The Hammer

Growing up, I knew absolutely nothing about my paternal grandfather. I was told he died, which was true. What I didn’t know was that in 1941 he abandoned his wife and 5 children (with one on the way), left them in Idaho and went off to start a new life in California. His name was Carrol Raymond Messler and he died years later in 1959.

I knew very little about Carrol, in fact, I had never even seen a photo of him. I didn’t know what kind of work he did, I didn’t know about the events that led to his leaving. I didn’t even know what he looked like.

I grew up calling my grandmother Mildred’s second husband Percy “grandpa”. They married in 1956, long before I was born, so he is the one who I remember. Percy died in 1993 at the age of 91. I traveled back to Idaho for Percy’s funeral. Understandably, my grandmother was having a difficult day and it happened that for a short time, it was just the two of us in her house.

She sat on the sofa and pulled out an old cigar box that held photos and pulled one out and handing it to me she said, “That’s Carrol”. Oh my goodness, it was like looking at a photo of my own father. As I looked at the photo, grandma began telling me stories. Stories that I had never heard before. She talked about the difficulty of caring for six children, feeding them and clothing them during the 1940s. She shared memories of situations she faced.

And then she walked into the kitchen and sat at the old Formica table. Grandma’s kitchen was the center-piece of the house. Only guests used the front door, friends and family always came in through the back straight into the kitchen. Even now, as I write this, I can still picture the kitchen. As we sat at the table, drinking our Cokes, Grandma pointed over to the wall next to the basement door. “See that hammer? Hand it to me will you?” I reached over for the hammer and gave it to her.

She looked down at it as she turned it over in her hands and told me the story of how the hammer came to be.

“I was over at my folk’s house one day, out in the barn with my father, when Ramon found this old hammer head in the dirt.”

“Mommy, mommy,” he said, “I’m going to take this home and Daddy can make me…”

“He stopped talking and threw the hammer head down. After he left the barn I picked the hammer head up and stuck it in my pocket. Years later, Percy made this handle for me and put it together.”

I looked at the hammer. A normal, every-day hammer that was always leaning in the corner behind the basement door. But it held secrets. The secrets to a little boy’s pain at knowing his father was never coming home again. The secrets to a mother’s pain. And it held understanding for me.

I think about the secrets that families have. As researchers secrets are our goal. We dig into newspaper articles and birth, marriage, and death records looking for the secrets. How much easier our jobs would be if people didn’t keep secrets. Life is painful, life is beautiful and messy. Must secrets play such a big part?                                                                                     Featured image

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James Whitecotton, Kentucky Soldier

James Whitecotton was born March 14, 1750 in Stafford, Virginia to George Whitecotton and Mary Harris. James married Ruth Newton Hudspeth about 1771, there is some confusion about Ruth’s name, but it appears Newton was her maiden name and Hudspeth a married name. Ruth was also born about 1750 and died sometime after 1840 when she signed an affidavit in which she stated she was then 75 years old, but that date does not match up with the birth of her children so it is more likely she was at least 85 years old in 1840. There are no records found of Ruth Whitecotton after 1840.

James and Ruth had 10 children, all of whom lived to adulthood and married. They have thousands of descendants roaming around the world. My own circle of known descendants numbers in the hundreds itself.

In 1776, James enlisted as a Private in Captain William Fountain’s Company in Virginia. Serving under Colonel Charles Scott, this company marched across Virginia near what is now Norfolk, at that time it was known as Long Bridge or Great Bridge. On December 9, 1775 the company engaged in battle with the British. The bridge was on the main road connecting Virginia to North Carolina, a very important and strategic holding for the Continental Army. James Whitecotton fought in this battle and was part of the victory forcing the British to evacuate Norfolk and later to totally retreat from Virginia. This defeat caused the British to lose their supporters in Virginia and was a huge victory for the Continental Army.

