?  This was the headstone of Mick’s great grandparents, not his grandparents.  I looked around at the nearby stones.  They all represented other families.  I stared, simply not comprehending.  No Harry.  No Margaret.

Don’t get me wrong, we were happy to find his great grandparents, but…where the heck was Harry?  Margaret?  Mick looked crestfallen.  My camera dangled limply in my hand as I looked from the tombstone to Mick, to Bill-the-employee, and back to the tombstone.

Bill reviewed his paper.  “Wait,” he said, “they are here.”  He held out the paper which showed a neat diagram of the original purchase and indicated who was where.  Harry was there.   So was Margaret.  In unmarked graves.  And I happened to be standing on Harry.  Ooops.  I took a step back and smiled weakly.

Mick closed his eyes and opened them again.  I knew what he was thinking.  Why hadn’t any of Harry’s children stepped up to the plate and put in headstones for them, or at least footers?  “You know,” Mick said sadly, “if we had come out here alone, on our own, and even found this grave, we would never have known that my grandparents were in here.  We would have believed we somehow made a mistake in our research.”

I knew there was nothing I could say, and Bill obviously didn’t know what to say either — so, we just stood there in silence.  Finally, Bill handed me the paper and said, “You can keep this.  It has the dates the family members were interred.  This will help you find his grandmother’s obituary.”  Oh!  So he had been listening!

I nodded and examined the paper.  “Robert isn’t here,” I said to Mick.  “Just your grandparents, your great grandparents and one of your great aunts.  No Robert.”  Silly me thinking we could knock out two mysteries with one tombstone.

Bill offered to look in the cemetery records to see if he could find Robert; but, I already knew Robert wasn’t there.  I had an idea of what happened in that scenario, and now wasn’t the time to discuss it.  Bill gracefully extricated himself from us and hurried off to escort another family.  Mick and I hung around, giving him time to sort out his feelings.  I took pictures of the gravesite for our records, then wandered up the hill and took other photographs (I collect pics of interesting statues and tombstones) and found my first DAR medallion.  After a bit Mick caught up with me.  “You know I’m not happy that they didn’t bother to mark the graves.”

I sighed.  “Yeah, I know.”

“But, at least we know where they are and have the right dates.  We can swing around tomorrow at the historical society and pull my grandmother’s obit.  Maybe later we can think about marking these graves.  Ask a few questions.  Get a few quotes.  Is that okay with you?”

“Fine by me.”

Smiling, he said, “When I was looking on-line?  I found quite a few Boeckels in here.  Let’s drive around.  See who we can dig up!”

I shook my head and checked my camera batteries.  The hunt was on again.

Your Journey is Just as Important

Let the future know about you!

Your Journey is Just as Important!
by Silver RavenWolf

Traveling through time to unearth your family connections can conjure a wide range of emotions — curiosity, frustration, elation, disappointment, amazement, and even shock (on occasion).  Once you solve a particular mystery, a new one surely follows.  Personal history research often moves into local, political, and national events in your quest to understand and honor those who have gone before you. For example, in looking for an obituary in the early 1920’s you may run across articles on health epidemics, ads for clothing styles, and what the greatest invention of the year might be.  A window to the past opens beyond the confusing labyrinth of names and dates — of far too many Jacob’s, Mary’s, Daniel’s and Catherine’s who didn’t have the common decency to be creative in naming their children, and secondly who never thought to leave some sort of record so that I would know, in 2010, who was related to whom in 1836!  The nerve!

And that’s my point.  In 2184 someone will be looking back at the research you’ve done (provided you file it in more than one historical society and keep home records — never can be too careful) .  Not only will they be reviewing your work about the Jacob’s, Mary’s and Catherine’s in 1836, they will be wondering about you.  Are you making some sort of journal, record, or diary of where you traveled, who you spoke to, how you felt in your quest to build your pedigree?  Truly, the effort you spend on your research is just as historically significant as the lives you are attempting to piece together.

