If you don’t ask, you won’t know

Gilbert McClung Gillespie, date unknown.

I was searching for records for my grandfather, Gilbert Gillespie, and a passenger list popped up for him.  This seemed quite silly. He was born and lived his early life in Lexington, Virginia and then in later years lived in Robbinsville, NC and Rabun Gap, GA and spent his final days in Bedford, VA.

What would a southern boy who worked for James & Lee be doing traveling from the UK back to the states?  It simply did not fit my mental model of my grandfather.

I looked anyway, because that’s what we do.

Gilbert Gillespie, age 36, traveling form England to New York on the Queen Mary.

The Queen Mary arrived in New York on October 12th, 1950.  Gilbert would have been 36.  He was traveling with Thomas Janney and their address was listed as James Lees & Sons Co.  This had to be him. 1

I called my Dad, who would have been 10 at the time, and he confirmed that this was indeed his father.  Gilbert was working for James & Lees Co in Lexington, VA.  I know that he had been a rug weaver in 1940. 2 He had traveled with Thomas to England to try and sell someone there on an idea he had to speed up the process of rug weaving.   They did not convince whoever it was they were speaking to invest in their idea, but the attempt was made. 3
It’s the unexpected that makes this so much fun. We all build mental models of our ancestors and those models led us to look for specific records and reject the ones that just don’t fit. The Passenger List didn’t fit my mental model of my grandfather, and it would be easy enough to overlook.

Look at every piece of possible information no matter how farfetched you think it might be. The story wants to reveal itself, but it can’t if you don’t look.

Footnotes
1. “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 14 June 2012), manifest, Queen Mary, 12 October 1950, p. 118 (stamped), line 24, Gilbert M Gillespie; citing NARA microfilm publication T715, roll 7901; Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2. 1940 U.S. census, Rockbridge County, Virginia, population schedule, Lexington, p. 100 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 82-8, sheet 1A, family 10, George M Gillespie; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 June 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T627.
3. Gilbert McClung Gillespie, son of Gilbert McClung Gillespie, ([address withheld for personal use]), interview by Anne Gillespie Mitchell, 2009; notes privately held by interviewer [address withheld], California, 2009.

The Summer of 1942

My great grandfather Wyatt Paul Gillespie died on February 19, 1941.

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.

Gilbert Gillespie was 27; his wife was 24.

They had a 4 year old daughter and a 1 year old son.  What were the thoughts that ran through their heads on that morning when they heard the news?  What was it like to live through those days when the outcome was not known?  What did you think when you picked up the paper or listened to the radio?

My dad who was almost 5 by the end of the war had memories of black outs.  And his first memory was standing at a meat counter listening to his Dad talk to the butcher and saying that they shouldn’t change horses in midstream, talking about reelecting FDR.

Gilbert and Judy Gillespie - 1942

Gilbert and Judy sitting on the porch, possibly their rented home on 532 Taylor Street in Lexington, Virginia. They year is 1942, and looks to be summer.

They look happy enough.  But what was life like that summer of 42?

Right around the corner from home

So I’ve started the story of my maternal grandmother, know I’d like to introduce my paternal grandfather, Gilbert McClung Gillespie.  That’s him on the back row on the left.

The family of Wyatt Paul and Laura Cecile Donald Gillespie

I remember him well, visiting him and my grandmother “Judy” in Rabun Gap, Georgia.  He’d take me, my sister and two cousins to the local convenience store and give us two dollars or two minutes depending on his mood no doubt and let us fill a bag with candy.  🙂  I’m sure our parents did not love that.

I don’t have a birth certificate for him, or a marriage certificate.  It’s funny, those we know the best we don’t document at all.  I guess those need to go on the to-do list.

When 1940 came out on April 2nd, I got up early that morning and went to look for his family.  There were three enumeration districts to choose from,  and I picked one.  I looked at the first page and there they were. What are the odds?  This is the first time he is living with my grandmother and my Aunt Madeline  is on it as well.  It’s not shown, of course, but my dad Gilbert, Jr. was born that September.

Gilbert Gillespie in the 1940 Census

He and Ann Irene “Judy” Feazell Gillespie are living on 10 Taylor Street, Lexington Virginia.  My grandmother reported the information, and it is beyond me why he was listed as George. George?  I never heard him called that and no one who might know is alive. He had 4 years of high school, I presume that he graduated.  My grandmother had 3 years.  It was always important to her that her granddaughters go to college; I bet it had to do with the fact that she didn’t even finish high school.    They were renting the house, for $15 a month.  I wonder how much he made as a Weaver in the Rug Factory.  Another thing to go look up.  I do notice that he was suppose to be a supplemental question, but that is X’ed out and it is marked on Line 38. 1

His parents Wyatt and Laura, they are in the front row of the picture, live at 108 Houston Street, Lexington, Virginia.

