Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.

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Cousins of the heart

We all have them, those people who are related to us not by blood but by love and shared memories. They are as much our relatives as those with shared DNA. 

Our related clans in 1951

My life was graced by a special tribe in New Jersey, two sets of sisters who shared their childhoods and stayed connected as young marrieds with small children. We children grew up sharing the beach at Manasquan and visits in between summers until both Flanders sisters moved too far away to come back for summer vacations.

Letters kept me connected to my godmother and I made a visit to London to visit Cousin Carol while in college. We sat around and shared endless cups of tea the same way our moms had sat for years over cups of coffee. As we grew older, we stayed in touch mostly through Christmas cards. But now with Facebook, I’m reconnected. I love seeing pictures of their children and grandchildren, of their travels, new homes, and worry over illness and sad times. 

The last of that senior generation is gone now  with the death of Uncle S this week, just a few months after my father’s death. We children who are no longer children are the senior generation now. Our children don’t know each other, the way we grew up knowing each other, but it’s important to me to not lose the connection I have to those far-away cousins of the heart. 


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Thanksgiving transition

This is my first Thanksgiving without my father, without either parent. I’m living in their house which doesn’t feel like my own on a holiday spent in this place for over 30 years. It’s a kind of limbo time. I’m alone – by choice – today, staying quiet after being sick most of the week, and taking down fall decorations to put up Christmas ones. No turkey or stuffing, no pie, no green bean casserole, no family gathered around the table. I missed them for about 30 minutes but I’ve spent other holidays on my own before. It’s just that this is the first one in this house. It makes a difference. I miss my daddy and am grateful to have my beautiful kitty girls for company.


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Cleaning Up the Family Tree

I know, I know … no new profiles recently. But I’ve been working like a fiend behind the scenes doing database cleanup on my 48 year old genealogy files. I have public trees in several places including Ancestry.com, but my real work happens in FamilyTreeMaker (FTM), which I’ve used since it was a DOS program (yes, I’m old and have been doing this a long time). I’ve also been synching my tree between Ancestry and FTM since the capability was offered, keeping both up to date.

FTM

FamilyTreeMaker Available at https://www.mackiev.com/ftm/index.html

But there are problems. Lots of problems. Importing and merging records over many years gave me a tree full of errors and I hadn’t really done systematic cleanup. I had duplicate names recorded as separate facts, a mishmash of place name formats, and serious errors such as people attached to the wrong parents. Oops.

So that’s what I’m working on now. I joined a Facebook group for FTM Users, which has wonderful resources on working with the software which has developed powerful tools for cleanup that I had no idea were part of the software.  Ancestry doesn’t have them, although I do like their relationship tools better than FTM. Lucky me, I can work in both and synch.

ResolveplacenamesMy trigger for doing all of this was using the new FTM plugin Family Book Creator to pull data from my tree into a book of my father’s ancestors. Looking at the index of place names, individual names, source list, and scanned images gave me a road map of things that need fixing.  I started with the easiest (and smallest) group: duplicate people. Then I worked on reconciling place names, making sure that all elements were present and in the same format of  City, County, State, Country. Although I’ve been careful about this in the last few years, I had decades of old work that needed correction.

Next I went to Manage Facts and was appalled to see that importing records from FindaGrave, Fold3, and Newspapers.com created dozens of new fact labels with data that should have gone into a different field. I worked through these one at a time and have a strategy for working with new finds.

Now I’m working through the Data Errors Report, which had 36 pages of problems such as missing dates, duplicate events, duplicate names, children born when mother was too young or too old, etc.  I can’t fix the “missing date” problems for most of these people right now but I hverified that my extended direct lines are complete and I have a report of what’s missing to work on later.  The other errors are taking time to work through but it’s satisfying to know what needs doing.

DataErrorReport

My biggest challenge ahead is cleaning up my Source list. It must be done and I know why and how, but I hate citations and hate that I have so many to fix, which is why I started with everything else.


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Where Did You Come From, William Myers?

My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all named William Myers. Beyond that, though, the line goes dead in terms of anything I can prove. It’s very frustrating since it’s my name!

In doing genealogical research, we start with the most recent information we can find and work backwards. My grandfather William Myers doesn’t appear in any contemporaneous records with his parents because birth certificates weren’t required in 1906 when he was born in Perquimans County, North Carolina. His mother Josephine Emma Goodwin died in March 1909, followed by her husband William Myers in October 1909. There are no death certificates for either one, depriving us of another source of information, but family lore says they died of the flu. No wills, orphans records, or burial records have been found.  My great-grandmother’s sister Lurinda Goodwin Curtis took in orphaned William, Percy and Nellie Myers, who grew up with her family. They are listed together in the 1910 census.

