Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Happy Birthday, Mimi!

Today is the 112th birthday of my maternal grandmother, Marion Stokes (Cooke) Flanders. This is one of my favorite pictures of her, taken with her brother about 1907.

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52 Ancestors – #17 Peel Cemetery in Bear Grass

Some of my ancestors are buried in small private family cemeteries out in the country; others found their final rest in crowded historic New York cemeteries. Some have elaborate headstones to mark their passing; others are in unmarked graves, while still others have stones that are no longer legible, worn down by time.  Many others are lost or rather, have not yet been found.

In August 1979, I drove around Martin County, North Carolina, with my grandmother, Susie Lanier (Keel) Myers, and her sister Mary Magdalene “Maglene” (Keel) Taylor. Our quest: the family cemetery behind the old family homestead farm, which I now know is the Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass. Their mother was Sarah Annis Peal and this was where “her people” were buried.

KEEL Susie and Maglene - August 1979 - Williamston NC

Susie Keel Myers & Maglene Keel Taylor, August 1979, Williamston, NC

Aunt Maglene was deaf as a post and sat in the back seat of the big green Pontiac as we drove. Her sister, my grandmother, kept up a loud conversation with her in her thick Southern accent about points along the way. “No, Sister, that’s not where he was born, it was over yonder behind the school on the road next to the farm.”  Since I had no idea where we were or where we were going, it was hard to follow the conversation. And they argued about almost everything so I wasn’t sure what to believe anyway.

Grandmama turned down a dirt road next a farm house and headed back to a wooded area. “Should we be going this way? It looks like someone’s home,” I said. “Oh, it’s alright. We’re family,” she replied.  We pulled up and parked next to the woods and walked inside a quiet sheltered area with a few old tombstones poking through piles of leaves under the shade of tall trees. It didn’t look like a cemetery at all.

PEEL Stanley - Tombstone - NC Beargrass-1902

Grandmama and Maglene got very quiet as they walked, obviously looking for something that they were not finding, and asking each other where “the stones” were. “What stones?” I asked, since I saw some standing, all for people whose names were new even if the stones were old. “Our brothers and sisters.”  These old ladies in their late 70’s were looking for the graves of their seven dead siblings who died in infancy, who they knew were buried in this place, but who couldn’t be found. They were shaken.

But clearly the graves hadn’t disappeared overnight. “When were you here last?” I asked them, which started a competitive conversation about cemetery visiting, only to reveal that the last time either of them had been to this family cemetery was over fifty years before when their grandmother Jane Elizabeth (Stalls) Peal was buried there in 1921. I remember wondering who they thought was going to care for the graves if they didn’t do it; clearly no one else had thought of it, either. This was a private family cemetery, not a publicly maintained one. If family didn’t care for it, it wouldn’t – and obviously didn’t – happen.

PEAL Mariney J - Tombstone - 1922 - NC BeargrassWe cleaned up what we could and I photographed some of the grave stones we found. I wish now I’d taken all of them, but I was young in terms of genealogy research and it simply never occurred to me. I’ve never returned but wish I could, though I’m not sure I could find it again without my guides in the big green Pontiac. I would bring rakes and tools to clean up the space and clean the stones, and photograph them to share on FindaGrave, which only has two memorials listed as of today. There were no images of the cemetery or of either grave until I uploaded these.

I must add that this Peel Family Cemetery in Bear Grass shouldn’t be confused with the Peele Family Cemetery or the Peel-Griffin Family Cemeter, both in Farmlife, Martin County. There are plenty of Peal/Peel/Peele’s to go around and they are all related if you go back far enough. But my Peel Cemetery is still a mystery.  I want to find the graves of those great-aunts and uncles who died as babies. I know they are there; they just need to be found. I wonder who else is buried with them, lost to time.


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Remembering My Grandparents

I was not quite six years old when my maternal grandmother died of colon cancer in 1960. Mimi had five grandchildren but I was the only granddaughter. They lived an hour away from us, but I don’t have many memories of her because I was so little. I do remember having tea parties with her at her house in Newark using a little metal tea set that was set aside for me.  Her silver sugar bowl filled with silk flowers sits on my bookshelf, and I think of her when I see it.

