28 November 2011

Mystery Monday - Where'd You Come From?

It seems that the more I look at my mom's line, the more holes I find. Or, rather, in one particular line: RICHARDS. Randolph Richards is my 'one guy'; the one I've only found meager records on and can't verify. Through Mr. Richards, my family opens into a rich array of families with names such as PENN, SARGENT and TAYLOR. But until I can prove him to his parents, he's my brick wall.


So I thought it would be a good idea to look at his children to see if I could glean anything from their records. Having started this so many years ago, I'm trying to be very careful about what information I enter into my new database: if it doesn't have a primary document, it stays blank. What I found while comparing my two databases is that I don't have a birth record for my namesake, Laura Louise Richards. Huh.


So, I did a quick search through Ancestry.com (yes, I'm a convert) and then through Heritage Quest. I like to compare the two, because I've found several instances where a record's been indexed on one and not the other, or vice versa. In the 1880 Census, Laura is the 17 year old daughter of Randolph and Laura Richards working at the telephone office. She's reported as being born in Wisconsin, c. 1864. In the 1900 Census, she's Laura Richards Wersel, living with her husband Henry (they were married in 1890) and their children. Oddly, she's reported as being born in Michigan. Was this a mistake? In 1910, she's once again reported as being born in Wisconsin. 


I have to presume that her mother provided the information to the enumerator in 1880, and that she did it herself in 1900 and 1910, although it is a presumption. After a second look, the 1880 Census showed Laura's younger brother Randolph was also born in Wisconsin c. 1866 although the youngest of them, Charles was born in Cincinnati in 1868. Why were Laura and Randolph born in Wisconsin? Where did the Richards' live while they were there? I suspect they moved temporarily to safer territory during the Civil War, and may have stayed into 1866 since Laura was pregnant, but Randolph was a merchant with a good business. To leave it for that length of time seems a bit strange.


The challenge is that the State of Wisconsin did not require registration of births prior to 1907. According to the State website, less than 50% of events were documented. So, I would have to drive up to Madison, Wisconsin to Wisconsin State Archives to find out whether or not the births of Laura and her brother Randolph were registered. Road trip anyone?

21 November 2011

Amanuensis Monday - '...very cute, good looking machine...'

Sept 19, 1923


Dearest Frances:


We did enjoy your letter of the 15th so much - That darling baby she must take an awful lot of watching and care - but as she is a baby only once, one might as well take the time and enjoy her while she is a baby - I would not worry about doing the other things, because they can wait, and she is needing all the attention now


What size do you buy her dresses - perhaps I can see some bargains here, if I know her size - I surely would not make her dresses when you can get them for such prices - just think of the work you save in your sewing - it fairly gives me a spasm to think of her standing up in her high chair - she is so quick -


Be careful how you carry her so much - I am afraid you will hurt yourself - it will not be long before she can walk and that will help you when you take her shopping - you surely canned a lot of pickles & tomatoes - I have not canned much this summer - Nell has not been at all well and the doctor says she is a very much rundown condition - I feel very much worried about her - she has not been well since last spring -


She bought the goods for the baby's winter gowns and I am going to make them soon - 


I am so glad you bought such a lovely davenport - and hope it has been sent out to you before this time - 


Father Wersel would enjoy the Radio concert very much I am sure - they had quite a programme at the Grand Hotel last evening - 


Roger is out in Southern Indiana in his machine - Horace takes Mary out in his, every evening they ride all the time - he has a very cute, good looking machine - he paid $18 $5 down (I think) and $35 per month - 


All send love to Victor dear - Virginia and your own self - take good care of your health and keep well and happy - 


lovingly 


Mother


Letter from Laura Louise Richards Wersel to Frances Jeffrey Wersel regarding Virginia Wersel Ill, Frances and Victor Wersel's first child. Mailed from 3714 Woodland Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio to 1319 Kenilworth Avenue, Chicago, Illinois on September 19, 1923.

13 November 2011

Sentimental Sunday - A Soldier's Untold Stories

March 1968 "Tet" - Vinh Binh Province

Vietnam. For most American's under 40, this is a benign word. But for the rest of us, it conjures memories of political unrest, the loss of countless young men both physically and in spirit. What a turbulent time in our country's history.

I can remember when the Persian Gulf War (Desert Storm) was over in 1991, as the soldiers were returning, a large number of Vietnam veterans were finally starting to get their due. The realization that we had stigmatized them as they returned from their war needed to be rectified, and it seemed only fitting to bring them back into the fold by including them in the celebrations.

But for so many Vietnam veterans, it was nearly too late. Years of health problems, both physical and mental, had surely taken their toll. One of those veterans took the picture you see here. He is my uncle, but for a number of reasons, I'm not going to name him. I will tell you some of what I know about his experience as a Vietnam War veteran.

He graduated from a well known local university with highest honors in Political Science. He enlisted in the service around 1963; to most Americans Vietnam was not in their lexicon. He trained as an elite soldier, becoming part of the special forces Green Berets and was assigned with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. He was an expert in languages; by the time he returned home, he knew 6 or 7 Oriental languages as well as French, which was spoken by the South Vietnamese officials. After 1972, he spent a few more years attached to the 101st Airborne where he 'changed hats' proudly wearing the Black beret.

As the picture shows, he carried a camera. I remember him telling me it was a Nikon, and that it had gone through hell. Dropped in rice paddies, shot and generally mistreated, but it kept on working. Seemed at times he was talking about himself. His role was that of interpreter, and later as a liaison between the South Vietnamese officials and U.S. officials and dignitaries. I have photographs of both Chuck Connors and Henry Fonda; the images of Henry Fonda are simply remarkable.

The real job? The job he was trained and unofficially assigned to do? That we don't talk about. He told me once; I wasn't shocked. What shocked me was what happened when the War was over. Many, many soldiers, drafted to fight in a war we couldn't win, trained to do the things that soldiers are trained to do, were then fired. That's right. From the lowest foot soldier to some of the higher ranking officers, including my uncle, they were released from their duties.

Imagine someone being trained to kill, returning to jeers and taunts unable to find work because of physical and mental disabilities. In my uncle's case, he'd spent so long in the rice paddies he had what he still refers to as swamp rot, a debilitating skin disorder on his legs. For years he suffered in silence, removing himself from society and his family, taking a low paying job in a shop in downtown Chicago.

And it was, in 1991, that he finally started to get some help. He reconnected with one or two of his comrades, and was connected with current military personnel. He started working with the Veteran's Administration to get some health services that he desperately needed. Most importantly, he started getting mental health services, which he sorely needed.

My uncle is a character. He is constantly medicated in order to be able to function; he jokes, "I take two pills. One so I won't kill myself, and one so I won't kill anyone else." We have a unique relationship. I do my best to acknowledge who he is, and the things he's done. We talk about politics, gardening (his one joy), life and love. Occasionally we'll break into French, a lovely way to share a common interest. And every once in a while, he'll look at me, and relate a story about something that happened to him while he was a soldier. I cherish those words, because I know he gives them to me with the understanding I will never judge him. Because I never will. I respect the hell out of him for doing the job he was assigned to do. That's what a great soldier does.

05 November 2011

Sentimental Sunday - To Whom It May Concern...

I'm so glad you found me. I'm much, much more than my birth date, the dates of my marriages (yes, more than one) and my death. Because while those will help fill out your family tree, I can assure you, I lived life in between those dates the best way I knew how and I would like for that life to be remembered.


It's not easy being the one on the end of the branch, the 'last'. For what it's worth, it wasn't by choice (perhaps that changes your perspective of the 'childless woman'). I grew up in a fairly large family group; I was the youngest in a group of cousins; my mom and her two sisters had 11 children between them of which only 2 were girls. My only other female cousin was 11 years older than me, and married by the time she was 18, so we never really got to know one another. As the baby of the group, I received a lot of attention and I grew to adore being a part of a large family; it was an essential part of who I was and how I identified myself. I always thought I would have a family of my own; I was 29 when I found out, via a near fatal illness passed down through my mother and her ancestors, that I could not have children.


It was many years after that I realized what it meant to be the last leaf on the branch. It was from this perspective that I began my genealogical research. Suddenly my unmarried aunts and uncles in every generation would catch my eye. As an Archivist and Genealogist, I tried to look beyond the vital records, to uncover any information that might shed light on who they were and how they lived their lives. The most obvious question was always, 'Why didn't you marry?' because without being married, there were no children to pass on their legacy.


My research uncovered three on my mother's side; a brother and  his two sisters who traveled across the country to settle in a new place, alone. The nature of the brother and one sister's personal relationships was lost to my knowledge, but the other, well, her Will revealed much. Imagine, as a woman in the early 1950s, having the wherewithal to ensure that the woman who had been your 'friend and companion' for forty plus years was cared for until her death, at which time your own estate was then divided among your heirs. It was a beautiful gesture. Oh, and they were buried together in one crypt in the mausoleum.


Sadly, though, I knew little else of them as people. What were their joys and sorrows? What were their stories? Of course, if I'd been independently wealthy, I'd have happily spent my days delving into these questions. But I was an Archivist and Genealogist, so money was often in short supply. My wonder at what the technology of my time could do was the catalyst for me to start to write. I hope that you'll be happy that in these writings I've provided more than just a little glimpse into who I was.


As I grew older, my life changed, as did the lives of so many in my family and our time together became more and more infrequent. I miss the warmth of Sundays spent with my family in many, many ways. I loved to cook, especially for groups of people, and I'd often been told I was a great cook. I loved to play cards (pinochle was a family favorite) as well as doing jigsaw puzzles (my granny and her daughters always had puzzles in some semblance of completion on tables in their homes). I knew how to stitch, sew and knit. I played the guitar and sang. I loved art; while I didn't have a talent for it I wasn't bad at it and enjoyed it a lot. I loved all kinds of music. I volunteered for service organizations because the feeling I got from serving others came the closest to what it felt like to be with my family; it gave me warmth even in the most challenging of circumstances


I hope that while you're performing your research that you'll think a bit more deeply about those of us at the end of the branches. We lived and loved, had joy and sorrow, succeeded and failed miserably. The only difference is we just weren't blessed with our own descendants to carry on the story of our lives. I wrote from my heart, in the hopes my story would be told. Will you do it for me?

02 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Isabel Jeffrey (1886 - 1892)

Isabel Jeffrey (1886 - 1892)
First daughter of George Jeffrey and Fannie Powelson Jeffrey
Kalamazoo, Michigan, United States