FamHist Blog

Family History Research Hints and Tips

UFO Over Wellington Square – Nottingham

I frequently use the Street View in Google Maps to look at the property where my ancestors lived long ago.  Sometimes, I’m rewarded with a view of their house that has survived the centuries.  

Although the buildings and properties have experienced changes in the intervening time in cosmetics, construction and destruction, my digital excursion is worth the time.

I’m fairly sure that the home my 2nd great-granduncle, Edwin Vanini Smith died in at 7 Wellington Square in Nottingham, England still stands.  At least the building appears to be old enough to have been in existence before his death in 1901.  

During these digital, no passport required, journeys, I always take the time to digitally ‘walk’ through the neighborhood to get a sense of what it looks like now and may have resembled way back when.  

In many locations in England and other countries, where homes have been around for ‘a while’, are close together, near shopping areas or rail lines and, I can almost hear the sounds of the neighborhood, smell the bread being baked down at the bakery and see the neighbor lady hanging out her wash to dry.

Imagine my surprise today, when just a few steps down the street at 16 Wellington Square, I looked up and thought that a UFO had been captured by the Google filming vehicle. 

It’s shape reminded me of the curved wing of the space craft used by invaders from Mars in the old War of the Worlds movie.

A UFO over the home of my 2nd great-granduncle?  That would make a great family history story!

But alas, it wasn’t to be.   Sliding the view further up and down the street revealed the UFO to be a small gouge, bubble or ding in the plastic dome that covers the Google cameras.  

It is either that or the UFO is tiny and keeps pace with the camera vehicle and slides along the 2nd story walls of buildings when it isn’t in the sky.

So, the family history story that I hoped to tell our grandchildren went the way of most UFO stories.  Explainable.  Fun for a second.  A natural element caught in a photo from a viewpoint that accentuates the image of something different than the truth.

It would have been a great story though.  I hated to let it go.  I hope that there aren’t other ‘stories’ in my family history research that are just that, …. ‘stories’, not proven facts, that I’ve interpreted as fact from my ‘point of view’.

30 September 2010 Posted by | Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

A Little Lively Refreshment

Life on a farm seven decades ago was all work and little to no cash on hand.  My ancestors had fruit and vegetable farms.  After feeding their families, the remainder of their crops were sold on the market for enough cash to pay property taxes, water assessments and to purchase the few store bought goods that entered their homes.

Bartering was common place.  Farmers would trade services, extra crops, blacksmithing and labor with each other in lieu of cash trading hands.  However, farm hands had to be paid cash money from the meager resources the farms produced.

Families made their own entertainment.  On occasion, the men in the family would get a hankering for a liquid escape from the harsh reality of their lives.

Sometimes loose dollar coins would be liberated from the cookie jar to buy hooch.  The rest of the time, the grains, fruit and potatoes needed for homemade brew, would be reassigned to a quiet corner of the potato cellar for future use.tea_party

The family recipe for homemade beer has been lost to the best of my knowledge, but at least one story has survived.

It seems that when the men made their first batch of beer, the yeast they used was not the exact variety called for in the recipe.  After hours of hard work, the fresh brew was put in glass Mason jars on the selves of the the fruit cellar under the home. 

The temperature in the cellar was perfect to let the fermenting do its work.  The guys checked the bottles frequently in anticipation.  In the week before the brew was to be finished, they noticed that the color wasn’t quite right.  Sitting around the kitchen table that night, they wondered if they had a problem.

Well, they didn’t have long to wait for the answer.  Bang!  Whoosh!  “What was that?”  Bang!  Bang! Whoosh!  Whoosh!  More noise coming from the basement.  Before they could gather their senses and jump up from the table, the room was filled with a strong smell seeping up through the floorboards.

Rushing outside, around the house and down the basement stairs, their worst fears were confirmed when they threw open the pine-slat door.  The floor of the basement was covered with liquid, foam and broken glass.  They had missed the liquid fireworks show but the evidence proved it had happened.

When the first jar let go, it bounced so hard that it hit the jar next to it.  The energy was transferred in rapid sequence to all the adjacent jars and the resulting release of bubbles from the bumping resulted in a full launch of the whole batch.

