Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Had a Geraldo Rivera/Al Capone Moment

I feel like I've been invited to a party, and I'm the entertainment; however, nobody bothered to share that little tidbit of information!

The night of April 22, 1986 is etched on a lot of peoples' memories.

If you missed the 2 hour, live broadcast of the opening of Al Capone's Vault with Geraldo Rivera commentating, watch this 1 1/2 minute recap. before reading any further.

Priceless! They found a stop sign, an empty bottle, and some dust! "Nothing".

Last night, when my daughter discovered the mail my little boy had deposited on a side table in the kitchen earlier in the day, she started doling pieces out to everyone.

"England? Mommy, who do you know in England?"

For a moment I was Charlie in Roald Dahl's, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory". My heart was exploding with anticipation, carrying me outside to our deck, two of my girls following me screaming, "What? What is it Mommy?"

I paced, fanning myself with the envelope, hearing them and my heart pounding, knowing that the moment of truth had arrived. Breaking the seal, I held my breath, noticing how the new imperfection bothered me.

I sat down with one child beside me, the other standing in front of me, neither really understanding the emotional charge that the information or lack thereof was on the document that my shaky hands held. My mother had ordered the document hoping to learn a little bit more about her maternal grandmother, Ottilie (Lowrie, Schweigl, or Denonville?)

I started reading and jumped up, running to the other side of the deck, utilizing the energy released from a copy of a birth registration dated June 9,1899, Cheetham, England in the registration district of Prestwich, county of Manchester. Gaston Victor Schweigl, born March 23, 1899. (And I thought I was a procrastinator!)

Up until this moment I had my great grandmother's married name and her supposed maiden name.

I knew she was Ottilie Schweigl on her 1901 marriage certificate to Frederick Lowrie. I assumed that Odilo Scweigl, one of the witnesses, was her father.

What I learned last night was that she had been married to Edward Schweigl when her first son Victor had been born!

Her father-in-law, Odilo Schweigl was a witness of her 2nd marriage!

But we're not done, yet...

I read the tiny scribbles in the section labeled "Name, surname and maiden name of mother". I threw my head back and screamed and laughed uproariously, scaring my children.

Ottilia Lewakowska

I had to call my mom! I couldn't stop giggling. Lewakowska, Lewakowska, Lewakowska. I couldn't get used to the name. 

"What?!!" my mom asked me after a pregnant pause, loaded with shock and disbelief. We chatted as I promised to scan and email her the document. We hung up because life in the present was calling again.

I have had private moments in the 12 hours since opening the envelope. On my return trip from Nashua, after dropping my children off at 6am, alone in the car again, I wiped away tears from  the most recent round of mental images that had me in stitches.

You should all be as lucky to have at least one line of your family that is so easily amused. I know that I was the butt of their joke. I can hear the guffaws as I saw the name. The high-fives followed by knee-slapping and moments taken to catch their breath waiting for the next round of giggles to overtake them at my expense was deafening!

"She thought she was getting answers! Let's see what she can do with THAT name!!"

This party is going to go on and on and on.

 And, yes, I'm their entertainment. 

Happy to be of service!

  • Have you ever had a moment like that?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Eyes: The Window to the Soul

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" Matt.6:22-23

Carl Kenneth Carlson, aka my Grandpa Ken

Do you see the resemblance between Grandpa Ken and his great grandson, Connor, my son? I see more than the physical similarities. I see a gleam in the eyes that screams of an adventurous spirit. There is a shared moment here in these two photos that says,"Life is sweet! The possibilities are endless. I'm happy!"

Connor  one and 1/2  years ago, age 11

I was strengthened when I stumbled across these pictures yesterday. I couldn't help but think that there is something that Grandpa Ken and Connor share.

That "joie de vivre" that is captured in a snapshot. 

Both have their life ahead of them. As I sift through more photos of Ken, I'll look at his eyes. They will tell me how he feels life is treating him. Connor's story is still unfolding. His pictures are starting to show the strain of adolescence.

