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

The Kindness of Alexander Duff

Not all of the life of my 8th great grandmother, Jane O’Laggan, was perfect.  Born near the Glenlivet River in Laggan, Morayshire, Scotland to James O’Laggan, she married David MacWilliam of the Stewart Clan when she was eighteen.   The young couple were not rich, but David was able to make their lives comfortable with the earnings from his mill and a home at Pittyvaich, Morayshire

The land produced few crops but there was enough feed for the family to own some sheep and several cows.  Winters were especially hard but the residents of Dufftown were Pittyvaich Morayshire Scotland Mapresilient and hundreds of generations had passed down the skills to survive in the ofttimes difficult climate.

The MacWilliam’s had a growing family of young children when disaster struck.  David became ill and died, leaving Jane with little income and in debt.

After struggling for a short time, David’s cousin, Alexander Duff, turned his eye to the family.  

Cousin Alexander was a rotter, according to a rare document that I found on a shelf in the basement of the Banffshire Field Club, titled “The Gordon’s of Laggan” written by John Malcolm Bulloch.

The document covers my Gordon ancestry and associated lineages.  The ancestral research was commissioned by my 5th great granduncle, Cosmo Gordon.  The MacWilliam branch of our family notes that there were two David MacWilliam’s in succession.  Reading from the entry for David MacWilliam Sr., a sad commentary spills off the page.

“David, his son, married Jane, daughter of James O’Laggan, and died while a young man, leaving her a widow with several children.  She was prevailed upon to dispose of Pittyvaich and the mill to Alexander Duff of Braco, her husband’s cousin, in terms as little creditable to him as disreputable to herself, it being constantly reported in that part of the country that she sat down in the mill dam to stop the mill that he might take infeftment of it, the miller refusing to do it.  Be this as it may, her children were reduced to great distress, for which Braco appeared perfectly indifferent, being a man callous to humanity, as well as natural affection, if he could by any means gratify his thirst for the acquirement of lands.  The daughter (Jane O’Laggan) then married John Forbes of Keithack, son to Gordon Arthur Forbes, and left several children.”

With no thanks to Alexander Duff, the MacWilliam children survived these deep impacts on their lives.  One of the daughters, Anne MacWilliam, is my seventh great grandmother.  Anne married James Gordon of the Gordon family in about 1712.   James was born in Achlochrach, Morayshire and the couple were the grandparents the above mentioned Cosmo Gordon and my fifth great grandmother, Elizabeth Gordon.

Once again, history has recorded the bad deeds and avarice of man.  He couldn’t take any of his lands and properties with him when he passed but in their place left a sad story that will ne’r be forgotten.

 

 

4 April 2009 Posted by | Histories | , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Blocks to Electrons

It is Christmas time again. This week, I thought about the types of toys I received as a child and then compared them to the high tech toys our grandchildren will receive this Christmas. The wee tots blocks and dolls are basically the same design, although most are made in China now, however, the ‘big’ kids toys are radically different.

As a youngster, I thought a toy train, chemistry set or erector set were the ultimate gifts. They are a huge technological step away from the video games, computers, robots, interactive dolls and electronics books of today.

I can’t say that I’ve not embraced the technological jump though. Embraced it? I revel in it when it is applied to family history research and associated tools. We are lucky to be alive when these tools are available.

My siblings were youngsters during the great depression. I have copies of photos showingthem standing on the front porch of a tiny log cabin in Fort Canyon above Alpine, Utah where my parents moved after my father lost his job in Park City when the mines closed. They are holding handmade cutout cars and trucks and a homemade doll that Santa left for them under the Christmas tree.

The old cabin was so full of cracks and gaps that it didn’t make much shade when my folks arrived on the scene. Filling them in with creek mud and straw was first on the agenda , then came patching the many holes in the shingles.

The interior walls were covered with newspapers to help provide a little isolation against the cold. My mother said she covered the walls of the bedroom with newspaper comics so the kids would have something ‘cheery’ to see.

My father lead a posse tracking the deer poacher who frequented the mountains above the cabin. He carefully lead the posse all over the mountain following faint tracks for hours while my mother canned the meat from the deer so their family would have something to eat that winter. He was a good tracker but never could lead the posse to a capture of the ‘villain’ for some reason.

When you get your new family history software, computers and recorders this Christmas, make sure you take the time to write and record the stories of your families. Without you capturing them both digitally and on hard copy, they will disappear and be lost from the heritage treasure of your descendants. Include the photos of Christmases and memories past. If you don’t record these stories, your children and grandchildren won’t have any reference points into the Joy of Christmas that their ancestors enjoyed.

23 December 2007 Posted by | Research Tips | , , | 1 Comment

Leave a Legacy

When you think of your parents, grandparents and other ancestors, do you have anything that they owned or created? My wife has been a quilter all of her life and has created wonderful quilts for our family, children and grandchildren. She has made all of them quilted wall hangings that reflect their personalities, show the season of the year and even calendar special family dates.

When our daughters were youngsters, she made most of their clothing including special quilted vests that they loved to wear. The clothing wore out as it passed through the family, but our granddaughters still wear the vests that their mothers wore at the same age. Now, grandma has made each of our granddaughters quilted vests and our grandsons vests and hats to wear and pass on to their children…. All are legacies created by their grandma Drew.

Connie’s love for quilting has passed on to our daughters and daughter-in-laws. Connie and the girls make an annual ‘sisters’ quilt for each other. Each of them creates quilt squares of their own design and then forwards them to the next oldest person in the group. That person adds more original squares that complement the theme and sends the quilt on its way again.. At the end of the full rotation, each of them has a beautiful unique quilt, created with the love of their talented ‘sisters’.

Are you creating ‘Legacy’ items for your family? They will love your work and as time goes on, the value of your Legacy creations will exceed that of gold in the minds of your descendants.

Enjoy the story below about another grandmother’s quilts…

28 June 2007 Posted by | Histories | , | Leave a comment