Sunday, March 10, 2019

My Grandma Was Once a Little Girl

The image above is a scan from the heritage album I originally put together to show my sister's grand-kids that their grandmother was once a little girl. For it is true that our grandmas were once little girls. I was lucky to have copies of photographs showing pictures not only of my sister and mother but also my grandmother as a little girl.

This is the only photograph of my grandmother's grandfather (who died about five years after the photo was taken) known to me which makes it even more special. I am excited to note that I will soon have the opportunity to travel to the land of my forefathers' birth for a visit next month.

Martin was born in Niawier in the Friesland province of the Netherlands in 1851. He was married to Tjeerdtje Terpstra in 1872 and together they had eight children, losing four of them in early infancy and childhood. After also losing his wife, Martin took his remaining family to America and settled in Grand Rapids, Kent County, Michigan in 1891. He signed a declaration of intent to become a naturalized citizen on 26 September 1894. He married twice more while here, in May of 1894 to Berdena Ligtenberg Heuwelhos and to Botje (Bessie) Boersma in December of 1901. By 1910, Martin lived in Grant (Newaygo County), Michigan.

I included stories from two of his granddaughters on my Friesland Dutch Heritage page which I originally put together in a booklet about the Katsma family (third draft in 1999). I repeat them here as they connect those little girls with their grandfather all those years ago:

Granddaughter Jessie (Jolman) Potter stated that Martin lived at one time in Grand Rapids above a store on Eastern Avenue and Sherman Street and that he was an elder in the Dennis Avenue Christian Reformed Church. She also remembered Martin's last wife "was not very good to him." Jessie refused to take a cookie from her when she was young. She got scolded by her mother for telling Martin's wife that she did not want the cookie because she was not nice to her grandpa. Jessie said he moved to Grant because of his third wife.

Granddaughter Theresa (Katsma) Timmer told me she remembered visiting him in Grant. She and her siblings loved to take the trip to see him but were bored while there. They always had soup and brie to eat. After his wife Bessie died in November of 1925, Martin went to live with his son Will on a dairy farm in Grandville, Michigan until his own death in April of 1926. Theresa remembered him being there while her oldest sister Gertrude was dating. He slept in the dining room and Gertrude would be in the living room with her date. 

Everyone is gone now; only the family stories remain.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sentimental Sunday: Uncle Jim - Found a Century Later

Ah, the wonders of modern DNA testing! With it can be found long-lost kin and surprises along the way. DNA has been key in several discoveries in some of my family lines in recent months. A recent DNA cousin find even led to solving a mystery on a mutual collateral ancestor for which no DNA testing was involved.

After taking a DNA test and enthusiastically adding to her online family tree, my niece connected me to a cousin (one generation removed) who lives out west. His father (who was actually my first cousin) died when he was young and the family drifted apart. Though I had asked kin for more details years ago, I was never able to keep up-to-date with that branch. Now I know his birthday (we were born in the same year) and that of his brother's as well as the names and birth dates of his children. His eldest son is among those of the tenth generation of the Watts family with roots in Halifax County, Virginia and shares a namesake that goes back about eight generations within the wider family tree.

We spent some time talking on the phone and reminisced about my grandparents' (C.B. and Amy) home in Kentucky. We realized we had been there at the same time at least once, during the celebration of C.B. and Amy's 60th wedding anniversary. We shared the same sandbox. Oh and the memories flooded in from there! I was so nostalgic and longing for a place that now only exists in my head.
C.B. and Amy (Hardy) Watts on the occasion
of their 60th wedding anniversary in 1978

Synchronistically, it is the 30th anniversary of my grandmother's death this month. The whole conversation with my niece and DNA started out with her posting photos she had discovered of my grandmother online. So perhaps with a nudge here and there, Granny has been reaching out to us in some way. Her death was the catalyst for my launch into family history in the first place. It was during the gathering for her funeral that someone pulled out a family bible and some old letters and I was hooked from there.

While talking with my cousin I looked up our branch in my Watts book, noting the kin we had in common back to George Richard Watts. I mentioned the one mystery I had with Uncle Jim. Uncle Jim was my grandfather's uncle; a son of George Richard Watts and his wife Emily J. Chaffin. Their family bible record indicates that James T. Watts was born February 24, 1866. The only other thing that my grandfather could tell me was that Uncle Jim had a hot temper and was killed by a man in self-defense in Missouri. This I also learned thirty years ago as I began my family tree quest by asking Granddaddy for the names and information about everyone he knew.

