Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Family Stories -- Don't Just Tell Them, Get Them Right

By Janet Brigham
We heard the stories from our grandparents and parents so long ago that we can’t remember when we first heard the stories or who first told us:
· One of our ancestors was a miner in the California gold rush.
· Hordes of crickets attacked great-grandpa’s crops, but he beat them off with brooms and shovels.
· Grandma once went underwater in a diving bell.
The family stories become part of our family narrative, part of how we perceive ourselves and how far back we connect to family. And what family we connect to.
Passing along family stories is actually serious business. Online services anxious to collect our stories, such as Family, seem less interested in the veracity of the account than in the fact that we record it. One problem with that approach, however, is that often we don’t know the story until we do some research.
Case in point: A young mother named Nellie lost her husband in a hunting accident. Her descendants heard about the incident over the years but did not know that she and her husband already had buried an infant daughter in 1904. They also were not aware of the extent to which Nellie’s family stepped in to help care for her and her children.
On the headstone, Nellie and her husband are in the center, and the buried infant is at the left. Who’s that at the right? That would be Nellie’s devoted younger brother George, who, we learn from censuses and other documents, moved in with Nellie after her husband died and stayed with her for decades, supporting the family and stepping up as surrogate father to his nieces and nephews. 
Some of Nellie’s descendants remember their Uncle George, who died in 1958, as a kind man. Few realize the depth of his personal sacrifice for the sake of his sister and her offspring. 
Just passing along the family story about Nellie’s husband’s accident didn’t tell the whole story. Only by looking up records about Uncle George, including finding his shared headstone on Find and his vital and census records, do we begin to see the enormity of his contribution to his sister and her family.
The family accounts add considerably  — particularly accounts from those who knew George. One of Nellie’s descendants recalls that after George died in 1958, no one knew if he had any money, or where it might be. They knew of no bank accounts, but they knew he had worked many years. They did find his money eventually, rolled up inside his socks in his bedroom closet. They hadn’t known that he didn’t trust banks.
Such fully told family stories can become part of a rich family narrative that helps children develop resilience, self-esteem, and a belief in their ability to cope with life events, as they perceive themselves as belonging to an intergenerational family that has faced adversity together and survived it together.

Feiler, Bruce. (2013, March 15). The family stories that bind us. New York Times.
Duke, Marshall P. (2009, March 23). The stories that bind us: What are the twenty questions?


