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

Lives Intertwine ~ Small Town Doctors

Tracing ones lineage often uncovers forgotten facts and interrelated events in the lives of individuals and their families throughout the ages.

While transcribing thousands of death certificates for my ancestors and their extended family, the signature of one doctor, John Franklin Noyes, rose to a level prominence in my mind.

As one a couple of group of doctors in early small town Utah, Dr. John Franklin Noyes was usually present at significant events in the lives of my family.  He certified the deaths of scores of the family.  He was present at the time of many of their deaths and at many births in the family.

John Franklin Noyes MDDr. John Franklin Noyes His surname was readily identifiable due to his clearly written signature.  The name of his son, Kenneth Noyes, was prominent in my memory too because he was the doctor that delivered me and later administered shots to my tiny quivering fanny.  Well, it wasn’t always tiny, but whenever I visited his office and he had me stand on a stool, drop may pants and would say, “I hope the bees don’t sting anyone here today”, it did quiver.
Kenneth Noyes MDDr. Kenneth Eugene Noyes Dr. Kenneth Eugene Noyes, served as the family doctor during my life.  He sewed my fathers thumb back together after he ran it through a table saw.  He sewed my scalp back together after it caught a thrown hammer.  He patched, prodded and prescribed our bodies for many years.  The surname ‘Noyes’ was burned into my basal memory.
John Franklin & Siddie Chipman Noyes Tombstone – Am. Fork, UT When taking volunteer photos for Find-a-grave, I encountered the tombstones of both of these doctors and their families.  When I later posted the days photos to the FAG site, I was surprised to find  that no one had posted photos to their memorials yet.

These men were ‘institutions’ in town for three or four generations of families.

John Franklin Noyes marker Later, while scanning photos for family histories, I came across the photos of each of these doctors that my mother had clipped from newspapers.  Looking at them brought back memories from my youth and spurred interest in the Noyes ancestry.
Kenneth Noyes MD headstoneKenneth and Leona Field Noyes tombstone  -American Fork, Utah Surprisingly, I found that some of their ancestors lived in the same small area in Leeds, Ontario, Canada at the same time as my ancestors.  Both families joined the early LDS Church and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois just in time to be persecuted by mobs and driven out of their homes in the dead of winter.  Their ancestors survived that experience.  Several of mine did not.

The unusual death certificate.  Dr. Noyes certifying the death of his father, Dr. Noyes.

Both families eventually settled in the same small town in Utah.  Children from the families intermarried, but over the years and generations that history was forgotten.

These families had survived the same causality events, but their occupational paths diverted.  One became farmers the other doctors.

How many people do we encounter in our lives that have ties to us?  When filling in the ‘color’ of the stories in our family history, there are probably more than any of us realize.

30 August 2010 Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy, History | , , , , | Leave a comment

Find-a-Grave Gold

Over the years, I’ve spent thousands of hours taking photos of tombstones for my genealogy research and to post on Find-a-grave.   At times, some of the tombstones have turned out to be those of relatives that I’d yet to discover.

The hours spent taking tombstone photos and later cropping and massaging them has been an effort but I’ve been well-paid as I learned a little about the people they memorialized and the communities of their time.   Life was different for them than we enjoy. Repeatedly seeing families with numerous infant deaths witnesses that fact, but the family groupings also witness family strengths as generation after generation are buried within a stones throw of each other.

Posting photos of the tombstones I’ve visited on Find-a-grave has been a great way to Pay-it-forward and thank others for their help in my ancestral quest.  They live in locations I can’t visit and have taken time to post similar photos on find-a-grave, work on indexing for FamilySearch, etc., and I’ve benefitted from their efforts.  Similar activities on my part just add to the reference pool that all of us can freely access.

These resources have become an integral part of my research routine.  Family linkages, photos, documents and data being posted on find-a-grave at an ever increasing rate has turn the site into a ‘must search’ in my research quests. 

Recently, I spent an evening looking through my records specifically searching for extended family members whose existence has been all but impossible to prove. 

Searching find-a-grave for them provided three positive hits in succession.  ‘Hits’ is a mild descriptive compared to the data about that branch of the family that had been posted on the site in recent months by someone paying-it-forward too.

Tombstone photos, person photos, vital record documents and text told the stories of the lives in this family.  Moves eastward rather than westward surfaced as did the shift in spelling of their surname.  No wonder we hadn’t been able to find them for so long.  They had indeed ‘faked’ us out with their jigs and jags.

If you haven’t already included find-a-grave in your research plan, add it.  Don’t hesitate to add information and images to the records of your own family members on the site.  If you didn’t create the memorial, ask the creator to add the data and make the links you send to them.   Sometimes, they will transfer the memorial to you if the record isn’t part of their own family.

Over time, we’ll undoubtedly see a lot of additional data added to the site.  Be sure to check back.  Users of the site almost universally feel a need to take the time to link family records together.  I’ve linked my own ancestors records and families together for many generations to help my cousins in their own ancestral quest even though I have their records on my own websites. 

You’ll find yourself doing the same thing when you work on your own family memorials on find-a-grave.  Bet you can’t link just one… 


20 August 2010 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy | , , , | Leave a comment

Cemetery Tours – The Stops Are Worth It

In my younger years, the goal of any on-road excursion was to arrive well under the forecast travel time.   Then one day I got smart. 

With a lifelong interest in genealogy, I’ve always spent a lot of time walking through cemeteries looking for information about my family.  Consequently, even the concentration associated with ‘fast’ trips could not keep my eyes from searching out groups of tombstones along the way.

I remembered the names of all the little towns and waypoints not with road signs but with images of their cemeteries in my mind.

Finally, I succumbed to the desire to pull off the road and wander among the tombstones, regardless of how much time it would add to the trip.  It was the best driving decision I’d made in years.

After a quick drive through it to plan my walking route, I parked and tour began. 

The stones told stories of many mothers who had died young.  Heartbreak leapt off the markers of many of the children.  Inscriptions written by parents, children and siblings evidenced their emotion in poems, scriptural quotes and statements describing the valiant lives of their lost loved ones. 

The sweep of diseases that swept through town were chronicled in the old markers.  Humor was found on the stones of jolly grandfathers and favorite uncles.

The story of the town emerged during my short visit.  Inscriptions read early in the tour had added relevance as they tied to obvious disasters that afflicted families and friends throughout the cemetery.  At times, I retraced my steps to find the markers with common themes.  Other steps were retraced as family relationships became evident and I built their family trees in my mind.

My wayside cemetery tours have always been time well spent.  Now when I motor by the communities, I don’t envision the Gas-and-Go pit stops, nor the clutter of junk along the highway.  Instead, my minds eye sees the town as it used to be.  The citizens of earlier days stroll down the streets.  I see the families that used to live there.  I spot the old surnames on the mailboxes of today’s residents. 

Sometimes unique surnames on the boxes will allow me to think, “Yes, I know your “Loving Mother, Confidant and Friend” and your Father, “Beloved” who said “Death Has No Hold On Me.”

Take the time in your own journeys to really get to know the places along the way.  Spend a little time in their ‘histories in stone’ and enjoy the lessons of history, love, humor and faith written in stone.  You’ll arrive home with memories of places and times that you never knew but reside in the ‘favorites’ folder in your memory.

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1 August 2010 Posted by | Cemetery, Genealogy, Tombstone | , , | Leave a comment

Faulty Memories and Death Certificates

Death Certificates are usually excellent primary sources for death and burial dates because they were created so close to the time of those events.  They often greatly err in the record of birth dates, places and parents names.

Most death information is provided by someone other than the spouse or parent of the deceased.  There memory or knowledge is typically off a little or completely incorrect.

Case in point:  The parents names listed in the death records of Charles Joseph Gordon Logie are: Charles Logie and “Emily James Logie”.  

The name of is father is correct, but the name of his mother was actually, Ellenor Chalan.  His grandmother’s name was “Emma Elizabeth (nickname Elenore) James”.  The family member who provided the information remembered the surname of their great grandmother and added a first name that started with the correct letter of the alphabet.

Stress at the time of death and the dubious data in the memory of the informant are always huge factors in the accuracy of any data they give about events prior to death and burial dates.

This example is oft repeated in my collection of death certificates and records.  I was relieved to see that I had provided the correct information on my mother’s death certificate.  A quick review of all of the documental information for which I was the source was found to be accurate.  Whew!  I easily could have joined the ranks of those providing misinformation to official documents. 

I’m happy in this instance that I didn’t need the information on grandpa’s death record to assist in the search of his ancestry.  If I had counted on it, I could have wasted a lot of time in the quest.  I may even have been mislead and have unknowingly traced a false ancestral tree.

We all need to be careful when using data on any record that wasn’t created at the time of the event.  (yes, there are errors in the dates and places associated with the current event at times too, but with much less frequency).  

If possible find as many sources as possible to confirm data on records.  Even primary sources documents should be considered as ‘best informed guesses’ of the events surrounding the cause of its creation.  We all know and recognize this fact.  It’s just that we forget it from time to time and detour down the yellow brick road to the land of OZ and end up paying double or triple fare in wasted time and expense getting reoriented back to a known starting point.

While you are looking through your own records for evidence of this error, click on this link for the full Norah Jones Concert at the Bonnaroo Music Festival.  Soft sounds to keep you cool in the event that you find an error that has misled you in your own ancestral quest.

19 July 2010 Posted by | Death Certificate, Genealogy | , , | Leave a comment

FamilySearch – Portal To Many Wonders

Long enamored with the films, books and documents at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I’ve lived long enough to enjoy the library coming to me.

I first visited the library as a youngster when it was in the office of the LDS Church Historian on 58 East South Temple in Salt Lake City. 

My mother and I used to make regular day trips to search for our ancestors.  At first I enjoyed the photos in the books but was soon filling out family group sheets and pedigree charts with the information I’d gleaned from the books. 

Learning to use the library catalog wasn’t difficult, but I seemed to spend more time looking through it than through the books that referenced my family.

When the library moved into the Church Office Building in 1971, the card catalog was still in existence but the years of training at the old building had made the finger-walking quest much easier.

When a dedicated building for the library was built in 1985, I frequented it constantly.  Eventually, the catalog migrated to a digital format.  The quest for ‘That’ record was shortened dramatically.  Life was good.  Very good.

Then the books and films entered the digital library domain.  I don’t visit Salt Lake very often now.  Increasingly, the Library comes to me on the monitors in my office at home.

FamilySearch has become a portal to all things genealogical.  New titles and record groups seem to arrive to the portal daily.  The Pilot pages of FamilySearch have become a favorite friend.  http://pilot.familysearch.org

This week, I’ve reveled in the Massachusetts Death and Burials pages.  Death information about my ancestral families has emerged from the pages.  I thought I had covered every source document related to this area, but new information is pouring off my screen. 

Decades of microfilming records by the folks from the the Library is now is being followed by the digitization, indexing and publication of the records on FamilySearch. 

Genealogists everywhere benefit from this work. New records are added to the site daily.  If you haven’t visited for a while, do yourself a favor and stop by today.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Life today is not just good -– It’s Great! –- Thanks to FamilySearch!



10 June 2010 Posted by | FamilySearch, Genealogy | , , , , | Leave a comment

Knocking on an Ancestors Door

In the mid-1990’s I happened to visit the homes of my 2nd great grandfather within a day of each other even though they were located on two different sides of America. 

Tuesday.  Copperopolis, Calaveras County, California. 

In the area on business, I stopped by Copperopolis to take photos of the tombstones of my 2nd great grandparents, David Lewis and Helen Farrar Drew.  Their home still existed along the highway through this wide spot in the road.

Looking east from the top of the cemetery hill, it was fairly easy to identify it based on photos of it from the early 1900’s. 

As you can see in the photo above, David had built a water tower on the side of their home.  It was filled with water fed from a windmill uphill from the home.  A pressurized water system in homes in that era was far and few between.  Grandpa’s innovative design put them ahead of almost everyone else in the area.

The home was owned by Helen’s father, Thomas Farrar, for a period of time.  He passed the title on to David and Helen a few years after they married.

Knocking on the front door, I was greeted by the current owner.  She wasn’t thrilled to see me.  I asked permission make a walking circuit around the home to get a feel for the setting and was given five minutes to make the loop and get off the property. 

I briefly touched the door frame for a second when saying “Thank You”.  Four minutes later, I had made a quick loop and exited the property through the stand of stag horn trees.  The water tower was gone but the home was largely intact in size and outward appearance.

The stag horn trees weren’t there in the 1905 photo above, but my quick glimpse inside over the owners shoulder, verified the seven foot high ceilings were still in place.

