Friday, February 27, 2015

Famous Playmates

In 2007 music journalist Andrew Means published Some Memories: Growing Up with Marty Robbins - As Remembered by His Twin Sister, Mamie. Mamie recalled a number of anecdotes about growing up with her famous brother, including a few about a girl she met and befriended after becoming neighbors in Glendale, Arizona - my grandmother, Nancy Witter.

For those who may not be familiar with him, here is a little YouTube introduction to Marty Robbins, performing two of his songs about El Paso in 1965 and 1978:

I remember hearing about grandma's famous neighbor from time to time when I was growing up, but aside from being an interesting thing to mention whenever Big Iron came on the radio, it wasn't something that seemed to have much to do with family history - until my cousin Chad acquired a copy, signed by the author, and sent it to me a few years ago.

Dick Jr. and Nancy Witter, 1930s Glendale
Mamie and Martin Robinson - "Marty Robbins" was his stage name - were twins, born five minutes apart in September 1925 in a two-room house near Glendale, Arizona. The family moved around quite a bit, from that house (which was about 8 miles north of Glendale along what is now 59th Avenue) to Prescott, to Phoenix, north to Cactus (which no longer exists, being absorbed by Phoenix suburbs around the intersection of Thunderbird and Cave Creek Roads) and eventually, back to Glendale.

Dick Witter Sr., my great-grandfather, ran a dairy farm there, and Hannah Merle (whose family helped settle Glendale in the 1910s - which you can read about here) raised their two kids, Dick Jr. and Nancy. Nancy was born in March 1925, and Richard in February 1921.

Around 1932 or 1933, Mamie recalls moving from Cactus, where they attended Sunnyside Elementary (which later became Greenway Middle School), to Glendale, where they enrolled in the Peoria School District. "We walked about half a mile to catch the bus," she says, "and it seemed we rode a long way to Peoria."

I attended Peoria Schools myself, though 50 years later. In high school, I had to ride the bus about 15 miles from my house at 89th Avenue & Deer Valley Road to Cactus High, so I have a pretty good idea what that bus ride might have felt like to Mamie and Martin. And this is where my grandmother comes into the story!

"A little girl named Nancy came over to me and asked me my name. I told her it was Mamie and she laughed, saying it was the funniest name she had ever heard.  I happened to agree with her, but nevertheless I started to cry. Later she became my best friend during the years we went to Peoria School."
Richard and Nancy, c. 1930

That does sound like my grandma, I have to admit. I've inherited a bit of that trait myself - the tendency to notice the odd and call it out without picking up on the social cues that would alert a normal person that they had caused an offense. Nancy probably had no idea that she had caused Mamie any distress! Despite the initial hurt feelings, though, when Nancy invited Mamie to play with her at recess, all was apparently forgiven.

Mamie had a lot to say about her twin brother's antics. He liked to challenge other boys to wrestle, torment her and her friends with taunting nicknames, and he even indulged in the occasional bit of petty shoplifting from the local store - much to Mamie's horror.

She also had some interesting things to say about her friend's family - giving me a view of my grandmother's life I wouldn't have otherwise had:

"These were depression years for everyone, although at the time it seemed as if some were far richer than others in this farming community.  It wasn't until years later that we found out that other families were just as doubtful about making it financially as we were.
"Besides, riches are all a matter of how you see things. I thought my friend Nancy was really rich when I visited her and saw that she lived i a house that wasn't falling down, and that she had her own bedroom with pretty blankets and bedspreads.
"Years later she told me she liked to visit me as a child because I had so much more to play with than she did. By that she meant spaces to roam, trees to climb, and the endless thickets that served us as imaginary rooms and houses in which to play.
"Nancy was from a small family. She had one brother. I thought he was cruel and scary because he was a bully. On the school bus, he would take my nickel away from me. Not even Martin could help me get it back.
"When we had no school, Nancy would often visit with me all day. She would arrive early in the morning and stay until her father came after her.
"When she came to play, there would be a certain amount of jealous rivalry between my cousin Lois - another frequent playmate - and me. But in an effort to outfox Martin, the three of us would usually end up banding together and the visit would turn out well.
"We had to watch continually for Martin and his tricks. Once I thought I had lost Nancy's friendship because of him.  We were playing around a haystack.  It seemed awfully high to me at the time, but in reality was probably only a few feet.  Martin sneaked up on one side of it and jumped down on us, taking us completely by surprise and scaring us badly in the bargain.
"Nancy began crying and wanted to go home right then. She had no way of getting to her house, so instead she went with Lois to her home. I was sure I had lost my best friend, and was really upset with Martin. I began crying and chasing after him. He tried to say he was sorry for scaring us, but at that point it was too late for apologies."
      ("Some Memories", pg. 80-81)

