Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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52 Ancestors #2 – Breeching Photo

This adorable young man is my great-grandfather, William John Flanders, born 25 March 1865 in Mildenhall, Suffolk, England.

William-John-Flanders

He was the third of six children born to William Flanders and Eliza Newdick. We have a lot of William Flanders in this line, both back and forward in time, so it’s nice that they gave him a middle name to help us keep them straight!

Young William is wearing an elaborately decorated coat with a pair of short pants and high shoes. The first thing you notice is the coat with all the black embroidered trim; the next is that he’s wearing short pants (which are a different thing than our casual shorts).  He looks straight ahead at the photographer. This is a formal outfit and the setting is also formal. It could have been in his home or in a photography studio; the original photo is unmarked. William’s father was a well-to-do farmer and horse breeder who lived in a large home known as Burnt Fen House and the setting is not inconsistent with that type of residence.

Although I cannot prove it, I believe this to be a Breeching photo, marking William’s transition from wearing dresses to wearing trousers for the first time, a kind of “coming of age” event. Little boys wore dresses for the first years of their life and were in their mother’s domain. When they reached 5-8 years of age, they transitioned both clothing and activities into their father’s world. There is a fascinating blog post on breeching at the Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society that’s worth a read.

I got this picture from my great-uncle Lester in 1970 when I first began researching my family. William John, the boy in the photograph, was his father, but the picture came to Lester from William John’s family in England along with a few other family photos and articles. It seems so funny to see a little boy dressed in such an elaborate outfit, and it’s the only photo I have of him before 1918, but I cherish it.

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52 Ancestors #2 – Four Generations Photo

I had so many favorite photos that I decided to write each of them up! This one is a four-generation photo taken in the spring of 1929 at my grandparents’ home in the Forest Hill area of Newark, New Jersey.

4-Generations

Here we have my aunt with her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Their clothing and hairstyles are so very different, but you can see the facial resemblances.

  • The baby is my Aunt Jane Anne, born October 1928 in Newark, NJ. Round of face, barefoot, happy, she was the eldest of two beloved daughters.
  • The woman on the left is my grandmother, Marion Stokes Cooke Flanders, dressed in a white flapper-style dress that she undoubtedly made, as she made all her clothes. She is wearing pearls, a watch, bracelet, and rings, so this is not a casual photo. Marion was born in New York City in May 1902 and died in 1960 at age 58.
  • Marion’s mother and my great-grandmother, Jane Morrison Cooke, is the woman on the right. Jane, or Jennie as she was called, was born in Pennsylvania in 1871 to Scottish immigrants. Her husband died in 1925 and she wore black, as she is doing in this photo, for the rest of her life.  She wears a practical watch and a wedding ring, and long knotted pearls that gleam on her shapeless black dress. Jennie died in 1946 at age 74.
  • Margaret Brookmire Morrison Segar, my great-great-grandmother, sits in the center of the picture. She was born in Scotland in 1845, outlived two husbands, and died in New Jersey at age 93 in 1939. Margaret was a practical nurse and a practical woman, marrying her second husband while the first was in an insane asylum. Her hairstyle and black dress are very old fashioned, with lace at the neck and a long skirt in the age of flappers. Her snow-white hair is carefully arranged and she wears small wire-rim glasses.

I love this photo, seeing four generations of women in my family together. Each born in a different place and time, each dressed in their best but different fashions in clothing and hairstyles, showing that this photo marked an Occasion in their lives.


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52 Ancestors #2 – Favorite Photo

This week’s writing prompt is “Favorite Photo” and I have so many that I love!

But this one is my current favorite: my grandmother Marion “Mimi” Stokes Cooke, taken about 1924 in Brooklyn.

Marion (2)

I love my grandmother’s direct gaze in this portrait. She faced life head-on with her head held high, confident and clear-headed.  Life wasn’t always easy for her but you can see the strength in her eyes.

She was the eldest child and adored daughter of Robert Thomas Cooke and Jane Morrison. She was born in 1902 and lived in Brooklyn and Queens with her parents and younger brother Leighton until she married my grandfather in March 1927 and moved to Newark, New Jersey. She died of colon cancer in 1960 at age 58 when I was five years old.