Wednesday.  Boston and then Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I had hopped from Sacramento to Salt Lake City and then to Boston.  A two hour drive took me to Plymouth where David Lewis Drew was born.  The morning was spent walking through the Burial Hill Cemetery finding and taking photos of the tombstones of dozens of my ancestors. 

Folks smiled and waved at my wife and I as we walked through town down to Plymouth Rock.  Visitors with ancestral quest crazed stares were common place there and besides, they were good for the local economy.

A stop at the library at the Mayflower Society was fruitful and then after doing the touristy things a few hundred yards down hill yet again, we wandered arm in arm through Brewster Gardens.   Following the stream uphill under the highway, we exited its course when we were adjacent to Pleasant Street. 

Within a few minutes we stood in front of the Drew home at 51 Pleasant Street.  It was built by my 4th great grandfather and had been home to four generations of the family.

On the 4th of July 1907, the home was decked out with an American Flag and other colorful decorations celebrating the holiday.  Family members sat on the front porch watching their neighbors return home from the celebratory activities downtown as seen in the above photo taken from the green across the street.

The power pole on the corner in front of the house was still there but now it also carried large telephone and cable television cables that almost acted as a flying curtain to block the view of the home.

Photoshop is a very useful tool when removing visual pollution from photos.

Knock, knock, knock on the front door.  No answer.  No sounds from inside.  Knock, knock again.  No one was home.  Reaching out, I touched the door frame here too.  Undoubtedly, the doors at both of the homes has been replaced in the last 100 years, but if the thickness of the paint covering them is any indication, the molding around them appeared to be original.

How many hours had it been between the time David touched the same molding when he left for California during the gold rush and his arrival in Jamestown in Calaveras County, California?  It was certainly a lot longer than the relatively short flight time in my pilgrimage. 

David never returned home to Plymouth.  I wonder if he knew that his goodbyes to his family would be his last vision of them?  His youngest brother eventually moved to California and stayed with him for a time but the smell and sights of Plymouth didn’t survive the journey.

Google Maps tells me that the two homes are 3074 miles apart and that I could drive from one to the other in 45 hours.  That means I’d average 68 miles per hour if the travel estimate is correct.  Most of my time would be spent on freeways with stops only dictated by the need to refuel, defuel and stand under a waterfall.

David’s journey wasn’t quite that easy.  Nor were the journeys of your ancestors.  It would be an enjoyable experience to walk with them as they told how their homes and cities looked in their day and then returning the favor by showing them the magic associated with technology in our day.

If you have spent many hours in the quest of your ancestors and have then followed their migratory paths in person, imagining them with you isn’t too difficult.  I’m sure I felt a second rush of excitement in addition to my own reaction as we approached 51 Pleasant Street. 

Knock, knock.  Was that an echo of the rap of my knuckles or was it another knock mirroring mine?  

Welcome home grandpa.  Has the place changed?


1 June 2010 Posted by | Ancestors, Genealogy | , , | 1 Comment

The Genealogy Zombie

Some days are better than others even if the cause of the ‘better’ is our own absent mindedness.  Witness the discovery today of notes and pages on the shelf of an out-of-sight book case in my office from a multiple day research trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

I try to spend as much time as possible preparing for visits to the FHL in Salt Lake so little of my precious research time is wasted during the visit.  The preparation goes something like this:

  • Review of the research notes I’ve recorded on the Legacy database records of my brick-wall ancestors and other ancestral family members…. check.
  • Print out an individual or family report for each of the folks on my research agenda …. check.
  • Look at the family history library catalog on familysearch.org and copy the titles, authors and call numbers for books and records that may help find each of the folks on my agenda.   Paste that info into a WordPad file and when the list is complete, flip over one or more pages of the associated reports and print the titles, call numbers, etc., on it… check.
  • Now I have their vital statistics, locations, family names and research notes together on the same sheets of paper.  The ‘plan of attack’ is ready to implement… check.

At the library, I’ll also use the white space on the pages to record notes in permanent black ink.  “Finds” will have a Star to the side of them.  Thoughts and possible other research ideas will be jotted down.  A bold “NO” will be to the side of the items that didn’t pan out.

Back home, I’ll transcribe my notes by updating and adjusting my research notes and plan.  The research notes in Legacy will also include all of the research titles and call numbers and their relative worth.  That information will be used to avoid digging through the same resources again or to point me back to the items that are full of information.

