Please, Don’t Write My Obituary!

Raymond Eugene "Gene" Smith Obituary 1989

Raymond Eugene “Gene” Smith Obituary 1989

This really seems like an odd request doesn’t it? If one is not written how else will people know when I leave this world? In most newspapers and even online they list the names of those who recently passed away and maybe a line or two telling a persons age and which funeral home will be handling the service. For me, this would be all I would want. Now the question may arise “WHY?”

As I search through the information I have found concerning my Ancestors I have discovered quite a few obituaries. Although most of them speak highly of the dearly departed there usually isn’t much else written about them.  Yes, some list the names of children and grandchildren or possibly an occupation or a club membership but when you think about the person’s life was that all there was?

My Uncle Gene lived for 72 years. In his obituary it sums up his life this way…died in Oak Grove Missouri, born in Napoleon

Uncle Gene and his well trained dog "Tiny".

Uncle Gene and his well trained dog “Tiny”.

Missouri, married, 5 children, 23 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, one remaining sibling (my mother) and that he was a retired carpenter. That’s it, just one small paragraph to cover an entire lifetime!  Nowhere does it tell that he used to raise Chinchillas in his basement on the large farm that he owned just outside of Oak Grove MO. He grew many crops very successfully, raised cows, horses and chickens. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. He loved animals and he could train any dog.  He loved to read and tell jokes. He was very artistic, not only with his wood carvings but with painting on canvas. He was a friend to everyone and he was a well thought of man in his town. He was also someone you didn’t want to get mad at you! He developed diabetes and at the age of 68 had to have his right leg amputated just below the knee.  You would never know any of this or any of the other great things he did by looking at his obituary.

So, “Please Don’t Write My Obituary”. Instead, I will write my life story and include all the things I want future generations to know about me. The good, the bad and yes even some of the ugly. So this is my mission, to sit and contemplate all the events in my life and to decide what to include and what to leave out. I will dig through my picture box and find pictures to enhance my stories. I can share some of the hard lessons that I have learned. Most importantly, I will share it all from my heart.

Challenge

Will you join me by beginning your own mission to leave behind more than just an Obituary? If you haven’t started writing your own life story yet, today is a good day to start.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Family Search, Genealogy, Missouri, Personal Stories

Don’t “Pigeon Hole” Yourself

Pigeon HoleTo “Pigeon Hole”: to assign to a definite place

What do I mean when I say “Don’t Pigeon Hole Yourself”? In this Blog I am referring specifically to our ethnic background. Unless you have taken a DNA test you really do not know your complete ethnic makeup. We can assume what race we are by some obvious factors like color of our skin, texture of our hair or where we were born. We can even say we look the same as our Grandparents so therefore I am ______! However the farther back we go in our Family Tree the greater the possibility that we may discover some surprising revelations.

Growing up I was told I was of Irish and American Indian descent.  To begin my search I only had my parents, all 4 Grandparents and my Maternal Great Grandparents names. When I started researching my Family History I spent a tremendous amount of time looking mostly at Irish Genealogy sites or the Dawes Rolls. I became frustrated when I would spend hours searching and finding nothing of value. Then hours turned into days and I would eventually give up.  Once I started using Family Search and Ancestry.com for my research I was able to find more information on my family. To my surprise I have found no evidence that I am of American Indian blood.  I have also discovered that I am of Irish descent, but I am also Scottish, English, Welsh, German, French, Canadian and Swedish. I am sure that as I continue searching farther back through time I will discover even more diverse ethnic associations.

Lori's Great Grandmother, Grandmother, and her Mother are in this picture.

Lori’s Great- Grandmother, Grandmother, and her Mother are in this photo.

Here is a case in point. My husband’s cousin Lori had always assumed that she was full blooded Hispanic. After I researched herfamily tree I discovered that she was also Irish (1800’s), German (1800’s), Polish (1700’s) and Apache Indian (1900’s). To say that she was surprised is an understatement. To look at her you would never know that she was actually only about one-third Hispanic. She had tried to find her “roots” several years ago with no luck. I found out that she had only searched for her family in Mexico!

This “Pigeon Holing” can also be applied to your religious background. Many religions such as Baptists, Latter Day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God, Methodists and the Bahá’í Faith have all been started in the last 400 years. So regardless of which religious group you belong to it is quite possible that the farther back in time you are able to search, you have a greater chance that your Ancestors believed or belonged to a religion much different than what you are today. Do not hesitate to search the church records of different religions; you may be surprised by what you may find.

