Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


52 Ancestors #13 – Homestead of the Heart

Manasquan is the homestead of my heart.  Sea water is in my veins from years spent at a summer home on the Jersey Shore, a place cherished by my family for two generations.  It is a house but more, it is sand and salt and sea and freedom. It is memory and friends who are closer than some blood relatives. It is a place that stands strong in my memory, though it has been 50 years since I spent a summer there and more than 20 years since I’ve seen it in person.

Manasquan - 417 Beachfront - August 1934

417 Beachfront, Manasquan, 1934, with Jane Anne and Peg Flanders

My maternal grandparents bought the house and the one behind it as a unit in 1934 during the height of the Depression (and who knows why anyone thought that was a good idea).  They were on a relatively quiet beach close to the Manasquan Inlet.  The other houses in the neighborhood were owned or rented by families with children so there were always kids to hang out with, for my mom’s generation and for mine.

Myers and Nau Kids, Manasquan 1961

Typical beach picture – our house is second from the left. Houses were background, not the focus.

We spent long days going from towel to surf and back to towel, talking and listening to music and entertaining ourselves with those our own age, whether that age was 5, 15, 32, or 60. We were in and out of each others homes and lives, summer after summer. We became family.

BeachBall.jpgWe marked the summer by dates:  Opening Day when beach badges were required. Memorial Day, when we took down the window battens and swept away the winter sand, opening the houses for summer. July 4th meant fireworks seen from the sandy beach, grilled burgers and corn and fresh juicy Jersey tomatoes. Summer ended with Labor Day, which always brought rough surf, families gathered from multiple houses to share cookouts, and the packing away of the houses. I still go there in my mind and heart and keep it close with a small glass ball on my desk, filled with sand and shells and seaglass from Manasquan beach.




52 Ancestors – #10 Strong Woman

There’s strength and then there’s strength. My female ancestors didn’t just sit around in pretty dresses and fill their idle time the way the women did in Gone With the Wind. They performed the hard labor that was the daily routine of life before electricity and modern conveniences, including working in the fields alongside their “men folk.”  It was not an easy life.  Women also lived with the pain of losing children who died at tender ages. Any death is difficult; bearing many children only to have a handful survive, if that, is something we don’t really experience today.

The Segars

My great-great- grandmother Margaret Brookmire was a strong woman for a very long time. She was born on 2 October 1845 in Scotland to Irishman Robert Brookmire and his Scots wife, Isabella McAusland. At age 19, she left for New York City on board The Progress, leaving from Ireland and arriving at Castle Garden on 22 June 1864. She was a spinster traveling alone, or at least without other family. Can you imagine how difficult that was, leaving your home and sailing across the ocean to a country enmeshed in a Civil War?

Margaret made her way from New York to the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, where she married Scottish immigrant Charles Morrison on 20 February 1865 at the home of a Presbyterian minister in Summit Hill.  We don’t know how they met or if they knew each other in Scotland, or if she was perhaps a “mail order bride.”  Life in coal country was hard and dirty. Charles worked long hours in the mines and had returned from his Civil War Union Army Service with injuries received at Gettysburg, making it even harder.

By 1870, Margaret and Charles had moved to Larksville in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, where he continued to work as a miner. They had five children between 1866 and 1872, with only Isabella, John, and Jane surviving.  Margaret and Charles were founding members of Snowden Memorial Presbyterian Church in Larksville in 1871 and four of their five children were baptized there; the fifth appears to have died before he could be baptized.

Charles Morrison Pension 1882Life got even more difficult for Margaret in November 1874 when her husband Charles was committed to the Danville State Hospital for the Insane. He was indicted for lewdness but found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was to spend the next 21 years in the asylum, where he died.  This left Margaret married but without a husband or his income, raising three small children on her own. In the 1900 census, Margaret listed her occupation as “nurse” so it is possible she worked as a nurse during this period of her life as well, although I haven’t found anything to prove that.

