Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Titanic: an unexpected experience

     My husband and I just returned from a Christmas trip to Las Vegas, where we discovered it isn't all about tinsel and neon.  A highlight was our visit to "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition," which has been a fixture at the Luxor hotel for several years.  As the press release states, "viewed by more than 20 million people worldwide, the Exhibition is among the highest attended in history."
     Hundreds of authentic objects gathered from around the site of the ship's sinking are on display, including a massive chunk of the ship's hull, called "The Big Piece."  What makes the experience come alive, however, is the way in which the items are presented to tell a story.  Beginning with the Titanic's design and construction, to depictions of shipboard life, and the events leading to the ship's sinking, the viewer is taken back in time.  Various sections simulate a third-class cabin, the Grand Staircase, and a luxurious first-class suite.  We see dishware, beautiful jewelry, and gambling chips.  One very dark area represents the promenade deck on the moonless night of the disaster:  only starlight aided those on watch for icebergs.  The sound of the rushing ocean water alongside is somewhat ominous.  The next room has a large wall of "iceberg," which one is encouraged to touch.  We learn that the water temperature was actually colder than the ice, which I could only stand for a few seconds.  People didn't only die from drowning, but from the freezing water.
    The part that struck me the most, however, were the stories of personal experience.  When you enter the exhibit, you're issued a replica of a boarding pass with the name of an actual passenger, which includes age, destination, and what class traveling.  I had the pass of Esther Bloomfield Hart, traveling in second-class with her husband and small daughter.  Throughout the exhibit, I paid special attention to items relating to second-class.  There were several posters telling stories which represented a cross-section of the passengers and crew, along with their belongings.  From a handbag and the hand-addressed envelopes found inside, a set of tools someone was carrying to start a new life, to a simple pair of socks, it was a deeply moving experience.
    The last room is a simple wall with the name of every passenger.  The smaller section of names were the survivors; a huge area lists the names of those lost.  I found that Esther Hart and her daughter were saved, but they never saw Mr. Hart again.
    Truly a memorable and recommended outing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Marriage notice: the rest of the story

    Using the website http://www.deathindexes.com/ as a portal, I recently made my way to an index of digitized newspapers for Quincy, Adams County, Illinois.  That website is at:  http://www.quincylibrary.org/library_resources/NewspaperArchive.asp .  There, I discovered a treasure trove of news snippets about my ancestors and their connections.  Notices of  trips taken, new jobs, illnesses, and the like, were all used to fill small corners of the pages.  However, a wedding notice of Fred Francis to Florence Dempsey, from 1916, points up the dangers of recording these items as "proof" of anything, or even a starting point for further information.  Here is the article from the Quincy Daily Journal of Saturday, 12 February 1916: 

     From my research in other sources, I know that the story is accurate on many points.  The last sentence, however, needs major clarification.  "She is the daughter of a prominent business man in South Chicago," diverges from the truth on two major points.
     Florence Isabell Dempsey was born in Cleveland:  Ohio, the youngest child of James Dempsey and Louise Coleman.  James and Louise were natives of New York state, and met when both were living in Oswego, NY.  The couple moved to Cleveland around 1880, and were the parents of 7 known children.  Theirs was not a happy marriage, and by the early part of the 20th century, lived apart.  Research to date hasn't revealed whether they ever actually divorced.  Louise Coleman Dempsey moved with her two youngest children, James Gleason Dempsey and Florence Dempsey, to Chicago by 1913, where she worked as a "practical nurse," and may be the individual listed in a city directory of that year described as widowed.   James Dempsey, the father of her children, remained in Cleveland, where he died in 1916.  He's buried at Calvary Cemetery, Cleveland.   
     Based upon the addresses which appeared in varioius Cleveland city directories, as well as the job description of stationery engineer on his death certificate, it's possible that James Dempsey worked at the Walker Mfg. Co. of Cleveland.  This was a forerunner of Westinghouse.  The addresses for the likely James Dempsey and his known children all surround a massive property where the factory was located.  Using a plat map of the time, I was able to identify the name of the factory on the site.

     And so, using additional available sources, the prominent South Chicago businessman emerges more accurately as the factory heavy equipment operator in Cleveland.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mining the family treasures for Christmas decor

