Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rev. Isaac Grindstaff and Mary Jane Woody

Reverend Isaac Grindstaff and Mary Jane Woody are my second great-grandparents. I have written previously about their daughter, and my great-grandmother, Della Winnie Grindstaff McNeill.

Isaac Grindstaff was born about May 1852 in formerly Yancey Co, now Mitchell Co, North Carolina. He was the second of twelve children to Henry Grindstaff and Bedie Buchanan. Mary Jane Woody was born 11 Jan 1853 in formerly Yancey Co, now Mitchell Co, North Carolina. She was the second of five children to William Woody and Marginia (or Margie) M. Thomas. When Mary was only about 9, her father died from measles while serving in the Confederate Army near Ashland, Virginia.

Isaac and Mary were married 9 Dec 1872 in Mitchell Co, North Carolina. The couple had 12 children, two of which are unknown at this time. I suspect they likely were lost in infancy or between the periods of the 1880 and 1900 census. The known children are as follows:
  • Docia born abt 1874
  • Emeline born abt 1876
  • Willoughby James born 30 Jul 1879 and died Jan 1960 in Avery Co, North Carolina. He married Mattie Buchanan and had three daughters. I have alternately seen his name as William James, but do not know which may be correct.
  • Nathan A. born 14 Mar 1883 and may have died in Norfolk, Virginia. He married 1) Martha Sherrill and 2) Edna. Nathan registered for WWI in Colorado and later lived in Chicago.
  • Hoy Gilbert born 15 Jun 1884 and died 8 Apr 1956 in Buncombe Co, North Carolina. He married Mary Jane Thomas and had at least six children.
  • George A. born 18 Mar 1889. He registered for WWI in Boulder, Colorado in 1917.
  • Alfonze (spelling uncertain) born Jan 1890.
  • Della Winnie born 1893 and died 1979. She is my great-grandmother.
  • Walter C. born 5 Jan 1897 and died 28 Apr 1970 in Toledo, Ohio. He married Myrtle and had two children.
  • Etta (or perhaps Etter) born 2 Feb 1901 and died tragically 10 Aug 1940 as a result of a homicide. She married Pat Thomas and had three children.

Isaac and Mary lived in or near the town of Bakersville, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. In 1900, Isaac was listed as a farmer, but by 1910 he was listed as a pastor of a church. A relative has told me that Isaac was the pastor at the Mine Creek Baptist Church in Mitchell Co, where both he and Mary are buried. Another relative described Isaac as a "hellfire and brimstone preacher." From everything I have heard, Isaac and Mary were good, kind people. Apparently after Isaac's death, Mary would come stay at another relative's house because she didn't like to sleep at home alone. She was remembered for devoutly praying each night before bed.

Isaac died 4 Apr 1936 in Mitchell Co. Mary died 26 Jan 1946. Both Isaac and Mary are buried at Mine Creek Baptist Church, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. A photo of their headstone can be found here.

Please contact me if you are related to Isaac and Mary or have further information. I would be thrilled to find other descendants of this couple. I would be very grateful if anyone had photos they would be willing to share.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 24th - Christmas Eve

As a child, Christmas Eve was simply the day before we got to open presents. It was so hard to settle down at bedtime, but before we did we always set out sugar cookies and a glass of milk for Santa. My sister and I would head off to bed and whisper for a long time about Santa coming, how was he going to get in (we had no fireplace or chimney) and what he would leave for us.

As a parent, Christmas Eve has turned into a busy day of getting the house ready for family to come over, preparations for the Christmas meal and trying to keep the kids out of the presents already under the tree. As in years past, we attend the early Christmas Eve service at our church filled with wonderful carols and the children's pageant depicting the story of the birth of Jesus. We always manage to be home right about bedtime, so we get out cookies and milk for Santa as well as carrots for the reindeer (my husband's tradition), then we read either a story about the nativity or The Night Before Christmas or both. It is so much fun to see the delight and anticipation in our children's faces. It brings back fond memories of our own childhood.

After the kids are in bed, there is something very peaceful about the quiet. It is a time for us to relax for the busy day to come and to reflect upon the miracle that occurred over 2000 years ago.

On behalf of my family, we send good tidings to you at Christmas and the whole year through.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 23rd - Christmas Sweetheart Memories

My husband and I met in college. We had known each other for a short period of time before we actually started dating. It started around Thanksgiving and I wasn't sure what would come of it, if anything. By Christmas, things were progressing well and we decided to exchange gifts after our Christmas break. That gave me a reprieve to go home and be able to shop for something at a major mall rather than the few shops in our small college town.

I remember the anxiety of trying to pick out the perfect gift. Something that was nice but that didn't say too much. He was close to graduation so I finally settled on a nice tie tack, thinking he would need that in his chosen career. I had no idea what to expect from him but felt this was appropriate given the brief period we'd really known each other. He gave me a very nice watch which I still have but no longer wear. I think he still has that tie tack, too.

That was 16 years ago. We have been married for 12 years and have two beautiful children. At the time I had no idea where it would lead, but am now so happy where it has gone and look forward to what the future may hold.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 22nd - Christmas and Deceased Relatives

While I have a pretty large extended family, most of whom I don't know, my immediate world growing up consisted of my maternal grandparents, my mom and my sister. There were no other family members that we saw at the holidays so there was never any real discussion about remembering those family members who had passed away.

However, all of that changed for the Christmas of 1993. That year was the first Christmas without my grandfather, my father figure. I was home for break from college and it was very surreal to not have him be there to do the whole "bah humbug" thing even though I think he secretly enjoyed having "the kids" around. I recall it being a very quiet day with some tears that were shed. Even though we were all still grieving his loss, we also tried to remember some good things about him that made us laugh.

Every holiday after that got easier, but there was, and still is, a definite profound loss by not having him around. I wish he were here to enjoy my girls as they marvel at the sights and sounds of Christmas. I know he would have loved them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 21st - Christmas Music

I remember having the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas record as a child and it could only be played once and while Grandpa wasn't in the house. {smile} Otherwise, our Christmas music was whatever played on the radio, which was usually tuned to a country station. I do recall the year that "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" came out as my grandfather thought it was absolutely hysterical. Grandma, on the other hand, not so much!

After I moved away from home, I slowly started collecting Christmas music cd's. I am a huge country music fan so it includes Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Garth Brooks. But we also listen to the big band era including a Glenn Miller Christmas album as well as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. It just wouldn't be Christmas without listening to "White Christmas" as well as watching him sing it in the movie of the same name.

Over the years we have amassed quite a collection of Christmas music which is enough to load into the 10-disc changer and set it to random. I can listen to a variety of songs for hours on end. This year I did that while decorating the tree and then another full afternoon of music while baking and cleaning.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 20th - Religious Services

As a child, we never attended church at Christmas, Easter or any other time of the year. A few years after we married, my husband and I started attending a local Episcopal church which is the denomination he was raised in. Before children we attended the 11 p.m. service, but now we always attend the early service on Christmas Eve. Our oldest daughter was able to participate in the pageant last year and will reprise her role as one of the angels this year. Both our girls love music and we love to sing (off-key, of course) the Christmas carols. One of my favorites of the evening is Silent Night as I wrote about for footnoteMaven's blog caroling.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 19th - Christmas Shopping

Shopping was a distinct part of my childhood, no matter the time of the year. Once a week, my mother, grandmother, my sister and I would head to the local shopping areas followed by a trip to the grocery store. My mother has worked in retail most of my life so she always did a lot of our Christmas shopping at her store after her shift was over, rather than at the times we were with her. As we got older, I was given a small bit of money to buy my sister something and vice versa. When I got to high school and had my own job, I was able to buy something for my mom and sister with my own money.

I am usually good about starting in October and controlling the spending and making it all manageable. It's hard with two children to not go overboard when we know that each of the four grandparents are going to do something as well. I have even ventured out on a few Black Fridays primarily looking for great toy bargains that I donated to Toys For Tots.

In recent years, my husband and I will make a list of a few items we would like and go our separate shopping ways. We also will jointly discuss and shop for gifts for our parents, which usually includes photos or those great photo calendars filled with pictures of our girls.

I like to be done early with shopping so I can get it wrapped and shipped. Alas, that just did not happen this year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 18th - Christmas Stockings

My mom made my sister and me each our own stocking when we were very little. They were from kits that she found in some stitchery catalog. They are made of felt and each had a different Christmas scene on the front. There was a lot of work involved in sewing all the pieces on and adding the beads and sequins. My sister and I always hung our stockings on the door knobs of the television cabinet in my grandparent's living room. I still have my stocking and used it up until about two years ago.

Last year my husband and I decided to buy four plain stockings and get an initial pin to put on each one to distinguish them for each of our family members. We have a fireplace where I place five metal stocking holders on the mantel that spell out Santa. As I placed them this year, I hung them in this order: D, A, M, T. I left the middle letter of the holders free of a stocking and instead hung a large decorative jingle bell on it. I never thought anything else about it until last week when my husband was sitting on the sofa facing the fireplace. He turned me to and said, "We need to have another baby and name it Isaac or Isabella or something so that our stockings spell D A M I T."

