29 June 2010

For TOMBSTONE TUESDAY: A Wonderful Gift!

A very nice couple in Omaha kindly posted a picture of my mother and stepfather's gravesite on FindaGrave.Com.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

28 June 2010

Aunt Dorothy R.I.P.? Not Yet.

Last month I posted about my feelings for my Aunt Dorothy Grace (McNeill Walker) Nitzsche (1912-1948) and my desire to find her gravesite.  It was not in her obituary so the next obvious step was to order a copy of her death certificate which I did, and it arrived last week.

I was a little disappointed to discover she had been cremated on the realization there might not be any marker for her, but realizing still her ashes might have been interred I knew more research was required.  The certificate said she had been cremated by "California Crematory" which no longer exists by that name.  Some more digging and I discovered it still survives under the name "Chapel of the Chimes."

I called the Chapel and was pleased to get a friendly, caring and helpful lady.  I asked if there was any record of my aunt's remains having been interred?  She put me on hold for several minutes while she looked in her records, Dorothy died sixty-two years ago, these are not records at your finger tips.  The nice lady came back on and said "We have your aunt but I am afraid, she is not interred."  She goes on to explain that the ashes were originally handed off to Dorothy's husband John M. Nitzsche (1905-????), but nine years later her ashes had been discovered in an abandoned apartment in Berkeley, and since they still had the name of the crematory on the container the police returned them to the crematory.  My aunt Dorothy's remains were now being held in storage with the remains of everyone else who were not wanted.  I was stunned and shocked, thanked the nice lady, and hung up.

I began gathering my thoughts.  Obviously my first thought was that my Dad and my Uncle, the last two surviving siblings from this large family, will need to be contacted.  But second all the surrounding questions began.  What happened to her husband, and how did her ashes get abandoned?  Was there a police record?  I called the nice lady at the Chapel back.  She said the only records she had left were from when they took possession of Dorothy's body, which included the order for cremation.  She would check them but it would take a couple hours and call me back, which she did.  The only new thing we learned relevant was that Dorothy's ashes were destined for Cheyenne, Wyoming for interment. Cheyenne was the home of my grandfather Keith Glenn Walker (1894-1980) who adopted Dorothy after marrying her mother, my grandmother Mattie Mae (Needham) Walker (1884-1938).  I asked the lady at the Chapel if I could have copies of all the records mailed to me, and she said yes, and I received them today.

I cannot believe how many times the ball was dropped!!  First there is the gem of a husband who never got her ashes to Cheyenne nor made any permanent plans for them.  Conceivably it can all be laid at his feet.  Indeed while my grandfather never completely followed up, perhaps he was unable to, perhaps John Nitzsche disappeared?  And did my grandfather make arrangements for her interment in Cheyenne, did he pay for a space?  No one survives who would know.  Then there are all my Walker relatives, a huge family albeit with a limited presence in northern California, eight of her siblings survived her and for sixty-two years not one stumbled onto the fact that her remains were missing?!?  Unreal.  Such is a commentary on how contemporary society, and my relatives in particular, feel about cemeteries and things related.

Now what to do?  The first decision is left up to my father and his brother, as I said, the last two surviving siblings.  I am confident they will rectify the situation.  But if they don't, my two sons and I have already decided we will.  We wouldn't be able to live with the guilt if we didn't.  "Treat others as you would want them to treat you in the same situation" is our motto.

So aunt Dorothy may not yet "rest in peace."  But she will.  And whatever happened to her husband is a mystery yet to be solved.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

24 June 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday: Father-Daughter Letters

One of the casualties of the Great Depression was my grandfather Bruce Gibson's (1903-1994) logging business in Arizona, forcing him to go into bankruptcy.  He quickly began rebuilding his life caring for his family principally by overseeing the building of roads and highways in northern California.  This was the late 1940s, a time of a huge boom in housing and transportation, but also the monstrous discovery of oil overseas.  Roads needed to be built to ferry the oil out of the fields and into heating homes and propelling automobiles.  So on the behalf of the the huge oil companies my grandfather packed his bags for points abroad.