Don’t be shy!  Even if you only take notes, go ahead and scatter a little of your day-to-day life in the margins, or write a journal page in that composition book you dedicated for collecting pieces of information.  Go ahead and share your feelings.  Let the future know that you searched for three months to find Harry, or had to drive 200 miles just to get a death date for Elizabeth, or how you felt when you found your grandmother’s birth certificate shoved under a box filled with old canning jars that were headed for recycling.  That’s all a part of history, too!  Did you have to stop your sleuthing because you went camping with the family, or landed a great new job that ate up more hours than you anticipated, or perhaps you exhausted a particular line of information and just don’t know where to turn next?  Your journey, your life, your feelings are just as important in the tapestry of your genealogy experience as the names, dates, and other information you work so hard to reconstruct!

Have someone take pictures of you while researching and be sure to add them to a section in each of the books or files you may be building.  When working on each family unit, why not write down your experiences in diary form?  Add current information and how current events or your feelings affected your research.  Talk about the questions you have, how you found this source or that.  Show us the person that cared enough to retrieve and share the past.  Let the future see and hear the author that is you!

Ode to Annie

In my mind’s eye, I can see Annie.  Disheveled.  Wandering the halls of her modest, Carlisle home.  Cotton nightgown catching on a stair tread.  The wooden floor boards creaking under her frigid bare feet as she drifts from room to room.  Upstairs.  Down.  The porch.  Back again.  December snow falls softly beyond the black window panes.  She carries a burning candle, yet she doesn’t really see the stuttering light.  She doesn’t need to.  She knows these walls.  This furniture.  Those pictures.  “Burn it, burn it all,” she whispers.  “Down to the sticks.  Down to the bones.  They’re dead.  They’re dead.  They aren’t coming home.”

It will happen to you, you know.  You’ll be chugging along in your research and someone will reach up from the grave, and capture your heart.  Suddenly, you’ll have a driving psychological need to discover everything you can about that person.  You won’t sleep.  You’ll stop doing a present-time important thing to jump back in the past to put the pieces together.  You’ll bond with another’s life without ever speaking to them.

Annie began as an innocuous character in the vast array of the Trayer/Drayer family.  Not in the direct line, she was a figure that popped up as we went wide, hoping to piece together my husband’s sketchy lineage.  We didn’t realize, at first, just how pivotal a part Annie played in our data collection.  Just as in her life, so she became in our research – the glue that held an entire family together.  And the last woman standing that picked up the pieces when it all blew apart.

1928.  Annie Trimmer is married to William Henry Trayer, and she is the head of a large household in the city of Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Her husband, William, a recovered polio victim, has a successful shoe business that he shares with his father.  Annie’s days are filled with numerous tasks, including the management of eight children, ages ranging from early twenties to under ten.  According to the previous census, Annie’s only daughter has moved out of the house.  Annie is manning the helm of this all male family without servants (none listed in the census) and is now saddled with taking care of her father-in-law who has temporarily moved in with them.  This alone earns Annie a gold star.  Yet, the year from hell is about to unfold.

I wonder what New Year’s Day, 1928 was like for Annie.  The previous year, Samuel, her brother-in-law, passed away.  A veteran of the Spanish-American War, they buried him beside his mother, Harriet, out in New Kingston.  Did Annie think at all of Samuel and his early passing as the clock struck the New Year?  Did she ponder the nature of life and death as she prepared the dinner for her large family?  Did she have any inkling at all what 1928 would bring?

Annie’s life came together for us a little bit at a time.  A marriage date here.  A church record there…births of her children as the census years marched along.  She became a person of interest when we realized that her father-in-law, Daniel, a direct-line relative,  moved in with her family in 1920 even though he kept his own residence.  To us, this meant he must be sick or in poor health.  As we unearthed the 1930 census we realized that something had gone terribly wrong.  We couldn’t find William (her husband), or Daniel, Sr., or even Annie.  What the heck happened?

