Friday, November 28, 2014

Where the Women Folk Are

There is an obvious and tragic problem built into the bones of genealogy. Its source is obvious, but its solution is not. It affects everyone, every family, regardless of culture and convention - and sometimes it costs us more than we understand.

Kameron Hurley's 2014 Hugo-award winning blog post, "We Have Always Fought" talks about the ways in which women have been erased from the narrative of our fiction. She talks about the effect the pressures of simplicity and tradition have on the stories we tell, and while she mainly talks about fiction, it is worth remembering that history is one of the stories that we tell. Her essay resonated with me deeply because I have seen the effect in action in my research.

In most Western cultures, surnames developed as a way of tracing heredity which has a tendency to favor the preservation of the paternal line's identity, often at the total expense of the maternal. Scandinavians passed fathers' names to sons, literally - Hans's son took the surname "Hansen" and if his name was Tom, his son would be "Tomsen" (yes, I'm oversimplifying, and not everyone followed that custom). Spanish traditions could be more complicated, passing names of fathers AND mothers to children. There are areas in Germany and other places where the groom assumed the bride's name, but that only reverses the problem. Some families try to solve the problem by using hyphens - but the pressures of simplicity and tradition (and public record-keeping) still have the effect of erasing mothers' surnames from records and memories.

Sometimes, completely.

It isn't just that their names are hard to find - that's part of the fun and challenge that drew me into this hobby in the first place.

The problem is that I see, over and over, generation after generation, in branch after branch of the family tree that women are recorded differently from the men they lived with. It's not just that they pass - are passed - from their father's house bearing their father's name into their husband's bearing his; it's not just that the stories told about them are centered on the home, and bearing children, and being quiet, pious, and lovingly in the background. Many of them insisted on being portrayed that way. The problem I have with that is that they did more, saw more, thought more, and had more influence on our history than they get credit for.

I pore through the census records, and I often see stories between the boring lines of simple tabulation. Sometimes I see that there are clearly recent widows with small children out on the frontier. Sometimes I see odd pairings or May-December marriages after what must have been an epidemic. Yet when I dig through the old books about The Founders, there is almost never a mention of the mother who fed the town or the young wife who rescued the broken-hearted widower and his brood of orphans. Even those kinds of simple, traditional stories are left out in favor of listing the forming of business partnerships, the surveying and clearing of land, and the staunch political affiliations of the local burgesses.

As Hurley says in her essay, women are erased from the stories we tell, because:

"...none of those things fit our narrative. What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man.  I see this in fiction all the time.  I see it in books and TV. I hear it in the way people talk."

Again, I'm not complaining that my family tree is full of wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters - that's a good thing. I'm pointing out that while we have all kinds of stories about brave soldiers, traveling preachers and teachers, builders, and local leaders that tell us what our forefathers were like, we rarely have those kinds of stories about their wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters.

Part of the problem lies in the way they are written about. When I find old books about pioneer families, and the founding of towns across 19th century America, the biographical sketches are always about prominent men. Always. Their wives and daughters are rarely mentioned outside the context of who they married or how many children they mothered.

But another part of the problem lies in the way they wrote about themselves. Obviously, they felt the pressure to be seen as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters - not as pioneers, adventurers, trailblazers. Even writing about women of more recent generations, women who I know to be strong, brilliant three-dimensional people, it's easy to cave in to that pressure to stick to the simple, common, traditional narrative. As much as I crave the opportunity to write about the badassed, big-hearted, boisterous, and brilliant women in my family, I have already been told to be careful about it. They do not want to be embarrassed. They do not want to be seen in ways that aren't ... right.

Well, brace yourselves.

This is your warning that I am looking for ways to bring the amazing women of my history to light. I don't plan to make these stories up - that would be a different problem, and still wrong - but sometimes we have to use our imaginations to recreate what life must have been like in days gone by.

I may have to read between the lines to see what my 4th great-grandmother Eleanor was really like. She was widowed, and left to raise her grandson, my great-great grandfather, only to see him die young; and I don't even know her full name. And I need to dig to find out who this author named Frances Adams More is - what did she write, and what happened to her. And what about those adventurous Huff sisters, who seemed to travel abroad so much?

 If I have the choice, and if the evidence will support me, I will choose to look beyond the flowery words in obituaries about loving wives and doting mothers to see the pioneers, the engineers, and the adventurers. Many of them will be mothers, and of course, they are all daughters. But I will seek to show you the capable drivers, the financial wizards, the creative writers and artists, and the community organizers when I find them.

So, where are these women? They're right there in the crooks of the trees, hiding in plain sight. They left clues, and when I find them, I will show them to you - because I owe them that. Because if these ordinary men can be Mighty Acorns, it stands to reason their partners were just as amazing. (And they likely did most of the work...if they were anything like my partner.)

