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Family History Research Hints and Tips

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

Keeping a Diary and Other Records

Since you are interested in family history, you need to be sure to keep your own living history on a regular, hopefully daily, basis.

The sad news we see today of bank failures, stock market plunges and countries falling into bankruptcy bring back memories of a very bad time in the world in the late 1920’s – early 1930’s.   great_depression

The Great Depression destroyed many fortunes and seriously impacted the lives of millions of people worldwide.

My siblings were alive at that time, but but being considerably younger I only know about its impact through family stories.  Or so I thought.

Recently, I reviewed the genealogical information my mother gave me and found an old account book that my parents and grandparents kept.  The entries tell the story.

My parents had to move back on the farm when my father lost his job as a miner.  The only lodging available to them was an old run down log cabin in Fort Canyon.  Mom said that they spent days filling the gaps between the logs with mud mixed with straw to block out the wind.

They covered the walls of the children’s bedroom with comic pages from old newspapers because they couldn’t afford anything else.

Dad worked for his cousin Dewey Bennett to earn some hard cash.  The account book entries tell the story for April, 1930.

Ten entries for cultivating for 8 hours a day.

One entry for hauling manure to the fields for 8 hours.

Seven entries for plowing the fields for 8 hours.

For all of this work, he was paid $42.50 of which $20.15 was returned to Dewey for rent and farm produce to eat.  Another $14.30 was paid to the doctor and $7.00 for clothing.  That left mom and dad with $6.85 cash to spend to support their three children for the month.

When the sheriff and posse came asking for dad’s help in finding the deer poacher, he readily agreed.  After a very long day, they returned home empty handed.  The poacher had eluded capture.   Little did the sheriff know that while my father was leading the group as far away from the cabin as possible, my mother was busy bottling the meat from the deer so her family would have something to eat.

I sincerely hope we don’t see conditions like that again.  Few people have farms today that can offer lodging and food in a failed economy.

Can I support my own family in similar conditions?   I don’t know.  I hope I don’t have to find out, but know that it is possible, thanks to my fathers handwritten entries in the old account book.

Do you have similar stories, old diaries, account books, family bibles, etc., in your possession?   If so, protect them like they are gold, but don’t forget to mine the family history ‘gold’ from them at the same time.

9 October 2008 Posted by | Diaries, Journals, Research Tips | , , | Leave a comment

Essence of New Mown Hay

Often, old journal or diary entries don’t make much sense to us. The idioms that were so common when they were written are now lost in time. I’ve found that to be true today as well.

Not long ago at work one of my young co-workers came into the office in ‘thongs’. Surprised that she was wearing them when it was so cold outside, I asked, “why do you have thongs on today”. Imagine my surprise when voices went silent, keyboards stopped clacking and heads turned.

“Thongs?” “I don’t have a thong on” she said with a disconcerted glare at me. Bewildered, I looked at her feet and brilliantly said, “well, what do you call them?” More heads turned our direction, the silence was deeper than ever. Who knew that they called “thongs” “flip flops” now?

Apparently, intent on digging myself in even deeper, I exclaimed, “Well, I used to wear them when I was younger”.

From this now entertaining exchange, I observed that my native language has changed in my life time. Why they call underwear “thongs” is still beyond me, but then, why did they call flip-flops “thongs’ when I was a kid? A name is just a reference point that people agree on.

Before my wife and I were married, we visited her great grandmother. She kindly gave us an old book by the title of “Austin’s Indispensable Handbook and General Educator”. It was apparently written sometime in the 1870’s. I often open it to see if I can find the meaning of some term used by folks in that day so I can understand the words in old letters and diaries.

Page 383 of the book has always been my favorite. It contains a recipes for homemade colognes and toiletries with titles ranging from Pond Lily Extract to Esterhazy Bouquet to New Mown Hay Extract.

I grew up loving the smell of “new mown hay”. Did my ancestors like it enough to make a cologne that smelled like it too? Hey!, they had very discerning taste! It sounds much better than some of the flowery scents they try to push on men today.

Do you want to impress your spouse and the folks at work with this agrarian scent too? Here are the two recipes from page 383.

NEW MOWN HAY EXTRACT — Take of Tonka tincture, 2 ounces; tincture of musk, tincture of benzoin, extract of moss-rose and deodorized alcohol, each, 4 drachms; ottos of rose geranium and bergamot, each, 20 drops.

NEW MOWN HAY EXTRACT, ANOTHER — Take of extract of Tonka, 6 1/2 ounces; extract of orris, 2 ounces; extract of musk, 1 1/2 ounces; extract of vanilla and styrax, each, 2 drachms; ottos of bergamot and sandal, each, 15 drops; otto of neroli, 4 drops; ottos of rose, English lavender and patchouly, each, 2 1/2 drops; otto of clove, 1 1/2 drops; benzoic acid, 23 grains; deodorized alcohol, enough to make one pint.

Apparently, the names of some weights and measures have changed since then.

Now do you understand why you have to get into the ‘heads’ of your ancestors when you are researching their lives? It’s all about reference points and the idioms of the day. If you take the time to understand them, your quest will be much easier.

Oh, by the way, if you decide to make a batch of Essence of New Mown Hay, let me know how turns out

21 January 2008 Posted by | Diaries, Journals | , , | Leave a comment