     The family trips of my childhood were never undertaken without the "toilet kit," a small leather suitcase which served as a sort of portable medicine cabinet. Besides toothpaste, there was always a small jar of Pond's cold cream, Chapstick, with its original, waxy flavor and black metal cylinder, and a tube of something for poison oak, which, when spread over a rash, dried to a nasty pinkish brown patch.  We would set out on camping trips in our unlovely Rambler station wagon, the wooden poles of the tent crammed crosswise behind the back seat, providing a firm neck support.  Most of the time the destination was Washington state, so there'd be rain at some point.  As a result, the green canvas tent always held a strong whiff of mildew.  Arrival at the campsite for the night meant everyone blowing up his or her air mattress, which usually deflated at some point overnight.  I know all this now, but at the time, a trip only meant a wonderful adventure was in store.  We have dozens of beautiful pictures where we're all smiling, so we managed quite well.
     Several years ago, I asked my mother for the "toilet kit" as a reminder of those times.  I think she had to replace the mirror in the lid, but eventually gifted it to me.  Inside was a note which read, "I hope you cherish the enclosed items as they come from my heart."  And yes, there was a jar of Pond's cold cream, a couple of 1960's pink plastic hair rollers, and the like.
     I hadn't remembered that part when I took the suitcase down off the shelf today, and it gave me a real chuckle to experience it all over.
     It had struck me that the case would make the perfect place for items of holiday decor, displayed on my hutch.  I put some wadded newspaper on the bottom, and arranged some fun items like they were spilling out the top.  The felt winter doll is one my sister made several years back.  It's fun seeing the case out on display, and only I know why my decorations carry a faint aroma of a 1960's hair net when I walk past.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Lambert Eckerson-Harriet Graves marriage, 1848

     It's easy to collect masses of data about a family when doing genealogical research, and I'm among the guilty.  Too often, we are seduced by finding a pedigree chart online, and are tempted to accept it as fact.  Or, information gets copied over and over into various books and articles, many of which cite no sources.  The trick is to determine how much of what we stumble across can be backed up with primary evidence.  A case in point is the marriage of my ancestors, Lambert Eckerson and Harriet Graves.  A large file found online under the title "John Graves, 1635 Settler of Concord, MA and His Descendants, has some excellent clues.  Among them is the statement: "Harriet Graves, b. 20 July 1825, m. Lambert Eckerson (of Pike, NY), 1854, d. 5 Oct. 1880."  I can imagine that this information has found its way into dozens of family group sheets and publications, some of which I've collected.  However, a closer look can reveal a better result.
    During an era when marriage records were kept in many states at the county level, New York has few examples.  There are, however, a few pleasant exceptions.  A quote from the New Horizons Genealogy website states the following:   "New York State enacted a law in 1847 to require school districts to record Vital Records including birth, marriage and death records within their districts. However, some areas completely ignored the law and others adhered to it, but generally did not keep complete records, even for the years that were recorded. Unfortunately this law was terminated in 1849."
   A trip to Wyoming County in the year 2000 revealed how valuable making an on-site visit can be.  Among the holdings I was l was a slim volume of marriage records kept during the late 1840s.  Sometimes miracles DO happen:  the last entry for the year 1848,  was the marriage of Lambert Eckerson to Harriet Graves, on December 24.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mystery classroom, Wenatchee, Chelan Co., WA, 1911

This post card emerged from a collection of materials in my mother's possession, who was born in Lewis County, Washington.  I assume this post card must have been enclosed in a letter to one of her relatives in 1911.  No idea who the people are, but it is interesting to see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

At last...Lord Baltimore cake

     A feature of my growing-up years was the ancient copy of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook in our house.  Now, I don't remember my mother actually cooking out of this book, but I certainly remember spending quite a bit of time browsing through it.  I thought it must have been a wedding present to my parents in 1945, but I see now that the publishing date for this copy is 1947.  The one thing that captured my attention at the time, and stayed with me for decades, was the recipe for Lord Baltimore cake...don't ask me why.  I must have been 8 or 9 years old, to have been able to comprehend the list of ingredients and instructions.  At that age, they seemed pretty complicated.  While my mother was an excellent cook, our normal method of cake-baking involved a boxed mix, which we prepared and ate happily.
     I later embarked on serious genealogical research, beginning in 1980.  Along the way, I discovered that one branch of my father's family descends from a huge number of Catholic ancestors, who settled in Maryland during the 1600s.  Among their surnames are Boarman, Boone, Edelen, Simpson, Mathews, Logsdon, Pile, Riney and so on.  The colony was created  by the Catholic Sir George Calvert, and passed to his son Cecil Calvert, both of whom carried the title Lord Baltimore.
     Flash forward to the present:  for some years now, I've been in possession of that old red cookbook.  I decided I'd waited long enough, and finally created a Lord Baltimore cake.  While not as monumental a task as I'd imagined all those years ago, it was no mix out of a box!  Three layers, chopped filling ingredients, and a sink full of dishes later, it was finished!  With seven egg yolks in the batter, it had a pretty firm texture, but was delicious.  Since I'm not a fan of the thick frosting called for, I made a thin glaze instead.
     A quick check of possible origins of the Lord Baltimore cake suggests that it might have come from a Charleston, SC tea room at the turn of the 20th century.  But don't burst my bubble:  I'd much rather believe that my kid self knew that it was somehow much more significant!

Charles A. Ives Property

View of the Charles Abrastus Ives property, Ford's Prairie, Lewis County, Washington.  July, 2011.