Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cousin Love

I wrote a blog post some time back about the marriage record of two of my husband’s ancestors, John Garver and Mary Anne Overly.  One of the statements that had to sworn to in the State of Ohio in in 1848 was that the spouse was “not nearer of kin to me than first cousin.”

That led me wonder about the legality today of marrying one’s first cousin today…  And what I found out surprised me:  It’s still legal in many states!  I had no idea!

I started out by looking at the National Council of State Legislatures website.  There I learned that first cousin marriage is legal without restriction in today nineteen states and the District of Columbia—although North Carolina does stipulate that double-cousin marriage is prohibited.  (That would be two people who are cousins through both parental lines, therefore meaning that they share both sets of grandparents.)  In twenty five other states, first cousin marriage is prohibited. 

In the remaining six states, first cousin marriage is allowed under certain circumstances.  Five of those states (Arizona, Illinois, Indiana, Utah, and Wisconsin) require that the couple be either too old to have children (minimum age requirements of age 50, 55, or 65) or medically unable to reproduce.  The last (Maine) requires that the couple obtain a physician’s certificate of genetic counseling.

Second cousins may legally marry in all states.

So, those are the hard, cold facts…  But the larger question for me was, what kind of person does this?  How does it happen that two people come to the place in life where they fall in love with, and desire to marry, a first cousin?

For that viewpoint, I turned to a website called  The website discusses the legalities, genetics, and history of first and second cousin marriage.  There are also discussion boards where cousins can share their stories, problems, and even wedding videos.  One thing resonates in their stories:  Their friends and families, almost without exception, disapproved.  Some of them say that their ministers had a problem with it, while others were married in their regular church.  Those who live in states where first cousin marriage is prohibited can still legally marry by having the marriage take place in another state where it is allowed.

On the website’s “Facts Page” they report that no European country, nor Mexico nor Canada, prohibit first cousin marriage, and that the frequency of cousin marriages in the United States is about 1 in 1,000.  They also state that “Children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk.” 

Not much difference?  I found that hard to believe—but the  facts seem to back it up, based on a landmark study published in 2002 in the Journal of Genetic Counseling.  This study was referred to in almost every source I consulted, including a 20/20 television piece presented by John Stossel in August 2004 and a 2009 article in The New York Times.  More recent studies have come to the same conclusion.  The 20/20 article also said that every year in America, about 200,000 first cousins wed.

Statistics aside, bad things can happen, even if, statistically, they usually don’t...  One of my clients who knew I was writing a blog post on the topic of cousin marriage shared this personal story with me:  “My husband's aunt married her first cousin. They had three sons. The first one was born with severe arthritis and was crippled at a very young age, as well as being born almost legally blind. The second son was born mentally impaired and also almost legally blind, and he passed away quite young. The third son was born completely deaf.  The boys also had a very unusual appearance.”

Among notable figures in history who married a first cousin are Johann Sebastian Bach, Werner von Braun, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Edgar Allen Poe, Queen Victoria, and H.G. Wells.  But—with no offense to my first cousins intended—for me it is still definitely too close for comfort!


Monday, December 7, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Nine of Nine

April 1945
Late in the war

These Germans are funny.  All of them hate Hitler, and never had anything to do with him, and are glad to see us, etc., etc.  Then we search their houses, and drag uniforms, pictures of Hitler, charter membership cards to the Nazi party, and everything else out.  What a bunch of cheerful liars.

Mom, It is Mother’s Day one of these Sundays, so this is in place of a card...  The news sounds good, and it will soon be over and finished.  Don’t worry about me, as I will be OK.  Got your letter of the 15th today.  You sounded quite worried. Sometimes I think you at home have a worse time than we do. You worry at times when we are perfectly safe.  However, there has been a time or two when I bet you weren’t as worried has you should have been.  One night in October I knew I was going within 5 minutes.  We were completely overrun by Tiger Tanks in an open field with no holes, and I was past being scared.  I was mad.  I said to myself, “I’m going to take as many of these rats with me as I can, because they’re going to hurt my Mom when she gets that telegram.”  That’s what I think of my Mom.

I would like to go home before the Pacific but I don’t know, and rather doubt that I will get to.  If I have a chance I will take the Army of Occupation for a while instead of the Pacific... 
(Note:  He was in the Army of Occupation and stayed in Europe for several months after the war.)

Incidentally, when we crossed the Rhine, our mission was to reach and cut the superhighway (Division objective).  It was 6 miles from the Rhine.  I was one of two Lts. in the platoon and our platoon was the first one in the 9th Army to cross the highway, and this bird was the 3rd man across.  (The other Lt. and one scout could run faster.).

May 7, 1945

It hasn’t been announced to the world yet, but we ceased firing this afternoon, and the lights will shine out windows all over Europe tonite, and no bombs or shells will come.  I am OK and the season on us is closed, so I can really say, “Don’t worry!”  The Captain has a bottle of ancient cognac he has been saving for a log time, so “So long...”

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Eight of Nine

March, 1945

I’m back with the outfit again.  Seems like getting home.  Met quite a few of my old buddies still here.

You no doubt read in the papers how we spearheaded the 9th Army drive across the Rhine.  We came in shooting and they just couldn’t hold us...  [The papers] probably said “negligible opposition.”  It was, after we shot or captured everybody in our road.

I am sending Dick a belt from a Kraut who should have surrendered but didn’t.  Not only that, he made the mistake of shooting at somebody in A Company.

You have probably read about all the people we have set free. Soldiers of all nations (including U.S.A.) and Polish, Russ, French and other slaves.  And I do mean slaves.  These Germans had millions of slaves in farms and factories.  The English captured at Dunkirk 5 years ago were glad to see us...  All the Germans thought we didn’t have any army, and are surprised when convoys of men in trucks and tanks bumper to bumper for 80 or 90 or more miles roll into their town. They stay in their houses and pout and sulk, while the Poles and Russ are outside celebrating.  We have orders that nobody speaks to a Kraut except in line of duty, and we don’t steal their stuff or kill their kids (unless the kids shoot at us).  They don’t think it is so hot now that the shoe is on the other foot, and it is their towns being taken.  Whenever they try to defend a town we just call up the artillery and they remove the town from the face of the earth.

Here is a picture folder Janet can have.  Got it off a Jerry [German] P.X. truck going west that met a bazooka shell going east.

I wouldn’t worry about me too much any more if I were you.  It will soon be all over, and I ain’t going to get hurt in the last inning with the score in our favor and two out...  I could write a few atrocity stories, but all I will say there is that all of them are true.  These Krauts try stunts like putting 800 Poles and Russ in a barn and covering them with gasoline and setting fire to the whole works.  I saw that while it was still smoldering...  That is why I like to see dead Germans by the heaps.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Seven of Nine

England, from a hospital
December 1944

I’m enclosing 2 money orders.  Put one in my account, and take the other one and see that everybody has a merry Christmas, with lutefisk and everything...  Dad, if at any time you can use any money for anything, just get it from my acc’t, as I don’t get any interest on it and it could just as well be in use.  Also if Helen needs any, just draw it out and use it.

Say, when I was hit, I had that little Bible from Aunt Ithel and my pictures of you in my gas mask, which I also kept a few grenades in.  I had my mask hanging on a post near my hole, and a westbound .88 blew it to smithereens.  So will you get me some of those pictures we took when I was a corporal.  Or some new ones if you have them.

I am sending my “German Sharpshooter’s Medal” (Purple Heart) home.  Let me know when you get it.

Now that I’m well, I realize I was “shaken up” worse that I thought.  Saw doctor’s reports.  Not so much the seriousness of each strain, sprain, and pulled ligament, as the number of them...  No, I’m not keeping anything from you, on my word. Next time I’m going to get myself a nerve injury.  I’ve seen several.  They leave a leg or an arm temporarily paralyzed, and they have to send you to the States to have an operation to connect up the nerve, and you get several months’ leave while it heals up again.

I passed an uneventful 22nd birthday the other day.  It seems funny to think I am that old.  I should feel more grown up, but everywhere I go they nickname me “Junior” so that may be why.  The Russians are going good...  They say they killed 295,000 Krauts.  That would be quite a heap.

February, 1945

Getting out of the hosp. today and a 7-day leave at a resort starts tomorrow.  Then back to my outfit.

I’m a son of a gun if [my girlfriend] Betty ever misses a single bet. She is sure after me, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but it is not mutual, and I wish she would quit.  I don’t want anything to do with girls until I have made my first million dollars, and not with her even then.  She is a good kid, but she is like her mother, and wants to run the works and eat with 3 forks and 4 spoons and cut glass every meal.

Dick, you make sure that you have completed enough arrangements so you can join the Navy before you even have to register for the draft.  Find out what you have to weigh for your height...  Stay the heck out of the Army, as the Infantry is too hungry for men right now.  I wish I could have you with me.  You could be my runner and carry my little radio and I could teach you and take care of you at the same time.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Six of Nine

October 15, 1944
In a field hospital

After all that has been going on in the past few days I suppose you have been wondering if I was OK.  Well, I am. However, they temporarily have me back at a little field hospital.  Day before yesterday a big German shell came sailing in over my head and lit about 20 feet behind me, and knocked me down.  Kind of sprained my back, but nothing serious, and I’ll be back in a day or two.
(Note:  He had just been badly wounded but didn’t know the extent of his internal injuries at this point.  He ended up spending about five months in hospitals in France and England before being sent back to the front lines in March 1945.)

October 19, 1944
(letter written on American Red Cross stationery)

Now don’t get excited, I ain’t hurt.  They got tired of having me at one hospital, and shipped me back to this one, so you can quit worrying about me for a while...  All that is the matter is that my back hurts, and they taped me up and won’t let me walk around...  It has been released and published in the papers, so I can tell you I was in the Battle of Mortain in France August 4-10...  That was really quite a fight.  I have been in so many others since that it would take a book to tell about them.  Now that I am back where it’s safe, I don’t see how my luck ever held out. 

The way I got it the other day, my platoon was shelled...  I thought they had finished, and went out of my hole to see if anyone was hurt...  Then s-s-s-s-s-s I heard it coming, and thought I could make it to a hole just in front of me.  I took 2 steps and Blam the thing lit about 20 feet behind me and exploded and blew a hole in the ground 8 feet across and 5 feet deep.  It sent me rolling, and I thought I was killed, but the concussion just hit my back.  Darn inconsiderate not to give me a little piece of shrapnel for a souvenir.

I have a belt buckle I’m going to send home.  When I do, save it, as I got in a personal fight with a Jerry sgt. at about 10 paces range and shot him 6 times and cut off his belt buckle and insignia.  Here is the insignia.

