My dad and all four of my grandparents were gone too soon for DNA testing. It was a technically a thing before my dad died in 2007, but not anything I was really aware of. My genealogy journey started a few years later.
My Great-Granduncle Isaac Pittman Junior was gone too soon. He died in a farming equipment accident in 1911, when he was 15 years old.
My Aunt Nancy Diana Hahn was gone too soon. She was killed in a shooting accident in 1957 when she was 12 years old.
My cousins Jimmy and Wendy Cook both died in car accidents. Jimmy was 35 years old when he died in 1997. Wendy was 44 when she died in 2015. Her youngest child, Brenden Fisk, age 6, was also killed.
As I look back over my family tree, I see the losses of many young children; some are only remembered in Bible records or by a simple marker in a graveyard. It’s sad to read about these deaths, but sadder still to think that many others have no markers or memorials, and their existence is lost to time.
I tend to focus on who I cannot identify, but this #52Ancestors topic allows me to recognize how far I’ve come in my genealogical quest.
When I began working on the family tree, I could name my parents, grandparents, and three out of eight great-grandparents. Now, I can easily rattle off the names of all 16 of my great-great-grandparents.
My research and tree building is done primarily on FamilySearch. I have tried to move at least basic information offline and/or onto other private family trees, because I know how easy it is for someone else to misidentify people and either add them to or remove them from their place in the universal tree. I will admit to realizing my own mistakes a few times – usually pretty quickly – and I have spent more time fixing those errors than I did making the original mistake.
Recently, on the anniversary of the Mayflower landing, FamilySearch provided a list of my alleged Mayflower ancestors. I looked at the first one, following the line generation by generation. Then I stepped off FamilySearch and looked up information on that Mayflower family. They had three documented children. My ancestor was the fourth. The undocumented one. It’s just unbelievable that someone will add a child into a family with not even a note to say why they believe the history books are wrong. I believe I can identify some wishful thinking there.
The first day I had connected to the universal tree and began following my ancestors back and back and back in time, I was shocked and thrilled to see that my ancestors included William the Conqueror, King of England. My husband just said, “Uh-huh.” I can identify now that he was probably right.
I have found some pretty amazing stories involving ancestors and relatives that really are connected to my tree. Maybe those stories don’t explain why I love tiaras and Shakespeare plays, but I can identify with their will power to make a better life for themselves and their children.
That’s what my Mam-ma, Willie Stevens Cook, used to say. She had sayings for everything. A stitch in time saves nine. Knee high to a grasshopper. You’ve got to take the bitter with the sweet. Every cloud has a silver lining.
When I was in college, and working part-time at a bookstore, I might add, Mam-ma wrote down all the phrases and maxims and “old sayings” she could think of, in pencil on little pieces of paper from a notepad. She gave them to me and said I should type them up and publish them in a book.
Mam-ma was a lot smarter than me.
“No publisher is going to pay for a list of old sayings,” I thought. Maybe if I researched them, and wrote the history of the saying and the meaning behind it, someone would be interested. Maybe. Who would buy just a list of old sayings.
It didn’t take very long for me to be proven wrong. Within a year or two of Mam-ma handing me those notes, several books came out that were just lists of old sayings. Exactly what I thought couldn’t get published and wouldn’t sell if they did.
I kicked myself every time I sold one of those stupid books.
Genealogists know to use social media to help locate living descendants of our relatives, or to learn enough about a DNA match to build a tree. Yes, I feel like a stalker when I do this, but when DNA matches don’t link to online trees and won’t answer a message, what else is there to do?
Coincidentally, this week I found a new use for social media. At least, it’s one I hadn’t tried for genealogy before.
My mom brought over some photos, one of which is labeled on the back “Mr. and Mrs. Sark. She is Billie Stevens’ second cousin.” My mom never heard mention of the Sarks. I didn’t see anyone who married a Sark on Billie’s mother’s family tree, and I know next to nothing about his father.
I scanned the photo, and I started posting it on Facebook groups for local history or genealogy. Within a couple of days, I got lucky. Someone responded and said she recognized the woman as her step-great-grandmother! And she left me her phone number. During our conversation, she told me that her daughter saw the post and recognized the name Sark, and she told her mother to look at the picture.
When we talked, she identified the man as Samuel Sark and the woman as his wife Emma Johnson. Emma, she told me, had been married a total of four times.
