Saturday, June 23, 2012

Old Letters In My Genealogy Boat

I've accumulated a few letters in the course of my family history research. Each makes it obvious I'm not the first in my family to acquire the genealogy "bug." It makes me feel better to know that I'm not the only genealogy nut in the family. Moreover, just having some of the letters has added info and hints that have made my research that much easier. The first that comes to mind is a letter my Aunt Nellie wrote to me in 1973. Aunt Nellie was 79 years old when she "felt the urge to compile information concerning our...ancestors." 

The unfortunate truth is that I don't recall receiving this letter. And while I'm in the mood to confess, I probably wouldn't have done anything with the info she compiled because I was too busy living my life with my wife and kids and working at my illustrious career, all of which were much too time consuming to allow me paying much attention to stuff about old people long dead and gone. I  discovered the letter in 1997 after my mother passed away. She had saved it and other letters and documents pertaining to the history of her side of the family. Nellie was my father's sister so my mother's compilation created an all encompassing grouping of family histories. And although I didn't start focusing on genealogy full time until I retired in 2008, my mother's apparent interest and Nellie's gathering of information are what sparked my interest in genealogy when I finally had the time to sit down and study the lives of my ancestors.

The only time I recall my mother saying anything that sounded like an interest in genealogy was in 1977 when she asked me to drive her from Massachusetts up through the area of New Hampshire where she was born and raised. She wanted to show us the house she was born in and the foundations of the farm houses that had belonged to her grandfather and great grandfather. I don't recall her mentioning the fact that she had gotten some coaching on the whereabouts of our ancestor's cellar holes but this letter from my mother's sister Alice makes it pretty clear she had some help.

Alice was definitely into genealogy.  Her letter states she was "going through the Currier history box." She also mentions her interest in knowing what condition "Hillside Farm" is in. I believe she's referring to the farm house my mother was born in. I'm not sure if Alice was born there too but the fact that she was interested in the home's condition leads me to think that's a good possibility. In any case the 1977 search was successful in finding both the farmhouse and at least one of the cellar holes. When we arrived at the house it was in beautiful condition situated in a clearing at the end of a winding dirt road and surrounded by huge trees. It appeared to be freshly painted, white with black shutters. We met the owners who had turned it into a summer home and who graciously allowed us to tour inside. My mother showed us the room designated as her nursery, having no problem locating it on the second floor over 70 years after she lived there. For some reason I never took a photo of the house. Dumb but true. I did take photos of one cellar hole. I don't recall if we found two cellar holes or just the one. I'm hoping I can go back to New Hampshire and take another look. I'm fairly certain I can find the farm house. Whether or not I'll have the same success with the cellar hole(s) is another story but I hope to give it a shot in the near future.

I treasure both of these letters. They were written by aunts that I knew and loved. I interacted with them in my life and their lives and they knew me.  Each time I read them I can hear their voices and picture them clearly. The letters are fairly "recent" documents when compared to most genealogy records my research focuses on. Often the first question I hear after confessing my interest in family research is, "how far back have you been able to trace your ancestors?" While that's an interesting issue it's not what excites me about genealogy. Admittedly it's easier to find documentation of ancestors' lives within the last 150 years or so than it is trying to go back further in history to the 18th or 17th centuries and beyond. From what research I've been able to find, record keeping virtually flourished in the 19th century, both public records and private. So  the "fishing" is better in the 19th and 20th centuries, sometimes with "fish" (clues) jumping into my boat without me having to even bait the hook! (I'm not a fisherman but the analogy seems appropriate). And to answer the standard inquiry of how far back?....James Currier (1590 - 1616) on my mother's side and Robert King (1639 - 1680) on my father's side. And that's just the Currier and King surnames. I've been able to trace my grandmothers' families back to similar time periods. My grandmother Currier was apparently bitten by the genealogy bug as evidenced by the next letter from a gentleman named Ballard Crockett in 1926. Both Ballard and my grandmother shared connection to the Webber family tree. Reading the letter reveals Mr. Crockett to be a fastidious researcher and lacking no confidence in his genealogy abilities. I have no clue what my grandmother's "letter and contents noted" he refers to in his reply letter but he obviously felt obligated to set the record straight!

Ballard was my second cousin 1 x removed. That's how calculates it. And he died in 1975 at the age of 82. But our physical paths never crossed so his letter does not have the same personal connection as those of my Aunt Nellie and Aunt Alice. Nevertheless, we are obviously fellow comrades in research and the letter itself serves as testimony that my grandmother may well have belonged to the same club...genealogy nuts! I've only recently come across this letter and haven't really dug into the facts Cousin Ballard cites. But I will, in time. He may be my cousin but that doesn't mean I have to buy into the names and dates he listed without trying to corroborate with other records. 

