Sunday, September 30, 2007

Online Genealogy Class Starts Tomorrow

It's not too late to sign up for my Beginning Online Genealogy class through the Community Colleges of Spokane's Institute for Extended Learning! Even though the first class will be held tomorrow evening, Monday, October 1st from 6:00 - 8:00 PM, you can call the IEL during business hours tomorrow at (509) 279-6000 to enroll. We will be meeting every Monday evening until October 22nd at the Spokane Valley IEL location, Centerplace at Mirabeau.

This class will cover the basics of genealogy including using basic forms; finding genealogy software; interviewing family members; using vital, cemetery and census records; citing your sources and tracking your research; and using the Internet to begin building your family tree by visiting popular genealogy database websites. We will also explore networking such as using or reading message boards, mailing lists, online newsletters and blogs. Basic preservation of family documents and photos will also be included. Competency in using the Internet and having an e-mail address is a requirement for this class.

For those who have taken this course already, we are now offering an Intermediate Online Genealogy class beginning January 28th. This will be a six-week class on using military, court, land, and immigration records, as well as exploring some of the newer genealogical and historical websites, such as Footnote and WorldVitalRecords. Spokane-area residents, look for your Winter Quarter community college catalog to enroll in that class.

Report on September Scanfest

Our September Scanfest earlier today was so enjoyable! Colleen from The Oracle of OMcHodoy joined me, as well as a newcomer, Teri from The Cheeky Librarian and User Education Resources for Librarians. Teri had been referred by Sally of The Practical Archivist, who gave Scanfest the ultimate compliment by referring to it as "a quilting bee, but for scanning"! Craig from GeneaBlogie dropped by for a while, as did Apple from Apple's Tree.

We all had our little projects: Colleen was sorting through a box of 200 photos; Teri had scanned some documents for her career portfolio and had moved on to newspaper clippings and family photos; Apple had scanned some bus photos for her work blog (she's a school bus driver in her "other" life); Craig didn't scan, but we enjoyed chatting with him and telling Teri about his HARP Project. I was working on getting my maternal grandmother's baby book scanned, and I actually completed the entire scanning project in the three hours we set aside (a first for me)!

We had plenty to talk about as we worked, too. Colleen was multitasking and watching the football game, so she interjected with comments about that. She also found a snapshot of movie star Jeff Chandler with her mother's photos, which looked like it had been taken on the streets of Niagara Falls, New York! Teri said she found some great "blackmail" photos of her brother that she was sure her nephews and niece would enjoy! We shared advice about scanning and preservation, and all-in-all, felt good about taking the time to care for the precious family documents and photos that have been entrusted to us as family historians!

I hope that you will join us for the next Scanfest, to be held Sunday, October 28th from 11 AM to 2 PM, Pacific Daylight Time (in the U.S., we'll be switching back to standard time the first Sunday in November this year). You don't have to be a genealogist or have a blog or website to join us. We're just looking for some people who want to preserve their family heirlooms and enjoy getting to know others online.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Spokane's Lost Battalion Veteran Remembers The War

This morning's front page story in Spokane, Washington's local paper, The Spokesman-Review, is about Fred Shiosaki, a Japanese-American who served in the Lost Battalion, which will be featured in Episode 5 of Ken Burn's The War on PBS tomorrow evening. The links include audio interviews of Mr. Shiosaki, and the site's home page (on 29 Sep 2007, only) includes a photograph of the veteran:
Shiosaki was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 3rd Battalion, Company K, which spent a week on a wooded ridge in northern France trying to break through to the Lost Battalion, a unit from Texas that was surrounded by German troops. He was wounded by shrapnel – not seriously, he adds, but enough for a Purple Heart and five points towards his discharge – and many of his unit were killed. Scenes of the casualties in the documentary might jog some unpleasant memories.

“I know I saw them get killed but I can’t remember anything about it,” the 83-year-old said this week in an interview.

Unlike many Japanese-Americans who were relocated to interment camps, Spokane's "enemy aliens" were not, probably because the city is located so far from the Pacific Coast; thus they were not considered such a "threat." Spokane has a good-sized Japanese-American population with a proud, celebrated heritage, which directly or indirectly influences most Spokanites today, including myself. Besides my having several good friends and co-workers of Japanese descent, my sister and her children retain a Japanese surname legally taken by my ex-brother-in-law, in honor of the Japanese stepfather who raised him.

The Spokesman-Review archives most of its articles into pay-per-view format after only one day, so read it now! You can also purchase a month-long online subscription for only $7 here, which will give you access to all portions of their website.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ancestors in the 1930 U.S. Federal Census - Part 12

View historical documents and photos from America's Boom and Bust era (1920 - 1935) here.

April 1st was Census Day for the 1930 U.S. Federal Census. In honor of that census day, throughout the month of April I posted lists of my known direct ancestors and where they were residing during that census. I am continuing this series into the subsequent months. I'll also list who's missing; for us family historians, missing individuals on census records can be the most frustrating and intriguing challenges of genealogy!

I introduce you to Martin HOEKSTRA and Jennie TON, my great-great-grandparents on my mother's side. Both first-generation Americans born of Dutch immigrants, it is possible they met while working in the laundry business, perhaps the American Steam Laundry Company of Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan, in the mid 1880s. Martin was a teamster; his job would probably have entailed driving wagonloads of dirty clothing and linens from the customers to the steam laundry, and then delivering the cleaned items back to their homes. Jennie was a laundress, and doubtless had one of the hardest and most thankless tasks in the business! Isabella Mary Beeton's Book of Household Management (paragraph 2372) describes the duties required of laundry maids in private homes in the 19th century...they must have been similar to those in a laundry company of that era. Hot, wet, and dirty work involving dangerous machinery and chemicals would have been the working environment for a laundress in those days.

Jennie and Martin were both probably very used to hard work. As children of immigrant laborers, they had grown up expected to do their share. Jennie, especially, had had a hard life. Her parents had immigrated from Nieuwerkerk, the Province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, with an infant daughter to Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio in 1857. Although they apparently had nine children in all, only three--Jennie and sisters Nellie and Mary--survived to adulthood. By 1873, the family had moved to Grand Rapids, and her father died the following year. Jennie's widowed mother remarried to a widower in 1875, but died herself three years later. The step-father in turn remarried another widow, and Jennie and her sisters were expected to contribute to the household. The older girls worked as domestics and Jennie, at 11 years old, was working as well. Probably not welcome in a household where both adults were step-parents, she ended up living with her mother's brother and sister-in-law, never obtaining more than a third-grade education.

Martin and Jennie were married in his parents' hometown of Holland, Ottawa Co., Michigan on 27 November 1886. It's possible that Jennie was expecting their first child at that time, as she was born less than eight months later. I have blogged about finding their marriage record in a previous post.

By 1930, the days of working for a laundry company were long over. Martin and Jennie had raised four children, Grace, Maude Mae, my great-grandfather John Martin (I blogged about his 1930 enumeration here), and Peter Louis Ton HOEKSTRA. These children were married with families of their own, producing eleven grandchildren. Martin had worked for years as a carpenter and contractor, both privately and for the railroad. Sometime between 1920 and 1927, they had bought a home at 1225 Cooper Avenue in Ward 3 of southeast Grand Rapids, a predominately Dutch immigrant neighborhood. In 1930, Martin was working as a decorator in building construction. Their home was worth $3,000, although they did not own a radio. Neighbors on both sides of them did own radios, so that indicates there was electricity in the neighborhood.