Thirty years ago we did genealogy the old-fashioned way. It was not until 1991 that the world wide web even became publicly available. Nowadays...well, you know what's it's like now. Back when I first gathered the information on Uncle Jim, though, there was no internet to turn to for quick answers. So what my grandfather told me about him was the only information I could provide in my book.

I am detail-oriented and like to gather complete data on everyone if I can, seeking to fill in the blanks like a crossword puzzle. I knew Uncle Jim's birth date but exactly when did he die? After getting off the phone with my cousin, I decided to jumped online to to see if I could discover more about Uncle Jim.

I started with determining if I could find him first in Kentucky which is where the family settled after leaving Virginia when Jim was around the age of 13. I found him enumerated in Christian County, Kentucky with his parents and siblings in 1880. During the 1910 census, he was still there but living with Rufus B. Hill. Rufus was a brother of James Walter Hill who married Uncle Jim's sister, Mary Elizabeth (called Molly Bet). Jim did not show up in the area during the 1920 census (nor the 1900 census, but I am not sure why). Next I looked for him in the state of Missouri between the years 1900 and 1920.
Rufus B. Hill and Norman Ellis Watts
Norman Ellis was a nephew of James Thomas Watts

I found him. Familysearch directed me to a FindAGrave entry for James Thomas Watts buried in Campbell, Dunklin County, Missouri. Dunklin County is in the southernmost part of Missouri. The birth date on his tombstone matches our James T. and Thomas was actually the name of his grandfather. The grave entry says he was born in Kentucky. (Although we know that he came from Kentucky, he was actually born in Halifax County, Virginia.) Campbell is a little less than 175 miles west from where he lived in Kentucky. The time period fits from what we know of when James T. left there. My grandfather was just 19 when he would have heard about Uncle Jim's demise which happened in August 1919, just about 100 years from when I found my answer.

Tombstone of James Thomas Watts
24 February 1866 - 4 August 1919
Four Mile Cemetery, Campbell, Dunklin County, Missouri

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Music Circles

When visiting my maternal half-sister this past spring, I started a recipe project using her mother-in-law's old handwritten recipes. While there, my sister showed me a large black case and said she believed it was my paternal grandfather's. When I opened it, I discovered an accordion.While my grandfather played the fiddle all his life and at least one of his uncles played the banjo for local dances in Western Kentucky, I did not think an accordion had anything to do with the musical influence on that side of my family. 

I have always correlated accordions with polka music and late-nineteenth or twentieth-century immigrants which does not fit with my paternal family's history whose roots go back to the 1700s in Virginia. I suggested instead that the accordion might have belonged to her husband's family instead as they immigrated much later from Poland. He did not recall it being part of his family either, though. I left the accordion there when I headed back home and put it out of my mind.

Over the next several weeks, my thoughts were preoccupied with the recipe project. Awakening early one morning, I wrote down several ideas about it and afterwards went back to sleep for another hour. Just before I woke up the second time, the words “a receipt for salve” bubbled up in my head. I pondered further and remembered I had found this old salve “receipt” (another word for recipe) my second great-grandmother, Martha Sizemore Hardy, had written. It was over twenty-five years ago that I originally found it in a cabinet at my grandfather's house in Kentucky and now have tucked away. While looking for that, I also found something that led me slightly off-kilter from my recipe project.

This something was in the form of song ballads written down by my great-grandmother, Alice Lovelace Hardy, and other family members during the time period of 1898 or so. Alice would have been a teen, just shy of 18 at the time. She was my paternal grandmother's mother who died in 1903 when my grandmother was ten months old. 
From left to right: Ruby Hardy Vaughn, Martha Sizemore Hardy, William Lewis Hardy,
Alice Lovelace Hardy (died April 1903), Amy Hardy Watts (born June 1902).

Having more curating experience than I did twenty-five years ago, I unfolded each page to place in separate page protectors instead of all folded together in one page protector as I had before. Yellow and brittle with age, some were just in pieces. I had kept each scrap because I learned early on that every little clue can be valuable when delving into history. After reassembling those old slips of writing, I discovered that at least two of them had the word “accordion” written at the top near the title of the song. Perhaps that accordion really might be something from my grandfather's.

Synchronicity is finding meaning in coincidences. What are the odds that these things would come together in just the right manner for me to make such a connection?

I looked online and found the website Accordion Americana. An article there entitled “A History of the Accordian in Americana Music” explains the accordion was invented in 1829 and came to North America early on. The article includes a photo of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters with one of them playing an accordion. Also included in the article are early tintype photos from the 1860s and 1870s showing young girls posing with their accordions.