France, from a hospital
November 1944

You read about Mortain, the Limey air force set fire to 167 big tanks with rockets.  We had those tanks covered by small arms, so they had their choice of staying in their tanks and burning up, or trying to get out and getting shot.  We were mad at them because they had been shooting at us with 88’s, and were testing out their flamethrowers at us...  Not one got away, and as fast as they came out of their burning tanks we would pick them off...  The outfit, which I have not been able to tell you before, was the “1st S.S. Panzer-Grenadier Division” also known as the “Adolf Hitler Division...”  But my unit stopped them cold...  The fight lasted 5 days, and I didn’t get a wink of sleep for 4 nights.  I was getting a little weary when it was over, but we darn near liquidated one division of SS men.   

About your cattle, Dad, since you asked, I’d not sell them before spring, unless the market goes up...

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Five of Nine

France – in combat
June, 1944
Liberating France

…Don’t worry about me, though, I’m OK.  It will take more than these Nazis are dishing out to bother me.  This is pretty country here, if that will help any.

I haven’t had any mail yet.  I hope it is getting out better, and I am sure it is.  We don’t gripe about not getting mail either, because for every mail bag they leave behind, they can bring an extra case of ammunition or something, and then we can win the war sooner.  Guess Jerry is learning that it doesn’t pay to monkey around with the U.S.A.

In the last war Dad said the French were quite hospitable, etc.  Of course now they have nothing to be hospitable with.  In fact they don’t even jump up and down.  The kids do, of course, but the grown-ups just stand in their doorways, with a kind of half-smile on their faces and tears in their eyes, and the look that they give you would more than pay for whatever the war might cost.  They look up at us as they would at a vision.  They think we are angels, or gods, or something, I guess.  We Americans do not realize in what high regard we are held.

September 1944
In combat

The kids have started back to school by now I suppose.  I wouldn’t mind being in school myself this fall instead of here.  Be sure you get some apples this fall, and make some apple sauce, and we will finish the Nazis off and I’ll come home and eat it.

September 1944
In combat

Just a line to let you know I’m still OK, and pretty handy at staying that way.  I don’t think they can get me, because I have been shot at by every known German weapon and not hit yet to amount to anything...   Those fool Germans still think they can stop us, I guess.  They keep shooting at us and we keep exterminating them.

Well, this war is still on, and we are still winning, so guess that’s all we can expect.  When this one is over we’ll fix it so they can never start another one.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Four of Nine

Camp Fannin, Texas
Winter, 1944
Dad was an instructor, preparing men for combat duty overseas.

Have carbine firing this week, and I’m in charge of all carbine instruction for the 66th Battalion...  I sure hope none of them shoot each other.  If all 850 of them shoot 50 shots each without anything happening, I’ll be very happy.

I seem to be doing quite well here.  Moe continues to assign me jobs of greater responsibility, although he continues to call me “Junior.”

Ft. Meade, Maryland
June 1944
Preparing to be sent overseas, shortly after D-Day

Just a note to let you know that I am still OK and at this same place on the east coast...  I am getting a lot to eat, and not working too hard, and feeling OK.  I don’t think that there is another soldier in this camp that feels any better about going over than I do.  I am so independent, and have even quit worrying over Dad being able to run his business. That comes of not having any girl or wife to worry over like a lot of the boys do.  Not that I am taking a fatalistic view of the deal.  I fully expect to come out OK, and all in one piece. 

Suppose you have the hay down by now.  Hope you don’t get any rain on it.  Don’t break your back on it, Dad.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Three of Nine

Ft. Benning, GeorgiaOfficer Candidate School - Part Two
Fall 1943 – excerpts from several letters
Those who made it to graduation became commissioned officers.

We were firing machine guns on the range today when they gave “cease firing” -- “unload” -- “clear guns” -- “atten-shun” -- “about face” and then they read us about Italy’s surrender.  It drew a good hand.  Most of the fellows here are married or engaged and don’t want to go across.  (Not that I don’t want the war to be over, but I want in it.)   

I’m still here and everything’s under control for the time being.  They kicked out 55 more men today, so our ranks were thinned a little...  Now when I get kicked out I’ll at least know some darn good men went before I did...  They tell us they’d rather kick out 5 good men than let one through that wasn’t a perfect combat officer.

I’ve gotten 2 letters from [my sister] Helen.  I think she writes because she’s a little homesick and wants letters.  Be sure to write her even if you have to neglect me to do so, as she’s young and a girl, and has absolutely no acquaintances there...  I sent her ten bucks.  I told her it was her own, and to do as she pleased with what I sent her, so if you can afford it, just pretend I’m not sending her any, and then what little I send will be extra.

Boy, am I ever a hot anti-tank gunner.  I made expert on the range.  165 out of 200...  If they would pass us on grades in tests and scores with weapons, I’d be a general.  But those little intangible things that I can’t do anything about will knock me out.  Age, for one thing, and size.  (Note:  On his army ID card he was 5’7½”  tall and 147 pounds.)  If I don’t make it, I’ll be the best non-com in the army...  

Nobody in our class has been hurt to speak of.  I got stabbed a little (don’t get excited) the other night.  A messenger and came down a path where I was fusing some mortar shells, and his bayonet caught the side of my helmet and glanced off and cut a little gash...  I bandaged it with a piece of tape and it’s all healed up now.