Myers 1900 census

So let’s see what else we can find by going back to the 1900 Census.  William Myres (38), his wife Josephine (26), and son Percy (3) were living in Bethel, Perquimans County, North Carolina. William and Josephine had been married for 6 years; she had born two children, only one was still living.  All of them were born in North Carolina of parents also born in North Carolina. William was a farmer on rented land. His birthdate is listed as January 1862 and hers, December 1873.

No North Carolina marriage records were found, but my grandmother remembered that her husband’s parents were married in Virginia and not North Carolina. Why she remembered this is a mystery; her husband was only 3 years old when his parents died in 1909, so he barely knew them and she never met them. But remember she did, and it opened possibilities.

William Myers and Joseph [sic] Emma Goodwin were married on 27 Dec 1893 in Suffolk, Virginia, about 55 miles from their 1900 home in Bethel, North Carolina. The marriage record shows that William, age 26, was born in 1867; his parents were listed as David and Margaret Myers. Joseph, or Josephine, age 20, was born in 1873 to parents Lemuel S. and Mary J. Goodwin.

Already we have a discrepancy. The marriage record gives William’s birth information as 1867 while the 1900 census, taken 7 years after the marriage, gives the date as January 1862. Josephine’s information is consistent across the two records. Her parents, Lemuel Goodwin and Mary Jane Thach, grew up in Perquimans County but had moved to Suffolk, Virginia, sometime before December 1893. The Myers were more elusive. In fact, they’re missing.

One of the benefits of online rearch is the ability to do “sounds like” searches, which is handy when there are many ways to spell a name. And there are many ways to spell Myers, among them Meyers, Meyer, Myer, Mayer, Meirs, Mears, Maiers. Unfortunately for me, I found no marriage record for a David Myers (of any spelling) and anyone named Margaret in North Carolina or Virginia. I also found no William Myers (of any spelling) born in 1867 in North Carolina or Virginia.

One promising William Myers (born to David Giles Myers) was born in 1861 in Davidson County, North Carolina, but follow-up research showed he lived and died in Davidson County and married someone else completely.  There is, though, a David Myers born about 1837 in Chowan County, right next to Perquimans County. He appears in the 1850 census at age 13 in the home of Thomas Myers, his wife Minnie, with siblings Alexander (21) and Harriet (15), living in the District Below Edenton.  In 1860, the only David Myers in the county appears in Edenton, where he was age 24 and working and living as a bookkeeper in a hotel.

MYERS N.D. - NC Civil War Roll of HonorDavid Myers enlisted in as a private in Company M, North Carolina 1st Infantry Regiment on 29 April 1861 and mustered out on 12 Nov 1861. His name on the Roll of Honor appears as N.D. Myers. And then he disappeared from Eastern North Carolina.

One Nathan David Myers died on 18 January 1917 in Kinston, Lenoir County, North Carolina. According to the obituary in The Kinston Free Press on 20 January 1917, he was a native of Edenton and had served in the Confederate Army. Sound familiar? He has a widower who died childless; his wife Eveline Dunn Myers died in 1894. I believe that this man was the David Myers who we found in the 1850 and 1860 census records in Chowan.

Meanwhile, back in Perquimans County in 1870, Alexander Myers lived with his wife Harriet and children William (10) and Margaret (9). There was only one Alexander in Chowan and Perquimans County; he is presumed to be the son of Thomas and Minnie Myers, parents of N. David Myers already discussed. William is also living with Alexander in the 1880 census as well. His birth year of 1860 or 1861 is consistent with the birth year of William Myers found in the 1900 census but not consistent with the birth year of William Myers on the 1893 marriage record.

Do we have an explanation? No. One possibility, however, is that Willliam was actually the son of David Myers who was raised by his brother Alexander. I have no proof of that at all and it may be far-fetched. DNA evidence does connect my father William Myers with a known descendant of Alexander Myers and another descendant of Whitaker Myers, who was related to Alexander’s father. It proves nothing but it certainly is interesting!


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Poppa & Sade: William Jesse Keel & Sarah Annis Peal

SCAN0056

Sarah & Bill Keel, 1942, on their 50th wedding anniversary

My dad grew up living with his mother’s parents in rural Martin County, North Carolina. He called them Poppa and Sade.

Poppa was William Jesse “Bill” Keel, born 22 August 1872 in Bear Grass, Martin County, to James L. Keel and Elizabeth (Betsy) Bowen, the second of their ten children. Bill was raised and worked on his father’s farm with his brothers and had a fifth grade education.  He was a strong man who loved to hunt and fish as well as farm, and had a big laugh.

Sade was Sarah Annis Peal, born 7 September 1874 in Cross Roads Township, a small community next to Bear Grass. She was the second of seven daughters born to William Ashley Peal and Jane Elizabeth Stalls and was named for her paternal grandmother, Annis Gurganus.  Sarah was a farmer’s daughter who was well educated for the time, going to high school for three years. She was a tiny woman with fine bones and a sweet smile.

