Monday, January 14, 2019

The Memory Fades: Family You Know and Family You Didn't

The Memory Fades
Family You Know and Family You Didn't

The summer before I was two years old, I met my only living great grandfather, who was my grandmother's father. I didn't remember meeting him until my mother showed me her wedding photos. My parents were both in the room and my mother said that I couldn't possibly remember him since I was a baby when he died. I was 1 year, 11 months and 7 days old when he died. 

When I described him coming into the room where I was playing on the floor at my grandfather's feet, my father asked me to tell them exactly what I remember. 

My mother looked astounded and my father made a "hurumpf" sound. I was quite sure that I was alone in my grandmother's house that day with my grandparents taking care of me. 

The clincher was that I remembered that he smelled strongly of cigarettes and what my grandmother said to my grandfather when she opened the French doors and gave her father a gentle push inside the living room.

Neither thing is provable but she said, "Evans.  J. Fred is here". The man, the oldest person in my family at that point, came directly to me and ruffled my hair. I thought, "Oh, the other grandpa." and went back to playing with the puzzle of blocks on the floor.  He sat down in a chair next to my grandfather and talked to him.

Don't discount even a tiny memory of what you remember. I will always be glad I remember that. 

These are the only three surviving photos of James Frederick Barber (1866-1949) One taken in 1918, one taken in a group photo in 1938 and the one of him at my parent's wedding in 1946. He was always called J. Fred. 

Who was alive in your lifetime? 

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Memory Fades: How to be an Organized Person

Photo of Erin Condren Paper Pads,, 2019
The Memory Fades: How to be Organized

I have had people tell me that I am both too organized and too clean. One girl in college bullied me because my room was clean and I was too stuck up. I was a freshman and she was a senior. Others turned against her because they through she was wrong. But, that was only the beginning. I didn't realize that for the many years to come, people would pick on me for what I was good at. It wasn't until I got good at computers that I noticed people getting even more jealous. 

Before the memory fades, I'd like to say that I didn't immediately join the Facebook group "The Organized Genealogist" because I knew it was something I could not teach to others. When I was invited again, I did so but I seldom read it. There were too many other groups I needed to learn from. 

I think our mothers and grandmothers influence us in ways that make us successful.  My mother struggled to maintain order but she worked at it because she didn't like working and she took her "job" as housewife seriously. After talking with men friends, one of the topics where they think their girlfriends or wives could improve was "keeping house". Think about the number of census records you have read that list that as the female occupation. Women ran the farm or the store, took in laundry and seamstress work. Dawn to dusk repeats itself in many journals women wrote. 

My mother, tired of my messy room and unmade bed, at age 4 or 5, insisted that I learn to manage my own life. She had been teaching me to make my own bed when I moved from the crib to a bed. As soon as I was able, it was not optional that I do so every single morning. Because I have no siblings, I didn't know people didn't make their bed until I was old enough to ride my bike in my neighborhood.

Mom did a very radical thing. She took a bedsheet and dumped the entire contents of it into the middle and tied it up with a big rubber bands. The contents of my room was in layers, toys, books, clothes were inside. I was not allowed out of the house until I had put everything where it belonged. I don't recommend this to others because I discovered that I enjoyed keeping my room in order and demanded a bookcase, a desk and a toy chest. I was never messy again. I became less social. My room was my own queen's domain.

Although I do not agree with everything in his book, much of it can make us think about how we live and what can give us stress. I can improve areas of my life and maybe make it easier to decide what is important. One thing to remember is that this is translated from another language and cultural differences are obvious.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Memory Fades: Why Do Genealogists Remember?

Last Night in my Crib
collection of the author
Photo by Dorothy Frances Stewart Broadfoot
Taken in Cranston, Rhode Island
The Memory Fades 
Why do Genealogists Remember?

I know that this photo looks faded. So many of the photographs in my personal collection are fading because my mother and I looked at them a lot together. I'm not sorry that we did because otherwise I would not know some of my family history and I would not understand my childhood from the perspective of my parents and grandparents. My mother was annoyed when I wanted to label, date and write down our conversations about photographs. She wanted me to listen but she didn't want me to remember. She wanted me to live in the moment.

Dementia runs wild in my family tree, partly because so many of my ancestors lived to be very elderly and partly because dementia is a by-product of other medical conditions. Death records mention this over and over like bad song lyrics. It is hard to pick apart metal illness from physical ailments. 

Because genealogists live in a strange world of records, memories and photographs, my own personal history gets shoved to the background and I fear that I will not leave any impressions behind of, well, me. I do think that my fellow genealogists share this fear. I don't think that this is just because I am an only child, only grandchild and for a time, an only great grandchild. It is because to us, our ancestors are more fun to work with.

I stopped blogging through the holidays because I want to learn to live in the moment. I've read so much about mindfulness and how regular day to day life is giving me anxiety. Do genealogists think too much about the past or is it something that is happening to me now because I am in my 70s? 

Should I be fearful that dementia is already happening inside my brain?

I think I should write about some things that I remember because there is no photograph that matches the memory because we can't take a photograph of everything. I suspect the generations that follow me will try to do just that. 

Blogging was designed to be about short writing. I think that is why so many have stopped writing blog posts. Writing is time consuming, so let's just take a photograph so we won't forget. Is that going to work?

Some studies suggest that writing with a pen in a journal helps us remember better than recording with a computer and sharing online. What do you think?

Friday, November 9, 2018

Prickly Fall: Edward Stewart's House

Prickly Fall: Edward Stewart's House

House on Stewart Hill, North Stonington, CT abt. 1900
At the time of this photo, house belonged to George P. Stewart
shared with me by the North Stonington, CT Historical Society and the Westerly, RI Library

Ever since the summer of 2004, when I went in search of information on my Stewart family who lived in North Stonington, Connecticut,  I have been in love with the story of Edward and Rebecca (Noyes) Stewart. They were my 3rd great grandparents and my great grandfather, Charles Edward Stewart's grandparents. 

The History of Stonington by Richard Anson Wheeler (the second compiled genealogy I owned), tells me that "all that knew him loved him." 

What could be more important than that?

From the History of Stonington (CT) page 607 Stewart
Family found in an  out of copyright Google Book and my copy in print.
We had to move fast. The house was set to be torn down. We got there in time to take photos and look at the cemetery. My friend, Gladys Chase directed us to the next cemetery where Edward's parents are buried. It is still my most amazing genealogy adventure.

They tore down the house and then the cemetery was endangered. But, we found who held the deed and they restored the cemetery. Today, the place where the house stood is a new housing development but The Stewart Hill Cemetery is safe.

What did Charles Edward Stewart inherit though his father, Dudley Wheeler Stewart from the house of Edward and Rebecca? It took two probate records to be sure.

Think about it: the desk in my own parent's living room came from this house!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Pricky Fall: Whose Desk is it?

Probate Record of Charles Edward Stewart, 1937, Cranston, RI
(as gathered for me by Diane Boumenot, 2018)

Pricky Fall: Whose Desk is it?
My maternal uncle, Evans Stewart, Jr. (1917-1951) inherited from his grandfather, cash, shares of stock in the family business and an antique desk that belonged to Charles E. Stewart's grandfather. In an instant, I knew that this must be the desk in the small photo that I wrote about previously. 

It was the "belonged to my GRANDFATHER", that made me sit up and take notice. Charles's grandfather was Edward Stewart (1774-1837) of North Stonington, CT. So, this desk was older than I thought. It must have been in the house on Stewart Hill when Edward's son Dudley W. Stewart took it to his home after his mother Rebecca Noyes Stewart died in 1842. Dudley was her youngest child. More on this in the next blog post.

Notice, that my mother, Dorothy was given more money than her brother and NO shares in the family business. Clearly a patriarchal situation. But, my mother was charged with inheriting and distributing 1/2 the contents of the house. She was a college student at this time.

My uncle was not yet 21 when he was supposed to inherit the desk and the shares. The plot thickens.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Prickly Fall: The Case of the Disappearing Desk

Photos in the family collection of Midge Frazel, 2018
Prickly Fall: The Case of the Disappearing Desk
Part 1

As you can see in the right hand photo, I was quite small when my mother had this desk in our living room in Cranston, RI. (photo dated January 1952) I still don't know where this desk went but I do know that furniture in my maternal family was always moving around from house to house. 

The Victor Cleaning Co. truck made frequent trips from my grandparents home to ours over the years. I even have a photo taken of the truck in our driveway and I know they weren't delivering clean clothes to our home. We had a station wagon for just such purposes.

As I have been getting some scanning done of my own childhood photos, I have been discovering that our photos and the few taken from previous generations begin to line up because of the items in the background of the photos. I am lucky, my ancestors wrote things down and talked to me about the past.

The photo of me with mom is one of several taken on the same night in 1952. Mom's clothes and mine are the same and two of the photos have the developing date on them.

But, I have no idea where this desk went. The drop down top tells me this is a desk and not a chest of drawers.

This week, I solved the mystery of who originally owned this desk.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Prickly Fall: Fear of Jumping Off

Prickly Fall: Fear of Jumping Off
From the Family Collection of Midge Frazel, circa 1948-1949
60 Hilltop Dr. Cranston, RI
This is the only photo I can find that shows the concrete steps and section that connects the house to the garage at my childhood home. It was a favorite picture spot but photos usually were taken closer to the back door with someone coming or going out of the kitchen.

When I was in the first grade, my mother got the idea that I should be encouraged to jump off to the driveway by not using the stairs. I looked down and then over to the stairs and wondered why it would be better to jump than use the stairs. What was the purpose of the stairs? 

My mother obviously wanted me to be more aggressive and be like other kids. What happened was that I waited until I was taller and heavier to do things like that. She wanted it now, so she could catch me since I tended to move away from people if they came near me. I didn't like the way people smelled or touched me without warning. 

There was a neighbor man who wanted me to sit on his lap. I refused. My father told me I should be kind to the man who didn't have children. When my father went into the garage to get more chairs, I told him that he couldn't make me and that I would tell my grandmother. 

His face changed. My grandmother owned the business. I learned that that was something my father was afraid of...losing his job. In 1971, she did just that, sold the business out from under him. 

While in college I was frequently told, that I should try to "get along" and be "more fun". Instead I observed people and made my own mind up that I didn't like people who jumped without using the stairs, so to speak. People found out the hard way that I was aggressive when they weren't paying attention. It is a prickly way to live but it works for me.