Saturday, March 16, 2019

Recommending Books for Women's History Month, 2019

My original idea for this post was to list my favorite women's history books from less favorite to most favorite with my most favorite last.  As I reviewed these books I realized that about eight of them rank in the #1 position so they're not really in any particular order, though the last two are my most favorite.  There's a broad range of books --  letters, biographies, memoirs, a cookbook -- from various time periods.  I hope you'll find at least one book you'd like to read, perhaps one that parallels the life of an ancestor your know, or the occupation of an ancestor, or just one that interests you from this collection of books about women in history.

Not Becoming My Mother & Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way.  Ruth Reichl
     The author's mother, born in 1909, had plans for her daughter.  Her parents sent her to music school even though she wanted to be a doctor.  It wasn’t until after her mother’s death that Ruth learned of the sacrifices her mother made so that Ruth could live a different, freer life.
     I thought this was a great family history book, made all the better because Ruth’s mother had left lots of notes, letters, and other ephemera.

Half Broke Horses:  A True-Life Novel.  Jeannette Walls   
     This is a collection of stories (presented in chronological order) about the author’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  Lily told the stories to her daughter -- to impart life lessons -- who recounted them to the author.  Walls commented that Lily was a very real person – she called her a character, with all due respect – but because she didn’t have the stories word-for-word and had to fill in some of the hazy or missing details with her own imagination, she thought the only honest thing was to call the book a novel.
     Lily was born in the early 1900s and grew up on a ranch in the Arizona territories.  If she had had a weaker character or less stamina, her life would have been completely different.  She helped her father break horses when she was six; traveled hundreds of miles alone on horseback to teach school when she was 15; learned to drive a car and fly a plane; and, to a great extent, chose the life she wanted to live, or, at the very least, lived well the life that came her way.  The book is written in the first person and I came away feeling that I had a good idea what Lily would have been like in real life:  a character to love.

The Witches:  Salem, 1692.  Stacy Schiff
     If you have ancestors who lived in Salem or any nearby community in the 1690s you may find this book interesting.  I found it interesting as wells  challenging.  The cast of characters was extensive but their stories were scattered through the chapters.  It gave me a different perspective of life in the 1690s among the Puritans.  While reading I couldn't help but wonder how the people could have been duped by a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old.  I wrote a more extended post about this book which you can read here

Empty Mansions:  The Mysterious Life of Hugette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.
Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.
     I loved this book!  The writing was interesting and it was well-documented with nearly 50 pages of notes at the end.  It had photographs in both black and white and color.  And it had heart.  Hugette’s father, W.A. Clark, was one of the wealthiest men in America at the time he died in the late 1920s.  (He was born in common circumstances in 1839 in a 4-room log cabin in Pennsylvania.  He moved from one success to another, accumulating wealth as the years passed.)  Upon his death, Hugette (pronounced oo-GET) and four of her half-siblings inherited millions of dollars.  In the book she was described as “shy” or “eccentric,” but as I read about her life I realized that she was an introvert.  She was incredibly generous with her wealth and derived pleasure from sharing it with others.  She was an artist, a musician, a doll-collector, and a lover of the arts.  She owned paintings by Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, among others.  She owned several mansions, yet lived in an apartment until she was in her 80s.  She developed cancer of the face and moved to a hospital, staying there nearly 20 years until her death.  Eccentric?  Yes.  But oh-so-interesting.

Don’t Sing at the Table:  Life Lessons from My Grandmothers.  Adriana Trigiani
     Trigiani's grandmothers, born in the early 1900s, were recent immigrants with strong ties to Italy and Italian traditions.  Both worked in the clothing industry when young, married, and raised children.  One opened her own blouse factory with her husband.  The other, widowed at a young age, supported her family as a couture seamstress in Chisholm, Minnesota.  The author touches on dates and locations but she focuses on her grandmothers’ attributes, personalities, the lives they lived, the morals they lived by, and the values they held.
     Her grandmothers were wise women with sage advice and I learned (or was sometimes reminded of) excellent rules to live by.  (“Pay your bills.  Clean up your debts as you go; let the obligation to pay off the debt fuel your ambition. . . .   Have a moral code that elevates your thinking, and your behavior will follow. . . . Take a chance, and when you fail, take another.  There is no limit on risk; aim high and aim true.  Be bold.  Be different.  Remember who you come from; you owe them because they gave you the ticket to this adventure.  Honor the debt.”)
     In some ways I think this is the kind of book that every family historian should write about an ancestor he/she knows or knew.

