Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Skeletons in the Closet, Revisited

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

Follow this link to see the post.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Treasure Chest Thursday: Hazel's Quilt

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Annie Oakley, a/k/a Phoebe Ann Mosey

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

Monday, June 2, 2014

Military Monday: James Edward Larkin, Delayed Casualty of War

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

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

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

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sibling Saturday: The Children of Charles and Emma Garver

Previously I wrote about Charles and Emma Heilman Garver, my husband’s great-grandparents.  They had nine children, all of whom survived to adulthood, and all but one of whom remained in Michigan for most or all of their lives.  They are shown in this 1930 photo, standing behind their parents:  Alta, John, Bea, Forest, Florence, Roy, Mabel, Walter, and Ray.  I love to trace all the children in a family, not just one.  It’s called “cluster research,” and it gives me a better understanding of the family if I step back and look at the bigger picture...

Walter Garver dug ditches for his father-in-law as a young man—a photo survives.  He and his wife Hazel (Alwood) Garver had fifteen children, fourteen of whom survived to adulthood—one is my mother-in-law.  Walter was a farmer, raising hogs and milking dairy cows, but he also worked for the WPA during the Great Depression on a road-building crew.  He died at age 80, marrying a second time shortly before his death in 1971.

Clara Mabel Garver married Andrew McClellan Leeth when she was 17.  They moved to Colorado at the suggestion of Mac’s doctor, due to Mac’s tuberculosis, but eventually they returned to Michigan.  They had three daughters and a son, and she died in 1969 at age 76.

Forest Garver (pictured below) served in Europe in World War I.  Several photos survive.  On the back of one picture, he calls his flat standard-issue helmet “my little tin lid.”  He later married Aletha Allen and they had three children.  He worked as a repairman in a Flint, Michigan auto factory in 1920, but was a farmer by 1930.  He died in 1978 at age 82.

Florence Garver married Arthur Kever in 1916.  They were dairy farmers and had three daughters.  She died at age 79 in 1976.

John Jacob Garver married Naomi Burton and they had a daughter and a son.  John was a factory worker, and died young—compared to most of his siblings—at age 60, following a heart attack.

Ray Lester Garver drove his sister Clara and brother-in-law Mac to Colorado.  Ray remained there, marrying a Michigan girl named Martha Hutchinson.  He died in Colorado in 1986 at age 84.

Beatrice Garver married John Acre in 1904 when she was 16.  John worked as an auto mechanic.  She and John had two daughters and four sons.  She died in Michigan in 1981 at age 77.

Roy Russell Garver, the youngest son, helped his widowed mother run the farm after his father died in 1931.  But he contracted measles, and the complications that followed took his life.  After he died at age 26 in 1933, his mother was forced to give up the family farm.

Alta Garver, the baby of the family, married James Beattie; it was said in the family that it was love at first sight.  The marriage lasted 63 years.  They had eight children, two of whom died young.  They spent most of their lives in Michigan, where they had a grocery store called Beattie’s IGA Market in Marine City.  Alta was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a Masonic organization, serving as “Worthy Matron” (presiding officer).  She and James eventually retired to Florida, where Alta died at age 94 in 2009. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Howard (not his real name) first contacted me late one spring a few years ago.  He was 70 years old; he had found me via my website; and he wanted to hire me, by the hour, for a twofold project he had in mind.

Howard’s father had died when he was fourteen; he wanted to learn more about him, and have something to pass on to his grown children about their roots.  He also wanted help in putting his memoirs together.  “I’m not good at expressing myself—I can’t untangle my thoughts and make them flow together coherently!” he told me.  And so we started.

Howard seemed brilliantly intelligent, but quirky.  I soon learned he had two PhDs and a number of patents to his credit, and his father and grandfather each had a number of patents as well.  They were all mechanically gifted, but not so gifted at human relationships, I discovered, as is often true of the highly intelligent. 

Over the months that we worked together, I got to know Howard.  His memoirs were a pouring out of the great pain and losses of his childhood and youth.  Many of the stories that he told me, he had never told anyone.  He emailed them to me, randomly and as the spirit moved him; and I edited them and worked them into a cohesive memoir of his early years.  At the same time, we explored the German-Polish roots of his father and the French-Canadian roots of his mother.  He lived halfway across the country, so we never met, and spoke on the phone only once, briefly. 

I said to my husband one day, “There seems to be such an urgency to Howard’s efforts… I wonder if he’s sick?”  Sad was the day that I got the answer to that question:  Howard told me he had Alzheimer’s.  He wrote to me in an email, “I figure I have maybe two good years left, so if there’s anything else I want to do, I’d better move pretty darn fast.”  I cried in the car on the way to work that day.

