Handed Down

Many things get handed down in families. It would be easy enough to pick one and write about that, but I’m taking a different tack, reflecting my life’s current state of affairs. An early blog dealt with heirlooms, but compared to now, that was bush league.

I’m currently working my way through everything that came out of my mom’s room in assisted living, after she died in November. It was a studio apartment—think “dorm room” without a roommate. How much could it hold?

You’d be surprised!

We’d found a home for most of the furniture (donated the rest), but furniture had to be emptied in order to be moved. Everything inside landed at my house. The result looked (partially) like this:

The financial records had already relocated to my house, so didn’t even figure into this. My sister-in-law helped me process all the clothes that Monday night—a huge help! A few we kept, some were donated, most were just worn out, and not appropriate to donate. Hint: when the waistband elastic crackles, do not donate!

That left two days to quickly triage the remaining chaos. Bankers boxes from Mom’s 4-drawer file cabinet and desk? Stacked, untouched, in a spare bedroom. Office and desk supplies? Consolidated into fewer boxes and stacked. Items I didn’t need/want and neither would my kids? Boxed for donating, and out of the house Wednesday afternoon. Things my kids might be able to use? Stacked in a corner for them to look through on Thanksgiving. The leftovers? Piled into the spare bedroom with everything else, and the door closed! The house was relatively toddler-safe.

After the holidays, it was time to start in on the “elephant.” This spring I worked my way through boxes, one at at time, mucking out the spare room. Already in there were odds and ends Mom handed down to me over the last few years, now needing a final decision.

Many folders were easy to deal with, quickly recycled or put in the shredding pile. Others might have genealogical information I didn’t have, so were moved to my genealogy stash, to look through later. Office supplies were donated to school. Lots of boxes emptied out, and I started to see the floor.

A new dilemma surfaced—what to do with some of the items not (yet) disposed of. As a family historian, I rotated between,

  • “Isn’t this cool!”
  • “Where/How am I going to store this?” and,
  • “Who’s going to want this/Where’s it going to go when I die?”

It created lots of internal conflict, not easy to resolve. What items caused this internal debate?

  • Mom’s Piano Certificate—a scroll tied with a ribbon, with ribbons inserted and an embossed gold foil seal pasted on top.
  • Mom’s American Legion medalion, pin, and certificate. When did she win it? No date on it. What for? No idea. She probably could have told me, but I’d never seen it until now, so didn’t know to ask. Too late for answers. Would the school have a record of recipients? Maybe. It’s probably worth an email or phone call.
  • Her father’s U.B.C.W. (United Brick and Clay Workers, post-1923), and I. B. T. & T. C. W. A. (International Brick, Tile & Terre Cotta Workers Alliance, pre-1923) ribbon badges. They’re 5-6″ long, 2-3″ wide, fringed, pretty impressive.  The ribbon slips off a pin to reverse to a black, “mourning” side. Were these “regular” union pins, or something worn to a convention?
  • Mom’s extremely fragile grass skirt, in the same dry cleaning bag it’s been in since I was a kid.
  • Her mom’s funeral book, with signatures of friends & family. Many of the names I recognize, but will my kids? Or my cousins’ kids? And do they care?
  • The lists of wedding and wedding shower gifts Mom received. There’s a box of wedding and shower cards, too. For some of these women, it’s the only evidence of their handwriting or signature. The cards are cute and quaint, but does that make them worth keeping?
  • The statement from the savings and loan showing the total they’d saved for a downpayment on their first house, as well as the loan papers, and the loan book, showing their payments, with “Cancelled” punched through all the pages when it was paid off. Growing up, we kids heard stories about saving for the house and paying it off. My kids probably remember what the inside of a bank looks like, but passbooks were a thing of the past by then. How does one even explain it, without one to see? Keep it? Or not?
  • Cumulative earnings statements from Social Security. How did they ever raise five kids on that income??

None of those items have any particular genealogical value, but they provide glimpses into each person’s life. They season the soup, if you will. Of course, the granddaddy of all these goodies is the oval convex portrait of my mom taken at about 9 months old. The frame measures 23.5″ x 16.5″. The convex glass was gone long before my time. This picture lived on the top shelf of the upstairs hall closet, along with the boxes of old photos and the grass skirt. The photo itself has a dent in it, having no glass to protect it.

It lived on that top shelf at least 10 years, more likely 15-25. When Mom & Dad moved to the “new” house, its status upgraded to being hung on the wall . . . in the basement. Better than a closet shelf, I guess. It lived there for 32 years, when it moved to Indiana (back in the closet), and eventually to my house. For the last five years or so, I’ve debated what to do with it.

This framing style was popular for a time, and the nostalgic look appeals to me. Bubble glass replacements are available, but it needs more than new glass. The photo needs to be popped out, which, from what I’ve read, is tricky and should be done by a professional. The photo surface has at least 60 years of accumulated dust, dirt, and grime (plus a water spot or two). New glass on a dirty photo seems pointless.

The backing is thin plywood, so dealing with that is a little trickier, and the wood frame (with painted flower garlands) could use a good cleaning, too. This really is a restoration project—one requiring more expertise than I have. I’m not saying it isn’t worth it, but is it worth it to me? I’m not sure. Several years ago I asked my kids if any of them would want this picture down the road. They deftly dodged the question by turning it around and saying I should definitely repair it, if I wanted to do it. It seemed like a polite way of saying, “No, we really don’t want it, but don’t let that stop you.” It didn’t really help.

I still can’t muster a compelling reason to restore the picture, or even to feel guilty about not doing it. My mom had plenty of time to have something done about her baby picture—maybe not while she had five kids at home, with three in college—but she had an empty nest for 3+ decades! If it wasn’t important enough for her to take care of, I’m not sure why it falls to me. So maybe I don’t need to stress about guilt.

As far as the rest, I could keep everything, and let someone else worry about it after I die. It would be an easy decision; not necessarily the best one. So I need to curate these items and decide what to do with them. The long-term goal with my genealogy is to digitize as much as possible, making it more portable. As I age and need to downsize, a smaller physical footprint for my genealogy is necessary. One option I’m considering is to digitize the items, and write a narrative to accompany the image. Without the story, the bank statement for the house downpayment means nothing. It’s just a number. But these scraps can fill in details for the stories I wouldn’t have, otherwise.

Throughout this process, I realized I’m the only child looking at these documents and artifacts. I doubt my brothers particularly want them, but geography prevents them from being here while I’m sorting. Would they (or grandkids?) want to see some of these things before I possibly get rid of them?  Maybe. So I’ve boxed up interesting items to travel to my mom’s burial next month. Not everyone will be there, but it will be more people than at my house. Perhaps people’s reactions will provide clarity about what to do with this ephemera.

While I don’t have a total solution for all the goodies handed down to me, I’m at least attempting a plan, instead of just stuffing it all in closets or the attic, and foisting it on my kids. Hopefully I’ll hang onto (and hand down) the right things.

#52Ancestors

Uncertain

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce

In genealogy/family history, we discover a lot of details about a lot of people—more for some than for others. Some lines have all the census records found, we know where they lived, we have photos, letters, stories passed down, church records, civil records; and we know where the bodies are buried. Their i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Life is good.

Then there are the families where the facts are sketchy, at best. We have bare-bones information based on Aunt Millie’s memories of who was who, when they were born, where they lived, and so on. There’s a great deal of uncertainty associated with that data, but it provides a starting point for our research. We search for census records; birth, marriage, and death records; directories; whatever we can find to corroborate or refute our information. We are bloodhounds, hot on the scent of our prey.

So what happens when new information pops up on one of the established, documented lines? When a gap suddenly appears in the foundation of the family?

And NO, this has nothing to do with DNA. Not all genealogy surprises come from spitting in a tube!

Plot marker, Saint Anne Cemetery, Francis Creek, Wisconsin. Photos by author.
“FATHER: Frank Haws, 1958-1933” “MOTHER: Anna Haws 1865-1952”

Anyway, my foundations were shaken in mid-March. I had gone to the Find A Grave memorial for my great grandpa, Frank Haws. I must have been working on the Popular blog, focusing on his wife, Anna Bruder Haws. I have my own photos of Frank’s and Anna’s tombstones, so I don’t know if I’d ever looked for them on Find A Grave—possibly not. Imagine my surprise to find an unknown son and another spouse connected to Frank!

I nearly fell out of my chair.

My immediate reaction was, “Well, that’s just wrong!” Frank and Anna had 6 children, I knew who they all were, with two of them (John and Teresa) connected to Frank’s Find A Grave memorial. It couldn’t possibly be right. Finally, my brain kicked in and I looked more closely at my “new” grand uncle, “Joe.”

SPOILER ALERT! Bottom line, “Joe” was not a child of my Frank, and Joe’s mother, “Susie” was not Frank’s wife, partner, or anything else. It took some work to reach that conclusion. Since these people are not related to me, I’m not using their real names. The “Frank” who was Joe’s father will be “Frank2” to distinguish him from my great grandfather. Using names will make the explanation easier to follow, though. The only actual names are the two Franks.

Back to my dilemma. I was staring at my screen, mouth open, shaking my head, and sputtering under my breath. I looked at Joe’s memorial. I looked at Susie’s. She had remarried later, having more children with that husband. Who were these people, and did they belong in my tree? I was still bewildered.

Joe was born in 1882 in Minnesota, three years before Frank and Anna got married. We still have not found Frank in the 1880 census. Could he have gone to Minnesota, sown some wild oats, and fathered a child there? Then come back to Wisconsin and start up a new family? It wasn’t a particularly attractive scenario, but I couldn’t dismiss the possibility.

Birth and death years for both Franks were slightly off:

  • Frank, 1858 to 1933
  • Frank2, 1860 to 1929

I was confident about my great grandfather’s dates, but without sources for Frank2, I had no idea if those were accurate or not. The date discrepancy didn’t provide conclusive evidence, for me, that the two men were different.

Proving that Frank wasn’t the father of Joe might not be possible. The 15-year gap in his timeline was problematic. The surname spelling variations proved nothing—I’ve found at least five versions of Frank’s surname on different documents. But could I prove Frank2 was elsewhere while Frank was farming in Wisconsin and raising his kids? Maybe.

I contacted my cousin, Barb, to see if she had seen or knew anything about this. She is the only other person researching this family line, and is my go-to person for weird finds. She was equally puzzled.

Lacking time right then to sort out everything, I left open all the tabs of what I’d found, to come back to. It took nearly a month—April 15th—before I forced myself to deal with it. I’d gotten tired of looking at the tabs, and realized the quandry wouldn’t go away by itself.

I started with Joe, trying to nail down his details. I found an Ancestry tree with Joe, Susie, Susie’s 2nd husband, and Joe’s father, Frank Haas (Frank2). Some facts there seemed to line up with what I saw on Find A Grave; others gave me the willies. In addition to the memorial for Joe in a California cemetery (near where he died), the tree also attached a memorial using his stepfather’s surname, in Indiana. It’s difficult (though not impossible!) to be in two cemeteries at once, but with two different names? I’m pretty sure the Indiana memorial was a different man.

Nevertheless, the profile for Frank2 listed facts similar to, but not quite matched to Frank’s details:

  • parentsJohn and Elizabethbut not the Nachtwey surname of my 2nd great grandmother
  • birthplaceWisconsin. Frank2 was born in Sheboygan, nearby, but certainly not Manitowoc.
  • 1860 census listed his age at 6 months. Census records have notoriously inaccurate ages, but no enumerator would confuse a 2-year-old and a 6-month old! This census listed also him as “Joseph”his middle name in the birth record (next list).
  • By 1880, Frank2’s father had died, and several children had moved out of the house, but Frank2 was in the county where his marriage occurred and Joe was born
  • The 1883 marriage certificate image for Frank2 and Susie, in Clay County, 17 months after Joe’s birth. That marriage was short-lived, and no divorce record found yet. Susie’s second marriage took place around 1885, but that record is still missing.

The marriage record image for Frank2 and Susie included in that tree was extremely important. It was a record not available at Ancestry, so must have been acquired from the county or state. While it proved Susie married a Frank Haas, it didn’t disprove my Frank. Parents’ names weren’t provided, neither were age or birth year. I set about looking for missing records to fill the gaps for Frank2 and found:

  • Wisconsin, Births and Christenings Index, 1801-1928 documented his 15 January 1860 birth (with parents, including mother’s maiden name, listed), name: Francis Josephus Haass (providing the “Joseph” recorded in the census).
  • 1870 census placed the family (surname misspelled) in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, with Frank2’s 3 older brothers and 4 younger siblings
  • 1875 Minnesota census seemed to have the family in Clay County (their location in 1880), despite some variations in first names. The kids’ ages lined upquite a feat with 9 kids!so the couple red herrings among the names could be explained by middle and nicknames common in German families.
  • 192o census placed Frank2 where he should be, in Minnesota.
  • 1929, the county death register was viewable at FamilySearch. Same location as 1920 census.

While there were still some gaps in Frank2’s timeline, I felt I had amassed enough information to plead my case that Frank should not be attached as Joe’s father. I created an account at Find A Grave (one is needed to send messages), suggested the disconnect of Joe and Frank, and typed my explanation. It was a text box contained on the website, and you know how those sometimes have a character limit. I didn’t know if that was the case, so I was trying to write a Cliff Notes version of the explanation, hoping not to run out of room.

It all fit, and I sent it off. A reply came back fairly quickly from the manager of Joe’s memorial. She had forwarded my message to someone else in the family, and copied that reply. It was clear the other person misunderstood some of my explanation, though they DID confirm the 1920 census and death register were the correct ones for Frank2. Bottom line, they thought I was all wet.

I still thought I was right, but realized the first message was a bit muddled. I’d give it one more try. My reply was very polite, but this time I put more emphasis on the idea that if Frank2 was in Minnesota at the same time Frank was farming in Wisconsin, they had to be two different people. If Frank2 was Joe’s father, then Frank couldn’t be. The memorial was not under my controlI could suggest edits, but control of it ultimately was theirs. My concern was inaccurate information that would send their (or my) family members down the wrong research path, if it was left uncorrected. But it was their call.

I received a reply conceding Frank and Frank2 were different, so she would remove Joe’s connection to Frank, and do further research into where Frank2 was buried.

Yay!

My great grandfather’s memorial has been corrected; no extra grand uncle is lurking about. So why did I bother with this situation? I don’t manage any of the memorials for family members, nor do I have oodles of time to suggest edits to all of them. Frank and Anna still have only two of their six children connected to their memorial, so it’s certainly not “perfect.”

Find A Grave is secondary information, at best. Its accuracy is dependent on the research done by each manager. It can be a goldmine, with obituaries, photos, or death certificates included; or it can be bare-bones. Like online trees, it’s a source of hints, helping us find actual records to support the “facts” listed in the memorial.