Wyatt, or Roy as he is listed here, I have no idea why, is living with his wife Laura and 3 daughters, Minnie, Eva, and Helen.  Wyatt is 75, and he dies a year later in 1941.  My great grandmother Laura lives until 1964.  My Great Aunt Minnie is working in a dry goods store and my Great Aunt Eva is a public school teacher.  She was very proud of being a teacher. 2

You can see that the two families lived right around the corner from each other.

523 Taylor Street and 108 Houston Street, Lexington, Virginia

523 Taylor Street (B) and 108 Houston Street (A), Lexington, Virginia. Map is from http://maps.google.com. The original house at 108 Houston Street was sold and moved; there is a doctor’s office there now.

My dad, his sisters Madeline and Martha and his brother Paul were all born in Stonewall Jackson Hospital.  Family legend is that the land that is build on used to be owned by the family.  My dad and his sister Madeline, Wyatt and Laura and various other ancestors of mine are buried in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.

To say the least, I have only begun to uncover the story of this family.

Footnotes
1. 1940 U.S. census, Rockbridge County, Virginia, population schedule, Lexington, p. 100 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 82-8, sheet 1A, family 10, George M Gillespie; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 June 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T627.
2. 1940 U.S. census, Rockbridge County, Virginia, population schedule, Lexington, p. 107,108 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 82-8, sheet 3B , 4A, family 72, Roy Gillespie; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 June 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T627.

Random thought for the day…

Genealogy begins as an interest,
Becomes a hobby;
Continues as an avocation,
Takes over as an obsession,
And in its last stages,
Is an incurable disease.

–Author Unknown

North Carolina in the 1920’s

Life in the 1920 is not life in the 2010’s.  I went searching for information in the 1920’s, specifically about North Carolina, to try and gather some perspective about the life of Jennie Elizabeth Payne and how her life was different than mine.

I know that prohibition began in the 1920’s and women were given the right to vote.   I wonder if my grandmother voted in the 20’s? Warren G Harding and Calvin Coolidge were the presidents in the 1920’s.  What did she think of them?  And did the family respect prohibition or was it just something they had to work around?

I found an interesting site NCpedia which had a article Women in the 1920s.  It is interesting to note that NCSU began accepting women in 1921 but didn’t actually have one graduate until 1926.  UNC also allowed women to attend in 1921, but “the student newspaper headlined, Women Not Wanted Here. ” Yikes!  I know that grandmother worked as a nurse at one point, so she probably had some education.

Crowder Mountain was a rural area, and electricity was not the norm and bathrooms were usually outhouses.  I would not have done well.1 Life could not have been easy on the farm.

I know that I saw that some people were working in Mills in the 1930s in the surrounding houses. I need to do a survey of the census and see what people did for a living and how that changed from 1920 to 1930s. Another task for the to-do list.

The Library of Congress does not have any North Carolina newspapers digitized.  I’ve had a lot of luck with Virginia newspapers.

GenealogyBank has digitized images of the Charlotte Observer in the 1920’s.  I doubt I’ll find any of my Payne’s in there, but it would be good just to get a feel for what was important.  I’ll put that on the list for another day.

I’m going to tackle the survey of the census next to try and understand the neighborhoods they live in.  And I think it is time for a timeline.  Nothing puts details together like putting them in chronological order.

Footnote
1. Government and Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina,”Women in the 1920s in North Carolina, NCpedia.org (http://www.ncpedia.org : accessed 3 Jun 2012).

How Eight Children Ended Up Living Alone in 1930

When we looked at Jennie Elizabeth Payne in the 1930 census, we were left with the question, why was Jennie, 22, was living on a farm in Crowder Mountain, North Carolina with 4 brothers and 3 sisters?  The oldest brother, Floyd, owned the farm which appeared to be family run. 1  The story we find is a sad one.

Let’s step back to the year 1920. Jennie is 12, and living with her parents, James, 37, and Georgie, 36, Payne. James owned his farm with a mortgage on Kings Mountain Road in Crowder Mountain, North Carolina. He lived there with his wife, 3 daughters, Lela, Jennie and Daisy and 4 sons, Boyce, Floyd, Thomas and Robert. His sons and oldest daughter worked the farm.2 Later that year, James and Georgie added another daughter to the family. In 1922, their fifth son Otto is born.3

But December 27, 1922 found James Payne suffering from influenza and pneumonia and on January 5, 1923 he died leaving his wife and 9 children.4 Five years later, tragedy strikes the family again. In November 1927 Georgie was suffering from pneumonia and on February 3, 1928 she also died.5

And in 1930, the 8 of the brothers and sisters are living together on the family farm without their parents.

The story is not the records, the story comes from the records.

Footnotes
1. 1930 U.S. census, Gaston County, North Carolina, population schedule, Crowder Mountain Township, p. 133 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 9, sheet 18A, dwelling 280, family 314, Jennie E Payne; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 May 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1691.
2. 1920 U.S. census, Gaston County, North Carolina, population schedule, Crowder Mountain Township, pp. 65-66 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 75, sheet 6B-7A, dwelling 97, family 106, Jennie E Payne; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 Jun 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1299.
3. 1930 U.S. census, Gaston Co., North Carolina, pop. sch., p. 133 (stamped), dwelling 280, family 314, Jennie E Payne.
4. North Carolina, State Board of Health, death certificate #421 (stamped) (1923), James R Payne, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Raleigh; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 Jun 2012); citing Microfilm S.123. Rolls 19-242, 280, 313-682, 1040-1297.
5. North Carolina, State Board of Health, death certificate #397 (stamped) (1928), Georgie E Payne, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Raleigh; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 Jun 2012); citing Microfilm S.123. Rolls 19-242, 280, 313-682, 1040-1297.

Presenting Your Story: Everything I Know About Hyman Victor

Teasing the story out of the records is half the battle.  Presenting the story so it is interesting, well that is something else.

I love this particular example: Everything I know About Hyman Victor (a link from Elliot Malkin’s site dziga.com)

Each piece of evidence, each record is presented as Exhibit.  Each Exhibit has a picture or image and a description that helps the reader understand the image and a bit more about Hyman Victor.

I love its simple yet powerful presentation.  It is compelling.  And it has the ability to be updated easily.  Find a new document?  It’s easy to add.

If you are looking for inspiration on how to tell the story of your ancestor’s, look to see what others have done.  Inspiration is everywhere.

The Questions a Record Begs Us to Ask

Census records are great for giving us birth events, names and relationships (stated or presumed) and depending on the year other various event and identity information.  But I do believe that every census tells a story, with the questions it begs us to ask.

My grandmother was Jennie Elizabeth Payne and she was born in North Carolina.  In 1930, I find her living in Crowder Mountain, North Carolina with her brothers and sisters.1

I think too often we gather the names, the vitals and the relationships and move on.  Or maybe we transcribe everything off the record.  But what is the story that this document tells us?  What are the questions that it is begging us to ask and then answer?

A quick look tells us that  particular census is not the basic family unit we expect to see.  Where are the parents?  There are some fairly young children in this household; Otto B is only 8.  Where are his mother and father and why have they left their youngest children to be raised by their oldest.

Floyd R Payne, Jennie’s brother, owns the house.  This is not typical for a 20 year old single male in this area. Floyd is listed as a farmer on a General Farm, and his two brothers, Thomas and Robert, are listed as laborers on a Farm, presumably the family farm.  None of the sisters are working and Lela and Jennie are in their 20’s.  So it would appear that the family is not destitute.

So how did they end up in this situation?  Are the parents dead? Is there some other reason for this family setup?  It’s not that they were living here in this particular time and place, the story will come from why were they living here in particular time and place and where are the people we expect to be there.

The story begins by asking the right questions.

Footnote
1. 1930 U.S. census, Gaston County, North Carolina, population schedule, Crowder Mountain Township, p. 133 (stamped), enumeration district(ED) 9, sheet 18A, dwelling 280, family 314, Jennie E Payne; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 31 May 2012); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1691.

Let’s Begin …

When I first started doing genealogy it was all about growing the tree, going back one more generation. But before too long I had a tree with a bunch of records attached.  Something seemed to be missing.   I still needed to be in touch with who these people were.

Genealogy or Family History is not just kinship.  It is also about identity.  Who were my ancestors?  What were there lives like?  Each record holds a piece of the puzzle.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who do genealogy and many want to tell the story and  many don’t know where to start.  I think the key is to do it as you go.

I want to do two things in this blog:

1. Talk about techniques we can use to help us tell the story

2. Tell a few stories as I go.

Let’s begin.