2022 Got Away from Me

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.

Photo of siblings Cleve Pittman and Mollie Stevens in Muscogee, Escambia County, Florida. This photo was taken in the 1960s and was scanned from the collection of Mollie's daughter Willie Cook.
Grover Cleveland Pittman, known as Cleve, and Mary E. Pittman Stevens, known as Mollie.

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.

Posted in My Life | Leave a comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Preservation

I’ve been fortunate that my family has been able to hold onto a lot of memorabilia and ephemera. I don’t know if I’ll ever get through it all. I remember years ago (decades ago), my mom showed me some stock certificates in her grandmother’s name. Where it is today, I have no idea, but I know my mother wouldn’t have thrown it away.

My most recent preservation project involved packing up slides to send off for scanning. I could scan them at home, but the process is more cumbersome than scanning photos – and I have plenty of photos to scan, too. The company – Scan Cafe – just finished scanning them and sent me a link to what we would have called “proofs” in the olden days. I can delete the ones that are too blurry or degraded with age to make out anything. Most of what’s going in the “trash” are out-of-focus landscapes; the scenery was probably gorgeous, but if it’s a blurry shot out the car window with faded colors, there’s really no point in keeping a digital copy. We will get the originals back, if anyone in the family wants to second guess my decisions.

It’s been fun looking back at the photos, and not just at the people. There’s Mam-ma’s silver tinsel Christmas tree, which I’ve heard about but don’t really remember. The ceramic cat (left) on shelves that were made by stacking bricks and laying boards on top of them. I’m looking at the picture of Mam-ma and Pap-pa’s first house on Palafox Street, which I only visited as a very young child, but I can tell you right where that cat, and the school bell, and the old hardback books were located in their “new” house in Gulf Breeze.

Once we get the full resolution scans, the next project is to sit down with my mom and go through them one by one, adding names and any other memories to the metadata. Then I’ll share some of them on FamilySearch, and create a photo album on Flickr, which I know will keep the metadata intact. I may need to pick up some thumb drives and send them to relatives, in an effort to get the pictures into more hands. The more people who have them, the more likely they’ll be accessible to others in the future.

A lot of things can happen to physical media. Fire and water damage have taken some of our family memories, I know. Digital media can fail as well; it’s probably time for me to buy more hard drives and move over all my scanned photos and documents before the drives I have go bad. Cloud storage is an idea, but what happens when I die, and I’m not around to pay the bill any more?

It breaks my heart to know that some photos are beyond saving. Like this one my mom handed to me recently. It had been in a plaster frame with a bubble of glass over it, but clearly something happened to it to degrade the faces. We have no idea who was in this picture. I scanned it just in case I can figure out some way to see past the damage to make out the features. It’s a good reminder to scan photos sooner rather than later.

Posted in Genealogy, My Life, Pensacola | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Free Space

The day was April 28th, 1989. I had been living in Central Florida for seven months, and finally, my day off coincided with a scheduled launch of the space shuttle. That morning, I got in my car for the approximately 50-mile drive from Kissimmee to Kennedy Space Center.

As I neared the base, traffic was backed up, and while I don’t remember for certain, I was probably hearing on the radio that the parking lots were full. Like hundreds of other people, I pulled over and parked on the side of the road.

I got out of the car and pulled out my 35mm camera. Someone else waiting nearby pointed out that we could see Atlantis on the launch pad, way off in the distance. I didn’t have a zoom lens, so what you see in the picture was pretty much what it looked like in real life. Very tiny. Still, since I had been living in Central Florida, NASA had launched shuttles three times, and I knew they were visible from 50-70 miles away. I figured it would be spectacular from a couple of miles away.

People had their radios turned up, so we could hear the countdown. Gosh, I was excited to finally witness a shuttle launch “up close.”

Then at T -31 seconds, they scrubbed the launch.

I get it. I remembered the Challenger disaster. I would much rather they cancelled the flight than put the astronauts at risk, but as I wrote on the back of the photo that I sent to my mom, “What a bummer!”

I never had another chance to try to see one from close to Cape Canaveral, although I did see a few other shuttle and rocket launches, usually while I was working at Walt Disney World. I remember one day, I was working the Backstage Studio Tour at what was then the Disney-MGM Studios, and I was able to call attention to the shuttle going up during one of the tours.

