#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Courting

It’s Mardi Gras season, so the #52Ancestors prompt of “courting” made me think of Mardi Gras courts. I have never been involved in Mardi Gras. When I was little, Mardi Gras wasn’t very big anywhere that I lived, and Pensacola’s similar event that was huge, the Fiesta of Five Flags, always seemed like something exclusively for the wealthy, except for the parades, where the rich would toss us poor folks inexpensive favors. Now, of course, there are multiple parades and events in Northwest Florida from Twelfth Night to Fat Tuesday, and plenty of Krewes are more accepting of “ordinary” people. I suppose, though, I’m past the time when I would have been interested in those kinds of events.

I do, however, have a special souvenir of Mardi Gras in Pensacola. It was given to me many years ago by my Great-Aunt Nell Wise Cook. At that time, she didn’t have any grandchildren, and I visited and stayed over with her several times.

Aunt Nell was my favorite aunt. When I was little (elementary school age), I didn’t really understand how I was connected to my aunts and uncles (and, of course, some of them weren’t real aunts and uncles at all). Now I can tell you that Aunt Nell was the wife of my maternal grandfather’s brother Horace Cook. Uncle Horace died when I was about three years old, so I never really knew him. I can picture him, though, because Aunt Nell had, hanging in her den, a large portrait of him. He’s wearing a fez, because he was a member of the Shriners.

I think one reason I was fascinated by Aunt Nell was that she seemed very elegant. Always perfectly coifed. Years later, I learned she had been a hairdresser, so of course, her hair would be perfect, wouldn’t it?! When we visited, we spent most of our time in the den, which had French doors that opened onto a brick patio shaded by a large oak tree. Her immaculate back lawn seemed to stretch forever, surrounded by beautiful flower beds. She had a blonde cocker spaniel named Rachel, who was adorable. Back in the den, she had a bookcase with wonderful issues of National Geographic magazine. Off the den was the seldom used living room with white furniture, and a dining room with a mural on the wall. Her kitchen was the first I ever remember seeing that had an island in it.

She had a boyfriend named Charles, whose last name I do not remember. I’m sure I met him, but mostly I heard her talk about him. She and Charles went to a dance or were traveling somewhere exciting together. I think knowing Aunt Nell was the closest I ever got to “society.”

During one visit, Aunt Nell he gave me this silver pendant on a long silver chain. It says “Mardi Gras Court” on once side and “D of N 1972” on the other. I’m sure she told me what it all meant back then, but I couldn’t remember, and Aunt Nell passed away years ago. This prompt had me wondering if I could learn more about it.

I first went to Newspapers.com and started searching for information about Mardi Gras events in 1972. I tried searching with and without Aunt Nell’s name. I searched for Mardi Gras events related to the Hadji Shrine Temple. I Googled “D of N” and came up with nothing useful.

Then I went to a Facebook group called “You Grew Up in Pensacola If You Remember…” and I used the search box on the page to look up “Mardi Gras.” Skimming down past lots of historical and modern photographs, I finally came across one that referred to “Daughters of the Nite.” Google had nothing related on that, so on a hunch, I tried “Daughters of the Nile.”

That’s it!

I found an article from 1974 about a visit to Pensacola from the organization’s Supreme Queen. It says the local Shimron Temple raised more than $2,000 the previous year, with money helping pay for braces, special shoes, and other gear needed by patients at Shriners’ Children’s Hospitals.

While their Mardi Gras activities aren’t detailed in the Pensacola paper, I imagine they had a ball and perhaps they had a float in the big parade downtown – or shared one with the Hadji Shrine Temple.

Most of the other references to the organization that came up in the newspaper were obituaries, and that prompted me to look at Aunt Nell’s, which listed her as a member. I should have started there first, shouldn’t I?

Years after Aunt Nell gave me this necklace, her son married and now has two children. One day I will give this necklace back to them, but for now, I will pull it out and wear it for Mardi Gras season, and think of my visits to my gracious and elegant aunt.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Landed

I don’t know how old I was on the most memorable fishing trip of my life. I imagine I was maybe in 3rd grade. My Pap-pa, Hoyt Cook, had a fishing boat, probably about the length of a car and no overhead canopy or anything, and he had a boat ramp right on his property on Lagniappe Beach in Midway in Santa Rosa County, Florida.

That day, Pap-pa took me and my dad out fishing on East Bay.

I was still pretty little, and it might have been my first time fishing ever, so Pap-pa baited my hook, and I dropped the line in the water. Almost immediately, I felt that tell-tale tug on the line, and he helped me reel in the fish, and took it off the hook, and re-baited it, and I dropped it in the water.

Almost immediately, another fish bit. Pap-pa helped me again, taking the fish off the hook, baiting the line.

Another strike.

And another. And another. And another.

Hoyt Cook with a Mess of Fish
My cousin Jimmy did some fishing for a living when he grew up. He loved being around the water.

I’m sure the fish were probably mullet, and we must have been right on top of a school of them. I don’t know how many fish I ended up catching that day. I like to think it was about 30. Pap-pa was grumbling a bit, though, about how he wasn’t going to get in any fishing for helping me. I don’t think Pap-pa was really upset, and I don’t know what my dad was doing. I was feeling really good about my own budding fishing skills, though.

Then my line broke. And no one would fix it. And I just had to sit there while Pap-pa and Daddy did their fishing. I think I caught the most fish that day, though.

I haven’t been fishing for years, but Pap-pa went out regularly in his boat. Fish – especially mullet – was a regular on the menu at their house, and Pap-pa held many a fish fry for family, friends, and neighbors. In fact, he had a fish fry for my in-laws when they came down from Missouri when Tim and I got married. He had a chest freezer in the garage, and when company came over, he’d offer them a package of fish – already cleaned – before they left.

He fished all his life; fishing and hunting, and growing a vegetable garden, and keeping a few chickens and a cow were all ways that he fed his family.

My dad fished a lot when he was younger, too. I didn’t know just how much until I started looking up his name in old newspapers online. He must have fished a lot to have the kinds of catches they write up in the paper.

Hmm. Seems like somebody should have sent a picture of me and my catch that day to the paper. An opportunity missed!

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Maps

While researching my ancestors, I often turn to maps, if for no other reason than just to see the lay of the land.

I remember early in my genealogical journal, I attended a society presentation on maps, and I jotted down “BLM GLO.” That’s what you can type into Google to find the records of the Bureau of Land Management General Land Office.

I wasn’t sure if I would find any of my family members there, but lo and behold, I did. My 3rd Great Grandfather Origen Thompson received a land grant of just a smidge under 80 acres in Baldwin County, Alabama, in 1862.

A person I believe to be my 4x Great Grandfather, Isaac Pitman (at some point the family name became Pittman) received a land grant in what is now Holmes County, Florida. It’s the same area where my 2x Great Grandfather, also called Isaac, was born 12 years later. The close-up here is from Google maps, an approximation of the area highlighted on the BLM GLO office website. It’s a great property, close to the Choctawhatchee River, as well as being close to the Ginhouse Branch. Of course, they wouldn’t have had the roads and highways in 1821, which makes the rivers that much more important for trade and travel, as well as you just need water.

I found my 2nd Great Grandfather William F. Hahn’s address in a Pensacola City Directory, and was able to find the precise location on a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, which gave me an idea of the home’s construction. Although it was in what is now a historic area, the house is no longer extant.

One kind of map that’s been particularly helpful is the county line tool from the Newberry Library. It shows you how county boundaries changed over the decades. That’s great information when you’re looking for records from a particular time frame. That property of Isaac Pitman’s, for example, started out in Washington County. In 1832, it became Jackson County. In 1848, it became Holmes County. Just looking at the family on the 1830, 1840, and 1850 Censuses, it looks like they moved, but it was just the county lines shifting.