All of that work gone.  Maybe store bought is best for some things. 

The thirst for hooch has fortunately skipped this branch of the family in current generations.  We don’t even have as many stories to tell from misadventures, but we wouldn’t give up the stories from the past.  Without them, how would we know much of anything about the personalities of our ancestors?

Old time entertainment often produced greatness.  Enjoy the stories and fiddle playing greatness of Tommy Jarrell.


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1 March 2010 Posted by | Research Tips | , | Leave a comment

Cemetery Stories

As a youth, my parents and I visited the graves of my fathers parents and grandparents to clear the weeds from them in the week before Memorial Day each year.  Buried in the same plot were my father’s two baby sisters, two uncles and an aunt.

cultivator The cemetery soil should best be described as a granite sandbar that existed in the ancient Lake Bonneville.  The mountain immediately to the north is solid granite and obviously the large granules of granite in cemetery hill came from that source.  They are interspersed with silt from the softer stone in the mountain to the east.

Clearing the weeds was not an easy task.  The soil was typically dry and about as hard as cement.

Dad pushed a hand garden cultivator and I wielded a garden hoe.  Even though the blades had been sharpened before we left home, within minutes they were dull.  Dad’s muscle negated the loss of the blade edge with ever increasing force and sweat.

Mom raked the weeds from the broken soil while I hurried ahead of him trying to break the soil enough for Dad to maintain the cutting momentum.

I wasn’t successful for very long.  Young arms swinging a hoe could not keep up with the two cultivator cutting blades below the surface of the soil for long.

Even though Dad would tell me to work faster, I secretly think he was happy for the short waiting breaks after the first half-hour of hard labor.

As soon as the top five inches of the soil was cut, he would take the rake from Mom and I’d use the old one with the short handle.  Soon the soil was weed free and raked into rectangular humps over the burial location of each person in the plot.

Mom always treated us to cold soda pop and store bought cookies when the job was done.  The treats were luxuries that were rarely found in our home during the rest of the year.

The cookies were great in their drizzled chocolate and nut chip covered glory.  They weren’t better than anything Mom cooked, because she was a terrific cook, but they tasted great.  They were store bought you see.

The best part of the evening was about to start….

Sitting in the shade on the short retaining wall around the plot, Dad would tell me stories about the lives of our ancestors who were buried around us until the evening shadows were long.  I’d heard them in the same setting all of my life, but as I grew older, I’d think to ask questions.  New insights, additional color and texture would emerge in the telling.  Sometimes this would lead to a new story that had slipped his mind previously.

I doubt that I would have heard all of them especially in depth if it weren’t for that setting.  When you sit by an ancestors tombstone and look down at the farms where they lived and are surrounded by the mountains that had such integral relationship in their lives and activities, a lifetime of memories surface with every glance at the scenery.

I’ve always been grateful for the story telling sessions and have passed the stories on to our children and grandchildren.

27 January 2010 Posted by | Ancestors, Cemetery | , , | Leave a comment

I Wear A Seat Belt When Doing Genealogy

I always wear a seat belt.  It makes it harder for aliens to suck me out of the window of my car.

Like most genealogy fans, I’m addicted to researching my lineage and associated families.  The addiction started over a half century ago and if anything has intensified every year since then.

MarvinMartian Many other researchers from around the world with my surname have contacted me over the years hoping to find common ancestry and to share research efforts.  Surprisingly, very few of the folks are related to me prior to the early 1400’s.  We wish we could find a closer tie, but alas, it hasn’t happened so far.

One of my ‘cousins’ has been in contact with me on and off for many years.  He hit a brick wall early in his research and hasn’t been able to topple it even with his most intense efforts.  Finally hoping to find a keyhole that peers into the lineage I’ve traced, I was asked if I’d take a DNA test hoping we’d find enough of a match to at least provide some encouragement in his quest.

Unfortunately, he asked for the DNA test results of an alien.

We waited for weeks before the first set of results arrived.  Opening them, I was relieved to see that the lab agreed that I was alive but was sad that there weren’t many other facts to explore.  About a month later, the rest of the results arrived.  My ‘cousin’ and I may be related, but if so, it is only because we both have two legs.

