Monday, July 21, 2014

How My Grandparents Met

My grandparents, LaVerne Rutherfurd and Glenn Murray Smith, at LaVerne's high school graduation, 1935.

Right now, I'm working on transcribing the autobiographies written by my maternal grandparents, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith and Glenn Murray Smith.  I'm so glad that they took the time to write down some of their stories, as I've already gleaned much new information.  I've also smiled often, knowing that a certain usage of words or funny incident is right in line with how I remember them.

It's actually quite a bit of work piecing together these autobiographies.  My grandmother left many typewritten copies of hers, some with pictures photocopied amongst the text, but there is not one complete version.  I have multiple partial accounts which I'm having to stitch together.  Figuring out what goes where has not always been easy to determine.  My grandmother also typed up my grandfather's autobiography and it presents the same challenge.  There are bits and pieces of it scattered throughout various files.  I was thrilled to discover the original, handwritten version of my grandfather's autobiography tucked into a folder, but seems to cut off abruptly at page 36.  I don't know if there's more that was written and is now missing, or if that's all he wrote.

My grandfather's memoirs

I decided to compare the handwritten version of my Grandad's memoirs to the typewritten translation provided by my grandmother.  My grandfather's handwriting is not always easy to decipher, so this has been a long task.  What's interesting is that I've discovered a couple of occasions where my grandmother seems to have altered or omitted some of my grandfather's words in her translation.  For instance, my grandmother glosses over my grandfather's description of a teenage party where farts were lit on fire. The farts, apparently still memorable when my grandfather was of an advanced age and recalling his life, are nowhere to be found in the typewritten translation.  Knowing my grandmother and her distaste for any unseemly behavior, I cannot help but believe that this particular omission was intentional. She also adjusted the wording concerning a breakup during my grandparents' college years.  My grandfather recalls the event they were attending and the words that were said one way, while my grandmother's translation changes the name of the event and the particular insult that was uttered.  She must have felt that my grandfather remembered it incorrectly.

My grandmother's memoirs

 As to my grandparents' original meeting, my Grandma does not address it at all in her translation of my Grandad's memoir.  That entire section is missing.  It's possible that it was simply lost, so I'm glad to have found the original document for reference.  It's also possible that she didn't favor my grandfather's recollection of the event.  I've always known that my grandparents met as teenagers at a party hosted by a mutual friend in Los Angeles.  In her autobiography, my grandmother says it was a Valentine's Day party and declares that it was love at first sight for both of them.  What she unsurprisingly does not mention is that there may have been a game of "spin the bottle" and a kiss in a closet on that fateful evening.  That is, if you believe my grandfather's version of events. 

How my grandparents met, from my Grandma's autobiography:

"During my sophomore year in high school I met Glenn Smith at a Valentine party given by one of my classmates. It was love at first sight for the both of us.  We went horseback riding, swimming at State Beach in Santa Monica, to parties in friends' homes and to movies.  On our first date, which turned out to be Glenn's 17th birthday, we went to Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard to see King Kong."

How my grandparents met, from my Grandad's autobiography:

"...I had become quite adept at the roller rink in Culver City.

It was at this rink where I met the girl who was to become my bride. A group of us first met a girl named Annabel Bagley who invited us to a party the feature of which was spin the bottle. This led to a tender kiss in the closet with my future wife."

There are many lessons to be learned here.  One is certainly to always check the original document and not rely on translations.  Another is to think about your subjects and the reasons they might have had for providing a certain version of events. 

I am very glad to have these memoirs written by my grandparents.  They provide so much insight as to who they were before I knew them and brings their personalities fully to life.  I'm grateful to be able to include these stories when I tell my children about Glenn and LaVerne.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Richard Stockton: Signer of the Declaration of Independence

The signature of Richard Stockton on the Declaration of Independence

 My family moved to a small town four years ago.  The Fourth of July is a big deal here and a large chunk of the community turns out for the annual Fourth of July parade.  It's a lot of fun, and we all get into the spirit of the day.

This year, after the parade had ended, the cookout was cleaned up and the kids were in bed, I dug back into the bins of photos and documents left to me by my grandmother, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith.  Inside, I found a short letter written by my grandmother that detailed how her interest in genealogical research began.  It reads as follows:

At a family supper on the Fourth of July in 1957 the children wanted to know about the American Revolution we were celebrating.  Then came the question, "Did we have anyone in the Revolutionary War?"  "Of course," came the response.  Then the hard one: "Who?"  That began the search which has led to endless interesting searching and down many side roads of family history.