I had been fascinated with space and the space program for a long time. My mom says she got me up to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969, but I don’t remember that. I do remember watching every space shuttle launch and landing that I could, when I wasn’t in school or at work. I remember hearing about the Challenger and calling my mom to verify it was true, because I didn’t believe it. I remember being jealous of my dad getting to meet astronaut Judith Resnick when she visited his base in Panama City; she was one of the crew killed aboard Challenger.

I didn’t figure I would ever have a shot at going up in space. Not because when I was growing up there weren’t any women astronauts. No, I didn’t have perfect vision or excellent math skills, both of which were required to become a military pilot, which is what you had to be to be considered for the space program. Now, of course, all kinds of non-pilot scientists get to go up to space, but sadly, it is too late for me. If they ever offered a seat to an aging, overweight news producer, though, I would throw my name in the hat in a heartbeat!

Posted in Genealogy, My Life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: At the Library

I miss going to the library. It’s one of the things I’ve been avoiding since the plague arrived. I used to love going and picking out books when I was a child, and then years later, and a few years ago now, my husband and I checked out several TV series on DVD.

A number of years ago, now, I served on a library panel that helped create a long-term plan for the West Florida Library System. It was an interesting experience, and in the years since, I have seen some of the suggestions we made come to fruition.

The downtown Pensacola library now has sewing machines (!!) and I went there to sew a Star Wars costume. I had found the pattern for said Jedi outfit online, and the library also has a large format (like banner size) printer that I used to print the pattern.

In all the years since I started my genealogy research, I have never had enough time at the library. They have funeral home records that may (*may*) finally answer questions about my great-great grandmother Mary “Mollie” Reid Stevens Gilmore Muterspaugh. I just haven’t had time to look. I used the computer many times to access Ancestry, and it was during one of those sessions that I finally found a naturalization document for my great-great grandfather William F. Hahn.

The genealogy branch library now has a scanner that can do book size, and I have several items I would like to digitize and share.

In this day of digital reading and research, I do miss the accidental discoveries we made when we had to look things up the old-fashioned way, with a trip to the library, the card catalog, and turning every page to get to the one we wanted. I just hope our digital records survive as long as the books have.

Posted in Genealogy, My Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Help

This prompt, from Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, reminds me of a story that my parents’ minister told at my dad’s funeral.

He recalled the time that he and my dad were outside of the church in Ensley, a community in Escambia County, Florida. A man came up asking for money, and Mark said he’d go inside and get something for the man. I don’t recall if he intended to get the man a small amount of money or food, but he said that, instead, my dad pulled $20 out of his wallet and gave it to him.

When the man had left, Mark said to my dad something like, “You know he’s just going to use that money for liquor or drugs, right?” and my dad replied something like, “That’s up to him, but I felt like I needed to offer him the help.”

I know I don’t remember the words exactly, but the message has stuck with me these 15 years.

Twice, I felt like I got bilked by someone asking for help, and I’ve always resented it. Once was back in the ’80s. A woman came to my parents’ house, where I still lived, and told me she worked at the day care down the street and her mother was sick and she needed to get to Mobile and could she borrow some money, and then could she get a ride. I gave her about $20 and gave her a ride to another neighborhood. I started getting suspicious by the time I got home, and I called the day care. They told me she didn’t work there; she’d come to them asking for money and telling them she lived in the green house – which was my house. I called and told the sheriff’s office, but of course, I was still a fairly new driver and she had directed me into an area where I hadn’t gone before, so I couldn’t even say where I dropped her off.

Another time, still years ago, but I should have been older and wiser, a woman came to my door and gave a very similar story. I told her I couldn’t give her money but that I’d give her a ride. She directed me to a store down the street, where a man got into the back seat. Then I got scared. I drove them to a nearby motel and they got out. I felt so stupid. And lucky. Anything could have happened to me.

People have helped me before. When my car got a flat in Orlando, a man stopped and put the spare on for me. I was with two or three girlfriends of mine, and we were standing on the side of the road holding the tire removal tool and looking at the time, and I know he could tell we had no idea what we were doing.

Another time, I was with my mom and the car conked out and a man stopped and helped us. My mom offered to pay him, but he refused it and just said to pass it on and help someone else in the future. Now, he’d say to pay it forward.