Mimi was the first member of our family to go to college, graduating in 1920 with a diploma in Trade Dressmaking from the Pratt Institute School of Domestic Arts and Sciences. She made dresses, coats, even bathing suits, for herself and her daughters, and smocked baby clothes for me.  The wedding dress she created for my mom and her sister was beautifully and intricately made of satin and lace.

When she married in 1927, she moved into my grandfather’s childhood home, complete with a mother-in-law who refused to allow Mimi to cook meals until World War II rationing became too hard for her to deal with. Mimi developed a treasure trove of dessert recipes for my grandfather’s sweet tooth and I’m fortunate to have her recipe box, though some would be hard to make now since directions are sketchy.

My grandmother was all about family. She had a large complement of Cooke cousins and during the Depression, her mother and grandmother moved from Brooklyn into a house a few doors down the street so she was able to see them often.  She was playful with a sweet smile, and enjoyed vacations at their beach home in Manasquan. We lived an hour away when I was a child and she and my mom were able to see each other often. She died too young.

Although I have many pictures of my grandmother, this one is my favorite. I love her eyes, her soft but not quite perfect hair, the big flower on the dress that I imagine she made herself. She looks like someone who knows herself and is looking straight ahead at life.


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Getting Started – #52Ancestors

I was 16 years old when I started collecting ancestors the old fashioned way: talking to relatives, looking up census records on microfilm,writing letters with self-addressed stamped envelopes for returned information. I bought books and photocopied blank forms to make family group sheets (once I knew what they were). And all kinds of scribbled notes with things I found, of course all unsourced and impossible to retrace. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it was interesting.

My maternal grandfather suggested that I write to his half-brother, someone I’d never even met or at least didn’t remember meeting, for information about their shared English ancestry. Since it seemed like a good idea, I sent a letter and got an immediate response along with British newspaper clippings, some photos, and a fabulous picture of my great-great-grandfather. Uncle Lester died six months later, a lesson to me to not dillydally in contacting older relatives.

William Flanders

William Flanders, Witcham, England

My paternal grandmother had a memory like a steel trap and loved talking about “her people.” Grandmama, or Miss Susie as she was known in her town, even knew that her husband’s parents, who died when he was age 3, had been married in Virginia and not North Carolina.  This little kernal of random information gave me previously unknown names of North Carolina families that I’ve taken back another 150 years. She remembered it because family mattered. And I learned that open-ended questions sometimes generate random memories that are, or can contain, truth.

While in library school in Austin in 1976, I spent time working at the state genealogy library. All those microfilm readers! Books! Kind fellow researchers with experience who answered questions and made suggestions to help me in my research.  When Roots burst on the scene shortly after, the library hired me on the spot – right person, right background, right time. It was a thrill to be able to give back something and I learned about research strategies and the joy of helping someone else make a discovery.

I also learned through the years that collecting ancestors isn’t enough. Oh, it’s easy to add names of children to a tree and look for new original sources to add facts. But I want to know their stories, to understand what it was like to be a prisoner of war in 1863, to know what crops they raised, what jobs they had, what it was like to get on a ship and sail for weeks into the unknown. The stories, the backgrounds, make them real.

My task for 2018 is to take the stories in my head, the facts I’ve assembled over the years, and write profiles to share these interesting people with the rest of my family.  So I’ve embarked on Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks writing project. Stay tuned!


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My “Me, Too” Story

Harvey Weinstein was a lot worse than my abuser, but no abuse is acceptable. Facebook and Twitter, and the news media that reports on both, are filling up with #metoo stories that make me cringe and my skin crawl. But I am so proud of those who are able to name their metoostories, to tell their own tales with authenticity and courage.

My story happened in Virginia in another lifetime. I am an Episcopalian and was seeing our local priest for counseling that got out of hand. Where do you go when the person you are seeing for help is the one who is acting out?  I settled on food to change my body size, to make myself as unattractive as possible, and a geographic solution with a move to Maine in January. Not exactly the best time to move, but I needed to get out and found a way.