What do my pictures say about me?

 And you?  Do they tell the true story?

Eyes never lie. They truly are the window to the soul. 

When we forget the power that a point of view, (our attitude) has on a life, we miss the opportunity to choose happiness in the midst of "troubled waters". 

Don't forget that deep inside you are happy!

Find that spot today.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How Many Bruises, Sorry, Children Do You Have?

A 1900 Census Worker (Image via tn-roots.com)
My husband asks, "Where'd you get THAT bruise?!" I ask him, "Where? I didn't know I had one!" And for the life of me I can't remember where it came from or how long it has been there. I move quickly and rarely stop even if I get hurt. Are you like that?

But ask me how many children I have, where and when they were born and I can tell you. I can tell you about birthing them, getting their names mixed up (for years I'd call two girls Ke-Lauren) and how they radiate when they smile.

Parenthood, whether you planned it, are hoping for it, grieving for your barrenness or are in the beginning, middle or later stages of it, affects us in such a profound way sometimes words are lacking.

Let's role play for a minute if you will. 

It's 1900 and you GOT A JOB! You are a census worker. Your job is to find people, hopefully whole families, ask them questions, write down their answers, and turn in your report. 

I'm the woman who answers the door when you knock. I'm Anna. I'm 47 and have lived in the US for 29 years. I left Sweden a year after my husband. We were looking for a better life in America.

All goes as planned. You've asked me my name, date of birth, birthplace, parents' birthplace, and my occupation. I already answered the same questions for my husband. I'm needing to go and start wondering how much longer this is going to take? 

Then you start asking about the children. I'm glad I answered the door. I'm not sure Hubby would have remembered when and where they were born.

I'm shocked with the first question about my children and don't quite know how to answer.

You, not knowing how loaded your question is, are poised to write my response, looking down at your paper.

"Ma'am? How many children?" And you wait as I fidget for a fraction of a second. "Any children?"

"Yes. Ten." There. It's out. You smile and say, "Got your hands full, don't you?" I smile and nod. He doesn't understand nor notice my quiet sigh.

Next question. "How many living?" You shrug and sigh. "Gotta ask, Ma'am. It's my job."

"Four", I say, meeting his eyes for a split second as we exchange that look that hurries the interview to  a close with a "Thank you," and a "Good day"  muttered with a nod and tipping of his hat.

Back to the present. Kelley, 17, plops into the chair opposite mine, excited to talk about what she's learning in her college psychology class. I whip my finger in the air, signaling her to wait.

"What'd ya find?" she asks, knowing I've been researching some documents of her great great great grandfather Charles Carlson and his wife, Anna Sophia. 

Take a second and look at what I was looking at. This is a preview of the 1900 US Census. A copy of the original for free was a click away as well.

And this is a copy of the original.

I'm stunned. She's 11 spaces down from the top. See the 10 and 4 to the right of Anna's name? That's #of children, and #of living children side-by-side on the census record. Over 2/3's of her children are dead by 1900. Did they die in Sweden before they came in 1871?  Were they victims of malaria, cholera, small pox, or influenza? 

The facts will come together as I do some more digging. But the conclusion will be the same.

Anna Sophia Carlson stands at her front door reducing her 24 years of life since marrying her husband in Sweden to a few names and numbers. 

If paper could talk what witness would it give of those five minutes of record-keeping? Would anyone ever know the impressions those six children had made on her life?

Would she always say,"I have ten children" to honor their place in her family?

Or would she keep it to herself knowing full well that unless someone has experienced her kind of grief, it's best to let it alone.

Would she consign her self to denying their existence and say "four"? 

That would be a way to avoid the well-intentioned but uncomfortable "Sorry for your loss", "At least you have four!", "It was God's will", or "They're at peace, now."

I can't get the image out of my mind. And the feelings are now firmly planted in my heart. Feelings of compassion.