The dangerous part of this course is about over.  We didn’t have a single accident on the mortars.  They had been having quite a run of bad luck, but guess we broke their jinx.  Everything that happens here doesn’t make the papers.

Only 4½  weeks to go until I know one way or another about this deal.  Commission or no commission, they’ve made a man of me down here.

2½ weeks to go.  The strain is terrific.  We have started having boards at every odd hour of the day...  The 2nd one, when I walked in alone to meet one Col., three Lt. Cols., a Captain, and a 1st Lt., don’t think I wasn’t feeling like Daniel in the Lion’s Den...  I reported and they put me at ease, and told me to sit down.  The Col. asked me a few routine yes or no questions, and suddenly said:  “I’ll give you one minute to prepare a 5-minute talk on night fighting.”  I looked down for a couple of seconds and asked if I could start.  Yes, he said, so I put over a good talk...  He said, “I’d say that was right good.”  Then he said, “Do you think you could lead a night raid?”  I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “What makes you think you could?”  Me: “Because I know my stuff, sir.”  Colonel: “Could you instruct men?”  Me: “Yes, sir.”  Colonel: “Could you lead a platoon in combat?”  Me: “Yes, sir!”  Colonel: “That’ll be all for today.”

1½ weeks to go, and I’m still here...  18 men out of 50-some left in my platoon.  I think I may make it...  If I graduate, I will be the proudest boy on earth.

(Note:  He did graduate from Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant.)

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Backing Up the Files

29,420 files backed up my computer this afternoon...  Wow, that's a whole lot of (mostly) genealogy stuff!

(And yes, it's all arranged in folders and subfolders, with each Word Doc, JPG, and pdf file properly labeled.  It's easier to keep up than to catch up, as they say.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Two of Nine

Ft. Benning, GeorgiaOfficer Candidate School - Part One
Fall 1943 – excerpts from several letters
Those who made it to graduation became commissioned officers.

I’ve talked to some ROTC boys from NY and other places who are in their 7th week here.  There are 56 left out of 250, and they have 10 weeks to go.  One nice custom they have developed of late is to pull out about ½ of the survivors on graduation day...  But I’m just going to work, and not worry, and if I get the boot anytime, what the heck.

I’m in!  Start tomorrow a.m...  This is going to be rough, and more than likely will lead to nothing.  For instance, the other day a boy back from overseas was booted for “inefficiency on the bayonet course.”  Incidentally, he had been cited in New Guinea for spearing 3 Japs in one M.G. nest.  So you see...   

Then they play tricks.  They inspect morning and afternoon.  If they can’t find anything wrong, they do something like unbuttoning a button on a shirt hanging next to the wall, or they cock your rifle on the rack...  Day before yesterday he pulled my bayonet out of the scabbard and inserted it wrong side to, but I caught it in time, so I didn’t get gigged.

Yesterday they took us out along a road, and dumped us out at intervals, in pairs.  We had to march through real thick swamps and jungles on a compass bearing and come out within 3 degrees of the destination.  Waddington and I went about 2½ miles without seeing a soul (except a coral snake, which we killed) and came out one degree to the right of perfect.

You’ve never seen such efficiency as they have here.  For example, in a demonstration on a machine gun section, the lecturer (outdoors in a grandstand) would say, “In case of air attack...” and just as he finished saying it, here would come 5 P-51’s at about 500 MPH over the hills.  It’s done by radio and perfectly timed.

I haven’t got a gig for 2 days...  Some of the fellows take it to heart, and I can see what it does to them.  For example, the last class here, a fellow got kicked out at the end of 12 wks. and came into the barracks and pulled out his bayonet and stabbed himself.  Luckily he missed his heart...  I’ll never take anything that seriously.

Man, am I getting so I sit up straight when I eat.  They watch us all the time, so I never bend my back.  Mom, you must not have used the proper training methods.

There were drills where they have expert shots representing enemy snipers.  It is quite a thrill to have a bullet smack into a tree 3 feet from your head when you expose yourself too much.  There is no danger, though, since they never have hit anyone yet.

I still don’t know about getting through.  Somebody has to, I guess, but what a bunch of big bruisers, all of them smart, and all born leaders, I have to compete with.  I myself thought they kicked out better men than me on the first board...  Just now had mail call.  Got your letter.  Don’t build the kids up on my getting a commission.  I’ll try like the dickens, though...  Sure glad to hear the crops are OK. After that late planting I was a little worried.  How are the steers and pigs.  I suppose the pigs aren’t so good if we had our usual luck with raising young ones.

To read all nine parts from the beginning:  Click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part One of Nine

Ft. Riley, Kansas—“Boot Camp.”
Summer 1943 – excerpts from several letters. 
Dad was 20 years old at the time.

I’m still at it, and we’re starting to work hard.  Today I:
Taught gun drill 4 hrs.
Drilled on Foot 1 hour
Played cageball 1 hour
Had 1 hour calisthenics
Ran 5 miles over high hills and rocks (4 miles of it thru woods) in 45 minutes
Had 1 hr. marksmanship training
Had parade.
It is now 9:45 p.m. and I think I earned my $2 today.

I wish I could bring a Garand [rifle] home for you -- You could set it on top of the barn and shoot the neighbors’ cattle up in Frank’s cornfield.  They are sardines to keep clean...  We come home, clean ALL the oil off them, and then we go back and pour oil on them again.  We do that every day...  The captain has the cleanest hands, and oil shows up on them.  Wish they’d use clubs instead of rifles in this war.  I’m wearing it out taking it apart and putting it together.