He regularly wrote his three daughters, my mother Brenda Kay (1938-1989) included.  In our family treasure chest we have a collection of just some of these letters and postcards to my mom.  They represent Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Anchorage, Alaska.  One of my aunts tells me she still has her letters too.

Remember, you can enlarge the picture by clicking on it.

 Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

20 June 2010

Sentimental Sunday: Father's Day -- Dear Dad, You Did the Best You Could!!

Dear Dad,

Usually when someone says "you did the best that you could" it is intended as a platitude to comfort someone who fell short.  I am going to say it and mean it to its fullest intention -- YOU DID THE BEST THAT YOU COULD!  And nothing more could be asked of any of us.

You have been a great Dad. When I was young, you went out of your way to spend time with me.  You took me hunting when my boots were so big on my feet they got pulled off by the sucking mud.  You took me fishing when learning water wears down stone.  You took me camping when I was too excited to sleep that "relaxing with my eyes closed" was almost as good as sleep.  You took me around the USA.  You took me to Canada.  You took me deep into Mexico. You showed me a world outside my immediate surroundings.  You would make sure I was experientially enlightened.

The divorce judge told you that you could have my brother and me every other weekend.  So you made sure to take us every other weekend!  If that was all you were going to get, then that is what you were going to use to its fullest!  You would take us to the movies or the ballgame, but sometimes you would just take us to your apartment and watch tv, because you were going to spend with us all the time the law allotted you to spend with us, recognizing the importance of a present father, regardless the activity we spent together.  I grew up in a generation of broken homes.  Do you know what an exception you were?!?  Most of my peers were "abandoned" by their broken-off parent!  You were different, you evidently cared!  And that was not lost on me.

I am not an only child.  I willingly share you with my brother.  You were a public school teacher for what, thirty-five years?  I necessarily share you with tens of thousands of students to whom you dedicated your best.

But dearest Dad, there are things that are just mine.  Until I was three, you sang me to sleep with the "Wabash Cannonball."

With apologies to my younger brother whom I love, there were some advantages to being the first born.  On Sunday mornings before church, we read the newspaper together.

And then there are the stupid dogs.  It was you who introduced them to me.  It was you who taught me to love them.  It was you who set me on the road to raising and training and competing with them.

I love you Dad.  Life threw its curve balls at you, and you not only never stepped out of the batter box, you choked up on the bat!  Be proud.  Recognize you did the best that you humanly could.  And that is the most that can be asked of any one of us.

Happy Father's Day.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

18 June 2010

Follow Friday: The You Go Genealogy Girls

My heart and soul belong to Nebraska (despite my never having lived there), and these two Nebraska grandmas make me wish I was ridin' right along with them on their family research travels!

The bonus for me is that both Ruby and Cheri have multiple blogs, so I am not stuck just waiting for the one to be updated to get my Nebraska fix.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

Bohemian Congregation of Freethinkers

I am a religious scholar by vocation, so I was excited to learn something new from a copy of a marriage license for my step-mom's grandparents.  It is from Chicago (Cook County, Illinois), dated 26 Oct 1907, and states that Vaclav Derfler (age 25) and Caroline Vykoukova (age 19) were united in marriage by minister Frank B. Zrubek of the "Bohemian Congregation of Freethinkers."  That was new!

From the Encyclopedia of Chicago History article of "Free Thought" --
Free thought embraced reason and anticlericalism, and freethinkers formed their ideas about religion independently of tradition, authority, and established belief. A product of the Enlightenment, free thought was deist, not atheist. In nineteenth-century Chicago, freethinkers, many of them immigrants from Europe, institutionalized irreligion.