I saw the names and the dates and all of the other facts. But I didn't have to live them. I'm in awe of the woman who kept going. 

Did she consider herself a woman bruised by life? I wonder...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Geocaching For the Dead?

I've been thinking about visiting the cemeteries of all of my ancestors on a massive 'round-the-world tour. Wouldn't that be a blast? You know. No making arrangements or coordinating "best times" to visit or asking if there's room to put you up for a night or two. I could call it the "Grateful Dead Tour".

I'd start in Woods Hole, Ma., where Frank's relatives are buried, make my way to the National Cemetery in Otis, Ma., where his dad is, then shoot over to Connecticutt, Wisconsin, Seattle, Hawaii, over to Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Ireland, and England, finally jumping back over the pond to New York and maybe up to Maine before heading home to New Hampshire.

Fun, but today I wanted a story to write. There just isn't one yet. So I let it go and started watching my thoughts meander around. It ended up being a very entertaining adventure. That is if you think like me and are easily amused.

First things first. Monday thru Friday, at 5:45 am,  I start the the 20 minute round-trip to drop my children off in Nashua, using the return trip to think before waking the other school-bound children at 6:05.

But this morning I found myself in a different rental car that my husband had brought home last night. I sat behind the wheel for the first time, familiarizing myself with the dashboard. The GPS stared at me mockingly from my right, glowing in the darkness. As if THAT would entice me to use it!

I don't like GPS. I've never used one. And this one didn't like me. I could tell. It just kept staring. 

I wanted to make friends with it when I remembered hearing that you need one to go geocaching, I thought that maybe I'd have to get one because geocaching has everything I love about life in it: nature, mystery, hiking, searching, and using clues to find answers.

I was thinking about geocaching as we passed the cemetery. The one right down the road where some of my husband's ancestors are buried.

I was putzing around this evening, not knowing what to do with my idle brain.

So I got my 4 generation family history chart out.( Do you want one? It's free to download and $1.99 to print at Staples. Click here if you do. If the link doesn't work look right. There are downloads there, too.)

Before I knew it I was looking at my great great grandparents,  Charles and Anna Sophia Carlson,who came from Sweden and died in Washington State.

You want to know where they're buried? I Googled the cemetery where they were buried because I remembered that much, and this is part of what I found:

 Old Olalla Pioneer Cemetery 
Longitude 122°40'57.7"W Latitude 47°29'31.4"N

GPS coordinates!

I could find my ancestors using a GPS as if I was going geocaching. That thought killed me!

This is what Wikiipeda has to say about geocaching: (I added family history synonyms in parenthesis)

"Geocaching is an outdoor sporting activity in which the participants use a  (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.
"A typical cache is a small waterproof container (coffin)
containing a logbook ( historical documents)
" Larger containers such as plastic storage containers  or ammunition boxes can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value. (dead people of great value!)
"Geocaching is often described as a "game of high-tech hide and seek", sharing many aspects with benchmarking, trigpointing, orienteering, treasure-hunting, letterboxing,  and waymarking (like finding ancestors in all sorts of documents, the ones you have and the ones you find on the internet and elsewhere).
"Geocaches are currently placed in over 100 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica. After 10 years of activity there are over 1.4 million active geocaches published on various websites. There are over 5 million geocachers worldwide. " (millions family history enthusiasts all over the world!)

 Family history is the best sport in the world!

Wanna play?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Having Some Fun With Death!

My 14-yr.-old son, Kyle, showed me this last night 
and made me laugh! 

 I'll be writing a more serious post later, but I couldn't let the opportunity to share this with you pass.

There's a lot of sadness with death, dying, and remembering. That's what we get with love. It's a package deal.

And sometimes I just want to lighten up for a minute! This did just that for me. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Driven Man: Nature or Nurture?