The coincidence of finding this on the Fourth of July made me smile.  Yes, as my grandmother discovered over the years, we do have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War.  Even better, we have a semi-distant relation who signed the Declaration of Independence.  While Richard Stockton is not a direct ancestor, his contribution to American history is certainly worth highlighting here. 

 Richard Stockton is my second cousin nine times removed.  His great-grandparents, Richard and Abigail Stockton, are my tenth great-grandparents and the Stockton line's immigrant ancestors, having emigrated from Cheshire County, England to New Jersey in the mid-1600s.  Richard Stockton, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, was born on October 3, 1730 in Princeton, New Jersey.  He was the son of John Stockton and Abigail Phillips.  His father, John Stockton, was wealthy and influential, having served for many years as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas in the County of Somerset, New Jersey while America was still a British colony.  Together with four other local men, he donated the acreage and funds necessary to establish Princeton University.

Statue of Richard Stockton located in the United States Capitol
Richard Stockton was the eldest of John and Abigail's children.  He became a lawyer and a good friend of George Washington.  He served as a trustee of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University.  He was also a member of the King's Council for New Jersey.  As tensions between Britain and its colony heightened in the mid-1700s, Richard Stockton was torn between his belief that America should separate itself from the crown, and his career and longtime friendships with devoted loyalists.  The book "Biographies of the Signers" by John Sanderson details Stockton's difficulties during this time and his conflicting allegiance. Eventually, Stockton fell firmly into the rebel camp, working on behalf of American independence.

In 1776, Richard Stockton was elected to the Second Continental Congress, and also elected the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.  He turned down the court position in order to retain his role in Congress.  On July 4th, he signed the document that the Congress had drafted declaring the colonies' independence from England.  His son-in-law, Benjamin Rush, husband of his daughter Julia, also signed the Declaration of Independence.

On November 30, 1776, Stockton was captured by loyalists and turned over to the British.  He was jailed at Perth Amboy.  Stockton was freed six weeks later, but his health was never the same.  He had been subjected to freezing temperatures, starvation and brutality during his prison stay, and the effects of that mistreatment lingered until his death from cancer on March 7, 1781.

An image of Richard Stockton can be found in the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.  He is also featured in John Trumbull's famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence which hangs in the Capitol Building's rotunda.  In that image, he is between Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock, seated on the left in a group of four men.

It is an indirect relationship, but one that certainly inspires pride.  To be connected, however distantly, to one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence is pretty amazing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

My Grandparents' World War II Ration Books

I have started the long task of sorting through the three large bins of family materials left to me by my grandmother, LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith, after her death in 2012.  They're filled with genealogical files, old photos and newspaper clippings.  I've seen a lot of these items in the past.  My grandmother and I used to spend afternoons together going through photograph albums and talking about genealogy, and she showed me much of her family history collection during those meetings.  However, as I work my way through the contents of these bins, I'm turning up little treasures that are completely new to me.

Today, I discovered a photo of my great-grandparents, George Rutherfurd and Julia Barrett, that I'd never seen.  There's a picture of the interior of my great-grandmother Nellie Barrett's home circa the 1920s and a letter that my grandad, Glenn Murray Smith, wrote to my grandmother in 1933, when they were both teenagers.  It's so wonderful to come upon all these new things.  I only wish I could ask my grandmother for more details about each of them.

One of the newly discovered items that has intrigued me the most is a set of ration booklets from 1943.  There are three of them, one each for my grandmother, grandfather and their eldest child, Glenn Thomas "Tom" Smith.  These three booklets fit into a holder, which my grandmother had reinforced with tape along the edges.  All three booklets contain a number of unused stamps.

The booklets state that the family was living at 210 McKinley Avenue in Pomona, California.  This is new information for me.  My grandparents were both born and raised in Los Angeles, and I knew they spent some of the war years in Forestville, in Sonoma County, and in upstate New York, while my grandfather attended various military training schools.  I did not know that they'd ever been in Pomona.  Pomona is about a 30-minute drive east of San Marino, where my grandparents settled after the war.

My uncle Tom is listed as being 9 months old on the ration books.  He was born on September 22, 1942.  That would date the ration books to June of 1943.  This was before their move to Forestville.

During the war years, there were shortages of a number of items, including food and gasoline.  A system of rationing these goods was enacted across America.

As explained by The National WWII Museum's website:

Every American was issued a series of ration books during the war.  The ration books contained removable stamps good for certain rationed items, like sugar, meat, cooking oil, and canned goods.  A person could not buy a rationed item without also giving the grocer the right ration stamp.  Once a person’s ration stamps were used up for a month, she couldn’t buy any more of that type of food.

