Comedy

“Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!”–Stephen Sondheim

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You may have discovered the harder we try at humor and comedy, the less successful it is. The unplanned moments are often the funniest. Most people don’t find genealogy entertaining, let alone funny. So much of what we research falls into the category of sad, even tragic, events. How does one find humor in the deaths, illnesses, war injuries, tornadoes, and rattlesnake bites that befell our ancestors? You don’t, because it just isn’t there.

Sometimes, though, comedy sneaks through during the research process. We learn a quirky fact about someone, or the process of tracking down a piece of information is so convoluted, you can’t help but laugh at how you reached your conclusion(s).

My dad was the youngest of five. His oldest brother, Paul, died very young. You met Dad’s next oldest brother, Henry, in Namesake. He was six years older than Dad, so I’m not sure that as kids they would have hung out much with each other. Marie was in the middle of the boys, leaving George, eighteen months older than Dad, as his closest sibling, age-wise.

With three older brothers, and three sons of my own, I’ve observed brothers, particularly ones close in age, can have interesting relationships. Sometimes difficult ones! I don’t remember hearing many stories about Dad & Uncle George when they were young, but I imagine when they weren’t killing each other, they were causing mischief together.

Around April, 1941, in the backyard at 910 Rosemary Terrace, Deerfield, IL. Robert Haws is on the left, newly enlisted brother George is in the middle, and brother Henry is on the right.

During the 1990s, Mom’s Meintzer clan held four reunions: 1990, 1992, 1995, and 1997. We kids flocked back home to attend them, if we could. I remember sitting in the kitchen one of those times, packing coolers, cooking, whatever. Mom’s kitchen wasn’t very big, but in our family, the kitchen was [is] a regular hang-out spot, regardless of whose house and kitchen.

So a bunch of us were in there, and Dad started telling this story about when he was a kid. He and George found some rags in their basement. They didn’t know what they’d been used for. Somehow they got the brilliant idea to see if they would burn! This was probably the late 1920s, so they were eight to ten years old, maybe? Not necessarily the age to think through consequences of their actions real well.

Their dad smoked a pipe, so finding matches wouldn’t have been hard. Latex paint didn’t exist, so the house paint would have been oil-based. Where you have oil paint, you have turpentine.

You can see where this was headed, right?

Apparently Bob & George had the sense to put the rags in a coffee can. Of course, the coffee can had probably been used to clean paint brushes, so it’s likely there was turpentine residue inside it, also. Anyway, the fire started by the rags (and yes, they were still in the basement!) was a little more robust than they anticipated.

Fortunately, their mother (Victoria) had been upstairs, smelled the smoke coming up the stairs, and went to investigate. She extinguished (smothered, I imagine) the fire, and gave the boys “what for.” Lesson learned, right?

No, not really.

In the next day or so, they had a repeat performance. I’m not sure whether they thought they had a “better” plan, or what, but their mom was back downstairs, putting out the fire again. That time she was probably more emphatic about stopping the nonsense, threatening promising to tell their father (Edward) if it happened a third time. That was enough motivation for them to cease and desist!

Now, rags burning in the basement of a 2-story wood frame house is not a joking matter. It’s downright serious! Time has a way of mellowing the danger, though, especially when we know everyone came through safely. By the time Dad finished telling his story, it was seen only as a comedy of errors. We adult kids were in hysterics, and the grandkids old enough to appreciate the story were shocked and appalled their grandfather was such a scalawag when he was young.

Then there was my mom.

She’d been at the sink during the story, washing vegetables or something. Her reaction was not one of amusement! She railed into Dad, wanting to know why, in 45+ years of marriage, she had never heard that story. She continued on about how he should have told her about that incident when Bob & Warren (my older brothers) burned their bedroom floor.

Hold the phone! What??

She explained that the burn mark on the oak floor in the boys’ bedroom was caused by them starting a fire. Granted, it was small, but still a fire. At the time (the ages were never nailed down, but probably somewhere around the age of our dad’s adventure), she was worried there was something more seriously wrong with them. If she’d know Dad and George had done the same type of thing, she might not have worried as much!

