FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

Grandpa Liked To Sing

While working to put additional information on the fact frames associated with my ancestors, I turned the music to random play.  A male baritone voice cycled into play as I added information to my grandfathers record.  I was immediately reminded of the stories I’d heard of his life long enjoyment of singing.

Huggard Frank Looking through the words I’d added to his history over the years, the only mention of his singular public expression were the words, “Grandpa liked to sing”. 

The stitching of the word quilt that covered his life in my genealogical records didn’t contain one of the most important design elements.  This very private man had one sustainable public facet during his life.  Grandpa liked to sing.

My mother often described her two bedroom childhood home that housed ten or more family members.  They were crowded into every space, especially at night.  Even the screened back porch had cots where grandpa and some of the boys slept year round.  Privacy was just a word.

Grandma cooked from sun up to well after sun down, day after day, year after year, regardless of the temperature in the kitchen.  The old coal stove probably didn’t cool off completely for thirty years.  When it wasn’t heating or baking food, it was warming water for baths and with that many family members, even semi-daily baths taxed its ability to heat enough water.

The large family required a lot of food and the family raised and grew almost everything they consumed.  Grandpa augmented the meager earnings from their “cash crops” with his skilled blacksmith hands.

I only remember really talking to him a few times, even though he lived until after I was married.  He was a shy kind of a fellow unless you were working with him or in his presence regularly. 

Mom said that he would arise at 4:30 a.m. every morning and start the fire in the kitchen stove while the rest of the family slept.  The daily ritual always included numerous selections in his strong baritone voice. 

While the stove warmed, he would prepare a pot of coffee, gather enough wood to feed the stove until his boys got up to do their chores before school and then he’d stare out of the window above the sink trying to read the sky for the weather of the day.  And he would sing.

In the winter months, he stayed in the kitchen to drink his morning cup of Joe, but when the temperature was twenty degrees or warmer, he sat on one of the two steps on the front porch and serenaded the neighborhood. 

I’ve been told by several of those who were kids in the area during the years, that they loved waking to his songs.  He sang old-timey songs, love songs, songs of the season and songs that he made up. 

He didn’t take requests.  In fact, if anyone approached him or even glanced at him with too much interest while walking down the street, he’d immediately stop singing and go inside.  He was a shy kinda guy.

When I was five, he took me out to his blacksmith shop one afternoon while he worked to repair the rakes on a hay rake.  Even though I was a small town kid, I wasn’t a farm kid and was basically useless pumping the bellows.  At least, I was until he taught me the rhythm of the pump.  Singing a song with emphasis on the final word in each stanza, he showed me how to keep the heat in the hearth just right so he could work the metal with his hammer on the anvil for a few minutes before returning it for more heat.

It was an unusual day in my experience with him, because while my reedy five-year-old voice called out the bellows-pumping ditty, he sang harmony and circled my tune with layers and layers of beautiful music.  In fact, it was so beautiful that he had to remind me to start pumping again several times when I stood in silent amazement at music coming out of this quiet man.

Huggard Frank feeding sheep_sm He sang to his dog, to his sheep and to a cow that day too.  They liked it.  I could tell.  Their heads all popped up and they all moved to the point of their pens and pastures closest to him when he turned to face them over the bellows.  It wasn’t a new experience for them, but like me, they all stood still in rapt attention to the generator of such beautiful sounds.

Grandpa sang at funerals in town with three other fellows during most of his life.  I suppose he knew that the attendees weren’t going to ask him to sing a song just for them at those times and as one of four, most of the limelight spread away from him even though his voice was the pillar that supported the less dynamic notes sang by the others.

Some say that if he ever had a little liquor, his shyness retreated a little but even then it was contained among his circle of friends who each had a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon in their paws. 

I wish I’d heard his morning concerts, but never did.  I asked him to sing a few songs once when I was sixteen, but he declined.

Grandpa was a shy kind of a man.

 

 

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27 June 2009 Posted by | Histories | , , | Leave a comment

GPS and Lost Graves

I’ve visited the grave of my great grandfather a number of times over the years.  It was usually covered with Memorial Day flowers as were most of the graves in the cemetery.   It is a memory of a sea of color and fragrant smells – folks greeting each other, pointing to headstones and markers – a reunion of sorts.

In the last decade, mylar windmills, balloons and plastic blossoms have almost overwhelmed the iris, peonies, babies breath and snowball floral tributes left by us older folks.  There seem to be fewer of us visiting the burial locations of our families now.   There are too many big boy toys, outing distractions and to some degree, lack of respect for our lineage that has become associated with Memorial Day in recent years.

I try to show our grandchildren where their ancestors are buried with pilgrimages to the cemetery every year or so hoping they will retain the ancestral memories after I’m gone or can’t remember them myself in some future day.

Apparently that future day is arriving even as I write this note.  I couldn’t find my great grandfather’s grave this year.  I couldn’t find my aunt’s grave.

There are only 20,000+ burials in the cemetery where their bodies reside and the old parts really haven’t changed that much but apparently someone moved their graves during the past couple of years.

At first I chuckled.  Then I frowned and visually searched for the familiar landmarks that I’ve known since my youth.  Finding some of them, I tried to triangulate and ‘walk to the graves’ like I’d done as a young man.   That didn’t work.  Someone really had moved the graves!

Apparently, the only thing that had moved were a few synaptic links in my brain because after an hour of walking up and down row after row of markers, I finally found the headstones.  I enjoyed reading the markers during my walk but had other graves to visit, clean and photograph that day.

I’ve visited the graves of my ancestors in Plymouth, Massachusetts several times, but during the last visit, I couldn’t walk right to the ones that “I was sure of”.  When have you fly across country to visit a cemetery, ‘wasting’ time to find a grave that you knew you can ‘walk to in my sleep’ but can’t find any longer is an expensive and frustrating exercise.

Could it be that I’ve now been to so many cemeteries in so many locations that they are starting to merge in to a blended picture in my memory?  Probably so.  Have I lost synaptic connections?  Probably so.  Hence, I purchased a GPS specifically for my traveling genealogy kit.

gps-display Now when I visit a cemetery, any cemetery, I record the lat / long coordinates of the headstones of my ancestors.  That data is entered in my database directly tied to their burial data.  Yes, I know that my commercial GPS handheld is only accurate to 14 feet or so of the real spot I’m standing on, even if it has acquired eight or more satellites, but, that means that I should only have to walk a maximum of 28 feet in any direction to find the grave in the future if I can’t ‘walk to it in my sleep’ that day.  I can do that in short order.

I record the information on Find-a-grave, Names In Stone, Picasa, Panoramio, my own genealogy sites and other websites when I post headstone photos on them as well.  Maybe the information will help someone else in the future.  Additionally, I can use my web enabled cell phone to look at those sites and remind me where the graves are located in future visits.

One thing is certain.  I will continue to visit more and more cemeteries in the future.  The blended memory picture of them in my mind will continue to meld into an even more generic image as time goes on.  I’ll probably forget how to exactly walk to even more of the graves too.

I won’t be alone.  You’re all walking down the same path with me.  Some of you are ahead of me.  Some of you are behind but if you love to visit cemeteries like I do, you are right on track to arrive at the same destination eventually.   If you haven’t purchased a GPS handheld or have the software in your iPhone or other device, you might as well put one on your ‘stuff I want list’ so your family and friends will know what to get you for Christmas, birthday or graduation.

Once you start documenting the exact location of graves, you’ll find that it adds to the fun of cemetery visits and you too will be able to find your great grandfathers grave in the future.

17 June 2009 Posted by | Cemetery, GPS, Headstones, Photos | , , , , | Leave a comment

Grave Dowsing ~ More Stories

In a recent post, I briefly covered an article about dowsing for graves that I’d stumbled upon.  The article was the first that I’d every heard of anyone using dowsing for that purpose.

dowser The response to my post was surprising.  Apparently, there are a lot of folks who engage in this activity to locate lost graves. 

