Reenacting took center stage for me this past weekend, so I didn’t take the time to reflect on my father’s military service. Walter Albert Kelley Jr. (12 December 1924-6 October 2003) served in the Army Air Corps from April 1943 to May 1946, spending the last year of his enlistment near Calcutta, India. He did not see any combat duty but rather spent the first two years in Signal Corps training.

Walt Kelley at Camp Crowder in 1945

In his own words, “After basic training, I was promoted to corporal and the Army Air Corps shipped me to Camp Crowder, Missouri, for Signal Corps training. I went to several radio schools there. We used to get a pass once in a while and we would visit Neosho, Joplin, or Springfield, Missouri, or Pittsburg, Kansas.”

During his first visit to Camp Crowder, Dad sent a series of six postcards to his parents in Chicago, all postmarked 13 June 1943. I don’t know if my grandparents received all six postcards at the same time or if they were received piecemeal, which would have made reading them interesting as he wrote them in a continuous fashion. I have included the front and back of the six postcards below, with the text of the postcard transcribed below the respective postcard.

Camp Crowder, Missouri

“Dear Folks,
Hawaii, huh? Got the cookies (cheese) today. They sure taste swell. Thank you.

I got my watch fixed Saturday night and it fits and looks swell. That adjustable slide really works nice. I had one link removed and it is just right now. I bought a set of suntans [the Army summer uniform was nicknamed "suntans" because of its tan or beige color] Saturday because it is impossible to have…”

2] “a clean pair every Saturday with only 2 pair and such poor laundry service.

I sorry if you don’t like my letters because I don’t say anything. I’ve told you everything that I know about the A.S.T.P. [Army Specialized Training Program] which is nothing. Our life here is so routine that I don’t have something new to say every day. I thought that…”

3] “you wanted to here [sic] from me as much as I could write things. If you will think of all the questions you can and put them in one letter I’ll answer them all at once but you’ll have to wait long enough for the mail to get here and back to you.

I took some pictures today and it will take 10 days to get…”

4] “them printed and developed so I hope you will wait.

I’ve had an awful time trying to write the last few days. I wrote you a letter Sunday but I tore it up.

I’ve been trying to get to see the Co. [Company] commander to find out about my chances for A.S.T.P. but I haven’t been able to see him yet. I don’t know or have any idea where…”

5] “my training here will ever be used.

I’m sending a $10.00 money order home for you to put away for me until I need it. I’m going to try to send more every month. I wish…”

6] “Thanks for the cute card–Jane.

Dad would write and advise me what to do with any money I could save (war bonds, bank or what). It should be cashed so that it won’t become invalid. Well, I hope to write tomorrow. What is Florence’s [Walt's sister] address so I can write her?

Love, Walt”

My father sent other series of postcards during his tenure in the Army Air Corps. I may share more at a later date. For now, I’d like to thank my father posthumously for his service in World War II. He gave me many strengths, one of which was a love of my country that led to my 20-year career in the Marine Corps. Thanks Dad!

William Presley's Funeral Card

William Presley is my great-grandfather, my mother’s maternal grandfather. He has been a research challenge from start to [not yet] finished. Thankfully, I absconded with the funeral card above early in my genealogy research career.

William died 10 December 1893 possibly in Long Branch, Monmouth County, New Jersey. He was actually 48 when he died, not 47 as the funeral card indicates. I know this because, despite all of William’s attempts to deceive me, I have proven that he was born 28 May 1845 in Belfast, Ireland. I wrote in-depth about William the Deceiver in an Ancestry magazine article in 2004, What If Your Ancestor Lied?

As discussed in the article above, finding additional proof of William’s death has been problematic. I have been unable to find a death certificate on the state or local level in New Jersey. On a visit to Long Branch some years ago, I spent time in the Long Branch Public Library looking for an obituary or even a death notice. Again, I was thwarted because the particular issues of the Long Branch newspapers where such a notice would have appeared have apparently not survived.