He's such a funny guy, damn it anyway!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 17th - The Year the Tree Fell Over

I'm sure my family can't be the only one that has had the catastrophe of the tree falling over.

At least I hope not.

I was in grade school, but don't recall my exact age. I do know that I was of the age that "good things came in big boxes" rather than the other way around. We had opened most of our presents and there were two large boxes tucked back behind the tree. I went to pull them out and in my hurry or struggle, I sent the live tree (with water in it's stand) toppling over. There was some water from the tree stand that was spilled and one of my glass Baby's First Christmas ornaments was broken in the melee. I remember feeling so bad about that beautiful glass ball ornament because my mother's good friend had given it to me.

And the big box......well it was either a pillow or a new blanket for my bed. Certainly not worthy of the disaster I caused!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 16th - Christmas at School

I remember lots of fun, festive activities at school including the annual Christmas party, learning various Christmas songs, and always the Christmas crafts or a gift for our parents.

Every year, it was tradition at my elementary school for the Kindergarten class to put on a pageant. I have no idea how long we must have spent rehearsing for this but I do remember we sang a couple of songs and each student had to stand in front of the microphone and recite a line from Clement Clarke Moore's "The Night Before Christmas". If I recall correctly, I had to recite this line, "More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, And he whistled and shouted and called them by name". If I do say so myself, that's a pretty hard line for a five year old (with stage fright) to have to memorize. I know the teachers sent home a small slip of paper with instructions for our moms to help us memorize the line, and I remember my mom practicing with me. Somewhere there are some pictures of this momentous right of passage, but time constraints didn't allow me to track them down. Chances are I was wearing a plaid jumper.

And 30 years later, I still have no idea what "his coursers they came" actually means.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 15th - Holiday Happenings

Besides my sister's birthday that we celebrate each December, there are two other December events that I want to mention.

The first is the wedding anniversary of my second great-grandparents, Robert Nelson McNeill and Margaret Ledford. They were married Christmas Day 1877 in Mitchell Co, North Carolina.

The second is the marriage of my fourth great-grandfather Hector McNeill to his second wife, Martha "Patty" Gouge. They were married either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day some time during the 1860s in Mitchell Co, North Carolina.

The big January events that fall so close to Christmas include my mother's birthday, but also my grandfather Lee McNeill's birthday on 2 January 1912. That is also the date he and my grandmother married. 2010 would have been 65 years of marriage for them.

My Favorite Christmas Carol

Since I've already admitted to not being able to carry a tune, blog caroling courtesy of footnoteMaven is the perfect way for me to go. There are so many choices as I just love Christmas music. However, I think my all-time favorite is Silent Night. According to this website, it was written originally as poem in 1816 by Joseph Mohr but was put to music by Franz Xavier Gruber.

Probably the reason I enjoy this song is that it is always the last carol we sing at our Christmas Eve services. Everyone has a small candle and they are lit, one by one, from the person sitting next to you. Suddenly the lights are dimmed, the candles are flickering, and the beautiful music begins for us to sing these lyrics:
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

It is always the perfect ending to a beautiful service and sends us off with the true meaning of Christmas.

COG 86: A Baby for Christmas or Maybe Not

This post was written for Part 1 of the 86th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

My sister is the only person I know that has two Baby's First Christmas ornaments.........from different years!

She is one of those unfortunate souls that has a birthday very near Christmas. Back in the era of our births, technology had not advanced to the state that ultrasounds were available. Therefore, determining a baby's due date still relied upon the little chart that the OB/GYNs carry around in their pockets that gives a due date exactly 40 weeks after a date the mother provides. Of course, this also relies upon all the moons and planets be in perfect alignment, that the tea leaves are read correctly, that the Republicans control one branch of government and the Democrats have the other.....well you get the idea.

Because of my father's construction-related work, we moved a lot when I was a young child. In fact, I lived in five states by the age of four. Therefore, we had to uproot ourselves and our little travel trailer every few months for the next jobsite. My mother had seen a doctor early in the spring that year and didn't have exact dates but was fairly certain of a time range when the baby should arrive, which she thought should be early to mid-December. After we spent the first part of her pregnancy in Hawaii, we came back to Idaho and stayed there (I believe) through the rest of her pregnancy. When we got to Idaho, she found a general practice physician in a neighboring small town who also did obstetrics. She never really cared for this doctor and has grumbled about him for over three decades.

My mother reached a stage where she couldn't pick me up any longer and I'm sure the loss of her lap was a great inconvenience to me. Thanksgiving came and went, as well as early and mid-December. According to my mother, she was just miserable, very big, and spent a great deal of her time lying on the couch. At one of the regularly scheduled physician visits, my mother expressed her concern that the baby still hadn't arrived. This was also the years before inducing labor was really prevalant. At that point my mother's true loathing for this doctor became evident as his reply was "The apple will fall from the tree when it's ready." My mother had thoughts of where he could put his apple!

So Christmas arrived and still no baby. The day after and still no baby. Finally two days after Christmas my mother began to think she was in labor and around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, my mother delivered my baby sister at a whopping 9 lbs, 15 oz! My mother is 5 feet 2 inches tall and she delivered essentially a 10 pound baby that probably should have come via cesarean section. The baby was obviously in very cramped quarters because even the nurse remarked about the v-shaped birthmark on my sister's forehead and how it was likely caused, at least in part, by pressing on my mother's pelvic bone.

My only memories of the new baby were in the car ride home, which was before the era of carseats. My mother rode in the passenger seat holding my sister, while I stood on the floor behind the front seats peering over my mother's shoulder at the baby. The only other memory was probably from within that first month when my mother had me sit on our couch holding the baby in my lap so she could take a picture. I remember the baby being VERY heavy. Looking back at the photos, my mom had propped the baby on a couple of small pillows so her head was upright and I wasn't having to support her, but still to this day I can remember that feeling of heaviness in my lap.

Because her birthday was always over Christmas vacation, she never really had birthday parties with friends. My mother, having a January birthday herself, always made sure that my sister got separate birthday presents from Christmas gifts and that they were all wrapped in birthday paper. We never celebrate her birthday on Christmas and we never use leftover Christmas desserts either. It seems she usually had a birthday cake or her favorite apple pie. But there are lots of birthday photos over the years with the occasional twinkle of Christmas lights in the background. My sister is quick to point out that Christmas and her birthday are two separate events. I think there may have been a hapless boyfriend or two over the years that learned the hard way by trying to combine the two into one gift-giving opportunity!

So to Aunt DeDe, as my girls call her, I wish you a wonderful and very Happy Birthday! I promise to use birthday paper for your present but I may have to sneak a non-red or green Christmas bow on there.

Dear Genea-Santa

This post is written for Part 2 of the 86th Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy.

Dear Genea-Santa,

I'm going to cut right to the chase because if you are as far behind on your Christmas preparations as I am you don't have time for a flowery beginning.

I have made every effort to be a good genea-girl this year. Just in the last 10 months alone, I discovered all these wonderful genealogy blogs and even got the courage to start one of my very own. I discovered that my old software wasn't cutting it and that using online trees (while good for sharing with unknown cousins) wasn't great either so I ventured into RootsMagic 4. I combined my four online trees (one for each of my grandparents) into one tree on RM4 and have slowly and methodically been updating and correcting all my sources. While not done yet, I have made great strides in having accurate and complete sources. I have contributed in three previous Carnival of Genealogy events and have had fun writing the stories for each. The stories likely would not have been documented otherwise. I have also been writing about my own childhood Christmas memories by contributing to the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. Again it's something I probably never would have done without the organization of Thomas and Jasia.

So if you believe I have been a good genea-girl this year, I would greatly appreciate any of the following:

1. Proof that my Walter Harmon b. 1798 in Berkshire Co, Massachusetts is really the son of Isaac Harmon b. 1774 and Mary "Polly" Rawson. I really think that he is but could use a little nudge in the direction of hard proof besides a birth notation in Tyringham, Berkshire Co, Massachusetts of a Walter born to these parents. Is this the same guy as my Walter? I know Walter and his family traveled to Whiteside Co, Illinois and homesteaded adjacent to a Hiram Harmon. I know that Hiram Harmon was an associate of Guy Ray who married a Harmon girl and then another Harmon after the first one died. Can you help me prove that these four Harmons are siblings as I suspect?

2. Proof that Azubah Hyde (who married Walter in #1 above) is the daughter of John Hyde 2nd and Azubah Wheeler. I know that she was born about 1799 in Berkshire County and that the New Marlborough city clerk didn't record her birth so I'm hoping you can help me with some other proof. I mean why else would you name a child Azubah if Azubah Wheeler Hyde wasn't your mother, much like Azubah Wheeler Hyde was likely named after her own mother Azubah, wife of Zenas Wheeler? This one tiny little piece of information could lead to a possible Mayflower connection.