Ballard Crockett was already in my family tree base I've constructed on the website. While doing some research on the site pertaining to the Webbers I became connected with a descendant of Ballard and we have shared notes and records data for the last couple of years. But the next letter in my collection of old letters was from someone in the Currier family called Edwin Martin Currier. I had no such name in my website base. In reading the clues Edwin included in his letter to identify himself, I was able to "branch out" on my tree and find the connection. 

The date of this letter, November 2nd in what I now believe was the year 1871, was the first of two I have in the collection my mother left me.  I also believe the "Dear Sir" he addresses was my great great grandfather, John Currier. I base that on Edwin's reference to "your cousin, James H. Currier...I am his younger son." (Thank you Edwin for that statement which serves as another fish leaping out of the water into my genealogy boat)! James Hale Currier (1808 - 1893) was the son of Jonathan Currier (1787 - 1863). Johnathan was a brother, one of six, of Joseph Currier (1773 - 1854). Joseph was the father of my great great grandfather, John Currier of Langdon, NH. Joseph and his son John had homes in Langdon, remnants of which are the cellar holes my Aunt Alice described. So there's the connection. Edwin Martin Currier is another cousin!  This time, my second cousin, 3 x removed. ( did the math, not me). But aside from all that and the wealth of information I've been able to add to my tree is the fact that Edwin states, "I have formed the plan of writing a genealogical record of the Curriers."  TA-DAHHH !! Another genealogy nut in the family! And this guy wasn't messin' around, either! His request is the full Monty of genealogical data..."Will you be at the trouble to collect and send to me, all needful information that you can get respecting the members of your fathers family, names of all his descendants, births, deaths, marriages, etc, giving dates as much as you can, places of residence and whatever else you may think best."  

I wish I knew what my great great grandfather's response to this was. He did reply as evidenced by another letter from Edwin dated November 10th, giving thanks for the interest "you take in my contemplated work." Apparently John asked a few questions of his own that Edwin attempts to answer. And more clues swim on board with that letter, too, citing relocation of part of the Curriers to Ohio. 

The letters are interesting and informative to work with, not to mention enjoyable to work alongside my cousin of so many years ago. Edwin and his family migrated from New Hampshire to Lowell, Massachusetts where, thanks to City Directory listings I was able to trace his life and work up to 1920 where he was listed on the Federal Census as an "inmate" at a home for aged men. Born in 1844, Edwin was 76 at the time. His occupations according the the city directories show him progressing from at first, a wire worker, briefly an insurance agent, then for many years a clerk. A brief stint as a packer was followed by many years with the job title of shipping clerk. What intrigued me most was a 1916 listing of occupation as a writer. And sure enough, I discovered that Edwin M. Currier was indeed a writer, and a published writer at that! The January 1913 edition of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register lists under "Recent Books" a publication by Edwin M. Currier of an "Address or historical sketch delivered at a Currier Family Reunion, Toledo, Ohio, October 31, 1910."  In 1913 the 19 page, 8 chart publication was selling for $1.00. There is a copy of this work at the library of the New England Historical Society in Boston but nothing available on line. As soon as I can I will be visiting the library to utilize my membership benefits to photocopy Edwin's work. 

I'm in awe of the volume of work it would take for my ancestors to compile information on their family history. Johnathan and Joseph Currier, the brothers who formed the link between the Curriers in my family and those in Edwin's were two of the eleven children of Nathaniel Currier (1741 - 1826). Edwin's "contemplated work" was a gigantic endeavor. I wonder how much and the quality of responses he was able to generate from letters to all the branches. I've also seen record of his notices in the NEH &G Register citing findings as well as inquiries over the late 1800's as he compiled his work. And all I have to do is plug in to the Internet websites that deal with genealogy. My hat's off to Edwin. I may have landed more fish in a short period of time than he could have hoped to compile in a lifetime. But you know what? He was probably a better "fisherman" than I'll ever be. Way to go, Edwin!! With your work along with Ballard's and my mother and both my Aunts Nellie and Alice, I feel inspired to keep my search goes on. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Grandfather's (Sort Of) Secret Past - Epilogue