Intrigued with the concept of genealogical ‘research’ through DNA, I started reading about how to correctly interpret the results of DNA tests.

That may have been a bad choice on my part.  Thus far, I’ve found that I have almost no DNA ties to any other human on record.

I think I’m an alien.

I was born 14 years after my next closest sibling and due to size, coloring and interests have often wondered if I was left on the back step of my parents home and they never got around to telling me.

My oldest brother took my mother to the hospital when I was born because my father wasn’t home at the moment.  He and my mother told me the story many times.  My mother even elaborated on the story noting that the doctor said, “It’s a Boy! He has Red Hair!”, to which my mother replied, “That’s not Red, that’s Rust!”

I’ve always enjoyed that story but now that I’ve spent so much time trying to find DNA ties to other humans, I’m more disposed to believing that I was dropped off at my parents home by aliens.  I’m probably part of a major alien conspiracy that hasn’t been exposed yet.

How are you doing with the results of your DNA tests?  Are you part of the alien conspiracy too or have you been able to use them to prove ties to the humans?

To the other aliens out there, I say, “Aliens Unite!”  We may create a whole new area of research in the fascinating genealogical quest that humans enjoy.

I’m sure they’ll still accept us.  Source documentation may be harder for us, but think of the family stories we’ll have to tell!

See you in the Family History Library or on the Mother Ship.

17 August 2009 Posted by | DNA, Family History | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tale of the Tail

I continue to receive requests for more ‘Elwood Drew’ stories.  Apparently, tales from his life are as funny to others as they have always been to me.

Born prematurely in the early 1900’s, the midwife didn’t think he would live, so she put him in a shoebox wrapped in a blanket and stuck him on the open oven door of the wood stove in the kitchen.  After caring for his mother, she was surprised to find him still alive when she went back into the kitchen.

When a horse stepped on his foot as a youngster, the horse shoe perfectly cut off his little toe.  He picked it up and took it to his mother who proceeded to clean both the toe and his foot and then sewed the toe back on with her needle and black thread.  I know this happened because he used to show the scars to me when I’d complain about getting immunization shots at school.

I remember watching him use his pocket knife to carve out several teeth that were bothering him when we didn’t have the money to go to the dentist.  Home remedies and home doctor’n were not strangers in our family.

The older generations were tougher than us I suppose.

whiskey_bottle_smPrior to World War II, my parents lived in Park City, Utah, where my father worked in the mines.  One of my mothers brothers lived with them while he too worked as a miner.

For various reasons, boils and carbuncles were more common place back then.  If you’ve ever had one or more of them, you understand how painful they are.

Late one evening, Dad and my uncle decided to use some ‘medicinal’ whiskey to try and fix a couple of extremely painful boils that were on the posterior of my uncles anatomy.

After testing the whiskey for poisons, they found that they’d used all of the contents. Dad turned and put the empty bottle on the coal stove in the kitchen to warm it up with the intent of using it to draw out the core of the boils as it cooled down.

Dropping his drawers, Earl presented the awful swellings to my father for remediation.

Dad put the mouth of the hot whiskey bottle over the worst offender and then they waited for it to cool and create the intended suction to pull the core free.

coal_stoveWhen telling me the story, he said that everything didn’t go quite as planned.  The boil wasn’t quite ‘ripe’ and the core wouldn’t come out.  The rapidly cooling bottle began to suck Earl’s posterior inside the narrow neck of the bottle.

Dad said that when a little over an inch of boil and surrounding flesh had been drawn into the bottle, Earl’s aplomb vanished and he began to dance around the kitchen exclaiming all kinds of things.

Apparently, his thought process increased significantly, because he rallied long enough to run to the side of the cast iron stove where he could literally, “twist and shout” and strike the bottle against the metal.

There must be a certain skill set required to break a whiskey bottle attached to your tush by swinging it against a stove, because it took a number of swings to do the trick.  After each swing, Earl’s exclamations became louder and the suction seemed to consume even more of his tender flesh.  Finally, the bottle broke and released its embrace on his rear assets.

Of course, by that time, all of the family had been awakened and had run downstairs to see who was being killed in the kitchen.

