Peacocks and Virden memories

Last week I visited family in Arizona. Somehow, one of my childhood memories came up in our conversation. My memory was fairly vague: We were visiting the small town of Virden (my mom’s hometown) when I was a young girl. My sister and I stayed in a small house by ourselves, and we were terrified of leaving the next morning because of the big, mean birds outside.

My sister remembered that we were about 10, the big birds were peacocks and that they butted their heads against the door all night. My mom was aghast that she would leave us alone all night at a stranger’s home.

 

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We spoke with my mom’s sisters and parents about who might own peacocks in Virden. My mom also considered the families she would leave us with in Virden. After much conversation and a hand-drawn map we arrived at the following: we stayed at Grandma Gruel’s house (a grandmother’s small house next to my mom’s relatives Donald and Myrtle) on the lot adjoining my grandparent’s home. The peacocks belonged to the Hatch family and must have gotten loose. The occasion was either my grandmother Elizabeth’s funeral in November, 1983 or my grandfather’s marriage to my stepgrandmother in June, 1984.

The map, while not drawn to scale, shows all the relevant info. My grandparent’s house is at the bottom (labeled Elizabeth and LeRoss). The Hatch family lived next to them, and Donald and Myrtle lived behind my grandparents.

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At the end of our conversation, my mother decided she wasn’t such a bad mother after all since (in her adult mind) Donald and Myrtle’s house and the nearby grandmother’s house was not that far away. However, there was a barn and a big pasture (at least to young city girls) in between the house where we stayed and my grandparent’s house where my parents likely stayed with my younger sisters. To city girls, crossing a pasture was kind of scary, even if peacocks weren’t around. When peacocks were around and seemed intent on chasing us, staying in that little house, and especially coming out the next morning, was terrifying.

It was only through involving lots of people that we were able to reconstruct one of my childhood memories and get a variety of perspectives on what happened. In another post, I will talk about reconstructing my earliest childhood memories involving frogs in our basement.

Have you tried to create one of your childhood memories by talking with others who were there?

Photo of peacock courtesy of Alex Pronove at WikiMedia Commons

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Heritage Trip to Thetford, Vermont

To celebrate the successful completion of my thesis and master’s degree, I took a relaxing last-minute heritage trip to Thetford, Vermont, home of my Loyalist ancestor.

The main focus of the trip was to take some well-earned relaxation, but I chose to go to Thetford so I could make it a heritage trip. Usually when one takes a research trip, hours of preparation go into reviewing online categories and deciding which repositories to visit. While I recommend preparation, due to the last-minute nature of this trip, I was not prepared and was ok with that.

I arranged to spend a few hours at the Thetford Historical Society (which is a gem and well worth your time) and have a few hundred pictures of documents, although most are secondary, unfortunately.

The bulk of my time in Thetford was spent relaxing (to celebrate the thesis being done) and driving around to get a sense of what it might have looked like during the short time he lived there. The area is mostly heavily wooded, just as it probably was when he lived there, as it was a relatively new settlement in the mid to late 1700s. Getting a sense of the lay of the land will hopefully prove to be very helpful once I begin researching.

I visited the cemetery, although I don’t think any of my family is buried there as the Sumner family was only in the area for a few years.

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Don’t delay visiting the home towns of your ancestors just because you haven’t put in hours of preparation. If the chance to visit comes up unexpectedly, just go. You will feel the power of walking in the general area where they walked, and having a sense of the lay of the land may prove fruitful in future research.

Have you ever embarked on a last-minute trip, where the itinerary included something related to your research? How did it go?

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Please check back in summer 2016

I am in the final months of writing my master’s thesis, which will be finished in summer 2016. Once that is submitted, Bridging the Past will be back with new blog posts and talks on social history.

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Sharing Family Stories with the Younger Generation

My sisters and their families met up with my parents and me for our family reunion in Indiana in July. My mother’s grandfather, Robert Ison, who died before she was born, came from Kentucky and my mom wanted to let the grandchildren know about this side of the family, since we were just across the state border. She enlisted my help, but did most of the work.

After taking what she knew, and pulling stories and pictures from FamilySearch.org, she put together a kid-friendly booklet, enhanced with clipart. She asked me to pull in family pictures-there were some that I had never seen before.

Doc Ison & Elizabeth Fraley (grandparents of Robert Ison)

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Richmond Ison & Martha Rice

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I also added pictures from the petrified stone fence that Robert built in Arizona. I had seen it as a child, but didn’t realize it was still standing. Of course now it’s illegal to take any stones, so there is a fence around the fence to protect it. This picture doesn’t show just how beautiful and colorful the petrified wood really is.

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I also added in some photos and remembrances of my visit to Isonville about 15 years ago, to make it more personal (see below). I hope the kids enjoyed reading it as much as my mom and I enjoyed putting it together. Have you done something similar with your descendants? Would love seeing others ideas.

Aunt Lori Lyn’s trip to Isonville, fall 2000 or 2001

I was going to school in Ohio and really wanted to see Isonville because I had heard so much about it. It wasn’t very far away so I drove down one day. Isonville is very small. The main part of town has a small elementary school and a couple of houses. The rest of the town is very spread out. The people there are so nice.

I didn’t know where to go so I went inside the school. It was open and everyone was so friendly. They helped me find some people who could tell me about Richmond Ison and his family. One of the families fed me watermelon and corn on the cob while they told me about what happened when they were very little (they were a grandma and grandpa when I met them). They remembered hearing their grandma and grandpa and other “old folks” talk about Richmond and how crazy he was to leave Kentucky to be with the Mormons. They didn’t know what happened to them, so I was able to tell them the good things that happened when Richmond moved to Arizona.

They told me where to find the cemetery and I found the graves of Lucy and Walter. I know that Richmond and Martha must have had a really hard time leaving them behind when they moved to Arizona.

The country was so beautiful. Have you heard read “Where the Red Fern Grows” or “Summer of the Monkeys”? They are both set in the swamp bottoms. Isonville is in the swamp bottoms too. It is really pretty, but is also very hilly. The roads are so curvy that I almost got car sick when I was driving!

I saw the fire engine bus and had to take a picture. I don’t know if it still works or not, but I bet it would be really fun to ride in.

It was so special to be in Kentucky where some of our ancestors lived, and to see what it looked like, and meet some people who remembered hearing about Richmond.

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The Power of Standing Where Your Ancestors Stood

A few weeks ago my family gathered for a reunion in southern Indiana, just over the border from Kentucky, where my mom’s grandfather came from. She was excited to be so close to the state of her grandfather’s ancestry and worked hard to develop a book of pictures and stories about our Kentucky ancestors to share with her grandchildren. Her desire was to cross the border into Kentucky–even though we were near western Kentucky and her ancestors came from eastern Kentucky.

She was able to make that trip with her husband and all 6 kids. We barely went over the border, and took a picture of a sign with the word Kentucky in it. She was thrilled and could barely contain her excitement to stand on Kentucky soil.

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Several years ago I made the trip to Isonville, Kentucky. I talked with some old-timers who remembered their grandparents talking about crazy Richmond Ison who left Kentucky to join the Mormons in Arizona and wondering what ever happened to him. They directed me to the cemetery with the gravestones of Richmond and Martha’s two young children. How it must have broken their heart to leave these little graves behind. It was such a wonderful experience to drive around the little town and countryside and walk where they walked in the cemetery.

The first time I had this experience is when I lived in Ohio and was a brand new genealogist. My 3rd great grandfather Levi Savage was born about an hour where I lived. I showed up at the town archives and they very kindly took me under their wing and helped me trace from the 1820ish land deeds to current deeds and the current address. Due to their kindness, I was able to stand near where he lived, although I was hesitant to trespass so just stood on the street corner. The land was not developed, so I was able to get a sense of how it might have looked when Levi and his family lived there. It was powerful.

Have you had the opportunity to stand where your ancestors stood? How did you feel?

 

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Making medicine the way my ancestors did

I spent this weekend in Plymouth, MA. Saturday morning I participated in a salve-making workshop at Plimoth Plantation. Just like our ancestors, we decided which ailments we wanted to heal, decided which herbs would be best, and participated in making the salve from start to finish.

There were only 2 participants, so lots of hands-on time. Sydney and I each decided we wanted a salve that would soothe muscle and joint pain and inflammation. Together we came up with the following list of herbs: comfrey, St John’s wort, marshmallow, callendula, smallage, rosemary, and salad burnet.

We then went out to the gardens at Plimoth Plantation to pick what we needed. We filled two big baskets–we took flowers, leaves and stalks.

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We then went back to the work area and ripped up all the buds, flowers, leaves and stalks. This is Sydney. We filled that casserole dish about 1/2 – 3/4 full.

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We covered it all with olive oil and let it simmer for 2 hours. While an intern kept watch over the herbs, the workshop leader and participants went back into the village and learned more about plants. We also spent some time talking with one of the interpreters who knew quite a bit about medicine. She mentioned that while salves were made, herbs were limited in the early years of Plymouth for most people, so often herbs were used fresh. As an example, she had just been stung by a wasp and rubbed fresh thin leaf plantain and a few other herbs on it while we talked. She also mentioned bloodletting was usually done in the spring to purge the toxicity from the heavy winter diet.

Once the herbs had simmered for 2 hours and looked like this, we strained them through cheesecloth, put the pot back on the burner and melted beeswax.

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At that point it was ready to pour into jars. It will keep for about a year.

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In the 1600s they would have used pottery salve pots like these, covered tightly with paper or cloth, for storage.

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I definitely gained a greater appreciation for all the hard work involved. I am becoming better at gardening, but am still not an expert. I broke the pruning shears and was very grateful for the breaks in the AC on a hot day. We didn’t slave over a fire, but used a stove burner.

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Remembering James Marshall Mathers

James is the brother of my 3rd great grandmother.  He fought for the Union in the Civil War and was killed leading a cavalry charge against a surprise attack from Confederate forces on August 11, 1864. He left behind a sweetheart, but was not married as far as I know. Since he has no descendants, I wanted to give him a special shout out on Memorial Day.

James Mathers

Most of my ancestors were out in Utah by the time the Civil War started, so Civil War service in my family is rare. Perhaps that is one of the reasons James holds a special place in my heart. Family was dear to him. Here is a picture of James with his little sister Annie. He came all the way out to Utah with Johnston’s Army just to meet his little nephew, Levi M. Levi remembers that Uncle James gave him a red pair of boots–he cherished that memory all his life.

James and Annie Mathers

US Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, James “Enlisted in Company L, Michigan 6th Cavalry Regiment on 13 Oct 1862.Promoted to Full 1st Lieutenant on 16 Mar 1863.Promoted to Full Captain on 31 Oct 1863.Mustered out on 11 Aug 1864 at Winchester, VA.” The mustering out would be at his death. This website gives an overview of all the different places the Michigan 6th Calvary served, including Gettysburg.

In June 2006 I was privileged to find his grave in the national cemetery in Winchester, Virginia and honor him.

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