Monday, February 16, 2015

Fantasy Genealogy

Some years back, a relative of mine was anxiously wooing a young woman from Asia. Her family believed one’s ancestry was supremely important, so he asked me to put together a genealogy for him.
I hadn’t yet done family history research in a systematic, organized way, although I knew from being around my genealogist husband that research ought to be done correctly. Everything should be documented, nothing should be taken at face value, and unverified information on the Internet was suspect.
My relative was so anxious to please his prospective in-laws that I quickly compiled not only what had been verified (details compiled by recent ancestors including several genealogically conservative great-aunts) as well as anything I could find on the Web that appeared to make any kind of sense.
It was a good thing the prospective in-laws were easily impressed with that genealogy, because, in retrospect, I am not. When I reached the point of including ancient ancestors with single names (think Beowulf?) and the occasional Roman centurion, even I knew I was treading on shaky ground. Richard (genealogist husband) answered my questions about how to build a database but was not party to the odd inclusions in said database.
In time, the relative won over the girl’s parents, and the long-distance lovebirds got married and had a child. I need to confiscate all copies of that original genealogy, so that she never tries to verify the shakier information.
It included kings, queens, conquerors, courtesans, and a few cowboys. It left outthe stories — not yet discovered by Richard and me, for the most part — that make our family history compelling, astounding, and at times wrenching.
As hasty and imaginary as that pedigree was, it did serve to get me started in genealogy. It also taught me how easy it is to get it all wrong.
Yes , wrong — particularly those people I refer to as the Beowulf People, those fantastical, single-name folk who lurk at the ends of the rainbows of many online genealogies.
All it takes to get it wrong is to become too invested in something other than making sense of the facts at hand.
For example: If it is important to you that you descend from war heroes, documented research might impinge on that fantasy. Although many of us have ancestral ties to military service, far fewer of us have decorated or documented heroes as ancestors.
One of the early realizations we make as genealogy researchers is that we can’t take credit (or blame) for what our ancestors did. You may have ancestors who fought for America’s liberty in several wars, but you also might have an ancestor who committed homicide, or an ancestor who fought on what you consider “the wrong side.”
I can’t take credit for the actions of my ancestral Minuteman, nor can I take blame for an unfortunate ancestor who killed himself, or the one who apparently inadvertently knocked his wife down the stairs of their homestead house. Stuff happens, good and bad, and while some ancestors rallied to a noble cause, others were challenged just to keep their fences upright.
Occasionally we encounter people who are determined to prove that they have very specific, important ancestors. That type of search rarely works out to their satisfaction. They may want to be related to Abraham Lincoln, but instead they are related to farmers who never became politicians.
Having read biographies of various famous people, I actually prefer not being related to most of them. For example, my Danish immigrant ancestors worked hard, sold their home and property to come to America, and helped settle the West. I’m here partly because they took a chance on building a new life a long way from Denmark, or England, or Germany. It may be possible that their adventurousness is somewhere in my genes or my psyche, but maybe not.
    When I was quickly assembling that initial fictitious genealogy and first came across the generations of nobility, royalty, and Beowulf People, I felt a mild thrill wondering if their legendary fairy dust coursed through my veins. That lasted perhaps 10 seconds. I’ve since learned that the real thrill is in a realization based on long-neglected evidence that opens a new understanding of someone long-deceased.
Wikipedia actually has a category for the topic Fantasy genealogy, with this bubble-blasting description:
Fantasy genealogies are mythical, fictional or fabricated pedigrees, usually to enhance the status of the descendant. . . .
Many claimed ancestries are considered by modern scholars to be fabrications, especially the claims of kings and emperors who trace their ancestry to gods or the founders of their civilization.

To Wikipedia’s credit, it also has links to real fantasy genealogy, such as the family lines of characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and other characters from Tolkien’s Middle Earth (see
(I confess to reading Tolkien’s trilogy seven times in my teens and twenties, and even to designing but never completing a needlepoint map of Middle Earth. But I might never finish all seven Harry Potter books. Wikipedia links to this Potter-themed genealogy:
mediaviewer/File:Harry_Potter_Family_Tree.png )

True fantasy genealogies are harmless as long as you don’t jump down the rabbit hole, so to speak. (Just so you know: if you search for the words Alice in Wonderland pedigree, you may find numerous canine pedigrees.) The real danger of fantasy genealogy is that you might miss the actual ancestors, who are far more engaging than fiction or fantasy.

Copyright PastFinder newsletter, Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group, January 2015. You can link to this, but please do not repost or reprint without permission.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All About the Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group, 2014 edition

From PastFinder newsletter, July 2014, pp. 1-2 (subscribe: )
Reprinted by permission of the Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group

