Asking the right questions

I’m in Walla Walla, Washington, visiting my parents. Last winter, I wrote about how excited I was to be able to interview them about family lore. Unfortunately on that visit, they weren’t remembering a whole lot of information. (Though I was able to share some information with them, which was nice.)

This trip, I’ve decided to focus on their own parents. My father’s mother’s family and my mother’s father’s family are pretty well documented. But I realize I know less about my maternal grandmother’s family and my paternal grandfather’s family. So that’s what I’m going to focus on.

This year, I’m going to use my Livescribe pen to record our interviews, which I have high hopes will come in handy down the road.

Last year I was disappointed at the results of my family-history-related conversations with my parents. This year, I’m going to try to come up with specific questions that might spark some helpful memories. Winging it wasn’t a great strategy last time.

As an aside, if your parents are not yet elderly, I encourage you to get as much information from them as you can while their memories are good. How I regret not having these conversations 10 or 20 years ago!

Genealogy = connections

From left: Me, Penny, Sue, Mary (seated)

From left: me, Penny, Sue, Mary (seated)

Thanks to my family history research (and this blog, really), I had an extraordinary day this past Friday, meeting my mother’s cousins and aunt. My mother was born in Missouri but her family moved to Spokane, Washington, in 1936 (looking for a better climate for my grandfather, who was recovering from tuberculosis). They left behind my grandfather’s parents and siblings, a close-knit family.

As a result, I didn’t grow up knowing this branch of the family and we sort of disappeared off the family radar. But that changed when my mother’s cousin, Jerry Brown, found this blog and introduced me to the Brown cousins, a wonderfully welcoming group. So when I saw there was a genealogy conference in western Missouri, I registered and arranged to come in a day early and meet my family.

It was an incredible day. These people are hilarious and fun and we laughed and laughed and laughed. It started with lunch in Nevada, Missouri, with cousin Penny. After that, we met cousin Sue at the old-folks’ home where Penny’s mother, Mary, lives. Mary is the sole surviving sibling of my grandfather, Crawford Brown. (Crawford died in 1996, two weeks shy of his 90th birthday.) She is 99 years old and has a twinkle in her eye and is quick to laugh. That’s us in the picture up top.

Then we went to Milo, Missouri, where my great grandparents (Crawford’s parents), who are Penny and Sue’s grandparents, had lived. I saw the site of their in-town house, where they moved from the farm in 1959, when they were in their 70s. And we went to Milo cemetery, where they are buried. We also saw the site of their farm (and I heard many hilarious stories about Sue’s antics at the farm when she was little).

The graves of my great grandparents, A.J. and Rhoda Brown

The graves of my great grandparents, A.J. and Rhoda Brown

Then these lovely women took me on a quest to find the cemetery where my great grandfather Jeffries (my grandmother Sue’s father and father-in-law to Crawford) was buried, along with his parents and grandparents. Mind you, these Jeffries are no relation to Penny and Sue, but they were up for helping me find the cemetery. It wasn’t easy. We had some directions from an old book, but they didn’t turn out to be entirely accurate. To make matters more complicated, there are two cemeteries within a few miles with homophonic names (Meyer’s and Myer’s), so asking directions wasn’t terribly fruitful. But then I got my husband, Barry, on the case from home and Google maps saved the day. Once there, Sue and Penny helped me find the actual graves. Here’s the grave marker for my great grandfather’s grandparents.

The grave marker for my 3rd great grandparents, R.A. and Harriett Jeffries

The grave marker for my 3rd great grandparents, R.A. and Harriett Jeffries

Luckily the day was beautiful, sunny and in the upper 70s or low 80s. It wouldn’t have seen like such a fun adventure the next day, when it was cold and windy.

After our grave-hopping (we went to both Meyer’s and Myer’s, as well as Milo cemeteries), we went by the site of the original homestead near Rockville, Missouri, that my great grandparents established when they moved to Missouri from Nebraska in about 1914. And after that we met more cousins at a Mexican restaurant in Nevada for dinner, as well as Sue’s 90-year-old father (widower of Crawford’s sister, Nancy). A family reunion date was selected for 2014. I am eager to attend!

By the time I headed up to my hotel in Blue Springs, Missouri, I was exhausted. But so tickled to have had such a wonderful day.

When I started doing family history research, it was all about a solitary detective hunt with feelings of triumph when vital records were obtained. What I didn’t realize it would be about was connecting with family, sharing stories and memories, and uncovering life-enhancing relationships.

I am so grateful for the time spent with this new-found family. And I am so grateful for my interest in genealogy!

Getting ready for my research trip

This weekend is the Ancestry Day conference, sponsored by the Midwest Genealogy Center of the Mid-Continent Public Library and Ancestry.com. It’s being held near Independence, Missouri, about four hours from my home in St. Louis. I love conferences and learning opportunities, so I’m really excited to attend.

Attending the conference has given me the perfect opportunity to do a little family history research and meet more-distant family members. My mother was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, and moved with her family to Spokane, Washington, when she was three. I was born in Seattle and moved to Walla Walla, Washington, when I was five. I moved to Missouri in 1989, but have never made the trek to western Missouri to meet my mother’s cousins there.

So on Friday, I will meet several first cousins of my mother, along with her aunt (my grandfather’s sole surviving sibling) and also visit the graves of my mother’s paternal grandparents. I’m really looking forward to meeting these family members ands seeing family landmarks.

The day after the conference, I’m going to travel to Meyer Cemetery, in Hudson, Missouri, to visit the graves of my mother’s maternal grandfather, great grandparents and great great grandparents. I sure hope they have gravestones to provide me with some data. (I struck out last summer with another ancestor’s graveyard.) I had downloaded the book, Genealogy: James McKinley, 1792-1872, Richard Anderson Jeffries, 1823-1914 and Joseph Price, 1818-1904, from Scribd. It’s providing me with plot numbers for the graves in Meyer Cemetery, so I’m hopeful!

It’s already Wednesday so I’m busy trying to get myself together for my first research trip. I figure the things I need to get together are:

  • Directions (of course)
  • Registration information for the conference
  • Synched family tree on my iPhone
  • My file of handwritten (unverified) ancestry charts from previous research attempts, which provide valuable clues and which I suspect I’ll want to refer to during the conference
  • The old photos my mother has given me, in case my cousins haven’t seen them
  • The printed out pages from the e-book, containing directions to Meyer cemetery and plot numbers
  • Chargers so all my devices are working!

It’s so nice to make a list–I already feel less overwhelmed! I’ll be sure and blog about some of the insights I gain at the conference, as well as reflections upon meeting my family members.

This weekend’s find: Application for headstone or marker

Application for Headstone or MarkerThis weekend, I was searching for burial information for my great grandfather, James Earl Jeffries (1883-1944). His death certificate told me his body had been removed to Appleton City, Missouri for burial. I’m going to southwest Missouri next month and hope to visit his grave. So I’m trying to pinpoint where exactly to go.

Imagine my delight when the second item that came up on a search of his name at Ancestry.com was a link to a government Application for Headstone and Marker. James was a veteran: He had fought in the Philippine Insurrection. His widow, my great grandmother, applied to the War Department for a headstone for his unmarked grave two and a half years after he died.

The form not only tells me that he was buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Appleton City, but it gives me his military rank, company and regiment (and serial number), as well as enlistment and discharge dates, and the fact that he was honorably discharged. Even more intriguingly, it supplies an address in Pueblo, Colorado, for my great grandmother. I had not been aware she lived in Colorado after her husband died. I had thought (from conversations with my mother) that she had moved directly to Spokane, Washington, from Missouri after his death. Her sister, I believe, lived in Pueblo. Time for a conversation with my mother!

Finds like these are always so exciting. To me, there’s something so real about a form filled out by hand. I feel as though I’m there, witnessing a little bit of history. And it’s so wonderful when the hand written form, like this one, is completely legible.