Instructions for using the ration stamps are listed on the back of each booklet.  Also, the interior of each holder contains a quote from President Roosevelt and a list of tips to make ration coupons go further.

"We cannot have the things we want if our boys over there are to have what they need."  
-President Roosevelt

  • Budget your points as you do your money.
  • Plan your meals in advance.
  • Total your points at home to save time -- trouble and service at the store.
  • When stamps are used up -- you cannot buy rationed goods until the next ration period.
  • Substitute non-rationed fresh fruits and vegetables when possible to conserve stamps.
  • Keep a record of point changes -- point values change on seasonal foods.
  • Use higher point stamps first -- it will simplify buying during closing days of period.
  • Shop during the early part of the week and avoid confusion.

It's interesting to think about my grandmother, a young mother during the war, planning her meals around rationed items. What sort of compromises did she have to make?

I notice that someone else, perhaps the issuing authority, has written the names of the three family members on each of their ration books.  My grandmother wrote all the identifying information below that.  I recognize her handwriting.  She has signed her own ration book and that of my uncle Tom.  My grandfather did not sign his.

This is such a little piece of history, and I'm glad I've found it and can preserve it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Happy Blogoversary

Photo by yanyanyanyanyan

Happy blogoversary to me! I started Know Their Stories one year ago today and after 55 entries, it’s still going strong.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that maybe two people read this blog. I didn’t start Know Their Stories for page counts, I started it so that I could share my family’s history with those who were interested and carry on my grandmother’s legacy. On that level, I believe I’ve succeeded. Along the way, some new cousins have stumbled upon my blog and provided me with valuable information about my family. That’s been a wonderful surprise. The stories are out there for people to find, and those who are curious will find them.

Know Their Stories has pushed me to do better research. While writing posts, I’ve discovered inaccuracies in my files and had to go back and work on proving that lineage. The most recent example of this is the posts I wrote about Temperance Burns, my third great-grandmother. The blog has also enabled me to dive deep into stories that were once fragmented and pull them together into one narrative.

The most popular posts on Know Their Stories in the past year:

How Many Times Was George Beck Married?

Wallace Partridge: Civil War Soldier

Scandalous Ancestor: Alvin Jared Howe

Some of my favorite posts:

The series on Gil Cook, a B-52 pilot killed by friendly fire during World War II

The series on my Australian ancestors, the Colemans and Dwyers

A birthday post in memory of my beloved grandmother

I feel that I’ve only gleaned the surface of our family history thus far, and there’s so much more to write about. So, I’ll keep writing. Here’s to year one of Know Their Stories, and many more years to come.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Temperance Burns: Suspicions Confirmed!

Since my last post about my third great grandmother, Temperance Mathis Burns, I've had an email from a cousin, Teri, with more information about this family.  Thank you for getting in touch with me, Teri!  Teri has done considerable research on this family, and the information she's amassed seems to confirm my suspicions that Temperance's maiden name was Burns, not Mathis.

It looks very likely that Temperance Burns' parents were Absalom Burns and Nancy Matthews of Williamson County, Illinois.  The misattributed surname "Mathis" for Temperance seems to stem from the fact that her mother, Nancy Matthews, is listed on various legal documents with the surname Mthis, Mathews, Mathes, Mathias, and Matthews.  Somehow, this became Mathis and was incorrectly attached to her daughter, Temperance.  The rumors of Temperance being called "Tennessee" might have to do with the fact that her parents were married there and her father, Absalom Burns, fought in the Tennessee Militia during the War of 1812.  We have no evidence that she was ever called Tennessee.  More likely, she was called Tempy.

Absalom Burns was born in South Carolina about 1791.  He was in Tennessee by 1812, when he fought with the Tennessee Militia. In 1826, he married Nancy Matthews in Tennessee.  Nancy was born about 1800 in North Carolina.  Their first two children were born in Tennessee, and then the Burns family moved to Williamson County, Illinois, where their second two children were born.

The children of Absalom Burns and Nancy Matthews were as follows:

Dizana (nickname "Zena" or "Zany") Burns (born about 1827); married William Miller in 1847 and James Taylor in 1858
Margaret Burns (born about 1828); married Joseph Garrett in 1847
Nancy Jane Burns (born about 1832); married Alexander Williams in 1852
Temperance Burns (born about 1833); married Samuel Burns in 1859 and Michael O'Hare in 1870

Absalom Burns died in Williamson County on March 30, 1836, when Temperance was just three years old.  In 1850, his widow, Nancy, applied for Bounty Lands, which were granted to veterans of American military service.

From "Affidavits, Warrants, and Assignment In Military Bounty Land Warrant File For Nancy Burns, Widow of Absolom Burns"

On this 4th day of November AD 1850 personally appeared before me, Justice of the Peace in and for the county and the state aforesaid, William Burns and John S. Roberts, residents of the County of Williamson and State of Illinois, who being duly sworn according to law declare Nancy Burns is the widow of Absolem Burns, deceased, who was a private in the Company commanded by Captain George Kincade in the Regiment of Tennessee Militia commanded by Col. Hammons in the War of the United States with Great Britain declared on the 18th day of June AD 1812, that the said Nancy Burns was married to the said Absolem Burns, deceased, on the 17th day of April 1826 by one John McColly, a Justice of the Peace in the County of Montgomery, State of Tennessee, and they recollect that the name of the said Nancy Burns before her marriage was Nancy Mathews, that her husband, the said Absolem Burns, died in Williamson County, Illinois on the 30th day of March AD 1836 and that she is still a widow, that they knew the said Absolem Burns during his life and was intimately acquainted with his family, that he lived with the said Nancy Burns and that they were represented as husband and wife and lived together as such from the time of their marriage until the date of his death and that they are disinterested.

On September 1, 1852, Nancy Burns and her children deeded 80 acres of land to John Burns.  John is believed to have been a first cousin of the four Burns daughters, and likely a brother to Samuel Burns, future husband of Temperance Burns.  The marks of Nancy Matthews Burns and her daughters, Nancy Jane Burns, Margaret Garrett, D. Burns Williams and Temperance Burns are all found on the deed, confirming their relationship. 

I'm very glad to have this new information about Temperance Burns. Thank you, Teri, for providing me with some helpful documentation that may well take my tree back another generation!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mary Temperance Mathis Burns O'Hare: The Woman of a Thousand Questions

My third great-grandmother, Mary Temperance Mathis, is the last proven ancestor in my direct maternal line.  She is also one of those frustrating ancestors who generates more questions than answers each time you look at her information.  Her date of birth, place of birth, and even her name are all up for debate.  So, what do we really know about Mary Temperance Mathis?  Not much for certain, as it turns out.

Since my Grandma told me that her grandmother, Nellie Barrett, referred to her mother as Temperance, that's what I'll call her here.

Date of Birth
Temperance was born between 1833 and 1839, likely in September or October.  Her obituary, dated July 7, 1899 and printed in the O'Fallon Progress, states, "Died at her home here on Thursday morning, Mrs. Mary O'Hare wife of Michael O'Hare Sr. aged 59 years 10 months."  This would make her birth year 1839.  However, the 1860 census shows a 27-year old Temperance living with her first husband, a six-year old daughter and a two-year old son.  This would make her birth year 1833.  I'm inclined to believe the census rather than the obituary, in this case.  If Temperance was really born in 1839, she would have been 15 when her first child was born.  That's certainly not impossible, but it seems more likely that the obituary is incorrect.  As noted further below, the obituary contained other errors, as well.

Date of First Marriage and Children From That Marriage
Temperance was married first to Samuel Burns.  The 1860 census indicates that he was born in Tennessee about 1811, making him twenty years older than Temperance.  They were wed on April 24, 1859 in Williamson County, Illinois, as proven by their marriage license.  Temperance and Samuel had at least two children: Robert Burns and Martha Burns.  As with nearly everything related to Temperance, even the number of her children and the dates of their birth are up for debate.  The 1860 census indicates that young Martha Burns was 6 years old during the year of the census.  This means she was born about 1854, five years prior to the marriage of her parents.  Martha's brother, Robert, also appears in the 1860 census, aged 2.  This means he was born in about 1858, a year before the marriage of his parents.   Did Samuel and Temperance have two children out of wedlock before marrying in Illinois?  This seems unusual.  Could the marriage license be incorrect or somehow refer to another couple?  This also seems unlikely, especially given the the year is written as 1859 in two separate places on the license.  This is just a big question mark.

A Possible Third Child
Many family trees located online claim that Temperance and Samuel had a third child, Joseph Burns.  This may be based on an 1880 census record that shows 49-year old Mary E. Burns living in Grand Tower, Illinois, with a 17-year old son, Joseph S. Burns.  However in 1880, Temperance had remarried and was living with her second husband, Michael O'Hare, and their two children.  The Mary E. Burns shown on the 1880 census is not Mary Temperance Mathis.  Temperance and Michael O'Hare can be found in the 1880 census living in Summerfield, Illinois, with their children.  Furthermore, the Joseph S. Burns born in 1864 who is often attributed as the child of Samuel Burns and Temperance, has a death certificate from 1935 that claims his mother is Sarah Burns.  So, I don't see any evidence that Temperance had a child named Joseph.