In My Hands:  Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer.
Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
     Irene was a 17-year-old Catholic nursing student when war came to Poland.  She was captured, escaped, then captured again.  When she saw the atrocities being committed, she chose to help:  food under the ghetto fence at first, then transporting people in horse-drawn carts under piles of straw, then finally harboring a dozen people in the basement of a Wehrmacht major’s villa.  She was “only a girl” but she did great things.  Well worth the read.  In fact, as I was reading it I was thinking this is a true life thriller.
    I have often wondered what the Holocaust victims thought when they saw blue skies, birds, other beauties of nature.  Irena wrote,
     Surely, the evil being done in my county must be a poison that would ruin the soil, tarnish the air, and foul the water.  Sometimes, when I thought of the amount of hatred dwelling in Poland, I was surprised to see that the grass was still green, that the trees still flourished their leaves against a blue sky.
     And yet they did.  It is a terrible irony of war, that nature itself does not rebel when man turns against his brother.  I have seen nightmares take place on beautiful spring days.  The birds can hop from one branch to another, tipping their heads and honing their small beaks against the bark while a child dies in the mud below.

She Left Me the Gun:  My Mother's Life Before Me.  Emma Brockes
     Several times Emma’s mother said to her, “One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.”  Her mother died without telling her and Emma sets off to learn about her mother’s childhood in South Africa and her immigration to England by tracking down all of her aunts and uncles and traveling back to South Africa.  Excellent sleuthing for those who know living relatives.
     Emma said, “I think about it [her mother’s childhood to adult experience] afterward, what I am doing and why.  The stronger reaction, I think, would be to walk away, to honor the firewall my mother put between her past and my present and to carry on with my life.  But I can’t....  While she was alive, it was none of my business.  Now, unless I make it my business, it will follow her into oblivion.”

Bold Spirit.  Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America.  Linda Lawrence Hunt   
     Hunt put Helga in time and place and shares it all with us.  Helga walked across America with her daughter to earn $10,000 to save her home and farm from foreclosure.  And then her story was silenced until the smallest thread was found and shared by one of Helga’s great-grandchildren.  Hunt discusses reasons why stories might be silenced.  Read a previous post here.

A Midwife's Tale:  The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785--1812.  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
     Martha Ballard was 50 in 1785 when she started her diary.  She wrote daily, usually just a few sentences:  always about the weather; usually about her comings and goings; the births and deaths attended; her house and garden work; and sometimes about the events in the community around her.   I love the interpretations and discussion which follow the diary entries in each chapter.  Thatcher's words add further light and insight.
     I think Martha Ballard is a hero to me.  She was such a faithful woman.  She served so many people in so many ways.  She was spunky:  she was still digging in her garden, starting new beds, and planting until she was 76, a year before she died.  I think she was an amazing woman.
     I loved this book.  I posted a more extensive review here.

The Midwife:  A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times.
Jennifer Worth
     The setting is 1950s Poplar, an area of London, England, near the docks where the primary dialect is Cockney.  Nurse Jennifer Lee works as a midwife with a group of nuns who serve the women of the area.  Most chapters are self-contained stories, though some stories continue for several chapters.
     One of the interesting aspects of the book is being able to learn how the author's perspective changed as she came to learn about and know the people she served.
     If you're interested in language, dialect, accents, and slang, be sure to read "On the difficulties of writing the Cockney dialect" in the appendix.  It's a dozen pages of fun.
     Jennifer Worth wrote two sequels to this book:  Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to the East End.  The first year or two of PBS series "The Midwife" is based on these books.

Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.  Mildred Armstrong Kalish
     This was a fun book.  I enjoyed the author’s writing style and the experiences she shared.  She included recipes, homemaking tips, etc.  She said she grew up thinking that certain expressions were one word:  agoodwoman, hardearnedmoney, agoodhardworker, alittleheathen, agoodwoolshirt.  Worth the read.

Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey.  Lillian Schlissel
     Great book!  I have so much appreciation for those women.  Just amazing some of the experiences they had.  One of the women, Amelia Stewart Knight, was 3 months pregnant when they started the journey and nearly due toward the end when she was climbing up a mountain over rock, and back down the other side of the mountain.  One woman talked about three days of rain with children and a newborn baby and nowhere to get dry.  Another woman said that when they finally arrived to their destination, her husband drove her to the barren land on which sat a tiny sod hut and said something like, “Isn’t that the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen?”  The women never mentioned being pregnant in their journals/letters.  The nearest they came was to saying “ill.”  Amazing women!!!
In the end, a woman who came through the journey felt she had won her own victory.  The test of the journey was whether or not she had been equal to the task of holding her family together against the sheer physical forces that threatened to spin them to the four winds of chance.  It was against the continual threat of dissolution that the women had striven.