As soon as I had scanned the photo, I started looking for Sark families in the right area of South Alabama or Northwest Florida. I had found an Edgar Samuel Sark married to a Mary Emma Johnson, and I knew that Billie’s mother, Mary Reid, had a sister, Fannie, who married a Johnson. I knew also that Fannie had a daughter called Emma Johnson. But how common a name is Emma, or Mary Emma, Johnson? Too common to be sure I had the right person, until my new Facebook friend came through with an identification! Now it all makes sense, although this makes Mrs. Sark Billie’s first cousin, not his second cousin.
I’ve been thinking about this topic all week. Maybe too much, because my oops happened today (Sunday, February 5th, 2023).
My husband decided it would be a nice day for grilling, so we invited my mom over for lunch. Before he fired up the grill, my husband threw some yard trimmings in the burn barrel and lit that up, too. The weather was nice. Everything seemed perfect.
When my mom arrived, she walked to the back yard carrying three photo albums that belonged to her mother, Willie Stevens Cook. I sat next to her on the bench, but we don’t have a table outside. When we grill, we just hold our plates. So, I brought out a cardboard tray for her to set the albums in, and she held the one we were looking at in her lap. There were quite a few loose photos in the front of the book, and as I was looking through them, I flipped one over to see the names, and it had my great-great grandmother’s name on it. Right now, I don’t remember if it said Mollie Muterspaugh or Mary Muterspaugh or Grandma Muterspaugh, but I had never seen a picture of her.
I turned it back over and stared at it for a moment. She was wearing a black long dress with sleeves that were puffy near the shoulders. She was standing next to her adult son Billie Stevens, and one of his daughters, I think it was my grandmother, but right now, I can’t remember for sure. I was focused on Mollie Muterspaugh. I could feel myself tearing up, I was so happy to have it.
But I set it aside with the other photos, and we continued going through the album. At one point we stopped and set it in the tray with the others and ate. Then we took the albums in the house to finish looking at them. Once inside, I began to set aside some photos that I wanted to scan before my mom left; I knew I didn’t have time to scan them all today, and I have several albums here already that I haven’t gotten to. We finished the third album and I went back to the first album to look for Grandma Muterspaugh.
The photo was gone. I went through all three books. So did mom. So did my husband. We went to the back yard and walked the entire yard. I took the flashlight out, even though it was still daylight, and looked again. I retraced our steps in the house. I looked under the couch. Tim and I went back out after dark, aiming our brightest flashlights again, thinking that it would catch the white of the paper. It’s just gone.
My greatest hope is that it will somehow turn up, that it is in the house here and somehow fell behind something. My greatest fear is that it somehow ended up in that burn barrel and is nothing but ash. I’m just sick about this. I think I should have told my mom that we couldn’t look at the albums outside and that I should have put them in the house immediately. As I looked at the picture I thought of pulling out my phone and taking a picture right then, but the scanner was inside, and I was going to scan it after lunch, so it wasn’t urgent. Little did I know.
Maybe there’s another copy of that photo somewhere, or at least another picture of Grandma Muterspaugh. Perhaps the descendants of her daughter, Billie’s half-sister Lottie Muterspaugh Corley have a photo of her and I can someday get a copy, so I can see her once again. Just to have it in my hand, and now it’s gone, it’s just unbelievable.
Here’s some cousin bait – A photos of Lottie’s three children, George, Mabel, and Everette Lee Corley. We have other pictures of Lottie that are not yet scanned, and we’re happy to share.
There was never any doubt in my mind that I would graduate from high school and then go on to college. My experience in school, however, was a bit different from day one.
We lived in Scotland the year I turned five. My birthday was just a day (or a few days) after the cut-off to enter first grade. My friends who lived down the street were a few months older, so they got to start school, while I was left behind. My mom went to the headmaster and pleaded our case, but he was an older man and stood firm. My mother, the daughter of teachers and who had, herself, done some substitute teaching before my dad went back in the Navy, was not deterred. She found out what books my friends were using and where to buy them. Every day, we’d ask my friends what they learned, and my mom would make sure I was caught up the next day. A few weeks into the school year, the old headmaster retired, and my mom went back to the school and again pleaded our case, and I was allowed to join the class.
