Memorial Day

The history and significance of Memorial Day (or Decoration Day) is complex. For centuries, people have decorated the graves of soldiers with flowers, flags, and other tributes. Naturally, following the carnage of the Civil War, commemorations were made at the graves of soldiers, whether Federal or Confederate. At least twenty-five cities claim the honor of creating Memorial Day to remember all Civil War soldiers. By 1868, the custom across the nation had developed that May 30 was the day to remember soldiers who lost their lives on Civil War battlefields. Gradually, the custom expanded to include all soldiers who died while in battle, including all the wars and military actions in which the United States has been involved.

Beginning in 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday in May. The three-day weekend has become, in the United States, the unofficial beginning of summer, which then ends at the beginning of September with the three-day weekend of Labor Day. Many communities still have parades on Memorial Day, and generally ceremonies are held at cemeteries to mark this holiday. (I remember marching in the high school band to two cemeteries each Memorial Day.) But for many families, the weekend is marked with outdoor gatherings and meals, generally with little thought of military matters. I grilled hamburgers and bratwursts for the family last Sunday as part of our Memorial Day observances.

Often people confuse Memorial Day with Veterans Day (November 11) and with Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May). Memorial Day specifically remembers soldiers who died while serving the United States. Armed Forces Day salutes those who currently are serving in the armed forces. Veterans Day thanks those who served in the armed forces and survived their military career.

In my family research, I have discovered numerous veterans but no one who died while serving in a military force. Last weekend I used my Facebook page to honor three veterans—my grandfather, my uncle, and my father—and no one corrected me with the blurring of holidays. Here are two photographs I shared last weekend: the first was taken by my grandfather at Camp Hancock in Georgia. It shows Lieutenant G. M. Kuntz and Lieutenant Nygeberger with a World War I rifle and was taken in 1918. The second picture, taken by my uncle in Banneaux, Belgium, shows a World War II tank and an unnamed soldier. My uncle landed in France on D-Day plus 2 (June 8, 1944) and saw action in France, Belgium, and Germany.

We remember and honor those who died while defending our freedom and battling against the enemies of our country. We promise that their sacrifice will never be forgotten. J.

We used to home school

After twenty-five years of service, the Salvageable Family Home School has closed its doors. That’s not bad news—we celebrate the high school graduation of our youngest child and the successful educational paths they all have chosen.

All have been accepted into colleges. All who are not currently enrolled have completed their Bachelor’s degrees in four years or less. They graduated with honors. Two went on to complete Master’s degrees. All of them are currently employed, even during the virus crisis.

Our decision to home school was not made lightly, but in a sense we were led into it. At the time, I was associated with a church that had a private school, and our children were aware of school children outside the house at various times. They were interested in school, and they were mentally ready, but their birthdays put them just past the starting age as set by the state. I knew that schools sometimes made exceptions regarding those dates, but the school leaders said, “If we make an exception for you, we have to make an exception for anyone else who asks.” They did offer a compromise—two years of half-day kindergarten meant for four-year-olds before entering the full day kindergarten meant for five-year-olds. We declined.

We knew a family in the neighborhood who homeschooled. Two of their daughters sometimes watched our children. They were doing well, and we took advice from them. We agreed that we would evaluate the situation year by year and not commit to home schooling all the way through high school. Little did we know that we would be educating our children for the next twenty-five years.

Starting with a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, we began to assemble a home school library.  Saxon Math met our needs in that department, and we found other books that did the job. The summer after we started home schooling I had a job offer and we moved, so there was no pressure to put our children into the church’s school. From time to time we participated in home school cooperatives, but it often seemed that we could accomplish as much at home as we could gain from a cooperative.

One advantage of home schooling is being able to work at the child’s pace. Students who pick up a concept easily do not have to wait for their classmates before moving on to something new; students struggling with a concept can have extra explaining and practice before moving on without hampering anyone else’s education. Also, no time is consumed traveling to and from school or waiting for a bus; that gain in time allows more instruction, more leisure time, or more time to contribute to family chores. Life skills such as cooking and laundry become part of the educational plan. Interesting conversations at mealtime are part of home schooling, and field trips are easy to arrange with little or no planning required.

One concern some people have about home schooling is “socialization”: how will home schooled children learn to make friends among their peers? Home school cooperatives are one answer, church activities are another, and organized athletic events are a third. Several of my daughters took up Irish dancing and have reached the championship level. Moreover, not only in my family but in other home school families I have known, the children are more natural at socializing with people of different ages. They have not spent their days in a room with one adult and a couple dozen children their age.

Not every family should home school. Doing so requires a massive commitment of time as well as a financial investment. Public schools and private schools provide a valuable service for our communities. The irony has not escaped me that we finished home schooling at a time when many families are having their first experience of home schooling. Most will return their children to the public or private schools as soon as they open, but some families—including the students—may be finding value in home schooling. They may be considering continuing the home school experience even when schools reopen. For those in that position, I offer encouragement and best wishes. J.

More about my family

When I composed yesterday’s post, I got so excited sharing the history of my family that I forgot part of what I wanted to say. Here it is:

This month I have been posting historic family pictures on FaceBook each day. Sometimes it’s a single picture, sometimes it’s two or three pictures. I’ve been getting good reactions from family—including cousins I almost never see anymore—as well as from other friends.

Why am I doing this? Well, as a historian and an archivist, I want to promote the business. Especially those weeks that I had to work from home, trying to do the same things I would be doing at work, I knew that I had to do the full job of an archivist—not merely to preserve and to organize, but also to share. Archivists don’t digitize the entire collection and put it online—we digitize a small amount of material that is interesting or informative. Real researchers don’t stop at surfing the internet; when they find something of interest, they identify where it is located and come to that place to look at the rest of the collection.