I’ll leave you with a couple more of my favorite map sites:

If you don’t know where to start, Old Maps Online is like a search engine for maps dating back hundreds of years. You might not always find exactly what you’re looking for, but more often than not, you’ll find something useful.

The U.S. Census has a map with all the counties laid out. It’s slightly zoomable. It’s particularly good for looking at counties along the edges of states, since our ancestors often traveled across state lines to get married or do other business, and in some cases, they moved back and forth as well. Quite a few of my ancestral lines zigzag from Florida to Alabama and back again over the years.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Branching Out

If you’re a regular reader, you’ve read my posts about the Cook family and my missing 3rd Great Grandfather. I’ve been attempting to use DNA to identify Frances Cook’s paramour, even adding Y DNA from my mother’s brother last year. So far, I have not been successful, although I know I could spend more time analyzing my matches.

One of the challenges with this family is that my great-grandparents, Arthur Cook and Dollie Allison, married each other’s siblings. Many of my cousins, therefore, are related to me on both lines, making it difficult to separate out the “just Cooks” from the “Cooks and Allisons.”

So, I think need to go back and find more atDNA matches who are descended from Frances and her father, George Cook, who didn’t marry Allisons, so that I can use them to find non-Cook cousins who would be descended from Frances’ mystery man. At least, I think that’s what I need to do.

George was born, according to his War of 1812 discharge paper, in Lancaster, South Carolina, in 1789. According to that same record, he was 28 years old when he was discharged in 1817. The next record we have for him is from 1834, when he married Jane Sizemore (nΓ©e Johnson). He would have been 45 years old. What was he doing all that time? Had he been married before? If so, and if he had surviving children, I would love to find their descendants!

Frances, my 3rd Great Grandmother was born circa 1835. The 1850 Census shows George and Jane living with children Frances, William T., Lucinda, Rhoda, Catharine, Washington, and Sarah, the youngest, age 5. I don’t know what became of any of those other kids! Someone on FamilySearch has entered a death date of 1880 for Lucinda, but there’s no source for that information.

Frances had eight children: William Thomas, John, Nancy Georgiann, George W., Catherine, Masouria, Melissa, and Fanny. Family lore is that they all had the same father, but that is unproven. The family tree on FamilySearch is pretty well filled out, with children for each of them except Masouria. I could do more to locate living descendants if those children and look for them on the DNA services.

I did locate a couple of William Thomas Cook’s descendants through DNA – and one who I’d been working alongside for years at Pensacola Little Theatre never knowing we were related – but so far, no one has had any more insights into the identity of Frances’ lover(s).

For my DNA searching on this brick wall, I am blessed to have the DNA of my great-aunt Bonnie Cook Holland. She is the grandson of John Cook, great-grandchild of Francis, and the closest sample I have to the mystery man. The trouble is, not many people of her generation appear to have tested, and some fairly close matches either don’t know anything about their roots or they’ve failed to respond.

I have confidence that if I keep adding branches to the family tree, I’ll eventually find the key matches that will help me solve this mystery!

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Curious

In my quest to fill in the family tree, I have found many documents for some ancestors, few for others. Many of those sources record vital statistics – birth, marriage, death. Others provide a little bit of information about what they did for a living and how much they were worth. Only rarely do we get a glimpse at their personal lives, such as newspaper mentions about their travels or activities.

I’m curious about how couples met and what their courtships were like. I met my husband at a science fiction convention through one of his best friends who I met via my work for the budding Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). My parents met when my dad and his friends visited her church for youth functions.

My second great-grandparents on my maternal grandmother’s side, Isaac Pittman and Mosella Elizabeth Thompson married in April 1880. He was 38. She was 14.

Detail from the 1880 Census available on FamilySearch. The ages for Isaac and Elizabeth were both slightly off. She was listed as Betty in the 1870 Census, when she was 5 years old.