Sarah Peal and Bill Keel married on 6 January 1892 in Cross Roads, probably at her home; she was 19 and he was 21. Their families knew each other; both of their fathers were general farmers in the county and both attended the Bear Grass Primitive Baptist Church, which Sarah and Bill attended for many years after their marriage.

They had eleven children but only four survived infancy: Mary Magdalene (Maglene), Susie Lanier, Edgar Durand, and Rachel Aldine. The first ten babies were born between 1895 (James Willie) and 1912 (Sarah Naomi). Daughter Rachel, born in 1921, was a “bonus” baby and only seven years older than my father, who was her nephew. The babies who didn’t survive were buried in a private family plot behind the “old home place” farm. Their graves now are covered by leaves and their names mostly forgotten. But Sarah recorded them in the family Bible so we have them:

Keel-Family-Record-From-Bib

When their daughter Susie Lanier Keel (my grandmother) married in July 1927, what she remembered most about her wedding was that her parents didn’t attend. Since she was probably pregnant at the time, it is possible that they disapproved of either the marriage or her husband. The newly-wed Myers were living on the Keel farm seven months later when their first child (my father) was born. Both generations lived together in the same house for the next twenty five years, first with Bill Keel as head of household and later, Bill Myers as head with his in-laws in the home. Poppa Keel farmed and did road construction work until they moved to Williamston in 1925.

SCAN0022My dad remembered that his grandmother did almost all the cooking for the combined household while his mother worked as a seamstress to bring in extra money. Poppa Bill Keel took Daddy fishing and also hunted to provide more food for the family; their farm cousins kept them well supplied with produce but protein was expensive. Bill Keel was the man in charge of barbeque whenever a hog was butchered; those were always social occasions with many family and friends to share the food and the occasion. They were poor and lived simply.

Sarah Keel died at home in Williamston on 28 June 1948. She was 73 years old. Her beloved husband Bill Keel died almost exactly four years later on 26 June 1952. He was seventy nine years old and had been in ill health for five years. They are buried together in Williamston’s Woodlawn Cemetery next to their daughter Susie Keel Myers.


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The Flanders’ House

Both my mother and grandfather grew up at 916 Lake Street in the Forest Hill section of Newark, New Jersey. My great-grandparents bought the new three-story 5-bedroom home in 1907.  It was actually one and one-half lots with 5,001 square feet: #916 has the house and #918 expands the yard and has a carriage house, later garage, at the back. It is the only house on the block with this extra room.

4-916 Lake St.

One entered the home through a vestibule off the small front porch into an entrance hall that opened to the third floor. A winding open staircase on the right side went upstairs to the bedrooms. The front hall held an upright piano and was the perfect spot for the tall family Christmas tree. Off the front hall were the living room, dining room, and large kitchen with bulter’s pantry. The best part was the “secret” narrow closed stairway off the kitchen that led to the upstairs rooms to be used by servants going between floors.  I’m not sure that the family actually had any servants, but that was the original purpose. Certainly children used it often.

The living room with the bay window was in the front of the house with the dining room behind it adjoining the butler’s pantry. Room functions were flipped at some point, but there were different stories about when and why that happened: either to preserve heat during the Depression by keeping the most-used living room as an interior room, or to eliminate the possibility of light escaping the World War II blackout curtains. Either story is plausible. Whatever the reason, the spaces remained in that configuration for many years.

Bedrooms upstairs were small but adequate. There were four bedrooms on the second floor with two unattached bathrooms, and one bedroom on the third floor in the attic space.  During the Depression, the family had a boarder in residence who lived in the attic room.  There was also a large unfinished basement with windows at ground level.

This was always a multi-generational home. William John Flanders bought it in 1907 and moved in with his wife Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, sons Lester and William, and brother-in-law Charles McCormick. Lester and Charles had moved out by the time their father died in 1925, but in 1927, his son William brought his new bride Marion Cooke into the home already occupied by his mother and grandmother. Alice died shortly after, but Charlotte outlived her daughter-in-law by seven years, and was there to see her granddaughters grow up.

Forest Hill was and still is a quiet residential suburb of Newark, bounded on one side by beautifully landscaped Branch Brook Park just a few blocks away from the family home. Also nearby was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where the family worshipped. William Charles Flanders was confirmed there in 1914 and his daughters were baptized, confirmed, and married from the church. Four of his five grandchildren were also baptized at St. Marks, by the same minister who baptized and married their parents. They wore their grandfather’s christening gown.

By 1970, the children were grown, his wife and mother were gone, and Bill Flanders was alone in a house far too big for him to maintain. He sold it with much of the contents and moved to an apartment and later, to a retirement community. The house remains in pictures and memory of the few still alive to remember when it was the Flanders’ house.