In February 1880 Margaret married Andrew Segar, a shoemaker from New York City, at the home of another Presbyterian minister in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. One of their two witnesses was Jas. Brookmire, who is possibly but not yet proven to be a relative. We know nothing about what Margaret may have told Andrew about her still-living husband. She applied for Charles Morrison’s Civil War pension in 1882. The Army investigated and told her that, oops, he was still alive and she wasn’t entitled to it.

Her second husband Andrew was an invalid by 1890 from his own war injuries, and Margaret worked as a nurse. Her children were married by then and Margaret and Andrew lived with her eldest daughter, Isabella, first in New York City, then Washington, D.C., and finally in New Jersey, living with her youngest daughter Jane down the street from her granddaughter and her family.  Jane took in boarders to make a living.

In 1930 Andrew died and Margaret applied for his Civil War pension. It was the Great Depression and she was 85 years old; every bit of money helped. Except the Army didn’t want to give it to her, since she and Andrew had not been legally married in 1880 because Charles was still alive. The Bureau of Pensions sent an investigator to meet with Margaret, who told a series of different versions of Charles’ death and her second marriage. The investigator concluded that she was “lying to beat the band” but had apparently decided to tell the truth. Part of that truth was having lied to her children in 1874, telling them that Charles had died instead of what really happened.

Depositions from family and friends confirmed that Margaret and Andrew were devoted to each other and had remained by each other’s side for 50 years.  She died in 1939 at age 93, having lived a life far removed from Scotland. She did what she needed to do, including lying and bigamy, to keep her family together and alive in tough times.

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52 Ancestors – #9 Where There’s a Will

We genealogists love wills, especially ones that spell out family relationships. Wills written close to the date of death can be more accurate in describing then-living relatives, though sometimes the absence of someone who should be mentioned but isn’t will tell us a lot as well. But the will is a single document and it’s not infallible. It usually doesn’t describe the circumstances around the inheritance(s) laid out in the will, though of course it can.

Witcham House.jpgElizabeth Deeks Webb Flanders died at Witcham House in Witcham, Cambridgeshire, England, on 20 April 1921. Her husband William Flanders died fourteen years before, leaving her a widow with five adult children, two of whom had moved to New York City in the 1880’s.  William had been a wealthy farmer and horse breeder and his estate in 1907 was valued at £3,815 which would have the same buying power as $509,596 today.

Elizabeth’s will was dated 2 August 1911 and remained unchanged until it was probated 22 September 1921.  But a lot happened between those two dates, the biggest of which was the First World War; their home was used as an army hospital and lands were sold off.  There were family changes, too: one of William and Elizabeth’s sons died in 1912 and another son separated from his wife in a nasty split. “Times here are wretched,” said oldest son Harry.


How do I know this?  Because Harry wrote a letter to his brother William (my great-grandfather) sending a handwritten copy of Elizabeth’s will and explaining why “Willie” had gotten so very little. It was full of details about the family situation and why “mother” had made the decisions she did – and then how Harry was trying to honor those provisions in light of the changed circumstances.

The will is wonderful to have and it does indeed detail family relationships. But in this case, the letter that came with it is even better.


52 Ancestors #8 – Heirloom Chair

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YThis little chair isn’t particularly important or valuable but I’ve always liked it. It’s made of four pieces of pierced metal, with smooth curved edges that slot together to form a rocking chair which stands 4 inches tall. I’m not even sure what it’s made out of – it’s just a little metal chair.

According to my mom, it was made by Andrew Seger, my step-great-great-grandfather. Although he died in 1930, the year before Mom was born, his widow lived with her daughter (Mom’s grandmother) right down the street from them until 1939. The little chair may have been made for my grandmother, who was his step-granddaughter.

He was born on 12 July 1841 in New York City to German immigrants Henry and Frances Seger. They lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where Henry was a shoemaker; Andrew was the second of thirteen children and also worked as a shoemaker.

