Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Very Special Wedding

Not all family history is ancient history.  Once in a while an event takes place that makes me think, “This story should be told.  This story should be written down and remembered.”  One such story in our family is that of Frank and Nancy’s wedding.

Shortly after my mid-life wedding in 2007, my sister met a man named Frank.  Both had been previously married (and had their hearts broken).  It was true love, and they got engaged in 2008. 
Nancy had been living in California for decades by then and had deep roots there, as did Frank.  But as they planned their wedding, she was continually saddened by the thought that our bedridden mother would not be able to attend. 

Mom lived in Illinois, as I do.  She had missed my wedding the previous year, being too frail to attend (as well as being legally blind and nearly deaf).  When I got married in 2007, I went over to her house in my wedding dress, along with Nancy in her maid-of-honor dress.  “Mom, I’m getting married today!” I told her.  Her face lit up with a smile as she touched the fabric of my dress.  I wasn’t sure if she would remember that day, but I wanted to give her what I could.

As Nancy sadly planned her motherless wedding, it was Frank who came up with the idea.  He said to his beloved that if her mother couldn’t come to the wedding—they would move the wedding to her mother.  Mom lived in a large, bright room with our sister-in-law Susie by this time.  When presented with the idea of hosting the wedding, Susie said that she would be delighted.

 And so it was…  On December 26, 2008, we all gathered in Mom’s large room at Susie’s house.  The room had been festooned with lots of white netting, white lights, and white candles.  There were about 20 chairs set up at one end of the room.  At the other end, next to the fireplace, there was a ivy-covered arch.  And just a few steps away was my mother, tucked in under an afghan in her special chair, which was turned towards the arch for the ceremony.  She was wearing a wrist corsage of red roses that matched her daughter’s wedding bouquet.

Five of Frank and Nancy’s six children were able to attend.  Rather than a best man and maid of honor, the five children stood on each side of the couple as they were wed.  My friend Karen, an ordained minister, officiated the ceremony, and our niece Sarah and her husband Russ read the scripture.  It was beautiful and magical and just perfect.

This may not be an old story, but it’s a story that should be remembered and passed down in the family... my family.  Well done, Frank and Nancy—and happy sixth anniversary!


Monday, December 8, 2014

A Young Soldier's "Personal Affairs"

After my father’s death in 1993, my sister and I sat on the floor of the living room one evening, going through boxes and drawers of his military papers, deciding what to keep.  We found a booklet entitled “Personal Affairs of Military Personnel and Dependents”—this is the front cover.  There are some notes in my father’s handwriting, which read as follows:

“Note:  In [the] event of my untimely demise, Be sure to collect these 4:

1.  Insurance,

2.  6 months gratuity ($900) lump sum;

3.  My back accrued pay.  (2. and 3. Not automatic—action must be initiated by you.  See inside of book for details.)

4.  Grab my money out of the bank (using enclosed power of attorney) before they freeze it.  The enclosed Power of Attorney lasts no longer than I do, but if you get it out before they know I’m gone, it will save trouble.  Otherwise file my will and they will come across.

This book will answer a lot of questions.”

I guess this is consistent with the fact that Dad was a business major in college before the war!  

The booklet had three pages of information about his final wishes and was meant to be left with his next of kin—in his case, his mother.  In my imagination I am picturing a roomful of recruits, headed for overseas, sitting at tables and filling in this booklet, thinking about their own deaths possibly for the first time, as it sunk in that yes, they were headed for the front lines of what we now call World War Two and might never return.

Page 1 gives basic information, including that he is 21 years old.  He carries $10,000 of life insurance, payable to his mother Sara, with his father as Contingent Beneficiary.  (That’s the equivalent of about $133,000 today.)  This optional insurance cost him $6.50 a month out of his pay—but his parents were not well off financially, and that money would have meant a lot to them—a chance to buy their own farm instead of renting, for example.

