Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top 10 genealogical finds of 2011

Photo by Pierce Place

As the year comes to a close, I've stepped back to review my most exciting genealogical finds of 2011.  I will say that much of this wouldn't have been possible if I hadn't started blogging this year.  Preparing a blog post really makes me review things, think about the information I've gathered, and put it all in one place.  I should probably say that blogging has been my number one genealogical find for 2011 but I'll just put it here because I have 10 other top finds.  But I do want to thank my friend, Kerry Scott, for suggesting that I start blogging.  She's smart about stuff like that and knew that it would take my research one step farther.

So in my best David Letterman voice I give you my top 10 genealogical finds for 2011:

Number 10:  I published my very first book!  It's not a published book in the typical fashion but I did publish a book of my blog.  My mother doesn't use a computer and I really wanted a way to share what I've written with her.  And since she lives in another state, I didn't have the luxury of just showing it to her on the computer.  So based on the suggestion of fellow blogger Heather Rojo at Nutfield Genealogy, I used to extract my blog.  From there I did some formatting, added/deleted some photos, and I had a great Christmas gift for my mom.  She read it in one day and told me she got teary eyed as she read parts of it.  For anyone who knows my mom, you know that she is a pretty non-emotional person so to hear she had tears means a lot to me.  And here it is.

I'm the little one in the flowered dress
Approximately 1957

Number 9:  I found a new great grandmother!  After thinking that my 3rd great grandmother was Clarinda, I discovered that the mother of my 2nd great grandmother, Rebecca Waller, was Rebecca Parker.  And even more meaningful as I remembered when we gave our oldest daughter the middle name of Rebecca, both of my grandmothers told me that their favorite grandmothers were named Rebecca. 

Number 8:  While this discovery wasn't about my family, I have been dabbling in researching my husband's family.  One of the interesting characters in his family was "Old Man Byrd" who was murdered by Confederate sympathizers in Tennessee in 1861.  We laugh that he's referred to as an old man when he wasn't that much older when he died than we are today.  While we've found a treasure trove of information about him and even found a new cousin, nothing compared to learning of the book A Unionist in East Tennessee:  Captain William K. Byrd and the Mysterious Raid of 1861.  And to top it off, it was written by another cousin, Marvin Byrd!

Number 7:  Finding relatives!  This year has brought some new cousins and I couldn't be more excited.  One is a cousin on my maternal grandfather's side and lives not far from my mother.  As proof that this really is a small world, we discovered that my mother, along with her parents, attended the wedding of my new cousin's parents.  Two other new cousins are both descendants of my favorite subject, Emery Waller - one of these cousins lives in DeWitt County, where many of our ancestors lived, and the other lives about an hour from me.  How cool is that?  Additionally, I connected with a cousin on my father's side, as well as my mother's half sister.  Welcome to my family!

Number 6:  I took my first research trip.  How fun was it to have three volunteers scurrying around and  helping me find information.  While it was overwhelming, it was an experience I'll never forget.  My only regret is that I hadn't found my new cousin prior to my visit so that we could have met in real life and gotten to know each other.

Number 5:  This is part two of my research trip but I need to call it out on its own.  What a thrill to see the original marriage certificate for my 2nd great grandparents, Rebecca Waller and William Warren McAboy.  I'm proud of myself for not creating a scene and running from the building with the certificate in hand but I managed to behave like an adult and settle for a photo.

Number 4:  The McPherson Sentinel interviewed me for an article about my number 1 genealogical find and placed it on the front page of the paper in honor of Veteran's Day (unfortunately, they couldn't get it in until November 12).  What an honor to have something so meaningful to me be noticed by others.  Click here to read the story. 

Number 3:  Finding and restoring my 2nd great grandmother's (on my dad's side) Eastern Star document.  What a thrill to have an original document from the late 1800's, much less by the other "favorite" grandmother named Rebecca.  It now holds a place of honor in my home and I just love looking at it.  What a find!

Number 2:  Finding my 3rd great grandfather, Emery Waller, in Kansas.  I wasn't convinced that the $75 fee to receive his pension records would be worth it, but I pulled the trigger and decided to go for it.  I'd always thought he had lived his life out in DeWitt County, Illinois but while reviewing his pension records the light bulb went off and I realized he had spent the last years of his life in Kansas.  KANSAS!

And my number 1 genealogical find for 2011:  Getting Emery Waller's grave marked.   After months of waiting, corresponding with my 'helper' Kevin Stockham, waiting, thinking about it, waiting, wondering if it would really happen, get the idea.  Emery was finally honored just in time for Veteran's Day!  And just because I want to see it again, here is Emery's gravestone!

While at times I feel like I'm not making any headway, I reflect on all that I have learned in the two years I've been researching my family.  What started out as a quest to find Gunzendorfers has brought me to Revolutionary and Civil War heroes, slave owners, black sheep family members, and a contingent of California Jews.  It has been an amazing journey and I can't wait to learn more.