I think most of us probably have it in our hearts to help someone in trouble or need when we can, and whether that person is bamming us is on them, not on us. Unfortunately, though, that last experience of finding myself at the mercy of two strangers has left me feeling that I cannot help anyone, for fear of putting my life at risk.

Posted in Genealogy, My Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Teams

The first image this prompt conjured up was a photo of my dad that I think I probably first saw just a few months ago. At least, I never remember seeing it growing up.

When my mom and dad first got married, and my dad was working at St. Regis Paper Mill in Escambia County, the mill had a baseball team. I gather it was a community league, and they played teams from other businesses, or maybe even other divisions within the mill.

Bill Hahn at the ballfield and relaxing at home in his uniform.

I looked up on newspapers.com, to see if I could find any articles about a game in which my dad might have been mentioned. No luck there (unless they misspelled the last name), but I did find an article about a St. Regis employee golf tournament where he was listed. I remember him going to play golf a few times, and once or twice I went with him, when I was in elementary school. For me, golfing was just a lot of walking. Other than that, I really don’t remember him being involved in sports while I was growing up.

It’s interesting to see how active he was before I came along!

Posted in Genealogy, My Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Messaging Other Users on FamilySearch

In the upper right corner (on a desktop computer) there’s a quick link to
your messages. A red dot on the icon means you have an unread message.
If you see a blue-linked name of someone who made a change to a profile, you can click on it for messaging options. Here, the top example is from the Sources page (right side column), and the bottom example came up when I clicked the “edit” button next to a category on the Details page.
When you click a blue-linked name, you’ll get this pop-up. 

Click the blue “message” button to message the person within FamilySearch. 

Some people, like me, will provide an email address.
Posted in My Life | Leave a comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Fun Facts

Fun fact about me: I was incredibly shy as a child. I didn’t want to talk to anyone I didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t want to stand up in front of a crowd and say anything. In about 8th grade, I forced myself to enter a speech writing contest, in which I also had to stand up and read the speech, and in about 11th grade, I decided to audition for a school play along with a friend of mine. In both cases, the same thing happened: my voice trembled and my legs shook. I did not advance in the speech writing contest, but I did get cast in the school play – as an extra. That was fine by me. I could hang out with my friend, do something fun, and I didn’t have to say anything! That is, until rehearsals stretched on, and people dropped out, and suddenly I found myself with a speaking role. That was the first time I ever had to say anything in front of a group that I didn’t write, and I realized that it takes some of the pressure off when you’re saying someone else’s words. When I got to college, I signed up for an acting class to continue that process of becoming more confident of speaking in front of a group. By the end of the first semester, I was cast in three plays and I changed my major to theatre.

Here I am after a night of performing comedy-horror songs at a haunted tour for First City Shakespeare, Pensacola.

Fun fact about my mom: She snuck out of the house once through her bedroom window. Her parents realized she was gone, and her dad locked the window and waited for her to come in the front door. I would NEVER have dared to do that! Of course, I don’t remember ever hearing this story when I was a child.

Fun fact about my dad: He was a violent sleeper. He kicked the window out in his bedroom once growing up, and when my parents first got married, if mom had to wake him up for shift work, she had to poke him with a broom. I guess he eventually grew out of it. I think I remember being told to be careful when I was little if he was sleeping, but I don’t remember any problems as I got older.

Posted in Genealogy, My Life | Tagged , | 2 Comments

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Timeline

My mother’s paternal grandmother is Dollie Cook, born Dorcas Elizabeth Allison, in Marion County, Georgia, on October 8th, 1890. As far as I know, no one has ever found a birth record for Dollie, but that is the date she always used.

Dollie’s timeline, based on the records we have for her, goes as follows:

1900 – U.S. Census – Dollie, age 10, is living with her parents, S. John and Delila Allison, and four brothers in Tazwell, Marion, Georgia.

1906 – Georgia County Marriages, 1785-1950 – Dollie marries Arthur Thomas Cook in Marion County.

1907 – Family records show she had a baby who died.

1909 – April 15 – Dollie gives birth to Dewey Hoyt Cook in Walnut Hill, Escambia County, Florida.

1911-1926 – Dollie has eight more children (five sons, including twins, and three girls).

1910, 1920, 1930, 1940, and 1950 – U.S. Census records show Dollie living in Walnut Hill.

1941 – Florida Divorce Index, 1927-2001 – Dollie divorces Arthur.

1973 – Florida Death Index, 1877-1998, and published obituaries show Dollie died on September 27th.