Adding to the confusion, Temperance's obituary states that she left five children behind at her death, but then mentions only four by name: Martha Distler (Burns), Robert Burns, Ellen Barrett (O'Hare), and Thomas O'Hare.  Her second daughter is also mis-identified here.  Her correct name was Helen O'Hare Barrett, not Ellen.  Did Temperance have a fifth child?  I don't have proof of that at this time.  My hunch is that at the time of her death, she left her four biological children and her stepson, Joseph.  Her other stepson, John, predeceased her.

Mary's Second Marriage
Temperance's second husband was my third great-grandfather, Michael O'Hare.  He was an immigrant from County Down, Ireland.  Temperance and Michael were married on October 2, 1870, as proven by their marriage license.  This was also Michael's second marriage.  He had been married previously and had two sons, John and Joseph O'Hare.  Joseph, aged 18, was living with Michael and Temperance at the time of the 1880 census, making his birth date around 1862.  Temperance was still married to Samuel Burns in 1862, so Joseph was not her child.  I believe some researchers have incorrectly claimed Joseph as the son of Temperance and Samuel, when he was actually Mary's stepson.  Michael's older son, John O'Hare, was 25 at the time of the 1880 census and already married and living on his own.  In a unusual twist, John O'Hare married Temperance's daughter from her first marriage, Martha Burns.  Although they were step-siblings, they were unrelated by blood.

Mary's Place of Birth and Nicknames
Much has been made of the location of Temperance's birth and whether she was referred to as "Tennessee" or "Tempy."  Temperance left a trail of conflicting documentation during her life which does little to settle the debate.  Was she born in Tennessee or Illinois?  Was she called Tennessee or Temperance?  Here's what the records say:

Place of birth:
  • Temperance's obituary in the O'Fallon Progress: "The deceased was born near Marion, Williamson Co. ILL."
  • Death certificate for Temperance's daughter, Helen "Nellie" O'Hare Barrett in 1942: Knoxville, Tennessee (information supplied by Nellie's son Stephen)
  • 1860 Census: Illinois
  • 1880 Census: Tennessee
  • Marriage License for Marriage to Samuel Burns: Temperance Burns
  • Marriage License for Marriage to John O'Hare: Tennessee Burns
  • 1860 Census: Temperance Burns
  • 1880 Census: Temperance O'Hare 
  • Martha Burns' Marriage License for Marriage to Frank Distler: M. Mathis (or Mathews)
  • Obituary, 1899: Mary O'Hare
  • Probate Court Records, 1899: Tempy O'Hara

I can't really make any concrete judgements with so much conflicting evidence.  The item that I find most interesting here is the marriage license for Samuel Burns and Temperance Burns.  It clearly lists Burns as the bride's maiden name.  Perhaps the surname Mathis is not correct at all, and Temperance was actually a Burns to begin with, perhaps even a cousin of her first husband.  Mathis is only listed on one document that I've located, the marriage license for Martha Burns and Frank Distler.  This document misidentifies Martha's father as John Burns, rather than Samuel.  Was her mother's name also listed incorrectly?  Clearly, there is so much more to discover here.

Please see my follow-up post on Temperance for more information!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day

I've been thinking about my direct female line recently, as I delve into the world of DNA testing for genealogy.  I've been considering a mtDNA (Mitochondrial DNA) test with the hope of learning more about my matrilineal ancestors.

As explained by CeCe Moore, author of Your Genetic Genealogist on
Mothers pass mtDNA to their children, both sons and daughters, but only females pass it on. Your mtDNA was inherited from your mother and from her mother and from her mother. No matter how far back in time you go, you only have one direct maternal ancestor in each generation and she is the one responsible for passing you your mtDNA.  Your mtDNA has followed this matrilineal path down through the generations for many thousands of years intact and virtually unchanged.

 I know quite a bit about my immediate female line.  My Grandma lived to be 93 and she shared a lot of stories about her mother and grandmother with me.  However, I have not, as yet, been able to trace beyond my third great-grandmother, Mary Temperance Mathis.  Would a mtDNA test help me learn more about the origins of my maternal lineage?  That's something I'm exploring right now.

Today, a tribute to the women who came before me.

My mother and me
LaVerne Rutherfurd, my grandmother
Julia Ellen Barrett, my great-grandmother
Nellie O'Hare, my second great-grandmother
Mary Temperance Mathis, my third great-grandmother (eta: I know now that her name was actually Temperance Burns!)

I have a 17-month old daughter who now shares this lineage, and the name of her second great-grandmother.  As I celebrate Mother's Day with her, and my son, I am grateful to all the women in our past.