3. Parents of Thomas L. Arthur b. 6 Feb 1825 in New London, Connecticut. I have multiple documents that state either a location or a date, but no parents, and no luck searching in the Barbour Collection at I read a "vanity book" entry that said he'd been on his own since the age of 12. I know that by 1850 he was in Trumbull Co, Ohio and then moved onto Northfield, Rice Co, Minnesota where he lived the remainder of his days.

4. I'd greatly appreciate a copy of my grandpa Lee's military records. I've attempted before to find them, but according to NPRC, they can't find him based upon the information I provided. I'm a little frustrated and discouraged.

5. And if none of these are to your liking, I would just welcome the gift of a few hours now and then and a few extra dollars so that I can work on these problems myself.

So dearest Genea-Santa, my best wishes to you and a heartfelt thanks for any hints you can give about my above requests. My family, especially my two little girls, wish you safe travels this Christmas Eve. We will be watching your progress on the NORAD site and there will be cookies and milk waiting for you when you arrive.

With much love,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 14th - Fruitcake

Food soaked in booze....

Let me just say that it's the booze part that likely would have been the reason that I don't recall fruitcake every being around my home as a child. While my grandpa might have enjoyed that, grandma wouldn't have! I can recall one time years ago tasting fruitcake. I'm not a big fan of candied fruits anyway so it has never held any real appeal. I'd be willing to try a bite again if I knew it was going to be the good kind that other bloggers have raved about.

One other holiday food that for me ranks right up there with fruitcake is mincemeat. My mom and grandma used to make a mincemeat pie every Christmas that they, as well as my grandpa, enjoyed. I remember also trying one bite of that and not caring for it. I'm not even sure what mincemeat is, but the name alone doesn't make it particularly appealing.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 13th - Holiday Travel

Until I was in college, the extent of my holiday travel was going from one end of the house to the other. During my college days, I usually flew home rather than make the rather treacherous and guaranteed-to-be snowy drive home. After my husband and I married, we have tried to visit his family on the East Coast about every third Christmas.

In 1999 and 2002, we flew to New Jersey and spent a wonderful week with his family. His parents are divorced so we while we would stay with his mother, we split our time between each parent doing a variety of things, including shopping - New Jersey has the best malls! Other things included going to a Rutgers men's basketball game at the RAC, a New Jersey Devils game, and Christmas Eve services at the beautiful Episcopal church in my husband's hometown.

One of the favorite "touristy" things we did was go into New York City for a day. It was easy to catch the train near my mother-in-law's home to take into the City. We saw the beautiful Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center on both trips and wandered around the beautiful streets to Manhattan looking at the great department store windows. I remember seeing some at Bloomingdale's and going down to Herald's Square to see Macy's. We even went in that store just to ride the wooden escalator.

In 2002, our trip was especially somber as we took a cab down to Ground Zero. The cabbie wanted to drop us off a few blocks before so we walked past City Hall and crossed over to the Episcopal Church where so many of the rescue workers rested during those horrific days following September 11, 2001. The fierce winter winds blew all around us as we walked past the church towards the fenced off areas that once contained the magnificent World Trade Center. The chain link fences were very high and surrounded the entire area. At this point in time it was 15 months after the attacks, so cleanup was still very much going on. The large pieces of construction equipment looked like Tonka trucks as they worked the five or six stories below street level. I remember even seeing one building still with obvious damage from debris that had yet to be repaired. Manhattan is a VERY noisy place with much activity so it was truly amazing to be standing there in near silence. Many people just silently watched as the trucks worked. It was a very overwhelming and somber moment.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 12th - Charitable Work

As a child, I can't remember any instance of any member of my family doing charitable work during the holiday season. I do remember participating in a canned food drive either through Brownies or through school. The only other time a member of my family did charity work was my grandfather. He was a member of the Masonic Lodge and the Shriners. In one instance I recall my grandparents participated in a caravan to Salt Lake City to the children's hospital to take donations of food, clothing and the like, but I don't think that occurred around Christmas.

When I was in high school, I became involved with Key Club, which is the youth organization of Kiwanis International. Our group was very successful and had many members. We actively did local volunteer work throughout the year. One of the annual activities was helping at the local Salvation Army handing out food boxes to the recipients. We helped load the items in the family's vehicle, including their turkey and Christmas gifts. I believe they were also able to "shop" for any necessary clothing items their family may have needed. This was a very rewarding experience just to be able to see the joy on the children's faces when they saw some wrapped packages just for them.

In more recent times, we have participated in the Angel tree through our church where members select Angel tags that list the wishes of a child who has an incarcerated parent. Each child has two tags on the tree: one for clothing and one for a toy or two. Now that my oldest daughter is old enough to understand gifts, she helped this year in selecting a tag for a little four year old girl. My daughter helped shop for the toys, selected the wrapping paper and the bow. We impressed upon her that this little girl's parents may not be able to give her a present on Christmas morning so we were doing it instead and she seemed to understand the purpose.

I hadn't thought much more about it until watching the local evening news last week. One of the main stories was that our local Salvation Army was not likely to have enough food to meet the requests this year. My daughter turned to me and said, "Oh, Mommy, can we help those people?" My heart just melted. On Saturday we went to the grocery store early in the morning where she helped me shop for the items to donate. Our local NBC affiliate was having a big donation drive that day so we took several bags of groceries to help support their efforts to be donated to our local Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army or the local food bank. They received 21 tons of food that day. I am immensely proud of her for wanting to help and for understanding at her young age that there are others out there not as fortunate as she is.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 10th - Christmas Gifts

While I don't remember many specific gifts that we received as children, I do know that we usually received at least one of the things off our wish list or letter to Santa. It was always very exciting when the JCPenney catalog would arrive. Those were the days they still carried toys so my sister and I carefully examined every pink page in the toy section. We were allowed to mark things with our initial or maybe circling the item. Some pages had lots of marks!

A couple of the memorable standouts was my first bicycle with the training wheels and the blue and white banana seat. Another year my mom was able to get two of the hottest toys on the market: Cabbage Patch Kids. My mom is a great seamstress so we also got some handmade doll clothes for our new dolls.

Probably the most excitement every year was when the box from our paternal grandma came in the mail. It always seemed to be a good size box and held several wonderfully wrapped presents for each of us and always something for my mother, usually a sweater if I recall. However, one of the most distinct memories I have is not of what presents we received, but rather the way the presents smelled. My grandma has always worn Chanel No. 5 and the box and it's contents always had that lingering pleasant scent of her perfume. Still to this day when I walk past a department store's perfume counter and I smell Chanel No. 5, I always think of Grandma.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 9 - The Year We Had To Go Back To Bed

Like most children, my sister and I could hardly wait for Christmas morning to come. The rule was we could get up and go look at what Santa brought but we couldn't open anything until my mom and grandparents were up and seated in the living room, preferably with a cup of coffee and the camera at the ready.

We don't remember the exact year but it was the early 1980s and even today it still brings about fond memories and laughter. My sister and I might have been about 5 and 8 or 6 and 9, respectively. Neither of us remember who woke up first (we shared a bedroom), but one of us got the other awake. We ran to the living room and flipped on the lights. With loud little girl giggles and exclamations of glees, we discovered all the wonderful presents Santa had left for us. If I recall there was quite the spread including a bicycle. My sister thought it was mine, but I would have already had mine by that age, so likely it was her first two-wheeler.

And that was all the farther we got because my grandfather, whose bedroom was adjacent to the living room, got out of bed, came to his bedroom doorway and told us it was 4:30 a.m. and in no uncertain terms we had to go back to bed!

Oh the devastation and disappointment! Of course, we hadn't bothered to look at the clock. We were kids! So we shut off the light and managed to get back to our room. We climbed back into bed and I remember whispering back and forth for quite a while because, of course, we were too keyed up to go back to sleep. Sleep finally came and we didn't wake up for the second time until after 8 a.m., which was long past the normal time of present opening!

I'm guessing Grandpa probably dozed in the chair that afternoon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 8th - Christmas Cookies

I always loved the day every year when mom announced it was time to make sugar cookies. It was just painful to have to wait for her to mix the dough and then for it to chill. Finally it would be time to roll it out (and to sneak a few bites of the yummy dough) and my sister and I could select which cookie cutters we wanted to use. I remember we had a tree, an angel, two stars, and a large gingerbread man. After they baked and cooled, mom would mix up some powdered sugar frosting and drop in a few drops of food coloring. We always had red, green and yellow frosting and some years we had sprinkles. It was always a delightful time, but the very best thing was getting to eat one.

Since I missed the deadline for the Geneabloggers' Holiday 2009 cookbook, I am including a link here to my all-time favorite cookie, Jubilee Jumbles. I remember my grandmother making this cookie throughout the year even though apparently it is considered to be a Christmas cookie. The link provided states the contributor found this in the 1969 Betty Crocker cookbook, but I believe my grandma said hers came from an old Workbasket magazine. These are just wonderfully soft (almost cake-like) cookies with a browned butter glaze.