On 15 April 1930, Martin and Jennie were enumerated at their home at 1225 Cooper Avenue in Ward 3, Block 1478 of Grand Rapids (ED 26, Sheet 21A):

Household 7; Family 7; Hoekstra, Martin; Head of household; owner of home worth $3000; No radio; Family does not live on a farm; Male; White; age 61; Married; age at first marriage: 19; Did not attend school since 1 September 1929; Able to read and write; Born in Michigan; Parents born in the Netherlands; Able to speak English; occupation: Decorator for Building Construction company; Works on own account; Employed; Not a veteran

Jennie; Wife; Female; White; age 62; Married; age at first marriage: 19; did not attend school since 1 September 1929; Able to read and write; Born in Ohio; Parents born in the Netherlands; Able to speak English; occupation: none

Jennie was very close to her granddaughter, my maternal grandmother, Ruth Lillian HOEKSTRA, who shared stories of her grandmother with my mother and me over the years. According to Grandma, Jennie was sweet and gentle. She had learned how to cook and make bread at a very young age. She called her husband "Pa," and did whatever he said. My grandmother, an independent-minded woman, used to get riled up over this, because according to her, Martin was "a tartar"!

I look forward to when the 1940 U.S. Federal Census is publicly released, as Martin and Jennie should appear on it in either Grand Rapids or Allegan, Allegan Co., Michigan. The latter location is where their son Louis lived and they moved in with him and his wife in their old age. Jennie died at the age of 76 in Allegan. Martin was visiting or living with their daughter Maude when he died in Detroit the following year, also at age 76. Both are buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Allegan, along with son Louis. Their graves can be seen at the Find A Grave website here. They are the only photographs I have of this couple's life.

(Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

An Irish Family's Dark Secret, and the Legend of the Titanic

Three years ago, writer Martina Devlin stumbled across the fact that her grandmother's uncle was aboard the Titanic when it went down in the Northern Atlantic 95 years ago. Unbeknownst to her generation, her uncle's fiancée and unborn child also were on board--but survived.

Sometimes truth is stranger--and more imaginative--than fiction. Click here to read Martina's story in the Belfast Telegraph of how she was inspired to write a novel, and through her research, tracked down the descendants of her great-granduncle.

Hat Tip: Irish Roots Cafe blog

GeneaBloggers at BlogCatalog

BlogCatalog, a "premiere social blog directory on the internet" is offering a beta feature called Groups. This will allow "BlogCatalog members to make their own communities and invite other bloggers to connect, discuss, and share ideas or interests.

"With Groups you can meet new people who have similar interests and help build different communities. You can have and host fun conversations or have serious educational discussions..."

I have decided to start a BlogCatalog Group called GeneaBloggers. This will be a place where bloggers who write about their own genealogy, genealogy in general, or genealogy-related topics can have a place for discussion and meet other genea-bloggers. Recently, several issues came up in the genea-blogging world, and we had to communicate via e-mail. That was an okay--but limited--communication forum, but it would have been nice if we could have had a private online place where other genea-bloggers could have entered the discussion as well. I hope that our GeneaBloggers Group will take advantage of the Discussion Forum for future issues.

So how do you join the Group? First you need to have a BlogCatalog account. If you don't have one, go to, and create one (it's free). Because BlogCatalog uses human beings, rather than an automated program, to look at and approve your blog, it can take two or three days for the approval process; please be patient! Then go to the GeneaBloggers Group page here and click on "Join Group" in the right-hand sidebar under my photo. I will approve all requests by any person whose blog is used primarily to feature genealogy in some capacity. Won't you join us?

Whether you're looking to promote your own blog or find blogs on various topics, BlogCatalog is for you.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Biography of Martin O. HOLSTON

On May 29th, I posted an account of some Civil War veterans buried in Spokane, whose graves I had randomly picked to decorate during Memorial Day weekend.

Earlier this month I heard from Patrick Shade of Bridgewater, New Jersey, a great-great-grandson of Pvt. Martin O. HOLSTON of Illinois. We began a correspondence, and today he sent me a biography of his ancestor, which I have included below.
Martin O. Holston was a civil war veteran who served in the IL cavalry and infantry. There is little verifiable information about him until he enlisted in the Union Army. He served all of his time in the military as Martin Olson (Olsen). The best available information, at this time, indicates his parents were Jonathan Holston and Sophia Blanchard.

He enlisted on 4/18/1861 in Chicago, IL and was mustered into service on 7/8/1861 in Bellaire, OH by Capt Cram. He served first in Company C, Thielman’s Cavalry 16th Cavalry Regiment and later in Company C 16th Cavalry Regiment. He was mustered out 7/16/1864 in Chicago, IL. He re-enlisted 3/10/1865 in Joliet, IL for one year and served in Company G 4th U.S. Veteran Infantry Volunteers. He was finally mustered out 3/10/1866 in OH.

It should be noted that Martin O lists his age as 22 when he first enlisted on 4/18/1861 and again as 22 when he re-enlisted on 3/10/1865. His exact birth date can not be verified at this time but it appears to be between 1839 and 1843. All available records consistently indicate that he was born in Rochester, NY.

Martin O explains in his Civil War pension file that his father was a Jonathan Holston who died when he was two years old. After that, he adopted the surname of his step father (i.e., Olson or Olsen). Apparently, during his time in the service, he decided to re-adopt his original surname. Immediately after he was mustered out of the Union Army for the second time, he took the name Martin O Holston.

After the name change he quickly married his first wife, Elizabeth Forstmaier, on 3/14/1866 in Columbus, Franklin Co., OH. They had at least two children, Leonard Hayes and Lillian Elizabeth, who married and lived to adulthood. Martin O reports in his pension file that his wife Elizabeth died and was buried in Kansas City, MO.

Martin O married his second wife, Lana Dickens, on 5/19/1874 in Charleston, Coles Co., IL. They had at least three children. Two died as infants and one, Charles Marion, married and lived to adulthood. Lana died 5/31/1882 and was buried in Charleston.

The third wife of Martin O was Susan Easter, whom he married on 9/24/1883 in Charleston, Coles Co., IL. They had no children and were later divorced.

Martin O’s fourth wife was Eva Edna McGrath whom he married on 2/20/1886 in Marena, Hodgeman Co., KS. They had at least two children who married and lived to adulthood. Their first child, John A. Logan, was born on 12/15/1886 in Portland, OR and their second child, Jennie Augusta, was born on 1/29/1890 in Des Moines, IA. Eva died on 8/20/1921 and was buried in Warren Co., IA.

It was during this chapter in his life that he appears to first travel to the northwest. It’s not clear what drove him to go west but it was likely to seek employment. He was still in the Portland area by the end of 1888. By early 1890, he had relocated to IA.