The Tin Ticket:  The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women.  Deborah J. Swiss
     This was nearly edge-of-the-seat good.  I could hardly put it down.  Most of the narrative focuses on two Scottish teen girls sentenced to transportation to Van Diemans Land.  Their paths later cross with that of a mother and her daughter who were also sentenced to transportation.  It’s a compelling story.  The women in this book triumphed over adversity beyond my imagination.  I posted a more detailed review here.

Farm Wife:  A Self-Portrait, 1886-1896.  Virginia E. McCormick
     I enjoy this book immensely.  It is taken from the diaries of Margaret Dow Gebby, an Ohio farm wife.  It set me down on a farm during the same time period when my ancestors farmed.  The content is presented topically and is edited heavily from the original diary but the editor included some very helpful and insightful comments between diary entries.  All of the diaries are available at the Ohio Historical Society.  I wrote previously about this book here.

A Fortunate Grandchild and Time Remembered.
Miss Read (Dora Saint) 
These are two brief books of memories and reminiscences of her childhood and her grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  I love her language, not to mention her sweet reminiscences.  This would be a great book for a descendant who had grand/great-grand parents who lived in England in the early 1920s.  The pen and ink illustrations by Derek Crowe were fabulous. The books were also featured as a Wishful Wednesday post.

Annie's Ghosts:  A Journey Into a Family Secret.  Steve Luxenberg.
Luxenburg's mother had always claimed to be an only child.  It wasn't until after his mother died that he learned that she had a sister who had been kept hidden for decades.  Read it for the story, all the while learning ways to search for an invisible female ancestor.  (Surely you have one hidden somewhere behind a brick wall?)  An earlier post about this book is here

Mrs. Beeton's Every Day Cookery and House Keeping Book.
Mrs. Beeton
What list of women's history books would be complete without a recipe book?  This one dates from the 1890s and includes some of the most unusual recipes I've ever seen.  See more about it here.

American Grit:  A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier - book coverAmerican Grit:  A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier.  Emily Foster, compl.
This is a collection of letters written by Anna Briggs Bentley, a Quaker who, in 1826, moved from Maryland to Columbiana County, Ohio.  Anna was about 30 when she moved to Ohio with her husband and their six children, all 12 or younger.  One child died before the move and 6 more were born in Ohio.  She left behind  her mother and eight younger siblings in Maryland.  She had been raised in a genteel family with the comforts of money, servants, the society of friends, local shops, etc.  She was not a born pioneer, but she was strong-willed, determined, and willing, along with her family, to "carve a homestead out of virgin forest with the sweat of their labors."  As I read the letters I saw Anna move through the years from abject homesickness, to acceptance, to comfort.  I highly recommend this book if you'd like a glimpse into the life of a frontier woman from 1826 onward.  See a more detailed review is here.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies:  How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science.  Joyce Sidman 
    This is a children’s book but probably written at a 5th-grade or higher level about Maria Merian, a girl who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1647.  Because her stepfather was a painter and engraver she learned to draw, to mix paints, and do various other things in his studio/shop.  She was interested in butterflies, known then as “summer birds,” and was able to find the time to examine, observe, and draw them.   She became a wife and mother but never gave up her love of watching and drawing nature.  I thought this was a wonderful book and especially liked the combination of Maria’s own illustrations, additional drawings, and photographs to show details for the text.

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters.  Anne Boyd Rioux
     This is the history of Little Women, including how it came to be, and Louisa May Alcott and her life and home/family challenges.  Her father was not a great provider for the family and they lived in poverty most of their lives.  Little Women is, to some extent, autobiographical.  The author also discusses film versions of the book; its cultural and literary influence; whether it’s a book for boys as well as girls; and books and movies descended from the book. 
     In a way, I think of this book and Little Women as a treatise on the worth of women's lives.  Here are a few quotes that may lead you to think along those lines.
    Abigail Alcott [Louisa's mother], said regarding her husband’s not earning a living for his family, “I do wish people who carry their heads in the clouds would occasionally take their bodies with them.”
     In a paragraph discussing [Louisa's father] Bronson Alcott’s not earning a living for his family causing them to live in poverty, “Louisa once said in her father’s presence, ‘It requires three women to take care of a philosopher, and when the philosopher is old the three women are pretty well used up.’”  And later in the paragraph, “During the Fruitlands episode, Abigail wrote in her journal, ‘A woman may perform the most disinterested duties.  She may “die daily” in the cause of truth and righteousness.  She lives neglected, dies forgotten.  But a man who never performed in his whole life one self-defying act, but who has accidental gifts of genius, is celebrated by his contemporaries, while his name and works live on, from age to age.  He is crowned with laurel, while scarce a stone may tell where she lies.’  Louisa also sought to redress the wrong of Abigail’s life, making it her mission to honor her mother’s legacy.  If Mr. March is largely absent in Little Women, Marmee permeates every page.”
     In a review of the film with Winona Ryder, “Syndicated columnist Donna Britt believed other reviewers’ warnings that ‘nothing much happens’ were tantamount to saying that women’s lives weren’t worth making films about.  She praised the film for ‘honor[ing] life’s small wonders’ in a culture that is ‘hypnotized . . . by ever-more-wizardly special effects, stupid sex tricks and the “thrill” of cringing at yet another creative way to kill.’”