So I extended the search outward from Long Branch and have found some death notices. I was hoping to find amplification of the family lore that he died because of a fall from a horse. Here’s what I have found:

New York Herald, 12 December 1893 (through GenealogyBank.com):

Red Bank Daily Register, 20 December 1893:

The Shore Press, 22 December 1893:

None of the above notices give any clue about his death cause. However, today, through a search on WorldVitalRecords.com, I found William listed on Findagrave.com, with a typed death notice from the Red Bank Register of 20 December 1893 that says:

“Death Notice:
William Presley, a carpenter of North Long Branch, died on Sunday of last week after a long illness. He had been confined to his bed for over a year, having injured his spine by falling from a wagon. He leaves a widow and six children.”

Aha! There’s some illumination on his death cause, but where did the transcriber get a copy of this newspaper item? A search for the Red Bank Register uncovered the digitized Register achives for 1878-1991. In the spirit of remaining hidden, the 20 December 1893 issue of the Red Bank Register is not included in this digitization project, although the other three issues from December are.

Not to be thwarted, I searched for “Presley” in the 1878-1923 portion of the archives and found the notice below in the 17 May 1893 issue:

So, I’ve found some confirmation of a family story, albeit a little different as he was thrown from a wagon instead of being thrown from a horse. I now have new information to pursue in this never-ending quest to find information about William Presley’s death. My first step is going to be to look for a death certificate for William in New York instead of New Jersey, since he was being treated in “a New York hospital.” That may be why I’ve been unable to find his death certificate in New Jersey!

I’m finding that writing this blog is cathartic, as well as moving my family research along with questions and answers that were previously too hard to decipher without the use of the wonderful resources on the Web.

Be sure to check out the Memorial Day special below from FamilyLink.com; the offer is good only through 4 June 2011.

Special Promo Banner 550x150

Richard Finlay

Richard Finlay has been a challenge throughout my genealogical research career. He is my great-grandfather, my mother’s grandfather. Richard was born 14 January 1845 in Markham Township, York County, Ontario, Canada, to Richard Finlay and Mary Stewart, both allegedly from Scotland and/or Ireland. I’ve been pretty unsuccessful at finding Richard or his family in the 1851 or 1861 Ontario censuses, but do have a will for his father.

Richard (Jr.) claims to have come to the U.S. in 1863 in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses in Centerville, Turner, South Dakota. Until today, I was unable to find solid proof of his whereabouts between 1863 and 1880 in the U.S. Previously, the first document I know belonged to my Richard is a copy of his graduation program from the Ohio Medical College in 1880.

Graduation Program Medical College of Ohio Cincinnati 1880

Richard Finlay's Medical College Graduation

Amazingly, after years of looking for him in censuses, both manually and online, I just today finally found additional records for him, using a combination of search strategies including FamilySearch.org, Ancestry.com, and WorldVitalRecords.com. FamilySearch pointed me to his 1880 census entry in Cincinnati (I hadn’t found it before because Finlay is spelled “Findley” and his first name is recorded “Richd.”):

He is listed here as a physician in June, after he had graduated in March that year. He’s single and boarding.

Then I hopped over to WorldVitalRecords.com to see if I could find anything new on Richard. Searching on “Richard Finlay” in Cincinnati in 1880 produced no results in the WVR database, but showed Google Book results that I had never looked at before. According to The Cincinnati Lancet and Clinic, Volume 4, the graduation was a culmination of three years of study, so Richard was in Cincinnati at least since early 1877. But the most illuminating link is to History of Western Iowa: It’s Settlement and Growth:

So he went to Sanborn, Iowa in July 1881! Now I have a new lead to look for his possible first wife, as the 1885 Dakota Territorial Census shows him as widowed or divorced:

The census above was recorded on 1 June 1885. Richard married my great-grandmother, Grace Mabel Hatch, on 30 June 1885, according to the Centerville Chronicle of 2 July 1885. So Grace was apparently Richard’s second wife.

Grace and Richard had two children, Mabel and William (my grandfather). Sadly, Grace died on 30 May 1890 of a brain tumor, when William was only 5 months old. Mabel Louise, William’s sister, died in 1891 at age 5. So Richard was left a widower with an infant.

In the 1900 census, Richard is living alone and says he’s a widower, but by 1910 he says he is divorced. I have found divorce papers between Richard Finlay and Luella Davis Finlay dated 15 February 1902, from Turner County, South Dakota.