Feeling safer there, I told a Maine priest that something had happened that was wrong and I didn’t want anyone else to endure the same. I was basically patted on the head and told to let it go. It didn’t sit well but I did it. Believing I was called to ministry, I began the process to seek ordination – and was told by my bishop that I had a problem with intimacy and authority and needed to be more involved as a lay person. Hmmm. Okay. Vestry member, choir member, hospital visitor, altar guild member, stewardship chair obviously not enough activity.

Moved to Boston. In 1992, news broke about Father James Porter and child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. I began to cringe and had trouble concentrating. One day in my diocesan newspaper I saw a tiny ad for a booklet on clergy sexual abuse. It was only $5 and I figured that no one would know that I had it. I’d read the booklet and then move on. Except I couldn’t. From page one, that booklet described what happend to me. I was in tears after a few pages, holding my stomach and shaking. It had happened to me. And I needed help.

The booklet was dedicated to a Boston therapist the author had worked with, who happened to practice in my town of Brookline. I called her office on a Friday about an appointment before I lost my nerve; much to my shock, she had an opening on Monday morning. She asked me to read “Is Nothing Sacred” by Marie Fortune if I had a chance before then. Working on a university campus with a theology library next door made that easy.

Twenty minutes into my appointment, the therapist stopped me and told me that there was no question that what had happened to me was clergy abuse, that is was highly probable that the priest had a sex addiction, and was or had abused others. It was shocking how much that relieved me. I didn’t make it up, I hadn’t blown it out of proportion. It had happened, it was wrong, and there was damage.

My diocese had a process for dealing with such things. I went to my bishop with an advocate and a written statement that took me 45 minutes to write after 7 years of living with it. He read it, put down his glasses, looked me in the eye, and apologized to me for the hurt that this had caused me. He believed me. And he did something about it, writing immediately to the bishop in my former diocese where my abuser lived.  I got a call from that bishop within a week, telling me that the abuser had been called into the bishop’s office, confronted with my statement, and had confessed.

shieldIt was done but not done. I had expected it to take weeks, months, years, and even then, didn’t believe that the abuser would ever acknowledge that what he did was wrong. So I wasn’t ready for it to be over. Long, long story involving many letters and much therapy. My abuser was required by HIS bishop to pay for my therapy as well as his own. I asked that my former congregation be told what had happened, which didn’t materialize. However, they WERE required to have a workshop on clergy sexual abuse.  I kept going to church until I couldn’t anymore. Until my anger at the church spilled over and turned my joy into something broken.

Oh, and the bishops. The Bishop of Maine turned out to have been having affairs with married women. And the Bishop of Massachusetts not only turned out to have ALSO been having affairs with married women, but he committed suicide as news was about to break about it. He was the one who had heard my story, who had believed me, and who took action. But my trust was broken. More clergy in positions of power who were not behaving well. I even wrote to the Presiding Bishop about a letter that appeared over his name after the suicide, in which he described the pressures of being a bishop.  I told him he was NEVER to equate the pressure of being a bishop, a role that was deliberately taken, with the pressures of being a VICTIM and a SURVIVOR.

I kept those letters, that initial statement, the therapy word collages, my notes, for over 20 years. I would pull them out periodically to look at, reminding myself how far I’d come. My letters are articulate and thoughtful, and very powerful.  I finally was ready to let them go when I moved to Texas. I took the files in to work and shredded everything – not to preserve privacy, but because there was power in shredding. I felt lighter. I still have trouble with intimacy and authority, and I still have trouble with church. Not with God, but church.

I still have a huge weight problem and deep inside I know I don’t want to look like someone who is likely to attract sexual harassment. No one does that to fat people, they hurt us in other ways, but I’m used to those.  I want to be brave and strong and honest and whole. That last one takes more time than we think. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk opened the wounds again. But I will heal.


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What would you take?

TexasStrongIt was hard to tear myself away from watching Hurricane Harvey coverage. It went on forever and every day had more stories of damaged buildings, flooded streets and homes, injuries and deaths. But it also had heartfelt stories of the Cajun Navy and strangers rescuing stranded people in boats, of shelters in unlikely places such as furniture stores, of social media helping stranded people be found and brought to safety. All they had with them was what they could grab in a few minutes before they got out.

I can’t do anything about Houston except send prayers and give money to organizations doing feet-on-the-ground disaster relief assistance. Those I have done and continue to do. But I’ve been thinking about what I would do if faced with the same situation here. Where would I go? What would I take with me?