Letters of a Woman Homesteader.  Elinore Pruitt Stewart   
     Elinore was a spunky lady and a great story-teller, but beyond that, she had a very positive outlook which shone through in her letters.  And such experiences!  She moved to Wyoming in 1909 as a young, widowed mother of a 2-year-old to be a housekeeper for a rancher.  She determined to file her own claim for land and make a go of it.  She married the rancher, but more, she also succeeded in claiming land and growing enough food to feed her family for a year.
When you think of me, you must think of me as one who is truly happy.  It is true, I want a great many things I have n’t got, but I don’t want them enough to be discontented and not enjoy the many blessings that are mine.  I have my home among the blue mountains, my health, well-formed children, my clean, honest husband, my kind, gentle milk cows, my garden which I make myself.  I have loads and loads of flowers which I tend myself.  There are lots of chickens, turkeys, and pigs which are my own special care.  I have some slow old gentle horses and an old wagon.  I can load up the kiddies and go where I please any time.  I have the best, kindest neighbors and I have my dear absent friends.  Do you wonder I am so happy?  When I think of it all, I wonder how I can crowd all my joy into one short life.
Read a more detailed review here.

Book of Ages:  The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin.
Jill Lepore
     Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane Franklin Mecom, is an unknown; a common, ordinary woman who lived a quiet life doing what needed to be done to stay alive and help her family.  She just happened to have a famous brother.  You can read a previous post here.
      In talking about the challenge of writing a biography when so little about Jane exists, Lepore said,
This is dispiriting.  For a long time, I was so discouraged that I abandoned the project altogether.  I thought about writing a novel instead.  But I decided, in the end, to write a biography, a book meant not only as the life of Jane Franklin Mecom but, more, as a meditation on silence in the archives.  I wanted to write a history from the Reformation through the American Revolution by telling the story of a single life, using this most ordinary of lives to offer a history of history and to explain how history is written:  from what remains of the lives of the great, the bad, and, not as often, the good.
It's no wonder Lepore says, “History is what is written and can be found; what isn’t saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by earth.”   And, “What remains of anyone’s life is what’s kept.”

Happy reading!


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

And the Prize for Largest Family (among my ancestors) Goes to . . .

. . . Fred and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner who had 16 children.  Eleven of the sixteen children are pictured below.  The two oldest sons, Alonzo and Alfonzo, and the youngest yet-to-be-born three are not in the photograph.  The date of the painting or photograph below about 1893 or 1894.

The 1900 U.S. Census indicates that Elvira was the mother of 16 with 14 children still alive.  In those times it is uncommon for all children in a family to live to adulthood, so it amazing that all but two of Fred and Elvira's children became adults.  The who who didn't live long are Claire, who died of poisoning, and Netta or Meta, who died as an infant of liver problems.

The children are
                Ida Adelia  1873-1904
                Alfonzo F.    1874-1952
                Alonzo J.    1874-1940
                Lana Ellen    1875-1943
                Edward G.    1877-1917
                Della Virginia    1879-1968
                Mary Alma    1881-1952
                John N.        1882-1970
                Bessie Leota    1884-1973
                Mabel Lodenia    1886-1974
                Beulah Mae    1888-1913
                Warren Franklin    1890-1957
                Ethel Claire    1892-1897
                Netta or Meta Mildred    1894-1894
                Brendice Kathryn    1895-1996
                Paul Victor    1898-1972

Twelve of their adult children in the photo below are, from left to right, Della, Alonzo or Alfonzo, Alma or Leota, Alonzo or Alfonzo, Lana, Edward, Fred, Paul, Elvira, John, Mabel, Warren, Beulah, and Brendice.