I qualified as a sharpshooter.  I would have liked to have made expert...  It takes 180 out of 210 points for expert, and I got only 174...  At least I learned to shoot right- handed.  (Dad was a lefty.)

I came within an iota of having to do extra KP next Sunday.  I don’t think corporals should have to absorb so much sass from sgts...  The mess sgt. got to griping at me and another fellow about the way we were doing things...   Anyhow he kept on about 5 minutes, and said something about college graduates not knowing anything, and I broke -- I said, “We didn’t learn this stuff in college.  The profs. told us we could hire any dummy for $20 a week to cook and wash dishes.”  That got him...  It was worth the 4 extra hours of KP just to say that one thing anyhow.

We had horse meat for dinner again today, which is nothing new.  But tonight they ground it up and we had horse-burgers.  Fort Riley has to eat 30,000 lbs. of it per day.  It’s not bad, kind of tough and dark and coarse.

They don’t think we are snappy enough, so this week we get up at 4:45 as punishment.  I don’t get the logic.  I get about 5 hours sleep.  Pitching hay bales would be a vacation.

Heat and humidity, and 12 unconscious at the side of the road Monday.  Nobody died, however...  We have been shooting the Garand.  There was never such a weapon in history.  I put 4 straight shots into a target 18 inches in diameter and 500 yards away.

I’ll be glad to get out of here.  I’ve not wanted to worry you, so I’ve never told the truth about this place.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Mystery Monday: Otis

I recently completed an ancestry binder for a co-worker—we’ll call her “Binny.”  She was my youngest client ever, and she wanted to know more about her paternal ancestry.  Binny knew only a few facts, and one of them was that her father’s father was a man named Otis Coleman.  Grandpa Otis soon became my favorite person on Binny’s tree.

Otis Coleman was born on February 9, 1918, according to various public records.  His obituary in the La Salle (Illinois) News Tribune (9-24-2001) corroborates this, saying, “He was born February 9, 1918, in Buchanan [Henry County], Tenn., to Richard and Ristie (Green) Coleman.”

So, I concluded that Otis’ parents—and therefore my client’s great-grandparents—were Richard and Ristie Coleman.  Or were they?

According to the Henry County, Tennessee marriage register that I found online, Richard Coleman and Miss Rista Green were married by a Justice of the Peace on January 3, 1920.  If Otis was really their child, it would have been more typical for them to marry before their child was born in 1918, not two years later—but it’s possible they weren’t.  

Moving ahead ten years, in the 1930 census for Henry County, Tennessee, Richard and Risty are listed with four children including Otis, and Otis is 12 years old.  His relationship to Richard is listed as “son.”  And they have been married for 16 years (since ages 21 and 19), which would be 1914—not correct...  They've extended their marriage back to encompass Otis' birth!

However—things got squidgy when I went back to the 1920 census.  Here are Richard, age 25, and Rista, age 16, married and living in Henry County, Tennessee, just where I expected them.  But—no child named Otis is listed!  No children at all…  So—where was Otis in 1920?

And wait a minute!…  If the 1920 census gives the correct age for Rista, then she was just 14 years old in 1918, the year that Otis was born.  Could Rista really have been his mother at such a young age?  I know it’s medically possible—but is it likely?

I took a closer look at Rista’s age.  According to the 1910 census record, listing her as age 6, she would have been born around 1904.  Her 1920 census with Richard, listing her as age 16, would also put her birth at around 1904.  Unfortunately, no ages are given on the 1920 marriage register. 

In 1930 she is listed as 35—very doubtful... wasn’t very helpful either, giving her birth as 1908—but no grave marker or other proof.  So the best evidence still points to Rista being born around 1904, and being no more than 14 when baby Otis was born in 1918.  

Binny and I want to know…  Who were Otis’ parents, really?  I did some digging online, and made a few phone calls, and although Henry County didn’t have birth certificates that old, I was glad to find out that the State of Tennessee began keeping them in 1916—just in time to have one for Otis’ birth in 1918—at least I hope so.  Compliance wasn’t 100% in those early days, as any genealogist knows.  Nevertheless, Binny and I ordered Otis’ birth certificate a couple of weeks ago—and now, all we can do is wait, and hope for some answers.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Thank you, Harold!

Working on an ancestry binder for a client, and came across this 1930 census record for Aurora, Illinois...  Census taker was Harold Forsyth.  Look at the wonderful rows of neat printing!  What if all census records looked like this!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Captain Jack

Recently I found another great story from the vast riches of my latest client’s family tree.  This one crosses two centuries and four states.  It’s the story of his 5th great grandfather, John “Captain Jack” Hurst, and his two wives and many children.  For the details of this story, I draw from the work of many researchers before me, who left notes on several trees on rootsweb.

John Hurst was born in 1732 in Virginia; his father William had come from England in 1715.  He was married to Lydia Ann Smith around 1760, and they had ten children.  (One daughter, Nancy, was most likely an orphaned niece of Lydia’s whom they adopted.)  But Lydia died in 1786, not long after having her last child.  This left John, who by now was a Revolutionary War veteran and a prosperous landowner in Virginia, a widower at age 54—but not for long.

John was called “Captain John” or “Captain Jack” during his lifetime, but this was a nickname.  His rank in the military was Lieutenant, according to what scant records exist, and that’s what the military grave marker issued in 1955 says (application pictured).  His large family was often referred to as an “army,” so perhaps that’s where the nickname came from.  