My mother remembers Dollie as being mean. Dollie insisted that her children bring their families to her home in North Escambia County for all holidays and special occasions. It’s one reason my grandmother, Hoyt’s wife Willie, was always ready to host Christmas dinner and gift exchanges on a day other than December 25th. She understood the pressures from the “other” family to spend the day with them, and she realized it wasn’t worth fighting about or getting upset.

I imagine Dollie’s early life was difficult. Both her parents died in or around 1904, when Dollie was 14 years old, or thereabouts. Her mother, it’s said, sustained fatal injuries in a train wreck on the way to Oklahoma. Her father and two younger siblings died in Oklahoma. The story I heard was that there was a settlement from the railroad, but the children didn’t see any of that money. Community members helped them get money to return to Georgia, where members of their late mother’s family still lived.

Dollie had one older brother, Frank Allison. He was about 16 when they were orphaned. They had two younger siblings, ages 12 and 9, and I’m sure she had to take on some of the responsibility of taking care of those children.

The timeline suggests that very soon after their marriage, Arthur and Dollie moved to Florida. Pensacola and Milton were booming with port traffic and lumber mills. The Cooks settled in the north end of Escambia County and started farming.

Dollie’s brothers Frank, John Henry, and Elbert Byron (known as Zeb) all moved to the same area and lived there all their lives.

I was told that in 1916, when Dollie was pregnant with twins Horace and Hurley, Arthur had to carry her to the porch, where she would sit and shell peas or whatever she could do. I’m sure that having nine children and a farm to run kept Arthur and Dollie busy just about every hour of every day.

At some point when Hoyt was a boy, their house burned. Hoyt had left his new shoes on the back porch and wanted to run around and grab them but Dollie insisted all the children stay with her. All his life, Hoyt said he could have saved those shoes if she’d have just let him run back there for a minute.

In 1965, according to an newspaper photo caption published much later, Dollie was injured in a car accident. My mother says she was told Dollie had gotten out of the car, perhaps to check the mailbox, and the car rolled and knocked her down. She was in a wheelchair the rest of her life.

I have searched the Pensacola newspaper archives on newspapers.com, but I can’t find a reference to the accident. I did find several listings from that time period where Mrs. Dollie E. Cook was named an inspector for an election precinct in Walnut Hill.

This timeline review – suggested by Amy Johnson Crow as part of her 52 Ancestors in 52 Days Challenge – shows just how little a timeline of vital records and censuses can tell about a person’s life and how important it is to preserve family stories that will otherwise be lost to time.

Posted in Genealogy, Pensacola | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Characters

We all have a character or two in our family trees. The trouble is, we don’t always get to know the personalities and experiences of our ancestors or other relatives. We find names and locations in Census records and perhaps a brief mention in the newspaper, but it can be tough to fill in the blanks of a life lived.

The first person I think of when I see the word “character” is my maternal grandfather. Hoyt Cook was a great talker. He told stories of his youth, both real and for-entertainment-purposes-only. He was also a teacher, so I could always count on him to tell me about stuff. I can still hear him say, “Aw, foot” in disbelief of something.

Hoyt Cook and daughter Zenova Cook circa 1940 standing in front of iron gates at Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile, Alabama.
Hoyt Cook and my mother, Zenova Cook at Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile.

Next, I think of my great-grandfather, Billie Stevens, the father of Hoyt’s wife Willie Stevens Cook. He was a practical joker, but his tricks were not always appreciated. He also enjoyed a night out, to the disapproval of his wife, Mollie Pittman Stevens. I found a brief mention in the paper about the time he and Mollie’s brother Charlie got in trouble for drunk and disorderly conduct.

Billie Stevens’ mother must have been a bit of a character. Mary Reid was married three times. I wonder if she was hard to get along with or if she had bad judgment about men. I wish I knew more about her husbands and her life with and without them.

Hoyt Cook’s grandfather, John Cook, must have led a wild life. He was killed in a shootout, and later one of his sons died in another shootout. John and his siblings were all illegitimate. I wonder what kind of character their mother Frances Cook must have been?

I hope someday to learn more stories about the lives of these and other ancestors. I hope that by recording my memories of the people I knew, and the stories they told, perhaps I can help the genealogists of the future understand a little more about the family they are a part of.

Posted in Genealogy, My Life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment