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