Within Bohemian (Czech) Pilsen, on the city's Southwest Side, the irreligious might have outnumbered the religious six to one, and they built an elaborate social network. The Congregation of Bohemian Freethinkers of Chicago, Svobodna obec Chicagu, founded in 1870, became a central community institution. That congregation published the largest Czech-language newspaper in the city. These freethinkers set up building and benevolent societies, maintained a school and a library, organized children's programs and adult lectures, and sponsored musical and dramatic programs. Their congregation offered secular baptisms for their children and secular funerals, in the Bohemian National Cemetery, for their dead. . . .
From Encyclopedia of Chicago History article on "Czechs and Bohemians" --
Religious or philosophical differences divided Chicago Czechs and their institutions. Although most Czechs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were content to subscribe to the state religion on official documents, with the result that the overwhelming majority identified themselves as Catholics, many emigrants espoused free thought (rationalist) and socialist views in the United States. The immigrant institutions founded as the Czechs became established, including mutual benefit societies, fraternal organizations, savings and loan associations, and gymnastic societies (Sokols), were frequently identified with one group or another within the community. Schools were attached either to Catholic parishes or to freethinkers' societies. Burial was equally segregated: the Bohemian National Cemetery, a cemetery for freethinkers, was founded in 1877 and remains in existence today. The immigrant press was also divided. By the 1920s there were four main Czech-language newspapers in Chicago: the Narod (Nation, founded 1894) served the Catholic community, Svornost (Concord, founded 1875) served the freethinkers, Spravedlnost ( Justice, founded 1900) served the socialists, and the DennĂ­ Hlasatel (Daily Herald, founded 1891) was a “neutral” paper for the larger Midwestern Czech community.
Again from the article on "Free Thought" --
Free thought became disreputable in the minds of native-born elites, as it increasingly attracted a working-class audience after 1875. By the end of the century, free thinkers were becoming socialists, and institutionalized free thought barely survived into the twentieth century.
A cursory read of other sources indicate there is a lot more to the story!  There are accounts of free thought in the old country; There are accounts of free thought religious meetings ("revivals"), and there are interesting interactions between the freethinkers and the Christian evangelicals of the era, remember these are the days of D.L. Moody.

But my job is to find out how this movement influenced Vaclav and Caroline.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

15 June 2010

An Incredible Photo Restoration

The guys over at Legacy Family Tree News Blog posted a before and after example of the photo restoration done for them by Miles at 399retouch.com and I was so blown away I had to submit one of my own.

This is a picture of Mattie Mae Needham (1884-1938) with her parents Arthur Herrick Needham (1831-1921) and Camilla Elizabeth Needham (nee. Porter, 1844-1910).  Mattie was born in 1884, so I date this picture circa 1895.  Mattie was my Dad's mother, and my grandmother.  Arthur and Camilla were therefore my Dad's maternal grandparents, and my great-grandparents.  This is the picture before the restoration done by 399retouch.com --

And here is the picture after the restoration by 399retouch.com --

The difference absolutely blows me away!  Miles not only fixed the damage to the photo, but he brought my ancestors to life!  Click on the pictures to blow them up to larger size.  Look at the details, the cut of the ladies' dresses, the wear on their hands.  My wife said "those are working hands."  Unreal.

Anyway, the price was fair for the work done, and the feeling the results gave me.  If I need anymore pictures restored, I would definitely give Miles first crack at it.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

14 June 2010

Amanuensis Monday: The Biography of Norman John Dutton (1810-1888)

(Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.  "Amanuensis Monday" is a blogging theme hosted by John Newmark at the Transylvanian Dutch Genealogy Blog.)

DUTTON, NORMAN, farmer and
stock raiser ; Sec. 9 ; P. 0. Metamora ;
one of the early settlers of the county ;
was born in Lamoille Co., Vt., Feb. 14,
1810 ; he resided there until he was 23
years of age, and then came to Lake Co.,
Ohio, where he remained two years ; he
then came to Illinois, spending a year in
Morgan Co., and settled in Woodford
Co. in 1836 ; he was married Nov. 7,
1835, to Mrs. Nancy Dutton, of Morgan
Co., who was born in Canada ; she died
in March, 1868, leaving six children-
Louisa L.: Samuel S.: James H., Julia
E. ; the oldest two being the children
of her former husband ; Mr. Dutton was
married again June 6: 1869, to Miss
Maria Sleeper, who was born in
Hillsborough Co., N.H., Dec. 1, 1825;
he owns 100 acres of land valued at $6,400.
Before I found this entry, all indication was leading me to believe Norman was my direct ancestor, father of Louisa, my great-great-grandmother.  But this simple little paragraph provided me with two clues to a small little family research sidetrack.  The first clue was obvious, "the oldest two children were of a former husband."  Louisa was second oldest, she was not Norman's daughter!  So who was her father?  Second clue, her mother Nancy's surname is shown as "Dutton" the same as Norman's.  But her maiden name was "Smith."  Further research would show Nancy's first husband, and Louisa's father, and my g-g-g-grandfather was Samuel Dutton (1808-1835), Norman's older brother.  Nancy was widowed for seven months before marrying Norman.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

