Friday, July 22, 2016

Mennonite mystery, ehh?

       
Julius Otterbein was born in Canada
For a mystery writer like myself, genealogy is the perfect hobby.  It's full of quandaries that are fun to solve.
         My most recent mystery involved the German ancestors of my friend Steve Otterbein. His ggggreat grandfather Germanus Otterbein immigrated to Baltimore in 1851 with his wife and two kids. By the 1860 census he had moved his family to Grand Rapids, MI., where Steve grew up a century later and many relatives remain today.
         The census revealed, however, that Germanus made a detour between Baltimore and Grand Rapids. Three of his six children on the 1860 census were born in Canada. He and his family must have lived there from 1852 to 1857. The plot thickened when I searched online and discovered mention of Germanus in the Mennonite archives in Waterloo, Ontario.  The Otterbeins have always been Roman Catholic. Why would they be in Mennonite archives?
          At the Otterbein reunion in Colorado this summer, I found the answer in a notebook about some Canadian Otterbein families. According to "The Trail of the Black Walnut," a 1957 book by George Elmore Reaman, many immigrants left Germany because they were trying to avoid military service. They arrived here with few possessions.  Mennonite settlements took them in and gave them work to do until they could get on their feet again. Sort of like the way modern churches provided assistance to Vietnamese and Sudanese refugees, and undoubtedly will help Syrian refugees.
           It's humbling to realize we all need a helping hand now and then, and gratifying to know aid was handled in such an organized manner more than a century ago. But it's going to confuse some Syrian genealogists in the future.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dusty dust

      

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
        That Bible verse seemed particularly appropriate recently as I dragged my mother and brother all over Missouri trying to track down the graves of ancestors we had never met. I even recruited a long ago family friend, Paul Heiholt, who was a neighbor of my Grandmother many years ago.  Now Paul is the manager of a huge ranch that has encompassed the land where the graves of my grandmother's grandparents are located.
        With Paul's help, and his all-wheel drive truck,  we rumbled across the hayfields, dry creek bed and Missouri hills to the little square patch where C.P. Tharp, two of his wives, four of their daughters and a couple grandkids were buried between 1848 and 1897. Recent rainstorms had knocked down branches from a tree in the small graveyard. Paul had to haul out branches and set up a couple broken stones so we could see them, but many of the other stones were buried or too broken to stand up.
       Paul said he plans to be cremated when he dies. "In 20 years nobody cares about the graves anyway."
        Except genealogy nuts like me. Earlier, my brother and I had driven way back into the Mark Twain National Forest looking for Mill Creek Cemetery where John Wesley Merrell, my great-great-great grandfather, was buried along with many other Merrell relatives. I braved a "beware of dog" sign to knock on the door of a purple house to get permission to drive through a fenced cow pasture to complete our quest. We discovered that John's tombstone had survived beautifully but most the other graves we sought that week had not.
        High on a hill near Bismark, Mo., we looked for the Tullock ancestors who had moved to Missouri long before it became a state in 1821. Weeds had swallowed up most of the stones, and those we found were unreadable. We discovered another small Tullock cemetery in a grove of trees in the front yard of a fancy subdivision. The homeowner's dogs sniffed and barked as we felt the stones trying to read the letters etched away by time.
        Dust to dust applies to more than our bones. The granite markers wash away too. Even the stone erected 50 years ago for my mother's mother had been attacked by lichen since we last visited five years ago. We scraped it away as best we could and left the flowers we had brought. A little vanity against the ravages of time.













Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Go Grandma!