In 1778, James Whitecotton re-enlisted under General George Rogers Clark. If you are not from Indiana or Kentucky, the name George Rogers Clark probably has no great meaning, but in those areas Clark is revered to this day. General Clark was the brother of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame). Under Gen. Clark, James Whitecotton was in the company that marched from Kentucky to Kaskaskia, Illinois. They were then able to capture Vincennes, Indiana from the British. George Rogers Clark and his company of men fought on the Northwestern frontier and marched across much of Indiana and Illinois fighting the British and their allies, the Native Americans.

By 1800, James and Ruth with their children, had moved to Kentucky. They settled in Washington County, near Bardstown. James and Ruth did not own slaves, but I doubt it was for ideological reasons, but more likely because of lack of funds and resources. From 1800 through 1840, James can be found listed in the U.S. Federal Census in Washington and later Marion Counties (Marion was formed from part of Washington County in 1834).

When we think of James marching across Virginia to Kentucky to Illinois, I think many times we picture these places as we’ve seen them today. However, once we realize that there were no troop transport trucks, no airships, no roads, we see things differently. In 1776, these men walked hundreds of miles through brush and briars, finding their food along the way. They rowed boats down the Ohio River and waded through creeks and swamps, evading both human and animal prey. The hardships were enormous and difficult as they spent days and nights in the open and endless time away from their families.

While in Kentucky, I visited Lebanon National Cemetery where James Whitecotton was laid to rest. I stood on the Ohio River bank and tried to imagine crossing it in 1778. I visited the home of George Rogers Clark and wondered if James had been there at some time in the past. I wonder what James and Ruth thought as their children began to move from Kentucky to Missouri and their descendants moved even further west. James Whitecotton, a Kentucky soldier, died on June 7, 1849 in Pleasant Run, Kentucky. He was 99 years old. James and Ruth Whitecotton were my 6th Great-grandparents. Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Patriot Index #1966, Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Patriot Index #P-318654. I obtained much of my information through my own research, however I did also use the resources provided by Bettysgenealogyblog.

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Loyalist daughter and Patriot son

Eugenia Clapp was born September 27, 1833 in Milford, Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.  Her father was Hiram Clapp and her mother was Rhoda Striker. Eugenia’s grandfather Sampson Striker was a Loyalist who strongly supported the British monarchy during the American Revolution serving as a Sergeant in Delaney’s Corp, he moved to Canada with his family after the war’s end. Eugenia, or Jane as she was commonly known, moved with her parents to Wisconsin sometime before 1854. It was in Wisconsin that Jane married Roswell Graves on August 18, 1857 in Wyocena, Columbia County, Wisconsin, she was 23 and he was 20 years old.

Roswell was born in Pennsylvania to Roswell Graves and Mary Ann Betts, the Graves family were Patriots during the Revolutionary War. Roswell’s paternal great-grandfather (also named Roswell Graves) died in the Old Sugar House British Prison in New York City in 1776, having been taken prisoner in the Battle of Long Island. His maternal great-grandfather Andrew Betts served as a Corporal in the Pennsylvania Militia. Two families who stood on opposite sides of the War of Independence melding with the marriage of Jane and Roswell. It must have made for interesting discussions around their family table.

Two years after they were married, Roswell was ordained a Methodist Preacher and served in local churches in Wisconsin and Iowa. In 1864 Jane and Roswell moved with their three young children to California. We don’t know what prompted this move from Iowa to wild, unsettled, wide-open California. They settled first in Solano County and it was here their 4th child was born in 1865. Two years later they moved from Solano County to Walnut Grove in Sacramento County where their 5th child was born in 1867, at this time Roswell changed from Methodism to Congregationalism. A year later they were in Contra Costa County where their 6th child was born in 1868, and in 1872 they were in Battle Creek in Tehama County where their 7th and final child was born.

Tehama County was sparsely populated, ranching country at this time. An article in the Sacramento Daily Union in November 1872 mentioned the north winds in Tehama County saying, “Those winds are the curse of this country. They make war against all living things. They blow the life out of the weak and the evil spirit into the strong”. It was in this country that Jane would make a home for her family on the South side of Battle Creek.

There were a few other families and ranches nearby, but the area in and around Battle Creek had experienced some troubles with the local Indians and was still a very wild and unsettled area. In 1866 Marie Dersch was killed by Indians a few miles north of Battle Creek on the Nobles Immigrant Trail and not long after that, the home of Simon and Arzilla Darrah was burned down at what is now the Darrah Springs Fish Hatchery. Jane’s knowledge of this recent history must have added to her discomfort of living in a small shack along the creek.

Just a short time after Jane’s daughter Bertha May was born in Battle Creek on August 24, 1872, the entire family came down with ague, pronounced āʹgyo͞o, it is an illness related to malaria with chills and fevers. The isolation and illness proved to be too much for Jane and their time in Tehama County was short-lived, within six months Jane and Roswell moved their family to Redding in Shasta County.

During this time in Redding, Roswell Graves performed the first wedding ceremony in Shasta County in June 1873 for a couple who traveled down from Weaverville (near the area mentioned in Cemetery Addict). Jane and Roswell spent the remainder of their time in Shasta County, serving at The Little Shasta Church near present-day Yreka. After Roswell’s death in 1883 Jane moved with her daughter Ella to Washington State where she died in 1912 at the age of 78.

Eugenia is one of the forgotten pioneers of California, moving with her husband and children across Northern California, she supported her husband as he brought the Gospel to the miners, loggers, and ranchers in the wilderness areas. Jane lived in Solano, Sacramento, Alameda, San Francisco, Tehama, Shasta, and Siskiyou Counties. She lived in areas where there were floods, earthquakes, Indian attacks, and disease. She lived at a time when women had very little resources to fall back on and in places where she had very little support from friends and no family to lean against. Through it all she kept her family together and provided for her children in the best way she could. Roswell was my 1st cousin 4x removed.

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Roswell and Eugenia Graves
Photo and some information from the website of Faye West
http://www.fayewest.ca

My 5 Murphy’s Laws for Genealogists

1. The records you want are held in the next county over.

Experienced researchers know that when they are ready to travel to another state for research they should come prepared. Have a list of families with names and dates of those who lived in that area. This way we make the most of our time. Preparing also means knowing what records are available at the location. Umm, it also helps to know if the county you are researching was broken off from another county (or two) and the records for the two years you actually need are kept in the original county which is a two-hour drive away. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do. Don’t be like me, be prepared.

2. The cemetery you are looking for closed and all the records were lost when they reinterred the bodies at the new cemetery.

My 5th Great-grandmother Abigail, married 1st Russell E Post and married 2nd James Withrow in 1827 in Oxford, Ohio. She died sometime between 1850 and 1858, she was in the 1850 Federal Census in Oxford and family letters written between her grand-children in 1858 mention her estate. Armed with this information I traveled to Butler County, Ohio in search of a will, probate records or death information. I found none.

So I went to the library in Middletown and found a cemetery book written by Hazel Stroup. I glanced through the index, I found no family names, however the introduction looked interesting so I read it thinking I might gain some historical understanding of the area. And that I did. Turns out there were 2 Oxford Cemeteries. The original one was closed in 1855 and the land sold for a new rail line and most (note that word) of the graves were disinterred and moved to the “new” cemetery. The next line in Stroup’s book was the most interesting to me, “and Abigail Withrow was one of the first 5 burials in the new cemetery on March 7, 1856″. I drove to Oxford and went to the oldest section of the cemetery and there was a section with her son, son-in-law, and some grandchildren. And there was one extremely old stone, the writing too worn to read and I knew I had found Abigail.

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3. The Family Bible, Pension Records, Will, lists all the marriages except the one you need.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to whom this has happened. You learn that someone out there in “internet-land” has the family Bible. You send an email, and oh so nicely, ask for a copy of all the handwritten pages. And to your shock, it shows up in your in-box within days. You are excited when you open that email and then… Every child’s marriage is listed except your ancestor’s. Why? I asked when it happened to me. Why couldn’t someone list John Allen’s marriages? Is it because he had so many? Fourteen children that I know of and not one of them could write down their mother’s name. I have to write my mother’s name whenever I want to access my bank account and these people managed to live their entire lives without telling anyone the name of their mother. Oh the humanity!

4. Unless they come from two entirely separate continents, your parents are related.

I was living in Kentucky and having a late-night phone conversation with my mother on the West Coast. She was telling me a story about an in-law of her ancestor who was supposed to be the mid-wife at Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Confused, I looked at my tree and said, “Hendrick Enloes had a daughter, not a son.” I looked closer at the daughter, Hester, and said, “Oh my gosh, Mom. She’s Dad’s line, you are the son’s line!” Since then, we’ve found other times where they are interconnected so I’ve had to learn to live with it. Does that make me my own Grandma?

5. Your family line is not listed in the History of (fill in the blank) Family. 

There are many wonderful family history and local history books out there. For my family lines I have the Doty book (it stops right where I need to make the connection). In the Chaffee book, William H Chaffee lists my ancestor as Rhoda An Fluery married to Ambrose Worthington Chaffee, not Rhoda An Doty as her children and husband name her. In the Allen book, Your Royal Lineage, Valerie Larson lists my ancestor John Allen married to Marion Hurd, Marion didn’t seem to exist (just like Alford Abner Sisley).

Don’t let those Murphy’s Laws hold you back. When happenstance seems to come against you, renounce Murphy, keep strong and don’t let him discourage you as that seems to be his goal. As you work those family lines and things seem to be falling together easily, watch out. Murphy is hanging out just around the corner. He’s peeking at your work, smirking as he says to himself, “They think Catherine is the same lady, haha, it’s a new wife and they can’t tell.” Keep alert for Murphy and his laws. You can work around him, just be prepared.

Finding Fern, Researching Outside The Box

My grandfather Kenneth Chaffee, always carried in his wallet a photograph of a boy and girl. He would show it to me and tell me this was his brother Olney Sisley and his sister Pearl Chaffee. Olney was his mother’s son (learn more about her in my post Puppy’s at the Bottom) and Pearl was his father’s daughter so they were not related to each other but both were half-siblings of my grandfather. Kenneth’s parents divorced just before he was born so he never met Pearl. Olney died at the age of 17 in 1912 when my grandfather was about 8 years old. My grandfather always wished he could find Pearl but he died in Las Vegas (where we lived) in 1979 without ever having found her.

My mother has the genealogy bug (that’s who I inherited it from). So she, Kenneth’s daughter, began researching her father’s family. There was little information at the beginning and this was before Ancestry.com and the internet was in its infancy. Kenneth’s father Ambrose Chaffee was living in South Dakota in 1906 according to records found in court proceedings. After that he disappears. What to do next? In 1999, my mother did a purely random, out-of-the blue, search in a North Dakota database on USGenWeb.org for any Chaffee. She found an index for a land record.

Armed with this new information, she quickly ordered a copy of the 1920 Federal Census from the library and eagerly searched for Ambrose Chaffee (before the days of indexing). There he was! Married to a Grace with a daughter Fern. Who were they? Fern Chaffee was 7 years old in 1920 and born in North Dakota. Remember, this was 1999 so there was no 1930 Federal Census released yet. And in 1999 Fern Chaffee would be 86 years old if she were still living. So my now very excited mother posted a query on a North Dakota USGenWeb.org site seeking information about Ambrose Chaffee married to Grace with a daughter Fern.

Within days of the query, a very kind woman in Minneapolis answered and said she grew up in the house next-door to this family and she remembered that Fern married a man named Kenneth King and moved to Las Vegas. What?? Las Vegas???? That is where we lived and where my grandfather Kenneth Chaffee had died. So my mother grabbed the phone book (1999 remember) and found 3 “F. Kings” listed. She called each of them and left messages about Ambrose Chaffee.

Fern Chaffee King was the only one of the three who returned the call. As expected, she was a very skeptical 86-year old woman and didn’t really believe my mother’s story that her father Ambrose had a third marriage. Fern grew up knowing her half-sister Pearl Chaffee but had never heard about a brother. Fern and my mother agreed to meet at a local restaurant and both coincidently brought the same photograph of Pearl and Olney which sealed the deal. My mother had finally met her Aunt Fern. Aunt Fern learned about family she never knew.

Fern and my mother developed a close relationship and shared stories by phone and visits. Pearl Chaffee had died in 1932 leaving behind 2 young sons. These sons had eventually moved to Las Vegas and Fern had followed in 1988 a few years after the death of her husband.

Fern died on May 2, 2014 in Las Vegas, she had celebrated her 100th birthday the previous December (the last time I was able to see her). Fern was excited to learn about her new family and at one point we learned her father had another marriage with yet another child. We were able to meet even more family as the daughter of Leroy “Chaffee” Owens made the trip to Las Vegas to meet her new Aunt Fern and cousin.

Finding new family is an amazing experience. Having them accept you and the new information you share is even more amazing. When you are trying to break through your brick walls, think outside the box. Look for tax records and land records and even phone books in surrounding states. And don’t forget to post those queries. Maybe you too will find your Fern.

My Grandfather Kenneth Chaffee and his siblings

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Cemetery Addict

Hi, my name is Susan and I’m a Cemetery Addict. Whew, glad that’s out. I’ve been a cemetery addict since I was a small child. On family trips we would be driving merrily along when someone would say, “There’s a cemetery” and the car would stop and we would all pile out to explore. Exploring an unknown cemetery was fun because you never knew who you would find. We would make up stories about the names we read and we wondered about their lives. That childhood love of cemeteries is with me still today.

Not too long ago a few of us decided to take a drive to Whiskeytown Lake in Shasta County, California. A friend of ours suggested we also stop at the Whiskeytown Cemetery. And armed with that information off we went. We stopped first at Old Shasta and did a little exploring and then we came upon a highway sign that said simply, “Pioneer Baby’s Grave”. So we walked down a short hill and came upon a small grave of a young baby buried in 1864, the only body buried in this old Jewish Cemetery. So sad, but his life is remembered each year by the members of Temple Beth Israel in Redding, California.

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We continued our drive into Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. How beautiful. The lake was dedicated in 1963 by President John F Kennedy, a fact I was completely unaware of until we happened upon the site dedication. They have a small parking area where you can overlook the lake while listening to a recording of JFK’s speech. From there it was just a couple of miles to Whiskeytown Cemetery.

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Wow! How can I explain Whiskeytown Cemetery? The sight of it left me absolutely speechless. I had never in all my years of cemetery walking seen one that looked like this. Each grave was decorated and I don’t mean the stones. Every single grave had toys or flags or tools spilling across it. There were fire trucks and gardens. There were beer cans and garden wind spinners. There were old graves and recent ones. But they all had one thing in common. The decorations. Some of the graves had lawn chairs for family to sit and remember, others had wooden benches. Each grave was filled with mementoes of lives that were lived. But what I saw most was a place to celebrate and not just mourn those who are buried there. I was awe-struck by all the love I saw as I walked past each grave.

Just across the cemetery road is a small pet cemetery with all the same decorations and remembrances.

I’ve been to some amazing cemeteries across the United States, some of the most memorable are Crown Hill in Indianapolis, Arlington in Virginia and Cave Hill in Louisville and now I can add Whiskeytown near Redding. Are you a cemetery addict too? What are your favorites in case I get a chance to visit your area?