Halfway through second grade, we returned to the United States, and I went half a semester at Gulf Breeze Elementary School while we stayed with my maternal grandparents. Then we moved to our house in Brent, and I finished the year at Pensacola Christian School.
That’s the way my school life went. A few months here, a few months there. When my dad was at sea, my mom and I often moved back to Pensacola, so I spent more time overall in Pensacola schools than anywhere else. We also lived at home, the house my parents built when they first got married, when my dad was stationed at NAS Whiting Field in Milton. His final duty station before retirement was in Panama City; he lived in our camper there during the week and came home on weekends.
Even when I attended the same school for a year, I never once had perfect attendance. My parents thought nothing of taking me out for a day or a week to travel. I mostly had decent grades.
Contrast that with my mom, who attended three schools in Pensacola, had perfect attendance through most of her years of school, and knew many of the same people all her life. I can’t even imagine.
My mom and dad both graduated from high school, and so did my mom’s parents. My maternal grandmother had to fight for the right to go to high school. My maternal grandfather took time off to work on the family farm, so he graduated late, but he still graduated. They were both teachers, and they took weekend classes and summer school and eventually they both earned college degrees.
My paternal grandparents had far less education. They never struck me as being uneducated, but according to the 1940 Census, Papa Hahn finished 6th grade and Grandma Hahn finished 7th grade. They were married when he was 20 and she was 14. Their first child, my dad, was born a year later.
The 1940 Census shows Papa Hahn’s parents, Theodore Hahn and Maggie Cooper, finished 8th and 6th grade, respectively. Grandma Hahn’s parents, Dave Silcox and Annie Givens, completed 5th and 6th grade. Grandma’s half-sister Jewel (aka Judy) was still living at home, and had completed her sophomore year in high school.
According to the 1940 Census, my maternal great-grandparents, Arthur Cook and Dollie Allison finished 6th and 7th grade, respectively. The 1920 Census indicates that both Billie Stevens and Mollie Pittman could read and write; Billie died before 1940, but that Census shows that Mollie completed the 3rd grade.
From the 1880 Census, my paternal great-great grandparents William F. Hahn and Ary Loper could both read, and she could write. Henry Cooper and Sarah Givens could both read, and she could write. William H. Silcox could read and write; his wife Doratha Duck could not. Looking at the 1920 Census, another set of great-great grandparents, John Silcox and Ellen Parker could both read and write.
On my mom’s side, looking at the 1880 Census, John Cook and Loucinda Ryals could neither read nor write. John Allison and Delila Bruce, on the 1900 Census, could both read and write. The 1900 Census also indicates that Isaac Pittman and Mosella Thompson could read and write. I haven’t identified William Stevens in any Census records; his wife, Mary Reid could read, but not write, according to the 1920 Census.
I am fortunate to have lived in a time and with parents who encouraged my education.
This week, I scanned a bunch of photos that my mom had taped onto 8.5″x11″ paper to take to a copy shop years ago. This was when home scanners were rare, and office supply stores didn’t offer color copies. She took it to a store that specialized in making color copies of family photos.
As I went through the pages, I knew I had already scanned some of the images, but the “originals” that I worked from were some of the copies she had made. Other pictures I don’t remember seeing at all. Either way, I wanted to get all these pictures – the cleanest original copies – digitized.
They’re photos from my dad’s family. The collection includes pictures of my great-grandparents, Theodore and Maggie Cooper; my dad’s sister Nancy Diana Hahn who died young; another great-grandfather, Henry David Silcox. Several of the pictures were labeled “Billie” and my mom had added “Ora Mae Silcox.”
I believed Ora Mae was one of my grandmother’s half-sisters, from her father Henry David Silcox‘s first marriage to Sarah McCann. When I went to FamilySearch to upload the pictures, I realized the name I had there was different – Ida W. Silcox. This was the name as listed on the 1920 Census. “Ida” was six years old. I had assumed this was Billie, but now here was another name. Were these two people the same? Was “Ida” a mistake or had her name been changed over time?
I took another look at the scanned census form. The name of Silcox, Henry D. is a bit smudged. Then comes his 17-year-old wife (half his age!) Annie O. (for Olive).
Juanita Elaine is listed here as Mamie E. Next comes Eva Inez, we’ll the “Ev” seems clear enough. Followed by Ida W., and baby — is that Annie? Hmm. It has to be my grandmother, Malzie Elizabeth. I wonder when they finalized her name.