Joe’s connection was simply wrong. If someone came to Frank’s memorial and saw Joe, and didn’t do any checking, they might add incorrect people to their tree, creating a mess. In my mind, wrong information on a site people use for research is far more dangerous than missing information. I felt it was worth the effort to try to clean up a mistake I was aware of. Keep in mind, when I started, I went in search of MY Frankto see if he could have possibly been the father. It wasn’t until I’d found enough records for Frank2, that I knew Frank was in the clear.

What about the two Ancestry trees I viewed? Both had some incorrect information, or at least wrongly attached sources. One had Frank2 buried in Dayton, Ohio! Maybe he was buried in a family plot back east? I researched the man from that Find A Grave memorial, too, and discovered his wife, children, and census records. He had never been in Minnesota; certainly didn’t die there. The tree owner had grabbed a same-name, similar death date memorial, and assumed it was correct. Oops.

But I am not the genealogy police. I can’t go around checking everyone’s tree. I occasionally make a change on the FamilySearch tree, but it’s a shared tree, not personal. Common knowledge and common sense tell us not to blindly accept everything we see on any tree. We read that in blogs and articles, and hear it in webinars. So I make use of the sources that are correct, and ignore the others. And I choose my battles carefully.

After all that research, I still have a gap for Frank between 1870 and 1885, but at least some of the uncertainty has been removed!

#52Ancestors

Popular

“POPULAR! You’re gonna be popular!”–Glinda, in “Wicked” (sung by Kristen Chenoweth, written by Stephen Schwartz)

When I go to Ancestry.com and look at my tree, it tells me I have 24,766 record hints. Photos, stories, and member trees hints add another 4,000+. With 6,040 people in the tree, it averages to 4 record hints per person. Of course, many people do not have hints (only 3,530, or 58%), so the average becomes 7 record hints per person, 8 hints, if you count trees, photos, etc. Actual numbers are much higher for some, obviously. And not all hints are created equal; I know some don’t belong to my people.

It got me thinking, though, about who was my most popular person, with regard to hints. Was there an easy way to find that person? It wasn’t as easy as I thought.

No report exists in Family Tree Maker allowing me to list people by the number of hints they have. If I go to the corresponding online tree at Ancestry.com, I can look at all my hints. I can even sort them by surname, though paging through 1,239 pages of hints and counting them up didn’t seem like a good plan. I could pull up a name list, but that had only name, birth and death dates; not the number of matches. So I wandered around my Ancestry tree, clicking on leaves to see how many hints they had.

It was slow, tedious, and not efficient. I decided to focus more on direct ancestors, sometimes their siblings. I found plenty who had hints in the upper teens, with a couple at 20 or 21. The winner, with 23 hints, was my great-grandmother, Anna Bruder Haws. You’ve met Anna before, with her husband Frank Haas/Haws, in The Old Homestead. They were also the parents of the children in Close to Home and So Far Away.

Anna Bruder Haws in her bedroom at her daughter, Teresa’s house, some time between 1946 and 1952.

Looking at her list of 23 hints:

  • 10 were member trees (one is my cousin’s). With my subscription currently lapsed, and libraries closed, I cannot check those out. Ancestry only counts them all as one, however.
  • 6 were photographs. Four of those were from my cousin’s tree, that I had sent to her. Two (technically one, because the second one was a closeup of the first!) are from an unknown person, probably a Bruder cousin. Why do I think that? Sitting next to Anna & Frank is a person identified as Ben Bruder.
  • 3 were newspaper clippings added by a different unknown cousin, referring to Anna’s funeral after her 22 October 1952 death. One mentioned Aunt May returning home to New York, afterwards.
  • census records:
    • 1870 (Anna Rinder)—had this
    • 1880 (Anna Bruder)—had this
    • 1900 (Annie Haws)—had this
    • 1910 (Anna Harr)—had this, misspelling and all
    • 1930 (Anna Haws)—had this
    • 1940 (Anna Haws)—Didn’t have this—sheer laziness on my part . . . I don’t even need a subscription for 1940!
    • Wisconsin state census—possibly 1905 (no subscription, remember?). I’d found my grandfather, Edward, hired out in Two Rivers in this census, but hadn’t found Anna & Frank. The surname is indexed as HAERS, so that explains why I may not have found it.
  • Find A Grave—I have personal photos of her headstone, but haven’t harvested her Find A Grave memorial, yet
  • city directory—don’t have this, not sure of the year or location.
  • Chicago & North Western Railroad Employment records—don’t have this. Her oldest son, John, worked as a section foreman, so likely this is from his employment
  • Wisconsin, Births & Christenings—don’t have. It’s probably for one of her children, but I don’t know which one.
  • Social Security Applications & Claims—don’t have. From a child’s application, but don’t know which one.
  • New York, Passenger & Crew Lists. This is the only hint I think is bogus.

WHEW! That was quite a list! It was somewhat reassuring that only one hint (last one) seemed to be wrong. Anna was born in Wisconsin. While both her parents emigrated from Germany, they arrived as children, with their parents. Anna had no grandparents to travel back to visit. Might there have been other relatives still in Germany? Sure. But they wouldn’t have been anyone she knew personally, or had a close relationship with, so I seriously doubt this is her. There are a lot of Bruders and women/girls named Anna.

Will I ignore that hint? No. I will take a look at it, next time I have the chance. I’ve had long shots pay off, before. What about the other hints?

It was reassuring to know that I’d found most of her census records, but this exercise pointed out 1920 is definitely missing. I’m not sure why, but if Ancestry isn’t finding Anna & Frank, my guess is that the surname was seriously mangled. It begs for a page-by-page search for them.

The state census should place them on the farm, with some of the kids (like my grandfather, Edward) already moved out. It will make gaps in the timeline smaller—always a good thing. The city directory may not provide any new information, though it could help pinpoint more precisely where they were, when. Or not, depending on the year.

The railroad employment and Social Security records will provide corroboration that yes, she really is the mother of whichever child the record was for. It’s helpful to have a different type of record indicating a parent-child relationship. The birth or christening record accomplishes the same thing.

It was kind of fun seeing who is the most “popular” in my file. And it was actually useful to check out the record hints. It helped me locate a few new pieces of data—or will, once I have access to Ancestry. I wish there was an easier way to do it. It would be nice to create a list of names with the number of hints for them. I could print it, or save it to a spreadsheet, allowing me to keep track of who I have checked out. Currently, it’s too difficult, so I’m likely to miss someone, or check them out twice.

I also wish there was as better way to handle the hints, both with Ancestry and in Family Tree Maker. The choices available in Family Tree Maker are:

  • Merge—the software decides what facts should be generated from the record. I have a little control over how they are handled, but it doesn’t seem intuitive to me. The source citations created aren’t necessarily set up the way I would. I can change them, but it seems like it takes more time. I tried the merge with a couple record matches, but wasn’t really thrilled with the results. I prefer creating the facts I want, and the sources I want.
  • Ignore—the hint disappears from the list and is added to the “ignored hints” list. I can go back and recheck that list of ignored hints.

From my online Ancestry tree (which is synced with Family Tree Maker), my hint choices are:

  • Ignore—Like in the software, the hint moves to the ignored hint list, and can be reviewed again, at a later time.
  • Review—Reviewing the hint asks me if the person in the record matches the person in my tree. I can answer:
    • Yes—The fact(s) associated with that record will be added to my Ancestry tree.
    • No—The record is treated the same as “ignore”
    • Maybe—the record is added to an “undecided” list, for additional review, later.

I don’t like any of those choices. Like accepting a hint in Family Tree Maker, if I click “yes,” my Ancestry tree will have a number of new facts created, based on the information in the record. They may not be the facts I want. It also creates a situation where I have to update my Family Tree Maker file with changes from Ancestry. While syncing works in both directions, my personal method is to make changes only on the tree on my laptop, and sync to the online tree. One direction changes, only.