By Janet Brigham

Every few years, SVCGG steps back and asks itself a few questions. Who are we? What interests us? What would help us as family historians? Each time we do this, we learn that we are evolving and changing.
The 2014 member survey tells us that those who attend the monthly meetings come because they learn new things (87%), improve their genealogy skills (85%), and try new approaches (76%).
The online database search site most commonly used by members is (89%), followed closely by (88%).
Most of the questions in the survey allowed respondents to provide more than one answer (“select all that apply”), with the result that response percentages do not add to 100%. Some questions did allow only one response,  such as age range or zip code.
Research in the United States (80%), Canada (74%), and the British Isles (74%) remains a top priority for members, followed by continental Europe (60%). Among United States and Canadian research areas, New England (70%), Midwest (62%), and Atlantic coast states (46%) garner the most research interest.
American history maintains high interest among members responding to the survey. The top topics endorsed are United States/Canada immigration waves (66%), Colonial (62%), American Revolution (55%), and English (47%) and Irish (43%) history.
The majority (61%) of those taking the survey indicate that they are the only person in their family conducting family history or genealogy research. Those reporting that others also actively do research are 26%.
Computer equipment
The tools that members use to conduct genealogy research include basics (printer, 94%; scanner, 83%) and mobile devices (smartphone, 47%; iPad, 36%; other tablet, 11%). More than half of respondents report having a PC desktop computer (56%) or PC laptop (53%); results for Mac computers are lower (Mac desktop, 21%; Mac laptop, 22%). Some 37% have a dedicated ebook reader (Kindle, Nook, or other brand).

More than 93% of respondents report that they use personal genealogy software, such as RootsMagic (25%), Family Tree Maker (24%), Reunion (24%), Legacy (14%), and Ancestral Quest (13%). As in past years, the most frequently endorsed personal genealogy software is Personal Ancestral File, v. 5.2.18 (PAF, 30%). PAF no longer is supported but still is available for free download (
The class topics that most interest respondents are Internet research skills (73%), online databases (69%), source documentation (54%), advanced features in personal database software (42%), creating and editing digital images (40%), transferring information between databases (35%), and publishing a family history (34%).
The survey asks about current religious preference and religious background, partly to deflect a misconception that SVCGG is populated largely by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the organization that sponsors FamilySearch; also the church that has provided SVCGG with free meeting facilities for monthly meetings and seminars for 25 years).
According to the survey, members with LDS affiliation comprise less than one-fourth of the membership (current, 23%; background, 16%). Protestants (current, 44%; background, 59%) and Catholics (current, 15%; background, 19%) constitute the majority of responding members, with 13% of respondents indicating no current religious preference.
The age range of SVCGG members remains in the 70s, with 48% of respondents indicating that they are between 70 and 79 years old. Those older than age 80 are more than 21% of the membership. Some 25% are in their 60s, and only 0.42% are 49 or younger.
Verbatim (or open-ended) questions were available for most questions, designed as the “Other (specify)” option. Among responses was the comment that some members do not know how to use their personal genealogy software. This type of information is particularly useful to SVCGG, since it helps the group determine what software to include in future classes and newsletter articles.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

When You Find that Your Ancestors Misbehaved

From PastFinder newsletter, September 2013, pp. 1-2 (subscribe: )
Reprinted by permission of the Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group

By Janet Brigham
We are  not judge and jury.  We do not know why some of our ancestors apparently misbehaved — or even whether they were justly accused.  We can learn a lot, however, by trying to figure out what they did and why.
Consider a recently unearthed leaf in our family branches. A venerated ancestor born in the 1850s engaged in public service much of his adult life and was honored repeatedly for his contributions to his state and community. He raised a large family on a rural farm; all the children who could attend school did, and most graduated from college — after he helped launch the college.  One of his sons studied abroad at a time when few U.S. students from the rural West studied abroad.
So imagine our surprise to find a clipping from 1918 reporting that this ancestor had been arrested for sedition and for “hoarding flour.”  A farmer with a large family, he maintained possession of 13 sacks of flour at a time when residents of his community were required to surrender food for the war effort of World War I.
The disposition of the arrest is unknown and may take some effort to discover. The case is not mentioned in the ancestor’s obituary. We do not know how much flour a farm family with youngsters was allowed to store, nor whether the ancestor had political enemies who may have had some part in the arrest.
One thing we do know is that his purportedly seditious statements sound a lot like what has been said before about government, specifically, that a “yellow dog” might know more about how to run the government than the officials of the government knew.  Whether he (a Republican) was referring to Yellow Dog Democrats, using a political term originating in the 1800s and peaking about 10 years after his arrest, also is unknown. We do know that not much is known.