Traditional narrative be damned, I intend to tell their stories. Whether they wore silk or satin, whether they raised a family or raised hell, they deserve to be remembered.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Photo Feature: David Ulysses Clark

This week's photo is especially exciting for me because:
  1. this is my great-grandfather 
  2. I had no idea what he looked like before finding this photo on Ancestry in September, and 
  3. this beard is AMAZING! What a way to end Movember!

David Ulysses Clark - 1873-1947 
My grandfather didn't have much to say about his side of the family. I don't know much about what they were like, but in most of the census records David's occupation is listed as some kind of woodworker or laborer in a furniture factory, or as a sawyer. He was born in Kentucky, and moved a few times, showing up in Ohio, Kentucky, and Arkansas over the years.

As you can see from the note on the page about "My Sixteen" I also don't have any solid proof tying David to his ancestors, though Joel Clark would be the most likely candidate. Perhaps if I can figure out this DNA stuff, we can find an answer to that question.

According to my source, Gail, this photo was taken in Ashland, Kentucky, in 1942. Her grandmother was David's daughter Alma. The Ashland City Directory for that year listed David U and Vicie, my great-grandmother, living at 2200 1/2 Blackburn Ave.

In 1947, he died in Pulaski, Arkansas at the age of 74, and was buried in Benton.


Friday, November 21, 2014

A Fire in the Desert

This piece was adapted for this blog from a longer two-part piece on my regular blog. That version spends more time on me than is proper for a biographical sketch of my grandfather, but if you'd like to see that version, it is here: A Fire in the Desert 


The preacher roamed the wilderness of the desert Southwest for 50 years in a series of new and used recreational vehicles, his wife by his side, always seeking receptive souls to bring to the Lord. He raised a son who went to Vietnam and two daughters - all three raised sons of their own. He built houses, sank wells, raised chickens and rabbits, saved souls, started churches - and moved on, always moved on.

Russ and Alberta Clark, 1996
His name was Russ Clark, and he was a big man with a big voice, a broad smile, a ready laugh, and a proverbial fire in his belly. He once joked that this was why he ate so much when he visited us, but that was more likely a side effect of being the youngest of 12 children raised in the South during the Great Depression.

His hair, what was left of it by the time I knew him, was usually a close-cropped white stubble that seemed to grow wild and wispy over night. I thought of him as a bald man, but he always claimed to need a haircut.

"Grandpa," I would exclaim, "You're bald! Why do you need a haircut?"

And his laugh would boom, and he would start to relate to me a tale about Jesus telling all men to keep their hair off their collar, not like those... but Grandma would usually swoop in with the clippers and a towel, and hurry him off to our patio for a trim before he could get much further.

He traded camper vans up for RVs, traded the RVs up for pickups with fifth-wheels, and traded the trailers up for mobile homes on an acre of property before deciding he had tied himself down with too many possessions and scaled back down again. No matter where he lived, you would find Grandma with her box of mementos, her organ, their dog, and her quiet hope that someday they would find the right home.

One thing about desert life is its innate mobility. Plants' roots never run deep - they run shallow and broad. Animals may dig in and hide during the heat of the day, but they know to stay on the move if they want to find shade and water. And one place Grandpa could always find some shade and water was under the tree in our driveway.

When Grandma and Grandpa showed up, it was almost always a surprise to us kids. Mom learned not to give us any warning that they were coming to visit, or we would stake out the couch by the big picture window and drive each other crazy with anticipation, shrieking "They're here! They're here!" at every puff of dust on the washboard that was 89th Avenue.

The house on 89th Ave., 1973
And they would finally roll in, pulling up under the skinny poplar tree where Grandpa would jack, level and brace whatever mobile domicile they were currently living in, and hook up water and electric. He'd run a hose from the sewer line to the poplar tree, and remind us kids that if we used their toilet, only to "run water" in it. When we were little, he'd explicitly tell us, "Only pee-pee and wee-wee in there! No poop-poop!" and we would giggle at the naughty nonsense words and repeat them daringly until we remembered that Grandma was waiting inside.

Most of the time, we could take turns sleeping over in the Camper; no matter what the actual vehicle was, it was always "the Camper" to us. Our favorites were the cab-over motor-homes with their inevitable forward and side windows. I'd fill every spare inch with Star Wars men, posting guards at the corners and locking imprisoned rebels in the cup holders. My sister would pasture her My Little Ponies on and around the dining table. Meanwhile, the grown ups would stay inside with sweating glasses of sweet sun tea, talking about trade-in values, equity, and whatever else grown ups discuss when the kids are out of ear shot.

