Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Elusive Laurie Bennett

I grew up in the Clan of the Pod People.

What this means is that my grandparents were all dead by the time I was eight years old, and that every couple of years we would make a long car trip back east to the New York area and visit our cousins, from both sides of the family. My mother is technically a fourth-generation Coloradoan through her adopted father, so I have those cute "Pioneer" license plates with the covered wagons on my car, which anyone with an extra $50 can now get. But since she was raised by her grandmother, she grew up in Colorado, and her mother got (re?)-married and moved to New York. There are a handful of my great-grandmother's family members who were in Colorado, but there wasn't much communication with them during my childhood.

Not having had very much contact with my extended family, and since my sister and I both married into fairly large families, spending holidays with them, and seeing how they all resemble each other and have common mannerisms, I have become curious about my own roots. Remembering some of my encounters with my cousins in the past (and thankfully more recently in the last year), and having been stricken by this feeling that these are my people, I really want to know more. My father and maternal aunt, apparently, were also interested, because they beat me to the punch in getting a subscription to Ancestry.com.

My father's entire family lives back in the Eastern US, within a couple hundred miles of where their family lived for a very long time. Except for his grandma Josephine's (or was it Marie?) parents, Albert Volckman (or Volkman or Volkmann) and Emilia (or Amelia, nee Wandke), who came over from Stolp in Pomerania (now called Slupsk, Poland) in 1881 on the ship Silesia, the other parts of the family had come to the area in the southern part of New York and northern part of Pennsylvania anywhere between just after the Revolutionary War, and about 1854.

Interestingly, the most elusive part of my father's genealogical puzzle has to do with the surname I grew up with, McMullen. Back when I was in high school, the Denver Public Schools required all freshman students in English classes to do a genealogical project, which required corresponding to at least two older family members about family history. One of the family members I contacted was my great-grandfather George Adam McMullen's second wife, Lola Adele McMullen (nee Wiggs), shortly before her death. I was so incredibly busy with all the things that are expected of a fifteen year old back then, that I didn't really have a chance to carefully read her response, and rather, I tucked it into my project and forgot about it until sometime last year. Ah, if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. If I had been more present, I would have had it in my mind to write for some clarification on what she wrote.

So, when I restarted this investigation, the next obvious thing to do seemed to be to order George Adam's birth certificate. I knew that he was born in Coudersport, PA from his World War I draft card, which I had found on Ancestry.com. Hooray! Easy peasy!

Not so much. It turns out that the State of Pennsylvania did not start keeping birth records until after 1900.

However, and this is one of the neater parts of this story, my father remembered that George Adam had passed away during a trip to visit the family in Spencer, NY in the mid 1960's. I would have been relatively stuck here without his important clue, since he was buried in North Carolina with Lola, and they resided in New York (according to the Social Security Death Index entry for him, as well as the 1957 Rochester, NY City Directory).

However, I was able to contact the very tiny Tioga County, New York office where Vital Records are kept, and get George Adam's death certificate sent. His father was listed as John McMullen, and his mother was simply listed as "Bennett."

Their names may as well have been John Smith and Mary Jones. Even George Adam himself did not have a particularly unique name. There were at least three George McMullens who were living in that immediate area in 1900, if memory serves correctly. And, if you have not ventured even a tiny bit into genealogy, you probably are unaware of the fact that the most helpful records for researching families, the United States Federal Census, were destroyed for the year 1890 in a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington, DC in 1921 (which led to the formation of the National Archives).

So, turning back to step-great-grandma Lola's letter from 1990, we latched on to a few details to guide us in our search.

1) "He was born in Pennsylvania." (This is corroborated by his WWI draft card).
2) "When he was five years old, his father died."
3) "His mother was Laurie Bennett."
4) "They moved to New York State after the father's death."
5) "There were four McMullen Children."
6) "She later married Dr. Davies."
7) "From that marriage, there were three children."
8) "George often spoke of his favorite uncle, Adam McMullen, who was twice Governor of Nebraska."

While Lola did also say in her letter that the McMullens didn't talk about themselves much, and apologized for not having much information to share, what she did share would turn out to be critical in our search for our McMullen heritage.

I cannot even begin to tell you how many hours I looked for Laurie Bennett in the 1870 and 1880 census records in Pennsylvania, without luck. I did have a lead, or so I thought, with my father's closest DNA cousin match on GEDMATCH, a second cousin who also had Bennetts in his tree, and a large part of his tree is also in this area around this time. I tend to throw a lot of questionable stuff into my tree as "placeholders" (perhaps this makes me a bad genealogist), and at the time, I was pretty certain that our Bennetts (his from Sullivan, PA) were closely related. So, I forced a relationship there, in the interest of place holding, but never found a Laurie Bennett in his tree, only potential parents for Laurie Bennett -- a James Bennett, married to a Catherine Sullivan, and it was comprehensible that their first child might have been Laurie. But, that was pure conjecture on my part. Nonetheless, I left it that way for many months.

I looked for John McMullen deaths in the New York/Pennsylvania area on Ancestry and Find A Grave for many hours. No luck.

I looked for a Dr. Davis or Davies living with some McMullen children in the 1900 US Federal Census for many hours. Bzzz.

Finally, I decided to look into the family tree of Adam McMullen, who was twice Governor of Nebraska. Alas, he had an older brother, who would have been the right age to marry and sire a child (or four), and whose name was John FP McMullen. Only, as far as I could tell, John FP did not die. He married a sweetheart (Celia Clark) from his hometown of Wellsville, NY and moved to Chicago, living near his older brother Alexander McMullen. Did my second great-grandfather run away from his family, and did his ex-wife make up a story about his death?

On Ancestry.com, there is a kind of social networking function, where you can link your tree to cousins' trees to get updates. I got hints that the descendants of Celia Clark and John FP McMullen had trees, but I was so unsure about the connection (did Lola literally mean Adam McMullen was George's "uncle?"), that I did not connect the trees. Their only child married a man named Richardson.

On 23andMe, there is a cumulative list of surnames shared by cousins, and Richardson is one of the top matches for my father, so that made me more certain I was barking up the right tree. But then, upon closer inspection of my own tree, I found I had Richardsons in another branch. Ooops.

I decided I would flesh out "Uncle Adam's" tree, in the interest of finding any clues. Since Adam was Governor of Nebraska, it was possible to find enough information about him to research his tree pretty easily. A quick Google Search yielded a Wikipedia article, a bio on the National Governor's Association website, his grave at Find A Grave, a profile at NNDB (an intelligence aggregation tool), and a list of items related to him that is curated by the Nebraska State Archives. So, my dad and I had it in our minds that sometime we would take a quick trip out to the Nebraska Archives and see exactly what those 13 boxes and 44 items contained.

Right before we left on our trip to Lincoln, my father put in several more hours looking for the elusive Dr. Davies married to Laurie Bennett, living with some McMullen children in New York, and his persistence was rewarded. He found Anna L (or S) Davies (b Sept 14 1886 in NY), living with James G A Davies (b April 16 1838 in England), Mary E McMullen (b Jan 3 1886 in PA),  George A McMullen (b Jan 2 1888 in PA) and Mattie S McMullen (b July 6 1894 in PA) in Burns, Allegany, New York. When he found it, there was an indexing error, and George A was listed as Matilda.

This was a pretty exciting finding, on the eve of our trip to the archives, as Burns is very close to Almond and Wellsville, NY (both in Allegany County), where Nebraska Governor Adam McMullen's family lived before they moved to Wymore, Nebraska in the 1880's. Also, Lola's memory of George's family having moved to NY after the departure (?) of his father was accurate. Note that next to Anna's entry, she has indicated that she had five children, four of whom were living at the time, which is consistent with Lola's 1990 account.

Having found Anna "Laurie" Bennett Davies, I figured the task of finding her in the 1880 US Federal Census would be worthwhile. Indeed, I found, in Ulysses, Potter, Pennsylvania (not far from Coudersport where her son George Adam McMullen was born), Anna L Bennett (age 13), living with her father, E O Bennett (age 39), her mother Mary L Bennett (age 33), and her brother, William Bennett (age 7). They must have moved to Ulysses sometime between 1867 and 1873, as Anna was born in NY, and William was born in PA.

Sure enough, I found Edwin Bennett (age 28), wife Mary (age 24), and daughter Laura (age 3) in the 1870 US Federal Census, living in Starkey, Yates, New York, which is about 30 miles away from the epicenter of my father's NY ancestors.

Since I had established the origin of Anna Laura Bennett McMullen Davies, I was curious about finding the three Davies children (which would be related to my father and I, being half-siblings of George Adam McMullen), as well as the fate of my father's elusive second great-grandmother. Skipping ahead to 1910, I found them in the US Federal Census, living in Cohocton, Steuben, NY:  Anna L Davies (age 43, 9 children born, 6 living), Olwen Davies (age 9), Leona Davies (age 4), George McMullen (age 21), Mattie McMullen (age 15), Mary Foltz (age 23, 1 child born, 1 child living), and a granddaughter, Ruth Foltz (age 3). James GA Davies is not too far away, likely at his office (?) in Nunda, Livingston, NY (age 72, married).

New York had a state census in 1915, and Laura Davis (age 48) is listed on it in Cohocton, Steuben County, along with her children, Burton Davis (age 4), Mattie Davis (McMullen, age 21), Olwen Davis (age 14) and Leona Davis (age 9). I have not found any evidence of James Davies after 1910. He would have been 77 years old in 1915, around the time of this census.

I haven't found any data yet for Anna (Laura) in 1920. By 1920, George Adam McMullen was married and living in Detroit, MI, with his wife Marie J (age 27), son George R (age 6), and daughter Betty M (newborn). His sister Mary and niece Ruth were also living in Detroit, Michigan, Mary now married to a man named George Higgins.

Leona (age 14) and Burton (age 8) Davies were living in the Masonic Home in Attica, NY. If I were to make a guess, I would say that Dr. Davies had passed away, and Anna (Laura) was unable to raise them, and had to send them off to a home for some time. I believe I found Mattie (Louise) McMullen at this time living in a boarding house in Binghamton, NY.

But in 1925, Anna Laura Bennett McMullen has married Henry Johnson, who lived nearby in 1915 (listed on the same census page), and she is living on West Main Street in Cohocton, Steuben County, NY, with him (age 59, she is 58), and her daughter Leona Davis (age 19).

On the 1930 US Federal Census, Annie L Johnson (age 63) is living with Henry Johnson (age 63) and her son Burton J Davies (age 18), on West Main Street in Cohocton, Steuben, New York.

In 1940, the US Federal Census lists Annie Laurie Johnson (age 73) living with Henry Johnson (age 73) in Cohocton, Steuben, NY

According to the internet resource, FultonHistory.com:

From The Naples Record, Naples, NY, February 2, 1949:  "MRS. LAURA JOHNSON— Services were held Salurday at 2*00 p. m. in Dansville for Mrs. Laura Johnson, 82, a resident of Atlanta and North Cohocton, who died Thursday, January 27, 1949, while visiting in Detroit, Mich. She leaves four daughters, Mrs. Louise Moore, of Dansville, Mrs. Mary Higgins, of Detroit, Mrs. Olwen Davies, of San Antonio, Texas, and Mrs. Leona Tranquill, of New York; two sons, George McMullin, of Rochester, and Burton Davies, of Unadilla; five grandchildren and four greatgrandchildren. Rev. Dalton Scott, of St. Peter's Episcopal Memorial Church in Dansville, conducted the services. Burial in Clearview cemetery, in North Cohocton."

So, that is more or less what my father and I found just before we left for Lincon, Nebraska to look for evidence of an actual relationship with Adam McMullen, twice governor of Nebraska. It's no wonder we had such trouble trying to find "Laurie Bennett," given that she was married three different times, and flip-flopped between Anna, Annie, Laura and Laurie.

Stay tuned for the exciting next installment. Now that my scanner software supports Windows 8, I have a lot of content to share!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Say "Cheese!"

I am so excited.

If you're not a photography nerd, you might not appreciate this quite as much as I do, but here it goes.

I have had a DSLR since 2004, when my daughter was born. And, there's this particular lens I have wanted (the Canon EF-S 50mm f/1.4 prime lens) since February 2005. Well, in my fit of craziness this weekend, I bought it. At the last minute, I was tempted to get one of the more wide-angle lenses (this or this 28mm lens), as I thought they might be more useful for landscapes and indoor candid shots (since the APS-C format of my camera's sensor makes it equivalent to a 80mm lens), but this lens was repeatedly mentioned as a lens photographers using Canon DSLRs trust.

I didn't jump in right away and click "Add to Cart." I watched about 10 YouTube videos reviewing it and read reviews on it and other lenses, first. Just to make sure it was going to be all I had hoped.

I don't use the same DSLR (the original Canon Digital Rebel) I bought back in 2004, anymore. Canon chose not to update its software for Windows 7, and I now have Windows 8, anyway. I recently got a new camera (a Canon 7D), because I had the credit card rewards points to get exactly what I wanted. It's way more camera than I am capable of using, yet, but I am enjoying the challenge of it. I had the idea that I would use the old camera in conjunction with our telescope for some astrophotography.

I have a friend who is a photographer give me a short lesson in our downtown area, to help me get familiar with how to use the camera. I had a lot of fun walking around, snapping pictures in different modes. He even helped me take a picture in full manual mode, and even though I have owned a DSLR for nine years, I had never accomplished that before.

Now, I just need to get a feeling for how to edit the photos with GIMP, though the step up in camera is yielding better photos than what I had before.

Last week, we were in Omaha for the VEX Robotics National Championship, and I appointed myself team videographer. To my surprise (well, to everyone's surprise, as they ended up being ranked 15th in the world), our team won the Programming Skills section of the tournament, and I just happened to find them when they were making their attempts at the Skills Challenges. Each team had three attempts at either Robot Skills (driving the robot using a controller) or Programming Skills (using programs for autonomous control of the robot). I caught the boys doing their second of three attempts, during which the robot became unbalanced and tipped (not something I had seen it do before). But on the third try, their robot successfully scored 140 points by placing bean bags in the goal troughs. The top five teams were able to have two more attempts the following day, and they scored 150 points, securing their National Championship.

The arena was quite dark, and the long, wide, telephoto lens I have (Canon EF-S 18-200 f/3.5-5.6) was okay, but I had to bump up the ISO pretty high (which means more digital "noise"), and my aperture was wide open, and it was nearly impossible to take any stills without blur. So, I was pretty excited to see that the prime (fixed length) lens I had been coveting for so many years was especially recommended for low-light conditions where a flash can't be used. Perfect. It seems like I am going to be capturing images in exactly that sort of environment for some time to come, and the lightweight nature of it will be welcome. In the world of lenses, it is pretty inexpensive, too.

Since our team won the Programming Skills portion of the tournament, I had to get a good video of the portion of the awards ceremony where they received their fancy-schmancy trophy, and that proved a little difficult, because by the time we got over to the side of the arena where the ceremony was happening, there weren't a lot of seats left. That left me pretty high up in the stands, and while the emcee was certain to say that we should not be shy and go down to take pictures, well, I am pretty shy.

Anyway, that night Everett and I decided to stay up and make a video, melding the robot during its championship run with the boys receiving their award, and this is what we created:

We had to learn the video software (Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12.0) on the fly, as neither of us had done much video editing before. The biggest challenge was that I had taken two photos during the filming (the camera is funny that it has that capability), which caused a pause in the movie. So, we decided we would capitalize on that, and make the shot freeze like a picture. Now, I know that it is really easy to extract a digital still from the video (at lower resolution, but still HD quality), so I probably won't take photos while I am filming with the camera. Even though we had some bumps (related to my slowness of brain and his quick-clicking fingers), we decided that we thoroughly enjoyed collaborating on the project, and hope to do more video editing together in the future.

So, anyway, the whole point of getting the camera was not only to capture our family memories, but also develop a portfolio of sorts of subjects from which I can paint during the winter. So, to that end, I've been going through all my photos from years past, doing some minimal editing (since I don't know how to do very much yet).

I have a lot of work ahead of me, but it doesn't feel like work.

Am I the only one in the world who was asked to say "Onomatopoeia" rather than "Cheese" when being photographed as a child?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Thera Pee

An old friend recently asked me why I haven't been blogging.

Well, I've been a bit depressed since the holidays, so that's why.

I've had an internal struggle with how much of myself I want to share in public, and how I wish to spend my time.

I've been wrestling with whether or not I'm even comfortable with how I feel about anything, and how much of my struggle is okay to make visible to my children, since they're around me all the time. I am not a good actor; I wear my heart on my sleeve. So, I'm sure they've picked up on my melancholia.* It's for this reason I've never been a fan of the idea that homeschooling is the answer for everyone, and even though I wince a little when people say "I couldn't do that," I simultaneously wonder if I'm making a good choice.

February is always hard for me, and thank goodness it is over. I decided this year I would leap into February and hope for the best, but my birthday (very early in the month) hadn't even arrived before something awful happened. And, it didn't even happen to me, but to people who are very dear to me.

Last February was terrible, too, with implications for quite a few of my friends and family. And so I feel a bit like a bad luck charm, but I know it has nothing to do with me at all.

But anyway, it has me pondering various aspects of my existence and rearranging my priorities.

Life just seems too short to spend time reading about how blogger A is disrespectful to his readers and blogger B needs to go screw herself, or how eating a little bit of sugar is going to cause us all to rot from the inside out. I kind of wish more people would decide that it's not worth wasting our precious hours giving these actions and ideas any support. Feeding that type of energy absolutely will rot us from the inside out.

I post all this in the interest of transparency. I don't get a lot of hits on my blog, but I have enough that I would hate anyone to come away thinking I totally have my poo-poo together, because I don't. I'm thoroughly human.

I'm trying to rebuild.

Two words (for anyone who has seen So I Married An Axe Murderer): Thera Pee.

For me, this will take the form of art, and at the very least a small, if not permanent, hiatus from health discussion groups (I think -- I have an ancestor with the surname Fickel, so that's my excuse). Here is my first watercolor painting in twenty-four years or so (using 29-year old watercolors):

*Another word for "melancholia" is "lugubriousness" which makes me giggle a little bit, and thus defeats the purpose. :)