Story by Story

“Do you have any photographs of you, as a kid?”

“Oh, you’d be surprised by what I have,” said my mother.

Indeed.

I inherited fourteen assorted boxes and two trunks of photographs, documents, and special items at my mother’s death.  As I unpacked each one, layer by layer, and recorded its contents, I was swept by regrets and wistful desires.  So many stories, seen too late! Why didn’t she share her doll cradle?  Or show me her baby books?  What tales did she learn on her Aunt Anna’s lap?

I have finally completed this preliminary inventory, and have begun brainstorming a list of archival supplies that I will need to conserve this collection.  And I have shed the regrets for stories lost.  I have enough ingenuity and curiosity to play family detective, as well as, family curator.

First up, the cradle.  Wait and see what I do with that eight inch wicker cradle, Mother.  Its story will be discovered, bit by bit.  The Minor family history will get told, story by story. Image

That’s Me!!: (almost) Wordless Wednesday

Vannoy Family Portrait, circa 1914: Paul, Ivan, Janet. Photographer A.C. "Al" Eckerman in Centerville, Iowa

Vannoy Family Portrait, circa 1914: Paul, Ivan, Janet. Photographer A.C. “Al” Eckerman in Centerville, Iowa

I have scanned a number of family photographs from the early 1900s recently. I paused over this one, and returned to gaze upon this scene, time after time.  The baby of the trio, Paul, appears to have pulled the book, hard, his way, so that he can see what Ivan and Janet are smiling about.  Click on the photograph, to the attachment, and take some time to enlarge this group shot.  The children are not reading a book aloud, to keep Paul still.  They are looking at a photograph of three children. I imagine Paul, clambering up on the table while yelling, “Let me see! Let me see!”  When at last he sits still, photograph in hand, little Paul shrieks with delight.  “That’s ME!”

Then, in that moment of still recognition, Al Eckerman captured his subjects in this beautiful portrait.

From the Kitchen Chair: Genealogy in the Tech Era

My grandmother possessed her gift of writing, a pen, and some paper.  Florette Sayles Strickland also possessed family memories, and using what she had, my grandmother crafted a family history booklet that was then distributed to her children,and photocopied and distributed again to her grandchildren.

That was so pre-PC.

That was so pre-internet.

That was not so long ago.

DSC_1142Last night, from my kitchen chair, I participated in a webinar, arranged and delivered by the Illinois State Genealogical Society. At nine o’clock P.M. EST I sat at my desk, clicked my emailed link, turned up my speakers’ volume, and joined the crowd listening to Harold Henderson’s presentation on The Best Genealogy Present You Can Give Yourself: Citing Your Sources.   I printed out the night’s handouts and scribbled further notes as Harold detailed how I can structure my source information into a well-crafted reference note.  Such citations increase the likelihood that I can find that source again as needed, as well as the credibility of my final story and conclusions.

From my kitchen chair, I can search, write, publish, find like-minded peers, and enhance my research skills.  My grandmother would be astounded!

 

I Accept! the Family History Writing Challenge

You are a family historian; a collector of family lore, data bytes, census records, photographs, and old papers that mean nothing to nobody but you.  At some point, the names become people, and then the people become folks you really want to meet, which is a problem when all that is left is their memory.

Thus starts your journey; an impulsion carries you into a room with a blank screen or an empty page, and you sit and stare. And stare. And stare.  Because when it comes right down to it, as much as you know this person, there is twice as much left to uncover.  The story goes untold a bit longer.

PROCRASTINATION IS THE ASSASSINATION OF MOTIVATION

Those words have been ringing in my ears, almost as loudly as the high pitched hum of my tinnitus  and they are almost as annoying.  But, as the universe is prone to provide, a reading came my way, a blog post by Lynn Palermo of The Armchair Genealogist in which she offered community, companionship, advice, and encouragement to write that family story I have felt too overwhelmed to attempt.  Now I am counting down the days until I confront the blank page and reconstruct the life of my perplexing, aggravating, inspiring great-great-grandfather, Ira Sayles, during the Family History Writing Challenge.

I commit to writing 500 words a day, each day during the month of February.  

I can’t wait to start!  Check out Lynn’s page, and seriously consider if it is not time to confront your blank page.  Eighteen days and counting!!  See you there!

Sunday’s Obituary: Merlin W. Sayles of Chase City, Virginia (1878)

A family mystery has been solved! My great-great-grandparents, Ira and Serena Sayles, had four children, wrote my grandmother, Florette Sayles Strickland. The daughter, Florette, died as a young girl. One son, Clifton, grew up to be a farmer, a husband, a dad – her dad. Another son, Christopher, grew up to join the peacetime army, and yet another son, Merlin, was lost to memory’s mists, until I uncovered his obituary in the Seventh Day Baptist archives of the 1878 Sabbath Recorder. From page three of Volume 34, issue 40, I finally learn the fate of this young man.

DIED

In Whitesville, N. Y., September 23d, 1878, MERLIN W. SAYLES, of Chase City, Maklinburg (sic) County, Va., aged 21 years, 2 months, and 11 days, second son of Prof. Ira and Serena C. Sayles, formerly of Alfred. His disease, as shown by examination after death, was aneurism in the right of the mesenteric artery, followed by a completely conjested mesentery, with incipient abcsess (sic) of the same, thus functionally destroying this vital organ. For the last two months, his sufferings were intense — he really starved to death. He was a member of the First-day Baptist Church of Chase City, Va., and died clinging to Jesus.

Just imagine the scene.  On a muggy, hot July day, Merlin collapsed after slopping the hogs. His brothers, Christopher and Clifton, rushed to where he lay doubled over, clutching his belly as the blood vessel lay ruptured inside him.  As they carried Merlin up the porch steps Clifton yelled to his mother, and Serena rushed into the front hallway of the family’s farmhouse.  Sizing up the moment she turned and took the stairs two at a time, with the boys on her heels.  Merlin was gently lowered into bed, his shoes taken off, his clothing loosened.  He must have been in agony that day, and each day after as his intestines slowly died and infection set in.  No tea, no soup, no biscuit would have stayed down; Serena would have tried every sort of remedy to ease the pain, to cure the fever, to stave off his withering.  Today the ruptured artery would be quickly diagnosed and surgically repaired. Serena could only watch over her boy, mopping his sweaty brow, wetting his dry lips, holding his feverish hand, praying for his recovery.

Would Ira have traveled down from New York for a last visit? Or did Serena meet this tragedy alone with her boys and neighbors?

Merlin W. Sayles may be buried in the family’s cemetery just off of Hunter’s Lane, south of Chase City, Virginia. Hidden among trees, his tombstone may still serve as testimony to the horror of his final days.