Last fall I was traveling, and needed to check my file from my phone. Being able to view my Ancestry tree was a huge convenience! Unfortunately, phone screens are small, and I thought I accidentally made a change to that tree—only I didn’t know exactly what got changed (small screen, remember?). When I got home, I deleted the online tree and uploaded a fresh copy from my laptop, just to be sure I didn’t corrupt the data on my laptop. I do not like syncing down from online!

What I would like is for Ancestry to offer another option for both the online trees and the Family Tree Maker trees: “accept the hint (or “yes, it’s the same person”), but I’ll enter my own facts, thank you very much!” Why? Ancestry’s algorithm looks at the data in my tree, and the data in the record, to calculate if they probably are the same person. I’m pretty sure if I answer “yes,” Ancestry will use that informaton to locate additional records for that person. If I answer “no,” it uses that information to eliminate other records as being a match. The algorithm gets smarter, based on my answers.

SO, I’d love to tell them all those census records are correct! It might help Ancestry figure out where Anna is in 1920. Hints also come only from the more common databases. If I process through existing hints, it may prompt the algorithm to look into additional databases that it isn’t checking now, because I have so many hints.

For now, though, I’d settle for a simple list of people with hints, so I would know who to look at, first!

#52Ancestors

So Far Away

“But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more . . . “–The Proclaimers

Last week I talked about four of my grandfather’s siblings, who married either a neighbor, or someone pretty close to their home. In that time period (the early 20th century), in rural Wisconsin, it probably wasn’t terribly surprising. The other two siblings deviated from that pattern.

My grandfather, Edward Mathias Haws, was one of them. He was born 12 February 1887, and first appeared in the 1900 census.¹ He was 13 years old and still in school. By 1905, at 18 years old, he is no longer living at home. The Wisconsin state census had him in nearby Two Rivers, living with the Kasten family² as a “hired man.”

Family lore said he worked in the shipyards in Manitowoc. I know he worked there between 1918 and 1922, but I don’t know if he also worked there before he left Wisconsin. I’m not sure where/how he learned his carpenter trade, but he moved 160 miles from home for better job opportunities. I’m sure the Chicago north shore paid better wages than Manitowoc!

Family lore also said he moved down to Glencoe, Illinois, when he was 21. If so, he should have been in that area before the 1910 census, but he is AWOL so far. Nor can I place him still in Wisconsin. He might have spent time in other cities on his way to Glencoe. Bruders lived in Sheboygan, or he could have looked for work in Milwaukee. His last name got mangled enough different ways, that without a solid location, searching for him is very tedious.

Nevertheless, he met Victoria Barbara Schweiger in Glencoe and they married at Sacred Heart Church in 1914. Had he not ventured to Chicago’s northern suburbs, well over 100 of their descendants wouldn’t exist. I think he made a wise choice . . .

Aunt May, my grandfather’s next youngest sibling, definitely upped the ante! She was born 18 July 1889 and appeared as a 10-year old³ in the 1900 census, also attending school. It wasn’t until I received her letter in 1975, replying to my request for family tree information, that I learned she had actually been named “Mary Elizabeth.” Suddenly the records I had found listing her as “Mary” or “Elizabeth” made sense! Later in life, she swapped the name order and became “Elizabeth Mary,” but in everyday life, she was just “May.”

Like her brother, Ed, May is not enumerated with her parents in 1910, but I found a 20-year-old “Mamie Haws” living on Huron Street, in Manitowoc, working in the Schneider home as a servant. Some time between then and April 1914, she moved to the Glencoe area and met John J. Carroll. The marriage register at Sacred Heart Church recorded both May (Latinized to “Maria”) and John as two of the four witnesses for Ed and Victoria’s marriage.

Now, having someone stand up as one of your witnesses indicates a bump up in status. It’s probably safe to say May and John were pretty serious at that point, or he wouldn’t have been asked to be a witness for her family. A little more than a year later (14 June 1915) the two of them also tied the knot in Chicago. The following March, their son, Gerard Paul was born. A little more than a year later, the WW I draft registration places John back in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born, taking May even further from her childhood home.

So how did this Wisconsin girl come across a Brooklyn boy in Chicago? Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of hard facts. I have not had a chance to comb through Chicago city directories to see if she shows up. If found, those might indicate her occupation. Her brother was already in the area, so perhaps he let her know of a position with a family in the north suburbs? May’s great-granddaughter, Maria, also heard that May worked as a telephone operator. That was one of the few other job choices available to young women, and might have paid more than being household help. Perhaps she hired out to a private home and changed jobs later on?

That still leaves John, a long way from Brooklyn! I think I have a workable theory. His WW I draft registration listed him as a locomotive fireman, NY Central Railroad. Train firemen end up in places they don’t start out. His later records:

  • 1920 census—mechanical, E. Railway;
  • 1930—electrician;
  • 1940—shop repairman, electrical;
  • 1942 —NY City Transit system, repair shop.

The railroad and transit systems seemed to be a common thread through the years. Where was he and what was he doing in 1910, though? He was still at home with his father, who had remarried three years earlier. John was working as an office boy in a dry goods house. Most surprising was that the family was living in New Jersey! Now the entry on his draft registration stating he’d been in the New Jersey National Guard for three years suddenly made sense!

I was still a little baffled by his presence in Chicago. I was all set, 2 paragraphs ago, to jump on the railroad theory. The job at the dry goods store made that a little shakier. Something caused him to either relocate to the Chicago area for at least 2-3 years, or to be traveling there regularly enough to court a young woman, I just don’t have a handle on what it was. Yet.

But what of May, who found herself raising her family so far from her own siblings and parents? As you can see from the photo below, she came back with her children to visit. With the distances involved, I would guess they might have come for weeks at a time—perhaps by train?—so Paul and Virginia could spend time with their grandparents, play with cousins, and experience life not in the big city.

A picnic at the Frank Haws farmhouse. Frank and Anna are the couple in the center back. I have the file labeled “Haws-Bruder picnic,” so I believe the couple to the right are Anna’s younger brother, John (wife Emma), who lived nearby; or her older brother, Nicholas (wife Augusta Bruenning), who moved to Sheboygan. The youngsters are (Gerard) Paul and Virginia, May’s children. She is sitting to their right, hands around her knees. Teresa is behind her and to her left, with Clara behind and to the right. Someone is almost hidden behind May’s head. Their brother Lawrence? Or maybe he’s the young man sitting to Frank’s right? One of them may also be May’s husband, John J. Carroll. I don’t have a date for the photo, but is probably the mid-1920s. Virginia was born in 1918; she looks age 5 or 6? Paul is 2 years older, so 7 or 8? I don’t have a physical copy of this photo and the scan wasn’t done at a high enough resolution to zoom in well. And obviously I don’t have the back labeled . . .

I suspect the visit in this photo wasn’t unique, and that May would have made this trip home, regularly. Frank and Anna’s farm responsibilities woudn’t have allowed them the luxury to travel to New York, so this would have been the only opportunity for her children to build relationships with extended family. As Paul and Virginia grew up and out of the house, Aunt May clearly made an effort to come back for family marriages, funerals, and ordinations. She didn’t let being so far away become an excuse.

#52Ancestors


¹1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth Town, e.d. 69; Page 7A; dwelling number 122; family number 131; line 34; Frank HAWS household; accessed 6 September 2018. Edward HAWS, age 13; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1797; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²1905 Wisconsin state census, population schedule, Manitowoc, Two Rivers town, p. 928, family no. 188, line 98, entry for Edward HAAS [HAWS], age 18 in Charles KASTEN household; accessed 7 September 2018, index and images; FamilySearch, FHL microfilm 1020454.