Google image of Irish Potato Famine 1845-1851

"Suffering and joy teach us, if we allow them, how to make the leap of empathy, which transports us into the soul of another person. In those moments we know other people's joys and sorrows, and we care about their concerns as if they were our own." 
~Fritz Williams~

When I look at Michael Earles, my paternal great grandfather by adoption ( he adopted my grandmother Evelyn) I have questions. I wonder what drove him. Was he running with fear to escape the life his parents told him about in Ireland? Or was he running towards opportunities his parents exposed him to in their new world, America?

Think about it with me for a minute. What is your answer to the age-old question of what shapes a child's life more? Is it nature or nurture?

Imagine life in Michael's home in 1860. You're about five years old and your father's a farmer in Wisconsin. The bedtime stories could be ones of suffering and death of friends and relatives enduring the six years of the Potato Famine of Ireland. Stories of how they had nothing to eat but potatoes until even those were scarce, leaving families to beg in the streets to survive. Were those images impressed upon him to scare him to make something of his life so as never to have to endure suffering like that?

Or were the stories full of adventure? Tales of escaping sure death as they, along with thousands of other families uprooted themselves with the clothes on their backs, hope in their hearts, and sheer determination to make a better life for themselves in America.

Was he given images of suffering or hope aboard ships that carried his parents and brothers into New York in 1849?

The story doesn't matter as much as the interpretation of it offered by the storyteller as he or she plants it in the fertile mind of the listener, who is often a child. A child who is open and vulnerable to new concepts and ideas, and sometimes unable to discern between the character's feeling and the feelings a parent ignorantly projects onto the character.

You can tell the story of The Three Little Pigs a number of ways. The pigs can be victims or courageous, slow to learn, or eventual team-players. It can be a story of horrendous loss of property and life (the wolf's), or triumph of good over evil.

How did Michael's parents talk to him about their past, present and future?

I was wondering because Michael did a lot with his life. He helped build railroads in Kansas, Colorado, and Montana. He started logging companies, purchased and operated a saw mill in Washington State, and helped organize the American Savings Bank in Seattle, of which he  was a director and stockholder. He owned two steam tugs that operated in Puget Sound in the late 1880's, and one steamboat The Betty Earles, named after his first daughter, that carried passengers to and from his lodge, Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort on Lake Crescent, Washington.

The "Betty Earles"

When I contemplate his life and the things that he did I think about transportation and how it was changing the United States. I think of a man who saw a need and filled it. He was an opportunist in the best sense of the word. He was one of the first to use a "steam pony" in his logging business when others were sticking to horses, waiting to see what would happen with this new tool.

I've come to the conclusion that a person can only run on fear for so long. Their true nature eventually shines through. His parents may have driven him to "succeed" or not to "fail". No matter how and why Michael started on his quest to achieve, it seems that he was just a driven man. Driven by curiosity to fix problems that slowed him down.

Yesterday I laughed seeing a bit of Michael in myself.

 It was a beautiful day and I'd suggested we go apple-picking. There were 8 of us and only 5 seats in the car. As the rest of the family was drawing straws to see who would stay home and who would get one of the 5 seats I left the heavy mood of the kitchen, grabbed the keys to the car, and drove down the street to my friend's house. I came home with a promise to use her 8-seater car in 1/2 an hour much to the surprise of the rest of the family. There would be no one left behind.

Some people just think that way. They see a problem and solve it. Others are there to put their arm around you while you figure it out. Some people just make the best of a bad situation, sometimes complaining because they can't see a solution to their predicament.

At first I was intimidated by Michael. I focused on his accomplishments. I  think I see him differently now. I  can feel how he might have been experiencing his circumstances and matching who he was by nature to what life presented to him. He fit perfectly into that era. I believe America, especially the Northwest was waiting for him.