MYERS Susie and Bill - c1985 - Emerald Bay

Susie Keel Myers with her first great-grandchild, Bill Myers – 1985

Susie Keel Myers, my paternal grandmother, died in 1987 and I have many memories of time with her because I had her longer.  Grandmama flew out to see us carrying bags of frozen creamed corn so she could make Dad his favorite meal of fried chicken with proper sides. Guess she knew Mom wouldn’t have creamed corn sitting around in the pantry (which she didn’t).  When I lived in Virginia, I got a research grant that gave me four weeks of paid time off a year to abstract Martin County land deeds, and I spent those weeks with her.  After dinner I’d sit at the out-of-tune piano in the living room and play old Baptist hymns I’d never heard before, mostly about blood, while she warbled the words in the kitchen. We sat on the front porch drinking sweet tea and reviewing every branch of the family genealogy, forwards and backwards. Every trip I would bring a big paper bag of used Harlequin RO-mances, trading out old ones for new ones. She adored her “stories” and would fall asleep on the couch with one in her hands. Her pincushion is an embroidered heart that hangs every year on my Christmas tree.

Granddaddy, my paternal grandfather, died just before my 10th birthday, and I don’t really remember him at all. We only saw them about once a year at that point, since we lived in New Jersey and the grandparents were in North Carolina. He was a quiet man who kept to himself. Mostly I remember that he was quiet. That’s not much to remember and is kind of sad.

Flanders Bill 1965 retirementPop, or the Original Pop as he’s known in our family (since my father is Pop to a different generation) was my mother’s father. We saw him often while growing up since he was just an hour away. He came for holidays and we spent summers at his house in Manasquan, where most of my memories live. Pop loved to grill steaks and would trim them within an inch of their lives, getting them “just so.” He peeled and fried tomatoes for breakfast, and gave me money to walk down the boardwalk to buy him a morning paper and some crumb buns from the bakery.  When I lived in Virginia, I drove up to spent time with him in his retirement village. We’d watch reruns of Lawrence Welk and look at old picture albums, trying to remember/figure out who everyone was. He was lonely at the end of his life living far from his daughters and having outlived most of his friends and family; he died in 1983 at age 82 when I was 29. In my memory, his face was round and smiling. Whenever I have sparkling wine, I can hear his voice say, “Every bubble is a grape.”

I miss them. And I’m glad I can remember them – not for things they gave me, but for who they were as people and were in my life.  Genealogical research has told me more about them than I knew when they were alive, and I was too young to ask questions.  But they are alive in my memory.


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52 Ancestors #12 – William Marvin Myers

My paternal grandfather was three years old in 1909 when both of his parents died of the flu.

Bill and SusieWilliam Marvin Myers, known as “Bill,” was born on 16 January 1906 in Perquimans County, North Carolina,  the youngest child of Josephine Emma Goodwin and William Myers. Josephine passed away in March 1909 at the age of 35; his father followed in October 1909, leaving their three small children orphaned.  Lucinda (Goodwin) Curtis took in her sister’s children – Percival (age 9), Nellie (age 4), and William (age 3) – and raised them with her own three children in a crowded rural farm house.

By 1920, Percival was dead of typhoid fever and sister Nellie was married. Bill completed two years of high school and worked as a farm laborer on his uncle’s farm. He moved west forty miles to Williamston in 1927, where he met Susie Lanier Keel one day at the movies. She was a farmer’s daughter herself and something sparked. Susie found herself pregnant and she and Bill married in July 1927 in the Baptist minister’s parlor. What she remembered most of the wedding was that her parents didn’t attend, probably because of the pregnancy.

BillandTomMyers-c1959Originally working as a farm laborer on his father-in-law’s farm, Bill soon began working for the W.I. Skinner & Co. Tobacco Company in a year-round capacity. He was a truck driver on the Williamston/Norfolk route and also worked as a warehouse foreman, retiring at age 57 in 1963 due to declining health.  He died on 14 June 1964 of metastatic cancer.