I then 3-hole punch the stapled package for each individual and put the notes in each persons file folder.

Now I have a hard copy paper trail for reference even if all of my geographically scattered data backups go south at the same time.

“Yes”, you say.  “Very organized.  Very methodical.”

Well, don’t hand out accolades quite yet.

It seems I’ve forgotten that long ago, somewhere along the way, I purchased two identical zippered folders.  I probably picked them up at different times at the same store in some oft visited distant city.  They aren’t of a common design but are highly distinctive in fact.  One glance and I recognize them.

It takes a while to transcribe all my research notes from ancestral research trips into the various files and databases I use.  Lots of things happen in our lives and during the span of time between the library visit and final transcriptions and filing, some ‘stuff’ is pushed out of my memory.  Apparently, it tumbles to the ground after exiting my ear.  It is to be expected…. It only makes a small pile of dust on the floor.  Hardly noticeable.

I’ve often wondered why I continue to absent mindedly leave the zippered folder on the wrong shelf and parking spot in that backwoods bookcase.

The discovery today provided the answer to this vexing riddle.  I’ve been rotating the two identical zippered folders between my main work area and that bookcase all of this time.  My mind is trained to not waste time observing fixed items in known locations but to rather put the body on auto-pilot and let it do its thing while the mind is reviewing the research plan, daily goals and the next step in the quest.

When the body sees an empty slot on a shelf that exactly matches the folder, it is used without further thought.

Apparently, I’ve been grabbing a folder, working on it very late at night over a period of a week or so and then replacing it back in the open slot.

Unfortunately, the assigned ‘to-do’ space on my work surface is not in direct line-of-sight near the monitors.  Not immediately spotting the folder, I go into autopilot mode and again pull the folder from the bookshelf for transcription.  When I’ve finished that work at around 4 a.m. a few days later, I put it back in the empty slot.   At a later late night session, I’ll notice the folder in the to-do space, look inside and think that I’m becoming absent-minded and then send the body to file it in the bookcase.

The folders ‘parking slot’ is open but on the opposite side of the case where I thought got it.

The banner: “I’m really getting absent minded” scrolls through my mind about this time.

zombie_attackToday, the mystery came into full light when I pulled the folder off the shelf to stock it for the next research trip.  It contained my research notes and associated pages from a foray to the FHL over a year ago.  How had I let them sit all of that time without completing the associated transcription and filing?

A few minutes ago, after I completed the transcriptions and filings, the body kicked into auto pilot and tried to put the folder back on the shelf.  The slot was full!  Since this morning, someone had cloned my folder and put it in the slot!

Confusion and finally laughter ensued.  I’ve become a robot in the walls of my office and associated filing rooms.  I don’t see anything other than the items related to the task at hand.  Even some of the associated physical manipulations happens autonomously.

Oh bother!  That probably explains the loss of the dried pineapple snacks too.  My wife didn’t eat them.  I did!  I don’t even remember tasting them while my body vacated to the Genealogy Zombie mode.

I suppose genealogists can be a little too focused at times.

Look at that!  Someone brought back all my missing pens too!

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20 April 2010 Posted by | Genealogy, Research | , , | Leave a comment

Blindly Following a Ghost Trail

In 1991, I received a large wall pedigree chart from a man who asked for help in his ancestral quest.  He hoped I’d be able to help him topple a brick wall in his ancestry because of the extent of my research into my surname.

In subsequent visits to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I poured through vital and town records hoping to find ‘the’ source that would extend his lineage back in time.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything in any of the records that helped.

Flash forward nineteen years.  I opened the chart in the semi-annual ritual established in the first year I’d had it in my possession.  As usual, no new information has surfaced other than a photo of his tombstone that has been posted on Find-a-grave and on a family tree in Ancestry.com

There was never any doubt of his existence.  The problem was the claims of his lineage.

The review of the current 113 family trees posted for him on Ancestry run true to form.  All but a couple of them are wrong.  Half boldly claim that his parents were one couple and the other half claim that they were another couple.  The six that are correct are in that category because they don’t list his parents.