From his army pay of $150 per month (about $2,000 today), he had $50 a month sent to his bank at home, and another $18.75 taken out to buy War Bonds.  The booklet said, “If I am reported missing, missing in action, interned in a neutral country, or captured or besieged by enemy forces, the allotments out of my pay for insurance and support of my relatives will be paid by the government for 12 months.”

Page 1 of the form goes on to say that Dad had executed a will and Power of Attorney and mailed them to his father in Big Rock, Illinois.

Page 2 has blanks to fill in where he might have a Safe Deposit Box, where he left personal papers, and what debts he owed (none).  Then it says, “If I die in the line of duty, from wounds, or illness, or other causes, I have designated [here he filled in his mother’s name] as a dependent to receive  the six months’ gratuity pay awarded by the government.”  Dad hand-write off to the side, “$900.”  It then had a place for the soldier to list where they had bank accounts. 

Page 3 gets even more “real.”  It says, “I desire that my permanent place of burial be at ________.”  (Dad wrote in, “No Preference.”)  It goes on to say, “If I die abroad, my remains will be returned to the United States by the Government after the War, but not earlier.”  It goes on to give other instructions to the family as to how to retrieve the body and receive funds for burial expenses and a possible pension.  Copies of any marriage records and birth certificates of children are then asked for.

In the photo, taken at his parents’ new home in Big Rock, Illinois before he went overseas, Dad (far right) is posing with his father, little brother Richard, little sister Janet, and mother.   Perhaps his sister Helen is the one taking the picture.  He was just twenty years old when he was drafted—barely out of his teens—but forced to think about “the event of his untimely demise.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Forgiveness and Friendship

I have written quite a bit about my father and his service in the U.S. Army in World War II.  This story took place a few years later.

After the war, my father was required to be in the U.S. Army Reserves for a number of years, and go to training camp for a few weeks in the summer.  In fact, he once told me that he very nearly ended up in the Korean War—but his card didn’t get chosen during the random drawing of one in three cards in the file. 

In the late 1940s he met my mother, Adra, and they were married in 1950.  They moved into an apartment at 620 Archer Avenue in Aurora—the downstairs of an old white frame house which has since been torn down.  (The first photo shows Robert and Adra on the front porch.)  Both had jobs within walking distance—Dad at a steel storage company called Equipto, and Mom at another steel storage company down the street called All-Steel.  

Into the upstairs apartment moved a young married couple very much like themselves—but yet so different.  Hartwig and Frieda were recent immigrants; they had arrived in the U.S. from Austria in 1952.  The 1930s had been a bad time to be a young man in Austria.  Hartwig, being five years younger than my father and therefore too young to be drafted into Hitler’s Army, ended up in an organization called the Hitler Youth.  He would have been 15 years old when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.

I wanted to find out more about being a young person in Nazi Germany and Austria.  I found this quote from Adolf Hitler on the History Learning Site.  He said this of German schoolchildren:  “The weak must be chiselled away.  I want young men and women who can suffer pain.  A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel.”

The U.S. Holocaust Museum website had this quote: 

“These boys and girls enter our organizations at ten years of age, and often for the first time get a little fresh air; after four years of the Young Folk they go on to the Hitler Youth, where we have them for another four years… And even if they are still not complete National Socialists [Nazis], they go to Labor Service and are smoothed out there for another six, seven months…  And whatever class consciousness or social status might still be left…  the Wehrmacht [German armed forces] will take care of that.”—Adolf Hitler (1938)

But back to my story:  Hartwig and Frieda moved into the apartment above my parents.  This would have been in the early 1950s.  Even in my childhood in the 1960s, my father still referred to the Germans as “Krauts”—an old habit that died hard, after spending a year of his life on the front lines shooting Germans at every opportunity and in nearly continual fear for his life.  Dad continued to have nightmares about the war for twenty years after he came home.