The other family among my ancestors that comes close in size is that of Henry and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen, my mother's paternal grandparents' family, who had 15 children.  Sadly, by the time the parents died, there were only six adult children still alive.

These days I can't imagine having such a large family.  Imagine the cost to feed and clothe so many, not to mention education and, these days, electronic devices!

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Large Family."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

A Bachelor Uncle's Sad End

As often happens in our family history research, we find the beginning and end of a person's life but little about the events between those dates.  This is so with one of my bachelor uncles, Edward C. Meinzen,  one of my maternal grandfather's brothers.  Had I been interested in family history when I was younger, I might have asked about him.  But, in truth, I doubt anyone would have told me much because of the way he died.

Edward was the fourth child and third son of his parents, Henry and Elizabeth Meinzen.  He was born in on March 5, 1879, in Jefferson County, Ohio, where his family lived.  The little I know about him comes from census records, city directories, his death certificate, and two obituaries.

In 1900, the census records his age as 19, living with his family in New Alexandria, Cross Creek Township, Jefferson County, Ohio, and working as a farm laborer, probably on his father's farm.  Steubenville city directories between 1904 and 1909 tell me that he worked at LaBelle Iron Works.  In 1910, at the age of 28, he was still living at home with his family but by this time the family had moved into Steubenville.  That census gives no employment information.  Plenty can happen in ten years' time and, sadly, we often can't know details of events in the years between census records or even from one city directory to another, a fact that is so for Edward.

The next record for Edward is his death certificate.  He died on November 15, 1911.  His cause of death is noted as "opium poisoning, suicidal" with a contributory cause as a mental breakdown two years earlier.  I'm wary to take the doctor's word that it was suicidal, especially without family information to corroborate that allegation.  I know that opium (and its derivatives heroin and morphine) were were easy to obtain in the early 1900s.  In fact, the Bayer company sold heroin as a sedative for coughs.  Did Edward first try cocaine to relieve some physical condition?  Were users aware of the addictive properties of opiates?  The answers are lost in time.

Except for the census records and his death certificate, the anecdotal information I have about Edward's life comes from his obituaries where I learn that he had been in poor health for a year with a physical and nervous breakdown, and died of a complication of diseases.  He was a young man of good habits, industrious, capable in his work, and admired by many friends and respected by all who knew him.  He had worked at LaBelle Iron Works as a stationery engineer for 10 years.  He was a member of the Knights of Pythias, Schwabenverein, and the Third Presbyterian Church.

Gravestone of Edward C. Meinzen,
courtesy of Joyce & David Humphrey
In today's world we know the damage drugs can do and the addictions they cause.  It's possible, and perhaps likely, that Edward did not know.  Yet how I wish his life had not been cut short.  How I wish circumstances and his choices had been different.

Uncle Edward is buried in Steubenville's Union Cemetery, Section Q, Lot 203.

It is a sad end for a bachelor uncle who died at the age of 32.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Bachelor Uncle."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

My First--and Only--Visit to a Courthouse

A year or two ago I went with my daughter to a nearby bank so she could change some information.  When she showed her ID with her married name, we learned they required a marriage certificate to access her money or change any of her account information.  The courthouse was a few blocks away so with three little grands in tow, we drove to the courthouse's parking garage, trekked across the busy main street, and rode the elevator up twenty-three flights to get to the room where the marriage records were kept.

That was my first and only visit to a courthouse for anything related to genealogy and, of course, it was not to do research.  But, if I'd needed to do research in Franklin County, Ohio, I would have been thrilled.  There were huge ledgers on open shelves which anyone could pull out, search for the record, then photograph it.  Or, perhaps, it could be taken somewhere for a photocopy. 

It is a wonderful thing to have so many court records available online at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and other websites.  It is also fabulous that we can call, email, or write a letter to a courthouse, ask about the availability of a record, request for a copy, give our credit card info, and receive the copy in a few days or a month.  I try to imagine what getting a court record was like before photocopies.  One would have had to trust the accuracy of the person copying the record by hand.

The courthouse records I used most during early days of research were those from Jefferson County, Ohio.  Within the past five years the courthouse transferred many of their oldest records into the hands of the Jefferson County Genealogical Society whose leaders arranged to have them scanned and published on FamilySearch.  (See a list of available records here.)  Sadly, most are not yet indexed so searching is necessary, but having them available in my home on the computer is preferable to travelling two hours without guarantee of finding what I'm looking for.

Before images were available online I wrote letters to several courthouses and received photocopies.  I learned that not all courthouses are amenable to helping researchers, and some did not respond to letters at all.