There was less psychological damage to the minds of my older siblings who witnessed the naked tush of our uncle than you might suppose.  None of them ever exhibited any lasting effects from the vision, but from time to time, I have witnessed tears run from their eyes when they’ve been together and revisited the ‘Tale of the tail’.

Family stories are a treasure.  I hope you are recording your own stories.

31 July 2009 Posted by | Diaries, Family History | , , , | Leave a comment

Recording Life ~ Fishing

My father had a unique skill in interpersonal relationships.  Without selling someone something they didn’t want, he could nonetheless divert their objections as if he was Obi-Wan in the Star Wars movie.

The power company needed to install a new feeder circuit in a fast growing city in Utah.  Everyone wanted the power for their homes, offices and stores but none of them wanted the power lines necessary to provide that service.  Frustrated with months of fruitless powerline conversations, public meetings and incentives, the district manager responsible for the city turned to my father.

“Elwood, I’m taking you out of your position as foreman and am giving you a car, line plans and little if no money.”  “Go get the right-of-way we have to have to upgrade that feeder circuit before the whole south end of the city goes black!”

Great!  An assignment that had stymied numerous ‘professional’ right-of-way agents, management and even high level city officials.  “Get the right-of-way”.  “Much of the city will be in a permanent blackout by July – three months away.”  “You have little money to spend.”  In those days, little money was the $100 contingent fund in district offices.  Management authorized their district managers to spend up to that amount without having to go through an arduous budget hearing.

Opening the rusted trunk lock on the 1962 Ford, he placed a bucket full of wood stakes, wood lathe, fluorescent marking tape and a hammer inside.  A puff of smoke always followed the vehicle when a foot pressed the accelerator.  Two hundred plus thousand miles of start, stop, idling city driving will cause that problem in a meter reading vehicle.

Within three weeks, Dad’s uniquely calm reasoning had awaken the common sense in all but one property owner along the route.  He hadn’t approached the old man yet.  Having heard the stories by the legions who had preceded him in the quest, he opted to resolve the issue last and with finality.

Soda at camp Wearing his normal tan Dickie work shirt, shrink-to-fit Levi’s with rolled up cuffs, work boots and a shirt pocket full of pens, pencils and a plastic template, he told the old man answering the door that he was there to finish driving the last stake in place before construction started the next morning.   The old man shouted, “What power pole on my property?”  “You aren’t doing anything on my property!”

Giving the old man a look of pity just as you would to a dunce and with a slight shake of the head, Dad pointed to the four foot tall lathe with four six-foot-long tails of fluttering survey tape centered in front of the man’s living room window.  “It’s going in there.”  “We’ll be here at 7:00 a.m. and I just wanted to let you know to not sleep in tomorrow.”

Sleep in?  The old codger probably hadn’t slept past 6 a.m. in his life.  Dad knew he was always up working around his house or yard shortly after 5:00 a.m. every morning.

With his hands on his hips, Dad looked at the stake then up at the living room window and back again at the stake.  Shaking his head, he unrolled maps.  “I’d have put it a little that way – closer to the house if I’d have designed the job, but it looks like one of the engineers has definitely taken your view into consideration.”

“What?”  “A pole in front of my window is taking my view into consideration?”  “Are they crazy?”  Commiserating with the old man, Dad agreed that a fifty foot tall pole was hard to interpret as a window even with the best imagination, but that’s what Dad’s ink dot on the plans said … “See?”  “Don’t worry, the auger on the truck is only 28” wide.  In this rocky soil, the hole will get bigger as it bounces around, but it shouldn’t end up being much over four feet wide when we’re done.”

You know the rest of the story.  After ten minutes of arguing, Dad let the man move the lathe stake to the fence line and pound it in the ground — right where he wanted it when he arrived that morning.

Turning to leave, he heard the old man say, “See.  You can’t push me around.  I’m a better negotiator than all of you”.  Yep.  Dad had brought out the best common sense negotiation skills from the old man.

Flash back to the early 1950’s.  A stream fisher all of his life, he frequented the hard to access streams where the big fish lived.  The Ute Indian Reservation in eastern Utah includes the south slope of the Uintah Mountains.  Rock Creek was a favorite stream for serious fishermen but it was both expensive to fish because of the fees associated with the permit and the permit restrictions themselves.

A fishing trip was needed.  If you stayed just a little to the west, there were excellent streams to fish.  The old Plymouth and LaFayette were loaded with tents, grub boxes, sleeping bags and fishing gear.  My sister, brother-in-law, father, mother and myself enjoyed the two hour ride to the campsite.

Plymouth and LaFayette Early the next morning, Dad and Roy went fishing and fishing was good.  Some were released.  Many were kept for breakfast back at camp.

The splashing behind them got louder.  Looking up, they saw a federal game warden riding up on his horse.  Dad lifted the front brim of his old fishing fly covered Stetson to get a good look at the wardens face.

“Good morning.”  “How is the fishing this morning?”  “Oh, its not too bad.  We’ve released all the smaller ones.  We just need enough good pan sized Brookies for a good breakfast.”  “What fly are you using?”  “Well, according to Ken Aycock over in the Basin, these rock roller flies are the best and they seem to be working this morning.”

“Ken Aycock?”  “You know Ken Aycock?”  “Sure we work together.  I’m out this way working on projects all of the time.”  “Do you know …. “ The list of names and places started to flow.

Staying close to hear when the power of the law was going to drop on them, Roy finally moved away to fish up stream while they talked.

When he came back almost an hour later, they were still talking.  The fishing creel on Dad’s hip was still full of grass and trout although they were both getting a little dry.  Dad’s old bamboo fishing rod was still in his left hand.  The three pound test leader and fly was trapped between his palm and the pole.

Finally, the warden tired of reminiscing and comparing notes on people and features in the area.  “Well, I guess I’d better ask to see your fishing licenses and permit.”  Roy’s heart stopped and his blood ran cold.  Fishing on the reservation without the permit could result in a thousand dollar penalty and loss of fishing rights for a long time.

Dad turned his head and the warden could see Dad’s fishing license in its plastic holder neatly tucked under the hat band on the right side.

“Well, you do have a permit too don’t you?”  With a guffaw, smile and a headshake, Dad said; “You don’t think we’d be fool enough to be fishing here without one do you?”  Apparently, the music of the conversation still echoed through the mind of the warden.  He turned his horse and started off saying; “No, I don’t suppose you would.”  cleaning_fish

Roy claims he didn’t start breathing again for twenty minutes, but everyone knows that even standing in water the temperature of ice, humans can’t hold their breath for more than fifteen minutes.

As I remember, the fish were very good eating although I was really hungry by the time they arrived back in camp to be cooked.

Another Elwood Drew story to add to the book.  There are hundreds of them.  Probably thousands.  Forty years after his death, I still hear them from time to time, especially from people who were children in the families that received his quiet assistance.

There are choices.  There are consequences.  Paying it forward will eventually rebound to your own assistance.

I suppose you’ve recorded your own similar family stories so they won’t be lost in the next generations.  Without them, how will your grandchildren know your parents and grandparents?  Don’t let them be lost to time.

Spend a little time and effort and record your own precious family stories.  They are the flavor, texture, smell and substance that extend the memory of our ancestors.

9 May 2009 Posted by | Journals | , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in April

Christmas came to our house on Apr 30th this year.  Years ago, I saw the diary of my great grandfather, David Lewis Drew, in Copperopolis, California.  One of my older distant cousins had it in his possession.  He allowed me to take one photo of it and then sent me on my way.  When I developed the film, none of the photos on it were any good.  The film stock was bad from the factory.

David Lewis Drew's Diary When my cousin died, his attorney called and asked if I had anything coming to me.  I mentioned that my cousin said I could have the diary, but that was the end of the conversation.  I never heard from him again.

Last week, a second cousin in California found my website and sent me a note.  She’d had the diary in her possession since the death and had recently looked at it with renewed interest.  Searching the web, she found my family history website and sent me a note

Long story short.  The journal is sitting in front of me as I write this note.  I can’t keep it but I’m touching it and will scan the pages.  They contain all my great grandfathers recorded thoughts during his first year in California during the tail end of the gold rush.  He left Plymouth, Massachusetts, sailed down around the Cape in a very long voyage and joined the rest of multitudes who were looking for their fortunes. 

Long ago, I transcribed the diary text from an old historical newsletter found in the Calaveras County Historical Society vaults.  It can be seen here

David Lewis Drew Two contiguous entries state that he finished the Bible and started reading it again the next night.  I love those two entries.

Over the years, several folks from around the country have contacted me about the diary.  Their ancestors are mentioned in its pages.  One of them is a professional genealogy speaker and uses my site and the entry about her great granduncle in her speeches.   I just talked to her and am going to send her a copy of the image for that page, etc.   She is as excited about it (her soon to be “held” treasure) as I am about my good fortune.

Looking at the names of great grandpa’s mining partner and other associates, I decided to find out who they were in life.  Two of the three men he partnered or worked with in the gold fields were his distant cousins!  In fact, his primary partner, Len Covington, was a distant cousin seven times over.  That happens when families live in the same area like Plymouth, Massachusetts for three hundred years before the descendants start to scatter around the world.  The other part-time partner was ‘only’ a cousin four times. 

Did these fellows decide to leave Plymouth for the wild and woolly gold fields in California together?  I’m trying to trace down any ship passenger records to see if they traveled together.  It was a very long trip across land and many of not most of the folks from Massachusetts who participated in the gold rush traveled went by ship.  Apparently, some of the intrepid young men opted to sail First Entry - David Lewis Drew Diarythrough the Gulf of Mexico and hike across Panama where they took passage on another ship to Sacramento. 

The remainder took the long journey south around the Cape of South America and then back up the west coast of the Americas to Sacramento.  No matter which path these folks took to find their fortunes, the trip was long and arduous. 

Now for the rest of the story…  Also in the package were a dozen photographs of David Drew’s family in California.  Working from the smallest photo to the largest, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  I think I have a photo of my brick wall ancestor, Thomas Farrar!  I’ve looked for him for over 50 years.  I can’t prove it yet, but will spend considerable time trying to find out the truth behind the photo.

Next were photos of all of David’s children except my grandfather (he ran away to Utah at age 16 and apparently was disinherited from the family).  

I was finally down to the last photo.   It is in the largest old mounting cover.   Opening the flaps, I found a photo of my father and aunt when they were youngsters.  It was obviously taken during at the same photo setting as a photo we have but none of the living descendants of my Utah Drew grandparents have ever seen this pose before.  It is in mint condition…  Wonderful…  AND I like the pose better…

I know a few of you have had similar experiences like this during your own ancestral quest and can appreciate my excitement. 

Christmas presents?  They are nothing.   It was Christmas at our home on April 30th.  The photos and diary are valued beyond price in my opinion.




2 May 2009 Posted by | Diaries, Journals, Photos | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Recording Life

How do you record your life?  Do you write in a journal daily?  Do you use software to record your history in regular sit-down sessions?  If so, do you print it out so it isn’t lost when your hard drive fails?

How are you recording the histories of your ancestors?  If so, you probably use a series of writing sessions that are inspired because of a story you remember or research find that you encounter.

Today, reading of a news story in Australia reminded me of a story about my father.  I’ve enjoyed it ever since one of his employees told me about it during a lunch hour years after his death.  We laughed as the story unfolded and others around us joined in the story telling session.   It seems that all of them had ‘Elwood Drew’ stories. 

A half an hour lunch soon extended to an hour and a half.  We only broke up when an interruption from my administrative assistant reminded me of a meeting.   I wish the reminder had not occurred and the session had continued.  I’ve always wondered how many other great stories I missed because of it. 

When dad was the foreman of Drew Elwood tree crew 1960the tree trimming crew for the power company, he received a call just before quitting time while filling out paperwork at his desk in the foreman’s room.  The normally noisy room became quiet as his side of the conversation was overheard.  

“I’m sorry ma’am, but I knocked on the door and got permission.”  “No, it is in short lengths or has been run through the chipper.”  “He said he owned the home.”  “We only wanted to trim it.  He insisted that we remove it.”  “You can’t transplant a fifty foot tree.  I don’t know where you’d even find one.”

By now, the door to the office was crowded with workers listening to the conversation.   Chuckles and barely contained laughter started to emanate from them.  It took a minute for Dad to recognize where the commotion was coming from.  He then realized that the caller may hear the guffaw’s and motioning for them to ‘shut up’ only brought on more laughter.

After hanging up, he told the story.  It seems that the thirty-year-old  ‘homeowner’ was actually the son of the lady who owned the home.  She arrived home from work to see that the large cottonwood tree in front of her home was missing.  After a double take, she went into her home and asked her son what had happened.   He said that the power company guys had cut it down.

Her parting comment to my father was, “He was just released from the insane asylum yesterday!!”  Dad couldn’t resist saying, “I’m sorry, but he made more sense than our conversation has so far.”  

The workers were hanging on each other howling with laughter by now.  They had been there.  They’d heard the conversation with the son.  None of them thought that he was nuts either.  He even helped them lift the large pieces into the dump truck.  A trash tree had been removed and within a week a new hardwood tree was planted on the homeowners property farther away from the power lines.    

A few years earlier dad and some of other electrical workers were on their way home from a two week project in eastern Utah.  Deer season had started the weekend before and they wanted to get home so they wouldn’t miss the second weekend of the season.

Drew Elwood 1964 Price UtahOn the high ‘Strawberry’ plateau of the Uintah National Forrest, a white tailed doe and her fawn ran onto the road immediately in front of a large oil company truck.  The doe was struck and killed instantly.  The oil company truck never slowed. 

Dad had his equipment operator stop their electrical line truck and walked over to confirm that the doe was dead and not suffering.   It was, so he cut its throat to bleed it out and then immediately cut the throat of the tiny fawn.  There was no use wasting the meat of the doe and the fawn would have died within a day or two with its mother dead.

None of the crew had their deer hunting licenses with them, so Dad put the doe behind the seat and the fawn under the seat for the trip home.

Farther down the road, a deer checking station blocked the highway.  The guys on the crew were petrified.  They could go to jail or get big fines for having the deer in their vehicle.  The law would rather see the meat rot than used to feed families in these situations.

Dad told them not to worry.  “Just let me do the talking”.   

“Hello officer.  Yes, we are on our way back from Vernal.  How has the season been going so far?   Yes, we saw a few up around the ‘Berry’.”  The officer then asked, “I don’t suppose you guys have any deer in the truck do you?”   Dad immediately answered, “Sure!  We have a doe behind the seat and a fawn under it.”   Breaking out in laughter the officer waved them on.  

The truck bucked a few times as the operator tried to get his shakes under control so he could let the clutch out smoothly.  The other three crew members were white and their mouths were so dry they couldn’t speak for a few minutes.   Only dad was chuckling.  

Stories of his innate ability to avoid trouble in situations like this were legendary at work.  All were new to me.  I should have been recording the session rather than just laughing along with everyone else.  I knew dad was a character, but the dozens of stories fleshed out a facet of his life that was totally unknown to me.

How much of your lives are you recording?  Are you recording just the names, dates and places or are you telling the stories that are the real you?  Are you writing down the absurdities that you encounter or create in the fabric of your daily existence? 

Color.  It’s all about Color.  Yes, you need a frame to hang the story on for reference providing the point and space in time, but the story is the fabric that wraps the frame and makes it take form creating a mental picture that isn’t easily forgotten.  

Be sure to include lots of Color on the frames that you are creating in your own family history records and histories.  Their texture and ‘flavor’ will make your writings as enticing as the smell of Mom’s Sunday dinners.

I use Personal Historian software to write my own history.  It might work for you too.  Whatever you use or do, just be sure to do it regularly.  Keep a back up copy on a second hard drive and off-site.   Print your story with some regularity so a hard copy is available for both archiving and to use to markup while editing your stories. 

As the day ends, if you haven’t already … remember to write some of your story while it still is today.


10 February 2009 Posted by | Life Histories | , , , | Leave a comment

Embedded History

Standing in line with other fourth graders, I dropped my lunch ticket and bent over to pick it up from the floor.   The fellow behind me had two newly sharpened pencils sticking out of his pocket and turned to talk to some one just as my head went down.   I’ve had a one-eighth inch piece of lead from one of them embedded in my ear ever since.