But somehow, the two couples ended up friends.  I wonder if they ever talked about the war, or Hitler, or what it was like in Austria in the 1940s?  I don’t know.  I do know that Hartwig worked as a night watchman in a nearby factory, while he taught himself English and studied engineering books.  Eventually he got a better job there as a spot welder, then a maintenance electrician, then a mechanic, and then an engineer.  He and Frieda had four children and had a good life in America.

But more importantly to this story—Hartwig and Frieda wanted to put their past behind them and become American citizens.  To do that, they needed American citizens to be their sponsors.  And who were the sponsors for Hartwig and Frieda?  My parents.

I remember, even after each couple purchased their own home in the later 1950s, my father and I dropping by their home or Hartwig dropping by ours.  I am so very glad that those two young couples, in their own small way, were a part of the healing, friendship, and forgiveness that needed to take place after one of the worst wars in modern history. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Remembering Norman

It was on the day before Thanksgiving in 2008 that something happened that, a few years later, inspired my very first blog post...  Read about it here -

"For the Love of Norman."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Year Two

I realized the other day that I’ve been writing down and posting my genealogy stories for two years now.  It prompted me to recall my favorites from year two…

Some stories caused me to learn new things…

» In Ezra Alger, I learned more about the Civil War’s infamous Andersonville Prison, while doing research for a friend of my husband’s.

» Writing Typhoid Fever and Tuberculosis caused me to learn more about two diseases that carried away many of your ancestors and mine, even into the 1900s.

Some stories were about the Amish research I’ve done for friends and clients in Indiana…

» Jonas Stutzman, Amish Eccentric was about a very “colorful” character who was also a significant figure in the history of the Amish in the United States—“White Jonas,” the first Amish settler in Holmes County, Ohio.

» An Amish Tragedy told the story of Jacob Lambright, an ancestor of many present-day Northern Indiana Amish, who met a tragic end.

Some stories were about my own family...

» Otto & Elsie told the story of one of my aunts and how she came to be raised by relatives.

» Josephine Carriveau was about my favorite branch of my husband’s family—the Carriveaus.  The stories just keep on coming from that branch of the family!  Josephine was my husband’s great-aunt—his grandmother’s older sister.

» A Civil War Widow Applies for a Pension was about my husband’s Alwood great-great-grandparents, what I learned about them from his Civil War Pension file, and how I came to love again.

» Hazel’s Quilt told the story of a quilt that I have the privilege to own, handed down to me from my mother-in-law, who told me its story when I visited her recently at her nursing home.

Some stories were especially close to my own heart…

» The Telegram was one of my numerous stories about my father’s World War II experiences—this one about the injury that almost killed him and how his mother first found out about it.

» West View Farm was about a place very dear to me in childhood—my Grandpa and Grandma Erickson’s Illinois farm, and the shocking change I encountered the last time I visited it.

"Remember me in the family tree
My name, my days, my strife;
Then I'll ride upon the wings of time
And live an endless life."
—Linda Goetsch

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Fire

This photograph shows one of the papers from my father’s WWII military file.  I include it here not because of its great importance in the story of his military career—but rather, for the burn marks around the edges.  Anyone who has done (or tried to do) research on a WWI or WWII military ancestor may know where those burn marks came from.

My father, Robert Wallin, told me many stories about his time in WWII, and I have his letters home to tell me more.  Like countless aging baby boomers with fathers who fought in the war, I wish I had asked him so much more—and written it all down or recorded it.  So a few years back, I decided to order his military records from the National Archives.

My father was in the Army, so his records are found at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Navy records are stored elsewhere.)  Unfortunately, the NPRC had a catastrophic fire on July 12, 1973.  The National Archives website says that 80% of the records were destroyed for Army personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960.  That covers World War One, World War Two, and the Korean War—what an extensive and  devastating loss!  (Many Air Force records were also destroyed.)  No duplicates, microfilm, or other backups were kept.  And since there were no indexes, there isn’t even a good listing of what was lost.

 I found out more on the Stars and Stripes website.  The fire started on the sixth floor of the building in the middle of the night; no cause was ever determined.  It burned out of control for 22 hours as 43 fire departments battled it.  It took 4½ days and millions of gallons of water before the fire department declared the fire extinguished.  The sixth floor was destroyed, and the records on the floors below were soaked with water.  The records of 18 million veterans were lost.

About 6.5 million partially burned, water-soaked personnel files were salvaged.  Over forty years later, preservation specialists are still working on restoring them.  It takes the equivalent of 30 full-time employees to respond to the requests of those, like me, who are looking for records from the damaged collection.  Of the 5,000 requests per day that the NPRC receives, they estimate that about 200-300 are for those damaged records.  Those requests go to the specialists at the Paper Treatment Lab, who call the burned records the “B-Files.” 

After the fire, the B-Files were taken to the vacuum-drying chamber at the nearby McDonnell-Douglas aircraft facilities.  The vacuum chamber, which was built to train Mercury and Gemini space program astronauts, was now put into service in taking 8 tons of water out of each 2,000 milk-crate-sized containers of wet documents which the chamber could handle per drying session.  The files were then indexed and stored, to be handled again only if a document request is received.

I was fortunate that my father’s military and medical records (which were extensive) survived the fire—although barely, as the photo shows.  Some had burn marks and some had water damage stains, but at least I received the file.  The records for my grandfather, Sture Wallin, who served in World War One, are entirely gone, so I was told in a letter from the NPRC.  To my knowledge, no one in the family recorded any details whatsoever of Grandpa Wallin’s service, and no papers have survived.  Gone forever.

The MissouriNet website says that, incredibly, the NPRC continued to use the old building until 2012!  The NPRC “now has a new state-of-the-art building with some serious ways to prevent a fire from destroying national records.”  Thank goodness for that.

NPRC building photo:  National Archives

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Dad and a Hero

This paper from my father’s military file tells the story of something he did in March 1945.  (I will tell the story of the burn marks on his records in another post.)

The paper reads as follows:

“First Lieutenant Robert M. Wallin, 0538229, 120th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, is awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action on 26 March 1945, in Germany.  Although enemy fire was so intense that it killed one man and wounded eight others, Lieutenant Wallin and his comrades left their sheltered positions and exposed themselves to enemy fire to evacuate three of the men to the rear where they received medical attention.  By his heroic action, Lieutenant Wallin aided in saving the lives of his comrades.
[Entered military service from Illinois.]
L.S. Hobbs, Major General – U.S. Army Commanding”

The amazing thing is this:  Dad had just spent five months in a military hospital recovering from serious injuries sustained on the front lines the previous October.  So it’s certainly not like he thought he was invincible…  And how could he?  He had seen more horror and death by this time than anyone should have to see—stories he told me late at night when I was growing up…  Stories of comrades dying in ways I can only hope their families never knew.  Dad’s very first day in combat, his closest friend in the unit was blown up and dismembered, and Dad had to gather the pieces and lay them with the man’s dog tags.

According to my father, stories like what happened the day he got the Bronze Star weren’t that rare.  What was rare was having a superior officer see or find out what happened, and then take the time to write it up.  Just from the few stories Dad told me late at night, I know of at least two other times where he was in this much danger.

One of them was a situation similar to this one.  Dad (a platoon leader) told me that one of his men was badly wounded during a battle.  Dad crawled across a field to the man, and realized right away that if he had run across the field standing up, he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell the story.  He had a struggle of conscience as to what to do…  The man had both a broken arm and a broken leg, so he would have to be carried back across the field, through enemy fire—and it looked like the man outweighed Dad by fifty pounds.

Dad asked the man, “Do you have a family?” and the man answered, “Yeah, a wife and three kids.”  Dad told me he remembered saying to himself something like, “Oh, crap!”—knowing what it was he thought he should do, but not wanting to do it.  But he hoisted the man onto his shoulders and staggered back across the field.  Both of them made it back alive.