        
        Today, June 16,would have been my Grandmother's 114th birthday.  I suspect this photo I found of her in braids was probably taken a century ago when she was a young teen.
        She was one of a dozen kids born on a farm in southern Missouri. The biggest event when she was growing up was the annual reunion of ex-Confederate soldiers on nearby Barnitz Lake.
          Although she and grandpa met in St. Louis and lived in the city, they kept a weekend cabin in the country about a mile down the dirt road from the large white farm house where Grandma was born. We kids always considered her a hero of sorts and love to tell stories about her fighting off a snapping turtle at the swimming hole.
          Since she lived in the city and used public transit or walked to the store and church, she didn't learn to drive until she and grandpa retired to the farm. It was a good thing she learned to drive. Grandpa died a few years later and she was alone at age 68.
         But she was tough. I remember once when she was in her 70s she got her hand caught in the wringer washer and pulled the skin off her thumb. She wrapped it in a dishtowel, finished making a pie and delivered it to the church before heading to the doctor.
              When she was in her 80s her farmhouse was struck by lightning and caught on fire twice.  The first time she put out the fire with the garden hose. The second time the fire was too far along when it woke her. The electricity was off and the pump didn't work. She escaped in her nightgown and watched her home burn to the ground. She waded through a swollen creek and walked barefoot a mile down a dirt road to her brother's house.
             Grandma died almost 22 years ago, but I know she's watching us even now. Happy Birthday Maxine Tharp Merrell!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Take a bow

            
Watching tonight's Tony Awards I fell in love with theater all over again.
             Even in my living room I couldn't help but applaud as if these great Broadway performers could hear me.   I love the voices, the dancing, the raging emotions, the innovative stories and flashy costumes.
              But more than anything else I love the diversity. The stage looks like our country. Young, old, black, white, Latino, Asian, even deaf. As the host James Corden said, the Tonys are the Oscars with diversity, and it's true. American Theatre is the best and brightest our country has to offer from the innovative rap of "Hamilton" to the sign language of "Spring Awakening".
              And the show's response to the horrifying news of the day...a mass shooting in Orlando..was sensitive and heartfelt, from the lapel ribbons everyone wore to setting aside the prop muskets normally used in "Hamilton," to Lin-Manuel Miranda's sonnet about the tragedy.
             The Tonys broadcast topped a weekend in which I reviewed two shows and spent several hours Saturday working with my fellow Encore Michigan reviewers to come up with the nominees for this year's Wilde Awards -- Michigan's version of the Tonys. I am delighted to have this small role in local theater and be a part of this ingenious industry.
             We all know our hateful, violent world must change. And I believe American theater has the love, creativity and innovation to lead the way.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Too many cooks

      
It's always fun to stumble upon an ancestor whose story makes you laugh out loud.
       Andrew Foutz was a pacifist Dutchman who married my gggreat aunt Rachel Merrell about 1771 in Rowan County, North Carolina. Now that was the same year that one of my gggreat uncles Benjamin Merrell was hung for treason for defying the British governor of North Carolina. Benjamin was considered a hero to a lot of the colonists, and the Merrells were rabid Sons of Liberty.
      Although most of the Foutz family refused to support the Revolution, poor Andy must have felt pressure from the Merrells to join. But he tried to do a task that didn't offend his pacifist leanings. He was General Washington's cook.
       According to Rise to Rebellion by Jeff Shaara, that didn't work exactly as planned.
      

I have two cooks ... one of them, Mr. Foutz ... fancies himself quite the expert in worldly cuisine,” General Washington is quoted as telling Benjamin Franklin. “If we fed this army in the same manner Mr. Foutz has attempted to feed me, there would be mass desertion. He actually set out an elaborate dinner whose main attraction was bugs. Covered in some kind of sauce, mind you, but bugs nonetheless. I made the decision at that moment that Mr. Foutz would better serve this army by shouldering a musket."





      

Monday, May 30, 2016

Where have all the flowers gone?