Mistrust of standing government officials ran deep in the family’s roots, with  multiple Revolutionary War ancestors, including some Massachusetts Minutemen. Perhaps, from the perspective of a public servant-turned-farmer, little had happened between the 1780s and 1918 to increase trust in governmental officials.
One of his sons suspended attending college and enlisted in the U.S. military a few days after the arrest. Another son registered for the draft later that year, after his 18th birthday.
Many people who have not yet started looking into their family history say that they are afraid of what they might find. A friend with African American heritage explained that she was afraid of finding ugly aspects of slavery that her ancestors would have endured. A middle-aged man with a British surname indicated that he preferred not to know what unsavory events might be in his family history.
This is the flip side of those who want to learn their ancestry in hope that they will discover famous settlers (for example, Mayflower ancestors), historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson, or well-known families such as the Rockefellers. Perhaps they believe this will help them achieve feelings of self-worth or rootedness that they lack.
While those are not bad reasons for studying one’s family history, the success of the endeavor depends on finding the desired connections to the famous. On the other hand, only one thing dooms a more traditional genealogical search:  finding nothing at all. Which, in this time of electronic access, is rare.
Without indulging in fantasy genealogy by simply making up our ancestry, we cannot control who our ancestors were, what they did, or what they experienced. It is history; our tasks are to find the best sources of information and to make sense of our ancestors’ lives.       
To encourage family historians to use all records — including criminal records — major records providers such as and include searches of criminal records. The catalog lists 1,054 criminal records, including the “Circuit and supreme court records of Cooweescoowee District  Oklahoma Historical Society. Indian Archives Division.” And 1,053 others.
Criminal accounts and records can be discouraging if you find that an ancestor was executed for even a small offense, as occurred in England — a scan of the Old Bailey records ( brings up records of executions for offenses we now consider misdemeanors. The Old Bailey records of London’s central criminal report (1674-1913) can be searched by surname and given name, time period, alias, offense, verdict, punishment, and other terms.
    The Old Bailey records include a transcript of witness testimony, with jury decision and punishment.  For example, a man was arrested in 1809 for picking the locks on a row of stores. A physician said the man appeared insane. The man was found not guilty but insane (“non compos mentis”) and was sentenced to imprisonment for insanity. The disposition notation was that he was to be “detained, and to be taken proper care off [sic].” A “Calculate Total” click tells us that 433 persons listed in the Old Bailey records were sentenced to imprisonment for insanity.
Images of the original published records also can be accessed on the Old Bailey site.
Some criminal records will be more challenging to access.  Records might be housed in county courthouses, county or state historical societies, university libraries, or many other locations, some unpredictable.
Remember that newspapers publish criminal and legal information; historic newspaper accounts might provide details about criminal activities and legal procedures and can set the events in a cultural and historical perspective because of the range of topics they cover. Criminal records can include much valuable genealogy information.
A final caveat:  Don’t jump to conclusions.  You probably do not know the whole story. For example, this notice appeared in a Spokane, Washington, newspaper:  A man who “was ordered to report for entrainment to Camp Lewis Friday and failed to report and was posted as delinquent, is found to be serving and already in France, having entered some special service of the war department several months ago.”
Enough said.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Life of a Young Army Family 1929 – 1938

Life was good. Young First Lieutenant Wallace Howard Hastings and his wife, Virginia, were at Fort DuPont, Delaware, where he was in the Army Corps of Engineers and they were expecting their first baby. Shortly before the baby was born on 29 October 1929, what today is known as Black Tuesday, the stock market crashed
. Of course this did not affect them personally, as they were young and had no money invested in the stock market. Nothing could detract from their excitement. On 7 November 1929, their baby was born at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. They had a boy and named him after Papa, Wallace Howard, Jr. Their dream was for him to follow in his father’s footsteps.