Many times in working with census records we’ve discovered just how unreliable they can be.  For some reason, no one seemed to be able to spell or speak the name “Trayer”.  In fact, to date we’ve found fifteen derivations (including Grayer) and we’re still counting.  So, at first, we figured that someone screwed up  on the census… again.

That was before I started moving hell and high water to pull obits.  By the time I was done, I’d joined two news services and spent hours on the microfiche machine at the historical society.  My tenacity did not go unrewarded.  The story of Annie unfolded obit by obit, copy by copy, grave by grave.  I gained an unending respect for this woman.  And I felt her pain.

In February of 1928, Annie’s husband, William passed away.  This had to have been an incredible shock to the entire family.  Fine one week, dead of pneumonia the next.  Annie’s widow’s vendue shows a complete inventory of the household and business.  It appears that one of William’s brothers came to live with the family for a short time to assist either in running the business or in selling off the stock and equipment.  Unfortunately, for Annie, it just gets worse.  In March of 1928 a headline hits the Carlisle Evening Sentinel – Man Shoots Himself in Head.  One of Annie’s sons, distraught over his father’s death and estranged from his wife (he’s in arrears in his child support) dispatches himself from this life in Annie’s front hallway with a shotgun.  Funeral number two.

In the late spring of 1928, Annie’s sister passes away.  Although she is not living in Annie’s home, this had to be traumatic and makes funeral number three.  Funeral number four occurs in October – a sister-in-law which completely scatters that family.  Funeral number five, her father-in-law’s brother, hits December 9th.  December 11th, Daniel, her father-in-law is found dead in her upstairs bed.  By this sixth funeral, Annie doesn’t have enough money to pay for it, and the burden is assuaged with the help of Daniel’s daughter, as shown on the records from the funeral home.  Annie drops Daniel Sr. in the family plot in New Kingston without a headstone.  In early 1929, Annie loses one of her infant grandchilden to influenza.  In all, Annie has suffered through eight funerals in a little over a year, the loss of the family income, her emotional security, and most likely, her sanity.

When we visited the original address we found the house was gone, and half the house beside it was also missing – as if a fire took it.

For weeks I thought about Annie.  Where had she gone?  What happened to her children?  In 1928, her youngest was only seven or eight years old.  How she must have struggled!  When I couldn’t find Annie in the census or church records I feared that she, too, had crossed beyond the veil in that terrible year.  My husband and I double checked the cemetery in New Kingston.  Although Daniel was buried there (another story), and Samuel, his son, and Jacob his brother, and Harriet, his wife… no William.  No son Daniel.  No Annie.

Late one night as I was surfing through Ancestry.com I found a reference to Annie from someone’s family tree.  An Annie Trimmer that lived until 1950.  Was this the same Annie?  I hoped so.  I would like to think that Annie was afforded some peace, some joy in successive years.  Back to the historical society we went.  I vowed I would find Annie.  I didn’t.

Searching through the cemetery records, however, I did find William.  Armed with camera, chalk, and a scrub brush, we drove to the listed cemetery.  “Let’s use the side entrance,” said my husband.  “I think it will be easier to pull the truck in that way.”  He drifted about 500 feet onto the black, cemetery  macadam  and cut the engine.

I glanced to the left, just to take in our surroundings and uttered a screech of surprise.  There she was, my Annie, right smack beside the side entrance we’d chosen to use.  I know it sounds stupid, but I ran to the headstone and sunk to my knees before it.  “Annie!  I found you,” I cried, gently fingering the carved letters of the date of her death – 1950.

“Let’s see if there are other Trayer’s here,” said my husband, enthused that we’d finally found Annie.  We discovered several more around her.  She must have used money from sale of the business in 1928 to buy a number of plots.  William, her husband, son Daniel who killed himself, his  grown daughter, and other grown children of William’s were clustered around my Annie.  We were so excited that we decided to walk the cemetery, to see if there were any more.  In front of us stood a large building, and we really didn’t think much about it.  My husband took the left side of the cemetery and I took the right, thinking that the bulk of the graves were in the front of the building.  I rounded the corner first and stopped dead in my tracks.  The cemetery stretched for…forever!  Tombstones as far as the eye could see, and then flags and flat stones beyond that.  Had we used any other entrance we may never have found Annie.  Stunned, I turned in the hundred degree heat, a massive chill enfolding my shoulders.   “Thank you, Annie,” I whispered.  “Thank you.”

I don’t know why I bonded with Annie.  She isn’t even my relative; yet, somehow, through time and space, although years and death stretch between us without the possibility of ever speaking, a connection has grown.  And I wondered, as I stood there, could I pray for Annie now?  They say time is not linear.  Was I somehow tuning in on Annie’s pain?  Was she wandering those ghostly halls or rocking on sore knees, asking the Divine for help?  Could I stand here and send her my love?  Would she feel it?  If I really believed, could the barrier between 2010 and 1928 melt away – just for a moment?  Or was dead really dead and gone very gone?

Screw the philosophical questions, I thought, and prayed my heart out.

If it wasn’t for Annie, there is a lot we wouldn’t know.  She was instrumental in filling out the paperwork of the times that filtered down to us, that lead us further in many directions of our genealogy research.  Although it seems like such a pain  to work with indirect lines in your family, now and then you’ll meet an Annie.  And when you do?  Your physical reward may be facts and figures; but, you’ll reap something far more important — a strange and loving connection that lives beyond the grave.

Thanks, Annie.

In the Beginning…

Lottie's Reminder

“I’m bored,” said Marlene.

“Me too,” I replied, and then concentrated on my soup.  I hadn’t seen Marlene in…geeze…ten years?  Okay, I’d run into her around town, said a few words; but, I’d gone my way and she hers.  Once upon a time we were good friends.  Life, kids, spouses, work… got in the way.  And then, a week ago, she called me and said something about lunch.   So.  Here we were.  Eating lunch at the local diner.  Catching up.

It wasn’t so much that I was bored.  Exactly.  I felt…adrift.  A tad angry.  And old!  I was staring my 55th birthday in the face, three of my grown children had long left the nest, with the fourth one  (presently eating lunch with us) still hanging in there, trying to find his way in this gawd-awful economy.  When he graduated five years ago, I thought my husband and I were finally free to do the things we wanted to do.  I was euphoric that I no longer had to be so darned responsible every moment of my waking life.  In that same month, my father became ill, was hospitalized, somewhat recovered, and walked smack into Alzheimers.  Although its not right — my anger at my circumstances boiled — that my career had been derailed by the needs of others.

Again.

By the time Marlene called for that fateful lunch I was monitoring medication, cooking full meals, doing laundry, playing cabbie for doctor appointments — flap hand, yada — for my 84-year-old father who simply refused to do anything for himself.  We’d just gotten over a major fight because he insisted on pissing in a bucket instead of walking ten paces to the bathroom.  He didn’t see the sense in using the brand new toilet if the bucket was at hand.  I won the battle; but, carried emotional wounds and the near miss memory of a swinging cane.  Although my husband of thirty years was sympathetic, he’d long since retreated to the television on a daily basis as soon as he got home from work, nurturing his own frustration in the boob tube escape.  I felt like an unappreciated, old biddy servant who’d be better off dead.

Yeah, bored was a good catch-all word — and then some.

“I’m thinking of taking a genealogy course,” said Marlene.  “I’ve been doing it for years; but, I’m sure I could learn something new.  The local historical society is giving a class.  Its forty bucks — six weeks.”

“You know,” said my son.  “You two should do something together.  You really need to get out of the house more, Mom.”

Hmmm.  Ain’t that the truth.

“Why not go to class with me?” asked Marlene.  “I’ll even come and pick you up.”

“I don’t know…” I hesitated.

“I think its a great idea,” encouraged my son.  “You should do it!”

I could feel my right eyebrow raise.  Genealogy?  Okay, so I knew that meant looking into your family history.   I knew some things about my family, especially my father’s side — my mother’s side was a different story and I’d always been curious…

“Oh come on,” wheedled Marlene.  “We’ll have fun!”

Had I but known.

We waited about a month for the class to start, which gave me plenty of time to prep my husband and father.  Hubby was great about it — not so my father.  At the time, whenever my father knew I was going somewhere he would have “spells” — sometimes they were angry outbursts, sometimes he would just collapse on the floor (no, not writhe or black out — just plop down), and other times he would push my buttons with well placed words of complaint.  However, I remained firm.  I was going to that class if it killed me because my lifestyle was certainly murdering my brain now!  Oh, did I mention that my father is OCD?  Yeah — mix that with Altzheimers and see what sort of puppy you get.

The night of my first class came and my father decided he would take three hours to eat his dinner (he usually takes two — no kidding).  He played with his food as much as possible so I couldn’t clear the table before I left.  When Marlene came to the door he tried to brain the dog with his cane, screaming at me that some woman was on the porch.   I gave my husband a look of quiet thanks, grabbed my notebook and literally fled.

In the next six weeks my father calmed down about my leaving, resigned I guess, that there would be a time or two that I would be unavailable for a few hours.  Every week my husband would make a of point of helping me gather my genealogy gear and usher me out the door.  Marlene and I had a great time.  Suddenly, around week five, I noticed I wasn’t so angry with my life any more.  By week six I knew how to spell the word genealogy, bought the Family Tree computer program, and had 235 people in my tree.  I worked on my tree, at first, on the weekends and about once a week — building, documenting, and researching.

Throughout the genealogy course my husband asked me if I’d started his tree yet.  At the time I snorted, because although he was supportive, he had no real clue how much work it was.  He was just happy that I was becoming a human being again, and I think that he thought that if I finished my tree I would go back to the old me.  Understandable.

When our class ended, Marlene didn’t want to give up our weekly time together.  “Why not meet at my office (she owns several businesses),” she said.  “Let’s keep going!”  She asked a few others in the class if they would like to participate, and they agreed.  Marlene is an excellent researcher and I owe her a great deal.  Not only did she provide the means to pull me out of my mental muck, she gave me tons of good advice on just about everything on the subject of genealogy.

In the following weeks I bought a subscription to http://www.newspaperarchive.com , http://www.Genealogybank.com , and http://www.Ancestry.com .  I was really getting into this new genealogy thang.  In honor of Marlene, I bought the rights to my website — Gravediggersgenealogy.com (Marlene’s father among other things, was a grave digger, and his father before him).  I didn’t exactly know what I was going to build; but, I knew I wanted to build it.   Marlene took me on my first historical society archive trip, and I found a gold mine of information.  I was revved — there’s no doubt about it.

One weekend, my husband drove me all over the county on a Sunday afternoon looking for one particular old church so I could get photos of a few of my ancestors graves.  When we got back he said, “When are you going to work on my tree?”

Ohhhhh.  “Soon.”  Uh-huh.

Later that week my husband said, “I’m bored.  All I do is sit and watch television when I get home.  Everyone else is going places and doing things… and I’m not.”

I felt really bad.  “Give me some names,” I said, “and we’ll start your tree.”

Had he but known.

I’m delighted to say that we  began a whole new and exciting chapter in our marriage.  Genealogy gave us both something different to explore, time together, good conversations, and a common interest other than my father and our children.  Recently, we joined Find A Grave, and have started to take pictures for others across the country.  This blog is about our adventures, the mysteries we ran into (and continue to wrestle with), things we have learned, and hopefully…just cool stuff about genealogy.  Our website is still in its infancy and we hope that as we grow, it too, will grow in interesting material and content.  Don’t worry, we didn’t leave Marlene behind.  You’ll be reading about her, too.

Come join our crew — the GraveDigger Genealogy gang.  We’d love to have you travel the road of ancestral history with us.  The more the merrier!

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