In the case of the Bronze Star story, it was Dad and several comrades who evacuated three men.  We’ve all heard the motto of “no man left behind,” but it’s still incredible that young soldiers can summon up such courage in the face of such danger. 

If my father and his comrades hadn’t made it back to their “sheltered positions” alive that day, I wouldn’t be here today.  But because they did, three other men went home to quite possibly have children of their own as well—perhaps even someone who is reading this story today.

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

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

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

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.]

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Charles and Emma Garver—From Ohio to Michigan

My husband’s mother was a Garver, and it’s a big family full of lots of good stories—always has been.  Charles and Emma Heilman Garver were my husband’s great-grandparents. 

Charles Garver and Emma Heilman married in 1889 in Defiance County, Ohio, and had six children there.  In 1902 they moved to Clare County, Michigan, where the land was cheaper.  Daughter Alta talked about the move with researcher Dale Garver some years ago: 

“There was some sort of government assistance program to help people move about the country.  Charles and Emma Garver in order to capitalize on this had the choice of moving to either Virginia or Michigan…  They took the train with all their possessions, including livestock.  Son Forest, however, never had a ticket.  He tended to livestock, always on the move and avoiding the conductors.  Upon arrival for a short time they lived with friends before moving into their home on Adams Road in Arthur Township.  Since there are few loose stones in northern Ohio, Emma brought the stone with her that she used to weigh the lid down on the crock with making sauerkraut.  She never lived this down, as their new home in Michigan had rocks galore lying all over the place.”

Their last three children—Beatrice, Roy, and Alta—were born in Michigan, joining six older siblings—Walter, Clara Mabel, Forest, Florence, John, and Ray.  They settled on a 40-acre farm on Adams Road in the Browns Corner area of Arthur Township, soon buying another 20 acres.  Emma’s widowed sister Ellen Garver (the sisters had married brothers) bought the 44-acre farm to the west of them.  Soon Charles was a pillar of the nearby Brethren church.

 Dale Garver goes on to say this about Charles:

“More than a farmer, Charles (“Charlie” to his friends) also served as moderator of the local school district.  He played the fiddle at square dances along with son Ray on guitar or zither.  Charles valued his livestock and took good care of them.  Workhorses always got their hour-long rest at noon, and never worked after supper.  In the evening he would sit back and read the Clare Sentinel, often dozing off while doing so.  He and Emma often spoke German when discussing things they didn’t want the children to hear, but after World War I they ceased this practice.  Their daughter Alta wanted to learn German, but Emma wouldn’t allow it.”

Charles died in 1931.  Emma continued to run the farm with the help of 24-year-old son Roy, but it was not to last.  Roy contracted measles, which led to abscesses on his lungs and then his brain.  He died in 1933 at age 26, on the second anniversary of his father’s death.

Emma tried to keep the farm going after Roy’s death, but it was sold to her oldest son Walter and his family before long.  Emma died in 1943, and she and Charles are buried at Cherry Grove Cemetery in Clare County, near their son Roy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Children of Jacob & Mary Heilman

Recently I wrote about Jacob Heilman, Civil War veteran.  This piece is about his children.

Jacob Heilman (1819-1907) was born in Bavaria, as was his wife Maria Baker (1832-1912).  He and Maria (pictured above) were married in Ohio in 1850 and they spent the rest of their married lives there, first in Defiance County and then in Henry County.  Twelve children were born between 1852 and 1879.  Two died in childhood—Jacob at age two in 1861 and Minnie at age two in 1878.  Ten more survived to adulthood:

Sarah married George Patten and died at age 23 in 1875, a few weeks after the death of her baby daughter Jenora.

Mary Ann married Thomas Garver, a preacher.  After the birth of three sons (who predeceased her) and two daughters (who survived her), she died at age 31, of “consumption” (tuberculosis).  Thomas later married her sister Ellen.

Martha (known as “Matt” all her life, and pictured above) was said to be very short.  She never married and worked as a servant in several households, later living with her widowed mother until her mother’s death.  After that she lived on her own, and then with brother William, until her death at age 88 in 1943.

Elizabeth, called “Lib,” married John Overly and they had six children.  They lived a quiet life, and she died in 1932 at age 74.

Ellen married Thomas Garver after her sister Mary Ann’s death left him a widow.  She and Thomas had five children before Thomas’ death left her a widow at age forty.  When Ellen died in Michigan in 1941, her body was returned to Ohio and buried next to Thomas, with her sister Mary Ann buried nearby.

John never married.  He lived with his older sister Elizabeth Overly as a young man; then with his parents; then with his widowed mother and sister Martha; the with his nephew Jacob Overly and family.  He died at age 73 of cirrhosis of the liver and was buried near his parents.

Kathryn married George Brubaker and they had seven children; the first two predeceased her.  Like nearly all the Heilman siblings, she lived all her life in Ohio.  She was the last of the Heilman siblings to die, in 1961 at age 94.

Emma married a Garver, like her sisters Mary Ann and Ellen—Thomas Garver’s brother Charles.  She and Charles had nine children and they settled in Michigan.  It is said in the family that she liked to quilt, and would say “By cracky,” “Oh, Lordy,” or “Oh, catshit!” when her thread would break.  She kept the family farm going after her husband’s death with the help of her son Roy, until his death two years later at age 26.  After that she lived with one or another of her children until her death at age 73 in 1943.  She is my husband’s great-grandmother.

Ernest (pictured above) married Alta Mae Brubaker and they had four children.  He died in 1916 at age 43.  The notice in the Northwest News said, “Mr. Ernest Heilman dropped dead Sunday while riding in his automobile.  Heart trouble was the cause.”

William, the youngest, married Leah Blanche Siford and they had eight children.  According to family historian Dale Garver, William worked in the mills and made canal boats until those businesses closed up shop.  From there he worked clearing land and settled with his family on a farm in Henry County, Ohio.  He died in 1955 at age 76.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Telegram

I was recently given a box of family papers by an aunt who was cleaning out her closets.  This telegram, sent on October 27, 1944 to my grandmother, was among the papers.  I am certain it was a day she never forgot.

The telegram informed her that her son, Second Lt. Robert M. Wallin, had been injured in action in Germany.  Since she knew that he was a front-line infantryman and platoon leader, she was aware that he was risking his life on a regular basis—and indeed, he had already earned one Purple Heart by this time.  But this was different; this was bad.  But I wonder—was she at some level relieved that he was, at least for the time being, headed to a hospital of some kind and out of harm’s way?

I heard my father talk about the day he was injured, and I have the letters he wrote home when he was able to write.  I also saw that, for the rest of his life, he didn’t walk quite straight, and his back sometimes bothered him.  But all Grandma Wallin knew that day was that her beloved son was hurt.

Here’s how Dad told it in an understated letter home, written on October 19, 1944:

“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 (approx.)...  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.”

The Battle of the Bulge happened that winter, and most of the men in Dad’s platoon didn’t make it.  Perhaps being almost killed in October and spending five months in the hospital actually saved his life!  At any rate, after he was patched together, he returned to the front lines the following March, and he later wrote this: 

“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 way...  Incidentally, when we crossed the Rhine, our mission was to reach and cut off the superhighway (Division objective).  It was 6 miles from the Rhine…  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.)”

It’s an honor to have a hero in the family.  Thank you, Dad, for all you did for your country and for the cause of freedom in Europe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Grumpy Genealogist

I try to be a cheerful and upbeat genealogist—but once in a while, even a real peach of a human being like myself just has to let off some steam.  Lately, four old and familiar issues in particular are really getting on my nerves, genealogically speaking…

1.     The missing 1890 census.  Honestly, nearly an entire census lost?  How did this happen?  In all the United States of America in 1921, from sea to shining sea, there wasn’t one safe and fire-resistant building with a fireproof vault in which they could store the census records?  It wasn’t worth the price of one night watchman to make sure everything was okay?  And the worst part of it is, I’ve read that most of the records survived the fire (with water damage)—and they were kept for many years, while discussions went on about what to do next, before someone decided one day that the best thing to do was to just throw them all away.  Incredible!  When I think of all the loose ends I could tie up, all the mysteries I could solve, all the gaps I could fill in…  all those missing children…  sigh…

2.     Those blurry, badly microfilmed World War I draft cards.  I’ve read that after the cards were microfilmed (obviously by workers who were either legally blind or looking out the window most of the time), the original cards were discarded.  They threw them away!  Without anyone checking to see if the microfilm images were properly done before destroying the originals?  What I would like to know is this:  Who was the clueless government bureaucrat who made that decision?  I think his/her name should live on in infamy, like the person who threw away the damaged 1890 census.   

3.     Census takers with bad penmanship. Seriously, who was the genius who came up with the guidelines for selecting these people?  Did they not have to give a handwriting sample, perhaps write down a practice family or two?  I would think the ability to write legibly would have been a primary requirement for the job of census taker, but apparently no one thought of that during the hiring process.  I suppose some of the census takers just got sloppy as time went on and didn’t care anymore.  Or maybe some of them got hired because they were some politician’s nephew—I suppose then as now, when it comes to obtaining gainful employment, it isn’t always what you know, it’s who you know.

4.     Relatives who say “I really don’t have anything to share” when it’s pretty obvious that they do.  In this day and age of cheap Priority Mail and FedEx shipping, and scanners in practically every genealogist’s home or office, there’s no excuse for not sharing what we’ve got...  (Calm down, Aunt Emma, I’m not asking you to give it to me, just loan it to me!)  Yet I’ve had to ask some relatives five or six times, over a period of years, if I could borrow their box of family photos or papers.  Some are just too lazy to take the box down out of the attic or dig it out of the guest room closet, but some seem to be exhibiting strange territorial behavior.  Most eventually say yes—but a few hold out, as if “whoever dies with the most stuff wins.”  But everyone ends up losing that game.

Well, thanks for letting me vent…  What makes you do the “Silent Genealogist Scream”?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Military Monday: Jacob Heilman

My husband’s mother has three great-grandfathers who served in the Civil War.  One died (Charles Alwood, whom I wrote about previously), and two others survived.  One of those who survived was Jacob Heilman.

Jacob was born in Bavaria in 1819 and came to the United States in 1844, according to a book of historical sketches published in 1976 by the Henry County, Ohio Historical Society.  (A New York Passenger list I found supports this.)  He came to Ohio in 1847 with a brother and married Maria Baker there in 1850.  They had twelve children—four sons and eight daughters—eight of whom survived him. 

According to his service record on, Jacob was a Private in Company F of the Ohio 68th Infantry Regiment, and his grave marker confirms that fact.  He would have been in his forties at the time—not a young man!  It was said that his unit marched over 7,000 miles and rode trains or steamboats another 6,000 miles, and that his regiment was in every Confederate state except Florida and Texas.    

There are good histories of his unit, and they bear this out.  I consulted “Dyer’s Compendium” online and got some details.  The 68th started out at the Battle of Fort Donelson and took part in nearly every major battle and siege of the war, including the Battle of Shiloh, the siege of Vicksburg, and Sherman’s March to Atlanta.  The regiment lost two officers and 48 enlisted men in battle, and another one officer and 249 enlisted men to disease, for a total of 300 deaths.

The actual dates of Jacob’s service are sketchy.  The 1975 biographical sketch (written by Jacob’s great-grandson Lyle Heilman) says that Jacob enlisted in 1861 when the war broke out and served until the war was over.  Maria had a daughter in May 1862, but the baby could have been born after Jacob left for the war.  Dyer’s history shows that his unit had a long furlough in early 1864—but judging by the birth date of Jacob’s son John (June 1864), Jacob was home by September 1863.  A draft register listing him as “discharged” in June 1863 bears that out.  So the extent of action Jacob actually saw is uncertain—but whatever his length of service, it was enough for Jacob to apply for, and receive, an Civil War veteran invalid pension in March 1873. 

It is said in the family that he was blind the last twelve years of his life; he died in 1907, with his wife following in 1912.

I found Jacob’s grave a few years ago at Florida Cemetery in Henry County, Ohio.  My husband and I put a flag on it before taking a photograph.  I was pleased to see the G.A.R. marker there.  In an original photo of him which survives, and which I was fortunate enough to borrow from my husband’s cousin Dale Garver, even in his old age Jacob looks brave and strong—a survivor. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mystery Monday: The Mysterious Dr. Jay

I recently did some work for a client in which the assignment was to find out all I could about a man named Dr. Henry Alfred Jay (1893-1970).  I ended up with more questions than answers.

First of all, his birth.  The date seems consistent, but the place is a mystery.  According to the family, Henry was born and raised in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on February 13, 1893.  I wrote to Kenosha County, Wisconsin to obtain his birth record, but they had no one on record by that name.  When I obtained his death record, it said he was born in Chicago, Illinois.  But Cook County, Illinois didn’t have any birth record either.  The date of birth seems to be consistent, being found again on his death certificate and SS5 (Application for Social Security).

Secondly, his parents.  On his death certificate, his second wife gave his parents’ names as Arnold Jay and Catherine O’Conner.  But on his SS5, Henry gave his parents’ names as Noel Patrick Jay and Catherine O’Conner.  I was unable to find any census records for Henry with either set of parents—not in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and not in Cook County, Illinois.  Not for 1900, 1910, or 1920.

Thirdly, his so-called military service.  Family tradition holds that he went to South Africa “during the war” and liked it there, so he settled there afterwards.  But what war would that be?  The United States didn’t send soldiers to South Africa in World War I, and I found no WWI draft registration for Henry. 

Fourthly, his time in Africa.  We know he ended up in South Africa, because my client’s relative (Henry’s daughter) grew up there.  A newspaper article says he arrived in 1920, but that article was written in 1938 and may or may not be accurate.  How and when he did go to South Africa?  All I know for sure is that he married twice, the second time in South Africa.  His first wife was Agnes Schweder, who might have been German.  I found no marriage record for them.  Henry and Agnes had two children, one of whom is related to my client, before she died around 1934.  I did find, on, a record for his second marriage, to Winifred Reeve in Durban, South Africa in 1936.  Henry and Winifred had two children also.

An alert message board reader found some newspaper articles online that shed a little more light.  The articles ran in newspapers all over the United States in 1938.  Henry was the inventor of a method of preserving fruit with chemicals.  Family tradition says that his “partners” stole his invention and he never made a dime from it.  Another intriguing thing:  The article says he became a British subject in 1934!  What was that all about?

I found some U.K. Passenger Lists on concerning the family.  They tell me that Henry arrived in England (from South Africa) in March 1939, with Winnie and the two children from his first marriage arriving in April.  They all left together to return to South Africa in February 1940.  Winifred had the first of her two children later that year.

Next, his later years in the United States.  I’m not sure when or how he returned to the United States, but he (and presumably Winnie) were there by 1962, when he applied for Social Security in Virginia.  He died in Virginia in 1970 and was buried there, at National Memorial Cemetery in Falls Church, with second wife Winnie.  (This I know thanks to  National Memorial is a Jewish Cemetery; was he Jewish?  The funeral home (Ives) is now out of business, and I was unable to obtain their records.

So, who were Henry’s parents?  Where was he born?  Where did he grow up?  Why are there no census records for him?  When and where did he get his medical training?  (He always avoided the subject, the family says.)  How and why did he end up in South Africa?  How and why did he become a British subject?  When and how and why did he return to the United States?  Why was he buried in a Jewish cemetery?  Like I said, more questions than answers.