Warren, Bob, and me at Scenic State Park, near Bigfork, Minnesota. Yes, that is a Mickey Mouse Club, short sleeved sweatshirt. And a really big fish, not caught by me! Warren says it’s probably a Northern Pike, rather than a Walleye Pike. He doesn’t recall who actually caught the fish. It could have been either one of them, or my dad, who was taking the photo. Estimated date, July 1961, ages 13, 3, almost 14. Why are there no photos of the Bluegill (my “first” fish) that was placed on my hook when I wasn’t looking?

At that point, if we’d gotten our laughter under control, we all lost it again.

I remember there being a blackened area on their floor, usually covered by a throw rug. By the time Dad was telling his story, we’d been gone from that house for over 15 years. The floor and burn mark had been replaced by a McDonald’s, and I’m unaware of any photos with that section of floor. Mom is now 97; I don’t expect her to remember the circumstances (it’s been 20+ years since the reunion where it came up!). So as a thorough researcher, my only option was to contact the perpetrators. Bob died in 2008, leaving Warren as my only hope.

He wasn’t much help. Of course, It’s been 49 years since he moved out of that house! Did I have pictures? No. He had no recollection of anything like that happening, and adopted a Mission: Impossible attitude, disavowing all knowledge of the alleged incident. Evidently whatever punishment they received didn’t leave a huge impression! He suggested IF such an event occurred, it was probably him and Bob trying to light paper with a magnifying glass.

Some of you may remember back in the pre-Nintendo/Atari/Sony, and pre-iPad days, childhood entertainment was pretty simple. It could include roller skating, playing cops & robbers, or making stick floor plans for the worms on the sidewalk after a rain (yes, I was a weird kid!). Compared to that, firing cap rolls by hitting them with rocks, or lighting paper or dry leaves with a magnifying glass were far more exciting activities! But starting a fire that way was harder than it sounds, because it took a really steady hand to keep the beam focused on the exact spot. Move a bit, and you were effectively starting over! It was a skill I learned under the tutelage of my older siblings.

The boys’ room had three west-facing windows, but it presented several logistical problems, reducing the plausibility of the magnifying glass scenario:

  • the burn was closer to the door than the windows, so the sun would have had to come in at a fairly low angle
  • there was an elm tree (later succumbing to Dutch Elm disease) that would have blocked sunlight from that angle
  • even without the tree, the light passed through a window and window screen, first. I could be wrong, but I think that would have dispersed the beam enough that it wouldn’t have worked. It was hard enough starting a fire outside, sun directly overhead! Adding obstacles wouldn’t have helped.

Clearly the details of my brothers’ mischief have been lost through the years. I don’t doubt its occurrence, though. Mom had no reason to make up a story like that, but my brothers had every reason in the world to have forgotten the incident! We just don’t confidently know the why or how of their fire.

Sometimes it’s not the event itself, but the memory of it, and the reactions generated from retelling, providing the comedy. Fortunately none of our four “pyromaniacs” continued down that path—that we know of, at least! It seems I instinctively knew to keep my matches on the top shelf of a cupboard, and never retrieved them in view of my children . . .

#52Ancestors


Nurture

Christmas, 1958. Gerald Bauman and Mike.

Google dictionary gives us this definition: ¹

  • Verb: care for and encourage the growth or development of.
  • help or encourage the development of.
  • cherish (a hope, belief, or ambition).
  • Noun: the process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something.
  • upbringing, education, and environment, contrasted with inborn characteristics as an influence on or determinant of personality.

The definition describes only a fraction of what’s involved in nurturing. Are there people who have no one to nurture them? Sadly, yes. Are there others not being nurtured by those who should be nurturing them, but have others come into their life and provide what’s necessary? Fortunately, yes!

I think there’s another group, though, who are nurtured, but due to some unfortunate circumstances, find themselves feeling unnurtured. It can have a lifelong effect. I think my father-in-law may fit in that category.

Now, I’ll admit I’m skating on really thin ice, here! I never met the man— he died 3 years and a day before I married his son. Mike and I knew each other when his father died, but we weren’t dating, yet. Other than a few photos and documents, most of what I know about him is second hand.

You already met Gerald Bauman in Where There’s a Will. His mother, Mildred Fitzgerald Carmody, died a month after his birthday, and Jerry (yes, it’s “G” for his full name, “J” for the nickname!) was adopted by his first cousin, Anna Carmody, and her husband, Frank Bauman.

Anna and Frank married 13 January 1919, in Toledo, Ohio.² Frank was 9 years older than Anna. She had been married before, to a Julius Klammer and was granted a divorce from him 30 March 1918, on grounds of desertion.³ There’s more to his story, but that’ll be another day.

Julius and Anna married in 1908.4 I found a potential Julius in the WWI draft registration in 1917 who listed a “wife and child.”5 I never knew them to have children, but could this be my Anna? Did they have a child I don’t know about, or did he simply make up a child to appear less draftable? Maybe. There were a lot of unanswered questions, so I went digging.

The 1920 census doesn’t show any child in the household of the recently married Anna and Frank. It seems unlikely to me Julius would desert Anna and take a child with him. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s also possible this is a different Julius Klammer, but the name is distinct enough, I think not. I haven’t noticed others. I had trouble finding Julius and Anna in the 1910 census, but obsessive creative searching located them in Flint (NOT Port Huron or Detroit—more obvious places). 1910 was the second (and last) census where married women were asked how many children they HAD and how many were currently LIVING. Anna had one—and zero.6 Now that I had a new location for them, a search at SeekingMichigan.org found their son, Bernard, who died New Year’s Day, 1910, little more than a month before his first birthday.

So, why does that backstory matter to Jerry? As best I can tell, Anna and Frank had no biological children. The opportunity to adopt Jerry in 1928 was probably a dream come true—an answer to Anna and Frank’s prayers. He is the only child in their household for the 19307 and 19408 censuses.

Gerald Alfred [Carmody] Bauman, about 1930. This is probably his first set of wheels. The image is a trimmed-down (probably for a picture frame) “RealPhoto” postcard.

Nothing I’ve heard from Mike about Anna and Frank suggested that Jerry had any negative feelings for them. Presumably he was properly nurtured by them, and did maintain a relationship for a time with his older brothers, Michael and Joseph, placed with other families after Millie’s death.

Unfortunately, another untimely death complicated things. Frank Bauman died 18 July 1936 of “carcinoma—hepatic” when Jerry was only 8. That left Anna a widow in the middle of the Depression. How she made ends meet, I don’t know, but she and Jerry continued to live in Port Huron, with extended Carmody relations nearby—including Jerry’s birth father.

In 1940, death landed on Jerry’s doorstep, again. This time it was his adoptive mother, Anna. Some time that spring, she was diagnosed with kidney problems. She died 4 November 1940, of chronic nephritis that had been diagnosed 6 months earlier. Being widowed and in ill health, she presumably spent time that spring and summer making arrangements for 12-year-old Jerry’s care, if she were to die.

We don’t know who she approached to take him in. His oldest brother, Michael, was just turning 18, so really wouldn’t have been in a position to be able to take care of Jerry. There were numerous older half siblings (from John Joseph’s first wife) in Port Huron. They might have have been potential guardians for him, but none agreed to serve as such.

They ranged in age from 57 to 42, so some were already empty nesters, the others still dealing with their own teenagers. Either group may not have wanted to add another person to the mix. The Depression was also still going strong, so it’s possible those families really didn’t have the wherewithall to feed and clothe a teenage boy. If they were barely scraping by, another person might have been too much to take on.

Unfortunately, Jerry’s biological father, John Joseph Carmody, had died 4 January that year, of brachio pneumonia, almost age 78. At that age, he certainly wouldn’t have been able (or expected) to take Jerry in, but would he have been able to convince one of his other children to do so? Who knows? Maybe. Maybe not. But he died before Anna knew she was sick, so was of no help.

Bottom line, Anna was unable to find someone to agree to take Jerry in. Her will named Rollin B. Stocker executor and guardian for Jerry. Jerry spent time at the Starr Commonwealth (a children’s home, still in existence) in Albion, Michigan. This, of course uprooted him from his school and friends in Port Huron.

Actually, I never knew the home’s name, and had always thought it was in St. Clair, a town about 12 miles “down river” from Port Huron— not 160 miles away! Jerry graduated from the St. Clair High School, so I assumed it was there, and no one told me differently. Fortunately, we just spent two weeks cruising to and from Hawaii with Mike’s brother and his wife, so we had several conversations where the guys were able to “compare notes” about their memories. Each had heard (or maybe remembered?) different details from their dad. It wasn’t necessarily contradictory information, just different. Mike’s brother mentioned foster homes— something else I had never heard! Presumably the last one was in St. Clair.

Obviously, being orphaned had a huge impact on Jerry. According to Mike, his dad felt anger and resentment that none of the Carmodys took him in after Anna died. We don’t know how much Jerry did or didn’t know about Anna’s search for a replacement family for him. Maybe he heard all the details, or maybe she gave him only the Cliff Notes version.

Realistically, if you’re a 12-year-old kid about to be orphaned, it doesn’t really matter how good the reasons might be—or not be—for the adults around you not to take you in. All that matters is that you are losing your last parent, and no one wants you. You are feeling unwanted, unloved, and definitely not feeling nurtured! It’s a hard enough age under the best of circumstances—and his certainly weren’t the best!

I don’t know that Jerry had any animosity towards Stocker; he was just a man doing his job. He looked out for Jerry and his interests (assets held until adulthood). He wasn’t family, though, and didn’t make up for them.

Gerald Bauman high school photo. On the back, I’d written “Class of 1945” because that’s what I’d been told. That year needs investigation, though.

Jerry left high school early to join the Army, 5 November 1945 (age 17), and was honorably discharged 12 May 1947. He was awarded his high school diploma 11 June 1947, though he has the programs for all the Commencement activities (19 May-7 June, 1946) and the Honors Convocation held 28 May. He was already in the Army, so couldn’t have attended any of them. Someone must have saved those for him.

He and moved to Detroit shortly after his 1947 graduation. He didn’t keep in touch with the Port Huron Carmodys. Both full brothers had also moved away: Michael to Seattle, and Joseph to Pennsylvania, so he didn’t have a particular reason to stay in Port Huron. Since the three brothers hadn’t been raised together, I don’t know how much they kept in contact with each other as adults. Nor did Jerry reestablish contact with his Carmody half siblings, as an adult. That wound from his youth never fully healed, and was clearly expressed to Mike, as an older teen. His feelings mirror his father’s, in not wanting to connect with the descendants of these families. I’m not sure if that will extend to the Carmody descendants still in Ireland, but I’ll cross that bridge when I actually locate some!

This whole story makes me sad, though. Everyone has lost out, due to this rift. I’m not about to lay blame on anyone—not Anna, not the Carmody relatives, and certainly not Jerry—aged 12 or 40-something. People made the decisions they felt they had to, and were entitled to the feelings they had.

Perhaps as time passes, the emotions will mellow and dissipate. In the meantime, I need to look into getting whatever records might be available from both Starr Commonwealth and the high school. Hopefully, information from one or both institutions will answer lingering questions Mike and his brother may have regarding their dad’s life.

#52Ancestors


¹https://www.google.com/search?q=nurture+definition

²Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013, index and images, accessed 8 March 2019, citing Lucas County, Franklin County Genealogical & Historical Society, Columbus, Ohio, FHL microfilm 004260731, image # 00171, reference ID it 1 p 273 No. 32685, image # 00165 of 333. Frank M. BAUMAN (39) and Anna B. KLAMMER (30); FamilySearch.

³Wayne County, Michigan, Circuit Court, In Chancery, divorce file No. 60,848 (30 March 1918) Anna KLAMMER v. Julius KLAMMER, decree of divorce; Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, Detroit. Copy obtained from estate files of Gerald Bauman.

4“Michigan Marriages, 1868-1925”, database, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, FamilySearch Record Search (https://familysearch.org), accessed 8 May 2019, citing Port Huron, Saint Clair, Michigan, reference n.g., citing FHL microfilm 2342682, image# 534, citing Secretary of State, Department of Vital Records, Lansing. Julius KLAMMER (21) and Anna CARMODY (20).

5“United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, digital image, The National Archives (https://www.familysearch.org), Julius KLAMMER, serial no. 1527, order no. 381, Draft Board Ward 4 Precinct 3, Wayne County, Michigan; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: NARA microfilm publication M1509, 4,582 rolls. Imaged from Family History Library Roll No. 1,613,195; accessed 8 May 2019. Registered 5 June 1917.

61910 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, Genesee, Flint, e.d. 17; Page 6B; dwelling number 110; family number 121; line 79; Charles A. NORGET household; accessed 12 May 2019. Julius KLAWMER [KLAMMER], age 23, boarder; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 642; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

71930 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Port Huron, 10 precinct, e.d. 74-41; Page 1B; dwelling number 25; family number 25; line 73; Frank M. BOWMAN [BAUMAN] household; accessed 12 May 2019; NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1025; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

81940 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Port Huron, ward 10, e.d. 74-29; Page 1B; household number 12; line 42; Anna BAUMAN household; accessed 12 May 2019. Anna BAUMAN, age 52, widowed; NARA microfilm publication T627, roll 1815; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

Bearded

To shave, or not to shave . . .

I was not terribly excited about this prompt, because I had zero ideas about what to write about. We don’t have any Amish in our trees, and offhand I couldn’t think of anyone with a beard. Mike’s 18-day beard when we went camping in the Pacific Northwest in 1998 (he decided to take a vacation from shaving) wasn’t particularly noteworthy. I don’t think we have a photo record of it, either.

His beard was kind of nice, and had grown out past the awkward and uncomfortable stage—itchy for him and rough/scratchy for me. But he shaved it off when we got home. As soon as we got home. That afternoon—not the next morning. No warning to me. No chance to say goodbye to it. I was in the yard picking up the mail from the neighbor and talking about the trip, when he walks out with a naked face! There aren’t even words.

So yeah, no story there. A couple weeks of working on other posts intervened. It finally occurred to me that Christian Meintzer did have a beard, but he’s already had quite a bit of press in the blog (My Favorite Photo and Colorful), and I don’t have any particular story about him and his beard. Cousins, feel free to help out!

So I’m going to cheat and back off to just a mustache. A number of them hang around our trees;

John Carmody portrait 1906
Photo ca. 1906 probably provided by him to The Port Huron Daily Herald for an article written about him 2 March 1906

some you’ve seen before. The first is John Joseph Carmody, Mike’s paternal grandfather. You meet him in Unusual Source. As I mentioned then, I don’t know that much about him, and certainly don’t know any stories about his mustache. But his photo from the paper is just to awesome to pass up!

Another mustache, attached to my great-grandfather, Carl Moeller, was from the same turn-of-the-century era. My mom remembers this grandfather’s handlebar mustache when she was growing up, and she said he had a mug with a bar across the bottom edge to keep his mustache dry when he was drinking coffee. When I see one of those in an antique stop, my mind immediately goes to him! He’s the 2nd from the left of the men in the foreground, below.

Carl Moeller Northbrook photo_0001

From the photos I have seen, my grandfather, Christoph Meintzer, never sported a mustache, but his older brother, Jacob, seemed to. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to put my hands on one of Uncle Jake’s photos.

I don’t recall my dad or any of my uncles having mustaches, but I vividly remember a time when all three of my brothers were mustachioed. It was the 1970s, so that explains a lot! Several cousins had them, also—some never giving them up.

1975 dad and sons
1974-1976? Warren, Bob, Dad and Bill in front of the house we kids grew up in. Three mustaches and one not. This is a fairly rare image of Warren with a mustache.

I must be getting old, because it seems one memory begets another. As I wrote this, I suddenly remembered my oldest brother, Bob, coming home for our oldest sister, Carole, getting married in May, 1969. I was at school when Mom picked him up at O’Hare . . . with hair down to his shoulders, and a full beard. She was not at all pleased. I don’t know what discussion went on, but by the time I got home from school, his hair was shorter and the beard trimmed up. Mom was visibly happier!

1969 May 31 Mom & Bob
31 May 1969 Mom and Bob, at Carole’s wedding.

Beards and mustaches aren’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things. We sometimes get so caught up in the stories of our people, that we ignore the littler stories behind the stories. Often those are as interesting—or more mysterious—than bigger issues in their lives. Were they

  • Following the fashion of the time?
  • Rebelling?
  • Taking on a dare?
  • Trying to be taken more seriously in their profession?

Most of the time we will never know, but it’s interesting to look for possible patterns. And we need to save those photos for blackmail, later!

#52Ancestors

Where There’s a Will

I really haven’t done much with wills. Well, I’ve written two (though the “sound mind” clause always makes me a little nervous!), but as part of my genealogy research, not so much. That’s due to a combination of reasons:

  • I didn’t have a specific research question that a will would have helped answer
  • I come from a long line of peasants–no money to speak of, so mostly no wills
  • Not living near the places where I would need to look up a will
  • Not having other family members particularly interested in genealogy and wanting to make a research trip with me
  • Having a limited budget (i.e.: fairly non-existent) for either the trip or hiring someone local to the will to look it up

In fact, I’ve come in contact with only two wills in all this time, both on Mike’s side. One was for a maternal great-grandfather, Patrick Nolan. The paperwork from his probate packet was microfilmed, but unfortunately, the microfilm printer at the courthouse was broken, so all I could do was read and take notes. It was before digital cameras, so that wasn’t an option either. It was interesting reading, but no amazing revelations, either.

The other will is a photocopy of the actual will for his father’s adoptive mother, Anna Carmody Bauman. It provides the only documentation of the in-the-family adoption that took place. I never met my father-in-law. He died while Mike was in college. Mike and I knew each other, but hadn’t started dating, yet. After Jerry died, his 2nd wife packed up his paperwork & memorabilia and gave them to Mike, as the oldest child. The 1940 will was included in that.

Jerry was the youngest child of John Joseph Carmody and Mildred B. Fitzgerald. It was a 2nd marriage for both. John’s first wife had died, and their 8 children were mostly grown, when he and Mildred married. Mildred was 29 years younger than he, and had two young children. I haven’t determined if her first husband, Gordon Marshall, had died, or if they had divorced. Regardless, John and Mildred went on to have a “2nd family” of three boys: Michael, Joseph, and Jerry. Even though Mildred was only 37, she somehow developed a lung infection in the weeks after Jerry’s birth. She was hospitalized and never recovered.

That left John, age 66, with a 6-year old, a 3-year-old, and a newborn (plus two step-children)! I don’t think it was an era of a lot of hands-on parenting for men back then. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure he hadn’t changed diapers or done 2 A.M. feedings–and probably didn’t want to start. In fact, by the 1930 census, John is living without any children, managing the Port Huron Lighthouse travel camp. I’m not sure where the others were living.

Jerry’s baby book was mostly empty, but had an entry in the “Baby’s First Outing” section:

“Baby went out for the first time on the 12th day of September 1928, with Mrs. Hart when Millie was taken sick and stayed there until after the Funeral of Millie the 16th of Sept. and then Nano took[e] him Home for always.”

I don’t know who Mrs. Hart was–my guess is a neighbor–and I assume “Nano” was a nickname for Anna. We have no adoption paperwork, but at least the entry corroborates what Mike had heard from his dad. The 1930 census also lists him as “adopted son” for Frank & Anna. I’m not sure how adoption by a family member would have been handled then in Michigan. My guess is that it would still be considered closed, with records unavailable.

1930 CARMODY John J Michael Jerry
John Joseph Carmody with sons Michael (left) and Jerry (right). Despite being raised by Anna & Frank, he apparently saw them on occasion. I estimate this to be in 1930 or 1931, based on Jerry (age 2 or 3?). This is the only photo we have of his dad.

Anna’s husband, Frank, died in 1936 from colon cancer. Anna died 4 years later, in 1940, with Jerry’s birth father, John Joseph Carmody, having died in January that same year. Fortunately, Anna’s will survived, giving confirmation that Jerry was born a Carmody:

” . . . I give, devise and bequeath all my estate, real, personal, or mixed wherever situated to my beloved son (adopted) Gerald Bauman (formerly Gerald Carmody) . . .”

I’m extremely grateful she made the effort to leave a clear trail to the Carmody surname. I’m not sure we would be able to find it out, otherwise.

#52Ancestors