I learned a little bit more about myself as I studied Michael's life. I could see better how we are all different, yet important.  My life's story will be vastly different from Michael's. But if he and I were to sit and talk I think we'd be able to empathize a bit as we compared the circumstances of the era we were both born into:
  • There is suffering because of economic and natural disaster.
  • Families are being torn apart and tried.
  • There are great opportunities for those willing to make the shift from the world we know to what the "new world" is offering.
In the end we have a choice. Either we focus on the accomplishments and failures of a person as we measure him against others of his day, or we take an individual and see how his unique set of circumstances and influences contribute to the molding or breaking of his character.

Whether someone creates a company that employs thousands, or lovingly and tenderly holds a starving child taking his last breath in mortality, that person has done his part, and done it well.  Both require one to see who they are for and in the world and to acknowledge the importance of the role they play.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What's In a Name?

Names have helped me immensely in my search for ancestors. This morning one helped me make an emotional connection.

I've been spending the last few days researching Thomas Earles and his son, Michael, my paternal great grandfather. I was gathering and filing documents. But I was bored with them. I was telling my mom last night that I was secretly hoping that someone had run away to join a circus.

What made matters worse, and is hard to admit, is that Michael's second daughter, Evelyn, my father's mother, was adopted, and I was feeling a disconnect to her adoptive father and mother. Why research them if we're not blood-related? This was the first time I'd ever had that thought. I know that my father wants to know both lines. So that's what I was doing, starting with what I knew. But all of a sudden I wasn't interested in the family who generously raised Evelyn as their own.

I needed something to wake me up and have some fun with them. But I woke up early this morning with nothing new.

 Then I crossed the bridge over the Merrimack River back into Hudson.

It was 6am and the sun was just starting to come up. A new thought was emerging at the same moment.

"Pay attention to the names."

father, Michael Earles, 
daughter, Evelyn Michaelle Earles. 

Michael, having accomplished a lot in his life, found himself without a wife and children when he was 50-years-old. He adopted Elizabeth after marrying a woman 20 years his junior, and 5 years later, at age 55, adopted Evelyn. I found it incredibly sweet to incorporate his name into hers, Michaelle being the feminine version of Michael.

The tradition continued with Evelyn's only child:

son, Michael Earles Carlson.
 grandson, Michael Earles Carlson
 granddaughter, Kathleen Michaelle Carlson
 great grandson, Kenneth Michael Cross

Kathleen Michaelle Earles

I have a vague memory of my sister complaining about her middle name. I hope she likes it now.

All of my children but my first carry a family name either as a first or middle name as a way to remember their ancestors. They are thrilled to share those names and are curious about the original "owners". In our joy of being a first-time parent we just wanted a unique name for our first daughter. I now wish we'd seen the importance of using a family name to help her remember someone, too. Maybe I'll find an Allison or a Lydsay someday. Maybe she'll start her own tradition with her children. We'll see! 

I'll continue to write my great grandfather's story. It is quite impressive. But nothing that Michael did could have impressed me more and made me feel connected so quickly than to start a family name tradition!

Friday, September 2, 2011

I Found a Pot of Gold!:Part 2

Google Image

Sunrise or sunset?
Old questions answered, new ones exposed.

( Click on Part 1 to read  first or you'll feel a little lost.)

...The name written across Olga's left shoulder is "Valery". 

I put the name aside for a second, not really knowing what to do with it; however, I was impressed to look for Frederick's father's proof of death on Ancestry.com. Why didn't I already know when James had died? 

I did a quick search on Ancestry.com again and found records for his death on two documents: on the England and Wales Free BMD Index, and on a probate calendar. The Index told me James had died in 1906.

I read the probate calendar and my jaw dropped through the floor to China!

First, Frederick Lester "Lowrey" (notice the spelling change) was the "administer" listed on the document. It also says he was a photographer. I already knew his father was a photographer from the 1901 marriage certificate of Olga (aka Ottilie) and Frederick.  One of them had probably taken Olga's picture!

Second, "Lowrie, James Frederick otherwise Valery Frederick" stared back at me from the page. I started to laugh and cry at the same time. I read the two lines over and over again. 