Wikipedia indicates that Maybelle Carter was originally part of the folk music group called The Carter Family who recorded music between 1927 and 1956 including the classic “Can The Circle Be Unbroken?” originally written in 1908. That's only ten years after my great-grandmother was writing down song ballads. The Carters originally hailed from Scott County in southwestern Virginia not too far from where my paternal family came from (in fact some kin settled there many years ago while my line branched over to western Kentucky). Wikipedia states the music from the Carter family had a profound effect on bluegrass, country, southern gospel, pop and rock musicians over the years. This was something I had also learned from a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio on the way back from visiting my sister (yet another coincidence). 

I thought about how the music from that era impacted the music I heard growing up. I pulled up the song “Jolene” by Dolly Parton on Youtube to listen to again. It is a hauntingly beautiful song reminiscent of these forlorn love ballads I now have in my possession transcribed by women in my family so many years ago. “Blown Away” by Carrie Underwood released in 2012 is another more recent one that comes to mind.

Compare those 120-year-old love ballads to my old notebook of song titles I tape recorded as a teen along with the lyrics to some of them neatly typed up. I imagine I was influenced by my father's early reel-to-reel tapes he had and the notebooks he similarly compiled. “Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast” was one song I remember my father listening to on those tapes. Daniel Boone recorded that in 1971.
Photo of a display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
(my brother's image can be seen reflected in the glass)

With that early influence, no wonder I was enamored of the music group Mumford and Sons when my daughters started listening to them when their debut album was released in 2009. Their genre is labeled under folk rock, indie rock and bluegrass. I recall hearing one of their songs for the first time when my middle teen daughter had it playing loudly one day while she was in the shower.

I can also juxtapose those song ballads with the song quotes written on pieces of paper and taped up all over the walls of my youngest daughter's bedroom during her teen years. And she was born one hundred years after some of these old song ballads were written down...

My youngest daughter and I, 2015

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tombstone Tuesday: Chauncey Vibbard and Mary Grierson Come to Life!

Leah Westfall and Max Paddock, July 2014
Jefferson St. Cemetery, Ellicottville, NY
Above is a photograph taken in July 2014 at the 2nd annual Jefferson Street Cemetery Walking Tour in Ellicottville, NY. Leah Westfall was portraying Mary Grierson buried there. The two are standing near the stone that marks the burial for Mary and her two sisters. You can see this tombstone here.

Max portrayed Chauncey Vibbard who was buried there in 1882 at the age of 17. Chauncey was the son of Chester E. Vibbard and his wife Sarah Raynor. Chester and Sarah are also buried in the cemetery as well as another son William Raynor Vibbard who died in 1873 when he was about 11 years old. You can see the Vibbard tombstone here. Both Westfall and Paddock were on hand to read a narrative of the life of their respective cemetery residents, making them come alive to the participants of the tour.

Chauncey's narrative told about how he and his older brother were baptized in St. John's Church in Ellicottville when Chauncey was two, that his mother was born in England and his father was a drayman. He also mentioned that his sister Flossie (Florence) was just a baby when he died and talked of how Mark Twain's book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was published after his brother had died (also buried in the cemetery). The writer of the narrative (the same writer of this blog) imagined that Chauncey might have read Twain's book. Other details of his life was taken from census and church records and newspaper accounts.

In September of this year, Bill Robison donated digital copies of a photograph of the Chester and Sarah Raynor Vibbard family to the Ellicottville Historical Society. Taken in Carrolltown in about 1898, it shows Chauncey's parents and surviving siblings. Bill's grandmother was the infant Helen shown in the photo.

From left to right is: Florence Vibbard, Sarah Vibbard Carl, her infant daughter Helen, Chester E. Vibbard (seated), Charles Chester Vibbard, Sarah Raynor Vibbard (seated) and William Shepard Vibbard.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: It Will All Be History One Day

I recently unearthed some old photographs showing my father-in-law as a child with his family around the table at a Thanksgiving dinner in 1950. I believe it was taken that year judging from his apparent age and that of his siblings.

I posted a digital copy of one of the photos to Facebook to share with him, his other brothers and other members of the family. It generated a lot of reminiscing and discussion. I checked in with the brothers and wrote down any recollections they had of the time. We recently buried the youngest member of the family, Tom Westfall, just last month. He is pictured in those Thanksgiving photos at about the age of 3.

Marie G. Westfall about 1927
daughter of Lawrence L. and Mabel L. (Smith) Westfall
There were ten children altogether, but two died in infancy. (Plus from his first marriage, their father Lawrence had an infant daughter who died). The photo on the left, taken around 1947, is a snapshot of the surviving eight. Tom, in Marie's arms, is about a year old.

The oldest child of Lawrence and Mabel and their only surviving daughter was Marie Geraldine Westfall, born in May of 1926.