Nancy and Richard, c. 1930
It would seem that the girls were close enough friends to survive these setbacks. As they got older, some of the problems they faced were a little more serious. Martin and Mamie's father had long had a drinking problem, and it either got worse as they grew older, or they simply noticed it more. Either way, after a few years, the family moved out of their house and into two big tents they set up near what is now 59th Avenue and Thunderbird Road.

Life there was busy, and Mamie, her brothers, and their parents seemed to have an increasingly fractious relationship.

"Sometimes I would go to my friend Nancy's house, about five miles away, and play with her in peace. I would be given a ride over there, and we would play house or paddle in an irrigation ditch.
"Even at these times, we did not escape entirely. Often Martin would show up and throw rocks at us. It seemed as if he came from nowhere. When we went after him, he ran away laughing like crazy.
"Needless to say, Nancy didn't like him at all. Telling on him did no good, so we had to suffer. Mom definitely had a blind side when it came to Martin's tricks. The ditch, by the way, is still there. I think of us playing there every time I drive by it."
      ("Some Memories", pg. 94)
In 1937, Emma Robinson took Mamie, Martin, and the other siblings then still living at home, moved into Glendale, and divorced their father. It would seem that Mamie and Nancy saw less of each other after that. A few years later, when things got serious, Martin joined the Navy and went to War. Life moved on for everyone as he returned and eventually became an internationally famous country singer.

As a kid, my dad would always get excited when he heard a Marty Robbins tune on the local country station, KNIX. Sometimes he would allude to grandma's acquaintance with the singer, but it wasn't something the family talked about in great detail - just an interesting fact. For us, it was the beautiful voice, the cowboy tales, and the sense of a local boy making it big that made the songs important to us. But the older I get, the more I appreciate the small ways we are tied to our history and our culture.

Grandma died in 2004, the same year Mamie Robinson died. Without Mamie's recollections, I would only have a vague family legend about their relationship - but thanks to her (and to Mr. Means for making sure those recollections got published!), I have something small and precious to remember about the woman who painted this sunset, and a reason to hum a certain cowboy's tune while looking at it.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Photo Feature: Faces of Nancy

Today's feature is all about one special person - my grandmother, Nancy Witter Callin.

The Witter family, c.1931
Glendale, Arizona
Grandma was born and raised in Glendale, Arizona, and spent most of her life there and in the neighboring town of Peoria. She was an art teacher, traveler, souvenir collector, and notorious pack rat, so she left a lot of photographs and other visual artifacts behind to document her life. Most of the photos in these regular Photo Feature posts are here because of her.

Here she is in a rare snapshot of her whole family - her daddy, Dick Witter, her momma, Hannah Merle Huff (who preferred to go by "Merle"), and her brother, Richard (usually referred to as Dick Jr.). I say rare because Merle did not seem to be as fond of getting her picture taken as she was of having pictures of her kids. Her family, the Huffs, displayed a fondness for keeping and sending photos to each other, so I imagine she was motivated

Dick Sr. with
Dick Jr and Nancy
c. 1936
Nancy as a young teenager
Most of the family are familiar with Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, and when we look at pictures of Nancy as a little girl with her big brother Richard, we see a real-life Scout and Jem Finch. I don't think Nancy was ever quite the tomboy that Scout was, but I'm willing to bet that growing up on a dairy farm in Depression-era Arizona gave her plenty of opportunity to get a little dirty from time to time.