Irvin Walker died of illness a few months after he "joined"
      Since Memorial Day originally started out as Decoration Day to remember those who died in the Civil War, I thought maybe I should mention some of my ancestors who fought in that war.
      Most of my relatives who served in the Union Army survived. My mother's grandfather,Granville Coleman, was born in Virginia but his family moved to Missouri when he was a child. He joined the Missouri Cavalry when he was 16 and fought at the Battle of Pilot Knob, the opening engagement of Gen. Sterling Price's raid on Missouri in 1864. Granville fell off his horse and was dragged along the ground. He was hospitalized for much of the remainder of the war.
     Granville's father-in-law, William Nicholas Rogers, was a lead miner from England. He served in the Missouri Infantry. They were fighting in Louisiana in  February, 1863, when Nick developed such severe lung disease that he was transported by ambulance boat up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Although Nick and Granville both received small pensions for their ailments, they lived well into the 20th Century.
      Robert B. Walker, my father's great-grandfather, went to Springfield, Ill., in February, 1864, to join the Illinois Infantry, although he was most likely rounded up in Missouri by Union soldiers and forced to join.  He survived the war but died in 1877, the same year his daughter, Dad's grandmother, was born. She was orphaned five years later when her mother died as well.
        Robert's brother, Irvin B.Walker, was 36 and planning to sit this one out when he was "recruited" in  the fall of 1864 to serve in the 48th Missouri Infantry guarding the railroad from Rolla to St. Louis. He became sick at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis and died in January, 1865, about three months after he joined. He was one of 120 in the regiment to die of illness that winter.
       Even more of the Confederate cousins died. The Coleman relatives who stayed behind in Virginia joined the Confederacy. John was killed at Richmond in 1862. Brothers Joseph and Thomas were wounded at Gettysburg and became prisoners of war.
        Andrew Tullock, one of my mother's gggreat uncles, lost his legs in the war, came back and lived with his brother but died a few years later. Another uncle Andrew J. Tullock died as a Confederate soldier at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas in 1862. His brother Samuel was killed in battle a year later.
       Oh the futility of it all! I can't help thinking about that '60s folk song, "Where have all the Flowers Gone?"  If you are out decorating graves today, sing  a verse for me.

"...when will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"


Monday, May 23, 2016

Tale of two cousins

          
Kit Carson
Last week I told you about my gggreat uncle James Jamison who was considered an outlaw during the Civil War but became one of the most famous lawmen in Texas. This week I'll tell you about his cousin who was also praised and scorned. Perhaps you've heard of him: Kit Carson.
         Actually Jim and Kit were third cousins. They shared the same great-great grandfather: Moses Carson. And since Jim's sister, Anna, was my grandmother's grandmother, I suppose I'm a distant cousin of Kit Carson too.
         But fame, I've come to understand, is something you want to touch with a long pole.
         Carson was born in Kentucky but moved to Missouri when he was just a baby. His parents settled near Boone's Lick in the middle of the state and were friends with the sons of Daniel Boone. Kit's father died when he was 8 and Kit was apprenticed to a saddle-maker in nearby Franklin.
          Now Franklin is a town where less than a hundred people live today, but in 1821 when Missouri became a state, Franklin was one of the most popular cities. That's where the Santa Fe trail began. People stopped by the saddle shop on their way West. It wasn't long before 16-year-old Kit joined a wagon train full of trappers.
          He supposedly killed his first Indian when he was 19 and became known for his ability to hunt and kill Indians who had attacked settlers or stolen their horses.
          In the 1840s John C. Fremont hired him as a guide for his expeditions mapping the Oregon Trail  and California. Fremont's reports brought national fame to Kit Carson. By 1847 exaggerated versions of Carson's adventures filled dime novels that everyone read.
            Carson served in the Mexican-American War and led New Mexico's Union troops during the Civil War. Since there weren't many Confederates to fight in New Mexico, Carson spent most of the war fighting Apaches and Navajo.
             Carson served as an Indian agent for the Utes and one of his final acts was to accompany Ute chiefs to Washington so they could plead their case to President Johnson. He died in Colorado in 1868 of an aortic aneurysm.        
          In the 20th Century,  many historians criticized Carson's participation the military's slaughter of whole Indian villages during the Civil War era.  Tales of his early Indian fighting years also show an over-eagerness to kill Indians whether they were a threat or not.
          Fame is a fickle thing. The same public opinion that calls you a hero can turn into hatred and blame. Cousin Jim would understand.