According to the 1880 Census, Isaac was a teamster, and so was Betty’s father. Did he go to work for or with her dad after they married, or was that how they met? Did she find him dashing? During their courtship, did they go dancing or take long walks together? According to information recorded by their daughter, the couple had a son, W.O. Pittman, born in December 1880, 33 weeks after the wedding. Was he born prematurely? Or did Isaac and Elizabeth have to get married?

My 3rd Great Grandmother on my paternal grandfather’s side, Frances Cook, never married, but she had eight children. I’m obviously curious about her paramour. Family lore has it that she had a longtime lover who fathered all her children. I’m equally curious about how the community treated her and the kids. Were they shunned by “decent” society?

Frances’ son, my ancestor John Cook, and one of his sons, John Cyle Cook, both ended up killed in separate shootouts. Would their ending have been different if they’d had a father at home?

I’m also curious about the artistic pursuits of my ancestors. I’ve always loved writing, and I wonder if any of those who preceded me wrote poems or made up stories. I’ve been involved in school and community theatre since 11th grade. Did any of my ancestors or cousins take part in plays, or could they play an instrument, or were they always asked to sing a song at family and community gatherings? This is the sort of thing that might show up in a short “community spotlight” kind of article in the newspaper, but so far, I haven’t found anything.

I will continue to mine the records for those little gems, the personal details that will help me not only understand my ancestors’ lives, but also how their genes shaped me in to the person that I’ve become.

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#52Ancestors: Favorite Photo

I can’t choose a favorite photo, so I’m going to share two of my favorite photos of people I don’t really know who they are.

Dapper Man

This first one is from my Grandma Stevens’ collection. Well, technically Mary Elizabeth “Mollie” Pittman Stevens is my great-grandmother, but my mom always called her Grandma Stevens, so that’s how I think of her. She had quite a few photos that were not labeled or were labeled vaguely. At least vague (Uncle Willie or Pierce Girls) gave me some idea as I started trying to match the photos to the family tree.

The reason those photos have any notes at all is because of my mom. At some point, she sat down with her grandmother and asked who was in the photos, and she wrote information on the back. Unfortunately, Grandma couldn’t remember who everybody was.

This man looks so dapper with his cravat and his crisp-looking stiff-crowned hat. You can even see the shine on his shoes!

Looking a little closer, you can see that he’s standing on grass, and there’s a crudely painted backdrop behind him. What appears to be a chair on the right side simply has a blanket thrown over it. I believe this photo was taken by a traveling photographer, possibly at a festival or fair. I wonder if the clothes are his, or if he borrowed an outfit for the photo. He could be a teenager or young adult. Based on the style of the collar and tie, I believe it’s late Victorian or Edwardian.

Grandma Stevens was born in Baldwin County, Alabama, in 1882. Her brothers and sisters were born between 1885 and 1901. My mom didn’t recognize Dapper Man, so it’s probably not one of Grandma’s brothers, unless it’s Isaac. She never talked about Isaac; he died in 1911, aged 15. If she didn’t want to talk about him, she might have said she didn’t know who it was. If it is Isaac, the photo would have to have been taken shortly before he died. Alternatively, it could be one of her cousins or perhaps it was a beau (or would be beau) who gave her his picture.

This next photo is from my husband’s side of the family. His mother has written on the back “Mom’s grandfather,” so I know this is either Herr Schiesl or Herr Brummer. The photograph was taken at a studio in MΓΌnchen (Munich) Germany.

I love this photo because he’s holding a picture – perhaps his wife? He has what appears to be a pin on his left shoulder, but I can’t see it clearly. Is it decorative, or does it indicate his membership in a society or trade organization?

Tim’s grandmother, Helen Schiesl was born in MΓΌnchen in 1892. I imagine her parents were born in the 1860s, which would put this gentleman born, perhaps, in the 1830s or 1840s. I think he’s probably in his late 40s to early 50s, judging by his grey beard.

I know Helen’s parents are named Norbert Schiesl and Theresa Brummer, but that’s all I know about them. I haven’t found any information on their birthdates, where they were born, or their parents’ names.

I live in hope that I will someday find someone else – someone with a detailed family tree or maybe a DNA match – who will have copies of these same photos, but with a name on the back.

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Traveling the Country

I recently ran across a kind of quiz on Facebook that suggested identifying the states you’d lived in and those you’d visited. I started adding my icons right away. I knew the states where I’d lived – where my dad was stationed when I was little and where I moved as an adult.

The traveling got a little more difficult.

My mom and me in New Mexico in 1966.

I knew we’d driven west when I was a year old, when we went from visiting family in Pensacola to my dad’s new duty station in Seattle (we lived in Kirkland). Years later, my mom and I drove out Interstate 10 to Los Angeles so I could go to a Star Wars convention, and then we took a little bit more northern route back, visiting Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, along with a few other points.

I remembered a trip we took when I was maybe in middle school to visit some of my parents’ old friends, but I had to call my mom to find out exactly where we went. She couldn’t remember some of the details, either, but we each pulled up a map of the U.S. on our computers and figured it out.

I had to rely on my mom more for some of the traveling we did out west when I was little. We had a tent and my mom’s parents came out with their trailer, and we went to a bunch of national parks. I’ve already shared the story about the bear. We ran into a little confusion with some of the bigger parks, like Yellowstone, that crosses state lines. Between the two of us, though, we think we have an accurate list, although it’s possible I’ve been to a state or two I can’t recall.

So here’s the list, and in the future I’ll try to work on something similar for European countries.

Alabama πŸš—
Arizona πŸš—
Arkansas πŸš—
California 🏑
Connecticut πŸš—
Delaware πŸš—
Florida 🏑
Georgia 🏑
Idaho πŸš—
Illinois πŸš—
Indiana πŸš—
Louisiana πŸš—
Maryland πŸš—
Massachusetts πŸš—
Michigan πŸš—
Minnesota πŸš—
Mississippi πŸš—
Missouri 🏑
Nevada πŸš—
New Hampshire πŸš—
New Jersey πŸš—
New Mexico πŸš—
New York πŸš—
North Carolina πŸš—
North Dakota
Ohio πŸš—
Oklahoma πŸš—
Oregon πŸš—
Pennsylvania πŸš—
Rhode Island πŸš—
South Carolina 🏑
South Dakota πŸš—
Tennessee πŸš—
Texas πŸš—
Vermont πŸš—
Virginia 🏑
Washington 🏑
West Virginia πŸš—
Wyoming πŸš—

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The Big C: Isolation

It’s day 6 of quarantine for me. I’m radioactive after a treatment for thyroid cancer, so I can’t be around anyone. Husband and cats are at his mother’s house, and I’m home on my own.

I don’t feel radioactive. If I’m tired at all it’s from doing two loads of laundry every day, and washing it all twice, and taking extra steps in the kitchen and bathroom to reduce contamination of my surroundings. It’s very labor intensive, especially for someone like me who hates housework! Oh, and I managed to screw up the settings on one load, which caused the washing machine to overflow. Add to the daily routine sopping up water for half the day.

The process of preparing for Radioactive Iodine Therapy (RAI) began on December 28th. I had to go on a low-iodine diet. No seafood, only non-iodine salt, no dairy, no eggs. The LID Life Community was a lifesaver, because they’ve talked to manufacturers to verify ingredients, and that allowed me to easily locate a variety of foods that were safe.

Over the weekend, I dropped Tim and the cats off at their temporary abode.

On January 3rd and 4th, I went to my endocrinologist’s office for an injection of Thyrogen. I don’t entirely understand what that does, but it allowed me to continue taking Synthroid and sped up the timeline for the RAI.

January 5th, I went to the hospital and received two capsules containing nuclear material known as I-131. My husband had RAI years ago to treat hyperthyroidism, and he said he had to swallow two pills the size of my pinkie with a tiny medicine cup of water to wash it down. I received two quite normal-sized capsules and standard Styrofoam coffee cup three-quarters full. Easy-peasy.

I drove straight home, sitting on towels and wearing latex gloves to reduce contamination in the car. I didn’t use the home computer for the first two days, while I was most toxic. I’ll use a special cleaner on the keyboard, remote controls, appliances, sinks, the tub, door handles, etc.

I want to give a shout-out to that company. They make a soap and cleaner called Bind-It that helps remove radiation contamination. I discovered the product over the New Year’s holiday weekend. I called them on Monday and they assured me they could get the order right out. I received it on Thursday (and the initial projection was Wednesday, so I blame the post office). It gives me piece of mind that I’ll be able to decontaminate the house before the cats come home (Tim doesn’t have that much thyroid left, I don’t think, so I’m not as worried about him).

Friday, I go back to the hospital for a scan. They’ll look to see where the radiation is concentrated, which should be mostly in my neck where my thyroid used to be. If any cancer cells spread, the scan should show where it is, and the radioactive iodine should kill it.

I’ve thought positively before during this process and been surprised and disappointed, but I’m still thinking that this is going to be it. The cancer will be concentrated in the one area where it’s supposed to be, and the RAI will kill it all, and my life can, for the most part, go back to normal. I’ll be on Synthroid for the rest of my life, but my biggest concern about that is my work schedule changes all the time, and I must take it every day at 7:00 a.m., whether I’m just getting to work at 7:00 a.m. or whether I got off late and didn’t get to sleep until 3:00 a.m. Tim takes his Synthroid at 7:00 a.m. so, as long as I’m home, he’ll remind me/get me up. It’s only those days that I go in early that I fear I’m likely to forget. Yes, I will set an alarm on my phone, but I did that for my eye drops and I’ve been known to turn it off and “just do this one thing” and three hours later realize that I missed the time slot.

Hopefully I’ll have some good news to share later this week.

Posted in Cancer, My Life | 3 Comments

#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Favorite Find

It’s inevitable, entering a third year of the 52 Ancestors challenge, that the prompts will evoke stories I’ve told previously. I’ve written about several favorite finds before. Today will be a tale of two cities.

Well, one’s more of a village than a city.

Last year, I wrote about the Y-DNA tests that I hoped would at least weaken the structure of a couple of brick walls. My favorite find from the results is that Germany has two locations known by the name of Berlin.

William F. Hahn’s obituary published in the Pensacola newspaper.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote up the details that I know about William F. Hahn. One of those details was that, according to his obituary, he was a native of Berlin. I venture to guess that many people in Germany, when given the name of Berlin, would picture the capital city. The other Berlin is that small.

Once I knew about Little Berlin, as I think of it, I went to Google. It took some maneuvering – figuring out the county and state, basically – to get it to come up on the map. It’s like if you Google Pensacola, you’re not likely to get the city in North Carolina unless you’re really looking hard for it and add some extra terms to the search.

The Y-DNA test I purchased was the cheapest option, the Y-37. In my fantasy, I would open up the results and find several other people named Hahn – or with Hahn ancestors – in Germany, and I would look at their family trees and find the branch that had a son named William who ran off to the U.S. when he was barely a teenager. The mystery would be solved. The brick wall would come tumbling down.

What I got was a match named Glander, and another match whose earliest known paternal ancestor was named Glander.

At least I got consistency.

Incredibly, both matches did respond to emails, but of course, they have no idea how my Hahn is connected to their Glanders. Both matches are 3 genetic steps from my uncle, which means the common ancestor could be way back.

One of the matches has an ancestor in Posen, which was in Prussia in William. F. Hahn’s time and is now in Poland. The other match lives in a town about 20 miles from Little Berlin.

Next, I searched for autosomal DNA matches to myself and my other uncle who tested for me several years ago, before he passed. I found one person with a Glander in her tree, and that person hailed from Little Berlin.