³1900 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Kossuth Town, e.d. 69; Page 7A; dwelling number 122; family number 130; line 26; Frank HAWS household; accessed 6 September 2018. Mary HAWS, age 10; July1889; NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1797; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

1910 U.S. census, population schedule, New Jersey, Bergen, Hasbrouck Heights, e.d. 25; Page 14A; dwelling number 285; family number 321; line 5; John J. CARROLL household; accessed 2 February 2020. John J. CARROLL, age 19; NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 869; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

Close to Home

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.”–Judy Garland (Dorothy), The Wizard of Oz

Surely a spouse counts as a “heart’s desire,” right? Okay, we should go at least next door for that, but it’s still pretty close to home. That’s exactly what two of the Haws siblings did to find spouses, with two more going not much further.

Frank and Anna (Bruder) Haws married 15 January 1885 in Francis Creek, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. They had 6 children:

  • John J., 1885-1962, married Elizabeth Birringer
  • Edward Mathias, 1887-1966, married Victoria Barbara Schweiger
  • Mary Elizabeth, 1889-1986, married John J. Carroll
  • Teresa, 1894-1985, married William H. Klackner
  • Clara Bertha, 1897-1994, married Edward Mathias Koch
  • Lawrence Charles, 1900-1960, married Mary Margaret Heiser

Two siblings plucked their spouse from a neighboring farm, like their parents did. How would I ever figure that out? Birth and marriage records only indicate a city name or township name. They don’t tell you who lived next door. But it can be easier than you’d think.

The county plat maps show who owned land, where. It doesn’t take too much effort to understand why some couples became couples. Let’s start with Frank and Anna’s property, outlined in blue (F. Haws). I wrote about that house in The Old Homestead. This is the 1893 plat map. Frank’s younger brother, John lived northeast of him, also outlined in blue, farming the land their father, John, had farmed.

1893 Kossuth Township Plat Map, Township 20 North, Ranges 23-24.² Image cropped and annotated for clarity. http://images.library.wisc.edu/WI/EFacs/MTWCImages/manPlat1893/reference/wi.manplat1893.i0023.pdf

In 1893, Frank and Anna’s children were more than a decade away from getting married, but seeds were already being sown. The green box north of Frank’s property (and bordering on John’s) belonged to Nicholas Birringer. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth, would eventually (1910) marry Frank’s oldest son, John J.

Clara’s Edward Mathias Koch is a little trickier. The red box touching the NE corner of Frank’s property? That’s not Ed’s parents. Those are his grandparents. Edward was born in Mattoon, Shawano, Wisconsin. His parents, Peter and Bertha, moved around, farming in Shewano County in 1900 (Hutchins & Mattoon area—100 miles from Kossuth), and Marathon County (Harrison—30 miles) in 1910. Ed and his parents were AWOL (so far) in 1920, but his 1925 marriage announcement mentioned he was from Mosinee (130 miles).

None of that sounds very next door, does it? My theory is that Edward spent quite a bit of time at his grandparents’ farm and met (and courted) Clara that way. It seems unlikely either Clara or Edward would have traveled the distances necessary when he was living in other counties.

Teresa’s beau, William Klackner, grew in Manitowoc. The town lies on the western shore of Lake Michigan, rather than inland, like Kossuth Township does. Frank’s farmhouse was seven miles from town. By today’s standards, that’s not terribly far, but a young person in the early 20th Century would not have had a car at his or her disposal. So how did those two get together?

The 1910 census places each of them at home, with their parents. Teresa was 16 at that time. The couple married in 1915. Unfortunately, the snapshot from the federal census didn’t provide a hint for those next five years. Wisconsin’s last state census was in 1905, so no help from that, either.

My best guess is that Teresa may have hired out “in town” as household or child care help. Farm neighbors weren’t likely to be need a teenaged girl to help, but folks in town, might. It wasn’t unusual for rural girls to seek that type of employment down in Chicago (my great grandmother, Dorothea Harry, did just that!), so looking for a position closer to home wouldn’t be surprising, either. Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to prove that, unless one of Teresa’s and Bill’s descendants step up at some point with a family story to corroborate my speculation. It seems a likely scenario, though.

Lawrence, the youngest, married a girl from Gibson, the township north of Kossuth. Mary Margaret Heiser’s family lived towards the north side of Gibson Township. Again, it’s about seven miles from Frank & Anna’s house. Lawrence, however, married when he was older—38! He would have been more independent and mobile than his older siblings—particularly the girls, who may not have known how to drive before they were married. Times had also changed, so his not marrying someone from the more immediate neighborhood is not too surprising.

I doubt the experience of these siblings, in that time period, was unusual. Remoteness, travel methods, and the time involved with those methods, would have limited their potential spouse pool. Or as Stephen Stills would have said, “Love the one you’re with.”

What about the other two? They looked further afield, but you’ll have to come back next week for them . . .

#52Ancestors


¹1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Wisconsin, Manitowoc, Neshoto [Two Rivers], e.d. 078; Page 13; dwelling number 112; family number 112; line 25; Lisabeth HASSE household; accessed 26 January 2020. Lisabeth HASSE, 55, widowed; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1434; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com).

²Foote, C. M., 1849-1899 (Charles M.); Henion, J. W.; ca. 1832-1904 (John W.), Plat book of Manitowoc and Calumet Counties, Wisconsin (Minneapolis, Minnesota: C.M. Foote & Co., 1893), p. 23, “Plat of Kossuth, Township 20 North, Ranges 23-24 East of the Fourth Principal Meridian of Mantitowoc Co., Wis.”; digital images, University of Wisconsin-Madison Digital Collection (http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/WI.manPlat1893; accessed 26 January 2020).

Favorite Photo

“Keep the Home Fires Burning”–Lena Guilbert Ford

Growing up, the upstairs hall closet contained a hodgepodge of curious items. Dad’s Navy trunk was there. I have no idea what was in it; it surely wasn’t empty! A black, weighted silk, short cape (with a lot of ruffles) belonging to Mom’s Aunt Lizzie (Elizabeth Meintzer Ahrens) hung there, covered by a dry cleaning bag. It was later donated to the Northbrook Historical Society. Boxes of old photos (that never came down) were on the top shelf.

Also on the shelf was another dry cleaning bag. This one contained brown, dry grass, curved around in a fish hook shape. It was always the top item, so would come down occasionally, for easier access to items below. Mom told me it was the grass skirt Dad sent her when he was in the South Pacific.

It sure didn’t look like the grass skirts I saw on Hawaii Five-O each week! It was down-right threadbare. Or grass-bare? I once asked about using it for a Halloween costume, and was summarily denied. Of course, dressing in a grass skirt in October in Chicago, isn’t necessarily the best plan, anyway.

Eventually I saw photos of Mom posing in the grass skirt. They would have been squirrelled away in those untouched boxes. My first impression (after my initial shock!) was that they were all essentially the same. No so. More about that later.

Now, before we get the censors all up in my face, complaining, Mom is wearing a swimsuit bottom or short shorts, under the skirt, and a scarf or midriff top on top. No need to panic or cover the kids’ eyes . . .

When my dad enlisted in the Navy in August, 1942, he and Mom were a hot item. They’d been dating a while, and had exchanged lover’s knot “promise rings.” They weren’t actually engaged, but were darn close.

Mom was all for getting married before he finally shipped overseas (basic training was pretty close to home, at Great Lakes Naval Station), but Dad didn’t agree. Not knowing where he’d be shipped to, or what might happen to him, he didn’t want her left a widow, possibly with a child to raise.