The University of Iowa has a good treatise on the subject found here.  The document will download as a .pdf file.

In 2005, Dick Eastman posted about a grave dowsing experience by Tom Corey on the Oregon Trail.  As usual, his readers have posted some interesting comments in response to his post.

Linda Bell wrote about dowsing methods used to find county graves for the North Forty News.  Dowsing plays a key role in finding graves on the Roberts Ranch in Livermore, California.

The Archer Cousins Genealogy website has an article that covers their experience in dowsing to find the graves of family members that includes photos of their efforts.

The Hughes and Related Families site has a detailed article that covers the theory, tools and methods used to dowse for graves.

Jay McAfee posted an article written by Thomas A. Markham about dowsing to find old graves in a GenForum post in 2004.

Glenn Adams wrote an article on his blog about his use of dowsing rods in the search for the bodies of a murdered couple.

Wendell Culberson of the Mississippi GenWeb site wrote a great article on his experiences in finding lost graves in Shelby County, Illinois.

Chris Dunham of The Genealogue blog quoted an article about grave dowsing that was published in the Wichita, Kansas Eagle newspaper.

Brenda Marble wrote a detailed article for the cemeteries.missouri.org site about grave dowsing and the tools and methods used in this activity.

The list of articles about Grave Dowsing is surprising long.  A Google search for “dowsing for graves” produced over 1,200 hits.   Needless to say, I was surprised by the number of results given the fact that I’d never heard of the subject before finding the “Old Ways Help Women Find Old Graves” article two weeks ago.

Are you familiar with these efforts to find lost graves?  Personally, I don’t have interest in the occult or entities that use dowsing to tell fortunes, the sex of unborn children, etc.  As I noted in my first post on the subject, I’ve used dowsing rods to find water and power lines as simple convenience.  I’d witnessed dowsing to find water lines as a youth and as a young man working for a electric utility.  Simple tools.  Simple needs.  Quick and accurate results were produced followed by putting the hastily constructed wire wire rods in the trash or bent back to their normal shape for use in construction.

Reflecting on it, I suppose I always thought the metal dowsing rods simply reacted to gravitational disturbances created by buried metal pipes full of water or energized power lines.  Tenuous reasoning I know, but who cared.  The job they were used for got done faster with them than without.  I gave the dowsing rods no more thought than I would a tooth pick at a restaurant.

headstone 2But dowsing for buried bodies?  What is that all about?  How does it work?  Is the power of the human mind greater than we’ve been able to measure thus far?  

Apparently so, or at least it is so for some folks. 

You’ll note that the people writing or quoting the articles above have had success using dowsing to find graves.   It’s just an example of folks having a small need that can be difficult to impossible to resolve via normal means, yet by exhibiting a little faith in oneself followed by the use of simple tools focused on a specific subject seems to bring results. 

Whether you decide to dowse for graves or not, research of the subject provides interesting reading.  I probably won’t use my bent up old galvanized tie wire rods for this activity, but who knows, maybe the need will arise for some unforeseeable reason in a future day.  If so, I wonder if it will work for me?  I guess I’d shouldn’t think about it too much and cobble up the works.

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9 June 2009 Posted by | Research Tips | , , | 1 Comment

The Problem With Primary Source Documents

We know that primary source documents always are desired to assist in proving our lineage.  Can we count on their accuracy?

Drew Helen Marr Farrar death certificate_72dpi The answer is NO.  They frequently contain errors.  Dates are wrong.  Locations are frequently wrong.  Names are wrong or misspelled.   Why does this happen?

Looking at my great grandmother’s death certificate, I immediately noticed that her name was different than the one written in various publications and family records.

Great Grandma’s birth name was “Helen Marr Farrar”, yet the name listed on the certificate is “Helen Mary Drew”.  Did the recorder hear the information wrong or accidentally write a name frequently used in his family?

That is one possibility.  I make the same error at times.  However, her certificate offers a greater clue to the problem.  The informant listed on the certificate is “Lula H. Johnson”.  For some reason, great grandma’s death information was given to authorities by her niece rather than by any of her six children that lived in the area.

Can you provide the full birth name, birth date and parents names for your aunts and uncles from memory?  Not many of us can.  Lula, was probably helping the family take care of ‘foot work’ while the children arranged the funeral, burial and mourned the loss of their mother.

We know that the birth information listed on a death certificate is suspect.  It came from someone’s memory.  The only facts that should be correct on the certificate are the name, death date and place and burial date and place and even they are ‘suspect’.

The birth information and even the parents names on death certificates are secondary sources at best.

One of the key indicators that grandma’s name was Helen Marr was a letter from her “family historian” granddaughter that states that great grandma was named after her mothers sister, Helen Marr Tirrill.

Wondering if “Marr” was a rare name in that day, I searched for others that may have had that name and was surprised  how frequently it was used.  A misspelling was undoubtedly less of a factor than I initially suspected.

Errors abound in the birth and death certificates that I’ve found for my family.  In fact, they are more common than not.

My aunt died as a young child in the now non-existent town of Knightsville, Utah.  My grandparents lived in the area when grandpa had a wagon and horse team hauling supplies and anything else needed between Salt Lake City and the remote mining towns in Juab county.

Drew Gladys death certificate_sm The informant listed on Gladys’ certificate was my grandfather but unfortunately, the registrar, Mr. E. J. Howell incorrectly recorded her burial location.  It states that aunt Gladys was buried in the American Fork, Utah cemetery, yet she and her baby sister are actually buried side-by-side in the family plot in the Alpine cemetery.

Was she initially buried in American Fork and later moved to Alpine?  No.  Her uncle Charles and aunt Ada were buried on the plot in 1901 and 1904 respectively.  Two other aunts and an uncle died as babies and were buried on the family farm in the late 1880’s – early 1890’s, so the family didn’t own the cemetery plot then, but by the time their eldest son was buried in 1901, they owned or had purchased the lot.

Gladys was buried in Alpine not in American Fork.  The “primary source” information on her death certificate is wrong.

I wonder how many errors exist in the thousands of certificate that that I’ve collected over the years yet don’t have enough other information to cause me to suspect errors in them.  There are probably quite a few, but since I know that even “Primary” source documents frequently contain errors, I still list them in my databases with the highest level of confidence.  What else can be considered a “Primary Source Document”?

You have the same problem in your own source documents.  Don’t let it throw you.  Don’t obstinately argue over minor factual differences with other researchers.  Establish a rule in your negotiations with others declaring that the primary source documents are the base used for accuracy but that codicil statements can be added to that knowledge to argue or exhibit additional information to consider in the decision of the ‘true facts’ associated with the record of your family member.

7 June 2009 Posted by | Birth Certificate, Death Certificate, Marriage Certificate, Primary Source Documents | , , , | Leave a comment

Dowsing For Graves And Other Wives Tales

If you are like me, there are graves of your extended family that have either lost their grave markers or were never marked for a variety of reasons.

In my family, three of my great aunts and uncles died as youngsters and were buried on the family farm in Fort Canyon, above Alpine, Utah.  I made a post about them called “Little Ones Lost” earlier this year.

Today, I found an article titled, “Old ways help women find old graves” that describes the efforts of Cate Culver, who is using dowsing rods to find old unmarked graves around the Pioneer Cemetery in San Andreas, California.

dowsing As expected, scientists say that dowsing doesn’t work and that her efforts are a waste of time.  Unfortunately, the soil in that area is less ‘soil’ than rock and has a fairly high copper and other mineral content.  The article notes that ground penetrating radar won’t work in the area due to the terrain and of course, officials aren’t going to grant permission to open the suspected locations for ‘no’ reason other than to prove that the dowser can find old graves.

Long ago, I was surprised when I was first told that dowsing didn’t work and that it couldn’t be proven.  I’d grown up watching people dowse for water, power and other buried lines with great success.  In fact, when I was told that dowsing was bunk, I had actually dowsed for a long lost water line that was leaking the weekend before.  Running water could be heard in a pipe that entered the basement of our home but wasn’t attached to anything inside.