So who were these women, Richard? Who was your first wife? And who was Luella Davis? I haven’t been able to find more information on Luella through Ancestry.com searches, but I’m not done yet. Anyone have any ideas?

The popular TV show American Pickers capitalizes on one of my favorite pastimes…treasure hunting. So, it’s Thursday and in the spring, summer, and fall, that usually means I am out in search of yard sales. But, alas, we have had a deluge so far today (and miserable weather in general so far this spring) and I’m not sure too many people will be setting up their treasures for me to pick through. So what’s a picker to do?

Go to an antique store, you say? Well that’s just what I did on Tuesday. I was in search of vintage sewing treasures and a large basket to help with my interpretation of Mary Davis, my alter ego that I portray as a Civil War reenactor. I recently discovered that she was an early milliner in Plymouth where I live, and I’m adding that skill to my repertoire. But I digress…

As I was scouring the treasures, I found a booklet called “The Family.”

The Family

I often feel the need to rescue documents such as these from antique stores, estate sales, yard sales, etc. That’s why I have a lot of organizing to do in my office. In this case, I bought the pamphlet because as an archivist I feel that it needs to either be in the hands of descendants or in an appropriate archives being preserved.

There is not a ton of information in this pamphlet, but it would still be a gold mine for any descendants who don’t have the information that was handwritten in here, probably by the mother, Essie Brooks Tower. The date of publication of the booklet is 1905, so much of what was written was entered after the fact and is subject to Essie’s memory and information passed on to her. So it is a secondary source that would need to be corroborated with primary documents.

Husband page

Wife page

Wife's Family page

Children page

I checked on Ancestry.com to see if there were any family trees already created on this family and I did find some. There was one listing a child, Lillian Irene Tower, born after Essie stopped filling in data in this family booklet. That listing has the best possibilities as the information is somewhat sourced and looks like it might have been added by a descendant who had personal knowledge of the family.

Discover

I am still undecided whether I should send this to an archives, perhaps in Charleston, Illinois, where Essie and her first child, Harold A. Tower, were born, or whether I should make it available to a descendant (possibly the one who created the tree on Ancestry). I’m torn because apparently someone in the descendant chain gave up the document at some point, as it did end up in an antique store in Livonia, Michigan. How it came to be there, I will never know. But, readers, should this wonderful, handwritten document go to a worthy descendant or to an appropriate archives? I’d like your opinions, so I am creating a survey.

I’m interested to hear what others have done when they’ve found treasures that don’t necessarily relate to their own family. Please comment here.


One cold, winter evening in late April(!) this year, I was bopping around on the Internet and decided to see what I could find on one of my Kelley collateral relatives. I was preparing for a talk that I gave last Friday at the National Genealogical Society Conference in Charleston, SC, called “Effective Internet Searching.”

My Kelley ancestors arrived in the U.S. from England in 1872-73. William Joseph Kelley and Julia Matthis Kelley had 10 children, nine of whom made the journey, including my great-grandfather Frederick William Kelley. Over the years I have done extensive research on the rest of Fred’s siblings (with the exception of his oldest brother Joseph Richard–whom I have just recently had success with, but that’s another blog). I’ve been able to fully document eight of the nine kids that came to Detroit with their parents. The life of Sophia Kelley and her spouse, Peter Burger, were the holdouts.

I knew that Sophia and Peter are buried in Woodmere Cemetery in Detroit, because they’re in the same plot as Sophia’s parents, so I started there. A quick Google search for “Woodmere Cemetery” uncovered the website¬† Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery Research.¬†Gail Hershenzon has created a fabulous searchable database of the cemetery cards, containing all of the juicy information that family historians crave. I was like a kid in a candy store searching on this site, finding many more relatives than I realized were buried there. Since I knew Peter was there, I searched for his entry and found the following:

Peter Burger's cemetery card from Woodmere Cemetery, Detroit

The item that naturally caught my eye was “pistol shot” under the disease heading. Since it doesn’t say whether the shot was self-inflicted or whether Peter was murdered, the next step was to try to find an official death record. Thankfully, FamilySearch.org has been indexing Michigan death records and posting the entries along with digital images. I quickly found Peter’s death record on the FamilySearch Record Search pilot search (I didn’t find it on FamilySearch’s new search) and discovered the pistol shot was suicide:

Peter Burger death record, FamilySearch.org


Suicides often prompt other possible records to be created, including newspaper articles and coroner’s reports. I wasn’t able to quickly find any coroner’s reports on the Web, but I was able to find a couple articles about Peter’s suicide through my local library. The Plymouth District Library in Plymouth, Michigan, offers library card holders remote access to the Detroit Free Press from 1831 on, which is a great boon to Detroit research. I logged on and found, among others, the following from the 3 March 1893 edition:

So the mystery of Peter’s death was solved within a matter of minutes by using a combination of websites and records. The remaining question about Peter and his wife Sophia was when and where were they married? I had previously searched for their marriage in Detroit records and had come up empty handed.

So I hopped over to Ancestry.com and uploaded a very small GEDCOM as a family tree. That crazy little leaf that Ancestry incessantly advertises quickly popped up with a hint for Peter. It was a possible marriage record! And the marriage took place somewhere unexpected: Windsor, Ontario–across the river from Detroit. I had never thought to look there. But the record clearly shows that it is the marriage of my Peter Burger and Sophia Kelley:

 

Near the bottom of the record is the clue for why the couple crossed the river to say their vows–Peter was Catholic and Sophia was Protestant. In 1890 Detroit, mixed marriages were still problematic and it was evidently a quick process to get married in Windsor, no questions asked.

The moral of my story here is that while not everything is on the Internet (I hear that thought repeatedly!), it is possible to find fabulous clues and maybe even digitized original records if you use creativity in your search. Now I know more of the story of Peter Burger and Sophia Kelley.

Happy Monday!

I grew up watching Gilligan’s Island on TV. It aired from 1964 to 1967 and was one of my favorite shows. The theme song still resonates, “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” It was a fun show that helped exotic travel ideas grow in my mind. So when I had to write an epitaph of someone for an English assignment when I was in my junior year of high school, I naturally chose Gilligan. Picture this on Gilligan’s tombstone:

Gilligan

I led the normal life of any

Uncoordinated

Human being

Until the seven of us

Were

Shipwrecked.

After that my self

Became

Known

And I got kicked around by my

Fellow

Shipwreckees.

I usually got the brunt of the

Criticism, work

And mistakes.

But I have them to thank for letting me keep

My

Self-image.

5/73

[I wrote this article about my mother when I was in a photojournalism class as a sergeant in the Marine Corps in 1981. I post it today to honor my mother on Mother's Day as she mends from a traumatic injury.]

She’s called the Plant Lady.

To earn this title, Phyllis Kelley has spent many dedicated years bringing ailing plants back to life. Children, customers and neighbors bring plants to Phyllis knowing she will return them healthy.

Phyllis, a 25-year resident of Glenview, Ill., divides her time between two jobs, three greenhouses, a garden, and her husband. At her daytime job, she is a secretary for Ducks Unlimited, a non-profit organization that develops breeding sites for ducks.

It’s at night that she really blossoms. That’s when she makes herself known to the public as the Plant Lady. About 15 hours a week, Phyllis can be found pruning plants, watering them, and in general, giving them all the love they need to flourish. She works at Amlings Flower Shop. Customers ask for the Plant Lady when they have a particular growing problem.

At home, she rarely sits down. What little time she has left after her jobs must be divided between 500 plants in two window greenhouses and a walk-in greenhouse. And then there’s her vegetable garden.

The garden has helped reduce the cost of food. Every year she plants tomatoes, green peppers, broccoli, pole beans, radishes, and cantaloupe. Some of the fruit and vegetables are eaten after picking, but the bulk are frozen for winter use.

Most of the plants in the greenhouse are there for her pleasure. She thrives on anything unusual. “Anybody can grow a geranium and get it to bloom,” said the lively brunette. “But getting a Bird of Paradise to bloom takes a lot more effort.”

The exotic plants she enjoys most are orchids. A few years ago she took a night school course in Orchid Culture. Since then she has acquired more than 200 varieties. She is a member of the Indoor Light Gardener’s Association and the Illinois Orchid Society.