Dad was probably right, because fertility didn’t end up being an issue for my mom. After they married, she gave birth to three children in 2 years and 5 months, my sister arriving 14 months after they wedding. Would she have gotten pregnant right away if they had married earlier? Maybe not, but who knows?

Nor did they advance to an official engagement before he left. Dad didn’t think it was fair for her to be tied down (Northbrook was a small town, where everyone knew everyone!), while he was off, who knows where, pretty much unaccountable to anyone. They still had their promise rings, so letters and photos flew back and forth between them.

Dad also sent trinkets back; cowrie shells, and of course, The Grass Skirt. I don’t remember hearing my Mom’s reaction to its arrival, but obviously she realized should send a photo back, wearing it. She certainly didn’t want Bob to forget about her, 8000 miles away!

This first photo was probably taken at home, in her backyard. Mom is wearing shoes, and has a flower in her hair. Even if the photo was taken by one of her friends, her parents would have been close by, not to mention neighbors peeking through windows. She looks a little embarrassed, to me, at least. Or maybe the sun was just in her eyes.

Ardyth Meintzer, in the grass skirt sent to her by her boyfriend, Robert W. Haws, when he was stationed on Vanuatu. There’s a flower in her hair, and everything!

On the other hand, the two photos below were taken at a different time and place. She was at the summer cottage of the parents of her friend, Eleanor Wold. Ardyth and Eleanor were childhood friends, Eleanor’s father being a local pastor. The family moved to Ohio about the time Eleanor was going to attend Ohio State University. At least one summer Ardyth spent her vacation visiting the cabin/cottage Eleanor’s parents owned or rented. There is an entire collection of photos of the two girls, with that fencing somewhere in it.

I imagine Eleanor is taking the photo, and Ardyth is certainly vamping it up—definitely up at least one notch from the earlier photo! I question whether Ardyth’s parents saw these photos get mailed. Would she have even developed them at home? Personally, I would have developed them in Ohio, where no one knew me!

These photos are among the few things we have from that time period. All their wartime correspondence is gone. My dad made Mom throw out all his letters when they got married. He didn’t want her holding over his head any promises he’d made in the throes of courting. I’m reasonably sure he made good on all of them, eventually; he just didn’t want her griping about the speed or timing!I also wonder a bit about those Haws boys. Not only did my dad send a grass skirt home to his girlfriend, but so did his older brother, Henry—to his WIFE! They had a one year old son. Heavens, WHAT was he thinking?? I don’t have access to those photos, however. How many other grass skirts were shipped to the US during WWII? How many still lurk in closets or attics? Who can say?

Mom’s grass skirt is still up in my closet, while I try to decide whether or not to keep it. Its storage environment is horrible. Seriously? Dry cleaning bag? That’s about as bad as it gets. To keep it, I really should conserve it in some way. Can I straighten it? How? Then what? Mount it in a shadow box, for display? It’s pretty scrawny-looking. Does anyone even want to see it? Or store it? Questions with unknown answers.

Until I can decide, it remains where it is. But I’m quickly approaching the fork in the road where I need to make a decision.

#52Ancestors

You

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”–Oscar Wilde

It’s hard to believe I’m at the end of the second year of blogging! Time flies when you’re having fun? Or do I just not know when to give up?

One “rule” I adopted fairly early was to focus mostly on people no longer living. I could sound all noble and say it was to respect the privacy of my living family members, but mostly is was pure self-preservation. The dead can’t get in your face or call you on the phone to chew you out if you say something they don’t like. Nor can they send you a scathing email.

There are many stories I know and could share, but don’t, for various reasons. Sometimes the event is too recent, making the memories too intense and emotions too raw. Or they aren’t necessarily my stories to tell, and I don’t feel comfortable hijacking them from the individuals they belong to. Perhaps the time will be right in 10 years. Or twenty.

Make no mistake, I do mention living people on occasion, usually in passing. I need to give them photo credit, or give their book a plug (as I’m lifting a story from it—always giving them credit, of course!). Or they are necessary players in the memory I’m writing about that week. I try to keep descriptions about them vague enough that tracking down more information about them would take some effort—effort I’m hoping nefarious people won’t put forth.

This week I’m supposed to write about me. So much for the “not living” rule. Dead women don’t blog! I have no clue where this post is headed, though.

Six months old, propped in the white leather armchair. My pre-writing days. It’s hard to imagine that innocent face being such a trouble-maker, later on . . .

If you read my About page, you found a brief description. The first two blog posts (Oh Boy! and Start) filled in additional gaps about me. I could continue by typing paragraphs listing favorite foods, books, movies, vacations—you name it. Everything would be true, but most of it would be somewhat superficial. And it would be real easy to skew the information in the way most beneficial to me.

The trouble is, I had high school English teachers who drummed into our skulls about substantiating the points we were making (thank you, Mr. Linden!), and to “show not tell” in our writing. Even 45 years later, it’s still second nature; a habit I can’t shake. As a result, an observant reader of my blog will have learned more about me than I would ever volunteer. What sort of things, you might wonder?

  • The music I listen to, movies I watch, and types of books I read.
  • The convoluted logic my brain engages in. Logic that results in the Craft prompt being about a boat!
  • I have lots going on. You’ve experienced blog posts being late due to “life happening,” early due to lack of internet, and posts short on “genealogy” because we were making “family history” at the vacation house.
  • I possess an odd combination of persisitence and flexibility, which somehow keeps the blog published on a fairly consistent schedule, despite the above complications.
  • My research process is a lot like sausage-making—sometimes downright messy and ugly, though the results are frequently good.
  • I used to listen to Paul Harvey. Often I am trying to determine “the rest of the story” for someone, instead of settling for more mundane information about them.
  • I’m a lot like a dog with a bone. The more the answer to a research question eludes me, the more likely I am to hunker down with it, and keep searching.
  • I often gravitate to the “underdogs” on the tree—those who died young, never married, or never had kids. With fewer or no descendants, they are frequently overlooked and shortchanged.
  • I don’t have a problem being wrong. Make no mistake, I don’t like it, and try to avoid it in the first place. When an error pops up, I make sure to document what was wrong, and how it happened, so the correction is obvious, and I hopefully don’t make the same mistake, again.

Of course, there are aspects of the writing process you are oblivious to, because all you see is the final product. I edit myself—a lot. You are blissfully unaware of the times I agonize over “a/an” vs. “the.” Seriously! Sometimes I change it back and forth several times—and then decide that sentence really needs a demonstrative adjective (this/that/these/those) instead. Yes, I’m kind of picky.

Does it matter? Not always, but occasionally it does affect the meaning of the sentence or paragraph. I also scrutinize the pronouns in paragraphs to confirm the meaning is clear. Blame those English teachers, again! We were told to assume our reader knew nothing about our topic, and make our writing crystal clear. If I am confused by what I’ve written, you guys will be completely lost. So I go back and rework it until I feel comfortable a stranger off the street can figure it out. They may not care, but they can hopefully understand it!

So if you started this blog post expecting to learn a ton of new things about me, I’m sorry to disappoint you. You already knew far more than you ever realized! But for those who need something concrete: Chocolate. Red.

Speaking of errors, I managed to have the wrong time scheduled, so this posted before I thought it would—and it wasn’t done! So I deleted the first publication and have republished this one. I can’t even blame this on eggnog!

#52Ancestors

Future

“Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”–Doc Brown, “Back to the Future, Part III”

When I was a young child, my older siblings would try to confuse me with the saying, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Quick research revealed it to be a Dale Carnegie quote. When rattled off quickly to a six- or seven-year-old, it initially sounds like gibberish. Once I got somewhere quiet, and could think about the words, I realized it made perfect sense.

Genealogists spend a lot of time reading, researching, and thinking about the past. Yesterdays are very important to us, and we expend a lot of effort trying to tease the truth out of records about our past. Our ancesters frequently thwart us, by hiding from the census enumerator, running off to marry in the state next door, living in counties whose courthouses keep burning down, or dying without a will.

We are so focused on looking backwards, sometimes we forget that we are the future of our ancestors. I doubt they thought much about us, but here we are, continuing on their bloodlines, and living lives directly influenced by their decisions.

My DNA is a collection of my ancestors. Every gene inside me started with someone centuries ago. Each generation, some new genes found their way into my DNA strand, as others dropped off, to make room for those new ones. Go back enough generations, and some of those ancestors have no genetic connection to me at all. It doesn’t mean I don’t descend from them—I just don’t have that person’s DNA.

Just like my DNA is a summary of the ancestors before me, my life itself is a result of all those ancestors’ decisions—big and small—and probably the decisions of some people who ended up NOT becoming my ancestors! Were they thinking about the future, at that time? Probably not. They were just living their lives, and making decisions that seemed to be the best for themselves, right then. Each of their seemingly inconsequential decisions shaped their future, and that of their children, grandchilden, and so on.

“Wait, you don’t understand. If you don’t play, there’s no music. If there’s no music, they don’t dance. If they don’t dance, they don’t kiss and fall in love and I’m history.”

Marty McFly, “Back to the Future

Marty wasn’t a genealogist, and even he understood this! His very existence depended on an unimportant sequence of events.

It’s an idea I’ve toyed with in other posts, not necessarily spelling it out. Some examples?

  • My mom might not have asked out a boy she didn’t really know, if she hadn’t liked dancing—or apparently had a couple of “dud” dates (Going to the Chapel).
  • Great grandmother, Dorothea Harry Schweiger might have stayed in Wisconsin, and married someone there, if she hadn’t gone to work for a Chicago North Shore family (Trick or Treat)
  • I could have ended up a “California girl” if Chicago’s fall weather had been more blustery when my dad was discharged from the Navy. After 18 months in the South Pacific, and another 18 months in California’s Imperial Valley, Dad would have moved back to San Diego if the weather hadn’t been so nice!
  • I would have a different collection of children—if I’d gone to Brigham Young University, instead.

Of course, Mike’s biggest concern about the future, is what to do with all the genealogy if I make the mistake of dying first . . .

The Future. We worry about it all the time, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that we hold it in our hands and create it with every decision we make. It would behoove us to take Doc Brown’s advice!

#52Ancestors

Tradition

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”—Fiddler on the Roof

Tradition is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes only one occurrance for something to be declared a tradition. For us, this often happens with food:

Other traditions build up over time, gradually ensnaring us, without our consciously thinking about it.

My parents got married 20 December 1944, and celebrated an anniversary around that same time every year. Amazing how that works! Imagine my poor Dad—not only did he have to come up with a Christmas present each year, but he needed an anniversary gift 4 days earlier!

Before the creation of shopping malls, most towns had a local “gift shop.” In Hinsdale, that place was Stolte’s. It was located in the Grant Square Shopping Center, a stone’s throw away from Hinsdale’s official downtown stores. Grant Square was an L-shaped (as opposed to strip) mall, anchored on the north leg by the Hinsdale Federal Savings and Loan (now, Evergreen Bank Group), and on the west leg by Kramer’s IGA (still there!). Stolte’s was right next to Kramer’s, but went out of business somewhere along the way. The Walgreens that had been at the corner of the shops is now located in the larger space previously occupied by Stolte’s.

During the 1950’s-1970s, Stolte’s was the go-to place for gift and knick-knacky items. My dad took my older siblings there to pick out small Hummel figurines that cost only $2-5. Carole, Bob, & Warren could pool their allowances and choose a cute one for Mom for Christmas. My Josef angels were usually acquired from there. Its location next to Kramer’s made it convenient to pop in to see what they had, if you needed a gift.

In December, 1960, my dad wandered into Stolte’s looking for something for their anniversary. He saw a crèche (manger scene) sitting on the shelf, and decided to buy that. The figurines were made in Italy. I don’t know exactly what they are made of. They are lightweight—definitely not ceramic—but certainly not plastic, either. Some Etsy web pages showing similar figurines identify them as resin, and some as “chalkware plaster.” The latter is referred to as be heavier, so I’ll go with resin.

The figures were nicely painted, and pretty, but what really drew my dad to the set was the stable that came with it for the setting. Many stables for nativity sets are very polished-looking. No livestock ever lived in there! But not this one. It was very rough and rustic, with straw on the roof, and reminded him of the ones he built as a kid.

When he was growing up, one of the priests at Holy Cross Church, in Deerfield, held a “contest” in December for the kids to build a manger to house a Christmas scene. They used whatever scrap wood and nails they could put their hands on, and they certainly looked kid-made. This stable fit the bill and spoke to my dad. He bought the set and brought it home.

Mom really liked it, and found a spot for it on the low bookcase that backed up to the stairway. That was its spot until we moved from that house in 1977. I don’t recall its location in the new house. It didn’t actually live in that house very long. When I got married, before Christmas that year, Mom & Dad brought two boxes to our apartment. One was their artificial Christmas tree (the apartment complex forbade live trees), and the other was the manger. Mom had recently acquired a Goebel (NOT Hummel!) manger set, and was giving the old one to me. She said it was mostly mine, anyway.

When she received the set in 1960, I was 2½, and absolutely fascinated by it. On the low bookcase, I could just barely reach the figurines. Mom would arrange them, and I would rearrange them. Even at that young age, I understood they weren’t toys or dolls, and didn’t “play” with them. I didn’t “walk” them around, or have them “talk” to each other, or remove them from the manger area. But I definitely had opinions about where the sheep, wise men, shepherds, and camel should be placed!

Nothing changed as I grew older. Mom would arrange—and I would rearrange—the figures many times each Christmas season. She saw that I was careful with them, though, and realized it was a losing battle to try and keep my hands off them. Twenty years later, she officially gave the set to me. It still goes up every Christmas, and I arrange—and rearrange—the figurines throughout the season.

At some point, my dad purchased a set of miniature white lights he would string around the outside and inside of the stable. That light string eventually died, and never made it to me. Several years ago, though, I found an LED light set that works equally well. So that tradition resumed.

The poor cow is having a rough go of it. I’m not sure why he’s showing so much wear. He and the donkey end up in the back corners, so it’s darker there, and not too noticable.

At almost 60 years old, the figurines are beginning to show a little wear; a little bit of chipping is appearing along the bottom edge on some, and the wire loop in the angel’s back (so she can hang on the nail at the peak of the roof) is a little more wobbly than it used to be. They are holding up fairly well, though, and nothing has broken (knock on wood!).

You may be thinking it’s nice there are several traditions being maintained:

  • the rough-hewn stable reminiscent of my dad’s childhood
  • setting it up each year and rearranging the figurines
  • Miniature lights around it

But there are other traditions surrounding the manger, having nothing to do with what sits out on display.

The original box the manger set came home in and has been stored in for the last 39 years. NO part of the set is made of glass!

We’ll start with the box. There is no “manger box from Italy.” The store packed the set into a “West Virginia Glass” box they had from other merchandise. It still has an address label, identifying the store. Inside the bottom is a divided insert with soft, “mossy” cushion material that I’m sure belongs to the figurines—the dividers are irregularly spaced, corresponding to the figurines’ dimensions. It was certainly not for glassware! The stable sets in on top of the figurines, and reaches just to the top of the box.