None of these visits ever lasted long enough for my sister or me, but mom and dad seemed to uncoil a little bit whenever the clouds of dust would follow the caravan du jour down the road toward their next stop - usually my cousin's house a few miles away. Looking back, I can see how my dad, who was always happiest building and tinkering with his handy projects around the property, might have looked forward to not having his father-in-law offering advise on how to build and tinker better. And since they were mom's parents, I could see how maybe there were lingering childhood issues that every family has that made her feel progressively less in control of her own home until the visits were over.

They never said anything to us about it, because they would never say an unkind word about anyone to us. But I think now that maybe the mornings after Grandma and Grandpa drove off after each visit might have been the mornings that mom's old Beatles, Monkees, and Lovin' Spoonful records came out for a spin - replacing Kate Smith's "How Great Thou Art" and Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Berets" which had seen more prominence the previous few days.

Whatever the adults' issues may have been, I remember treasuring the stories Grandpa told us. If Grandma left him alone with us for any length of time, we would prod and pester him to tell us stories about growing up in Kentucky and Alabama, and when he did, we would sit around him,
raptly hanging on every word. This happened most often on Sunday afternoons, after church and the big chicken dinner that mom and Grandma would prepare. I remember sitting close to him, despite the inescapable odors of dust and sweat that plague a big man who spends long days driving Arizona back roads. I remember feeling full of chicken and listening to him tell adventurous stories about the things that his brothers got up to, or cautionary tales of drinkers and smokers who ended up badly.

My personal favorite was a memorable tale about the time a young Grandpa had found a perfectly good hat floating on a vat of sheep dip when he took a shortcut through the stock yards. He wore it proudly down the main street, only to have a woman run screaming out of her house, calling the police and demanding that he show her where he found it. When the police dragged a pole through the vat of sheep dip, they found the woman's husband - dead and drowned. He had evidently wandered through the stock yards after a night of heavy drinking and fallen in. Sometimes, when he ended the story, Grandpa would tell us that the woman let him keep the hat - and he would point at his sun-bleached ball cap with the enormous grin of a champion spinner of tall tales.

Grandma was never comfortable with Grandpa's insistence on filling our heads with nonsense, so he would frequently placate her by telling us Bible stories. I always figured the Bible stories came naturally to him because Grandpa was a preacher.

At least, he would talk about being a preacher; and once or twice, he was invited to give a sermon at our church. In school, when our religion class covered the revival movement of the 1860s, I knew exactly what they were talking about when they described the hellfire and brimstone of the tent revivals, largely because of the impression that my Grandfather made on me from the pulpit. He lit up in front of a congregation of any size or composition, and his oratory would grow olive branches and wind its way along the corners of our plain, unadorned sanctuary turning our little Southern Baptist church into a cathedral or a great tent.

It was something of a mystery to me why he didn't have a church of his own, but I figured out that there is a big difference between being a "preacher" and being a "pastor"; it's rather the same difference between being a revolutionary and running a government after the revolution is over.

That revolutionary Grandpa would sometimes run out for a gallon of milk, and come back hours later relating how he had spied a young man "with an earring" who had clearly needed to hear the Word of Jesus. Or he would leave Grandma with us while he went "visiting" - coming home late in the evening, bursting with energy and planning to move back to Phoenix and start a revival that would sweep the city!

Even when he did "find a church home," it never seemed to last. There would be excitement; property would be purchased or rented, and funds raised. Ground would be broken, and promises would be made. But eventually, almost never longer than six weeks along, the enterprise would evaporate and Grandma and Grandpa would pack up and drive off disconsolately, shaking their heads, and sadly bemoaning a general lack of faith and unwillingness of people to hear the Word of the Lord.

Not that there wasn't something to Grandpa's side of the story, but it's fair to say that there were several notions harbored in his heart along with his extensive knowledge of Bible stories and personal morality tales. When I got older and read about the John Birch Society and Barry Goldwater, and started seeing "conservative" radio and TV hosts gaining popularity in the early 1990s, I recognized many of the ideas that Grandpa had tried to teach me over the years when Grandma and Mom were out of earshot. Like the time when I was 9 and deeply into dinosaurs, he waited until we were alone in the living room to tell me that Satan had placed their bones in the ground to confuse scientists and to test our faith. Or when the space shuttle Challenger exploded and he ruefully reminded me that the space program was just man's foolish attempt to build another Tower of Babel, and that the explosion was God's way of reminding us to stay focused on Jesus.

At the time, obviously, I hadn't explored any of this very deeply. To me, Grandpa was simply one of the most colorful and admirable people I knew. On balance, he made me feel loved more than judged, and he was clearly proud of me. Maybe his stories exaggerated some details, and maybe some of his beliefs about science were on the questionable side, but he instilled an appreciation for narrative and a love of words in me that I still cherish. I was enthralled by the power of his storytelling, and I learned that his engaging tall tales about growing up in the South and his ever-evolving stories about his exploits serving in the Navy during World War II were, if not factually precise, intended as morality plays. I doubt it was his intent, but he taught me the beautiful and awkward relationship between fiction and truth.