Who knew?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I recently rediscovered the photo album my parents put together to remember the first two years of my life.  Since I was born 11 days before Christmas, I thought I might find some things to document how we spent the holidays.  We came from a 'mixed' marriage - Dad was Jewish and Mom was Christian - but we were raised Jewish.  I do remember Mom saying that she never wanted to take Santa Claus away from her kids so we became the envy of the neighborhood as we celebrated Hannukah and Christmas - SCORE! 

So here we are at what Dad wrote in the album 'Debi's first Christmas'.  I guess he didn't count the year of my birth since I was a newborn but this is technically my second Christmas.  Aren't we cute?

Carolyn and Deborah Levy
December, 1955
I know I didn't help that year but I do remember painstakingly putting tinsel on the tree in later years.  Does anyone even use that stuff anymore?

And the following year may have been the first year Dad took a photo to put on the holiday card.  I found several different poses from 1956 but thought this one was the best. 

Deborah and Carolyn Levy
November, 1956

It looks like the same Santa!  And I think those stockings are the same ones we used every year.  I'll bet at some point we run across those at Mom's house.

My sister and I live in different states now and don't get a chance to see each other very often.  But when we do, it takes me back to those early days when we spent every day together.  I just wish my memory was better so that I could actually remember some of the details!  And Doug, sorry you're not in these photos but you weren't born yet :-)

Merry Christmas - enjoy the past along with the presents!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor: KIA - Robert Melvin Hunter

Robert Melvin Hunter

The Fresno Bee
December 16, 1941

Fresno Naval Officer Dies in Pacific Attack

Navy informs relatives Ensign Robert M. Hunter Killed in Action

Ensign Robert M. Hunter, 23, of Fresno, assistant navigation officer on an American battleship, was killed in a Japanese raid in the Pacific.

Word of his death was received from the navy department today by local relatives.  The message from Washington D.C. gave no details other than that he was killed "in line of duty" and that relatives will be informed later regarding the body.

Naval restrictions prevent the use of the name of Hunter's ship or the area in which he met death.

Second Fresnan Killed

His death was the second reported among the numerous Fresno young men serving with the navy, _____ Gastner, 21, a gunnery officer, also was killed.

Hunter, who had been in active service since his graduation from the Northwestern University Naval Academy about five months ago was the son of Sheldon A. Hunter, local district manager for the Western Union Telegraph Company, and Mrs. Harriet Hunter, a nurse, also of Fresno.  His grandparents are Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Pease who reside on Church Avenue.

Robert Melvin Hunter, born April 16, 1918, was my mother's step brother.  His father's second wife was my grandmother, Clara Fitzgerald.  Robert was aboard the USS Oklahoma when it was hit and is buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (aka The Punchbowl).

An interesting tidbit I discovered while I was putting this together was that there is now a memorial at Pearl Harbor for the USS Oklahoma.  We last visited Pearl Harbor in June, 2007 and I have no recollection of a memorial there.  I've learned that the memorial opened in December, 2007 which explains why I don't remember seeing it.  It looks like a beautiful place to visit.

USS Oklahoma Memorial
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Photo by Dennis Frank

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sunday's Obituary: Edward Fitzgerald


Edward Francis Fitzgerald, long-time Fresno County employee, was found dead in his home at 1023 N. Thorne Ave., apparently the victim of a heart attack.

The 89-year-old Fresnan will be buried in the I.O.O.F.Cemetery Thursday in the John N. Lisle Chapel.

He was born in Yolo County, and came to the Academy district east of Fresno in 1888 with his parents, Mr. and Mrs.Matthew Fitzgerald.  He attended school in Letcher, a foothill community.

A few years ago he made a return visit to the mine where the cottage in which he and his late wife, Mabel Viola McAboy, spent their honeymoon in 1901, still stands.

In later years he was to serve two terms as constable, run unsuccessfully for sheriff and county supervisor, work in the county welfare department and become clerk in the justice court.  He retired from the latter post in 1949.

Through the years he had been active with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Native Sons of the Golden West, Fresno Elks Lodge 439, Los Palmas Lodge 366 of the Masons and the High Twelve Club.

He leaves two daughters, Mrs. Clara M. Hunter and Mrs. Viola Crawford, and a son, Stanley, all of Fresno, and a brother, John in Woodland.  Five grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren also survive.

Edward Fitzgerald was the only great grandfather I had the honor of knowing and I remember him quite vividly, too.  Clara Hunter was my maternal grandmother.  I need to do more research on the 19 great-grandchildren because I have no idea where that many came from!

During a google search, I found some reference to Edward Fitzgerald with the Shaver Lake Fishing Club.  I asked my mother about it and while she doesn't remember anything specifically about his participation in the Fishing Club, she does remember going on family outings as a child to Shaver Lake.  I also found a picture of Ed Fitzgerald included with the Fishing Club historical website, and when I compare it to the obituary photo, I'm fairly convinced it's him.  And my mother agrees :-)

Ed Fitzgerald
Shaver Lake Fishing Club
Edward was born July 5, 1879 in Yolo County, California.  However, when I requested a copy of his birth record the County Recorder certified that there was no record of a birth found from 1/1/1878 to 12/31/1905.  Edward was the son of Mathew William Fitzgerald and Julia Horgan.  Edward died July 21, 1968.

Photo from obituary enlarged