One of these days I hope to get to the courthouses that don't have records available on FamilySearch, particularly Butler County, Pennsylvania.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "At the Courthouse."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Family Photograph, Circa 1950

Perhaps the first thing you notice about this photo are all the cracks, bends, and scratches across its surface.  Who knows what trauma it saw in its life.  My mom liked it enough to save it in her photo album, scratches and all.  Her later memory dated it to Christmas, 1951.  I would date it closer to late 1950.  The baby on Mom's lap was born in January, 1950, and looks about a year old, hence my date estimation.

Except for the fact that my sister's beautiful face is missing, I love this old snapshot.  There is my brother, in play clothes, wearing a delightful, happy smile.  He sits close to my father who is dressed in a suit and tie with a serious expression.  Beside Dad sits my smiling mother wearing what seems to be a casual dress.  I'm the baby in my mother's lap wearing a dress.  And sitting in front on the floor in front of my father is my sister, also dressed in play clothes.  We can't see her expression because she performed some pre-digital photo editing. 

As much as I love it, this is a curious photo to me.  Why was my father the only one dressed up?  Why did he look so serious when the others looked so happy?  And why did my sister scratch out her face?  Where was the photo taken?  Who took it?  And, my usual question when I look at old photographs, what happened just before and just after the shutter snapped?  I hope my brother or sister will remember where and when this photo was taken, perhaps who took it, and the story that goes with it.

The photo editors in the Facebook group Random Acts of Photo Restoration perform some amazing miracles on photos in worse condition than this one.  I know someone could remove the cracks and creases but I'm not sure about my sister's face.  My husband suggested I find a photo of my sister taken at about the same time as this photo and ask if her face could be replaced.  It's worth considering, just so long as an explanation accompanies the repaired photo.

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Family Photo."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Married Fifty Years - Saturday Night Genealogy Fun

Thanks to Randy of GeneaMusings and Marcia Philbrick of Heartland Genealogy for the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun this week.  

This week's challenge was to answer these questions.
How many of your ancestors were married for FIFTY years?  What is the longest marriage of your ancestors in your tree (from marriage to first death of a spouse, or divorce)?

I guessed there would be few long marriages among my ancestors because it seemed like there were so many early deaths.  I was surprised to learn how wrong I was.  You may also notice that some marriages are not included; that's because I don't have accurate dates for them or do not know who the ancestors are.

These are my ancestors and the lengths of their marriages:

My parents
Lee and Audrey Meinzen Doyle - 49 years (1938-1987)

My grandparents
Gust and Beulah Mae (Gerner) Doyle - 1 year 3 months (1911-1913)
W. C. Robert Meinzen & Emma Bickerstaff - 59 years (1914-1973)

My great-grandparents
William and Tressa Rose (Froman) Doyle - 51 years (1885-1936)
Frederick K. and Elvira (Bartley) Gerner - 53 years (1872-1926)
Henry C. and Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen - 50 years (1870-1920)
Edward Jesse and Mary (Thompson) Bickerstaff - 49 years (1891-1940)

My great-great-grandparents
Andrew & Elizabeth Jane (Laws) Doyle - 45 years (1863-1908)
John and Catherine (Saylor) Froman - abt. 10 years (~1861-1871)
Christian and Mary/Elizabeth (Stahl) - unknown
Dixon and Rebecca (Smith) Bartley - 61-63 years (~1836/1838-1899)
Abel and Eliza (Hartley) Armitage - 9 years (1847-1856)
Ellis and Emma V. (Nelson) Bickerstaff - 17 years (1861-1878)
John and Lydia (Bell) Thompson - 51 years (1872-1923)

My great-great-great-grandparents
William and Martha (Reay) Doyle - 13 years (1825-1838
Robert and Elizabeth (Thompson) Laws - 47 years (1834-1881)
Jacob and Elizabeth (Shaefer) Saylor - 20 years (1838-~1858)
William and Susanna/Susan (Holmes) Bickerstaff - 63 years (1830-1893)

Across five generations:
Only seven of my ancestral couples had marriages of 50 years or longer.
The longest marriage was 63 years.  Another couple may have been married 63 years (but the marriage year is still uncertain).

Thanks for the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun, Randy and Marcia.


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.


Friday, February 8, 2019

The Things You Learn about Ancestors!