Sometime in the dim, early reaches of my memory, Grandpa had an nasty fall. He was working as a building inspector in downtown Phoenix and fell off of a building he had been climbing. His knees were destroyed, and he spent a great deal of the rest of his life in and out of the VA hospital for various surgeries to repair or replace his joints. It happened that one of his visits occurred during my junior year of high school and coincided with a new knee replacement at the hospital where my girlfriend's neighbor worked as a nurse.

As was expected, when Grandpa came home from the hospital he began to regale us excitedly about what a blessing it had been for him to be the instrument of the Lord in that place; how he had prayed with all of the nurses and Saved them all - reinforcing his perception that there was a Higher Purpose to his suffering, and that Jesus was using his pain to win souls.

He saw himself as a light in the desert at night, trying to show people the way.

But when I asked my girlfriend's neighbor, the nurse, about Grandpa's story, she told a slightly different version. "Oh, yeah," she said, "I remember Mr. Clark. He wouldn't let us change his bedpan or give him any meds until we prayed with him. I accepted Jesus eight times, just so I could finish my rounds."

Clearly, perception differed from reality in the harsh light of day.

Russell Hudson Clark, USN
When he found out I was joining the military, he was proud, and he pulled me aside to tell me about his experiences. Not the stuff he told me when I was just a kid, mind you - he wanted to warn me of the "traps" he had fallen into as a serviceman in the U.S. merchant marines; his cocaine and heroin habits (which I had never heard him mention before) on top of his drinking and smoking (which I had). He told me how he had been singing in a night club on shore leave in Italy, and had been approached by a U.S. Army Major who wanted to recruit him to sing in his USO band - but that Major, one Glenn Miller, had disappeared in Africa before the transfer papers went through. Needless to say, the details he told me didn't add up with official accounts, but I understood by then that they were true enough for stories, and that he was really telling me he loved me.

Grandpa passed away in 2002, about a year after I returned to Arizona from serving overseas in the Air Force with my young family. I had known his health was declining for a while, so as soon as we returned to the States, we arranged to visit Grandma and Grandpa in their RV, which was hooked up on the San Carlos Apache Reservation outside of Peridot, AZ.

I had told my wife many of my stories about him, naturally, and she was almost terrified to meet him. She knew he had strong opinions about tattoos and how a wife should behave, and while she's pretty tough and uncompromising herself, she didn't want to be resented by anyone in my family. But her fears dissipated when they finally met. Grandpa was overwhelmingly sweet, complimented her tattoo, and dandled the baby on his knee (which had recently been replaced again) while recounting his adventures on a Liberty ship taking lend-lease materiel to Murmansk through a German submarine convoy in 1941.

We had a wonderful (if short and hot) visit. Kate was relieved that Grandpa hadn't criticized her or tried to Save her - but she wondered why he kept calling her "Karen." The explanation for the name slips and the apparent change of character was horrible and simple: Alzheimer's.

It is a horrific thing that a disease like this can alter your perceptions without you knowing it. The more we learn about the human brain, the more we understand that it is a delicate marvel and how easily it can be deceived. We learn more all the time about how memory works (or doesn't) and how unreliable we are as eyewitnesses. I had long known that, in the harsh light of day, I had to take Grandpa's stories with a grain of salt, but Alzheimer's magnified the problem.

Finding out years after the fact that things he said to me, and things he believed were true, could have been due to changes in his brain forced me to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about him. It was hard to sort out, but in the end, while it's impossible to know how much the disease had to do with altering his basic character, I choose to see the sweet man we said goodbye to as the "real" Grandpa. It doesn't matter what made him do and say things - what matters is that he did his best with what he had.

He chose to roam the desert doing what he thought was right. I choose to perceive him in the best possible light - warts and all, flaws proudly on display.

After all, a fire in the desert may cast shadows at night that disappear in the harsh light of day; but without it, the night can get very cold.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Photo Feature: Mystery Couple II

In the spirit of "No-Shave November," I bring you this second mystery couple - maybe I'm projecting here, but from the twinkle in his eye I get the impression that he just said or did something that she intends to punish him for as soon as the photographer finishes his business. 

Mystery Couple II

Unfortunately, I have no more idea who these delightful people might be than I had for Mystery Couple I - other than the fact that these portraits were among those I inherited from Grandpa Bob after he passed in 2007. They are most likely related to Grandma's side of the family, making them Huff/Witter/Murray folk.

Anyone with any leads or suggestions, I'm always happy to hear from you! Hit the comments below or email me privately, if you prefer.  (callintad at gmail dot com)


Friday, November 14, 2014

Science, Mystery, and the Ultimate Family Tree

Over the last couple of decades, the general public's knowledge about the field of genetics has progressed to the point where most people have at least a vague understanding of what DNA is and that many scientists are interested in it. That said, the average person - myself included - probably doesn't understand a whole lot about the differences between terms like "gene" and "genome" or "chromosome" and "mitochondrial".

Last year, I was convinced to add a few of my cheek cells to the growing pool of DNA data being collected for the purposes of analysing heredity. Genealogists are an obvious target group for this service, since our primary goal is to prove relationships between small populations over time - and musty old documents can really only take you so far.

Being a novice in every sense of the word on this subject, I can't really speak to the details of how DNA analysis works. (I could try right now, but I would get those details very, very wrong.) What I do know is that  studying DNA can tell us quite a lot about the past. Comparing my sample to samples from thousands of other people can show me where my ancestors came from, and where to look for modern relatives. Right now, our ability to use this tool is still developing; after all, it has only been 61 years since Crick and Watson published their paper revealing the structure and nature of the molecule. But it is developing.

The discovery of DNA is for biology what the invention of the telescope was for astronomy. In the same way that looking at the stars and measuring the characteristics of their different wavelengths can allow us to observe the history of the universe for 13 billion years in every direction, the DNA of every organism on this planet also allows us to observe the distant past and learn about a much larger family tree than the one that even the most ambitious genealogist would dare to tackle.

I borrowed the following from something PZ Myers posted on Pharyngula:
"The image below is a phylogram, illustrating the degree of variation in a sequence of mitochondrial DNA. The concept is fairly simple: if two DNA samples are from individuals that are evolutionarily distant from one another, they’ll have accumulated more differences in their mitochondrial DNA, and will be drawn farther apart from one another. If the two individuals are closely related, their DNA will be more similar, and they’ll be drawn closer together. That’s the key thing you need to know to understand what’s going on."

Unrooted phylogram of mitochondrial DNA sequences.
Gagneux P1, Wills C, Gerloff U, Tautz D, Morin PA, Boesch C, Fruth B, Hohmann G, Ryder OA, Woodruff DS. (1999) Mitochondrial sequences show diverse evolutionary histories of African hominoids. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 96(9):5077-82.

As he goes on to talk about the tiny clump of red branching off to the upper right of the image, he points out how the data demonstrates just how closely related all humans are to each other. This reinforces what we family historians have always known - if you can go back far enough, we're ALL related! And just as DNA analysis has begun to help us prove and disprove things that we thought we knew about our human relatives, it is also proving things about our past that were previously only guessed at.

It probably won't happen very often, because I'm slow and this science stuff is complicated, but I hope to continue learning from my DNA analysis, and if I can find some things that I understand well enough to share here, I certainly will!

To get in on the act yourself, there are a number of services offering DNA analysis for family history. The biggest is Ancestry.com, naturally, but if you want to measure yourself against my sample, you'll need to check out www.familytreedna.com/ - let me know if you do and if you suspect we might be cousins, so I know to look for you.

And that invitation is open even if you are a Sumatran Orangutan - the most distant cousin on the map!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Photo Feature: Peter Stout Ruth

In the spirit of "No-Shave November," this week's fantastic beard photo comes from Cousin Joan, who calls it "my favorite of my bearded ancestors."

(I'm glad she didn't say "favorite bearded relative"! My poor, fragile vanity...)

Peter Stout Ruth (1812-1894)
in Pomona, CA, 1892

Peter S. Ruth was a lawyer, involved in some politics (possibly as a speechwriter), then Episcopal minister who founded three Episcopal churches around the country, went south to help in the yellow fever epidemic in Tennessee after the Civil War. This picture was taken about 1892 in Pomona, a couple of years before his death, and the location of his last church founding.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Twice Honored

Another revised repost from the original Mighty Acorns blog; this one in honor of Armistice Day.


When I was a kid, I had a plague on my wall that my father had made. It was a dark piece of wood with the newspaper obituary of his grandfather, Dick Witter Sr., held in place by heavy layers of shellac. He had also mounted grandpa Dick's pocket watch and a silver dollar, along with a photograph.

I must have read this clipping a million times while I was supposed to be doing homework:


"Live and Let Live" by a Friend*

It is not entirely accidental that Dick Witter Jr. is one of the most respected citizens of Glendale. After serving as traffic cop, meter minder and in other capacities, he was promoted to City Magistrate, Judge no less, a position which he carries on with dignity and honesty.

One of the main reasons, we believe, that he is what he is today, belongs to the upbringing by his mother and father. We have known them both for nearly 30 years. No finer, more industrious people ever lived.

His dad, Howard R., also called Dick, and known to many of the older residents of Glendale, died Sunday and what a pity. Not because he has gone to his last reward as all of us must but because such a fine image of a man has to disappear from the every day world as we know it.

Possessed of that rarest of human blessings, a sense of humor, he never laughed at others but always at himself. And we cannot think of an unkind word that he ever uttered against anyone. That, in itself, is a rare gift indeed. So many of us, myself included, often belittle and revile others, perhaps as a defense against our own foibles; who knows? But Dick Sr. never did.


This world would be a better place in which to live if more of the people emulated the Witter family with their unsaid but sincere code: "live and let live."

*Written by Tommy Anderson; appeared in the April 5, 1963 "Glendale Herald", Glendale, AZ



When I used to read that plague as a boy, I didn't attach the importance to it that I do today. I don't think I realized it was an obituary for a long time, since the first paragraph is about my great-uncle Dick, who I actually knew and who, at the time, was still alive.

I did think a lot about "live and let live" and what it meant, though. When I would read about that sense of humor, that tendency to laugh at himself, I recognized the same trait in my dad and grandma. I saw how I learned it from them, and without realizing it, reading and re-reading that old plaque made me feel closer to the old dairy farmer in that photo who died nearly a decade before I was born.

Coming from Kansas to raise a family on a hot, dry dairy farm in Glendale, Arizona; building a life in a corner of the infant state; surviving World War I, the Great Depression, and seeing a son through World War II - these were the people in the background of history. He was the "Over There" of song; they had the pot that Roosevelt promised to put a chicken in; and later, they were "back home" to their soldier in the Philippines.

People like these don't expect high honors or recognition; maybe it is the humility passed down from the Witters who came from Germany with the other Pennsylvania Dutch. Maybe it is just a realistic outlook that says, "Don't attach too much importance to yourself." It could have something to do with that self-deprecating sense of humor Mr. Anderson described. I imagine my great-grandmother's reaction when she received the condolences of friends and family after Dick Sr. passed away in March of 1963: the stoic widow's pride at the honors and sympathies, and then the quiet packing away of the memories. No need to fuss, now. Tidy up, and move on.

When we visited Arizona for Christmas in 2005, Grandpa Bob took me to his garage and offered me several boxes of "old junk". He knew I was interested in all this family history stuff, and I knew that he wasn't able to bring himself to throw away everything that Grandma, a notorious pack rat, had held onto over the years. These boxes had been sitting for a couple of years in this garage, a storage unit for a few years before that, and their old house on Gardenia Avenue for some fifty years before that.

Digging through, I found that picture of Dick Sr. and that eulogy I recognized from the plague. I found a letter of condolence from their U.S. Congressman, and in a large manila envelope postmarked February 7, 1964, I found this certificate:


I suppose all the veterans' widows were receiving these, but it was still a thrill for me to find something with my great-grandfather's name on it, signed by President Johnson:











Looking at the postmark, I was struck by how strangely history folds around us. When Dick Sr. died in March 1963, President Kennedy was still alive. It's petty of me, but my first thought was to curse the timing that put one man's signature on a document instead of another's. That moment passed, though, as I thought about how these things must work.

I imagined that certificate would have waited for a break in the busy schedule of a President for his signature while the events of that year played out. The Birmingham Campaign, followed by the March on Washington. The end of Project Mercury, and the first woman in space. The Supreme Court forbids mandated school prayer; and a Partial Nuclear Test Ban treaty is signed and ratified.

And that November surely changed a lot of plans.

Who knows how long it took for someone from a protocol office to get these certificates printed for the heroes of a fifty-year-old war, how many there were in the stack, or how long it sat waiting for the pen stroke of the mighty. Assuming those letters were still being physically signed by the President himself, I imagine how a still-stunned and grieving Mr. Johnson might have felt, sending condolences to my great-grandmother. Considering he was certainly still grappling with the circumstances under which he had just come into office, I like to think that a duty like this, while sad, would be of some comfort to him.

And I can imagine how she, a farmer's widow, reacted when she saw it arrive in the mail - nearly a year after she lost him. I can almost see her face when she opened it; the pang of being reminded of her loss followed by a wry smile of appreciation. That familiar combination of humor and humility that helped her maintain her husband's "live and let live" attitude over all those hard years.

I wonder, if I could go back in time and ask her what she felt, what she would say about that honor? Did it bring her any joy? Did she show it to anyone? She kept it, so it would seem she accepted it as the honor it was intended to be. Did she smile when she saw it, or cry, or simply nod as she slipped it back into its envelope and laid it in a drawer on top of the other one - the one that I found later, as I kept combing through Grandpa's old boxes. The one with the 1963 postmark and that other certificate, identical to the first except for the signature:

John F Kennedy

Friday, November 7, 2014

Silk or Satin

Transcribed from a letter dated 1973:


Things I Have Been Told About My Grandmother, Elizabeth Berlien (Barline) Callin.