In 1930, Lieutenant Hastings was ordered to West Point where he taught in the school of engineering. They were here for the next four years. While there they had their second son, Charles DeRosear (my husband) in 1931. This was a very happy time in their life. It was a beautiful place to be, and they had lots of friends there. This was the time of the Great Depression, but this did not directly affect them. Papa was not going to lose his job, they had a place to live and good food to eat, and were well taken care of, living in the protection of the U.S. Army as an officer’s family.

In 1934, it was off to Fort Logan in Denver, Colorado. This was a long and difficult trip for this couple with two small children. They had to sail from New York to San Francisco and then take a train to Denver. All this for just two years, and then they were traveling again.

In 1936, now Captain Hastings and his family were going to the Panama Canal Zone. They sailed from San Francisco and were stationed at the Army Post in Corozal, which was not far from the Pacific Ocean and Panama City. The two boys, 4 and 6 years old when they arrived, have lots of memories from the time spent there. They both had horses, Freckles and Jimmy, to ride, and someone to help them with the horses. They remembered going to the beach, playing in the jungle, and, on occasion, going to Panama City. Life was still good for this family, despite the financial devastation at home, the darkening clouds of impending war in Europe, and the invasion of China by the Japanese. This was all far away and someone else’s problem!

In 1938, Captain Hastings was assigned to duty as the assistant to the district engineer in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was to go directly there, leaving Panama by ship to Charlston, South Carolina. Virginia decided that she wanted to visit her family in southern California and let the boys spend some time with their grandmother, aunts, and uncles. They sailed on an Army transport ship to San Francisco, and with great excitement entered the waters of the San Francisco Bay, going under the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, as it had just opened a few months earlier.

This is the account Charles wrote of that trip from Panama to San Francisco, written a few months before his death in 2005 (with ages corrected):

"I’m Charles, 6 years old. My mother, 8-year-old brother, Wally, and I sailed from Panama to San Francisco on a rather smallish Army transport ship. Father had gone more directly to his new duty station in Mississippi, but mother wanted to visit family in California.

"I felt anxious and confused embarking from Panama City – a small band, good-bye wishers, porters, and boarding officers. I remember walking up the creaky, swaying gangplank and being led to a tiny, dimly lit stateroom, and finally throwing paper streamers over the side as we left. There was one bunk bed, the bottom for Mother, and the top shared by us boys, Wally on the outside. A round port hole looked from the upper bunk, the only outside light. Mother ordered, “Don’t ever open that! Ocean could come in!” (Occasionally water did splash up over the port hole during heavier seas.)

"The cabin was almost completely filled by a huge black steamer trunk, opened side-to-side like a book, with drawers on one side and Mother’s hats and hanging clothes on the other. Not to mention all the other suitcases. Navigating the room was a challenge, especially with the ship’s motion. In addition, the small “potty room” felt weird with the tossing sea.

"We were warned that we might become seasick, and many passengers could be seen hanging over the rails during the rougher days, or missing at meals. Everyday there was mandatory lifeboat drill, with a three-blast alert, and we all had to report to our designated tarp-covered lifeboat from wherever we were, don our life vests, properly fastened (mine never fit right – came half-way up my face), and be counted! No excuses! Once we were allowed to peer into the lifeboat, rows of benches, and a stack of oars along the sides. And thy let us taste hardtack, a very, very hard survival biscuit.

"Finally we arrived outside San Francisco Bay. Everyone was excited! Everyone was top-side! Everyone was ecstatic, because the Golden Gate Bridge had just been finished!

"After long hours of anticipation, a pilot boat came out, and a special pilot boarded up a ladder to bring the ship into the harbor.

"Hello, California! As we went under the bridge, the ship listed dramatically. My brother, who was standing on a ladder, almost slipped off because of the tilt, and he remembers this vividly to this day. I held tightly onto a rail. I believed for many years that the pilot had to tilt the ship to get it under the bridge. Only after returning to San Francisco 25 years later did I realize that this was a myth, deep in my mind.

"Boy – I wish I could remember my recent trips as well as that one 68 years ago!"