The months passed, and one research project led to another, and the memoirs kept growing—but the tone was changing.  Gone was the pain and bitterness.  Now Howard was remembering the happier times, the better things.  The original plan was to write a memoir of his entire life—but when the early years had been brought out into the light and written about, it became clear that this was going to be the story of his childhood and youth.  And as it turned out, Howard wasn’t doing this for his children as much as he was doing it for himself—to let go, and to heal.

Besides, Howard was becoming exhausted.  After working through the spring and summer and into the fall, his emails became less frequent and more labored and off-task.   By the time I mailed three copies the finished binder (almost 300 pages) six months after we started, he rarely responded at all.  But we had done it—accomplished our goals.  Howard’s story, and that of his ancestors, were preserved for future generations.

Monday, May 12, 2014

An Amish Settlement That Didn't Last

Recently I did an ancestry binder for a young Amish dairy farmer who is a friend of mine.  I discovered that one of his great-grandfathers founded an Amish settlement.

My research for this binder coincided with my reading of a wonderful book called The Amish in America: Settlements That Failed, 1840-1960 by Amish historian David Luthy. The book, published by an Amish publishing house in Aylmer, Ontario called Pathway Publishers in 1986, turned out to be more than the story of 100 Amish settlements that didn’t last; it was also the most useful Amish genealogy book I’ve ever come across—a real keeper.  And lo and behold, there on page 36 was the story of the Amish settlement at Stuttgart, Arkansas, which was begun by my friend’s great-grandfather, a man named Noah Bontrager. 

I used to think that the Amish lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, with smaller settlements in a few nearby states like Michigan and Illinois.  But in truth, there are—or have been—Amish settlements in nearly every state in the union, as well as several countries in Central and South America.  Some lasted, but many didn’t, for various reasons—mostly because of cheap land that turned out to be poor for farming, or good, productive land with no economical way to transport their produce to market.  Or sometimes it was due to squabbles within the settlement, or just as often, the lack of leadership—which for the Amish, means a bishop, two ministers, and a deacon.  Without a minister, no church services could be held; and without a bishop, no baptisms or marriages.  A visiting bishop could do only so much for so long.  Without a ministry team, a young settlement would soon die.

But getting back to my story:  Noah E. Bontrager was born in 1874 in Lagrange County, Indiana and married Anna M. Yoder there in 1896.  They had seven sons and three daughters.  By 1916 he was a bishop in the Amish church.  By 1918 the family was living at the Amish settlement in Centerville, Michigan, where his WWI draft card says he is medium height and build with brown eyes and black hair.

Luthy’s book tells the rest of Noah’s story.  In 1927 Noah, age 53, led a group of seven families who left their homes and families in Centerville to start a new settlement in Stuttgart, Arkansas—most likely looking for cheaper land and milder winters.  The other six families were those of his son, Samuel; his brother, Eli; his nephew, Jacob, who was a minster; his son-in-law, Lawrence Yoder; and two families named Schwartz. 

Luthy says that their first winter in the south was mild, and their first spring was beautiful.  By May they had strawberries in their gardens, the roses were blooming, and peaches hung from the trees.  But this was followed by summer which were much hotter than they were used to—hard on the men, and even harder on the draft horses—and unlike Michigan, with its cool summer evenings, there was little relief at night.  Rain was sparse—until autumn, when dry weather was needed to harvest their rice crop—at which time the rain wouldn’t stop.  As the weeks went by and they waited for weather dry enough for threshing, more and more of their grain was lost to migrating birds.

In 1928, Lawrence Yoder lost five of his horses from sickness.  Then his wife had a baby who died, and the mother died soon afterwards.  When his young son Ervin died a few months later, Lawrence returned to Michigan.

In 1930, the settlement’s founder and bishop, Noah Bontrager, had a fatal heart attack; he was just 56 years old.  The following year, his widow returned to Indiana, where her beloved husband was brought by train and reinterred. 

The settlement didn’t last.  (“Failed” seems like such a harsh word!)  As Luthy tells it, the other five families struggled on, but as the Great Depression got worse, the local bank in Stuttgart closed its doors—taking the settlers’ money with it.  The five remaining families had not been joined by any new ones since they came 1927, and when their minister, Eli Bontrager, left in 1932, that was the death knell for the colony.  By 1938, the last holdout, Jacob Bontrager, had left Arkansas.

[Image credit: – George Burba – used with permission.]