(Check out tomorrow's post for a look at what young Nancy was like, and how she got on with one of her most famous neighbors!)

Scout Finch wasn't the only literary comparison we made to young Nancy. I remember the first time I saw this portrait of her as a a girl thinking that it looked like my cover of The Diary of Anne Frank:

Nancy (right) and her best friend Bobbe
visiting Rosa Murray Huff, c. 1940
In high school, Nancy's best friend was Bobbe Harris, and it seems they did just about everything together. Here we see them visiting Nancy's grandmother, Rosa Murray Huff. (Rosa and I share a birthday - only separated by 111 years!)

I don't recall any details, but I got the impression that Nancy inherited her passion for traveling the country from her Huff grandparents. The Huffs were the adventurous early settlers from Kansas, as you might recall from an earlier post.

Bob and Nancy - 1940s newlyweds
There isn't much story behind most of these portraits.

I have grandpa with his rakish Casablanca hat...

The Witters at home - Dick Sr., Nancy, Merle, and Dick Jr.
...and the Witter family relaxing on the couch.

These three are school photos, presumably from Nancy's long career as an art teacher with the Glendale Union School District:

Nancy, Bob, Vicki, Ted, and Barbara

And this one can only be explained by the 1960s!

Grandma Nancy and Grandpa Bob with my mom and dad (and aunt Vicki peeking out in the middle).

But this is the lady I remember most - another school photo, this one probably from the early to mid-1980s.

This is the Grandma who babysat my sister and I on occasion, letting us watch The Dukes of Hazard and play with her art supplies. This is the Grandma who let us come swim in her pool all summer long, and who fed us iced oatmeal cookies (Grandma's brand, naturally) before bed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#NameCollecting - No Relation

A different Howard W. Campbell
Today's featured name is Howard W. Campbell.

He is not to be confused with the main character of the 1961 Kurt Vonnegut novel Mother Night, played by Nick Nolte in the 1996 film. THAT Howard W. Campbell was Howard W. Campbell, Jr., for one thing - and also an American spy in WWII.

My 2nd cousin, 3x removed, on the other hand was Howard W. Campbell, who was born in either Ohio or Tennessee in 1864 and died in Rains county, Texas, in 1930. He was the son of Cyrus Colin Campbell (nephew of my 3x Great Grandfather, William H. Callin) and Ursulla Springer.

I didn't immediately connect the two completely different and unrelated Howard Campbells at first. I had read Mother Night at some point in my youth - probably while I was in college -  and I probably saw the movie while I was stationed in England, staying up to prepare for a mid-shift. When I ran across the name in my research, it seemed familiar, but it took me a while to place where I had heard it before.

I have to admit, even though the character in the book/movie isn't necessarily a very trustworthy narrator (is he telling the truth? Does he dare admit whatever the truth is?), it was a little disappointing to find no connection whatsoever.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Path to Professionalism

This week, I hope you'll pardon me for taking a break from story-telling so I can give you some updates on what I'm up to behind the scenes.

As I've said elsewhere, I have been interested in genealogy for as long as I can remember, and I started actively trying to learn how to do proper research after my oldest child was born in the mid-1990s. Now that I've been at it for almost 20 years, in earnest, I've been asking myself "what next?"

One option - the one that motivated me to start this blog - is to explore ways to take this hobby and turn it into something more professional. I mean that in both senses of the word - yes, I want to bring a little more rigor to my hobby, but I also want to figure out how to do this for a living.