Our grandchildren and possibly even our children don’t know that story.  Like my friend, grandpa Pickles, our grandchildren consider me to be ancient of days.  Maybe they should.  Who uses pencils and memorized trig functions in school anymore?

They don’t know why I don’t have much feeling in my body due to a spinal injury as a pre-teen when a car ran a red light and hit the young newspaper boy.  Even if told they probably couldn’t relate because they don’t have any reference points in their own life experiences.

I often wonder about why my own ancestors worked in certain occupations or are listed as having certain idiosyncrasies.

My grandchildren don’t realize that I am hyper-alert whenever using power tools because I watched my father slice his thumb lengthwise on a table saw when I was nine.

I’ve often been rewarded in my ancestral quest when opening my mind to more than dates and places.   Watching for the “why’s” and “what for’s” is often more helpful to my research than just the raw facts.

Reading the disability statements in the Revolutionary War pension application of my ancestor gives me the hint that he probably had lead poisoning from a wound in battle slowly destroying his health.  Not all fragments from the bullet were removed due to their location and the medical skills of the day.

The impact from his deteriorating health was heavily felt by his family as it became more and more difficult to manually work to support them.

A grandmother in my ancestral tree obviously died from Alzheimer’s disease at a fairly young age and was said to have lost her mind in the year or two previous to her death.

I suppose family and friends referred to her as ‘poor old grandma Bennett who lost her mind’.   The impact on her family was substantial because of the substantial personality change and sudden dependency of the once stalwart matriarch of a large family.

Of course, our interpretation of the causes or diagnosis of problems is tenuous as we peer back through the lens looking across time, but often we can recognize symptoms and their almost certain results.

I suppose that if our ancestors looked back through the same lens at us in our day, they’d often shake their heads and using their closer to nature common sense reference points think that we are harming ourselves in our own life choices.

Either way, the time spent thinking about the events and reference points of the person in the study gives better insight into their lives, environment and personalities.

Trying to understand the conditions and lives of our ancestors make them more ‘real’ to us.  More depth of knowledge about their stories and lives establishes a dimensional character that we can relate to and remember.

Think about your own ancestors without looking at your pedigree charts or databases first.   Which individuals come to mind first?  Which ones can you easily discuss when asked?

I’ll bet it isn’t the ones with just dates and places associated with their names.   It is the ones that you’ve taken the time to clothe with facets of their reality and life experiences.

Don’t forget to embed history and stories into an ancestors record while doing ancestral research.  Even if it is only the story about a piece of pencil lead in their ear.

9 December 2008 Posted by | Research Tips | , | 2 Comments

The Unexpected Photo

Family history researchers often encounter unexpected ‘finds’ related to their research. Recently, our daughter stopped in at a local bakery to pickup a few favorite ‘honey buns’ for her family. Looking at the signs of the few businesses between her vehicle and the bakery, she saw a 3ft by 4ft photo of her grandfather and great aunt in front of a small photographers shop. The photo was taken in 1917 and was being used to advertise restoration of old damaged photographs.

She immediately called me to confirm the identity of the two young people the photo. Yes, they were my father and aunt. Our family had a small old aged and worn copy of the photo but had no idea that another copy existed.

Apparently, a copy of the original photo was in the archives of the American Fork library and when they cleaned out their files, they gave the photo to the owner of the photo shop. He thought that it would be the perfect subject of an advertisement showing his ability to restore old photos for customers.

My wife subsequently purchased a 8″x10″ copy of the photo and now our family has a very good photo of my father and aunt as youngsters.

What were the odds of me holding a precious copy of the long lost photo of my father a few minutes ago? High to non-existent! But… when we are involved in family history research the rules associated with odds making don’t seem to follow the norm. Maybe they originate somewhere in string theory.

In my experience, when we work hard to find our ancestors, we frequently encounter similar ‘fantastic’ finds. Photos magically appear, family records surface and brick walls in our research crumble unexpectedly. If you haven’t already enjoyed similar finds, stay focused in your search and expect items to unexpectedly appear from a hidden dimension.

7 July 2007 Posted by | Photos, Research Tips | , , | 1 Comment