That really clicked – because it makes perfect sense. William F. Hahn, according to his naturalization document, was about 13 years old when he came to the United States. We have an 1870 Census, presumed to be our William, in which he’s boarding in the home of a ship’s captain, and is identified as working as a sea captain. He lived in downtown Pensacola and in the Perdido Wharf area, and is listed on another document as being a bayman. He made his living on or near the water, and Big Berlin is nowhere near the ocean.

Granted, there are rivers that were – and probably still are – used for commerce but it’s a bigger jump to get from Big Berlin to an ocean-going vessel than it is to get from Little Berlin. It’s a 14-hour walk to the major port of Hamburg, according to Google Maps, and less than 10 hours to Kiel.

Then there’s the ethnicity results for my atDNA tester: MyHeritage: 24% Scandinavian. 23andMe: 29.6 French and German (with a note about Switzerland) and 1.2% Scandinavian. FamilyTreeDNA: 14% Scandinavian.

I know we have to take ethnicity with a grain of salt, but Little Berlin is very close to the Danish border, and that part of Germany was, at one time, part of Denmark.

I’m just saying, Little Berlin makes a lot of sense.

Birth records from that area in the right time frame are in the hands of churches, and they have not yet been digitized. I’m told that they could be made available online within the next five years. That’s something to look forward to.

In the meantime, I’m very excited to have learned about Little Berlin. I’ll continue to look for connections to that area both in documents and in DNA matches. Hopefully, I’ll someday be able to share a new favorite find – William F. Hahn’s parents.

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#52Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Foundations

It’s a new year for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, Amy Johnson Crow’s weekly challenge to write and share family history information and discoveries. When I saw the prompt for week one, my first thought was construction, and that reminded me of my maternal grandfather, Hoyt Cook, and his work at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

According to my mom, Hoyt – later known as Pap-pa – worked as a contractor for DuPont and helped build Sherman Field, home of the U.S. Navy’s renowned flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels.

I believe it was at the same time that Pap-pa got a contract to haul off food waste from the base’s mess halls. He used the thrown-away food to feed his hogs, most of which were sold for extra income.

A major foundation of genealogical research is finding documentary evidence to support family stories. Somewhere there must be a list of construction workers authorized to enter the base during construction. If Pap-pa had a contract for the removal of the food waste, and it seems like there must have been one, surely there’s a record of it.

Today, I emailed the historian at the National Naval Aviation Museum, located right next to Sherman Field, to see if he has any suggestions about where to look for relevant records.

Next, I searched for information about government contracts. I was delighted to learn that digitization of the Federal Register going back to 1936 began in 2015. Another search turned up a web page containing links to those archives from 1936 to the present. Sadly, though, the earlier records are PDFs. As in, scanned images of the original documents. As in, not searchable or indexed. The Federal Register is published daily. That’s a lot of pages to look through manually.

I used my subscription at newspapers.com and found an article that told me construction of Sherman Field began in July 1951. Searching in 1951, I found an article referencing the request for bids. This narrows it down, but it’s still going to take some time to go through the Register.

Construction of the new facilities was completed in 1954. I’ll have to ask my mom if she knows any more about the time frame when her dad picked up the dining hall garbage.

I wondered if DuPont maintained any records that might list employees. I found an archive that included photographs and prints from 1885 to 1952. The records do not appear to be digitized, but there is a searchable index online. I see nothing related to NAS Pensacola or Sherman Field.

If you have any other ideas of where I could look for information about contracts with Naval Air Station Pensacola, please let me know in the comments.

UPDATE: After I wrote this post, I talked to my mom, and now we have some questions. She’s sure her dad worked for DuPont, but that company many not have been associated with construction of Sherman Field. He worked for DuPont during construction of the Chemstrand plant in Escambia County. He *may* have worked for DuPont around 1942-1943, when the family moved to Alabama and Oklahoma for jobs. My mom’s brother was a baby, and the rules meant she had to leave teaching that school year.

My mom is sure her dad always talked about helping to build Sherman Field, but my mom was in high school in the early ’50s, and she thinks his work at the Navy base was earlier than that, in the final years of World War II.

More research ahead!

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