08 June 2010

Tombstone Tuesday: Arthur H. and Camilla E. Needham

 Following yesterday's post on the biography of Frank Needham, I thought today I might go with his parents.  This is the joint gravesite of Arthur Herrick Needham --
Arthur H.
Sept 7, 1831 - March 24, 1921
Member 2nd Iowa Cavalry
-- and Camilla Elizabeth Needham (nee. Porter) --
Camilla E.
Apr 11, 1844 - Feb 2, 1910
She hath done what she could. Mark 14-8
Here are Camilla and Arthur pictured holding my late aunts Frances Irene "Jennifer" McNeill Walker Ball (1909-1993) and Beulah Lee McNeill Walker Wistrom (1907-1980).

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

07 June 2010

Amanuensis Monday: The Biography of Frank E. Needham (1866-1932)

(Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.  "Amanuensis Monday" is a blogging theme hosted by John Newmark at the Transylvanian Dutch Genealogy Blog.)

FRANK E. NEEDHAM is a substantial
citizen of Custer county, where he owns valuable
farm lands and also a business building
and a cream station in the town of Arnold.
He has spent almost his entire life thus far
in Nebraska and hence considers himself almost
in the light of a native son. He was
born at Princeton, Iowa, August 3. 1866, one
of the four children of Arthur H. and Camelia
(Porter) Needham, the others being: Leroy,
who married Grace Chappie : Bertha, who is
the wife of Grant Mills : and Mattie M., who
is the wife of Keith Walker. The mother of
Mr. Needham died February 20, 1900, but his
father survives and makes his home with his
daughter Bertha (Mrs. Mills), at Forest
Grove, Oregon.

Frank E. Needham was two years old when
his parents brought him to Nebraska and settled
twelve miles east of Lincoln. In 1882 removal
was made to Custer county and a preemption
claim was secured, situated five miles
south of Arnold. There Frank E. Needham
grew up, having as many advantages as the
ordinary farmer boy at that time, as to schooling
and recreation. He remembers that the
Fourth of July was about the greatest day in
the year's calendar, and to celebrate it seemed
almost a patriotic duty. He found, one year,
that he would have to earn the money in order
to enjoy celebrating, and therefore he engaged
to plow a neighbor's corn field. He was only
ten years old at the time, the task was pretty
heavy, and along toward noon he mentioned
to his employer that he thought it was a very
long forenoon. All the satisfaction he received
was a benevolent look from the old farmer
and the consoling remark: "Son, don't you
know while man makes the forenoon, God
makes the afternoon?"

Mr. Needham was united in marriage August
7, 1893, at Broken Bow, to Miss Hattie
Burk, a daughter of James and Martha
(Crabb) Burk. He and Mrs. Needham have
one daughter, Ruth, who has prepared herself
to be a teacher and was graduated in 1918
from the Nebraska Wesleyan University, at
University Place, near Lincoln. Mrs. Needham
has three brothers and two sisters, namely:
John, William, Albert, Mrs. Laura
Rodgers, and Mrs. Emma Beltz. Mr. Needham
owns several properties that he has under
rental, and he is also the owner of twenty-two
acres of land and a substantial business
building in the town of Arnold, where also,
as mentioned above, he conducts a cream station,
in which town he is an influential citizen
in many ways.
Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker