Tip of the Day: Details Matter

I took another box of mixed media from the house, the house my father last lived in.  Most of the holiday cards I threw out, their messages meaningful only to Norman.  Many of the photographs were ones I had sent him, or copies of pictures he had snapped and sent to me years ago.  Several letters from my uncle I sent on to my cousin, sure that she would appreciate the insight into her father.  Letters from my grandmother, Florette, I saved for a rainy day read.

Methodically I sorted the box’s contents, pausing now and again to hold a memory tight.  And then, just as I thought there was really nothing new here, I came upon an envelope postmarked 1985.  Pearl Freeman had shared a few photographs with my father.  Without annotations or a note of explanation, I don’t know the relationship but apparently this stranger was sharing adolescent memories.

To date the photographs I pulled out a few key details that my father had shared about his high school years.

  • Norman, like his three brothers before him, attended Chase City High School, in Chase City, Virginia.
  • Chase City High School went up through eleventh grade.
  • Norman graduated in 1945.
  • My father began to smoke at the age of 17.
  • Chick, as my father was known by his pals, drove one of his father’s school bus routes.



Norman is front row, third from left. These teenagers appear posing in their best outfits, in front of a brick building that may be the high school, with adults milling around in the back. I suspect that this is the Class of 1945, posing after Chase City High School’s graduation ceremony.

Norman Strickland and friends

Here Norman sits on what appears to be a bus’ fender, reveling in female attention. His peak bus driving years were the mid-1940s.


Norman relaxes.  The cigarette dates the photo as around the time he graduated, at 17. 

Norman Strickland, Car unidentified

I am still researching the make and model. Because this capture was included with the other photographs, I am betting that this smile is of teenage-driver Norman.

If Pearl Freeman, or a descendant/friend, is reading this post, I hope you will leave a memory in the comments!!!



Thankful Thursday: Sing A Song


The impeded stream is the one that sings.  ~~Wendell Barry

I have not written much on this blog since my mother died.  The daily exercise failed to distract my grieving brain.

Instead I hopped into a genealogical burrow and nosed around through its labyrinth of story lines, tumbling out in previously unknown family territory and time.  The research begged for more than a cursory post.  I drifted for a while, before I befriended a deadline, and realized how important these “time to stop writing” moments are in the process of developing a story, of finishing thoughts, of discovering what emotional responses to ancestral tales actually mean–to me, today.  An article has been published in my local genealogical society’s newsletter.  I drafted a 3000 word essay, that still sucks, but is the transformative story before the story, the first baby step in confronting my family’s legacy of enslaving.

Now I return to the blogger community, to embrace daily prompts, tiny deadlines.  This community is my channel, the place where my stream of words can bounce up against the research rocks, and rush over and under branches of “what ifs” and “whys”, to sing the past into the present.

Thank you for listening to my songs.

Wisdom Wednesday: 100>99

Within the last week I read an article about commitment, or rather keeping a commitment.  In sum, the author stated that it is easier to practice your craft or hone your skill, develop new habits and deepen your spiritual practice if you commit 100%.  No creeping “well, just this once I won’t take my binoculars” or “I’ll get to the writing tomorrow.”

So I am committed to this experiment.  If I write every day on this blog or on my work-in-progress Shared Legacy narrative (more on that later), no excuses, will the writer’s block melt?  If I take my binoculars or camera everywhere I go, will I  spend at least a few minutes mindfully every day?  And if I write and deeply look at my world, will I find myself energized and engaged?

What have you, dear reader, decided to commit 100% to?  What tricks did you develop to hold yourself accountable?



Birding by kayak, with camera AND binoculars. Not seen in this shot, the Great Blue Heron fishing off to my right.  Later on I watched a Green Heron play hopscotch on bank-roots.

Swiped, Stolen, Borrowed…What To Do When Your Work Is “Shared”: Tuesday’s Tip

Portrait of Unknown Man, Minor Family Album, p.1Light colored eyes, weak from age and illness, stared out from between a headful of thick, wavy hair and a chinful of white whiskers.  The photograph was among a list of search returns for John P. Minor on a major genealogical website. The problem?  This is NOT John P. Minor.  The PROBLEM? Two different ancestry.com users had conducted a google search, found their way to an old Shoots, Roots, And Leaves blog post in which yours truly had misidentified the whiskered gent as my patriarch, John P. Minor.  Without contacting me, they lifted the photo and uploaded it to Ancestry, perpetuating inaccurate family history.

Two things have gone awry here.

1.) My original attempt to identify an old, unlabeled photograph found in an album that belonged to my mother.  I had ascertained a probable chain of provenance, and reached the conclusion that the photographs were collected by Mary Jane Minor in the late 1800s.  With limited technical knowledge of dating photographs and limited contact with other relatives, I made a stab at identifying the guy primarily based on his age and the placement of the photograph in the first page.  I certainly did not have enough sources or experience to make a solid claim–as I did–that the whiskered man was John P. Minor. I have since acquired more skills, and conferred with relatives, to know with certainty that this is NOT J. P. Minor, and I have written two subsequent blog posts about this research here and here.

2) Readers did not collaborate before sharing.  I give my contact information for a reason–to collaborate.  I also have the “comments section” activated for a reason–to collaborate.  Had these tree climbers been willing to use either method I could have shared the newly discovered photographs, and collaborated on a possible identification of Mr. Chin Whiskers.  Instead, the readers perpetuated my error.

What’s a Geneablogger to do?

Well, I sure as heck will not stop blogging and sharing.  The collaborations and contacts have proven to be insightful, stimulating, and fun.  But I have established a few guidelines for error catching and correcting!!

1.)  If the error is perpetuated on Ancestry.com:  Leave a note in the photograph’s or document’s comment section attributing the original source, your blog, and stating the error that is perpetuated.  THEN contact the user directly with the Ancestry.com in-house mail, with the same message.

2.) Review the past post.  Delete the inaccurate information.  If the remaining text is nonsensical, delete the whole darn post.  If a wonderful story still deserves to be told, note that the post has been updated to reflect new information.  Don’t forget to update your tags and photo captions!!

3.) Up your game. If a post’s story is a mere “perhaps”, generate reader engagement.   Ask questions instead of making statements.  Write a piece of fiction, based on a piece of intriguing data, and ask readers if they think that interpretation to be likely given the source.  In short…if you are not confident that the family story is probably or certainly true, then flag the post as a work in progress.

I am a writer, a blogger, a family historian, a researcher, and collaborator.  I know by putting my work out here that it will sometimes be taken, reused with and without attribution to me.  That is the risk I take, gladly, willingly, for ultimately every reader is a potential friend and collaborator.

I am curious to know how other geneabloggers have handled this situation.  I look forward to reading your comments!!


On The Trail of S. A. Stevens : The Minor Family Album

The second, third, and fourth pages of the Minor Family Album were all taken by Oliver Eugene Aultman, in his West Main Street studio, in Trinidad, Colorado.  I made a thorough study of the photographs’ internal clues and narrowed down the timeframe for the shoot as being between 1889-1893.  With no annotations to aid my identification, I turned to the internet and googled the photographer.  This switch in focus may seem counterintuitive, but, as I reported here, perserverance paid off with an amazing, unexpected clue: the discovery of MY photograph in the online Aultman Collection shared by History Colorado.

So these folks are the Stevens Family

The online file confirmed that the photo had been taken in 1890, and the name associated with the woman was S. A. Stevens.

Still means nothing to me.

I found online copies Trinidad Directories from the 1890s and discovered that there was a Sanford H. Stevens living in Trinidad.

Still means nothing.

I searched the digital Denver Library files and found an 1892 photograph of Sanford H. Stevens surrounded by his colleagues at the Trinidad Advertiser where he was business manager.

Still no connection to me and mine.

Damn the fire that destroyed the 1890 census!

So relying on the 1850-1880 and the 1900 US Federal censuses, I reconstructed the life of this Sanford Stevens and found a sliver of a clue.  Sanford Stevens was born in 1849 to Greenwood W. and Maria Stevens, farmers in Monongalia County, (West) Virginia.  The family moved to Dunkard Township–just south of my family’s Greene Township home!!–by 1860.  Sanford was listed as a school teacher in Dunkard Township in 1870, and must have married soon after, for the 1880 census has Sanford and wife, Phoebe, farming and raising two children in Monongalia County.  Since they sat for a photograph in 1890, the family moved west sometime in the 1880s.  By 1900, the Stevens family was complete, and Sanford and Phoebe were living on Colorado Avenue, Trinidad with four children, Clyde (1875), Frank G. (1877), Chellie M. (1881), and Mary E. (1884).

So this is Sanford H. Stevens.

One in a set of three photographs taken by Trinidad, Colorado photographer, Oliver Eugene Aultman, in 1890 and sent to the Marion and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor Family. Located in the Minor Photograph Album, archived with author.

And this is Phoebe Stevens.

One in a set of three photographs taken by Trinidad, Colorado photographer, Oliver Eugene Aultman, in 1890 and sent to the Marion and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor Family. Located in the Minor Photograph Album, archived with author.

And, from left to right, these are Clyde, Chellie, Frank, and Mary Stevens.

One in a set of three photographs taken by Trinidad, Colorado photographer, Oliver Eugene Aultman, in 1890 and sent to the Marion and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor Family. Located in the Minor Photograph Album, archived with author.

But. Why are these folks in the album?

I googled my accumulated terms–Sanford, Stevens, Trinidad, history, Advertiser, newspaper–and hit upon a 1913 Semi-centennial History of the State of Colorado, Volume 2, by Jerome Smiley.  Page three hundred and thirty was my perserverance reward, three glorious paragraphs describing Sanford H. Stevens’ family, employment, and public service. And most importantly yielding the golden ticket, the clue that solves my mystery.

Sanford H. Stevens was married in 1873 to Phoebe H. Evans, daughter of Benjamin Evans. OH!  I know that name!!

That’s it!!!

That is THE connection. Benjamin Brice Evans was married to Margaret Minor and Margaret was the sister of Francis Marion, my great-grandfather.  Mary Jane included these photographs because they were her niece’s family, folks who had successfully navigated their way to an exciting new life out west.

With tremendous satisfaction, I introduce Phoebe Evans Stevens, the Minor link to Trinidad, Colorado.

One in a set of three photographs taken by Trinidad, Colorado photographer, Oliver Eugene Aultman, in 1890 and sent to the Marion and Mary Jane Gwynne Minor Family. Located in the Minor Photograph Album, archived with author.