As far as the rigor goes, I've been taking time away from doing research to read about HOW to do research. A lot of what I'm reading can be summed up by this chart:

Click to see original version - copyright Mark Tucker,
Of course, as anyone who has followed me for any length of time can tell you, I've been on the Evidence train for a long time. (See "Following the Evidence" on my other blog for, well, evidence.) What I'm really learning is that I'm not as organized as I probably should be. Since I know myself pretty well, I know better than to try to make drastic changes, so I'm taking small steps to correct that.  I've started following other genealogy bloggers (note the "Fellow Searchers" section in the right-hand column) and trying to glean tips and tricks from them.

Ideally, I'd like to carve out the time this year to start working towards the degree I never finished. I think an actual history degree would be most helpful to me. Doing the work necessary to get a degree would force me to bring that rigor to my research - and I will probably need it if I'm going to make the jump from pushing a mouse for The Man to making a living doing research and writing.

I've also decided to make a concerted effort to publish some of the work I've already done in book form. I'm looking at self-publishing, and I'm learning as I go, so I don't want to make any promises that I might not be able to keep. But so far it looks like I have the means and the material to put a couple of neat little projects together.

While you watch for updates on that, I'll also point you to the Patreon account I've set up. Patreon is a way for artists, writers, and other creative types to reach out and give their fans and followers a way to support them with small, regular donations. I've created a page there, and outlined some goals just to learn my way around.  You can see the link in the right column of the blog - look for the section labeled "Become a Sponsor" - and if you feel super-generous, anything you decide to donate will motivate me to keep going.

Most importantly, I want to encourage any of you who are reading this site regularly to join the conversation. I can tell you're a shy bunch, but don't be! Let me know if you have questions or if there is something in particular you would like me to study, research, or write about.

And I will keep you posted - that's why they call these "posts"! - if you only keep reading.

I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#NameCollecting - You Know My Name

When commenting on unusual names, it's probably a good idea to state the obvious: I'm not making fun of them.  I like unusual names. Even outside the context of family history, I've always found them to be fun and interesting.

Take my name: Tad.

I'm in my forties, now, so I think I have heard every possible permutation of "tadpole" joke, and have enjoyed being on the short end of "just a tad" remarks both flattering and not. I've also run across my share of fellow Tads, so I know us to be rare, but not completely unheard of. And, obviously, we are generally seen (according to the Namipedia survey results) as "Smart, sexy, friendly, creative, strong, young, and sophisticated."

Statistically, according to the Baby Name Voyager, we peaked in the 1960s, when there were about 48 babies per million named Tad. I found it interesting that my own sister's name showed up (with the correct spelling, even!) in the name cloud of "commonly associated siblings" on that page!

So what does the name "Tad" mean, and where does it come from?  I don't know. Aside from references to Abraham Lincoln's son, whose given name was actually Thomas, we don't seem to have a reliable origin story. It could simply be that it started out life as a nickname, as with the Lincolns, and then came into more legitimate use because people liked the sound of it.

...otherwise, I might have been "Prissy".
That seems to be how I ended up with it.  According to a reliable source (thanks, Mom!), I was originally supposed to be "Priscilla Jane".  I dodged that particular name bullet by emerging with an unexpected ...ahem... extra bit. 

As the story goes, my mother and father were in the delivery room, trying to come up with a name for a little boy, and wouldn't you know the family history played a role in what they came up with?

My grandfather's name was Robert T Callin. When he joined the Army, he filled out all of his induction paperwork with what he thought was his full name: Robert Theodore Callin. He went through the war, married grandma, and enrolled in college under that name - and only found out he was wrong when my dad was born, and he told grandma Bertha that they planned to name him "Robert Theodore, Jr."

"But, Bobby," she said, "Your name isn't 'Theodore'. It's just 'T', like 'Harry S Truman.'"

So they took that information in stride, and since they planned on calling him "Teddy" anyway, they ditched the "Theodore" and just named him "Robert Ted."

Apparently, my own parents were inspired by this story, and since they didn't want a "junior", they just changed one letter - thus, a Tad was born.  I've never had any cause to complain, and obviously, I love having yet another story to tell (and re-tell).

Mom and dad were a little more prepared when my sister came along - she would have been "Andrew Patrick", which is a far better fate than I would have suffered.  (They named our poodle "Priscilla" in the 1980s, so at least it didn't go to waste.)

And when I nervously informed everyone that we had selected the name Séamus for our eldest son, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, good! We were afraid you were going to call him 'Robert Tud'!"

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Unknown and the Unknowable

The book doesn't say where in Scotland Robert Greenlee and his brother came from, but it could have been Lanarkshire as easily as anywhere else. The famous mobility of Lowland Scots was nothing new, and even though the coal industry was just taking off, there were bound to be good reasons for a pair of enterprising young men to follow the flood of people pouring through Ireland and on into the New World.

The settlement of Ulster in the northern counties of Ireland was also nothing new - that had been going on for two centuries by the time the Greenlee brothers came to Ireland around 1770; Robert settled in County Armagh, in the village of Tandragee, while his brother went on to America. The book says he was there in time for the Revolution, but we'll have to take the book's word for that. Robert, a manufacturer of goods, stayed in Tandragee, married, and raised a family of four boys and two girls.

Most of Robert's children would end up in America, but not Robert. His eldest son, Samuel, born in 1795 would grow up to become a linen weaver and marry Nancy Jamphry in 1819. For nearly 20 years, Nancy and Samuel would bring another Greenlee into the world in each of the odd-numbered years, though Robert would only see the first six - he passed away in 1832. By 1837 they had six boys and three girls in their home. Their youngest son, born in 1835, was named Robert.

We don't know the cause, since the book and the records don't say, but their third eldest, a daughter called Margaret, died in 1843 at 18 years of age. Nancy died the following year, in 1844. It's possible that they were taken by disease, and it is certain that the year after that - 1845 - saw the beginning of what would be known as the Great Famine. It could be that chronic hunger, loss of income from the economic impact, and spreading disease associated with the famine made the family decide to move; it could be that their occupation as weavers kept them from feeling the hunger, but their political and religious affiliations as Presbyterian Unionists made them targets of their starving Catholic neighbors frustration. Regardless of the source of the pressures that drove them, the Greenlees were soon to leave Armagh.

Thus, as his uncle and some of his brothers and sisters had likely already done, Samuel decided to bring his family to the United States. On 14 November 1846, Samuel arrived in Philadelphia aboard the Ship Champlain accompanied by a 28-year-old Anne Greenlee. This was most likely his eldest daughter, Mary Ann, who would go on to marry Robert Willis. In 1850, the family was settled in the township of Aston in Delaware county, Pennsylvania. Samuel, along with his sons - Samuel, Jr., Matthew, Thomas, and Robert - worked as weavers; Samuel, Jr. had his wife, Ann Jane Sinton, and their baby daughter, Ann, in the household, and it must have been very... close and cozy.

The Greenlee children began to disperse themselves across the country. John and Mary Ann each married, and ended up in Wineland, Ohio, with their new spouses. James moved to Michigan, and Robert also moved to Ohio, settling in Hancock county, where he married Sarah Bollman in 1857. Thomas married, and may have been in New York, as he joined the 67th Regiment of the New York Infantry in 1861 on the outbreak of war.

Robert and Sarah had their son, Allen, in April of 1861, the month that the Civil War began. Robert enlisted in the 21st Regiment, Ohio Infantry, and he served for 3 months, mustering out in August of 1861. His unit was sent on a reconnaissance expedition down the Kanawha River in West Virginia, but they do not appear to have seen any action or suffered any casualties. His brother, Thomas, was not as fortunate, as the 67th NYI was involved in the Battle at Fair Oaks outside Henrico, Virginia, where he was killed at the end of May 1862.

Here, the story becomes darker and harder to see. As little detail as the book gives us - the book being Ralph Stebbins Greenlee's Genealogy of the Greenlee Families, to be specific - it got us this far. It tells us enough to connect everything we just read to what happened next...but what did happen next?

Sarah Catherine Bollman was born in 1838 in Ohio. In 1850, she live with her mother, Eleanor, and a younger sister and brother (Elizabeth Ann and Solomon, respectively). They lived in the town of Cass in Hancock county, which is where her marriage to Robert Greenlee was recorded in 1857. In 1860, she and Robert showed up in the census, still in Cass. We have records of Robert's enlistment, and they give us no reason to believe that he did not survive the war, and yet in 1870, Sarah and a 9-year-old Allen are back living with Eleanor.

It's impossible to guess from the information available, but the lack of information itself (and the fact that Sarah is listed in 1870 by her maiden name) suggests that something unheroic befell Robert Greenlee. We only know he died because the Greenlee book says so - "died at Vanburen, Ohio." It doesn't say how or when.

(Update: Sarah died in January 1875 and was buried in the Bechtel Cemetery, in Allen township, Hancock county. Robert was buried there after his death in 1879, and Allen in 1887. Sarah's marker lists her as "Sarah C. Greenlee," but the obituary index gives her name as Bollman.)

Allen Greenlee's life was similarly mysterious, in that very little solid information about him exists. We see him in the 1870 and 1880 census records, living with his grandmother (though the 1870 lists his name as "Ellen"), and we do see him listed on his daughter's birth record, so we are at least not guessing at the relationship. But aside from a single appearance in the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1882, when he was apparently raising sheep in Findlay, Ohio, he only left one other trace behind.
Bertha May Greenlee and
Alice Ava Hales - c. 1889

Bertha May Greenlee, my great-grandmother, was born December 5, 1885 in Arcadia, Ohio, to Allen Greenlee and Alice Ava Hales. By the time she was four years old, her father was gone, and her mother remarried to George McClellan Cramer on November 28, 1889. George adopted her, and Bertha Cramer grew up with her half-sister, Mamie Cramer, her mother, and her adopted father in turn-of-the-century Fostoria, Ohio.

If Bertha knew what happened to her father, or to her grandfather, it did not get passed down to us. She did name her youngest son Robert, but that's not necessarily a clue. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren can only imagine how dangerous life really was in those days and be grateful that we're here to marvel at it! And we are here because Bertha married John Quincy Callin, of the 20th Century Callin Clan, on June 6, 1906 - but that is a whole other story.

There is a lot we still don't know - about Allen and Robert, at least - and it's not likely we'll ever find out what happened to them. We'll keep looking, of course, because that is how you find out what is unknowable, and what is merely unknown. If we don't search, we certainly won't find any answers.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Photo Feature: Valentines and Cradle Robbers

Something a little different this week, in anticipation of Valentine's Day.

Here are three couples with a few things in common:
  • They all married young
  • The grooms (and one bride) were all in the service
  • Not only were did all six of these people share a surname (after their respective weddings), the grooms share their given names, as well!
  • The brides were all VERY young

February 1995, Monterey, California
How young were they? Well, that's the basis for our trivia question - "which of these brides was the youngest at her wedding?"

Obviously, you'll need some dates to make an educated guess, but what with this being the open internet, you'll excuse me for being coy about just posting them here.

First up, you can see a happy young pair of airmen getting their engagement picture taken. Tad was a mature (ahem) 22 years, and Kate was a Bicentennial Baby. They took a lot of ribbing over their age difference, but when they married after a brief, six-week romance, she was 18 - and only just a few months shy of 19.

c. 1968, Glendale, Arizona
c. 1968, Glendale, Arizona

Our next couple could hardly wait for high school graduation to set their wedding date, but wait they did. Teddy was a mature (I am certain) 22 years, and Barbie was a true child of the 1950s. They married in 1968, just one month after her 18th birthday.

c.1942, Phoenix, Arizona
 Ted went on to join the National Guard and trained to be a medical technician, then tried his hand at teaching before settling on his career as a firefighter.