He enlisted in the Union Navy in May 1863 and served on the USS North Carolina, USS Monitor, and USS Roanoke, working as a coal heaver for a year. He reenlisted in June 1864 and served another three years as a coal heaver on four different ships, ending again on the USS North Carolina. This was hot, dirty, and dangerous work requiring men to haul buckets of coal from the bunker to the ship’s boiler, and Andrew emerged from his service with damage to his optic nerve and catarrh, an inflammation of mucus membranes. Although he worked as a shoemaker for a few years following the war, by 1890 he was an invalid and unable to work at his trade. He was 49 years old.

The Segars

Andrew married Margaret Ashley in Manhattan on 23 December 1869 and they appear together in the 1870 census. Margaret worked as a housekeeper and died childless in January 1878, according to Andrew’s pension records and her New York City death certificate. He married again to Margaret Brookmire Morrison in 1880 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and they were together for 50 years. Andrew died at the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers & Sailors in 1930 at the age of 88.

But there are mysteries. How and why did he get to Pennsylvania when he was a New York City shoemaker? Andrew Seger doesn’t show up in New York City directories in the 1870’s; perhaps he was an itinerant and left his wife behind to wander. Her death certificate doesn’t list a husband’s name and she was employed as a housekeeper; perhaps she was working to support herself in Andrew’s absence.

The family story had been that Margaret Morrison married him after her first husband died, and that both husbands had fought together in the Civil War. That can’t be right because her first husband Charles was in the Army and Andrew was a sailor!  We do know they were married on 18 February 1880 in Wilkes Barre by a Presbyterian minister. Unfortunately, Margaret Morrison was already married at the time to her soldier husband, who was a patient at Danville Hospital for the Insane. Whether Andrew knew of her first husband’s situation is another unknown but it seems unlikely she could have kept that secret for 50 years.

Even Andrew’s military service is confusing in spite of a lengthy pension file. He is listed as “Andrew Seger alias George L. Sylvester,” which is still another mystery. I haven’t found actual enlistment papers but all documents in the pension file include both names. Maybe he lived as George Sylvester when he wasn’t being Andrew, though I haven’t found anything to prove that yet, either.

The one thing he left behind was the little metal chair. Whether he made it or not, and at what point in his life he was able to do so, Andrew Seger is worth being remembered.

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52 Ancestors #6 – Green Thach

mynameis“Favorite Name” is this week’s prompt, and again, there are so many! My Heginbothams from Cheshire, England, win for favorite surname, and I do like that spelling more than some of the other variations (Higginbotham, Higinbotham, Hickenbotham, Higginbottom, Heginboth, and more).  My family’s forenames are rather dull, with lots of Williams and Elizabeths (or Williams who married Elizabeths). “Hyman” was a good one, and “Jabez,” and my father’s middle name is Cleopheus, named for a long-dead uncle.

But my favorite name, and one of my favorite ancestors, is Green Thach, my sixth-great grandfather. He was born before 1738 in Chowan County, North Carolina, to John Thach and what was probably his first wife.  He had to be at least 16 years old when he served in the Chowan County, NC Militia, his name appearing on “A list of men lately commanded by Capt. James Farlee, Deceased, taken the 25th day of Novr., 1754.” As another testament of age, Green witnessed his father’s sale of land in Chowan on 23 Jan. 1758, an activity for which he had to be at least twenty-one. Accordingly, Green was probably John’s oldest child and if not oldest, his second behind Green’s sister Ann.  Since John didn’t marry Sarah Standin until 17 April 1748, Green and Ann (and their sister Mary) had a different mother.

teachplaqueBut where did his name come from?  Green isn’t your average forename, though it was a common and widespread English surname, and there were a few Green families in Chowan County at the time he was born. It’s possible he was named for a relative or neighbor, but as of yet, I haven’t found evidence in probate or other records with any clues.

His last name, though, is another story. Family and local legend has it that the Edward Teach, aka the pirate Blackbeard, had a child by his young wife, Mary Ormond, not far from where Green’s family lived. His father John may have been that child.  Or he may not – who knows? Thach and its variant spellings of Thatch, Theach, and Teach, were found only in the Albemarle Sound area of North Carolina in the 1700’s, so at the very least, it’s likely that all or most of them were related to each other if not to Blackbeard!


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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.


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!