I finally received my father's high school transcripts from Lakeland High School confirming his enrollment there for four full years. This information, combined with his cousin Elgie's description of Yalaha's one room school house for grades 1 through 8 leads me to believe he attended just the two schools leading to his graduation from high school. While this doesn't prove or disprove the reason(s) Charles G King might have left Yalaha to attend high school in Lakeland, it more or less fits a pattern already established in the Yalaha home of George Johnson King and Agnes King, my paternal grandparents. Both George and Agnes indicated they could read and write according to Federal Census Records. Both of Charles' older sisters left Yalaha in 1910 to attend Massey Business College in Jacksonville, FL; Nellie was 16 years old and Carol was 19 when they left. So it appears to me that education was of some importance to the King family. Therefore, I'm standing with my original conclusion that my father's departure from his Yalaha home into his sister Nellie's Lakeland home was a move designed to continue his education that was further encouraged by the economic situation in the two homes. My grandfather appears to have struggled to keep his Yalaha citrus grove enterprise above water. He might have been hard pressed to keep his 15 year old son at home and support the expense and logistics of his attendance at Leesburg High School at least ten miles distant from Yalaha. Nellie's husband on the other hand was an up and coming businessman in his Lakeland grocery store and in a better position financially to accommodate his young brother-in-law into his home. My lingering doubts about why my father left home so early in life have been put to rest. I don't think he was running away from anything and I don't think his father, my grandfather, had any secret past that would have induced my father to leave. So, My Grandfather's (Sort Of) Secret Past is no secret at all. Just a family decision like we all have to face from time to time and, in my father's case, one that worked out well in the long run as his continued education through college and divinity school allowed him to serve his calling into the clergy.

The sort of secret past door has been closed and no skeletons were observed. But sometimes when one door is closed, another door opens. I've found this to be especially true in genealogy. A descendant of my great grandfather, William Sweet, discovered My Search Goes On blog posting about my grandfather's (sort of) secret past and contacted me. We have never communicated before and didn't know we were "cousins" until he identified himself as the great grandson of my great aunt, Elizabeth (Sweet) Henry. If you want to try to figure out what our relationship is, go right ahead, but I'm satisfied to leave it as "cousin." The photo below is from my files depicting from left to right: George Johnson King, Agnes (Sweet) King, William Sweet, Charles G King (boy standing in front), and Elizabeth (Sweet) Henry, and two more gentlemen I assume are family friends.

My new found cousin has graciously provided me with histories, anecdotes, family tree charts, and photos of the Henry family ancestors, many of whom I never knew existed, and others on which I had   some paper trails I had constructed on I've said it before and I stand by my words, when you add photographs, especially IDENTIFIED photographs to family history files it just brings those ancestors back to life. And when you add anecdotes and histories and family testimony to it all, it's like reconstructing a documentary for Frontline on PBS. Not as serious and tragic (we hope) but intriguing nevertheless.

For example, William Sweet's home in Yalaha is something I've searched for on numerous trips to Yalaha. Per my Aunt Nellie in her 1973 autobiography, "the house still stands but is not livable." I've failed to find any trace of it. It was reported (by Nellie) to have been a very impressive structure. My cousin shared a  photograph of the house taken in1946.

Please forgive the bluish hue. My copier ink is running low and I'm waiting for resupply. So now I know what it looks like. Up until now all I knew was where it was located.

Another photo posted below is a formal portrait of Elizabeth Henry's son, William Francis Henry. He was Elgie's brother so that would have made him my father's cousin. He was born in Michigan when Elizabeth Henry was married to John Levi Henry. He and Elgie were graduates of Albion College in Michigan. William later moved to Chicago where he owned and operated a "photo art studio."

There are other photos my cousin has shared with me that are now integrated into my files. And there are anecdotes that I need to incorporate into the files as well. But a few delicious examples follow:

"Elizabeth Sweet was all set to marry James Henry but he died, so she settled for second best, his brother (John Levi Henry). I don't know if this caused problems with their marriage, but they eventually divorced and John Levi married 23 year old Margaret Clark when he was 49." 

"My maternal grandmother died in the 1918 flu epidemic in Chicago. So my grandfather, William Francis Henry all of a sudden had four small children, 3 boys and a girl, and no wife. He sent my aunt  and my father to Yalaha to live with their grandmother (Elizabeth by now divorced and moved to Yalaha with Elgie) and aunt Elgie. My father begged his father to be taken back to Chicago after a short stay and he relented. My aunt, however, remained there for several years. She said Elgie treated her like hired help while Elgie's daughter laid around and did nothing. My aunt Dorothy just recently died a couple of weeks shy of her 99th birthday and remained bitter her whole like about her stay in Yalaha."

"Elgie, my grandfather (William Francis Henry), father, and great grandmother were spiritualists and my great grandmother was a trance medium and used to give readings at the home in Chicago. Supposedly the spirit of William Sweet showed up at one of these meetings and all he'd say was 'Oh the wasted acres." (I'm wondering if the "wasted acres" might be the citrus grove he and my grandfather farmed in Yalaha...if the business went downhill after William Sweet passed away his spirit might have been upset about it)!

Great stuff!! Thank you cousin!!!!

So one search ends and more go on. To that end, my search goes on.