And finally, we have the dashing couple straight out of Casablanca, the heroine and hero of When Things Got Serious. Bobby was a 21-year-old Army airplane mechanic, and Nancy was in high school when they met - and the outbreak of the Second World War lent some urgency to their decision. And so they married in 1942 - about 8 months before her 18th birthday.

So there you have it - I come from a long, well established line of young men who married young brides and survived to tell the tale. I think I can safely claim that none of us has regretted it for a moment.

However old or young your sweetheart is, here's hoping you're as happy as we were - and are.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#NameCollecting: On the Gloyd Path

Gloyd W. Backensto was born 13 April 1888 in Blooming Grove, Ohio. He married my 4th cousin, twice removed, Susie Mohn.

I know what you're thinking, but yes, his name was "Gloyd", with a "G."

It wasn't a transcription error or a typo on his birth certificate. They didn't write "Floyd" or "Lloyd" in turn-of-the-century cursive only to have someone copy it down wrong when the records were digitized. No, as an adult head of household, on at least three successive U.S. Census enumerations, he is clearly listed as "Gloyd".

It is not Floyd. It is not Clyde - that is his brother's name. It is not Lloyd - though he named his son Lloyde. In each of the records I can see, there is basis for comparison, and the man's name was Gloyd.

Fine. Acceptance is here. But we still have a question: what kind of name is "Gloyd"?

(A girl named "Floyd"?
Floyd will always be a barber to me.)
I pulled up a few baby name databases - here are the top ten results from searching for Gloyd on

1 Cloyd Boy
2 Floyd Boy
3 Lloyd Boy
4 Lloyd Girl
5 Floyd Girl
6 Loyd Boy
7 Glora Girl
8 Kloye Girl
9 Glori Girl
10 Elody Girl

Not only does his name not show up, there are two different spellings of "G-Love" in the top 30 suggestions, along with "Ploy", "Flood", "Cloud", and "Goody". In other words, random vocabulary words are more common than this name. offered these suggestions:


Clearly, we are dealing with something unique. But where did the name come from?

Gloyd's parents were Anthony J. Backensto and Jane Eller. Anthony's father's name was Jacob, but beyond the 1870 Census saying he was born in Pennsylvania, it isn't even clear where the surname "Backensto" came from. Ancestry and Wikipedia also come up empty - suggesting more intensive research might be needed to answer even such basic questions.

For now, Gloyd will have to remain an enigmatic mystery.

Gloyd & Susie - Find a Grave Database

Friday, February 6, 2015

Remembering the Maine

I remember this story from history class.

An American ship in a foreign harbor, supposedly on a mission to defend democracy and freedom, is destroyed. Emotions run high, and questions abound - the official investigation inevitably leaves some unanswered. Lives were lost, honor sullied. The press, eager to sell papers and to push their owners' agendas, create a battle cry, and political pressures overwhelm pacifist preventative measures, leading the President to reluctantly go to war.

It is all a familiar pattern to us by now - or should be. The harbor could have been the Gulf of Tonkin; the yellow press could have been Fox News; the incident could have been Pearl Harbor. But this time - in 1898 - the harbor was Cuban, the ship was the USS Maine, the President was McKinley, and two months after the incident, the Congress declared war on Spain.

Among America's military adventures abroad, this one stood out for being less noble than others - at least, with the benefit of a century of hindsight. It wasn't a war for freedom and democracy, but it was clearly a war for expansion of our territory - and it was touted in the press of the day as a fight against aggression. It was a war that disrupted the already dwindling Spanish Empire, setting them on a self-destructive course that contributed to later wars. It brought a number of Caribbean and Pacific islands into American possession, and set the U.S. on its uncomfortable historical course with Cuba.

There's a decent overview of the Maine event on's FishWrap blog, and of course there's more thorough background on Wikipedia.

Whatever else may be true about the circumstances surrounding the war, Americans who fought in it were a lot like my generation. They were too young to have been involved in either side of the Civil War, but they had grown up hearing about the glorious battles and heroics, and they were looking for a mission. The shock and horror of the war between states had subsided somewhat, and among the many unresolved internal issues there was growing appetite for using the military to show the rest of the world what the U.S. was capable of.

This was the war that made a hero out of Teddy Roosevelt, and he wasn't the only adventurer of his age with something to prove. This is my family's connection to that war.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Photo Feature: Facial Recognition

As I continue going through the old photos left behind in my grandparents' possessions, I keep finding things that might be clues - or might not. I don't like to trust my brain's facial recognition software - especially when there is such a diverse group represented in the portraits.

For example, do you remember this lady from few weeks ago?

Unidentified lady and boy
I wasn't sure then whether that boy was or was not the same young man as Loren Weddle, seen in this photo:

Loren Weddle, 1927
I'm still not sure. And now I have these two photos - one of which might be that same lady with her husband:

Possible brother of Albert Huff?
Here is a side-by-side comparison of these two cropped images of her face - maybe you will see something I don't:

I'm pretty certain that's the same lady in both pictures - but if so, what does that tell me? I need to identify someone else, too, and maybe figure out a likely year that these photos were taken.

Same man, but with daughters?
The point is, until I know something concrete, there are a LOT of assumptions being made here. I have compared these photos to photos of my Huff relatives (see Albert and Rosa below), and they are superficially alike.

They are marked (if you can see it in the scans) as being from the Oates studio. There are similar patterns on the border matting, and the backdrops used by the photographer are very similar. (I'm less sure that it's the same backdrop in the first photo of the lady with the boy, but it's possible.)

It seems to me there is a family resemblance between Albert and the other man - I assume he could be one of Albert's brothers.

But I don't know.

Albert Huff and Rosa Edith (Murray) Huff, c. 1907
As always, if you have any clues, dive into the comments below or drop me a private note.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#NameCollecting: An Introduction

As with any human endeavor, genealogy is something that people do for a variety of reasons. While I try to bring some professional discipline and rigor to what I do, this is still a hobby for me - and hobbies are supposed to be Funtm. One thing that I still think is fun is Name Collecting.

This is on the less rigorous end of the genealogy spectrum, and sometimes I see it discussed somewhat dismissively, as if it has no value. True, if all you do is indulge in adding lists of names to your tree without verifying the relationships between them, you're probably not doing much of  great historic value - and you're probably going to have to do a lot of pruning when it comes time to apply for any sort of family society (like Sons of the America Revolution) or claim that throne from your family's homeland.

But there's no denying that looking through names of old and distant relatives has a certain entertainment value. I've certainly kept my teenaged daughter rolling on the floor just reading her a list of distant cousins before. And anything that can do that deserves a weekly blog post, don't you think?

Here are a few examples I've shared recently:

Lady Bane - found on Pinterest
I want to make this absolutely clear - I'm not mocking any of these people. I know that to their ears (or at least their parents') these names were not a source of amusement. But names do go out of fashion, become associated with the famous and infamous, or become popular with a particular generation and take on unintended associations.

A lot of the humor is just culture clash. To my modern ears, "Mildred" is a name I associate with my grandmother's generation; sweet old ladies bringing casseroles to potluck dinners, and cultivating lavender...which makes the rude phoneme that much more jarring. And, of course, I'll admit to being more coarse than the innocent folks who would not find anything about the name "Manerva Peniston" remotely amusing. Our modern culture is also to blame when the name "Arminta Bane" conjures the image of a female steampunk superhero in my mind. (But she's gorgeous and awesome, isn't she?)

So, consider this the inaugural post in a series I'm going to simply call "#NameCollecting". I want to get away from using judgmental descriptors - especially a word like "crazy", since that can be hurtful. I don't want to be THAT guy - the one constantly explaining why you shouldn't be offended because I used a word with baggage.

Instead, let's make this a celebration of the odd, wonderful, and ever-changing tapestry of human names. I won't always know a lot about the people attached to these names, but I'll share what I have, and we'll share the wonder!

Rock on, Arminta!