Saturday, November 9, 2013

Remembering Grandma Melat

Grandma Melat's Flowers
100 years ago today on November 9th, 1913, my grandmother Kathryn Mary Hoffman Melat was born. But what has made anniversary truly amazing is that a plant that belonged to her has a single stalk of flowers in bloom in my home.  Why this is so amazing is that the plant typically blooms much later--in late winter or early spring--with a dozen or so stalks of 2-4 flowers each! I have never been able to identify the plant but is looks like an amaryllis--probably an old fashion version of the flower.  From what I have been told Grandma bought the plant for her in-laws, my Great-Grandpa and Grandma Melat, which would make the original bulbs over 50 years old.  When they passed away, Grandma Melat took the plant to her house which is where I remember it growing up.  Over the years the plant has been divided and shared, but I have several pots of the plant including the original.   Every time I pass by or water it I am reminded of her and while she passed away 23 years ago, today I am very thankful to have had many years with her around.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

David Smith--Proud to be an American in 1876

David Smith
As the 4th of July weekend draws to a close it seems appropriate to highlight a quote from David Smith, who is my 4th great-grandfather. The life of David Smith is a fascinating study that roughly parallels our country's first century.  He was born in 1781 in central Pennsylvania, the son of a veteran of the American Revolution, and died in 1880 at the age of 99 in Franklin, Venango County, Pennsylvania.

As a young man in the wilderness of central Pennsylvania, specifically the Penn Valley, just west of where State College is today, David was looking for adventure.  According to his obituary, David became aware of the expedition being planned by Merriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the uncharted territory of the Louisana Purchase in 1804. David was anxious to accompany them and he started on foot for St. Louis to join the party. While in Illinois, he learned of their departure, so returned to Pennsylvania.  However, "while on this journey, he visited Cincinnati when nothing but a stockade and a few log huts marked the site of that city, and he was where Chicago now stands when a large village of Indians lived and thrived there."

Married and with a family, David began looking for opportunity outside of Centre County, Pennsylvania.  David and several of his brother left the home of their youth in the winter of 1818, reportedly traveling by sled, settling in Rockland Township, Venango County.  He was a blacksmith by trade and an active participant in the civil affairs of Rockland.  Most notably, it is reported that he was a "strong supporter of the free school law and it was mainly through his earnest labor that the Township was adopted the free school system" which laid the ground work for a strong public school system in Rockland Township.

David was a successful land speculator and in 1833 purchased a large tract of land across the Allegheny River from Rockland Township in Sandycreek Township, where the modern village of Belmar is located.  That part of the Allegheny River was known as Smith's Bend.  Following the success near Titusville of Col. Drake's well in 1859, land speculation made "millionaires" out of ordinary farmers, first in the Oil Creek Valley, but that same wave quickly spread up and down the Allegheny River valley.  In 1865, David sold his property in Sandycreek Township to the Eastern Oil Company for a substantial profit, and at the age of 85 he retired in comfort to a home at the corner of 7th and Liberty Streets in Franklin.  There he lived out the rest of his life.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories attributed to David is that at the age of 96, he traveled to Philadelphia in the summer of 1876 to attend the Centennial International Exposition. According to the Centennial Exposition Digital Library website, the exposition was the first official World's Fair to be held in the United States and was designed to highlight America as a new industrial world power.  The Exposition was host to 37 nations and countless industrial exhibits occupying over 250 individual pavilions. The main pavilion building covered 21 acres and at the time was the largest building in the world. The Exhibition was immensely popular, drawing nearly 9 million visitors at a time when the population of the United States was 46 million. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for David to experience such a spectacle!  Quoted from his obituary, "this veteran of nearly one hundred years--almost as old as the Republic itself--delighted to wonder and view the results of advances made by the nation during his lifetime."   David was quoted as saying, "I was pleased with our country's progress.  I am not ashamed of being an American." 

Happy 4th of July!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Military Monday: Christopher Columbus Logan and James O. Barbary--One Blue and One Gray

For Cherie's great-grandmother Cordelia Logan Davenport, Memorial Day or Decoration Day, as she probably referred to it, would have made for interesting family conversation. While both of her grandfathers fought in the Civil War, one wore blue and the other wore gray—yep one was Union, the other was Confederate. The Blue Yankee was Christopher Columbus Logan and the Gray Rebel was James O. Barbary.

Christopher Columbus Logan
Christopher Columbus Logan, known as Lum Logan, was born in 1842 in Whitley County, Kentucky. He died there in 1920. Married three times, he fathered 18 children! His oldest child was born when he was 22 and his youngest born when he was 74. 

Lum served in Company F, 32nd Kentucky Infantry. He enlisted on 2 November 1862 and was discharged as a private on 12 August 1863. The 32nd was a guard and scouting unit and saw action one time in the defense of an attempted invasion of Kentucky at the Battle of Perryville—but that took place in September 1862, before Lum signed up. The Regiment lost 43 soldiers during its service, all to disease.

James O. Barbary was born in Virginia in about 1836. James apparently moved from Virginia to Knox County, Tennessee before 1860. A Virginian by birth James most likely had Confederate sentiments; however, eastern Tennessee, where he moved prior to the Civil War was an area of decidedly Union sentiments given that the plantation system and slavery were almost non-existent. In fact eastern Tennessee attempted to succeed from western Tennessee and remain part of the Union, but that attempt failed. James served in the Virginia Levi's-Barr's Light Artillery Battery, enlisting as a private on 15 May 1863 at Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. It appears that the unit James joined fought the Union advances in eastern Tennessee, but by the end of 1863, eastern Tennessee was back in Union control. James moved his family to Kentucky shortly after the war where his daughter Sarah married Lum Logan’s son John. James appears to have died in Kentucky by 1900.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: The Last Visit to the Kinzua Cemetery

Gravestone of James Morrison, Willow Dale Cemetery
Kinzua Cemetery had long been the burial ground for my Morrison family, one of the oldest families in Warren County, Pennsylvania.  James Morrison was a Revolutionary War veteran and a millwright from Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.  According to the oft recounted story, James was contracted in 1798 by Seneca Indian Chief Cornplanter to build a mill at State Line in the wilderness along the border of Pennsylvania and New York.  Along the way to the destination, the traveling party camped on an island in the middle of the Allegheny River at the mouth of Kinzua Creek. And the story continues that James Morrison was so impressed with the island that he petitioned the Commonwealth for the island and the surrounding property.  James and his family settled on the island by 1800 and there he died in 1839 and was buried in the Kinzua Cemetery near the small village of the same name that sprung along the southeast bank of the Allegheny River.

Fast forward almost 100 years and with the passage of the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938 it was determined that a dam should be built on the Allegheny River south of Morrison's Island and the village of Kinzua in order to control flooding further south.  Two decades later construction of the dam began and it was completed in 1965.  The resulting reservoir would completely submerge not only Morrison's Island, but the entire Kinzua Creek Valley to include the village and the old cemetery.  The memory of those buried in that cemetery would be preserved by moving the gravestones to the Willow Dale Cemetery, outside Bradford in McKean County, Pennsylvania.

The news of the impending deluge prompted my Great-grandfather Jesse Melat and his nephew Boyd Melat to pay one last visit to the ancient burial ground before the gravestones were moved.  My cousin Karen Campbell Britton remembers that the pilgramage to the cemetery probably took place sometime in 1959 and included my great-grandparents Jess and Lizzie Melat, her grandparents Boyd and Rose Melat, her parents Bruce and Betty (Melat) Campell, herself and her sister Beth.  These photographs, probably taken by my Great-grandmother Melat, document the visit.  Cousin Karen is pictured along with her grandfather Boyd Melat at the grave of our ancestor Zephaniah Morrison (right).  My Great-grandfather Melat is pictured at the grave of his aunt Cynthia Morrison Strong (below).  Karen remembers visiting the cemetery once again when it was "totally surrounded with high barricades [in the midst of] the process of moving the graves." She remembers "thinking how creepy that was."  Those gravestones can be seen today in the Willow Creek Cemetery.  A picture of Zephaniah Morrison's gravestone in its current location can be found at

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mappy Monday: My Ancestors Living in Northwestern Pennsylvania in 1850

Venango, Crawford, Warren, and Clarion Counties in northwestern Pennsylvania have been home to my family for over two centuries. By 1800, when Venango, Crawford, and Warren Counties were established, at least five of my ancestors were already carving out their existence in this wilderness.  Robert Beatty settled near what is now Cooperstown, Venango County as earlier as 1796.  Scots-Irish immigrants Thomas Fulton and his future son-in-law Archibald Hill settled along French Creek by 1796 in what is now Fairfield Township, Crawford County. George Tarr was said to have been living by 1800 in an area that is now Oakland Township, Venango County (George soon after would settled in Cherrytree Township, Venango County). And James Morrison, a Revolutionary War veteran, settled his family on a island in the Allegheny River at the mouth of Kinzua Creek around 1800, an area now part of Warren County.  Five decades later, three-fourth of my ancestors identified as a head of households in the 1850 census were living in Venango, Crawford, Warren, and Clarion Counties.  Below are a few maps showing the approximate locations of where my ancestors were living in 1850.

Peter Reese owned a 150 acres farm at the crossroads at Ten-Mile Bottom--now known as Tippery--in Cranberry Township, Venango County.  David Smith, who arrived in Rockland Township, Venango County in 1815, was a land speculator and in 1850 was living on property he owned in Sandy Creek Township--where the village of Belmar is currently located. David's son John Lane Smith lived across the river in Rockland Township on a farm along the East Sandy Road. John's father-in-law John Carner owned a farm south of the Coal City Road just past the Pine Hill Church. Robert Melat and his son William P. Melat lived north of the Pine Hill Church.  Welsh immigrant Edward Roberts lived on a farm along the Kennerdell Road near Potter's Falls.  In Richland Township, Samuel Dreibelbis, his son Moses A. Dreibelbis, and Moses' father-in-law Elias G. Engle owned farms near Mariasville.
Agnes Beatty, widow of Robert Beatty was living south of Cooperstown in Jackson Township, Venango County while Jacob Sanner was living in Canal Township, just west of Cooperstown.
Frederick Benninghoff owned property along Benninghoff Run in Cherrytree Township, Venango County.  Also in Cherrytree Township where Thomas Noel, his son-in-law Jacob Tarr, Jacob's son-in-law Jacob Baney, and Jacob's father John Baney. In Oakland Township, Samuel Thomas owned 150 acres along the Plum Township line. Jacob and Samuel Baum owned about 150 acres at the village of Dempseytown where the current junk yard and bus lot are located. Samuel's father-in-law, Samuel Long, who owned 150 acres just north of the Dempseytown, would moved to Ohio shortly after 1850 and live near his father-in-law John Hirschberger in Summit County.

Irish immigrant John Walker lived in Wayne Township, Crawford County.  John's son Hugh D. Walker was living near Hugh's father-in-law Philip Record, also in Wayne Township.

In Clarion County, Joseph Eisenman Sr. and his son Joseph Jr. were living in what is called the Eisenman Settlement located on the road between Fryburg and Shippenville in Elk Township.  Samuel Garvin, a shoemaker, lived just west of  the Clarion Borough line.  Samuel's son-in-law Michael Dunmire lived on 5 acres just north of the village of Fisher in Millcreek Township.
In Warren County, James Morrison lived in Conewango Township while his son Zephaniah Morrison lived along Kinzua Creek just over the McKean County line.  Zephaniah's father-in-law Joseph Northrop lived in Pine Grove Township.

Of those ancestors who were not living in any of the four counties discussed in this post in 1850, one branch of my family, the ancestors of my great-grandfather Al Redmond, were gathering around New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1850; John Hirschberger mentioned above was living in Stark County, Ohio; William Randall was living in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1850; And the Hoffman and Spies families had immigrated from Germany and living in the 6th Ward of Buffalo, New York in 1850.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sentimental Sunday: Easter and Eating Eggs

Coloring hard boiled eggs is a well established tradition for Easter, but what about eating lots of eggs at Easter.  I found a curious reference to eating eggs at Easter on a post card sent to my great-grandmother Mary (Walker) Reese in April 1909.  The sender (whose identity is not clear) asks Mary, "how many eggs are you going to eat on Sunday," presumably a reference to Easter. Then the sender states, "I am going to eat for [sic] or fiv [sic], dozen I mean"  I found that to be an odd reference, so I turned to the internet for answers.  The Wikipedia page for Easter Eggs points out that there is an old tradition of not eating eggs or dairy during Lent.  But because hens don't stop laying eggs during Lent, a larger number of eggs would be available by Easter if the eggs had not been allowed to hatch. So after 40 days without eating eggs and an excess store of eggs, eating a ridiculous number of eggs would be in order--although I don't think eating four or five dozen in one day would be advisable for anyone!
Easter Greetings--Eat some Eggs!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Tribute to the "Genealogy Ladies"

I spent the last week redesigning both my website and my blog hoping to find the inspiration to restart my effort to tell my family's story not only through my website but with this blog.  It seems only fitting that I dedicate this effort to those who helped me along the way, those who I fondly call the "Genealogy Ladies." This group of women took the time to spark my interest, to endure my pestering questions, and to provide help and guidance along the way. 

The first Genealogy Lady was not really a genealogist but my Aunt Helen (Melat) Steffee who I credit with igniting that genealogy spark within me.  I don't remember the specific date, but I must have been about 11 or 12 years old--which would be around 1976.  During one of her visits to my Grandmother Melat's house, Aunt Helen began recounting this story about our family being connected to William Mallet who was with William the Conqueror when he invaded England in 1066.  She talked about a castle that belonged to William Mallett located along the English coast, crumbling into the ocean. I was hooked! (Of course I would eventually figure out that William Mallet and the castle had absolutely no connection to my family. For the record, Aunt Helen was only recounting what she had been told by cousin and family historian Benava (Melat) McAneny.  Speaking of Benava, it is a good time to give credit to her and another cousin Mabel (Melat) Manson for their efforts in gathering information on the Melat family decades before I started.  Their work provided a solid foundation for all the research I would do on this family--except, of course, for the story about William Mallet and the castle.)

With the spark ignited, I began talking with family members, particularly my grandmothers Kathryn (Hoffman) Melat and Ethel (Redmond) Reese, about what they knew about the family.  They endured my pesky questions with a lot of grace, even though most were not the least bit interested--in fact both had family stories they would rather not talk about (subjects for future posts).  Since my effort began before I could drive myself I had to rely heavily on the generosity of  my mother to take me to visit family, cemeteries, libraries, and courthouses.  (I should also take this opportunity to offer an apology to her for my relentless pursuit of genealogy--I am sure there were times when she took me to my destination just so I would stop asking!)

Oil City Library, Oil City, PA
After I had exhausted the knowledge from my family members, I needed help to figure out what to do next (remember this was long before the internet...). With the notes I had taken and other family paraphernalia that I had gathered packed neatly in an 8½ X 11 inch box, my mom dropped me off at the Oil City Library where I was told I could find the help I needed.  I ventured into a stark white room in the basement that had a couple bookshelves filled with old books along one wall and a long folding table at the opposite end.  At the table were three women: Jean Stormer, who was pouring over a bound volume of old copies of the local newspaper, abstracting anything that she deemed to have genealogical value; Margaret Ward, her sister and certainly the most intimidating of the three, sitting with her arms crossed, talking to the third woman; and Alice Morrison, a school teacher by day and professional genealogist on the weekends and during the summer.  I can't imagine what those three must have thought when this 13-year-old boy walked into that room with a box full of random notes and equally random, incoherent questions. But they answered all of my questions and introduced me to microfilm which opened up the world of old newspapers and census. On subsequent visits to the Oil City Library I met Barb Harvey, a local history enthusiast, who kept things running at the Venango County Genealogy Club for years.  I would also find my way to the second floor of the Franklin Library where I would meet an equally helpful and influential Genealogy Lady Helen Ray.  I spent endless hours, mostly on Saturday afternoons, at these two libraries being tutored by these five women in the proper ways of genealogical research for which I am forever grateful.

Franklin Library, Franklin, PA
There were countless others who would influence me over the years.  Those who quickly come to mind are: Helen (Campbell) Snyder, a kindergarten teacher, family historian and distant cousin, taught me how to tell a story; cousin Mary Sanford taught me to be truly excited by our family history; Joyce Neidich, another professional genealogist (a distant cousin by marriage), showed me additional intricacies of courthouse research (and only charged me the family rate); Karen Golden Rodgers, a family historian peer of mine (another distant cousin), showed me a passion for local history as a backdrop for the family history; and Sylvia Coast, who works in the Pennsylvania Room at the Franklin Library (with no known family connection to me), has always been extremely helpful when I go back after years of being away and don't know where anything is anymore, which is very much appreciated--and most important, being a familiar face after all these years. Oh and I can't forget Jennie Brandon and Sue Buchan, the Registrars at the courthouse (both cousins), for providing a friendly atmosphere for researchers--even when that researcher was a teenage boy!

Venango County Courthouse, Franklin, PA
I can't end this post before I make special mention of Alice Morrison, the single biggest influence on my development as a family historian (of course, a distant cousin of mine).  For a professional genealogist, time is money, but she never charged me a penny for all the help she gave me.  She never did any research for me, but she taught me and guided me to do my own research.  Mrs. Morrison was a very unique individual to say the least.  When she had raised her children and retired from teaching she left behind the comforts of home and family to live in very primitive circumstances in the woods outside of Titusville, Pennsylvania where she pursued her real passion which was for the outdoors, hiking, birdwatching, and studying the local flora and fauna. She had no telephone (nor electricity I believe), which meant that I could only get in touch with her when she happened to be in her office she kept in an office building in Titusville.  But when she was there she continued to make time to mentor me.  She taught me the ropes of doing research at the courthouse--skills I could use in any courthouse in Pennsylvania.  She showed me the importance of keeping track of my sources, documenting everything, a routine that would serve me well as I gathered more and more information.

It would be disingenuous of me not to mention that there were also "Genealogy Guys" who helped me along the way: Dennis Armstrong, a fellow family and local historian, taught me the importance of knowing the local history; Bill Poulter, a fellow researcher who volunteered with me on Saturdays in the Heritage Room at the Oil City Library; and Gary Edwards who has been a faithful volunteer at the Heritage Room over the years.

I will remember Mrs. Morrison and all of the Genealogy Ladies (and the Genealogy Guys) fondly and with great respect.  They all took the time to help, engage, mentor, and respect me despite my age.  And to that end I dedicate the Speaking of Family website and blog to all of them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fearless Females: With Love, Carol Ann

Several weeks ago my family said good-bye to my cousin Carol Ann Reed Dryden after a courageous battle with cancer.  Carol Ann died on 7 March 2013 at her home along the North Fork of the Shenandoah River in Edinburg, Virginia.

Carol Ann was born on 19 February 1941 in Oil City, Venango County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Wayne Amer and Ruth Phyllis (Hoffman) Reed.  She lived with her parents in Aunt Lucy (Hoffman) Ray's house on Charleton Street in the Clapp Farm neighborhood of Oil City.  When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, the United States was at war and like all able-bodied men of fighting age, Carol Ann's father soon found himself in the South Pacific, a Marine Private First-class fighting the Japanese.  Wayne was killed in action on Okinawa, Japan during the final days of the war on 15 May 1945. He left behind his widow Ruth and two children Carol Ann and Wayne II.

When Wayne left for the war, Ruth and her children moved across the street into her childhood home at 144 Charleton Street to live with her recently widowed mother Effie (Sanner) Hoffman.  There Ruth would raise her children and spend the rest of her life.  Carol Ann and her brother Wayne attended Clapp Farm Grade School and graduated from Oil City High School.  Carol Ann was a Girl Scout, a majorette in the marching band, and like many young women of her generation was an avid fan of Elvis Presley--an passion she would keep all of her life.

Carol Ann married Leon Caldwell after high school and along with their two children Lee and Alecia, lived in Rouseville, in the last house on the left on Main Street (Route 8) as you driving north.  Between the years 1969 and 1970, they spent the weekends helping my grandparents, Leonard and Kathryn Melat, at Indian Valley Campground which was located along the Allegheny River above Tionesta, Forest County, Pennsylvania.

Carol Ann and Leon divorced in the mid-1970s but with Carol Ann's determination she established a new and successful life for her and her children.  In 1977, Carol Ann, Lee and Alecia moved to Virginia where she worked for Automotive Industries Corporation in Strasburg. She eventually moved into a management position and retired from Lear Seating Corporation in Detroit, Michigan in 1997. Through her work she met a Ford Company employee Mike Dryden who she married on 17 August 1991 in Toms Brook, Virginia.  After their retirement, they moved into the house on the banks of the Shenandoah in Edinburg where Carol Ann spent the rest of her life.

There are many fond memories of times spent with Carol Ann. She had a great smile and laugh that I will always hear in my mind when I think of her.  She had a way of telling a story, especially family stories.  I loved to listen to her recount her memories of our family.  Carol Ann's favorite color was purple which manifested itself not only in the clothes and jewelry she wore but also in an collection of purple cow--from collectable figurines to slippers (and I can't forget to mention the collection of Elvis paraphernalia). 

Any recounting of Carol Ann's life would be incomplete without a mention of knitting and crocheting.  My grandmother Kathryn (Hoffman) Melat taught Carol Ann how to knit and crochet; skills she perfected over the years and her family is undoubtedly left with what are now precious heirloom afghans! She built an important circle of friends through her knitting club in Virginia.

In the end Carol Ann's legacy is how much she cherished her family.  Whether it was her own children and grandchildren, her brother and his family, her sister Cordie, or her cousins, like myself, she kept them close to her heart.  Our family is much more vibrant for Carol Ann being a part of it. 

As she signed the graduation picture that she gave to my grandparents,

With Love, Carol Ann