Aunt Marie at the 2007 Westfall Reunion

I can remember Aunt Marie coming down to visit while we lived in Florida. I was pregnant with my second child at the time. We had decided on Megan as the first name for a girl but were still debating on the middle name. Standing in the dinner line with Aunt Marie at the local Moose club, I remember her asking me about baby names. I told her Megan and shared one of the ideas we had for the middle name (but I cannot recall now what it was.) Aunt Marie laughed good-naturedly and said that name was too long. I agreed, saying we had not made a final decision yet. Later I was telling my husband about the conversation. It dawned on me then that Marie would be an ideal middle name and that is what we did! The beauty is that Marie was also the name of one of Aunt Marie's aunts on her mother's side as well as the name of a great grandmother on Aunt Marie's paternal side. (Also, Meg can be a nickname for Margaret which was Aunt Marie's paternal grandmother.)
Marie (Kelzer or Kilger) Pfeffer (1852-1931)
great-grandmother of Marie G. Westfall
3rd great grandmother of  Megan Marie Westfall

Megan Marie Westfall

I can remember being thrilled to finally discover that my mother named me after Dawn Wells, the actress who played Mary Ann on the television series Gilligan's Island. For years when I would ask, my mom said she could not remember where she got the name Dawn from. One day about three years ago, her and I sat watching television together. An old rerun from Gilligan's Island was on and my mother exclaimed, "That's who I named you for!"

So dear Megan, while it would surprise me if I have never told you this story, you may not remember and I may forget. It will all be history one day and so I'm passing down the story now here to you.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Friend of Friends Friday: The Abolitionist Movement, the Beecher Family and Ellicottville

Did you know there is a connection between Ellicottville and Brooklyn NY? Read on to find out more.

First, let me talk about Schoolcraft, Michigan. I have mentioned before that I subscribe to Michigana, a quarterly magazine of the Western Michigan Genealogical Society. A couple of months ago, I noted a third installment of an article entitled "Everything Has a Story" by Paula K. Vander Hoven. The article mentioned a Beecher/Skinner family that migrated to Schoolcraft, Michigan from Ellicottville, New York. Juliette Beecher Skinner and her daughter Sophia Skinner were some of the early members of the first Episcopal church there in Schoolcraft which was notable for having its membership comprised of mainly women. 

Juliette Beecher, the wife of Peter V. Skinner, was born in 1820. Her father Moses Beecher was part of the 1829 organizational meeting of St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicottville and part of the church's building committee. The church structure (completed in 1838) still stands. If you get a chance to take a tour sometime, I highly recommend it. The church's records includes many references to the Beecher and Skinner families. Peter V. Skinner may have been related to J. King Skinner who married Hannah Saxton and lived in the Baker Leonard house next to St. John's, but research on that has not been completed yet. 

What has been researched a little more is the Beecher family. According to, Moses Beecher of Ellicottville, NY was born in Hartford, CT in 1791. About the year 1814, he and his wife Lydia Dawson left Connecticut and moved to Batavia, New York where he engaged in business as a merchant. Later, Moses became an accountant in the Land Office of the Holland Land Company. In 1827, he was transferred to a similar position in the Company's Land Office at Ellicottville. He continued in that position for about the first twenty years in Ellicottville and thereafter was engaged in a manufacturing business, which he carried on until within a short period of his death which happened in 1868. This information was obtained from an online tree at entitled "Descendants of John Beecher 1594-1637" posted by James Shaw. The work cites "Dawson source" for the information regarding Moses and provides further footnotes regarding the source. (For additional research questions, you can also contact the author.) Moses had ten children with his first wife and three more children with his second wife, whom he married at St. John's in 1841.

Exploring the online tree further, I was delighted to note that Moses Beecher was a fourth cousin to the famed  American novelist and humanitarian, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Harriet was the daughter of Lyman Beecher, a Congregationalist pastor and the sister of Henry Ward Beecher. While researching this family, I also noted that Lyman Beecher was president of the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, OH which was known primarily for the debates held there in 1834 that influenced the nation's thinking about slavery

I set this work aside as I got busy doing other things in my day-to-day life. Namely, I had to leave for a two-week trip to New York City for my day job (I label my historical research as an avocation, hobby or obsession depending on my mood). While there, I managed to visit at least seven different museums and historical societies including the Tenement Museum, the 9/11 Memorial Museum and the Museum of the City of New York. I stayed in Brooklyn during my final week there. In anticipation of flying back home, I decided to mail home some books and materials I purchased at a conference. I already had a 50 lb suitcase and did not want to pay additional fees to fly more weight home. I found directions to a post office that had early hours to accommodate my daily work schedule and headed over there one morning. It was about a mile from where I was staying. I did a LOT of walking during my stay, but always enjoyed the different sights along my way. Just before I approached the entrance to the post office in Brooklyn, I noted a statue in the plaza walking area. Coming closer, I was surprised to find the statue depicted none other than Henry Ward Beecher. "Nice to meet you," I thought, "what a coincidence to see you here."