However, before I changed Ida’s name to Ora Mae on FamilySearch, I just wanted to make sure that this wasn’t some other cousin who was also called Billie. One of the first things I did was search to see if anyone else had created an Ora Mae Silcox profile, and I found one.
No one had added any photos, so I couldn’t compare faces. The profile did not have her parents’ names, so no help there. It did have listed three husbands: Joseph Cinotto, Eugene Ough, and Edward Dilzer.
One of the pictures I had was “Billie and Johnny, 1946.” That was ten years after her marriage to Joseph, and about a year and a half before her marriage to Eugene. Johnny was a sailor, but beyond that, I have no clue of his identity, and the picture is no help in verifying if this Billie is my grandmother’s half-sister.
Another photo said, on the back, “Billie Ouch.” Or maybe “Oueh.” Could be a misspelling of Ough, but not definitive.
I headed over to newspapers.com and searched “Ora Mae Silcox.” I found an article from the Journal and Courier, Lafayette, Indiana, that listed Miss Ora Mae Silcox among the guests for a party at the Rediger home. Rediger! I knew that name and quickly verified that Billie’s sister Juanita had been married to Alvin Rediger. Still, could there be another Billie Silcox?
I kept going and found my great-grandfather’s obituary, listing among his survivors his daughter Ona Mae Ough. Misspelling of the first name aside, I now felt confident that “Ida” and “Ora Mae” were one and the same. Then I searched “Billie Dilzer” in quotation marks with the addition of Silcox, and found she was listed under that married name in the obituary for one of her half-brothers, Norman Silcox. I found a marriage record for Billie Ough and Edward Dilzer in 1970.
Finally, I looked at the records related to her first husband. His profile name was given as “Joseph Steven Cinotto Jr.” but all the records give his name as Steve, Steve J., or Steve Joseph. His father’s name is also given as Steve Joseph Cinotto Sr. After correcting the name, I reviewed the records that had already been attached to his profile. I found a marriage record showing that Steve married Ora Mae Silcox in 1936. In 1940, the couple is listed in the U.S. Census as living together in Peoria, Illinois. Her birthplace is given as Alabama, and her parents’ birthplaces aren’t listed. As I started searching, I found a 1930 Census listing Ora Mae Silcox as a live-in maid for a family in Peoria, born in Florida, and both parents from Florida, as is correct. I now firmly believed this Ora Mae was my Ora Mae, too. The clincher – I looked back through the photos and found one labeled Steve and Ora Mae in Chicago, Ill. Bingo!
Ora Mae Silcox was out of place on the FamilySearch family tree. Thanks to old family photos and online records, she’s now where she belongs.
It’s good that this topic comes up every year in the 52 Ancestors project, because there’s always another photo that needs its story told. Here’s my favorite for this year:
I took this photo on Easter Sunday, 16 April 2006, in front of my parents’ home. English ivy covers the southwest corner of the house, the wall of my old bedroom, and the flower bed on the corner has several azalea bushes My parents, Zenova and Bill Hahn, wanted a photo for the church directory, and I thought the flowers and greenery would provide the perfect backdrop.
To the left is the photo I set out to take that sunny Sunday. It’s a fairly standard portrait on the second to last Easter we had with my dad. We knew he had cancer. He would pass away one year and eight days later.
My parents loved each other very much, and my dad was always very demonstrative. When he leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek, I snapped a picture.
At first, my mom didn’t care for it. Her hair was mussed up and it was kind of silly. I, of course, wasn’t about to delete it, and as time went on, my mother came to love the photo of the kiss.
It’s a special moment that puts a smile on my face every time I think of it.
If you’re interested in playing along with the 52 Ancestors challenge, check out the list of prompts for this year at Amy Johnson Crow’s website. You can sign up to get weekly reminders to preserve your family stories, or just write at your own pace. However you do it, take some time to save and share your pictures and stories, so they will be around for future generations.
This week, our topic has us fantasizing about which of our ancestors we’d like to meet. For me, it’s a relative that has intrigued me for most of my life.