Military Personnel Records for Col. Wallace Hastings, National Archives and Records Administration, St. Louis, Missouri.

"Hastings Family Migrations,” outline by Charles and Wally Hastings.

Historical timelines and resources:,,

Friday, August 27, 2010

Our Stories: A Short Biography of Blanche Stedman Keyes

Our Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group members come to know their ancestors well. This is the first in a series of accounts of ancestral lives.

By Susan King

In 1852, Millard Fillmore was President. The Missouri Compromise had been enacted a couple of years earlier, temporarily holding back the forces of civil war. Important as this development was, another event occurred in 1852 that overshadowed the Missouri Compromise for those of us who wouldn’t otherwise exist, that event being the birth of Blanche Stedman. Blanche, the oldest of five siblings, was born in Portland, Ohio, to Lyman Stedman Jr. and Emily Jewett Stedman .

Blanche’s father, Lyman Stedman, had attended Marietta College, a center of abolitionist sentiment. According to Blanche, who kept a diary later in life, her father had wanted to be a lawyer, but had had to give that up “to save his life” due to having “consumption.” So, he settled for rural life and became a farmer. The family eventually settled on an island in the Ohio River called Brown’s Island, in Hancock County, West Virginia, where they had a farm. Lyman was civically engaged, served in the West Virginia Legislature, and was asked to teach school, which he did.

Family legend has it that Blanche’s father participated in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves to escape up the Ohio River. Abraham Lincoln took office just a few weeks after Blanche’s eighth birthday. She was old enough to experience something of the Civil War. Lincoln was assassinated when Blanche was 12 years old. If she was personally affected by these events, we do not know; she did not allude to it in her diary. It seems that she had loving parents and was well cared for. As an older woman, she reflected that she had had a happy, carefree childhood, “knew only constant, tender sympathy” from her father, who was always a source of help for any problem. She said she wished she were “as sweet and beautiful” as her mother, and as “pure in mind” as her father.

Blanche graduated from Scio College, a seminary in Ohio; she was president of her class. Letters between Blanche and her future husband, John Keyes, show that she was already at Scio by age seventeen, which was in 1869. She chanced to meet John, who became a Methodist-Episcopal minister, at Scio, although he may not have been a student there at that time, being almost eight years her senior. Blanche seems to have been a religious idealist who felt the world would be a better place if everyone followed the Golden Rule.

On April 4, 1871, when she was barely 19 years old, she married Dr. John Riley Keyes, age 26, at her parents’ home on Brown’s Island, and so embarked upon the life of a minister’s wife. She remembered her wedding as a small but very happy affair. Her recurring diary entries on the anniversaries of her marriage are like a refrain, referring to the unseasonably warm weather. Though only April, “It was a summer-like day; the apple trees were in full bloom and the grass was green.” After a short honeymoon trip to Cleveland, the couple visited relatives, then made their way to Noblestown, Pennsylvania, where John had a new charge as minister. There they lived in a four-room house for which they paid $25 per month. Their income was $800 per year.

At age 20, Blanche had her first child, Laura. She had 5 children in all: Laura, Edith, Raymond, Paul, and Lucille, the last being born when Blanche was nearly 39. She seemed to find her boys more demanding than her girls. Her mother commented, “I never saw you nervous, until your boy came." Her first son, Raymond, was very strong and active from the beginning. At one month, he caught whooping cough; she feared it would kill him, but said he didn’t mind it much more than most children would mind a slight cold.

The family moved several times around Ohio as John was transferred to various churches. From 1875 to 1877, John served at Finley Church in Steubenville, Ohio, at $600 per year, and in 1877 went to a church in Bridgeport, Ohio. In 1880, they lived in Salem, Ohio. By 1900, they had moved to Cambridge, Ohio, and by 1910, had settled into a house in Cambridge, where Blanche and John remained for the rest of their days. I visited this house in 1961 when Lucille, the youngest and last of their children, still lived there. The house badly needed exterior paint at that time. A photo of the house was taken in 1988, after subsequent owners had refurbished it.

In late 1911, when she was 59, Blanche’s husband, John, died. By that time, only her youngest daughter, Lucille, and a friend and household helper, Annie Burke, lived in the home with her. John had asked Blanche to never sell the house, so that their adult children would always have a home to return to. Blanche honored that promise, but it was not easy. Money was scarce, and she would have preferred to move to a small home nearer to her sister, who was caring for their aging and quite debilitated father. She had a widow’s small pension from the church, as well as a small investment, which later was lost due to poor management by one of her sons-in-law. To make ends meet, she opened a boarding house for teachers.

In 1916, her house taxes were $100 per year. Coal was $2.50 per month, and water was $1.25. It was a struggle to maintain the house and buy necessities. As she put it, she had to turn every penny over and over in her hand -- there was “no margin." She paid a young man, who apparently was pretty badly off, for shoveling snow; for his work, she gave him a basket of potatoes, cornmeal, and bacon, and $.25, hoping he wouldn’t spend it on drink.

She mentioned that a roomer paid $3.50 a week. She tried to give her boarders variety in meals, with fruits, vegetables, and desserts. A sample meal was: potato soup, baked beans, cold meat, lettuce, plum butter, bread and butter, and prunes with whipped cream and nuts. She mentioned a breakfast consisting of cream of wheat with prunes and cream, fried mush, maple syrup, poached eggs on toast, and coffee. She kept chickens, remarking that her four chickens had given her 272 eggs. The family did their own sewing, cleaning, some painting, and minor plumbing, and Blanche was said to be cutting her own grass into her 80s. As she put it, “I have all of the physical culture any woman needs."

She was active in church activities and Jewell Band. In 1917, she remarked on the war and suffering in France, Belgium, Poland, and elsewhere, saying that “mothers’ hearts are breaking to see their sons go.” When she had a little extra money, she contributed $5 to a poor mother with children, and another $5 “to make the world go dry.”

In 1918, she had a telephone! By October 1918, the so-called Spanish Influenza was becoming serious. She mentioned that friends’ sons had died in military camps, and that “Cambridge is full of influenza.” Multiple city nurses had thrown up their hands and left due to being overwhelmed and having meager resources, although some doctors and nurses came from Columbus, Ohio, to care for the rural poor and coal miners. Blanche nursed people in several homes where entire families were down with the flu, but she never caught it.

In 1919, her older son, Raymond, a Naval Officer, died suddenly at sea, which was a big blow. She remained devoutly religious and did her best to try to accept this loss within a religious understanding.

In 1920, she was glad when Prohibition passed into law, and attended a city-wide church service to celebrate it. Church bells rang out at midnight all over her city of Cambridge, Ohio, to mark the beginning of prohibition, and she said, “Thank God.”

In 1926, money still tight, she complained about rich lawmakers, high salaries, and a President (Coolidge) who was unsympathetic in not helping the Civil War widows. She was such a widow, her husband having served in the Ohio Volunteers. Still, she counted her blessings. In 1929, at age 76, she credited her good health to resting in the afternoons and “learning to eat Battle Creek health foods and fruits and vegetables."

Although she lived for another eight years, the last entry in her diary was on March 25, 1929, when her oldest, and very dear grandchild, Charles Stewart, was killed in a the crash of a small plane. He had taken a plane ride from Columbus, Ohio, where he was a student at Ohio State, to New York, for the fun of it. The pilot got lost in fog and crashed. My grandmother, Bertha Keyes, lived in Columbus at the time, and had happened to see Charles in downtown Columbus. He had told her that he was going for a plane ride. Later, when Bertha heard the newspaper boys yelling the news, she was pretty sure it was about Charles and didn’t want to look at the newspaper.

Blanche died in 1937 at the age of 85. Incredibly, she had witnessed the Civil War and the Lincoln Administration, and had lived into the years of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Dumars, Virginia Keyes, and Garrett, Mary Keyes. Personal knowledge.

Keyes, Blanche Stedman. Unpublished journal.

Keyes, Blanche Stedman. 1869, 3 January. Unpublished letter to John Riley Keyes.

Keyes, John Riley. 1869, 6 May. Unpublished letter to Blanche Stedman Keyes.

Keyes, Robert. 1987, December. Unpublished letter.


Depiction of Lyman Stedman’s farm and residence found online at David Rumsey Historical Map Collection,, specific link for this image is: Image (lithograph) is part of composite cartographic image in "Residence of John A. Warden... Sewickley, Pa. (with) Farm and res. of Lyman Stedman...Brown’s Island, Hancock Co., West Va. (with) Bakery & Confectionary, J.M. Weber, Prop’r., ... East Liverpool, Ohio. (with) L.H. Oatman’s Saw & Planing Mills, Rochester, Beaver Co., Pa. (with) Residence of Benjamin Musgrave, Reminton, Beaver Co., Pa. (...compiled and drawn for the publishers of E.L. Hayes, assisted by E.F. Hayes, C.M. Beresford, assisted by S.A. Charpiot, F.L. Sanford, J.H. Sherman. Published by Titus, Simmons & Titus... Phila. 1877...Printed by H.J. Toudy & Co. ...Oldach & Mergenthaler Binders...) Author: Hayes, Eli L. Date 1877."

Photos are property of Susan King.

Contact the author at: siliconvalleygroup(at)earthlink(dot)net

Friday, April 16, 2010

Focus on Barry Ewell

(Note: The Silicon Valley Computer Genealogy Group will feature Barry Ewell in a seminar on 8 May 2010, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 875 Quince Avenue, Santa Clara, California. Information, maps, and directions are at )

By Janet Brigham

Barry Ewell's middle initial is J, but it might as well be F for Focus. Although a relative newcomer to genealogy circles, his emphasis on focus and effective organization has launched him into a position of prominence among presenters.

Barry is part of a team preparing to launch a new website designed to make genealogy research more accessible and easier to share. Most of the material on the dot-com site will be free, including some 40,000 how-to articles, 2,500 videos, a million links, and 10,000 maps covering the 1600s to early 1900s. The team's goal has been to make information easy to find and use. Barry brings his own experiences to the development of the website.

His interest in collecting family histories dates to the late 1990s, when he began doing family research at his mother's encouragement. He collected numerous oral histories before commencing any lineage research. He spent time studying local newspapers and histories to acquaint himself with the communities in which his ancestors lived.

He "regathered the record" of the branches of his family by picking a point in time for a key ancestor (such as 1860), tracking each descending family line, and gathering information from each line. The reason for this is that when an ancestor dies, his or her documents, artifacts, and information are subdivided among descendants and others. As this process continues across generations, the record disperses, and must be regathered to become as complete as possible.

This systematic, organized, and fruitful approach to conducting family history research is the hallmark of his presentations. By collecting recommendations and methods from mentors and experts, he has developed a list of the top 20 things new and experienced genealogists can do to foster successful research.

The top item? Focus. Focus on one ancestor, one question, one generation. Learn everything you can about the community in which they lived. "Learn the circle of life they lived within,"
he urges. "The clues are rarely in a record, but are in the community."

And the top 20 things a genealogist should learn? Here goes:

1. Verify, verify, verify data you receive.
2. Document your sources.
3. Check multiple sources.
4. Hit a brick-wall? Be patient and persistent.
5. Talk to your family—NOW!
6. Share your time, research and interest.
7. Organize your data.
8. Learn about your ancestors.
9. Keep your genealogy research focused.
10. Expect the unexpected.
11. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
12. Bring ancestors to life with photographs.
13. Effectively use the message boards.
14. There are many ways to spell your last name.
15. Conduct field research.
16. Learn to read old script.
17. Back up your data.
18. Use genealogy software.
19. Learn to use the census.
20. Learning genealogy is a process.