By branching out from our self imposed “Pigeon Holing” a whole new world of Ancestors may open up for us.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Family Search, Genealogy, Hints, How-to, Mexican Ancestry

I Received A Very Nice Surprise – “One Lovely Blog Award”

one-lovely-blog-award_thumbI received a very nice surprise a couple of days ago. I was nominated for the “One Lovely Blog Award” by Jana Last who writes an incredible Blog

Janas Genealogy and Family History

Thank you Jana!

Here are the rules for this award:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to that blog
  2. Share Seven things about yourself
  3. Nominate 15 bloggers you admire (or as many as you can think of!)
  4. Contact your bloggers to let them know that you’ve tagged them for the One Lovely Blog Award

Thank you Jana! I am so honored that you included me in your list of nominees.

Seven Things About Me

  1. I am the last surviving person of my immediate family.
  2. I was given the middle name of “Jane”. It is a family tradition on my mother’s side to give this name to one daughter. The tradition goes back to my 3x Great Grandmother. As a result I named my daughter Jerusha Jane!
  3. My paternal Grandfather, Charley Hughes was born in 1867, 147 years ago!
  4. I was born in Lexington Missouri and my parents moved us to Tucson Arizona when I was 11 months old. I have lived in 7 different States throughout my lifetime but I always end up back in Arizona.
  5. I have had many jobs throughout my life but the one I enjoyed the most was counseling women.
  6. In school I played the clarinet but when I turned 30 I learned to play the drums and have played in a music group and for worship services in several churches.
  7. I have 3 grown children and 9 grandchildren. They are the reason I became a Genealogist.

15 Bloggers I Admire
This is a hard one. There are too many awesome blogs out there that it is difficult to choose only 15.
Here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. The Ancestor Hunt By Kenneth Marks
  2. Treasure Chest Of Memories by Laura Hedgecock
  3. Rooted In Foods by Niki Davis
  4. Sassy genealogist by Carla Love Maitland
  5. Living In The Past by Elise Wormuth
  6. The Family History Rogue by Marylene Goulet
  7. Relative Musings by BB Petura
  8. 3 Houses by Bernice L. Rocque
  9. Keeping Grandma Alive…and all the others, too by Nancy H. Vest
  10. Voices Inside My Head by Bernita Allen
  11. Confuse The Dead by Laurie Desmarais
  12. Tracings by SAM by Susan
  13. Genealogy Circle by Cindy Freed
  14. Roots, Branches, and a Few Nuts by Bev McGowan Norman
  15. Carolina Girl Genealogy by Cheri Hudson Passey

Contact Bloggers 
I will be contacting the fifteen bloggers on my list, unless they see this post and contact me first.

Thanks again Jana for nominating my blog for the “One Lovely Blog Award!”

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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Filed under Ancestry, Blogging, Family History, Family Search

9 Hints for Better Genealogy Interviewing

clip-art-interviewing-Hopefully at some time during the research of our family history we will have the opportunity to talk with an older generation relative. The thought of “interviewing” someone can be a little intimidating. Here are some hints that can make it easier.

HINT: If possible, mail or email your relative a list of the questions you intend to ask ahead of time. Also ask them if they may have any photos they could share with you. This gives them a chance to really think about the answers or even to look up information that they may have. Who knows, they may be sitting on a gold mine of old pictures and documents?

list

HINT: When making the list of questions you want to ask, place the ones you feel are the most important at the top. Then continue with your questions arranging them from most important to the ones that don’t really matter if they do not get answered. Be as specific as you can. Remember the interviewee can’t read your mind so they may not know or understand what kind of information you actually want from them.

HINT: While conducting the interview try not to respond to the person while they are talking. I have done a lot of counseling throughout my life. One thing you do while listening to the other person is to say something like “uh huh” or “Okay” so they know you are actively listening to them. This does not work when interviewing! When I interviewed my in-laws I wasn’t thinking about me responding to them during it. When I got home and I listened to the tape I could hear these annoying little phrases and even a weird giggle that I did when something was funny. It was distracting while trying to transcribe the tapes and at a couple of points I missed a word or two because I was responding as they spoke. Just be aware that you are taping and every noise will be recorded.

HINT: Interviews can be a little scary to both the interviewer and the interviewee. It is best to try to start with questions that are easy to answer, just to put the other person at ease. Fact based questions are usually the best kind to start with. They don’t require too much thinking and can set the flow for the rest of the interview. Just remember to ask questions that are non-threatening or at least ask them in a non-threatening way. An example would be, don’t ask about your Uncles affair with a waitress that resulted in a child, a divorce and a scandal. You can ask something like “How many children did Uncle “Bob” have altogether?” This gives the interviewee the opportunity to answer the question giving information they feel comfortable with and possibly giving you the story of your Uncle. You don’t want to ask any questions that may insult your family. A side note here is: if you know this relative well enough to ask these kinds of questions then go for it. I would first ask if they felt comfortable answering questions about uncomfortable events.

HINT: When preparing your list of questions the best thing to do is to take a look at the family line of the person you will be interviewing. How are they related to you? Next take the time and write down any questions you have from this line. Are there any holes you would like filled in? Any dates, locations or names that are missing? Unless this person is also into Genealogy they may not know much information past 2 or 3 generations. So try to concentrate on developing questions covering just a few generations back. The goal with creating your family history is to not only know “Who” your Ancestors are but “How” they lived. The more you know about them the better rounded your family history will be.

tape-recorder

HINT: When recording it is good to begin your interview by stating the date, location, and the persons’ name you are interviewing. This way if you don’t get it transcribed quickly you will not have to try to remember the “who, what, or where”.

HINT: It is important to find a place where you and the interviewee can be comfortable and have some privacy. All interviews should be on a one to one basis. Otherwise things can get confusing or background noise can make it hard to hear answers, both in person and on tape. When I interviewed my in-laws a few years ago we set everything up in their living room. I recorded my Mother-in-law first then my Father-in-law. My husband was also present. The first interview went great. When it was my Father-in-laws turn it became quite apparent why you should only have only one person present during an interview. My Mother-in-law carried on a conversation with my husband (he did try to keep it quiet and asked her to stop a couple of times), she would correct my Father-in-laws answers and she even made a phone call during the interview.  When I got home and began to transcribe the tapes I had a difficult time deciphering several of my Father-in-laws answers.

Question mark

HINT: Be prepared that there may be some questions that you may ask that the person does not want to answer. Some memories can be painful and are not easy to talk about. Do not press the issue. Just move on graciously. The person you are interviewing will appreciate it and who knows, they may just decide to answer the question later on because of your considerate reaction.

HINT: If there is no way you are able to record the interview then you should try to take good notes. Still use your list of questions so you keep on track. When I visited some cousins in Missouri I had my list of questions and was thoroughly prepared to tape the interview. However, once we got there I realized it wouldn’t be possible. They had prepared dinner for my husband and I so the first hour was just eating. Then we all sat around the kitchen table and talked. There was my Cousin, his new wife, his 3 daughters and their families. There were too many people to record comfortably. So I just asked questions, took notes, and enjoyed myself.

Remember: Sometimes the stories a person will tell during this time are worth more than having all your questions answered. So be flexible. If you have asked the most important questions first then let the person reminisce.

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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Filed under Ancestry, Family History, Family Search, Genealogy, Hints, How-to, Interviewing

Asylum and Bigamy and Vanishing..…Oh My!

See bottom of Blog for names of those in the picture.

See bottom of Blog for names of those in the picture.

Looking at this photo it looks like a very nice, typical 1900 era family. Here you see a husband and wife with their 8 sons. They had two daughters who ran out of the frame just before the photo was taken. Who would think, by viewing this picture, that there could be so much heartbreak and deceit behind it?

 

 

John Daniel Willard was born May 21, 1847 in Adams County, Illinois.  He met and married the beautiful Vaninet “Evanda” Decker (born in 1848 in Illinois) on January 5, 1869. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Easley, Macon Co, Missouri. Over the next 14 years they had 4 sons. During this time Evanda began talking to herself constantly and acting very erratic. She would just wander off leaving her young children alone. It got increasingly worse after the birth of her 4th son in August of 1883. John felt the only option was to have Evanda committed. Sometime before the end of 1883 she was admitted into the Missouri State Mental Hospital in Fulton, MO.

                                                                                                                                                                                              

John Willard and Rosa Noble Marriage License.

John Willard and Rosa Noble Marriage License.

Early in 1884 John petitioned the court to be granted a divorce from Evanda but it was denied. This did not stop John fromfinding a new wife. On March 16, 1884 he married a Miss Rosa Noble in Adair, MO. He was 36 years old and she was under the age of 18. Her father had to give permission for them to marry.  Not much is known about this marriage. What we do know is that Rosa moved into John’s house and took care of his 4 sons. All of a sudden there are no more records of Rosa. No divorce papers, no other marriage licenses and no death certificates. One day she is there and the next day she is gone!

 

John WIllard and Sarah Pinkerton Marriage License.

John WIllard and Sarah Pinkerton Marriage License.

On December 26 1886 John marries his 3rd and final wife, Sarah Jane Pinkerton born in August 1863. She was 23 years old and he was 39. A little less than 9 months later they welcomed their first child, a little girl. They went on to have a total of 6 children, 2 girls and 4 boys. After they were married they moved the family to the mining community of Willard, MO which is just north of Springfield, MO.

After Sarah died in 1910, John and the younger children moved to Lexington, MO where the older boys had moved. On January 25, 1914 at the age of 66, John died of liver cancer. He is buried in the Dover Cemetery in Dover, MO.  In the 27 years since he had Evanda committed he never went to visit her. He never divorced any of his wives and he never revealed what happened to Rosa. This was indeed a very mysterious man. It is unknown if Rosa and Sarah knew that John never divorced Evanda, therefore they were never really married to the man.

Evanda Decker Willard died in the State Mental Hospital on November 15, 1925 at the age of 77.

 The Willard Family Picture:

 Back row L-R

William Albert Willard, Charles Andrew Willard, George Earnest Willard and John Henry Willard

Front row L-R

Sarah Jane (Pinkerton), John Daniel Willard, Jim H. Willard (on lap), Mitchell Lee Willard, Benjamin Harrison Willard and Joseph Andrew Willard.

 I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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Filed under Ancestry, Asylum, Bigamy, Family History, Family Search, Genealogy, Missouri, Personal Stories

9 Interesting Facts About Cemeteries and Headstones

Tucson  South Lawn CemeteryI have always loved Cemeteries, especially old ones with all the ancient stones that seemed to have character to them. Growing up my family would visit the local Cemetery at least once a month, taking flowers or potted plants for the people we knew. My Mom would even pack a picnic lunch and we would sit on wooden benches in one section of the grounds and eat our sandwiches. I thought this is what everyone did and as a result I never developed a “fear” of Cemeteries.

Obviously taking pictures of Headstones for “Find-a-Grave” came natural for me. I have taken over 1000 photos in the last year alone. My daughter and two Grandsons’ often accompany me and the boys tend to ask a lot of questions. “Why does that one have a tree on it?” “Do all Cemeteries have grass like this?” “How come that one is completely covered with cement?”

To be honest they have asked some questions that I didn’t have an answer for, so I had to spend some time researching. As I was looking for answers to their questions I even came up with some I had often wondered about myself.  Here are some of the interesting facts that I discovered:

  1. Before the 19th Century there were no actual Graveyards. Most people were buried on their family property or just Church cemeteryoutside the town limits. Later they began to bury people in the Church yard which were usually fenced in and they felt very desolate. By the mid 19th Century most Church yards were getting full and more people were living in larger towns. As a result they began setting aside land specifically for Cemeteries. These were well maintained and had grass, trees and flowers giving it a “park like” feel. It was then that people began the tradition of picnicking in the Cemetery.

 mortsafes

  1. 2.Up until the 18th Century a lot of graves were covered by iron cages called “mortsafes” or were totally covered with stones. There are 4 reasons given for this tradition 1) to keep animals from digging up the corpse 2)to keep people from walking or sitting on the graves 3) to keep the deceased from becoming a vampire or zombie 4) to keep the grave from being ravaged by grave robbers.
  1. Headstone engravers faced their own “Year 2000 problem” when still-living people, as many as 500,000 in the United States alone, pre-purchased headstones with pre-carved death dates beginning 19–.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  wooden headstone

  1. During the Civil War the headstones were made of wood and cost about $1.73 a piece. After discovering that the wood deteriorated over a 5 year period and realizing how much it would cost to replace them so often they decided that they should be replaced with a more permanent marble or galvanized iron marker.
  1. Arlington Cemetery began as a Cemetery for Union Soldiers only. In 1898, President William McKinley, a former Union soldier, spoke in Atlanta, Georgia and said, “In the spirit of Fraternity it is time for the North to share in the care of the graves of former Confederate soldiers.” In consequence to his speech, by act of the United States Congress, a portion of Arlington National Cemetery was set aside for the burial of Confederate soldiers. At this time 267 Confederate remains from and near Washington, D.C. were removed and re-interred at this new site at Arlington.
  1. There are several reasons that there are unmarked grave. 1) If the deceased was a bad person. 2) If the deceased was an executed criminal.  3) If the deceased was a pauper.   4) If the deceased wanted anonymity. 

 Memento Mori PIC. with hourglass

  1. 7. Puritans who were known for their tremendous piety, often had that Skull and Crossbones put on their Headstones. It was a reminder that they had gone to Heaven but if you did not believe as they did you would go to hell. It was called a “Memento Mori” which is Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’.

                                                                                                                                                                                               mozart

  1. Many famous people made the decision to be buried in unmarked graves for a variety of reasons. Among those who chose no markings are John Wayne, George C. Scott, Frank Zappa, Roy Orbison, Mozart, Bessie Smith and John Belushi.
  1. You can learn a lot about the deceased by the symbols displayed on their Headstone. During Colonial times the person’s occupation was depicted by symbols. A gardener may have a shovel or rake, a carpenter may have a saw and a sheriff may have a star. There were also symbols for those who died young, mothers, lost their life in a battle or who were martyred. Here is a link to the Symbols and their meanings: http://tinyurl.com/47zsjfp

Regardless of how a person feels about Cemeteries and burial plots, it would be impossible to work on your Family History without having to deal with them. 

OH, BY THE WAY…..I haven’t “picnicked” in a Cemetery since I was 12 years old!

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

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Filed under Ancestry, Cemetery, Family History, Family Search, Genealogy, History, Mortsafe, Personal Stories, U.S. President

Writing About The Historical Events That Occurred During Your Lifetime

Mary Lynn Elementary School

Mary Lynn Elementary School

When I was 8 years old we lived in a house that was located on a dirt road just outside the Tucson city limits. We used to get the neighborhood kids together and play kickball in the street. One time when it was my turn at the plate, I kicked the ball and it went to the left and I ran to first base which was to the right. The ball hit a rock and bounced to the right directly under my feet. I fell over the ball and ended up with a large rock embedded in my knee. I had to have several stitches and the Doctor instructed me not to run. At school they made me sit in the office during recess and lunch because I had a hard time not running when I was outside.

I vividly remember the day I was sitting on the couch in the office when the principle, Mrs. Reineke came running into the room. She said something in a whisper to the receptionist who immediately turned pale and began to cry. The office door opened and in came several of the teachers and aides. They wheeled in a television on a large rolling stand and plugged it in. One of the aides pulled the shade down over the window of the door that lead from the hallway into the office. Everyone gathered around the set.

I heard the gasps of the adults as the News Anchorman announced that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been shot

President John F. Kennedy

President John F. Kennedy

while riding in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas Texas.  I could hear some of the teachers crying softly, tears rolling down their cheeks. After what seemed like an eternity to me the Anchorman then announced that President Kennedy had died from his wounds at Parkland Memorial Hospital. The room erupted in sobs and outrage. All I could do was cower back as far as I could on the couch and cover my ears. I had never known anyone who had died before so I wasn’t sure what it meant, all I did know was it was a horrible thing that just happened.

Several minutes later the room quieted down and Mrs. Reineke began instructing the teacher on how to tell their pupils about the death of our President. She suddenly stopped mid-sentence and got a surprised look on her face. All the teachers turned to follow her gaze which had fallen upon me. In all the uproar no one had noticed that I was there. She immediately came over and lifted me in her arms. This made me begin to cry, more from confusion than anything else. She sat down and held me on her lap and explained to me what had just happened. Sadness like I had never known fell over me.

JFK Newspaper clippingAfter all the teachers had left Mrs. Reineke asked the receptionist to go and get me an ice cream from the cafeteria. She then told me that none of the other children knew about what happened and that when we all return to our classes the teachers were going to give us the news. She told me not tell anyone. When the bell rang I left the office and went to meet up with my class at the water fountain outside our classroom. Remember, I am an 8 year old girl with a heavy secret. One that was too heavy to keep. After taking a drink from the fountain I turned around and informed the student behind me that the President had been shot and he had died. She was not the only one who heard me and the next thing I knew there were several kids crying. Yes, I did get in trouble from my teacher.

This was a terrible time for our Country. President Kennedy was very well liked and he had done a lot of good while he was in office. On the day of the Presidents funeral the entire school went into the Auditorium and watched it on television. Most of us were too young to realize that we were having a firsthand look at an historic moment.

I will ever forget where I was when Kennedy got shot; do you remember where you were? We experience so many Historical Moments in our lives and this gives us an opportunity to write what we see, feel or believe concerning these events. Spend some time and think of all the changes that have happened in your lifetime, think about some Major event that took place that impacted you in some way. Now write about it. Let’s all leave our own accounts of History for our future generations.

 

I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, crafter, reader, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Amazon.com: Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.

 

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Filed under Ancestry, Arizona, Family History, Family Search, Genealogy, History, How-to