The box fits the manger set perfectly. Unfortunately, the cardboard is almost 60 years old, too, and deteriorating. I’ve been taping the top flaps for years, and have begun to tape the verticle corners. “Get a new box,” you say. What are the odds I will find a box with those exact dimensions? I’d say slim and none, so I keep the tape handy, and treat the box gently.

Then there’s the additional packing material inside. When my mom set it up the first time, she noticed the bottom of the stable was rough. The bookcase it was going on wasn’t particularly expensive, but she still didn’t want the top to be scratched if the stable was bumped or slid around on the top. So she took a section of the 20 December 1960 (the day she received the set) Chicago Tribune and folded it to the exact dimensions of the stable’s base. One barely notices there’s newspaper under it.

The layering newspaper sections. Usually it was the front section, but once the sports section was used. You can see the breakdown of the newsprint along the edges.

Similarly, Mom decided she wanted a layer between the stable and the figurines in the tray below—something in addition to what was protecting the bookcase. She was worried about the stable shifting around in the box and rubbing against the paint on the figurines as the box moved to and from the attic. So there’s another, considerably thicker, section of the Tribune from that day on top of the figurines. Along the way, addional sections of the Tribune were added from 3 January 1969, 31 December 1974, and 22 December 1978. Why? I have no idea.

Have you handled 60-year-old newsprint recently? It’s tricky! The paper is brittle and fragile, with bits crumbling off the edges. More than once in 38 years I’ve thought about replacing them with “fresh” sections, but I just can’t. Why?

Tradition.

For the last half century, I’ve been reading the headlines, articles, and captions on those papers. Depending on the year, and how rushed I am with decorating, I may read less or more, but I always (re)read some of it. Actually, only the front and back page of each section. The paper is too dried out now to risk opening them up to read the inside pages. Not only do they document the date my mom received the manger, they document what life was like at the time. I recall what the news was, what the fashions were, and how much they cost. It’s my own mini time capsule.

Remember Pat Harrington, Jr., playing Schneider on One Day at a Time? The show began my senior year of high school, and some of my friends had the hots for him. Seriously? He was 46 at the time! Imagine my surprise that next Christmas, seeing the 1960 photo and article about 31-year-old Harrington headlining at one of the local playhouses! The name and photo that meant nothing to me for years, suddenly had meaning. It boggled my mind, then. I couldn’t find it, tonight, so it must have been inside a section (when they could still be opened up, safely!). But I DID see that “Bob” (Robert) Conrad was starring in an upcoming Hawaiian Eye episode. He was from Chicago, so locals wanted to keep up on what he was doing.

Tradition. It can lock us into stagnation, or anchor us to important people, places, and events. Ideally, we jettison (or at least modify) the former, and cherish the latter.

#52Ancestors

Craft

Row, row, row your boat . . .

While everyone else is thinking artistically this week, I am outside the box once again, writing about watercraft. We didn’t live near the ocean, or have a summer cottage on one of the many Wisconsin lakes within an easy drive of the Chicago suburbs. Dad didn’t own a bass boat, sail boat, speed boat, or a spiffy yacht docked at one of the marinas on Lake Michigan.

He had a rowboat. Well, actually, it also had an outboard motor, so I guess it was a step up from a rowboat.

I was pretty young (under age 5, I believe) when we used it, so my memories are a bit fuzzy. I don’t recall if it was wood or aluminum, or how many seats it had (I think there were 3). What I mostly remember is that it was named the Carole Ann, after my sister. I always felt a little put out that she had a boat named after her, and I didn’t, but that was just me being an unreasonable child. For the 50 weeks of the year we weren’t on vacation, the boat leaned up against the shed (former chicken coop) at the very back of our yard.

I emailed my brothers, Warren & Bill, to see what they remembered. Warren (10 years older) confirmed it was aluminum, and said we didn’t have it until we had the trailer (1958). He also said Dad still owned the motor (and presumably, the boat) in 1970, though both brothers agreed it never traveled to the Door County, Wisconsin, vacations prior to that—just to Minnesota. They also agreed that Dad must have sold it, eventually, since it was still usable.

Taking it on vacation meant hoisting it onto the roof rack of the car and tying it down so it it didn’t shift while driving, stopping, or turning. Warren described it this way:

I remember that we leaned the boat against the longitudinal bar (on the top of the car) from the side of the car. This bar may have been a roller bar. The boat was then slid/rolled to the top of the car and then rotated 90 degrees so the bow of the boat was over the hood of the car. The bow was tied to the bumper of the car. The back may have been tied to the back bumper and the sides may have been tied to the car top carrier. I do not remember those details. 

Warren Haws, to Christine Bauman, e-mail, 7 December 2019, Dad’s Rowboat. Bauman Email Files; privately held by Christine Haws Bauman, Greenwood, Indiana.
Undated photo of the 1960 Country Sedan station wagon hooked up to the trailer, with our boat strapped to the top of the car. The front license plate isn’t clear enough to provide a year. This would have been the night before we were leaving on vacation in early July of whatever year it was. Hooking up the trailer could take a little time, lining vehicles up and checking the lights. It always took longer, when you were in a hurry! So if we needed an early start, Dad would do that the night before. In the morning, we just had to pile into the car and pull out. You can see the trailer step still down and the door open, for the last of the food and clothes to be loaded inside.

You can see the rope in front, anchoring the boat to the bumper (back when bumpers were made of metal, not plastic!). The others ropes aren’t visible, but I’m sure they were there.

Our trips to Scenic State Park, near Bigfork, Minnesota, involved a fair amount of fishing. The boat couldn’t hold all of us, so we rotated. I doubt Mom was ever in it. She didn’t swim, so going in a rowboat would not have been high on her vacation to-do list! As the youngest, I spent the least time in it, because:

  • I wasn’t much of a fisherman at 3 or 4
  • I wouldn’t have the patience to sit still for very long
  • I’m positive I wouldn’t have kept quiet enough!

I do remember going out on the lake, though, especially the time when I caught my first fish. I was so excited! It was a small sunfish or bluegill, and Dad probably filleted and cooked it up specifically for me for dinner that night.

Except, it was a fake. Well, the fish was real; catching it wasn’t.

Apparently I’d been frustrated and upset about not catching any fish on that and prior outings. So while my line was in the water, whichever sibling was also in the boat distracted me. That gave Dad enough time to carefully hook a fish already caught onto my hook, so I could “catch” it.

It’s kind of like the time(s) you let a little kid win the board game by playing poorly, or outright cheating against yourself. I was clueless, of course, until many years later when a sibing spilled the beans. By then, I had caught plenty of fish on my own, so it was only a slight ego blow.

Possibly the last vacation for the Carole Ann was when I was 5 or 6. My dad took his father and father-in-law on a 1- or 2-week fishing trip. The rest of us stayed home, because my older siblings all had summer jobs they needed, earning money for college. Mom stayed home with all of us, and Dad drove the 3 of them up, with the trailer and boat, probably to Minnesota. Both my grandfathers were in their 70s, so Dad ended up doing all the cooking, dish washing, and fish-cleaning. It wasn’t much of a “vacation” for him!

Photo from July, 1963 or 1964. Ed Haws, Christoph Meintzer, Robert Haws, with the day’s catch (and dinner for that night!).

No, the boat isn’t in this photo, but it undoubtedly figured into that impressive stringer of fish . . .

Our rowboat (with its outboard motor) wasn’t the most impressive watercraft, and wasn’t in our lives very long, but it provided a lot of fun and memories to three generations of fishermen.

#52Ancestors