Curiosity got the better of me one Friday evening, so I pulled out the dowsing rods, marked the location of the pipe on the lawn and started digging with a shovel.  The location was about 100 feet away from the city water line feeding our home.

While dowsing, I had flagged a couple of 90 degree turns in the route of the line.

A few hours later, my wife was less than happy to find about forty feet of five foot deep trench winding its way through our north lawn.

Yes, the water line was exactly where I’d marked it and at the depth the rods had indicated.  No surprises.  The trench was so long because I had to follow the line to find the leak and then to clear enough length of pipe so that it could be lifted, cut, spliced and tested for new leaks.

As it turned out, the water originated three hundred feet south in the basement of the neighbors home.  They had owned our home before building their new home.  The water lines to the chicken coops that used to be on the back properties had originally fed from our home.  When they built the new house, they simply capped the water line in the basement of the old house and fed it from the new house.  Finally, decades later, the old water line deteriorated and began to leak.

Being on the end of the shovel doing the digging, I’d long ago decided that the dowsing rods had better work or you were only involved in a less than satisfying way to exercise.

We often used dowsing rods to find buried power lines when I worked for the power company.  The younger generation had to use the expensive tools that semi-find electrical fields, but the old hands just grabbed a pair of iron tie wires, bent one end of each long enough to use as a handle and marked the line.  No big deal.  Fast, accurate and easy.  And because the fellows were doing the digging by hand, the marks had to be accurate due to the seemingly never ending layers of river rock or they’d never use their dowsing sticks a second time.  Inevitably, the dowsing marks were always more accurate than those created the using multi-thousand dollar buried line identification equipment.

I’ve continued to use dowsing rods to find the dozen or so telephone drop lines that cross our orchard when I’ve installed fence posts, sprinkling systems and other buried features in our landscaping.  Thus far, they’ve always provided 100% accuracy.  I guess that I need to read the scientific reasons why the rods don’t work but really don’t want to.  If I do, I may believe the scientific reasons and then the rods won’t work any longer.  After all, scientists are rarely wrong.  Right?

Over the years, I’ve chatted with folks from all over the world who have dowsed to find water and other buried features for all of their lives with great success.  They grew up using them and apparently, none of them had been taught that stringtheorydowsing doesn’t work either.

My ancestors dowsed.  Their ancestors dowsed.  Maybe you have to have a naive faith that dowsing works for it to work for you.  Maybe it is tied to string theory or quantum mechanics.  Maybe you have to acknowledge that the laws of the universe are a lot stranger and more elastic than all of us whiz kids realize.

Maybe the old healing and ‘wives tales’ medical remedies that my mother, grandmothers and great grandmother taught and practiced don’t work either.  I guess you’d have to convince the almost invisible scars on my body that the old remedies didn’t work though.  While in that discussion, maybe you could tell the adjacent scars from wounds that were ‘healed’ by doctors that they shouldn’t be so big and ugly because they were treated by highly educated men who convinced me that my ancestors old remedies didn’t work.   But that topic is a whole other discussion.

I wonder how many of the old remedies and ‘ways’ have been relegated to the pit by us as we’ve become more ‘educated’ over the generations?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m absolutely delighted to be living when so many medical, technological and other advances have been made to make our lives so much physically better than those of our ancestors, but I wonder what we’ve lost in the process of worshiping our scientific ‘Gods’.

What commonly practiced old ‘Ways’ and ‘Remedies’ in your ancestral history have been lost?  Post a note and let us know.

Don’t necessarily expect us to believe them though.  Maybe you can ascribe our unbelief to our being taught that they don’t work and hence our faith in them being literal is missing.

Remember, my dowsing rods ’don’t work’ either and most readers will probably assign me to the group of ‘characters’ of a past age.  That’s ok.  We’re relatively happy in our ignorance….. and, before you ask, no, I don’t dowse for water or power or telephone lines for anyone else.  Who’d believe that it worked in today’s world anyway?

5 June 2009 Posted by | Ancestors | , , , , | 4 Comments