While I had initially recognized his name when I was researching the Beecher family, I did not look into the details of Henry Ward Beecher that closely. I only made connections between Connecticut where the family originated, Ohio where his father was president of the Seminary, and Ellicottville where his fourth cousin Moses Beecher ended up. I never realized I would stumble upon him there in Brooklyn!  

The Brooklyn Historical Society was also nearby, so when I had the chance I took another walk to see their exhibits. One of their long-term exhibits through the winter of 2018 is called "Brooklyn Abolitionists/In Pursuit of Freedom." The Society also has a very nice online learning experience about the exhibit which you can find at: This site has a section of biographies including one for Henry Ward Beecher explaining that he was the inaugural pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. In his role as pastor, Beecher was a very active emancipator and held mock auctions to publicly raise funds to purchase the freedom of real slaves. One of the highlights I noted at the actual exhibit was a facsimile of an old ledger book from that time in which entries showed the names of people who pledged a certain amount of money, say $1 or $2, each for the purchase of a certain slave.

So there you have it, a historical connection between Ellicottville and Brooklyn. There's more to Ellicottville's story of it's involvement in the Abolitionist Movement, but I'll reserve that for a later day.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sentimental Sunday: Traveling to the Fair

I recently read a story about a mystery solved after nearly fifty years for a woman buried in a potter's field in New York City. Original police records were consulted that provided clues to the woman's identity and origin. The story reminded me again that it is often just a small tidbit of information, one tiny clue, that can help illuminate a story of those in the past.

Recently, a trip to Ontario, Canada opened up another tidbit of information that, used with a tiny clue from an old letter, adding depth to the sad story first told here:

This past July, my sister and I took a weekend trip together meeting up in Ontario, Canada and staying at a friend's condo there. Ever the history buff, I checked around to see what museums, etc. I might find. There are two museums in the city of Burlington, but only one was open that weekend. I implored my sister to go, promising that we would go shopping at the local mall later.

The Ireland House museum introduces you to the life and times of three generations of the Ireland family in the family home built in 1837.

Sketch of the Ireland Residence, Burlington, ONT, ca. 1877

Our guide for the day was very knowledgeable and shared many stories of the home's occupants. In the dining room, she showed us a painting of Queen Elizabeth telling the story of how it was won as a premium by the owner of the Ireland house who entered a prize bushel of apples at the famous fair in Hamilton.

The place name of Hamilton rang a bell with me in relation to Eliud Smith and his family. I also recalled a reference to the fair. Sure enough, a letter written by Eliud's wife, Wilhelmina, in November of 1885 mentioned she was "up to Hamilton to see my husband at the time of the fair..."

That letter and others I transcribed in the first post describes a poignant time in history for the family as Eliud Smith was confined to the Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital in 1879 for nearly thirty years, leaving his wife to raise their five young children on her own with the help of other family members. It was a distance of about fifty miles from Thorold where the family lived to the facility in Hamilton. It was not likely possible for frequent trips to see him. Traveling the route along Lake Ontario might have potentially prevented many journeys during winter weather. Train service was available between the destinations but I imagine money for fare would have been dear for a mother of five. I also imagine it would be heartbreaking when it came time to say goodbye after a visit.

Wikipedia notes that the city of Hamilton, Ontario was the home of the Crystal Palace which "opened up at Victoria Park 20 September 1860 by Edward, Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII and was home to the area's "largest fall fair (agriculture exhibition) for many years." 

A story about the structure in the Hamilton Spectator published September 17, 2010 stated the "...fragile structure, made of wood and glass and lasted a scant 30 years, it was modelled on London, England's 1851 building of the same name" and that it was "erected by Sir Allan MacNab and Sir Isaac Buchanan to attract the Provincial Agricultural Fair, which later became the Canadian National Exhibition."

The Crystal Palace, Hamilton, ONT, Canada built 1860, demolished in 1891.
I never thought about these details before, but gaining knowledge of the famous fair certainly sparked my imagine. Being farmers, the fair and agricultural exhibit certainly would have been a big attraction for the family. I can just picture Wilhelmina heading up the walkway pictured above to get a glimpse of the Crystal Palace and wistfully wishing her husband could be there by her side.