When I was a child I thought all women sewed, did needlework, created things.  The women in my family, particularly my mother and grandmother, made curtains, sewed pillowcases and dish towels, darned socks, repaired clothes and bed sheets, and sewed clothes for their daughters and themselves.  My mother embroidered, my grandmother crocheted.  And women of that time might sew quilts.  My mother cut and hand-stitched pieces of bright fabric to make Dresden Plate quilt blocks which she then sewed into quilts for my sister and me.  My mother and grandmother assembled a quilting frame in my college-student-brother's unused bedroom and they sat and quilted.  It was the only time I ever saw either of them quilt and I thought it was a one-off.  Women created what they and their families needed using needle and thread, and I thought they either learned the simple things when they were little girls and figured out the more difficult ones, like quilting, as the need arose.

Like my mother and grandmother, I learned needlework skills when I was a small.  My grandmother was Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen.  She taught me to crochet and my mother taught me to embroider and sew before I could read.  I stitched by hand, learned to hem, and sewed on buttons.  When I was a few years older Mom trusted me to use her old black Singer sewing machine.  I made things for my dolls and learned to sew clothes for myself.  These days, still using Mom's old black Singer, I cut and sew fabric to create quilt tops, then layer and hand quilt them.  They keep us warm for afternoon naps and on cold winter nights.

A few years ago my daughter and I visited my aunt, my mother's sister, who, at the time, was in an assisted living home.  She had a small apartment with a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and a bedroom.  She was eager to show us around her apartment.  When we arrived in her bedroom, a bright Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt covered her bed.  It was beautiful and I was in awe.

When I asked who made it she said, "My mother."  At first I thought I misunderstood so I asked her to clarify.  "My mother and your grandmother Meinzen made it."  I didn't know Gramma could quilt and wondered how I didn't know this about her.  My aunt went on to explain that when Gramma was younger she had belonged to the quilting group at church.  She and the women got together and quilted every week.  My aunt said Gramma was an excellent quilter.

Gramma was a quilter?!  A real quilter, not just a woman who cobbled together fabric and di the best she could to stitch together front, batting, and back into a quilt?!  It was such a surprise to learn this.  And yes, from the looks of the quilt on my aunt's bed, she was an excellent quilter.  When I came home I pulled out the Dresden Plate quilt my mother had made and she and my grandmother had quilted.  An excellent quilter, indeed.  The stitches were fine and even, probably award winning.

Gramma died when I was in my 20s.  (As it turns out, yesterday was the 46th anniversary of her death.)  During all the years I knew her, neither she nor anyone else ever mentioned that she was a quilter or that she'd belonged to a quilting group.  How did I only just come to know this a few years ago?!

The things you learn about ancestors can be surprising!

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "Surprise."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Libraries I Love for Family History Research

The Columbus Metropolitan Library on Grant Street, in downtown Columbus, was the first library I used for family history research.  I was familiar with the library for other uses but not family history.  It was the library where I learned how to search census records.

Since my first searches there the library's resources have expanded.  They had a good collection of books and resources for local history, for all Ohio counties, plus books for most other states.  When the powers that be decided that the State Library of Ohio should not have a genealogy collection, many of their books were given to CML and their collection expanded to have books for all the states in the U.S.  CML now has a decent collection of online genealogy resources, too, which you can view here, but you'll have to dig a little deeper to find books for your geographic areas of interest.  Use the card catalog, or visit in person.

At one time the State Library of Ohio had a great collection of books for family history research but, as I said above, it was decided that genealogy books did not belong in the state library, so they were dispersed to other libraries.  Nonetheless, they still hold census records, including agricultural censuses, which can be a great resource if there are farmers among one's ancestors.

I've been to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.  Unfortunately, my family and I were passing through the city on our way to another destination.  As a beginning researcher I hadn't taken any of my papers with me because I didn't expect to have time to spend at the library.  I have to say, the missionaries there seemed fairly disappointed.  They encouraged me to think of just one ancestor's name to research.  If they were disappointed, I was even more so.  All those resources and no time!

There are some online, digital collections I've used, too.

Where would I be in my family history research without libraries and their free resources?!

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "At the Library."


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Meeting My Grandmothers with Photos and Questions in Hand

In this life I've known only one grandmother, Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen.  I dearly loved her and still do.  Is it any wonder my heart leans toward the grandmothers I haven't had the opportunity to know?  I'd love to meet all of my ancestors -- I have questions for all of them -- but just now I'm thinking of these three grandmothers.  If I could, I would introduce myself and hopefully ask them to tell me the stories behind these photographs.

Beulah Mae (Gerner) Doyle
Beulah is my father's mother.  She died in 1913, a month after my father was born.  Beulah, with her Gibson Girl hair style, is standing in the photo on the right.

Beulah is also in the photo on the left.  Gust is at the back, Leota is in the white dress, and Beulah is at the front in the suit.  (Yes, that's really Beulah!)  In the photo on the right, Gust and Leota sit near Beulah. 

I would like to ask Beulah about these photos.  When and where were they taken?  Was this a fun outing, a celebration of some kind, or . . . ?  How did she come to be wearing a suit, and where did she change clothes?  Who was the photographer?  I know there's a story here but, unfortunately, it was never recorded. 

Elvira (Bartley) Gerner
Elvira is Beulah's mother.  In this photo she is beside her daughter, Mabel (Gerner) Bannon.  I love how their heads are both inclined to their right.  Like mother like daughter?

They seem to be standing near a porch which has a hose coiled near the post and there appears to be something hanging from a clothesline on the porch.  They both seem to be in house dresses or work clothes, possibly protective pinafore-type coverings, though neither looks dirty.  Elvira's dress looks like it's gingham.

I would like to ask Elvira where they were, as in, at whose home, and what they had been doing before this snapshot was taken.  Were they getting ready to work or was this a break from work?  Were they spring cleaning, or canning, or . . .?  Who took the photo?  Who else was around that day?  Did they sew their own dresses?

I know that Elvira was the mother of 16 children and that she was a self-reliant lady who was also service-oriented.  She served as the neighborhood midwife.  What stories she could tell!

Elizabeth (Armitage) Meinzen
Elizabeth is my mother's paternal grandmother who emigrated from England in the mid-1860s with her father, siblings, and step-family.  Her mother died when she was a child.  She was the mother of 15 children.  In the photo below, Elizabeth is on the right and her sister, Ann (Armitage) Hardy is on the left.  I'm uncertain who the boy is though I wonder if it could be my grandfather.  This scanned image was made from a poor, black and white photocopy of a real photograph. 

I would dearly love to ask Elizabeth about this photo.  The three appear to be standing in a woody area, yet they seem to be dressed up.  Both ladies are wearing hats, white shirtwaists, and "ties" with pins at the neckline.  Annie is holding what seems to be a handkerchief in her right hand.  Her pose suggests a non-nonsense personality and the expression on her face is serious, if not dour.  And Elizabeth is holding a glass of liquid, maybe water.  I think I can see the hint of a smile (maybe?) on Elizabeth's face.

I would like to ask Elizabeth the story behind this photo.  How did they choose to be photographed in a woody area?  Why were they dressed up?  And why was she holding a glass of liquid for the photograph?  They look too serious for this to be a playful occasion and yet. . . .  Who was the photographer?  What year and month was this photo taken?  What happened before and after the camera shutter snapped?

I would love to get to know these three grandmothers, discover their personalities, and learn more about their lives.  As much as I want to learn the names and dates of events in ancestors' lives, I crave knowing their stories.  If only pictures could talk!

This post was written for Amy Johnson Crow's 2019 version of 52 Ancestors.  The post topic for the week was "I'd Like to Meet." 

Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner.


Saturday, January 26, 2019

Two Degrees of Separation - SNGF

Randy Seaver's Saturday Night Genealogy Fun on GeneaMusings yesterday was this:
Using your ancestral lines, how far back in time can you go with two degrees of separation?  That means "you knew an ancestor, who knew another ancestor."  When was that second ancestor born?

On my maternal side of the family

I was born in 1950.  I knew my mother's father, W. R. Robert Meinzen (1892-1979, b. Jefferson County, Ohio,  d. Trumbull County, Ohio), who knew his father, Henry C. Meinzen (1837-1925, b. Germany, d. Steubenville, Ohio).

I knew my maternal grandmother, Emma (Bickerstaff) Meinzen (1893-1973, b. Jefferson County, Ohio, d. Trumbull County, Ohio), who was probably at least introduced to her great-grandfather, William Bickerstaff (1807-1893, b. and d. Jefferson County, Ohio).  She would have been only about a month old when he died.

The same grandmother, Emma, probably also knew her paternal great-grandfather, Jacob Bell (1824-1915, b. and d. Jefferson County, Ohio).

On my paternal side of the family

All of my grandparents and great-grandparents on this side died before I was born.  My father knew other grandparents but none goes back further than the relationship below.

I knew my father, Lee Doyle (1913-1987, b. Mercer County, Pennsylvania, d. Trumbull County, Ohio), who would have known his great-grandmother, Catherine (Saylor) Froman (1844-1928, b. Germany, d. Mercer County, Pennsylvania).

With two degrees of separation I can connect through my grandmother to my third great-grandfather, born in 1807.  He was born 212 years ago.  There are 143 years between our births.

Thanks for the fun, Randy.


Copyright ©2019, Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved. 
Do not copy or use any content from this blog without written permission from the owner. 

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