Researchers John & Cindy McCachern relate this story about John’s second marriage: 

“John heard of Mary [Lindsey], a widow in Georgia, and hitched up his 4-horse team and, taking several of his slaves and provisions for the journey, went to see her.  Immediately on his arrival, he proposed and gave her until the next morning to think about it.  Next morning after breakfast he pushed back [the table] and said (he had a deep commanding voice), “Well, what do you say about it?” and she said “Yes.” He gave orders to his slaves and promptly loaded up her household effects and along with her children, took them to his Virginia home.” 

Descendant Benjamin Franklin Hurst gives these details about their life afterwards:

“John [Jack] Hurst was raising an army of his own which was destined to fight battles west of the Cumberland Mountains, as we shall see...  He chose his first move to Green County, Tennessee about 1790 and remained there ten years…  He then gathered his large family of sons and daughters and many grandchildren, and moved north-eastward through Kentucky, stopping at Beargrass Creek in what is now Bullitt County, Kentucky.  

John Hurst, now 71 years of age, marshaled his forces and crossed the Ohio River in 1803.  John settled his “army” twenty miles west of New Albany, Indiana…  John Hurst had now found his Paradise in a new land far from the grand old dominion of his nativity.  He now had all of his family with him, with the exception of one, son, John, who broke ranks and strayed off to Kentucky…  In 1806 this John Hurst and his family drifted across the Ohio River and renewed his place in the hitherto unbroken ranks. It was a second lucky twist of fate that his son William 14, was not drowned in crossing the Ohio River, or else you would not be reading this story.”

John and Mary each had around ten children from their first marriages.  But this is one “blended family” that truly got along!  They stayed together as they moved westward from Virginia, and two of John’s children from his first marriage ended up marrying two of Mary’s children from her first marriage.  Yes, indeed—two different pairs of stepsiblings ended up marrying.  Elijah Hurst married Mary Lindsey, and Leah Hurst married Jesse Lindsey.  And thus, Leah and Jesse became my client’s 4th great grandparents.

John became quite the leader in Hursttown, Indiana.  According to a history of the area written by Mrs. Victor MacIntosh, John deeded land for a school house, a Methodist church, and a cemetery.  Other families came and settled near them, and Hursttown became a community center with a post office, shoe shop, and blacksmith’s shop.  John served as sheriff of Harrison County from 1812 to 1816.  Whitten Chapel, the church he founded, was the first church built in Jackson Township.  One researcher claims that John bought eighteen quarter sections of land and gave one to each of his eighteen sons and stepsons, so that they would settle there. 

Captain Jack died in 1825 at the ripe old age of 93 and is buried at Hursttown Cemetery in Harrison County, Indiana.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Levi Newton Scott, In War and in Peace

I found another great story on my latest client’s tree…  This one concerns one of his 3rd great grandfathers, Levi Newton Scott. 

Levi was born in Tennessee in 1841, fourth son of Anthony “Hanty” and Lucinda Barnes Scott.  (Family tradition has it that Lucinda was Cherokee Indian, but that remains to be proven.)  He grew up in a large farm family that moved from Wayne County, Tennessee to Dallas County, Missouri in 1854.
Levi served in the Union forces during the Civil War (as did his father). turned up three different service records for Levi.  The first shows him in Company G of the Dallas County Regiment of the Missouri Home Guard, where he served from June to September 1861.  The Missouri History Museum website ( tells us this about the Missouri Home Guards:

Created in the summer of 1861 by General Nathaniel Lyon, the Home Guard were to stay at home and go into action only to defend their neighborhoods. Around 15,000 Home Guard were enlisted.  They were armed by the Union government but received no pay unless on active duty.  They wore no uniforms, and only 10,000 troops actually received weapons—the rest used their own.  Camp gear and food were supplied for some when on active duty.  Approximately 241 Home Guard companies were formed, but they were disbanded in late 1861. 

By 1862 Levi was married for the first time, to Elizabeth Ann Box.  They had at least three children in the next six years. 

In the meantime, Levi ended up back in the military—pressure must have been strong for volunteers, even married men.  This time, he was in Company M of the 8th Cavalry Regiment, Missouri State Militia.  The regiment saw action all over Arkansas and Missouri—scouting, attacking trains, capturing a fort, and other operations.  He also spent some time in Company H of the 14th Cavalry Regiment in April 1862 to March 1863.  The 1890 veteran’s census tells us that  he served three years (1862-65) during the “war of the rebellion” and that he was injured—but at least he survived. tells us that the 8th Cavalry Regiment lost 77 enlisted men to war injuries and 131 enlisted men to disease during the course of the war. 

A few years after the war, Elizabeth died at age 25.  Levi found himself a widower at age 27 with three young children—Sarah, Melissa Ann, and Henry.  As was often the case in those days, within a year the young father had found a new mother for his children.  His second wife, Mary Catherine Hoover, helped him raise his three children, and they had two more—James and Cora.  By the 1870 census they had settled down to spend the rest of their lives farming in Dallas County, Missouri. 

The Veteran’s Schedule of the 1890 Census lists Levi as a Civil War veteran with an invalid pension.  His disabilities included catarrh (chronic sinus problems) and “injured with powder, right leg.”  Pension index cards indicate that he received a pension starting in 1880, and it was increased in 1912.