I have yet to make any cookies this year, but am considering finding recipes that represent some of my children's heritage, such as these Polish Kolacky cookies, or these delicious Norwegian almond bars that I found a year or two ago. If this idea sticks, then I'll have to find cookie recipes that are representative of England, Germany and Scotland to round it out. Any suggestions?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 7th - Holiday Parties

To say that my family members were not "party people" is a supreme understatement. All of our Christmas festivities were kept to ourselves. I believe that after my mother started working she did attend her annual Christmas dinner, but otherwise the only other party we were involved in was the Christmas party at school. Every year the "room mothers" brought in various treats and punch for all the kids. I remember it being a delightful time and we were full of sugar and sent home to our parents! Some of those treats included frosted sugar cookies, occasionally cupcakes (sometimes baked in an ice cream cone), or my all-time favorite were the jello-flavored popcorn balls. For Christmas they were cherry or strawberry, orange for Halloween, and usually something pink or maybe green for Easter. Of course, those were the days when the public school I attended allowed parties with the Christian titles. Now my daughter as a Harvest Party, a Holiday Party, etc.

The first year or two of our marriage, we attended my husband's company party. Those were the golden years of the company and they went all out. The one I distinctly remember was held at a local sports arena and concert venue. Of course this was also the location of our local hockey team, so to hold the party they put flooring down over the ice rink. Did I mention this party was semi-formal so I spent a cold evening in dress heels standing on flooring not six inches above very frozen ice? This company also offered an annual Children's Party with free games, those big blow-up jump houses and slides, crafts, cookies, etc. They also had some very wonderful Santas that you could stand in line to visit and get a photo. Unfortunately the economy has taken precedent and this is the first year in my husband's twelve years with the company that it will not be offered. I hope some day times will turn around enough that they can offer this again. The only admission charge is canned food for our local food bank.

In more recent times we have attended my employer's annual sit-down dinner. My company is quite generous and we always have a wonderful meal followed by either entertainment or dancing, and each year there is a lovely gift for each employee. We have three locations so the dinner seating arrangements are always such that you get to visit with those in other offices that you don't see very frequently. It's always fun and it's nice to see the bosses "let their hair down", so to speak. I don't think it's unusual for a spouse to not want to go to the other spouse's work party, but this party isn't like that. Everyone is absolutely made to feel welcome. It's really one of the most well done parties I've ever had the privilege of attending.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 6th - Santa Claus

It was a tradition at my elementary school that all the second graders would write a short letter to Santa Claus and they were all published in the local weekly newspaper. At the time, all I could think about was what exactly I wanted to write. In hindsight, I'm sure it was a good lesson in letter writing and sentence structure.

If I recall my letter was worded something like this:

Dear Santa,
How are you? How are the reindeers? I would like a Pink and Pretty Barbie.
From Tracy

Somewhere I still have that circa 1982 newspaper clipping with my letter along with the letters of my other 60 to 70 peers.

And evidence that Santa read the Owyhee Avalanche: he did bring me the Pink and Pretty Barbie that year!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 5th - Outdoor Decorations

As a child, my family never put up outdoor decorations of any kind. I think perhaps after I was in junior high my mother brought home a set of blinking or moving lights to wrap around the small tree by our apartment's front door.

It wasn't until I was married that outdoor decorations became a routine. After we purchased our first home, we decided to wrap some lights and garland around the white front porch railing. From there it escalated into white lights on the shrubs, and then on the roofline. It got even more elaborate after we made friends with the neighbors down the street who must have been the favorite customer at the power company! My husband would help that husband and vice versa.

After we had children, our time was more restricted and we now only decorate our front pillars with some garland and lights as well as with some white snowflakes along the two front flower beds. I also have this wooden "lightpost" that is lit with white lights and garland that always sits by the front door. This year my daughter could hardly wait to decorate so she thought if she helped Dad, he might be more motivated to do it. I bundled her up and sent her out. According to my husband she was a good helper for a while but then lost interest. However, she can now appreciate the work involved. This was proven last week after we were driving past a heavily decorated home. From the backseat, I heard the typical "ooohs" and "aaahs" followed by "Wow, that must have been a lot of hard work!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 4th - Christmas Cards

As a child, I remember my mother and grandmother receiving Christmas cards from friends and family and oftentimes that was their only communication with those individuals during the whole year. Many of my mother's cards would include photos of their children and she would always include our school pictures in the cards she sent.

After I became an adult, I started sending my own cards. After we married, my list became our list and my husband's family and close friends were added. It varies every year but we have on average about 40 cards that we send every year. I do remember our first Christmas as a married couple, I made color copies of some wedding snapshots to send to those friends and family who could not attend. I don't remember if it was that year or a year or two later that I began writing an annual Christmas letter but it has now become a tradition.

What I didn't realize at the time was that I was recording our own family history each December. I have most of then saved as Word documents and some I even have extra copies on the Christmas-themed paper that I didn't trash after all the cards were mailed. I need to gather as many of those together into a scrapbook as possible. It would be a simple way to include our family stories with a couple of photos. Perhaps one day my own grandchildren and great-grandchildren can marvel at the way our lives were lived.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 3rd - Christmas Tree Ornaments

When I was a baby my paternal grandmother established the tradition that each of her four grandchildren would receive an annual Christmas ornament. When her Christmas package arrived each year in the mail, we always searched for that gift (she would always mark it) so that we could open it to display on the tree. As we researched the end of our high school careers, she decided that this tradition would end at age 18, so we each have 18 ornaments from her. Many of them are Hallmark ornaments that have a year label on them. I have them all and put over half on the tree each year.

While our tree has no real theme, I do have a Christmas decorating theme that I carry throughout my house of Gingerbread Men. Nearly a decade ago, my maternal grandmother found a Lenox Gingerbread Man ornament which she ordered for me. What she didn't realize is that they are an series so the next year she got a flyer in the mail asking if she wanted another. Needless to say, I have 8 or 9 of the most darling Gingerbread Men to hang on my tree. They each are different so it's always fun to see each year what the new ornament will look like.

I have always been a fan of "Gone With The Wind" ever since I read it in a literature class in high school. Shortly after I was married, I discovered Hallmark was doing a series of Scarlett and Rhett ornaments based upon the film. It seems like they were in the third or so year of the series, but I managed to find the first couple. Each ornament displays a beautiful replica of one of the elaborate costumes from the film, including Scarlett's green and white dress for the Twelve Oaks barbeque, the red velvet gown, her black mourning clothes, her wedding dress and even the green gown she made from the drapery. I also have a couple of Rhett ornaments and even one of the two characters together. It's always fun to take them out of their boxes each year and hang them on the tree.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 2nd - Holiday Food

As I have written before, my mother, sister and I lived with my maternal grandparents for about seven years when I was a child. My grandparents were from the Midwest so food with them was always the meat and potato variety. Christmas was no exception.

Our Christmas day meal always included either a turkey or a ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade dinner rolls, fresh cranberry sauce, a relish tray that always included celery with pimento cheese spread (my grandpa's favorite) and black olives (my favorite), a jello salad, and some sort of vegetable. Our dessert always included apple and pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream. Over the years our menu has been modified slightly including the addition of the much-beloved green bean casserole.

Because my husband loves to cook he plays an integral role in our holiday meal. In recent years, we have hosted at our home because we have a larger kitchen. If we have a turkey, we use fresh oatnut bread for our stuffing. If we have a ham, he uses cloves and bastes it in ginger ale for a delightfully sweet flavor. Because my grandmother always made fresh cranberry sauce from whole berries, I'd never had jellied cranberry sauce. That is my husband's favorite so now we serve both varieties. We also have served a carrot souffle or a corn casserole from Paula Deen that is so good that even my finicky little girl eats it.

About every third year we celebrate the Christmas holiday with my husband's family. My mother-in-law is a marvelous cook so good food is never lacking. Because we typically go to Christmas Eve services, my mother-in-law would fix a prime rib for Christmas Eve dinner after the early service. Because she knows I prefer my meat a little more well done than others, she always cuts the ends just for me. For Christmas Day, she often fixes a fresh ham which is something else I'd never had before. It is so tasty without all the salt. Her menu is always more varied than my family's and I have been able to experience many new foods. Some of the more memorable items have included Yorkshire pudding and a wonderfully sweet pecan pie.

No matter the cook, no one ever walks away from the table hungry!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Calendar Dec 1st - The Christmas Tree

Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum, why do you have to be a fake one?

Up until two years ago, every Christmas tree I've ever had has been real and I prefer it that way.

As a child, my mom would take us to the tree lot and we'd walk around in the cold, and sometimes snow, to find the "perfect" tree. We typically got a Douglas Fir as that seemed to be the only option. Typically it wasn't more than about five and a half feet tall. We would put it into the trunk of the car, bungee cord the lid shut and head off for home. Of course, my sister and I could hardly wait for the tree to be put into the stand and the lights on. My mom would get out the saw, cut off the bottom, put it in the stand and bring it in. She then put the lights on and they were the colored bulbs that were probably two inches long and they had a clip on each one so it was a slow, painstaking process.