The bugger had changed his name!  

But it gets better.

 Less than a minute after the name-change discovery I searched for Frederick Valery in the 1901 census. There he is! He has a new wife AND a son. Guess what his dad named him? Frederick Reginald Valery. 

Wanna know who else is living with them?

Frederick and Stella Lowrie, his two original children!

But two Fredericks in the same house won't do. Fred #1 uses his middle name, Lester, and he and his sister change their last name from Lowrie to Valery.

James hadn't died by 1891. Madeline his first wife wasn't a widow after all. HE was! Frederick and Stella went straightway to live with their dad after she died. They lived an hour apart, Mom in Chiswick, Dad in St. Mary Cray. They probably shared the kids on weekends!

If I could go back in time I'd give a mini course to all census takers. The name of the course? "How to Snuff Out Liars by Reading Body Language." I'd give another one on "Spelling and Penmanship", and still another on "Going the Extra Mile", for all those who just don't want to go up that hill to that one last house 'cause they're just too tired!

I have a lot more to discover about this new family. I want to find out what happened to Frederick and Stella's Grandma Reed after Madeline died? Why didn't they stay with her? Where and who are the descendants of Frederick's half brother, Frederick Valery are. The new Frederick was only 15 when his dad died.

The kicker? I can't find a marriage certificate for James and Millie Valery. There's one in 1901 in Paris, France. I can't go there right now.

But it leaves me with another question: how many generations going back in time and coming forward through descendants did this habit of walking away from spouse and children go? Was there a common denominator? Did James' dad have similar history?

 I'll be going down that road soon!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I Found a Pot of Gold!: Part 1

It's 4:30 am, Thursday morning. I put my head in my hands and decide I need some divine intervention.

I have followed every lead to find Frederick Lester Lowrie, always hitting the same brick wall. He's Olga's husband, and Roy, Vic, Lester, and Madeleine's dad. His document trail runs dry after his 1901 marriage in London where his father and step-father are witnesses.

In my last post I found him living in France from 1926-1930. I want to know where he went in the years in between and after. I'd also like to find out when and where he died.

Maybe he's immortal.

It would be fun  to be able to tell my mom a little bit more about her maternal grandfather. That means so much to me. That's why I persist in the pursuit of this mysterious family when I've thought for years there wasn't enough information to get me anywhere.

Who can argue with fires, and lost trunks full of family documents? I have believed that there was no use looking for something or someone dead and gone.

For two days I have set my mind to finding these people and I've been generously rewarded for my tenacity.

I had nothing new to look at today. But when all else fails I start at the beginning and review what I have.

I randomly chose to look more closely at his mom, Madeline, and his dad, James and what the family looked like in the 1881 census. Madeline, (still listed as married), his sister, Stella and Frederick are there, but no James.

Great! Another father missing-in-action!

Then in the 1891 census Madeline's mother joins the fatherless family. Both women are described as "widowed". So James is dead?

That same year, 1891, after the census is taken, sometime in July, Madeline dies leaving Frederick and Stella motherless. I was shocked! But such is life. People die.

Now I have new questions. Where did Frederick and Stella go? Did they stay with Grandma? No. And they are nowhere to be found!

I learned all this in under 2 minutes.

I know they're all dead now, but I just wanted to be sure that Frederick and Stella were okay.

Then, as I sat in the quiet I heard a thought I'd ignored for at least 10 years. "Look at Olga's photo again. Look at the signature."

 How many times had my mother told me that there might be a clue in that name? Countless. Do you remember that picture? The one from "My Family History/"Booger Snots!"?

This picture was holding a clue to Frederick's whereabouts for him from the time his mother died in 1891 until 1906.

The name written across Olga's left shoulder is "Valery". 

Stay tuned!

I save some documents, write some notes and look at the clock. It's nearing 5am. Do I check emails, read a blog or two? Clean the house? Only one more hour before I have to wake the kids up for school. I choose to keep searching.