 Mary Catherine died in 1904, but Levi was a widower for only a few years, marrying a third time in 1907, to Caladonia Russell Engle, who outlived him.

Levi and his family must have been proud of his wartime service to his country; his gravestone proudly displays the details.  He died in 1915 at age 74 and was buried at Reynolds Cemetery, next to his second wife.

Photos:   Connie Chrisman Hatch on findagrave;; Amanda424 on findagrave.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Black Sheep Sunday: Falling Off the Wagon

Lately I’ve been working with a distant cousin to explore my Erickson roots.  (My mother was an Erickson.)  Recently I told the story of Great Grandpa Karl Erickson’s farm that became a church; this story is about Karl’s father, John Erickson.  He fell off the wagon—both figuratively and, at the end of his life, literally.

John Erickson was born Johann Erichson in Mecklenburg, Germany in 1838.  He came to America in 1868 with his wife Caroline and their two sons, Johann and Karl, on the clipper ship “Electric.”  I’ve seen a drawing of the ship, and it looks so romantic in the picture!  But in reality, crossing the sea in a sailing ship in steerage class was more like a nightmare.  I should write about that some other time.

The 1870 census finds John and Caroline living in Will County, Illinois with their two young sons and Mary Erickson, 73 (likely John’s mother).  John is a farmer with a couple of cows, according to the agricultural schedule.  He doesn’t own land and he is not yet a citizen, but he was naturalized in 1876—almost as soon as he could have been, since the waiting period was five years at the time.

John’s wife Caroline died in 1872, when the boys were thirteen and eleven.  Could that be when John’s life started to unravel?  By the 1880 census, both boys were working as farmhands on other farms, and John is nowhere to be found in the census.  He remarried around 1882, to the longsuffering Sophia Schultz, ten years his junior.  By the 1900 census John and Sophia are living in a rented house and he is a day laborer—tough work for a man in his sixties! 

By 1908, when John was 70, things had gotten bad.  The Joliet Herald News ran a short article on October 26 entitled “Sons Cited to Give Support to Father.”  Apparently John Jr. and Karl were called before a judge and asked why their homeless father was about to be declared a pauper by the courts, when he had two perfectly healthy adult sons who could support him.  The October 27 edition reported that “John Erickson Sr… for whom a petition was filed to have him declared a pauper, will be given a home with his son John, and another son will contribute to his support.”  The end of the story?  Not by a long shot.

The very next day, the October 28 Joliet Weekly News fed the flames by publishing a shocking exposé about “John Erickson, the aged Romeoville resident who with his wife were alleged to have had to sleep on the island at Romeo, driven forth into the cold by an unnatural son.”  The story went on to indicate that “the elder Erickson was a hard-working man, deserving of success, and his sons, though wealthy, denied him financial assistance.”

Two weeks later on November 9, the Joliet Weekly News was singing a different tune.  This time the headline said this:  “Aged Romeo Man Booze Victim – John Erickson’s Sons Not Heartless as Reported.” 

The story went on to say, “The father, it appears, is a victim of drink and had been living in a house belonging to the Romeo saloonkeeper.  He had worked a little garden and this, together with his earnings as an occasional worker in the neighborhood, and the efforts of his wife at washing, had supported them.  For twenty years, however, the old man’s surplus had gone for drink and in the evening of life when [his] earning capacity had been… ruined by alcohol, he became a dependent.”

John Jr. and Karl were exonerated.  “The old man’s sons were cast adrift at 15 to shift for themselves, never seeing their father except when in liquor…   When the old gentleman was without a home, he was taken care of on the farm [of one son] several miles west of Romeo.  The farm was so far from the saloons, though, that it was not satisfactory to the old gentleman… The rest of the story is known.  He was found on the island with his aged wife and all parties suffered the humiliation that booze had brought, not only to the old man, but to the family.”

Two years later at the 1910 census John and Sophia are living in a rented house and he is a “garden laborer.”   Perhaps the saloonkeeper allowed him to move back into his little house.

John managed to live to the age of eighty, but his luck ran out in November 1918.  I wondered if he died in the influenza epidemic—but when I ordered his death certificate, it told a different story.  John died of “shock and injuries” resulting from “falling from a wagon.”  He was buried at Lace Cemetery in Lemont, Illinois, in an unmarked grave.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Name That Child

I was digging around in a client’s tree last week, and I came across a couple who were very creative in naming their children.  When I come across one unusual name it amuses me, but when I come across a handful, that’s even better.

John Brittain was born in 1796 in South Carolina.  He took Sarah Lindsey as his bride in 1825, when he was twenty-seven and she was just seventeen.  Over the next 30 years they had at least twelve children, most of whom lived to adulthood and beyond.  Findagrave was a wealth of information on the children and their families, most of whom spent their entire lives in Indiana.

First was William Brittain, born in 1826, named after his paternal grandfather, nothing fancy there.  But then things got more creative. 

Jamima America Brittain was born in 1828.  She went by “America” so she must not have minded her unusual name.  She had nine children, all with quite typical names.

John Columbus Brittain – Named after his father John and Christopher Columbus, perhaps?  John named his son born in 1861 “Abraham” and his son born in 1865 “Ulysses,” perhaps after the Civil War heroes of the North.  (This was Indiana, after all.)

Mary Indiana Brittain went by “Indiana” all her life—her tombstone even gives that name.  So being named after the state of her birth must not have bothered her too much.  (I’m glad my parents didn’t name me “Illinois”!)  Her eight children all had common names.