The trail of ants who have posted the wrong information need to be stopped in their tracks.  None have sources.  Apparently, none have done any original research.  If they had, they would know that their claims were wrong.  The town vital records prove that their claims are garbage.  The four generations of Mayflower passenger books would puncture the rafts of baloney that they have cast on the waters.  Even family history and less documented books would tell them to stop, backup and get their head in the correct orientation.

But alas, the team from Bug’s Life continues to pack their ‘nuggets’ while blindly following the south end of the ant in front of them.  Because the nugget makes it an easy load to bear, others following them embrace it with gusto, spreading its false scent in ever widening circles.

A research note with today’s date is entered in my records (yet again), stating that regardless of the ‘new’ family trees being posted about this man, his lineage is still unknown.  It will say where to find the photos of his headstone and where to find the records of his Revolutionary War service, but as much as I’d like it to, it won’t say who his parents were, where they lived or paint a lineage tree back to Adam and Eve.

Maybe the information will surface in six months during the next review of this record.  I think I want to find his lineage as much as his descendants.  I’ve been in the hunt for almost a score of years.  Opening or closing the door in this quest would be a welcome event.   Maybe, just maybe luck will be with us next time.

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14 March 2010 Posted by | Genealogy | , | Leave a comment

Don’t Go Down The Stairs

Both of my grandmothers died within a couple of months of each other when I was five.  I don’t have extensive memories of them.

I know that my interest in ancestry is associated with their passing.  They were there and they were gone.  Is that what happens to grandmas?

We were eating breakfast when the call came about my mom’s mother.  We were just going to have dinner when the call came about my dad’s mother.

After the second death, I remember asking my mother if her grandparents had disappeared the same way.  Her answer involved stories of her grandparents and stories that my father had told her about his ancestry.  The hook was set.  I had to know more about them.

I knew that my first grandmother was gone because I’d seen her lying in her casket and she wasn’t talking or moving.  Not understanding all of the ramifications of death, I remember sitting through her funeral thinking “That’s interesting.”

When my second grandmother died, I had experience with this death and funeral thing.  My parents didn’t have to sit me down and explain how death works.

Grandma lay in her casket, family member greeted visitors who queued in line to express their sympathy and pay respect to grandma.  I was told to sit quietly, “Over there.”  Now, in my opinion, there wasn’t a need for a little shaver to sit quietly on a chair in the corner for hours, so I didn’t.

It didn’t take much skill to quietly move in the ‘shadow’ of the large lady who was exiting the room.  Everyone was talking and the folks in line were looking toward the family greeting line, secretly wishing the line would move faster and thinking about the exact wording they’d express when it was finally their turn to greet and shake hands.  No one saw my exit.

Free of the boredom of quietly sitting still, I continued to be quiet and strolled through the darkened offices of the mortuary.  There wasn’t anything in them of much interest.  I remembered a wide stairway that when down to some double oak doors.  I had asked mom what was down there when we’d entered the building and she told me to “Don’t go down there.”  “That’s not a place for kids.”

She may as well have told me that Santa was at the bottom giving away Red Ryder BB-guns and five pound sacks of candy.

Checking the scene for adult eyes watching me, I ducked under the red velvet ropes and quickly made my way down the cranberry colored carpeted on the stairs.

The doors on the bottom landing had rows of vertical beveled glass windows in them that were just high enough that I could only see through them if I stood on my toes and hung on to the brass door handles for balance.

White semi-sheer drapes blocked the view into the lighted room beyond.  Frustration.

And then … I spotted a place where the drapes didn’t quite meet.  Squirming, stretching, I got eye level barely higher than the bottom mullion.  I could see in.

A white haired woman was lying on a table.  She was covered by a white sheet and her face was slightly tipped toward me.

It was a dead lady!  Oh man!

I focused on her face for a minute wondering whose grandma she was …. when her left eyelid started to open.  “Nah.  It was just my imagination” I thought, and then her left arm fell down and out from under the sheet.

Newton’s laws of gravity were defeated that evening.  I really don’t think I touched any of the stairs on the way up.

I know I went between the suit-clad legs of a man standing in line, but my passage was so quick he probably didn’t realize what had just happened.

The memorial room wasn’t as boring this time.  The chair in the corner was inviting, even comfortable.  I didn’t tell my parents of my adventure.

You know the rest of the story….  That’s how I learned to not go down the stairs in mortuaries.

17 February 2010 Posted by | Family History, Genealogy | , , | Leave a comment