Her responsibilities don’t stop there. Every year, she supplies plants for the bazaar at her grandchildren’s school. In September, she transplants baby plants into new pots so they will be well adjusted by Christmas time. Then she donates the plants to the bazaar so children can buy their parents inexpensive gifts.

Phyllis said she has been growing anything with roots since she was old enough to walk. Her father was a gardener and she was his shadow. She remembered the first plant she rooted. It was a rosebush called Paul Scarlet. She took one of its climbers and bent it to the ground. She said she didn’t know what she was doing, but a few days later the new plant took root. And her plant story has grown from there.

Her children tell friends they were raised in a jungle. Her husband cringes every time she comes home, wondering where she’ll put the new plant. Phyllis said he drew the line at the bedroom. He said he needs one room in the house where he doesn’t have to worry about being strangled in his sleep.

What’s in store for the Plant Lady? More courses in plant culture, more organizations, and more donations for her grandkids. Does she ever want to own a greenhouse as a business? “Tomorrow would be swell,” said the Plant Lady.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I know you can’t read this, and I know you’re in some pain, but know you are loved and appreciated.

Here’s a poem that I wrote to my older sister, Sue, back in December 1977. The sentiments are still true today and I want to share them after spending the last five days with Sue as we worked through some health issues with our mother.

Ode to Sue

Although she started life before me
And grew up before I came to know her
She means an awful lot to me
Which this poem ought to show her.

We’ve had our ups, we’ve had our downs
And somehow passed our eighteens,
It wasn’t easy, there were frowns,
Was it something in the genes?

Our aspirations lay in different spheres,
Hers in the art of mother and wife
Raising kids with minimal fears
Leading a relatively normal life.

As I walk down the lonesome road
As my career looms before me,
It helps to lighten the load,
Knowing my big sister’s behind me.

This picture is from about 1959. I’m the towhead on the left (am back to being a towhead today!), my next older sister Pat is in the middle, and the oldest sister Sue is on the right. Love our matching outfits!

I’m not in a good place mentally today because of a death and injuries my mother sustained in a fall yesterday, so I’m going to jump right into one of my favorite short stories that I wrote back in the early 1970s, called “The Old Golf Road”:

There is a street that runs from Evanston [Illinois] to Elgin. This street goes by many names: Evanston-Elgin Rd., Golf Rd., Rt. 58, Emerson, Simpson–just to name a few. About ten years ago, this street was lined with farm houses and acres of land. Between Des Plaines and Schaumburg Golf Rd. was one lane. The condition of the road wasn’t the greatest, but it was a beautiful drive.

There wasn’t many stores or gas stations along the way, just fields upon fields of crops, as far as the eye could see. At one point there was a quaint farm house with an adorable little water well perched on top of the hill.

The well does not exist any longer. A few years ago it was torn down and now only the broken pieces of wood remain. Very little, if any, of that farm land is still undisturbed. So many changes have taken place along that one stretch of road that a visitor that hasn’t been here for ten or fifteen years wouldn’t even recognize it as being the same peaceful road.

First, they started moving houses. They moved one house about four miles down the road, for what purpose, who knows? Then little by little shopping centers started popping up. Golf Mill shopping center in Niles was the only shopping center in that whole area for many years. Now, within a one mile span there are approximately ten or eleven such shopping centers, four on one corner!

Further down the road they built the world’s largest shopping center under one roof, Woodfield. And of course, the addition of this huge new center means widening the roads to allow for the traffic that goes in and out each day. In that specific area now, Golf Rd. gets as wide as four lanes. The rest of the road, aside from the Woodfield area is now a two lane highway.

Woodfield wasn’t the only big addition. Since that was built, a number of other shopping centers have gone up around it, such as Woodfield Commons. And on one side of the road for a stretch of about six blocks is a row of car dealers, one right after the other. A little bit down the road from that there is another row of furniture dealers. The whole area is becoming commercialized beyond belief.

Aside from shopping centers, Golf Rd. has become populated with an abundance of apartment buildings and complexes. Restaurants have overdone their welcome, also.

Stoplights have taken over the streets. Where there used to be one stop light every couple miles, there is practically one every block. From Glenview to Des Plaines along Golf Rd. there are eleven stoplights. That is a five mile stretch! City driving can’t be much worse.

For the shopper, all these new developments are great. Anything he could think of wanting is not more than a couple miles away, much different than in years gone past. But for the naturalist or even someone that just enjoys beautiful things, good old Golf Rd. is a thing of the past.

———————

I haven’t lived in the Glenview/Des Plaines area of Illinois for more than 30 years. I can only imagine what my teenage self would have thought of the developments along Golf Road today. I think I was nostalgic way before my time.

I am a Chicago Cubs fan–but I’m the kind of fan that the word “fanatic” was created for. I love the Cubs, despite their ups and downs and the fact that they haven’t won a World Series since 1908 (what’s winning anyway?). And despite the fact that I turned the TV off last night in the bottom of the 3rd inning when the Cubs were losing 10-1, I still live and breathe Chicago Cubs.

That’s why I was thrilled to find the following short story in my stack of writings from years past. This story is even more apropos because my husband Marty and I went to Cubs spring training in Mesa, Arizona, this year–a dream I’ve had for much of my life. Enjoy my enthusiasm about Opening Day 1974 [again, I've left the spelling and punctuation as written in 1974]:

We were crazy little kids. Fanatics, they called us. From the last day of the previous season we counted down the days toward opening day of the next season. We just couldn’t get enough of it. We followed them through spring training, trying our hardest to get down to Scottsdale to see them in person [The Cubs used to play spring training in Scottsdale; now they play in Mesa, Arizona]. Of course we were never successful, but we sure tried. By the time opening day rolled around, I had already memorized the batting averages of each of the players (not to mention their birthdates, heights, weights, and middle names).

For months we had been planning our trip to the ballpark on opening day. We got up during the wee hours of the morning and bundled ourselves up in layers of clothing (it’s only around forty degrees in the beginning of April). Someone’s parents protestingly drove us to the Skokie Swift at about 6:00 a.m. Our train route was memorized, of course. We didn’t need parents to chaperone us. All the way there, on the Swift and the “L,” we were the only people talking. The anticipation was unsurmountable. In fact it was almost too good to be true–we were actually going to see our favorites in action after a break of seven months! Once again we counted down the stops until we were finally at Addison. Off the train we went, flying down the stairs and around half the ballpark until we were at the gate of the bleachers. The line was already halfway down the wall but for opening day that isn’t too bad.

We ran into all the regulars–Ronnie, who is crazy [this was Ronnie Woo Woo]; Dennis, who has class; Pattie, who always budges in line, plus a few old friends. The reunion was great. We talked about the offseason, the basketball games, and spring training. We still had four hours to go until they opened the gates, but what’s four hours anyway? We strolled around the park many times, stopping in the snack shop and all the sport stores, and walked down to the lake.

And then the Andy Frains [used to be the ushers at Wrigley Field] told us they were opening the gates! One mad rush for the door and we were lost in a huge mob of people. My buddy was the first casualty in the first-aid office. He cut his finger on a piece of broken glass.

Somehow all of us made it in there. After our tickets were paid for, another mad dash was made up the ramp and then down the leftfield catwalk to the corner seats. We had to fight for the best. Now all the fun began. The organist started playing songs like “Havanagela” and “It’s a beautiful day for a ball game.” All the girls would be dancing the Hora and singing to the music.

When batting practice started, we’d try to catch the balls hit to the bleachers. It was always amusing when someone caught a ball but everyone else dove for it, not realizing they were fighting for nothing.

We whiled away the pre-game hours with jokes, autograph hunting, and eating. We went through a lot of food in one day, with the assistance of the vendors who were always there when we needed them.

Finally, after seven months of waiting, there was the announcement of the line-up, the national anthem (which we changed the words to), the umpires meeting at the plate, and then–PLAY BALL!

—————————–

After many years of not being able to go to Cubs games because I lived too far away, I was able to get to a game in May 2008 with my niece Kristin. We sat in the left-field bleachers very close to where I always sat when I was a kid. Here we are, freezing in May in the left-field bleachers:

And spring training in Mesa this year:

I don’t know if my pictures taken in the 1970s at Cubs ballgames still exist or not. I think that years ago my mother threw away the great scrapbook I kept back then. Alas, you’re stuck with these images.