I’ll be honest – I’d probably be one of the people who evacuated ahead of the storm, even if no one told me to go. I’m not very agile and climbing onto a roof or into a boat would be problematic. I’m good at hunkering down for something like a blizzard but a hurricane is a different animal altogether.

My house is full of things, and they’re just things. While I love and would mourn the loss of things with family history ties, they’re still just things. I’ve looked around and thought about what’s in different rooms and what I would take, given the chance. In no particular order (well, yeah, the genealogy stuff came first), here are some:

  • Genealogy files and old photos
  • Purse with wallet and credit cards
  • Medicine
  • Cell phone
  • Laptop and backup portable hard drive
  • Kindle
  • Charging cords
  • Insurance papers
  • Car title
  • House deed
  • Good jewelry
  • Clothes

KeepCalmMy mom had what she called the “Boy Scout Folder” that she put on the kitchen counter when she and Dad would go out of town. In it she had copies of insurance papers, social security cards and drivers’ licenses, bank information, list of account numbers, list of people to notify (family, medical, bank, insurance), obituaries and pictures to use with them. She would have grabbed that folder if she needed to leave in a hurry and know that what she needed was there.

I can do that but mine will also be digital on a flash drive – actually, a copy for me and one for my brother so it’s available outside the house if something happens here. Scanning documents won’t take long and the peace of mind will be worth it.

My genealogy scanning hasn’t been a huge priority for me but it needs to be. Many of the records and photos are one of a kind. They need to be scanned as high-quality images and saved in multiple places so they can be preserved and shared. Bottom line is they are just things, however precious to me. I have the power to make sure they are digitally preserved. It’s time to map out a plan to scan and add metadata so what I know stays with them.

Hurricanes happen. Tornadoes happen. Floods happen. Fires happen. Earthquakes happen. Everything we have could be gone in a heartbeat. We owe it to ourselves and to our families to be as prepared as possible. Do it now.

Texas strong!


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Have You Written Your Obituary?

There are three things that you can do now to make things easier for your family when you die. You don’t need to be sick to do them – in fact, it’s better to do these while you’re healthy and have time to think and plan. You can do them in any order. But trust me on this: taking the time to do these three things is a gift to your loved ones.

In Memory OfFirst, write your obituary. You’ve read many of them and if you haven’t, just pull up any local paper and read a bunch. Some of them are boring and just have name, birth and death dates, spouse, children. My favorite obituaries, though, tell me who the person was, what their passions were, what made their lives better. My dad read to first graders for over 20 years and you can bet that will be in his obituary. I read a wonderful one years ago about a 102-year old woman known for her pie baking – I knew who she was after reading it. Include basic information but go beyond it to tell people who you are and why you mattered. Pick a good picture for the obituary, too, preferably one that looks like you as a mature person and not the army picture if you are in your 70’s.

Second, plan your funeral or memorial service and give a copy of what you decide to your church office as well as your own files. A funeral service is conducted when the body is present; when it’s not, as in the case with cremation, there is a memorial service. Different religious faiths and denominations have structure or liturgy for their services, but it’s up to the family – to you – to select scriptures or readings to be included, and to decide on music that’s significant.

This doesn’t have to be hard! There are websites with ideas, such as 30 Top Funeral Bible Verses. Hymnals and prayer books also have suggested music and scripture that’s appropriate. Do you want to have a choir sing, or maybe someone sing a solo? Write it down!  Nothing is written in stone and it can be changed as you change and want something else. Also remember that a memorial service is for the living, so if your family decides on something else, that’s okay, too. But at least they will know what you want, and that will help enormously.

TombstoneFinally, plan what happens to your body. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you know where the body/ashes will be interred?  Sit down with a funeral home (or several, to decide on one), and make plans. Even better, prepay it to lock in prices (they call this “pre-need arrangements”).  Your family won’t have to do anything when you die except call the funeral home and meet to review what has already been arranged.

I work in a church office and deal with memorial services and grieving families all the time. I’ve seen what a difference it is for them when these three things have been planned in advance. Make thoughtful decisions about what you want, write them down, and make sure your family and your religious home have copies. It might be the best gift you can leave them.