I learned when I was a child that my great-grandfather or his father (I was never quite clear on that) came to America from Germany when he was three years old. I remember being told that my German ancestor had relatives back in Germany, and these “maiden aunts” had their property taken by the Nazis. In high school, I took a couple of years of German, because of my German heritage. When I asked the name of this mysterious ancestor, I was told that he was called “Grandpa Loper.” So, of course, when I started looking around on the internet, I would search for Loper Hahn who came to the United States at age 3.
It turns out that most of what I knew about my ancestor was wrong.
His name was William Fredrick Hahn. He died many years before my grandfather Charlie Hahn was born. His youngest son, Theodore, is my great-grandfather. He was 21 when William died, and I know that in 1900, Theodore was living with his maternal uncle, William Loper (Grandpa Loper) and his wife. Maybe he didn’t know much about his father to pass on. Some of the information I was told may simply have been misremembered. Some of the other stories may have been created for entertainment purposes.
Here’s what I know now.
William was born around 1846 in Germany. His obituary says he was a native of Berlin. If he had any siblings, they were long gone before the Nazis came to power. According to a naturalization document, he arrived in the United States around 1859, when he was 13 years old. He tended to work around the waterfront, as a baymen or laborer. He is named on two patents – one for a domino case with scoring system, and one for a slate with a sliding ruler for drawing lines. William died in 1907, when he was about 61 years old.
I have so many questions for William.
֍ Were you born in Berlin, the capital, or Berlin, the little town in Schleswig-Holstein? ֍ Were you baptized, and if so, do you know the name of the church? ֍ What are your parents’ names? ֍ Did you travel to the United States with your family? ֍ Do you still have family in Germany? ֍ Tell me about your work – what was your first job? How did you train? ֍ How did you meet your wife, Ary Loper? ֍ How did you come up with your inventions?
I’m sure if I could have this conversation with him, I would think of many more follow up questions.
If you’re interested in writing more about your ancestors, visit Amy Johnson Crow’s website and sign up to receive a weekly prompt like this one.
I don’t know why I first got behind on 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks this year. Maybe one week, I had to work a lot of overtime or something else kept me away from the computer. In the past, if I got behind, I started where I left off and I caught up by posting twice in one week. Or three times. This year, though, while I made some efforts to catch up, eventually, I just got too far behind.
The creator of #52Ancestors plainly says, don’t worry about skipping a week. Just pick up where you left off. Or pick and choose which weeks’ prompts you write about. I tried that, too. I tried jumping ahead and writing to the current prompt, but I felt guilty that I skipped posts.
I need to start fresh, which will probably be in a few weeks, when January 1st rolls around.
In the meantime, I have some projects. I’m looking at Twitter alternatives, and now have profiles on Post.news and Mastodon. At least a couple hundred genealogists have embraced Mastodon, so I expect to use that for family history-related posting, networking, and research troubleshooting. The #genealogy community online is generally amazing and interesting.
Post is a little more straightforward to use, and I expect that once it’s up to speed, that’s where I’ll see and share more content in other areas of interest, from current events and entertainment news, to nerdisms and cute animal pics.
My genealogy goals remain similar:
Advance my family tree accurately using documents and DNA. I just completed the Intermediate Foundations program at SLIG, and I need to apply what I’ve learned to break through my brick walls.
Pursue more advanced genealogy education. There are a couple of other DNA-related courses I’d like to take, depending on financial considerations. Medical bills and, more recently, a home plumbing project and a couple of car repairs, have cut into our fun money.
Preserve more recent family history. Mom just paid the bill for 1,400 slides and several old home movies to be digitized. Now I need to add metadata and find ways to share them with relatives – by email, uploading to FamilySearch, duplicating onto thumb drives and passing them out.
The photo on the left is one of those slides. Cleve Pittman and his sister Mollie Stevens were photographed in Muscogee, Escambia County, Florida. That’s all the information that I got from the brief handwritten note on the frame of the slide. The siblings were born in Baldwin County, Alabama, and after their father’s death, the family moved to Muscogee. That’s where my grandmother Willie Stevens was born and grew up. But where in Muscogee is this? Are they revisiting their old homestead, now overgrown? Is this the site of the Muscogee cemetery, which has now been somewhat preserved, but many of the markers are gone? No one is alive who was there the day this photo was taken. Since it was stored away in a slide carousel, it’s been decades since anyone has even looked at it.
This is my mission – to bring these photos to the light of the day and make connections with cousins who will be pleased to be able to put a face to the names in the family tree.