The Revolutionary War soldiers were given land in the Northwest Territory -- Pennsylvania, Ohio -- to settle their wages for service, I believe. But this was a generation before Elizabeth's time. I am under the impression that my grandfather William Callin fought in the War of 1812. I don't know how or where he met up with Elizabeth Berlien. My father's Callin family history says they settled first in around Ashland, Ohio, later moving to Wood County.

Anyhow they lived in a Lincoln-like log cabin in Wood County. My father, George Callin, born in 1846 said they would waken in the morning and find a light layer of snow over their bed. William paid his taxes by cutting wood and hauling it into town, 50 cents a load.

William and Elizabeth had six children, five boys and a girl. I believe the girl was the oldest -- Harriet (Sly), John Zimri, George, Hugh and Jim. Father said they were warned not to say nothing at school about it, but their cabin was a station on the Underground Railway. I don't know whether it was William or Elizabeth, probably the latter, who awakened them softly in the middle of the night and led them to the window. The moon flashed out and they saw a white man, maybe William, leading a string of blacks through the clearing around their cabin and into the woods. They were on their way to Great Uncle George's barn. From there he would take them onto the next stop.

William was a powerful man, six feet tall. The boys had to be in the fields around sunup. He had a big, black whip. I don't know whether it was Elizabeth or her mother-in-law who would say pleadingly, "Now, William, don't whup 'em." It was a brutal age.

The first thing the children heard in the morning was the sound of her spinning wheel and the last thing at night. Papa said that one time she didn't get the buttons sewed on their shirts or maybe she didn't have any buttons so she sewed their shirts together with thread and so off they went to school or wherever.

When the Civil War came all five enlisted. I have a strong feeling that probably Elizabeth always had a Bible and encouraged visiting preachers and friends who could read it to her. She possibly taught the children verses and stories from it. I have known among my Appalachian friends people who couldn't read and write at all who knew their Bible by heart, sometimes more strongly and sincerely perhaps than literate people because to them it is the one book. They think about it and discuss it constantly.

The five boys went to war and for the first time Elizabeth learned to read and write so that she could communicate with them. This was probably not too hard for her as those "Dotsch" are good at everything anyway.

William died at maybe around 62 and I don't know what Elizabeth did then. I believe she lived to be about 84. In her very last years she came to live with us at 331 Pearl Street in Bowling Green. And this is where this picture must have been taken, probably by my mother who had a camera. Later I inherited my half-sister's (Mabel Callin's) dress-up picture of my father. I was handling it when it fell apart and here was this picture that I didn't know existed of Grandmother Callin.

I don't remember her but she knew me. She sat by the window mostly in the east bedroom. Papa loved to go in for a chat and he delighted in her witty answers. Mother was going to make her a dress and Papa asked --- he knew well enough that it would be calico or gingham, but he said playfully, "What'll it be, Mother, silk or satin?"

"It'll be sat in, all right."

"George, sometimes I wish I had gone over the hills to the poor house." (In those days considered a great disgrace.) "There would be old people there and they would know the things I want to talk about."

Another day she said to him.
"The woman next door (mother) is going to have a baby (me)."
After I came she said;
"I guess you better call her "Melia". (Sure glad they didn't.)

Mother went in one time and laid me on the bed for a moment. When she came back, Grandmother had grabbed me by the skirts and was pulling me toward her. I was almost off the bed. Mother probably let her hold me. She liked old ladies and was kind to them. When I was a young girl I used Elizabeth for my middle name but later I decided that Rosemary was enough.

Elizabeth passed away in 1903 and was probably buried from our house. I don't know where. There is a George Callin lot in Oak Grove Cemetery at Bowling Green and, by-the-way, there are still two places on it if any one in the family should need them. She and William might be buried on Uncle John Callin's lot also in Oak Grove, but I don't think so. I don't remember ever seeing them there.

If any of you know any more about Grandmother Callin I would certainly appreciate hearing about it.  I see from the Callin family history that I have the order of the children wrong. It was John, Zimri, Jim, George and Hugh. Jim was possibly the flower of the flock. Papa said he once accused Elizabeth of liking Jim best. She answered that he needed her the most.

Rosemary Callin
September, 1973


Some notes:

George W. Callin, Everett (standing), Clem,
Mary Ann, and Mabel - c. 1890

I have a photocopy of this 1973 letter, though I don't know if the original was typed or handwritten. I would love to get copies of any of the photographs mentioned in this letter, so if you have them, please comment below or email me (callintad at gmail dot com).

The writer of this memoir is Rosemary Callin (1902-1978), daughter of George W. Callin (1846-1921), the man who compiled the "Callin Family History" in 1911. Rosemary was born to George and his second wife, Lura Warner, in 1903. She never married, and it's not clear who was her intended audience.

(Pictured at right are George, his first wife, Mary Ann St. John, and Rosemary's older half-siblings.)

As far as Rosemary's facts:

I haven't found any proof of William (who would have been about 3 years old) fighting in the War of 1812. His father and uncle migrated from Westmoreland county, PA, around 1816, though, so either or both of them may have been involved in the fighting around the Great Lakes. As of the date of this post, I'm still looking for evidence to show where they came from and where they might have served.

I believe the Great Uncle George referred to would be William's uncle George Callin (1804-1879), who shows up in Huron County on the 1850, 1860, and 1870 census records.

When the Civil War began, I don't believe "all five" Callin brothers enlisted - I have found pension records for John, Jim, and George, but Hugh would have been 13 when the war began, and Zimri would have been 15 at its close. (In an interesting twist, Zimri's son, Edward, is the only relative of mine that I have found to date who served in the Spanish-American War.)

According to the Find-a-Grave database (thanks to cousin Joan!), Elizabeth is indeed buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Photo Feature: Mystery Couple I

In the spirit of "No-Shave November," I give you this mystery couple - she with a look that might be horror at whatever the photographer has off to her right, and he sporting a fantastic growth of chin whiskers under a dark delta of moustache.

Mystery Couple I

Unfortunately, I have no clues whatsoever as to who these delightful people might be, other than the fact that these portraits were among those I inherited from Grandpa Bob after he passed in 2007. They are most likely related to Grandma's side of the family, making them Huff/Witter/Murray folk. He looks like a Huff to me, but I am not an authoritative source!

Anyone with any leads or suggestions, I'm always happy to hear from you! Hit the comments below or email me privately, if you prefer.  (callintad at gmail dot com)

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mystery Solved - "Uncle All"

Do you remember the first "WTHAT Photo Feature"? (I hope so - it only went up a week ago!)

If you don't recall, or don't want to follow that link, I asked for help identifying this couple. The only clue I had was the pencil inscription "Uncle All" on the back.

Well, I'm pleased to announce that I have an answer on their identity:

He is my 2nd great grand uncle, Lewis Huff (1846-1933). As near as I can tell, he always went by his initials, "L.W." which might explain why the writer of the inscription might have only known him as "Uncle L" - or "All."

The lady is, of course, his wife of more than 60 years, Mary Sophie Hodges (b. 1849).

Your next question should be, "How do you know?"

I believe I have mentioned that I have a whole box of photos and newspaper clippings, and that I've been slowly digging through it for a few years. As it happens, one of the reasons I started this blog was to motivate me to finish going through The Box and scanning, transcribing, and uploading as many of these pictures as I can. It turns out I have a year or two worth of WTHAT photos to share, as well as a number of random, fragile pieces of newsprint to capture.

After posting the Uncle All photo, I happened across two more portraits that looked surprisingly like this couple.

The one to your left there is clearly much earlier, but even if he weren't sporting the same chin whiskers and moustache, she has the same facial features.

And the one below is my personal favorite - taken sometime between the first two, it seems to be the most flattering picture of the three portraits.

But I still would have had a mystery on my hands if it weren't for this newspaper clipping, which I've transcribed for you in full:

Four Wed in Days of Civil War


 "Relief Corps Has Fete on Sixtieth and Sixty-fifth Anniversaries Dates 
Two Los Angeles couples, both the in the evening of life, the husbands veterans of the Civil War, the wives belles of the days of hoopskirts and lasting wedlock, yesterday celebrated their sixtieth and sixty-fifth wedding anniversaries.
   The two couples were guests at an anniversary luncheon given in their honor by the Bartlett Logan Women's Relief Corps, No. 17, of the Grand Army of the Republic at Patriotic Hall.
  Edward Wearne, 85 years of age, and his wife, 83, were married sixty-five years ago, while the groom was serving in the Union forces in the war with the South. Mr. Wearne was then a member of the Ninety-sixth Illinois Infantry.  The couple came to Los Angeles in 1903, and now live at 1441 East Fifty-third street.
  Sixty years ago L.W. Huff, 81, and his wife, 78, were married in ohio after he had served through the war with the One Hundred and Ninety-second Ohio Infantry.  They came to Los Angeles in 1902, and reside at 1204 North Avenue 57.
  "We've been married a long time, but we're not tired of it yet," all four said yesterday as they met with friends and comrades gathered together in their honor.
  After the luncheon and presentation of gifts a short entertainment program was given."

(I would love to hear from the family of Mr. and Mrs. Wearne, if they ever run across this - my hope is that they'll be able to solve a mystery or two of their own with this clipping. As far as I know, my Huffs and the Wearne family are not connected in any way other than this clipping.)

Lewis W. Huff and Mary Sophie Hodges, c. 1910 in Los Angeles, CA


I had Mr. Huff in my family tree already, along with the fact that he had served in the 192nd Ohio Infantry, so this newspaper gave me the "smoking gun" I needed to declare this mystery solved!