Martin O drew a disability pension, on and off, for over 25 years. His pension file is voluminous. He worked as a laborer and even as a "pension attorney" for some time.

While working as a “pension attorney”, he apparently overstepped the legal bounds of his job and was convicted of forgery against the US government in October 1890. He was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor. He was extradited from Des Moines, IA and sent to the Oregon State Penitentiary on 1/31/1891. He served about 8-1/2 years and was released on 7/21/1899.

It was only during this period in his life when he used a first initial "F". The penitentiary records say the F is for Frank. Therefore, he was sometimes referred to as F.M.O. Holston.

After his release from prison, he relocated to Spokane, WA where he lived a modest life until his death on 10/29/1917. His death record indicates he had no living relatives although he had many.

If you are related or connected to "Frank" Martin Olson HOLSTON or any of the other individuals mentioned in his biography, please contact me, and I will put you in touch with Patrick Shade.

Scanfest is Coming...But Not Until September 30th

Scanfest is coming! For those of you who are regular Scanfesters, you may have accidentally marked September 23rd for the next Scanfest Day, since that is the fourth Sunday of the month. However, there are five Sundays in September, and our usual meeting time is the last Sunday of each month. Therefore, we will be gathering Sunday, September 30th at 11 AM, Pacific Daylight Time, and scanning and chatting until 2 PM, PDT.

For those of you who are wondering what Scanfest is, it's a time we genea-bloggers have set aside to scan our precious family documents, records and photographs for preservation's sake. Scanning can be one of those monotonous chores, put off until never. So in order to make it a little more interesting, we've agreed to meet online for three hours every month while scanning, and chat using Windows Live Messenger. It's a great way to get to know one another and exchange ideas about preservation, technology, and genealogy.

You don't have to have a genealogy blog to join us. We are always open to new "faces" at our Scanfest sessions! Here's how to sign up:

To join us, you'll need a Hotmail or Gmail account, and Windows Live Messenger downloaded to your computer (Mac users go here to download Microsoft Messenger for Mac). Although WLM states that it is compatible with Yahoo! e-mail accounts, we have had difficulty adding Yahoo! users to our chat conversation. Once you have gotten set up, send me an e-mail (see my profile in the right-hand menu) and I'll add you to our chat list. You'll receive an invitation message from me in the e-mail account that you've set up for Messenger, and will need to verify that I can add you as a contact. My Messenger account is identical to my Gmail account, except that it's "".

Here's a list of some of the things I've scanned, either in part or fully, over the last seven months:

  • * The Family Record Book of John Martin HOEKSTRA and Lillian Fern STRONG - my great-grandparents' family tree book (see scanning progress here).
  • * Photos of my husband's TOLLIVER and COLLINS ancestors, loaned to me by my father-in-law and sister-in-law
  • * Journals and investment documents of my grandfather, Adrian DeVRIES
  • * Other family papers and photographs from the estate of my grandmother, Ruth Lillian (HOEKSTRA) VALK DeVRIES (here, here and here)
  • * My black-and-white wedding photos - for the eventual creation of a Wedding Memory Book at
I have so much more I need to scan! I'll bet you do, too! Won't you join us?

Footnote's New Military Page has recently put together a new military "landing" page, i.e. a page that lists all its military records in historical order, grouped by wars. This will make searching for your ancestors' military records a little easier.

I'm always excited about Footnote's website! There are so many great records available and I only wish I had more time to peruse them! I will be presenting information both on military records and the Footnote site to my students in my new Intermediate Online Genealogy course at the Community Colleges of Spokane's Institute for Extended Learning during the upcoming Winter Quarter. I will also be presenting a members-only Internet class for the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society on how to best use and navigate the Footnote site in September 2008.

If you don't yet have a Footnote membership, go here to start your free 7-day trial to access all their images!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Everything Family Tree Book

This summer while I was at my local public library, I picked up a pile of books for reading at my leisure. I perused the "new book" section, and came across Kimberly Powell's The Everything Family Tree Book (2nd edition, 2006, Adams Media). I "know" Kimberly from her Genealogy blog, and I'd read some nice reviews about her book. So I checked it out as well, and took it with me to the lake cabin in August.

First of all, I liked the clean, concise outline of the book. Everything is well-organized and easy to find. Even more important are the clear, detailed steps of researching. The explanations of various records and how and where to find them are invaluable. The more I read, the more I liked. I wish I had had this book back when I started my genealogy! But even though I've been researching my family tree for over 20 years now, have read a number of genealogy how-to books, and attended many seminars and workshops, this helpful guide is still pertinent to my research. For more experienced researchers, it's a great refresher for overviews on various types of records, research approaches, and the latest in technology (DNA, Internet research, etc.).

Here are the list of chapters:
  1. 1. Family Tree Basics
  2. 2. The Journey Begins at Home
  3. 3. Growing the Family Tree
  4. 4. The Name of the Game
  5. 5. Where Do I Look for That?
  6. 6. Vital Records
  7. 7. Clues in the Census
  8. 8. Marching Papers [military records]
  9. 9. A Nation of Immigrants
  10. 10. Clues in the Cemetery
  11. 11. Following in Their Footsteps [land records]
  12. 12. Probate and Estate Trails
  13. 13. Branching Out [other record types]
  14. 14. Special Situations in Family Trees
  15. 15. Walking the Web
  16. 16. Shelves of Possibilities [research facilities]
  17. 17. Tools for Taming the Family Tree
  18. 18. Assembling the Pieces [methodology]
  19. 19. When You Get Stuck
  20. 20. Uncovering Your Genetic Roots
  21. 21. Sharing Your Family History

What really clinched it for me that this was a book worth owning was that during the week at the lake, I caught both my 13-year-old son and my 16-year-old daughter picking it up where I had left it open on the table and start reading it! Aha! While my daughter has always been interested in history, and they've both had a mild passing interest in any family stories I've shared, to actually witness them reading a genealogy how-to book was enough to send me into raptures! When I got back home, I immediately ordered a copy through Tim Agazio's Genealogy Reviews Online Bookstore at Amazon.

I'm so happy with this book that I've e-mailed all 51 people on my e-mailing list that have taken my Beginning Online Genealogy course the last few years through the Community Colleges of Spokane's Institute for Extended Learning, and recommended this book as a must-have for their personal home library. I'm also using it as a reference for my new Intermediate Online Genealogy course that I'll be starting during the Winter Quarter.

If you're looking for a great book for a friend or family member that has shown interest in genealogy, or you want a handy, easy-to-use, economical reference guide for your own home library, I recommend picking up a copy for yourself! Remember, the holidays will be here soon!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The 32nd Carnival of Genealogy is Posted!

Susan Kitchens of Family Oral History Using Digital Tools is the host of the 32nd Carnival of Genealogy. The topic? "Family Stories of Wartime," in honor of Ken Burns' new documentary series, "The War," coming to PBS on Sunday, September 23rd.

To simplify things in my busy life, I submitted an older post, "A Polar Bear in North Russia," which is the beginning of a series of my great-grandfather's service in the U.S. Army at the end of World War One. It is inspired by three CDs' worth of scanned images from a family scrapbook, which were recently sent to me by my aunt.

As usual, there are a variety of interesting and informative posts that were submitted for the Carnival, and I encourage you to head to Susan's blog to start reading. The Carnival is also a great way to "meet" other genea-bloggers and discover great new blogs to add to your feed reader!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Granddad is Back from the West"

In a letter dated 25 and 27 September 1918 to her son, William Bryan ROBBINS, stationed overseas in North Russia near the end of World War One, his mother, Mary May KIMBALL (a.k.a. Lula WEAVER) wrote "granddad is back from the west, but have not seen him."

In all likelihood, this was Lula's father-in-law, Charles H. ROBBINS, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife, Viola Gertrude PECK, that March. It was very likely that Charles had been visiting his brothers, Benson and Lee (sometimes spelled Lea), out West.

One of the first genealogical misconceptions I had--and later straighted out--was that Charles' brother, Joseph Uzza Benson ROBBINS, who also was a Civil War veteran, lived in Washington, D.C. and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The basis behind this was that I had come across the family history which stated "Benson was also a Civil War veteran who lived in Washington and was buried in Arlington." For the life of me, I can't remember just how I realized my mistake...possibly when a descendant of Benson's step-daughter contacted me. Yes, he had lived in Washington and was buried in Arlington. But, to clarify, he had lived in Washington State and was buried in a cemetery in the city of Arlington, Washington! As a Washington resident, I'm so used to people mistaking my residence for gets quite annoying. Yet I made the same error!

Benson wasn't the only one who lived out West. Brother Benjamin Leader ROBBINS--"Lee" or "Lea"--also lived out here. In fact, he lived not far from my own present home, up in Stevens County, where he died in 1929.

I'm still researching Lee's descendants, hoping to find some living ones. When we moved to the area, we noticed a "Robbins Resort" at one of the major lakes in the area, and joked that we were related. That's not so far-fetched, as that lake is located in the same county as Lee's final residence! Benson had step-children, so I haven't pursued those generations too far. It's kind of interesting thinking that my 3rd-great-grandfather Charles probably came through Spokane on a train headed to visit his brothers, although I don't have their definite residences in 1918. Benson was living in Edgecombe Township, Snohomish County in 1910, and was in the Veterans Home in Retsil, Kitsap County in 1920. Lee was in Arlington, Snohomish County in 1910, and near Stengar Mountain in Stevens County in 1920. Either way, the main train routes for the state come through Spokane.

Among the scanned treasures that I received from my aunt was a photograph of Charles and Viola, either an original or a very good print made from the original. What I had before was 2nd- and 3rd-hand photocopies, which can be seen on Charles' AnceStories page on my website here. Compare the quality to the photo below:

Friday, September 14, 2007

AnceStories is FuelMyBlog's Blog of the Day!

I was stunned to open my e-mail this afternoon and find a message announcing that AnceStories was the Blog of the Day at FuelMyBlog!

Many thanks to the kind folks over there who nominated me!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

9. A Letter from Mother - 25 Sep 1918

Read more about the American North Russian Expeditionary Forces at Footnote.

While Bryan was suffering from influenza and getting ready to be sent to the Railroad Front, his mother was home, worried, having not heard for quite some time from either of her sons stationed overseas.

This letter displayed below was sent to Bryan from his mother, Mary May KIMBALL, also known as Lula WEAVER, on 25 September 1918. The handwriting is difficult to read, and I have made little attempts to correct the grammar and spelling except when absolutely necessary to clarify the meaning, because I feel it lends better to the character and the colloquialism of the writer. It is a typical mother's letter...full of news, neighborhood gossip, and anxieties:

Muskegon Hts.
Sept. 25, 1918

Dear Bryan,

I have been looking everday for a letter from you boy's, but will write you a few lines this after noon[.] the sun shines so bright and the air looks so clean and the leaves are changing color it makes any one think that fall has sure come and then will soon be winter. it was a cold rainy week last week was[.] it was the fair week at the Rapids, and over at Hart [The bottom line of the letter is folded under, hiding the end of this sentence and the beginning of the next.]

[...] heard from home. I write ever week and some times twice a week, so I have a letter crossing the old Pond ever week. it has been two weeks ago to day since I saw Sarah. she don't come up very often any more. and I have not been out to Lakeside for some time but will go some of these day's. I see by the Papers that the married men without children in class 1 will go to Camp next Oct. I have not seen Curley in a long time[.] I wonder if he has left the Hts[.] I do wish your dad would hunt him up. The other night

our Phone bell rung, and I went to the [?], and a woman ask for Earnest Taylor and I said no he was not here any more, and she said oh I made a mistake I was use to calling 6780, and she wanted the Williams block. and I know it was Ethel. I think Ethel had better let them alone[.] what I have seen of curley['s] wife I belive she makes things hot if she get mad.

Mr. Dominee is working at Camp Custer. they are building 300 more barracks. Well Bryan, it made me feel pretty lonesome yesterday (Tuesday) when your car was sold[.] I could not keep the tears back but I do get so lonesome at times but I do try to keep up[.]

I often wish your dad would get in something else, so he would be at home more, and Angie is gone so much of the time, just Donald and myself here alone so much of the time and it get pretty lonesome at times. your dad went over to Grand Haven this morning[.] he has a very bad cold.

Friday Afternoon. Sep. 27
Bryan I did not get your letter finished the other day. and yesterday afternoon I went with Mrs. Dominee she took little Lloyd over to Oak Grove school to Baby Clinic, quite a baby show. so many little ones, and I been

washing to day, but will not write much more this time. I will write a few lines to Lloyd. have not had a letter from either one of you Boy's in a long time. Do hope will get one tomorrow. have you written to Lloyd yet, granddad is back from the west, but have not seen him [them?]. Sarah has not call me up since a week ago last Tuesday. The girl's Mildred and Dorothy, say's to tell you hello, they are going to school. Angie has a air gun now. he and another boy goes hunting nearly ever night after school. Bryan write as often as you can[.] all ways anxious to get your letters. all real well only colds. hoping this will find you well[.] I suppose you are drilling pretty hard[.] do your very best in all things and it will be brighter days to come. write son [soon?] may the Lord watch over you all.[...]

[continued upside down in the top margin of the fourth page]
[...] Is the Pray[er] of your Mother.
with best of good cheer and Love
from Mother
in America
Mrs. A. M. Robbins

P.S. Donald marches around the yard with Angie['s] air gun singing the Yank[s] are coming. We have a lot of new records, war songs. Mr. Cobb told me he was going to learn his wife to drive the car, and he would have her come and take me for a ride, he is handy with it[.] made me think of you with the car.

From little Donald [scribbles]

It was no wonder Lula was worried, anxious, and lonesome. Of the seven children she had given birth to, two had died, one was institutionalized, and two were in harm's way fighting in the Great War. Her husband was a traveling salesman, her teenaged son was busy with school and hunting, and she was all alone at home most times with a four-and-a-half-year-old! And isn't it incredible that anyone would let that little boy march around with an air gun! Angie (Angelo, Jr.) and/or Lula must have kept it unloaded when they let little Donald play with it, for Don grew up safely to adulthood, serving in World War II in the Navy instead of joining the Army like his older brothers. He also served with the Muskegon Fire Department, and became the Chief of Police for Muskegon Township.
I had fun attempting to figure out who the non-family members were that were mentioned in this letter (see "2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins" for descriptions of individuals of this family group).

Earnest ("Curley"?) Taylor: It's inferred that Curley may have been living with the Robbins family at one point, but had moved away, was married, and that perhaps Ethel was an old bothersome flame of his (this does sound rather spicy, doesn't it?). Running a search in's World War I Draft Registration database turned up two E(a)rnest Taylors: one was Earnest James Taylor from the City of Muskegon, unmarried; and the other was Ernest Henry Taylor of Muskegon Heights who was married to Ora (? draft card has a poor image). Searches on Curl* (Curley, Curly, Curlie, etc.) gave me eight hits; none in or near Muskegon County. Sifting through the 44 Ethels that appear in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census in Muskegon Heights would not likely be effective...and I'm not sure that this is even the community Ethel lived in at either the time the letter was written, or two years later when the census was taken.

This woman sounds like a relative or close friend, but searching through my database of relatives on both Angelo and Lula's sides of the family tree did not yield a Sarah. I tried both Lula's biological and adoptive families, as well as future daughter-in-law Marie Lewis' family, and still came up empty. It appears that she lived a ways away. Making an attempt to find a Sarah in the 1920 U.S. Federal Census would not be very effective. In connection with Sarah, Lula mentions going "out to Lakeside." There is no community by that name currently in the county or in any of the neighboring counties. Muskegon Heights, however, is only three miles inland from Lake Michigan. Perhaps this was a general location meaning near that lake. There is also a Lakeside Cemetery southwest of the City of Muskegon. I do not have a burial location for Floyd Arthur ROBBINS; could he be buried in this cemetery (his name does not appear in the cemetery's published records)? Was Lula planning to visit his grave there?

The Dominie Family: At first, I could not decipher the Dominie's last name written in Lula's handwriting, so once again I turned to the WWI Draft Registration, using Dom* as my search term. Fred Frank Dominie, with dependent Mrs. Fred F. Dominie, was living at 1701 Mystic, confirming my theory that they were the Robbins' neighbors. Taking a second look at Lloyd Robbins' WWI Draft Registration Card, I realized that Fred Dominie was the name of his employer that I had struggled to decipher earlier. Lloyd had worked for Fred; coincidentally or not, Fred and his wife Ella had a son named Lloyd (born in the summer, 1918), too, as well as children Dorothy (b. c. 1903), Mildred (b. c. 1905), Mabel (b. c. 1911), Ralph (b. c. 1913), and Frank (b. c. August 1915). This information I garnered from the 1920 U.S. Census, but the family had moved from Muskegon County by this time, to the East Central area of Michigan, in Mt. Morris, Genesee County. During World War I, Fred apparently used his carpentry skills to build barracks at Camp Custer.

Mr. and Mrs. Cobb: Mr. Cobb apparently bought Bryan's car; searching the WWI Draft Registration turned up seven Cobbs in Muskegon County, two of which lived in Muskegon Heights and were married: This is assuming the the Cobbs lived in Muskegon Heights and that Mr. Cobb was of the correct age to have registered for the draft. In a subsequent letter from Angelo, Bryan's father, we learn that the sale of the car enabled the family to buy coal for the coming winter.

I also discovered, with the help of the Muskegon County Genealogical Society, and a recently-discovered cousin on my LEWIS side that Mystic Avenue's name was changed to Jefferson Street, apparently before the 1920 U.S. Census was taken (believe me, I looked and looked through all 83 pages of Muskegon Heights on that census trying to find Mystic Avenue!). My cousin, Bob Stefanich, asked his son who works as a sergeant in the Muskegon Heights Police Department to check old maps, and they went driving around to try to find Number 1612 - or what may once have been that address. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful. Sanborn maps and city directories might be helpful in this search.

Some of the locations mentioned are the Rapids (probably Grand Rapids, Kent County, southeast of Muskegon Heights); Hart (county seat of Oceana County, north); Grand Haven (county seat of Ottawa County, south) and Oak Grove (a school in Muskegon Heights).

From this letter we can also ascertain that the Robbins had a telephone and a Victrola. They (or at least Bryan) had had an automobile, until it was sold to purchase coal for the coming winter. Money certainly seemed tight, as it often has during wartime, but it is apparent to me that before the war, the Robbins family had lived fairly comfortably as a middle class family. I love how this letter--and deeper analysis--has given me a such a rich description of the home life of my ancestors!

Other posts in this series:
1. A Polar Bear in North Russia
2. The Family of Angelo and Lula Robbins
3. Bryan and Marie - A WWI Romance
4. Bryan Gets Drafted
5. Basic Training at Camp Custer
6. Getting "Over There"
7. Bryan and King George V
8. To Russia, with Influenza
10. A Letter from Father - 7 Oct 1918

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remembering 9/11

UPDATE: I had no idea when I wrote the post below that the media would be present at the middle school where I work to document the "Messages of Hope" assembly. Go here to see a slide and audio show of this event, on our local newspaper's website. You can also see the story and watch a video at the website of one of our local news stations here. (I'm not in any of the photos or footage.)

I haven't written for my AnceStories2 blog in two months. Today as I pondered the events that took place six years ago, I realized that they should be a topic for a journal prompt. Every American was affected on September 11th, and yet little of what we personally experienced will be recorded for posterity...unless we take the time to do so. On September 12th, 2001, I asked my children--Missy, then age 10, and Matt, then age 7--to write down something to help them remember how they were feeling that day. I knew that someday, their great-grandchildren would want to know. I wrote my thoughts and emotions, too.

We had just started the 2001 - 2002 school year a few days previously, and were starting to get into the swing of things. I was finishing getting ready for work, while my kids were in the living room, ready for school, waiting for me. They were watching PBS, and one of them called to me that a plane had hit a building somewhere. I walked into the living room to change the channel (my usual response when a news tragedy aired, to keep the kids from getting an eye- and earful), and then realized that whatever was happening was on every station...and it was horrible.

We saw how the towers were collapsing, and my son began to cry. He had no clue as to the terrible loss of life that had occurred; he only knew that a dream he had had was shattered. We had visited Chicago only a year earlier and he had been thrilled with our trip to the top of the Sears Tower. His next goal was to visit the World Trade Center in New York City. For a little boy who loved to make tall towers with Legos, that had been his ultimate dream. As I did my best to try to comfort him, I was angry with the evil behind all of this destruction that was even robbing my son, thousands of miles away.

When I heard that it was a suspected terrorist attack, and that not just New York City, but also Washington, D.C. was hit, as well as talk of the military being on alert, I called work, uncertain as to whether school would be canceled. Assured that for the time being, school would continue as normal, I decided I had better wake my husband before we left. He works nights and I didn't want him to wake up to an empty house and hear the news alone. I can still see the look of shock on his face as I told him...probably an expression that my mirrored my own.

In the emergency staff meeting before work, our principal (a veteran) did a wonderful job of allaying our fears by reminding us that our hometown of Spokane was very unlikely to be a target of terrorism, and that we needed to model for our students a calmness and "business as usual" attitude for their sake. We were also cautioned not to turn on our televisions while students were in the classrooms.

That morning, the two teachers that I worked with did an amazing job in front of 40 anxious and confused first- and second-graders, one of whom was my son, and another who was a disabled student that I assisted. I can remember with clarity as we stood as a classroom to recite the pledge of allegiance how each of us adults in the room were unable to finish aloud, so overcome were we by emotion.

When we returned home at the end of the day, I sat and watched the news in horrified awe until I could no longer stand it. The devastation did not fully hit me until the next morning. I woke up and turned on the TV, and realized it had not been a bad dream at all, but it was very, very real. It was then that I finally broke down in tears.

This morning, at the middle school where I now work, we will have an all-school assembly at the flagpole. A fire station company will be our honored guests, while a small group of leadership students will release helium balloons. Attached will be messages of hope written on 3x5 index cards by staff and students. We will have a moment of silence. And we will remember.
"Keeper of the Light" graphic originally created 2001 at for free public use. This website has been disabled for several years.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Introducing the EWGS Blog

It's official! The Eastern Washington Genealogical Society has a blog! Yesterday morning, three team members and myself were given the nod by the board of the Eastern Washington Genealogical Society for the blog to become an official medium of the society. Donna, Bette, Charles and I have been doing light blogging since we set it up in July, waiting for the first board meeting of the 2007 - 2008 society year for our "go ahead."

During the regular meeting held that afternoon, I announced the blog and gave the URL: I had posted a message earlier that morning, explaining what a blog is and its purposes in our society. Many of our members are unfamiliar with blogs, and I will continue to write posts to help them understand and be able to use the blog. We are especially excited to use it as a means of communication regarding the upcoming Washington State Genealogical Society's 2009 Conference, to be held in Spokane's historic Davenport Hotel (where, not-so-coincidentally, the EWGS was formed in 1935).

Today, I listed the EWGS blog with Chris Dunham's Genealogy Blog Finder under Associations and Societies. If you have Eastern Washington roots, please visit often!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Genea-Blogging Law Professor Looks at Ancestry's IBD Controversy

Craig Manson, a law professor and active member of the bar of the State of California--as well as an active member of our genea-blogging community--has just posted the first of a multi-part series of a legal analysis of the controversy surrounding's Internet Biographical Database.

Read "Did Ancestry Violate the Copyright Law?...Prologue" on his GeneaBlogie blog, here. And stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Meeting a SAYERS Cousin

A couple of weeks ago, I checked my old e-mail address at Juno. I had it for years, and when I switched to Gmail, decided against closing my Juno account, as I had done online genealogy for so many years using that e-mail address. Every few weeks or so, I'll check on it, delete the piles of spam that have accumulated, and find a few messages from people that were unaware of my address change.

One such person was my cousin, Beverly (STRACHAN) STRONG, a fifth cousin, once removed and fellow descendant of William SAYERS, Sr. (1758 - 1860) and his wife, who we believe had the maiden name of GILLESPIE. Scots-Irish they were, from Letterkenny, County Donegal, Ireland. We know they had at least five children: William, Jr. (Bev's ancestor); Catherine, who married Stephen MARTIN; Henry; Gillespie; and John (my ancestor). We know from a history of the Martin family that some of these Sayers children came from Ireland c. 1830 with a group to the Bay of Quinte and settled in what is now Prince Edward County (not to be confused with P.E. Island), Ontario, Canada. A year or so later, they sent for their widowed father along with wives and children they had left behind in Ireland. Imagine being around 80 years of age, leaving the only home you had known, and boarding a wooden ship in order traverse the stormy Atlantic! Perseverance and luck played out, and William, Senior lived to the ripe old age of 102 before passing away in 1860 in Hungerford Township, Hastings County, Ontario.

William's descendants multiplied, as descendants will do, and today they can be found not only in Ontario, but in Alberta and British Columbia. Some of them crossed the border from Western Canada and resided in Western Washington. My particular ancestors, children of William's son John, headed southwest from Prince Edward County and settled in Muskegon County, Michigan. I've done a great deal of research in Muskegon County vital and cemetery records and found all sorts of branches of the SAYERS and related families, piecing them together and adding them to the family tree that Bev had begun to build.

I connected to Bev years ago (I just checked my files and it was in 1997) through another SAYERS descendant, Marge (DAINARD) McARTHUR, who had seen my information online (probably on a message board) and had called me from B.C. to tell me there was a whole tribe of Sayerses out there! Bev and I, and Marge and I, began corresponding and sharing information in earnest, along with a few other Sayers descendants we picked up along the way. For a while, we had a Sayers Family Website at that was fairly active, until it became a subscription site (no one wanted to pay the high cost of storing all the family photos on that site).

Bev (my dad's age and generation) and her husband, Ron, were for years directors of their local Family History Center in Alberta. While volunteering there, she went through roll after roll of microfilmed Ontario vital records and extracted names, dates, and places not only of the SAYERS family life events, but also those of other Bay of Quinte ancestors she was researching (DAINARD, WANNAMAKER, WESSELS, McCAMON). She and Marge and quite a few of the Sayers are descendants of many pioneers of this colony; I am not. Bev, out of the kindness of her heart, looked up my WILKINSON surname and extracted what little she could find out of those microfilms for me (William, Senior's granddaughter, Mahala Sayers, was my last Sayers ancestor, and she married John WILKINSON).

A few years ago, Ron and Bev applied to serve a mission for the LDS church, and fortune most certainly smiled upon them, for they were called to do a two-year mission at...the Family History Library in Salt Lake City!!! Now on leave, they are traveling around visiting family and friends, and it was Bev's message in my Juno inbox that I found not long ago, asking if it would be an imposition if they dropped by on Labor Day. Of course I jumped at the chance of finally meeting her after 10 years of correspondence, and I'm so glad we did! What fun we had visiting! Their descriptions of serving in the FHL were truly amazing! The logistics of coordinating thousands of volunteers for the Family History Library and Church history archives must be staggering; yet the FHL runs like a well-oiled machine. As we covered everything from genealogy to the latest matter concerning, we ended up discussing a topic we had in common: working with the disabled. It seems that the LDS Church accepts their developmentally impaired members for missions as well. Paired up with a non-disabled person, these missionaries are able to contribute to their community and church and help further the cause of genealogy. According to Ron and Bev, the library is also well-equipped to handle disabled patrons, no matter what their needs may be.

After visiting for a few hours, the Strongs took us out to dinner. We had an enjoyable meal together, then wished them well, as they continued their journey. Such a sweet and pleasant couple, so interesting and was nice to make new friends that were also family!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Minor Update Available for RootsMagic Software

As a RootsMagic family tree software user, I received an e-mail today with a notification about a minor update:
A free minor RootsMagic update has been posted for download. The 3.2.5 update provides an updated help file for the charting part of RootsMagic which works under Vista. We have also added World Vital Records to the internet search feature of RootsMagic (Search > Internet Search). We will be talking more about World Vital Records in upcoming newsletters.

You can download the latest update at:

I absolutely love RootsMagic, and always recommend it to others looking for quality genealogy software, whether in my genealogy society or the classes I teach! You can download a free trial version in which you can input up to 50 names here. To find other posts in which I mention how I use RootsMagic in my research, click on the category "software" in the right-hand sidebar.

The 31st Carnival is in Town!

Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie is our host for the 31st Genealogy Carnival. "Confirm or Debunk: Family Myths, Legends or Lores" is the topic this time, and as usual, we have some wonderfully written posts that are definitely must-reads. Take a gander over to GeneaBlogie and click on the links for a nice hour of reading from a variety of authors.

My own submission is "The Legend of Joseph Josiah ROBBINS," posted here.

If you are interested in joining us next time, read the following note from Craig:
The theme for the next Carnival of Genealogy ties in with a noteworthy documentary coming September 23 to PBS -- "The War," by Ken Burns. "The War" tells the story of World War II through the lives of ordinary men and women from four American cities. For the mid-September Carnival, tell any story about a wartime event or soldier in your family (no need to limit it to World War II or America). The deadline is September 15. The Carnival will be hosted by Susan Kitchens at Family Oral History Using Digital Tools.

Monday, September 03, 2007

And Now, Time for Some Humor! :-)

There's nothing like a good chuckle, and I figure after last week, we all could use a few. Here's some places in the genea-blogging world where you can get your giggles and grins:

  • * Apple from Apple's Tree has a great restroom story from her travails--oops! travels--on her personal blog, The Apple Doesn't Fall Far from the Tree here.
  • * The footnoteMaven adds a new word to our genea-blogging vocabulary: blodging. I'm already paying off people not to tell my husband about this one.
  • * And what list of great genealogy humor would be complete without the inimitable Chris Dunham's Genealogue? His Top Ten Lists are superior to David Letterman's, let me tell you!
  • * For all you parents out there (or those who know and love kids), you've got to read Dawn Meehan's Because I Said So. She was recently jet-propelled into fame when her E-bay auction of her son's Pokeman cards received thousands of hits. The reason? She described how the pack of cards ended up in her cart on a recent visit to the grocery store with all six of her kids! In one day, her blog received over 100,000 hits and she got over 10,000 e-mails. So it's not genealogy; you all need a good laugh, don't you?

Sunday, September 02, 2007

More on the Issue of the Internet Biographical Collection

Consider this UPDATE #7 of my " Copyright Violations?" post of last Tuesday.

The issue of the Internet Biographical Collection hasn't gone away, and I don't think it will for a long time. And that's not a bad thing. I consider this past week a pivotal "moment" in the timeline of genealogy as both a pastime and a profession.

No matter how you feel about it, no matter where you stand, for me this matter highlighted these main points:
  • * Genealogy--especially the type in which individuals utilize the Internet as a tool in their research--is no longer a one-way street. We've been hearing for some time that interactive genealogy, best seen in the examples of genealogy blogs and using wiki sites such as Geni, WeRelate, and Dick Eastman's Encyclopedia of Genealogy (just to name a very few type of examples), is the new future of family history. Those that are researching their family trees are no longer willing to sit back and let the major genealogy websites dictate what they believe the masses need or want. Researchers want to give their input. And, again, that's not a bad thing.
  • * The pen (or keyboard, in this case) is mightier than the sword. When we blog, people listen. And we can use our words to effect change, for better or worse.
  • * Genealogy is not a static discipline. It is in the process of shaping and being shaped by all the players involved.

Most of my readers know that I have two teenagers and that I also work with teens at a middle school. We have 630 students currently enrolled at our worksite, and while I only directly teach a very small percentage of them, I am in daily contact with many of the other students as well. My experiences during the past three years as both a parent and staff member have radically changed my focus, my interaction and relationships with this age group. Teenagers are different than children. They're not going to stand passively by while you give directions, and then follow them. They want to know your reasons, and that still might not be good enough for them! You can't force them to do what you want. They're becoming adults, and they need your understanding and respect, while you do your best to guide them to make the best, most responsible decisions and meet their needs and wishes.

At the risk of completely offending all my readers, in the following analogy I am going to liken non-certified genealogists--those of us who do our research as an avocation, not a profession--to young adults in a traditional family whose two parents consist of the professional genealogist and the major genealogy website. In my mind's eye, I see the professional genealogist as "Mom" who is adamantly reiterating the rules and expectations to her teens: "Fasten your seatbelt to keep yourself safe, get to bed on time so you won't become ill, do your homework first and then you can enjoy TV", etc. "Dad" in this analogy is the major genealogy website: "I worked hard and spent a lot of money on this (car, furniture, vacation, you name it). You need to respect the work, time, and money I put into this, so you are going to follow the rules I make for it." And then there's the young adult: "You aren't listening (to my needs...they never say that last part, but that's what teens mean by that)! That's not what I want! You didn't ask me! You are violating my rights! I'm not a little kid to be bossed around! I have something important to contribute to this family!"

Every player in the above scenario is speaking the truth and has a valid point. Each needs to be listened to and respected, and in turn be the listener and give respect to the others. Professional genealogists are there to safeguard the discipline of genealogy. Without standards, there is chaos. We well know the saying that "genealogy without sources is mythology." The history of each of our families deserves to be researched and written with the best methods and the highest standards we can attain. With that in mind, the pros need to understand that the rich stories of the individuals in our family tree--and even the legends--have a legitimate place in our research. Lists and reports of names, dates, and places, along with footnotes and citations are not what will perpetuate the history and pride of who we are as a family to our descendants. The good that we do for family history and genealogy needs to be acknowledged by professionals, too. Not all of us amateurs are "family tree climbers" or straight-on-back (SOB) researchers! Many--if not most--of us are attempting to do things the correct way.

Major websites provide us with opportunities that none of us could afford individually to access and acquire records or indexes of records that can expand our knowledge of who our families are. We need to respect their terms and conditions and realize that while they may be profiting from our subscriptions, the majority of that money is spent obtaining more records for us, the users. In turn, these major websites need to acknowledge that we are not passive in our use; we want to have a voice in what is available to us and to be acknowledged. We don't want to be dictated to, and we desire to be respected by being consulted on things that affect us directly and personally, even if legally there's no reason to.

As researchers and genea-bloggers, we are coming into our own. There's a place in this family for another adult. "Mom" and "Dad" need to realize and respect that, and help create that place for us. Our role, then, is to act responsibly by using good methodology in our research, citing our sources; by respecting genealogy websites' terms and conditions; and by learning the copyright laws that protect our own work. As genea-bloggers, it is important that we speak up (as we most certainly did!) when we feel that our rights--or even the respect we deserve--are being violated. We need to communicate with professional genealogists and major websites. But we need to remember that behind the faces of the APG or or any other groups that represent professional genealogists and major genealogy websites are individuals just like us, with feelings and desires and plans.

I once wrote that a blog is "a place of opinion, passion, and emotion, and it is personal in that it is 'owned' by the author, who has complete freedom to express his or her opinions, passions and emotions." It is still true and I still believe it. However, we will be listened to with more respect and credibility if we do not let our emotions and tempers get the best of us while we are communicating our needs and wishes. I say this having learned the hard way about using my blog as a ranting platform instead of as an effective communication tool. You can be right in everything you say, but if you say it in an offensive way, you will not effect positive change. I'm proud to report that nearly all of the genea-bloggers who wrote on the IBD issue did so appropriately, and I'm not trying to be critical of my fellow bloggers here. This is the second major hot topic to stir the online genealogy world within the last eight months and I think I am safe in predicting it won't be the last. For those of us (and I'm definitely including myself!) who tend to blog before we think through the full consequences of what our words may do, let's remember to take a deep breath and step back for a moment when the next hot topic arrives. Let's ask ourselves what resolution we desire, and then work positively toward that end.

Just as the look of the traditional family is changing, so the field of genealogy is changing us and vice versa. We need professionals and the major database websites, and they need us! For the good of all involved, and for the good of genealogy as a discipline, we need to communicate effectively and be responsible towards and respectful of the others.

I encourage my readers to visit the blogs mentioned in my previous post on this topic (check the updates at the bottom of the post) for other bloggers' continuing perspectives and readers' comments on this major issue. These are the movers and shakers in the genea-blogging world, and their opinions and research on this subject are well worth reading.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Legend of Joseph Josiah ROBBINS

See images of your Civil War ancestors' Pension Index cards.

When I was growing up, one of the favorite things I loved to hear when I being tucked in bed by my father were the old family stories. Living in Southeast Alaska in the '70s, no one had television, unless they lived in one of the cities like Ketchikan. So good books and other printed material, oral stories, and recorded music (once our little farm outside of town got electricity) were our main forms of entertainment. How grateful I am now for that childhood!

The one story I heard occasionally was of father-and-son ancestors, Joseph Josiah ROBBINS and Charles H. ROBBINS, who had both fought in the Civil War. Ol' Charlie had had plenty of adventures and because my grandfather remembered him (Charlie was Grandpa's great-grandfather) and attended Grand Army of the Republic reunions with him, those adventures which provided plenty of material for good family tales were quickly passed down the generations. Charlie himself helped proliferate the legend of his father.

Joseph Josiah ROBBINS had fought in the Civil War as an old man on the side of the Yankees, went the story. He had joined up because he already had military experience fighting in the Mexican War of 1848. While out West during in 1849, he had headed towards California to hunt for gold with the other Forty-Niners, but changed his mind and returned to his family in Pennsylvania. While in Union Army, he was captured by the Rebs and incarcerated in the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Conditions there were so terrible, that Joseph had gone blind from scurvy. In an interview by a reporter from a local paper not long before his death in early 1934, Charlie told of how his father had been a participant in a prisoner exchange, and thus had been returned to the Union Army. He had lived to be 99 years old.

Nine years ago this month, I sent off to the National Archives for a copy Joseph's pension application. I believe I spent a total sum of $20.00 (those were the days!). I received 25 legal-sized photocopies of documents from his file, and what a treasure trove they were! First of all, they confirmed his service as a private in Company E, 58th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers from 26 September 1861 to 9 January 1865, with a little more than a year-long detachment with the 7th Massachusetts Battery. Joseph, although at age 41 would have been much older than most of the recruits, was certainly nowhere near being an old man! The records provided a first name and a death date and place of a wife we had never heard of, prior to his marriage of our ancestor. They also gave the date and place of marriage to my ancestor Marinda and confirmed that her maiden name also was ROBBINS (still working on how they possibly could have been related to each other!). There were all sorts of juicy tidbits including how difficult it had been for first his wife (who would have also been elderly during that time), and later his son and daughter-in-law, Ben Franklin and Helena (SWEET) SKINNER ROBBINS, to care for him in his elder years, blind and senile as he was. There were no nursing homes in those days, no respite care, no traveling nurses or Hospice services to assist the family.

The pension records confirmed that Joseph was indeed blind, and that it was related to his military service; but it lists in detail how that disability came to be. While Joseph was at Cliffburne Barracks in Washington, D.C. in early June 1864, he was hospitalized at Satterlee Hospital for fainting, bleeding from the nose, and chronic inflammation of both eyes. His biography in History of Manistee, Mason, and Oceana counties, Michigan..., which as far as I can determine, corroborates with all sworn statements in his pension records, describes the cause as sunstroke. A week after he was discharged at Chapin's Farm, Virigina, he sought out both a doctor and a lawyer in Philadelphia and applied for his first Invalid Army Pension, stating that he had "lost almost the entire sight of both eyes rendering him unfit to follow his occupation," which was farming. The pension records give a clear picture of the difficulties that Joseph and his family members had because of his disability from the time he returned home from the war until his death in Newfield Township, Oceana County, Michigan on 27 July 1905. He was 84, not 99, as son Charlie claimed.

Nowhere in his pension records is there any mention of capture, imprisonment, or a prisoner exchange. There is also no evidence that he served in the War with Mexico; but then, it's not likely that information would show up in these records. Their purpose was to determine that Joseph had become disabled through his military service during the Civil War, and that he deserved a pension, as did his widow Marinda, after his death. Attempts I've made to verify possible service during the War with Mexico have led nowhere. In the Civil War Prisions database maintained by the National Parks Service, I have not been able to find Joseph, even though I've used a variety of spellings, first and last name combinations, and initials.

I believe that Joseph's story was confused in his son Charles' elderly mind with other tales he may have heard from his GAR comrades, or perhaps with the tragic tale of his best friend and step-brother-in-law, Angelo CRAPSEY, whose experiences in the infamous Confederate Libby Prison caused him to go insane and later kill himself after the war's end. So although the account of Andersonville made for a lively legend, the real story of Joseph's service during the Civil War was a fascinating account, nonetheless!

(See a photo of Joseph's grave here.)

History of Manistee, Mason and Oceana counties, Michigan ... Chicago: H.R. Page & Co., 1882.

Michigan. Oceana County. County Clerk's Office, Hart. Death Registers. Joseph J. Robbins entry.

Robbins, Bryan H., oral history. Various dates from c. 1970 through c. 1984, at Robbins homes in Alaska and Colville, WA. Transcript held in 2007 by Miriam Robbins Midkiff,
Spokane, WA.

Robbins, Robert L., oral history. Summer 1989, at Midkiff home near Deep Creek, WA. Transcript held in 2007 by granddaughter Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, WA. Mr.
Robbins is now deceased.

Unknown. "Charles Robbins is One of First to Visit Hesperia." Photocopy of typed transcribed undated clipping, c. 1931 - 1933, from unidentified newspaper, possibly in Newaygo County, Michigan. Owned 2007 by Miriam Robbins Midkiff, Spokane, WA.

United States. National Archives, Washington D.C. Civil War Veteran's Father's Pension Application File of John Crapsey, application no. 284,159, certificate no. 380,350.

United States. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Civil War Veteran Pension Application File of Joseph J. Robbins, application no. 60,087, certificate no. 193,978. Includes documents from Civil War Veteran's Widow's Pension Application File of Marinda Robbins, application no. 833,911, certificate no. 623,194.

United States. National Park Service, Washington, D.C. Civil War Prisons database, Andersonville. Online <>. Viewed 1 September 2007.

View the Brady Civil War Photos collection.