Those are the facts. But the truth of the man is harder to find because he was a hard man to know, keeping largely private and to himself. My father doesn’t recall much affection between his parents when he was growing up, nor much affection between father and children, either.

Bill had less education than his wife and lived with her parents in a community where her family had lived for 200 years and he had few friends. He was poor all his life and quite possibly resented being tied to my grandmother in a shotgun wedding. He was a quiet man who didn’t talk much, didn’t read, didn’t play or have interest in sports, or spend time with others. In spite of the kind words of his obituary, Bill didn’t attend church often, either. He was just a quiet, boring man in a dead-end job with little to bring joy to his life – and who didn’t enjoy the children he had.

Which is really so sad. Not only do I not know him, his children didn’t, either.


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Recognizing the Irish in Me

Mom always made me wear orange on St. Patrick’s Day when I was growing up in recognition of my Protestant Irish roots. And because her mother made her do it when she was growing up. According to AncestryDNA, I’m 29% Irish. Mom was 56% Irish, and Dad is 15%.  Of course, ethnicity estimates are only really accurate to the continent level, but today is St. Patrick’s Day and I’m celebrating my Irish roots.

William Cooke (1829-1912) and Eliza Leighton (1838-1916), two of my maternal g-g-grandparents, came to New York City between 1854-1857 from Belfast, Northern Ireland. They may have been already married when they arrived, as no marriage record for them has been found in New York. William was a shoemaker and he and Eliza raised their family in Brooklyn, where they were members of South Third Street Presbyterian Church. Only five of their 13 children lived longer than one year. Their son Robert Thomas Cooke, the second child of that name, was my great-grandfather.

Cookes

More maternal g-g-grandparents were also Irish. Alice Heginbotham (1842-1927) was born in Dublin in 1842 to her Irish mother Anna Cairnes (1820-1878) and her English father, Thomas Heginbotham (1816-1892). Thomas was a hatter as was Anna’s father, William. The Heginbothams arrived in New York City from Dublin on 22 August 1853,  traveling in steerage on the Freja and bringing Anna’s widowed mother Alice (1789-1876) with them.  They lived in Manhattan where Thomas worked as a hatter. In the 1870 census, Thomas and four of his children were working in the hat trade.

Alice’s husband Peter McCormick (1842-1898) took a less direct route to New York City. We don’t know where in Ireland he was born, but on 14 May 1856 he was indentured as an apprentice to stone mason James Galloway in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, Patrick McCormick, signed the agreement. James died in bankruptcy before the terms of the agreement were completed and in 1861, Peter was with Patrick and the rest of his family in Liverpool, England; Peter, Patrick, and his brothers Francis and John were all stone masons. Peter arrived in New York in September 1867 and worked as a mason or contractor until his death in 1898. He and Alice married in May 1875 at St. Ignatius Loyola parish in Manhattan. Their daughter Charlotte was my great-grandmother. Peter was naturalized in New York on 15 October 1886.

Charles Morrison (1837-1895) and his wife Margaret Brookmire (1845-1939) were born in Scotland.  What little we know about Charles indicates his parents were also Scots. Margaret’s parents were Robert Brookmire (b.1821) and Isabella McAusland (b.1817). The McAuslands are also an old Scots family, but in Robert and Isabella’s marriage record, it was noted that Robert’s father John Brookmire was in Belfast. They were married on 3 July 1840 in the Church of Scotland Parish of Campsie.

Brookmire McAusland Marriage

Robert worked as a Calico Printer, an occupation that was thriving in the Belfast, Ireland, area with many workers coming to Scotland to work in the same trade. It’s quite probable that he was actual Irish rather than Scots, upping my total.

My father’s Irish roots are a complete mystery, as I have yet to figure out how any of them even got to North Carolina much less where they came from. Sometimes I think they were dropped by aliens. But DNA doesn’t lie and there is Irish in there somewhere!

 


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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.

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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.


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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.