The next step was slowly decorating with the ornaments and as kids will do, we put all the ornaments in clumps at our eye level. My mom would always rearrange and put the fragile ornaments on the top out of our reach. The final step was always putting the felt tree skirt around the base. Some years we put on that static-filled silver tinsel, but that seemed to get all over the place. Other years my grandma would put on these solid clear plastic "icicles" that were probably six to eight inches long with a small hook on the one end to hang up on the branches. They were quite attractive with the lights reflecting off of them.

After we married, my husband and I purchased a tree each year. We preferred Noble firs because they never really lost their needles making cleanup so much easier, but they also had such lovely spaces just right for placing the ornaments. After watching my feeble attempts at putting lights on, he informed me that he would do it. That meant setting the tree up in the stand and wrapping the lights around each branch....another painstakingly slow process. Then I was given the all clear to decorate as I saw fit. We have three large plastic totes filled with ornaments and depending upon the size of the tree, I haven't been able to use all of them each year.

After a decade of dragging a tree home from the lot and paying more exorbitant prices each year, my husband finally convinced me to get a pre-lit artificial tree. He wanted it pre-lit to avoid the hassle of lights and I wanted one that looked real. We finally settled on one from Costco and we have been quite pleased. Below is a photo of my dog, me and my pregnant belly taken two years ago with the new tree.

Monday, November 30, 2009

COG 85: Orphans and Orphans

This article is written for the 85th edition of the Carnival of Genealogy hosted by Greta's Genealogy Bog.

It all started with seven names written on a piece of paper:

Zerlinda Jane Pitts born 11 Mar 1854 (Bert's mother)
Joseph Anderson Pitts born 26 Feb 1855
Ruth Ann Pitts born 12 Mar 1856
James Marion Pitts born 5 Apr 1857
Nathan Rich born 29 Apr 1861
Dora Clark born 10 Jan 1865
Nora B Yisley born 5 Jun 1872

Who are they? And better yet, how do they relate to me?

My paternal grandmother gave me this piece of paper along with many others related to her family's history shortly after my marriage a dozen years ago. When we talked about this particular paper, she told me she thought Zerlinda Jane Pitts was her grandmother on her father's side (her father was Bert which I already knew). She assumed the other three Pitts' were siblings but Nathan, Dora and Nora were a mystery.

I knew that Zerlinda Jane typically went by Jennie (wouldn't you if your name was Zerlinda?) based upon the census records after she married Conrad Coons Scott. I can't list the countless searches I did of online census records looking for a Jennie Pitts. Then I switched to Zerlinda and still nothing. I continued searching on Joseph, Ruth, and finally James. That gave me on hit: a James Pitts in the 1860 census in Oskaloosa, Jefferson, Kansas. James was 3, Cylinda was age 6, and Medina was 27. I already knew that my grandma's family had ties to Jefferson and Johnson counties in Kansas so this was a very likely possibility. And I could also see how Zerlinda could be butchered by a census taker into Cylinda. But where was Ruth and Joseph and what about a father?

As time went on, I managed to piece together the pieces of a sad, sad tale. Medina Scherer (alternately spelled Sherer or Shearer) married Absalom Stroud Pitts on the 10th of July 1853 in Lee County, Iowa. They had four children, as listed above: Zerlinda, Joseph, Ruth and James. Tragedy struck the young Pitts family not once, not twice, but three times in a short two-year period. Joseph died in April 1856, Absalom in August 1857 and Ruth in September 1857 just three short weeks later.

How Medina ended up with her two remaining children in Jefferson Co, Kansas from Lee Co, Iowa is not known, but it's safe to say the next few years were very eventful for her and her two young children. The 1860 census that I referred to above was taken on the 26 July 1860. According to another researcher Medina married James Rich on 29 July 1860 in Oskaloosa. James Rich can be found in the Mission Creek, Waubaunsee, Kansas census taken 24 July 1860 with Medina age 30, Jane age 6 and Wm age 3. Did James list Medina and the children before they had actually moved in and he got their names and ages wrong? Or were Medina and the children already living there prior to the marriage? I tend to think the first one is more likely as Medina is listed on her own in Oskaloosa days before the marriage and that an overzealous James listed household members that had yet to move in. Medina and James had one son, Nathan Samuel Rich born 29 April 1861, before tragedy struck yet again. James died in 1861 as a result of injuries sustained while digging a well supposedly near the Kansas State Capital grounds.

Medina married yet a third time to Samuel Hamilton Clark on 7 Mar 1865. They had one daughter, Dora, born 10 Jan 1865. From what I understand those dates are correct meaning that their daughter Dora was born nearly two months prior to their marriage. I don't know what happened to Samuel but likely by 1869, Medina and children were living in Nodaway Co, Missouri. One researcher shared the tidbit that Medina left Samuel and noted their divorce was finalized 30 Nov 1870.

Medina married for a final time to widower David Yeisley in December 1870 in Nodaway Co, Missouri. Medina and David had two children: Nora B in 1872 and Walter in 1875. Medina and David are buried at Swinford Cemetery, Nodaway Co, Missouri. A descendant provided their headstone photo on Find A Grave.

So where did my great-great-grandmother, Zerlinda Jane "Jennie" Pitts, go in all this shuffle? On 8 Aug 1869 at the age of 15, Jennie married Conrad Coons Scott in Nodaway Co, Missouri. By this time, she had lost two full-blood siblings, her father Absalom, her first step-father James Rich, and it appears her mother Medina was already on the outs with Jennie's second step-father Samuel Clark. It should also be noted that James Pitts, Nathan Rich, Dora Clark, as well as Nora and Walter Yeisley all went on to live fairly long lives, married and had children. But Jennie was the oldest of all the children and she saw it all unravel.

When I first began researching Conrad and Jennie, I always wondered why she married at age 15 to someone who was nine years her senior. After researching her mother's life, I finally found some answers. Even though Jennie wasn't a true orphan in that she didn't lose BOTH biological parents, there was clearly enough instability in her early years that hope for a good and stable marriage must have pushed her to it at such a young age. She had better luck than her mother. Jennie and Conrad were married for 35 years until his death in 1904 in Desoto, Johnson, Kansas. She passed away two years later in Loring, Wyandotte, Kansas. They had six children of which at least three lived to adulthood.

With thanks to researchers Dave W. and Mel C. for sharing some of the above information with me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The D.A.R. Jackpot

The Daughters of the American Revolution announced this week that after a decade-long effort to digitize their records they are now available online. I have known for quite some time of the possibility of a couple of Patriot ancestors but haven't quite gotten around to proving without a doubt that I am a descendant.

So out of curiosity, I went to their research site and entered searches on a few names. I first searched for Isaac Grindstaff born in 1754 and served from North Carolina. He is a proven Patriot and my good online friend Anita recently entered DAR through him. I need to make one final connection before I would have adequate proof. My line is as follows: me, my father, Lee McNeill, Della Grindstaff, Rev. Isaac Grindstaff, Henry Grindstaff OR alternatively me, my father, Lee McNeill, Charles McNeill, Margaret Ledford, Clarissa Grindstaff. What I still need to prove is that Henry and Clarissa's father is Isaac Grindstaff b. 1774/6, who is a known son of Isaac b. 1754.

I went to the Ancestor Search option and what I found was a list of six members that have proven ancestor from Isaac Grindstaff b. 1754. It lists the child they descend from and three of those six descend from Isaac Grindstaff b. 1774/6 and his second wife, Prudence Ledford. I believe I descend from his first wife, Sally or Sarah Hart.

My other known Patriot ancestor is Henry Woody of Virginia. There were 10 members descended from him. The line is me, my father, Lee McNeill, Della Grindstaff, Mary Jane Woody, William Woody, Josiah Woody, and Wyatt Woody who is the son of Henry. I didn't see any members listing Wyatt as their descendant, but rather his siblings John, Randolph, and Susannah B.

However, the real "jackpot" came when I searched for an Isaac Harmon of Massachusetts using the Descendant Search. This search looks for all matches of any descendants listed on the application rather than just the Patriot themselves. I am reasonably certain my ancestor Walter Harmon b 1798 in Tyringham, Berkshire, Massachusetts is the eldest child of Isaac Harmon (1774-1849) and Mary "Polly" Rawson. The line is me, my mother, Fred Harmon, Edward Harmon, Walter Harmon, Porter Harmon, and Walter Harmon b. 1798.

The Descendant Search enabled me to view the descendants of the Patriots and I was very surprised to see Isaac b. 1774 listed as a child of the Patriot Soldier Isaac Harmon b. 1751. I had no idea Isaac Harmon b. 1751 was a soldier, but 12 women have been able to attain membership with him as their Patriot. So that means I need to continue to pursue proving Walter Harmon b. 1798 is the son of Isaac Harmon b. 1774. I have found a birth record for Walter but want to verify there are no other possible Walters that could be confused with mine. As you can see this family liked to use the same names over and over.

So I'm off to search the Family History Catalog to see what films I need to order.....and to start getting my application in order.

And I hadn't realized how many Isaacs I actually descend from.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thomas Howell and Piety Wilson

Thomas Howell and Piety Wilson are my 4th great-grandparents. I have previously written about their daughter, Jane Howell, who is my 3rd-great grandmother and her husband Archibald McNeill.

Thomas Howell was born about 1805 in Tennessee, the son of James Howell and Martha "Patty" Hill. Piety Wilson was born about 1804-1805 in North Carolina. She may have been the daughter of John Wilson. Thomas and Piety married about 1823 in Burke Co, North Carolina. Thomas and family can be found in the 1850 and 1860 Yancey Co, North Carolina census. In 1870, Thomas and Piety can be found in Snow Creek township, Mitchell Co, North Carolina census. By 1880, Thomas is still in Snow Creek and living with his second wife, Eliza, and his children from that relationship: Saunders, McWilliam, Elmira, Minnie and Melvina.

Piety died in 1874 and Thomas died 22 Jan 1891. Both are buried at Gouge Cemetery, Mitchell Co, North Carolina.

They had the following children:
  • Nancy Ann born abt 1824, married Henry Gilbert Silver
  • John D born abt 1830, died 19 July 1862 in Richmond while serving in the Civil War. He married Sarah Wilson and had four children.
  • James C born abt 1832
  • Martha born abt 1833
  • Mary born abt 1835
  • Elizabeth M born abt 1837
  • Jane E (my ancestor) born abt 1841, married Archibald H. McNeill, died Nov 1862.
  • Robert Pinkney born abt 1844. He also served in the Civil War.

Thomas is probably my most "colorful" ancestor. He is well-known to have several illegitimate children with more than one woman. Prior to Piety's death, he had several children with Eliza Tolley. whom he married following Piety's death. It is possible that Eliza may have been his niece, her mother possibly being Thomas' sister. However, I have not confirmed that fact.

Besides farming, Thomas was also known to be a blacksmith. I suspect that his grandson, Robert Nelson McNeill, may have learned the blacksmith trade from Thomas. Based upon review of Archibald McNeill's Union pension documents, it appears that Archibald remained close with his first father-in-law after the death of Jane Howell McNeill.

My dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney, took the following photos of Thomas and Piety's headstones at Gouge Cemetery, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. As you can see, weather has taken it's toll on them. More recent memorial stones have been placed below the original headstones.

If you are related to Thomas Howell or Piety Wilson, please contact me. I would love to share information.

Sources available upon request.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Isaac Grindstaff and Prudence Ledford

Headstone photos of my fourth great-grandfather Isaac Grindstaff (1774/6 - 1866) and his second wife Prudence Ledford (1812-1883). They are buried at Bakersville Cemetery in Bakersville, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. I believe this cemetery may have been originally called Grindstaff Cemetery because so many of the Grindstaffs are buried there. I understand there are two sections to this cemetery, one farther up the hill than the other. This photo was taken by my dear online friend and distant Grindstaff cousin, Anita Wages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Isaac and Mary Woody Grindstaff

Headstone of my second great-grandparents, Isaac Grindstaff (1852-1936) and Mary Woody (1853-1946). They are buried at Mine Creek Cemetery in Mitchell Co, North Carolina. Isaac was a preacher at Mine Creek Church. This photo was taken by my dear online friend and distant Grindstaff cousin, Anita Wages.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Noah Ledford and Clarissa Grindstaff

Noah Ledford and Clarissa Grindstaff are my 3rd great-grandparents. I have previously written about their daughter and my ancestor, Margaret Ledford, and her husband Robert Nelson McNeill.

Noah Ledford was born about 1813 in North Carolina, the son of Frederick Ledford and Prudence Curtis. The Ledford line may have come from Virginia and before that in England. This is unconfirmed information at the time of this writing. Clarissa Grindstaff was born about 1822 to Isaac Grindstaff and his first wife Sarah Hart. The Grindstaff line was of German ancestry and the original spelling was something along the lines of Crantzdorf, though I also have seen it with a K rather than the C spelling.

Noah and Clarissa were married about 1837 or 1838, likely in Yancey Co, North Carolina. They had the following children (dates are approximate):

  • Prudence C (1839-1919) married John Kenneth Deane

  • Isaac Leander (1840-?) married a Selena E and remained in the Mitchell and Yancey areas

  • Sarah C( 1841-1893) married to David Ralph Silvers

  • John (1843-?) married Mary Lowery and remained in the Mitchell Co area through at least 1900

  • William Taylor (8 Aug 1848-13 Jul 1920) married Matilda Pannell Young. He died at Ledger, Mitchell Co. and is buried at Oak Grove Cemetery which is presumably in Mitchell Co.

  • Margaret, my ancestor (1848-1927) Information on her family may be found here.

  • Elizabeth (1850-2 Jun 1917) married Joe Pitman and died in Avery Co, North Carolina. She is buried in a "home grave yard" according to her death certificate.

  • Henry (1853-1900) supposedly married twice to Jennie Johnson and Darcus Jones

  • Phebey (1853-?) and may have married Anderson Pitman

  • Curtis Allen (May 1858-9 Feb 1945)

  • Clarissa Lucinda (19 Feb 1859-22 Mar 1949) married John Lenarde Young and is buried at Lily Branch cemetery in Mitchell Co, North Carolina

  • Hazy C (1864-?)

  • Harriet C (1866-1926) may have married a Clate Deane

Noah, Clarissa and children can be found in the 1850 Yancey Co, North Carolina census. In 1860, they are at Ledger again in Yancey Co. In 1870 they are no where to be found. I have done a page by page search of the Snow Creek township in Mitchell Co. where he is located in 1880 and never located him. Endless searches on have also been fruitless.

Online trees indicate Noah died 23 Jan 1895. However, there is no source nor a cemetery listed. I had communicated with an individual who had much of the same information I had as listed above, but she had no indication of a source for the death date. It is unknown when Clarissa died but it was some time after 1900 when she is found in the Snow Creek, Mitchell Co, North Carolina census living with her son Curtis.

Ledford is still a very common name in Mitchell and Yancey counties as these early lines were very prolific. If you can share additional information with me, I'd be most appreciative. I can be reached by clicking on the contact button on the left side of the blog.

Sources are available upon request.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Siblings of Hector McNeill

In my last post, I wrote about my 4th great-grandfather, Hector McNeill. After extensive examination of the 1850 to 1880 Yancey County, North Carolina censuses, I have been able to determine the siblings of Hector McNeill. I have hopes this analysis will help me work towards determining Hector's parents.


1850 - Hector, age 33, is living in Yancey Co. with his children and John age 45. Next door is Nancy Cox age 32 married to David with several children in the home as well as a Margaret McNeal age 30. All indicate they were born in North Carolina.

1860 - Hector, age 45, is living in Yancey Co. with his children John, Sarah J., and James, as well as John age 60. Another son and my ancestor, Arch McNeal is living next door with wife Jane and son Robert N. Next door to Arch is a widowed Nancy Cox with nine children, seven of which were listed in the 1850 census, Margaret McNeal age 35 and Elizabeth McNeal age 11. This Elizabeth McNeal appears to be the youngest child of Hector and the late wife Betty. Again, it appears all of these individuals were born in North Carolina.

1870 - Hector, age 55, is living in Crabtree Township, Yancey Co. with his second wife Martha Gouge and his daughter Jane, which I think may be Sarah Jane. He is again living next door to Nancy Cox age 55, Margaret age 52, eight children of Nancy's, and Elizabeth McNeill age 21. Part of the problem in this census year is that all members of the Nancy Cox household are listed under the surname Cox. However, it appears evident based upon the ages of Margaret and Elizabeth that they are both the same people as found in 1850 and 1860. Again in this census year all are indicated to have been born in North Carolina.

1880 - This census year focuses on four households with the head of household as follows: Harmon Cox, John Cox, Hector McNeal, and Edmond Cox. It should also be noted that John McNeill does not appear in any of these households and I was unable to locate him in the 1880 census.

First, Harmon Cox is listed in 1850 as a child of David and Nancy McNeill Cox and in Nancy's household in 1860. In 1870, he is married and living adjacent to Hector McNeill. In 1880, Harmon is married with four children. His birthplace is listed as North Carolina, his father born in North Carolina and his mother (the late Nancy McNeill Cox) born in what I think says South Carolina.

Second, John Cox is listed as a child in the household of David and Nancy McNeill Cox in 1850, and in Nancy's household in 1860 and 1870. In 1880, John is age 36 and the head of household. Listed in his household is Margaret McNeal age 66 listed as his aunt. Five of his siblings are listed as such and are the same individuals listed in prior census years living with their mother Nancy. Eliza McNeal, age 26, is listed as a cousin to the head of household, John. John is also listed as born in North Carolina. He contradicts his brother Harmon and says that his mother Nancy was born in North Carolina. Margaret McNeal is listed as born in North Carolina, as well as both her parents. However, because she is just one of the many listed in the household I don't hold much credence to this being completely accurate. The census taker may have just been filling in the ditto marks down the column.

Third, Hector McNeal is listed as age 72 with his second wife Martha, age 50. Hector lists his birth place as North Carolina, his father birth place as Scotland and there is a big smudge over the mother's birth place, but it appears the beginning letters may be Sc which would indicate Scotland. Also, Martha is listed below Hector and rather than ditto marks for her mother's birth place, NC has been written in. That to me indicates that something other than NC was listed as Hector's mother's birth place.

Lastly, Edmond Cox is listed as age 45 with a wife Martha. In 1850, Edmond was listed as a child in the David and Nancy Cox household. He is listed as a child in the 1860 and 1870 households of Nancy Cox. Edmond lists his birth place as North Carolina as well as for his parents, which again contradicts his brother Harmon's listing of South Carolina.

The final piece of evidence for 1880 is the Mortality Schedule from the U.S. Census for Crabtree, Yancey Co, North Carolina. Nancy Cox, age 68, is listed as having died in July 1879 of dropsy. She is listed as born in North Carolina, her father in Scotland, and her mother in North Carolina.

Based upon the above analysis, I have determined the following McNeill siblings and their children:

John McNeill born 1799-1805 in North Carolina. Either moved away or died by 1870. While I have found no concrete evidence listing him as a sibling to Hector, his living in Hector's household for both the 1850 and 1860 census years leads me to believe they are brothers.

Nancy McNeill born 1815-1818 in North Carolina or possibly in South Carolina, married to David Cox. It is possible that Nancy's father was born in Scotland.

Nancy and David had the following children:
Edmond born abt 1835
Mary born abt 1837
Harmon or Harmond born abt 1839
Sarah A born abt 1841
John born abt 1843
Margaret born abt 1844
Olive or Ollie born abt 1847
Hannah born abt 1850
Isaac born abt 1853

Hector McNeill born between 1808-1817 likely in North Carolina. He died some time after 1880. Both his parents may have been born in Scotland. See this post for information on Hector's children.

Margaret McNeill born between 1814-1825 likely in North Carolina.

Because Margaret is listed as an aunt to Nancy's son John Cox in the 1880 census, I reasonably believe Margaret and Nancy are siblings. Additionally because Elizabeth McNeill is listed as a cousin to John Cox in the 1880 census and she is a known child of Hector, I feel comfortable linking Nancy, Margaret and Hector as siblings.

If you have any connections or further information on the McNeill or Cox families, I would love to hear from you. Please use the contact button on the left side of the blog.

Sources are available upon request.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hector McNeill and Betty Presnell

Hector McNeill and his wife Betty Presnell (or perhaps Pressley) are my 4th great-grandparents. Hector McNeill was born some time between 1808 and 1817. Alas, he is one of my ancestors that does not age a decade with each census. According to the 1850 Yancey Co, North Carolina census, he would have been born in 1817. Both 1860 and 1870 have him born in 1815 and from out in left field, the 1880 census lists him as 72 years old which equates to 1808. So therefore I use the age range, though I likely suspect it was probably in the 1815-1817 range.

Hector wasn't listed in a Yancey or Burke county census prior to 1850, nor can I find any other McNeill, though it is likely he was there. He is estimated to have married Betty Presnell in the mid-1830s as their first child was born about 1836 and said to have been born in Burke Co. (later Yancey), North Carolina.

Hector and Betty had the following children:

1. Daniel born abt 1836 - died 9 May 1862 Ashland, Virginia while serving in Co E 6th NC Infantry

2. Archibald (my ancestor) born 1838 - died 31 Jul 1886 Mitchell Co, NC

3. John born 3 Jan 1841 - died 26 Nov 1935 South Toe, Yancey Co, NC

4. Alexander L born abt 1842 - died 13 Mar 1924 Asotin Co, Washington

5. Sarah J. born abt 1844

6. James born 1846 - died 21 May 1926 Asotin Co, Washington

7. Elizabeth born 2 Apr 1849 - died abt 1934 in Virginia

A descendant of Elizabeth provided me with her exact birthdate and the information that the day after Elizabeth was born her mother Betty died (3 Apr 1849) presumably as a result of complications related to childbirth.

The book Cabins in the Laurel by Muriel Earley Shephard details a story about Hector's second wedding in a chapter entitled "A Burnt Mountain Wedding". Hector married Martha (Patty) Gouge on Christmas Eve some time during the 1860s. The story recounts his rapid walk over the snow-covered mountain to get there on time as well as the revelry (i.e. imbibing) that took place.

I have no record of Hector's death date, though it occurred sometime after 1880. A dear online friend and cousin-in-law has been kind enough to share some photos of a memorial marker at the Gouge Cemetery in Mitchell Co, North Carolina. Her family, the Gouges, believes that Martha Gouge McNeill is buried at that cemetery and believe that Hector may be with her. To honor their memories, a marker has been installed at that cemetery. She has given me permission to include a photo here and also to allow me to post them at Find-A-Grave.

Additionally I do not know who Hector's parents were. Family lore indicates a McNeill came to Camden, South Carolina in 1760 with a three year old son Neill. That Neill would marry another another passenger on the (as of yet unknown) ship by the name of McMillan or McMillian. The story goes that those are the parents of Hector. So assuming that Hector was born about 1815, it seems more likely that this Neill and wife McMillan may be grandparents to Hector, not his parents. However, I've yet to come across anything to indicate who Hector's parents may have been nor have I found a Neill McNeill that married a McMillan in any online trees. Alas, the hunt continues.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Silver Chapel Baptist church and cemetery

View of the Silver Chapel Baptist church and cemetery from the old McNeill home place in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. Photo taken by my dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney in November 2004.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Robert and Margaret Ledford McNeill

Headstone of my great-great-grandparents, Robert McNeill and Margaret Ledford. This is the only "evidence" I have that Margaret died in 1927. I have tried unsuccessfully obtaining a death certificate from the State of North Carolina as well as from Mitchell County (where she is buried) and Buncombe County (where the family lived by 1930 but could have been only after her death). Robert and Margaret are buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Cemetery in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. This photo was taken by my dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney in November 2004.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Like Father, Like Son

My maternal grandfather, Fred Harmon (1921-1993), and his father, Edward Harmon (1883-1960). I think this photo was likely taken in the late 1930s perhaps at their home in Henry, Codington Co, South Dakota. Anyone recognize the type of car that might be?

Photo privately held by Tracy's mother, Middleton, Idaho, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tombstone Tuesday - Ben Arvel McNeal

Headstone of Ben Arvel McNeal, my great-uncle. He was only about 3 1/2 months old when he passed away on 12 September 1920. I can't imagine the heartbreak of his parents, Charles and Della Grindstaff McNeill. Ben is buried at Silver Chapel Baptist Cemetery in Bandana, Mitchell Co, North Carolina. My dear online friend and cousin-in-law, H. McKinney, took this photo for me in November 2004.

Monday, October 26, 2009

COG 83: Tone Deaf in a Family of Musicians

This article is written for the 83rd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. The topic is musical instruments. Do you play a musical instrument or did one of your family members? What instrument did you or they play? If no one in the family played an instrument, tell what is your favorite instrument or band and what is your least favorite one. Hosted By Janet Iles who authors the blog, Janet the Researcher.

I'd like to think that I got all the good genes and none of the bad.

And then reality sinks in.......

The one thing I've always wanted was to be able to sing....and carry a tune while doing it. As it is, I should really only sing while driving or perhaps in the shower. But most especially I should be only singing while alone so as not to offend anyone else's delicate ears. The irony of this situation is that I am descended from many fine folks with musical talents. Apparently that gift did NOT get passed on to me.

Now this isn't to say that I haven't had some musical training. There was a year of piano lessons using the Suzuki method when I was in about the third grade and then there were the four years of clarinet in the school band (grades six through nine). By the time I finished ninth grade and was ready to transfer to the high school (I went to a three year high school), I decided that band was just not for me. I had no desire to march around the football field at halftime or be in the pep band for basketball games. The musical compositions were becoming more difficult and I was not keeping up to that skill level. And frankly I was having a hard time determining when I was sharp or flat. I knew if I was wildly off key but when it came to fine tuning I simply couldn't tell if I was off key. And so ended my not-so-illustrious musical career.

If I consider all the musical talent in my family, I'm almost embarassed by my own lack of skill. My maternal grandmother grew up in a small town in eastern South Dakota, so there were a lot of long cold winters with little activity. To counteract that they would have a house party of sorts. My great-grandparents each came from a family of 7 siblings, so there were many aunts and uncles on both the Hanson and Hiby sides who would gather with their instruments on a Saturday night and play to the wee hours. As a result, my grandma can play the piano by ear but she never really learned to read music. Her brother can play accordian and piano by ear. He still lives in this rural area of South Dakota and plays for a lot of senior citizen groups. I think he owns at least three pianos and nine different accordians.

If they weren't making music, they were listening to it usually by means of the Grand Ole Opry on the radio on Saturday nights. My grandma also remembers her dad driving the family into town one evening and parking on the street next to an auditorium or dance hall. It must have been summertime because the door to the building was opened and out poured the live music of Lawrence Welk. She even remembers catching a glimpse of him. As a child, I remember having to watch reruns of old Lawrence Welk shows which I found to be incredibly boring. The only thing I really enjoyed were the bubbles and the ladies' pretty dresses. Funny what you remember........

And obviously musical talent does run in my grandma's Hiby line (originally spelled Hoiby), because we are related to Lee Hoiby, famous American composer best known for his work on "Summer and Smoke" by Tennessee Williams. Another famous work he is well known for is Shakespeare's "The Tempest". While the Hoiby/Hiby line is Norwegian, Lee Hoiby's mother's line was Danish and apparently very musically talented.

On my paternal grandfather's side, the McNeills were known to have some musical talent. I previously have written about my great-grandfather, Charles McNeill, and his ability to make his own fiddles. I have long known of his talent and it never ceases to amaze me. I recently caught the tail end of a PBS program on the Queen Family of Jackson Co, North Carolina, which is southwest of Mitchell and Yancey counties where my McNeills are from. The Queen Family has a similar Scots-Irish background and are all very musically talented. I can only envision that perhaps my own McNeills, including my great-grandpa Charlie, may have had this type of talent for the old mountain songs and bluegrass.

Even my husband comes from some musical background, including his own stint in the high school band playing saxophone. His father used to sing in a barbershop quarter. His maternal grandfather, Chester Kosinski, played the trumpet in an orchestra and in the 1930 U.S. Census in Bloomfield, Essex Co, New Jersey he listed his occupation as an orchestra musician.

Alas, it appears that even with all this talent coming before me I am destined to sing off-key. But it hasn't deterred my own love of music.

Did I also mention I have two left feet?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

SNGF - My Most Unique Ancestral Names

This week Randy's request is the following:

"1) What is the most unique, strangest or funniest combination of given name and last name in your ancestry? Not in your database - in your ancestry.
2) Tell us about this person in a blog post, in a comment to this blog post, or in a comment on Facebook.
3) Okay, if you don't have a really good one - how about a sibling of your direct ancestors?"

I prepared a pedigree chart in my software and discussed some of the more unusual prospects with my husband and oldest daughter, who laughed at some of them that were more unusual. She called them "the people in my computer." She didn't quite understand these are our ancestors.

The general consensus for the most unique name was for my third great-grandfather, Absalom Stroud Pitts, born about 1831 in Indiana and died about 1857 in Iowa. Little is known of Absalom's life, but in 1850 he was living in Lee County, Iowa. On 10 July 1853, he married Medina Sherer (or perhaps Scherer) who was the daughter of Solomon and Mary Sherer. Mary's maiden name may have been Geeding. According to the 1855 census, Absalom and Medina were still living in Lee County, Iowa.

From records given to me by my grandmother, Absalom and Medina had the following children:
1. Zerlinda Jane Pitts b. 11 Mar 1854. She is my second great-grandmother and most frequently went by Jenny. I think Zerlinda Jane qualifies as another of the most unique names in my tree.
2. Joseph Anderson Pitts b. 26 Feb 1855, died 1856
3. Ruth Ann Pitts b. 12 Mar 1856, died 1857
4. James Marion Pitts b. 5 Apr 1857

Joseph died in 1856 and both Absalom and Ruth in 1857. It was a very tragic few years for Medina as she lost two children and a husband. Medina went on to marry three more times and had another four children.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Military Records Denied . . . . Again

This past summer I was very busy crossing things off my "to do" list. This is always a good feeling for me because even as crazy as my daily life can be it still makes me feel like I've done something.

One of the tasks on the list was to try to get my Grandpa Lee's military records. In mid-June, I sat down to write a letter to the National Personnel Records Center explaining the name change from McNeill and that I wasn't sure of the exact spelling of the name McNeill though I knew with certainty the name he assumed. I explained he was either born 2 January 1912, as the census records indicate, or 2 January 1915, like he'd told my grandmother. I listed a period of time in which he would have served between April 1930 (the time of the census) to March 1937 (when he applied for a Social Security number under the new name). I listed possible Asheville addresses that he could have used for next of kin (his parents' home). I even went so far as to include copies of his SS-5 application, the 1930 census, and a copy of the SSDI listing his death in 1971.

I mailed the letter and copies. Then I waited....

In early July, I received a somewhat thick envelope from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Because it obviously contained more than one piece of paper inside, I nearly skipped from the mailbox to the front door where I promptly dropped all the other mail to open this letter. I remember my hands were even shaking a little.

And the letter said:

"Thank you for contacting the National Personnel Records Center. We have been unsuccessful in identifying a military service record for the above-named individual. This does not mean the subject did not have military service, only that we are unable to identify a record based on the limited information you have provided. To locate a record, we must have the veteran's complete and confirmed name, confirmed date of birth, service number (if applicable), in additional to a social security number, branch of service, and approximate dates of service. We regret our response could not be more positive."

Yep, far from positive. The letter goes on to say if I have questions, I can call or mail a response referencing my Request Number listed on the letter. They even kindly sent me copies of the stuff I had originally sent to them, which explains why the envelope was a little thick.

Talk about absolute deflation. Short of going to St. Louis myself and demanding to dig through their boxes/files/filing cabinets for a Lee McNeill (or McNeil or McNeal) likely born 2 Jan 1912 and living in Asheville prior to his joining the Navy to be a pharmacist's mate, I'm at a loss as to what to do next. Is it because I can't give them a service number that they can't find him? Do they not want to search all the possible Lee McNeill/McNeil/McNeals in their database from that time period? I know he was in the service. I have seen a photo of him in his Naval uniform. I highly doubt he would be photographed in uniform standing next to a ship if he wasn't in the service. And no the ship's number was not visible in the photograph.

So the dilemma continues.

Any and all suggestions are welcomed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SNGF - A Family's Increase

I have spent several days pondering Randy Seaver's latest edition of Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. This time the task is to calculate the descendants from a set of our great-grandparents, preferably with the most and determine the number in each generation. Here are his instructions.

As I was thinking about this I realized both of my grandmothers each had one sibling who had no children. I always have known this fact, but I never really considered that this was something in common between them. So then I began to think about my each of my grandfathers and it's quite a different story.

My Grandpa Fred's parents, Edward Joseph Harmon and Kate Nellie Arthur, had four boys of which three lived to adulthood. The descendants of Edward and Kate are as follows:

1. Children = 4 (all deceased)
2. Grandchildren = 7 (one deceased)
3. Great-grandchildren = 16 I think. This number includes my sister and me. Besides us, I've met perhaps only two others in this generation.
4. Great-great-grandchildren = I don't even know how many there could be. I know I have two children of my own that fit into this generation. I am aware of at least 5 others, but know there are more.
5. 3rd great-granchildren = I am aware of one baby born in 2008.

So on my Grandpa Lee McNeill's side, his parents Charles Lafayette McNeill and Della Winnie Grindstaff had five children of which four lived to adulthood. The descendants of Charles and Della are as follows:

1. Children = 5 (all deceased)
2. Grandchildren = 11 (3 deceased) I have communicated with two in this generation as well as the husband of another grandchild
3. Great-grandchildren = at least 8 known (me, my sister and my two first cousins plus 4 cousins of which I have emailed with one) I would expect there could be another 5-10 in this generation that I know nothing of. This also excludes any step-great-grandchildren in this generation of which I know of one.
4. Great-great-grandchildren = well again my two girls count here and a first cousin to me has three children. I know there is at least one other. This again excludes any step-relatives in this generation.

So what this tells me is that I have spent a lot of time focusing on the prior generations i.e. the deceased, but haven't focused so much on the living descendants. I have two reasons (read: excuses) for this. First, if you have read any of my prior posts on my McNeill ancestors, you will know that up until a few years ago we didn't know much about Lee's past. So there have been a lot of letters and emails (think of cold calling) done to try to make contact with some of the right descendants. That explains my paternal side, but on my mother's side (Harmons), I think the seven cousins all lived in such different locations around the United States and with limited funds it was difficult to get all of them together. However, it is my hope in the next year or two to have a mini-reunion with those six remaining cousins. Three of the six remaining cousins all live in a close geographic area that makes it easy to get together and we are only a few hours from them by car. So that leaves the two remaining cousins and the widow of the deceased cousin to come from Utah, South Dakota and Arizona. Think it could happen? We'll just have to see how persuasive I can be!