Virginia Brittain – another state name.  Her mother’s parents came from Virginia, so perhaps that’s the connection.  She named one of her sons “Washington,” but the other seven children have more typical names.

Marquis (Marion) Lafayette Brittain – I wonder what caused John and Sarah to name their child after this famous French aristocrat and military officer who fought for the United States in the Revolutionary War?  Was it because the war hero had died two years earlier, in 1834?  At any rate, this Lafayette had eleven children with two wives, and although some of the girls had unusual first names (Phelda, Lola, Orpha), none of the names had political or geographical overtones.

Leah Frances and Sarah Catherine Brittain came next.  Both had ordinary names and as far as I could tell, ordinary lives.  I think Sarah might have died young, possibly after having daughters named Dora and Flora, but the records aren’t clear.

Theodore Hyson Brittain was a Civil War veteran.  His seven children had fairly typical names.  The youngest was a daughter named “Tillie Belle,” which I think is very cute.

Sidney Smith Brittain was married twice.  He and his second wife (pictured here) named their sons Simon Sidney, Orville Lee, and Orbra Ivan, and their daughters were named Bessie, Eutha, Lura, and Lenore.  Perhaps these were popular children’s names in Oklahoma, where they lived.

Taylor Adolphus Brittain had the dubious distinction of dying of scurvy at a time when that was rare.  He was unemployed at age 52 in the 1900 census; perhaps he was already sick.

Queen Victoria Brittain – What a name!  She was born in 1851, at the height of the reign of England’s queen (pictured)—before her beloved Prince Albert had died and turned her into a perpetual mourner.  Our Victoria had nine children, according to the 1900 census, but only two survived—daughters Artemesia and Estie May.  One son was named Algain.

Lovina Brittain died at age 24, perhaps in childbirth.  No children are recorded.

I love finding a collection of names like this, all in one family!  What's your favorite name in your family tree?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Black Sheep Sunday: The Greedy Priest


Well, now—it seems that my latest client is not the only one with a black sheep in the family!   After I posted “Inlaws and Outlaws” recently, blog reader Arlene sent in the story of her great-uncle, a priest who apparently didn’t take a vow of poverty.

Father Peter Gaborski (name changed to protect a certain elderly relative who might have a stroke if she knew about this) was a priest in a Lithuanian Catholic church in Chicago, Illinois.  The story opens in 1935, when an elderly man within Father Peter’s sphere of influence died.  The elderly man lived in a local flophouse—but as it turned out, he was no pauper.  He had sixteen bank accounts initially estimated at upwards of $90,000—which in today’s dollars would be equal to something like $1.5 million.  Later estimates more than doubled that number.

The man had a shady past, and according to a newspaper account (Alton Evening Telegraph, 3-7-1935), “Although he possessed a fortune, the ex-convict, James Thomas Kelly, 62, preferred to live in a west side flophouse at 25 cents a day.”  The proprietor of the flophouse, a Mrs. Butnam, figured out that her tenant was not the pauper he appeared to be.  She moved him from his 25-cent room (a price he had negotiated down from 35 cents) to her own home after she discovered that he was wealthy.  She then teamed up with an attorney and several others to draft a phony will.  In it, Mrs. Butnam became Mr. Kelly’s common-law wife, to whom he left nearly all his considerable worldly goods. 

Witnesses were needed—and that’s where Father Peter comes into the picture. The article goes on to say that there were two “witnesses” to the phony will—“Peter Gaborski, 48, who described himself as a priest and is a painter by profession, and John Dallyde, 54. The witnesses, police said, confessed participation in the plot, admitting that they signed the purported will after the death of Kelly.  They were to receive $100 each for their signatures.”

The undertaker also got in on the action, apparently to make sure his bill (an inflated $4,500 for a $98 coffin) was paid…  Altogether six people conspired to relieve Mr. Kelly of his estate.  But the forgery must not have been a good one; as the will worked its way through probate court, suspicion of foul play was strong enough that poor Mr. Kelly’s body was exhumed!  The Decatur Herald (3-9-1935) says that “Dr. Jerome Kearns, who examined the exhumed body, reported that Kelly did not die of cancer as the death certificate stated, but further examination will be necessary to establish the death cause.”  I’m not sure what came of that—but another article (Decatur Herald, 3-11-1935) said that Mr. Kelly—known in various newspaper headlines as the “Mysterious Miser,” the “Wealthy Hobo”, and the “Flophouse Midas of Madison Street”—was not the first lodger to die suspiciously under Mrs. Butnam’s care, and that toxicology tests were being run to see if Mr. Kelly had poison in his system.

Other beneficiaries included the attorney who drafted the will, who was to receive 6% of the estate, and the undertaker’s assistant, who was left 4%.  So, let’s review:  The landlady, the attorney, the undertaker, and the undertaker’s assistant, all beneficiaries of this man’s will…  Imagine that not raising red flags to a probate judge!

The two witnesses were the first to crack and confess to police, and after that, the plot unraveled quickly.  By May of 1935, all six were convicted on forgery and conspiracy charges.  According to the Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger (5-9-1935), the landlady, the attorney, the undertaker, the undertaker’s assistant, and the two witnesses to the phony will each received a sentence of one year in jail.

So here’s hoping that Father Peter learned his lesson…  I’m guessing he did a lot more painting, and a lot less preaching, after this affair.