Beyond that, I have gotten major fatigue scrolling through FaceBook and other social media. It feels like a game of dodgeball back in junior high school, trying to avoid all the mentions of disease and politics and the intersection of the two. So I thought I’d change the subject—give myself and other people something different to talk about and think about. And that has worked.

It has worked so well that my sister and some of my cousins commented over the weekend that I ought to take all this family information I’ve been gathering and write a book. I’ve handled books written by genealogists. They tend to be dry as dust—recording vital information, but often omitting the interesting and unusual family stories about these various individuals.

So I’m considering a book on the Salvageable family. The first question is: how much of the family do I want to cover? Am I writing for my children and their descendants—do I want to include my wife’s side of the family? Do I want to focus on me and my ancestors? Or do I want to stick to my mother’s side of the family, which contains most of the interesting stories that have come to light thus far. (And includes those cousins who are suggesting that I write a book.)

Even though that matter is not settled, I have made two other decisions. If I write this book, I will start each family line with the immigrant who came to the United States. Where I know names and dates for ancestors who remained in Europe, I might include them in an appendix or sidebar, but I want this to be an account of the Salvageables in America. Also, rather than focusing on one line at a time, with chapters relating to different streams that entered the river, I want to make the book chronological. I would like to write a chapter for each decade, describing where the various ancestors were during that decade and what they were doing.

Moreover, I want to include some historic context in each chapter. Think how much fun the 1860s will be—men fighting each other in the Civil War (and I have ancestors who fought for the Union and ancestors who fought for the Confederacy). Wouldn’t it be cool to find two great-great grandfathers involved in the same battle, shooting each other? (And, if either of them had been a better soldier, I would never have been born.)

I can only guess how long it will take to complete the family research and begin writing. This project likely will be years in the making. And it will not be lucrative—we’re not talking Roots here. I don’t care to dabble in historical fiction, creating conversations that may have happened. I want to include verifiable facts, along with family stories and mysteries.

And this is much more fun than slogging through the current international crisis and thinking only about it night and day. J.

Photographs and genealogy

Years ago, when I first saw this picture in the family collection, it puzzled me. I knew that the little girl to the left was my grandmother, and I suspected the other two children on the floor were her brother and sister. I assumed that the man to the left was her father and that the woman in back was her grandmother? But who is the other boy in the room? My family and I dubbed him Heathcliff, remembering that he joined the Earnshaw family by adoption when he was a young boy (Wuthering Heights).

This spring I’ve had the opportunity to go through family photographs and also to research my family tree. I deduced that this picture was taken Christmas 1905. The extra boy is a cousin to my grandmother. These same people were still in the same household at the 1910 census. The grandmother, by the way, is the mother of my grandmother’s mother, mother-in-law to the man in the picture.

Here’s another picture of the same family taken a few months earlier. The younger woman is my great-grandmother; she died in June of 1905. The man with the cigar is probably Heathcliff’s father, and the two additional girls are Heathcliff’s sisters.

Why are those sisters missing from the Christmas picture? According to the 1910 census, they were boarding at the Chicago Industrial School for Girls. Later records show that both grew up, had jobs as clerks, and got married.

 

Here’s Heathcliff and his sisters—possibly taken at their school. On the desk is a cube with the date: Wednesday December 27. Historians, archivists, and genealogists love clues like that hiding in photographs. (December 27, 1905, was a Wednesday.)

And what became of Heathcliff? He also got married. He and his wife had a son who lived only three months and a daughter who eventually grew up and married. In 1917, when Heathcliff registered for the Great War, he was a clerk supporting wife and mother (possibly mother-in-law). In 1920, he was living with his wife, in-laws, and infant son. In 1930, though, he was divorced and living alone in Chicago. October 1930 saw him incarcerated at Leavenworth, Kansas—I have no idea why. By 1942, when he registered because of the second World War, he was back in Chicago, working for Keller & Sons. He died in 1959, at the age of 63.

“Heathcliff’s” real first name was the same as his father and his grandfather. By coincidence, my wife and I chose the same name for our son. After skipping several generations, it’s nice to have the name return to the family, even though the previous holder of that name was a crook. J.

 

Genealogy–the study of your family tree

I’m an archivist, but the research room where I spend some of my hours to help the public (when the public is allowed to enter) attracts more genealogists than historians. In the past, when someone came to the research room and said, “I’m interested in tracing my family tree—how do I get started?” I would introduce them to our resources, get them rolling, and remain available to answer further questions. Among our resources is ancestry.com – the library has bought a subscription to the service, and patrons can use it for free. But, from now on, when someone says, “how do I get started?” I’m going to steer them properly. For ancestry.com and other library resources belong to the third step of genealogy, not the first or second step.

The first step is to write what you know about yourself. Genealogy always begins with an individual. In your case, that individual is you. Write your full name. When and where were you born? Are you married? To whom, when, and where? Do you have children? Write their full names and when and where each of them was born.

Many genealogists use a notebook to record this information. Some use index cards. Some use a spread sheet such as Excel. Most serious genealogists use more than one method, so the information they have worked so hard to attain will be saved in one form if it is lost in another.

After you have written all your vital information, you then write everything you know about your father. Answer the same questions about your father as you answered about yourself. And if he has died (and I’m sorry if he has) also say when and where he died and where he is buried.

After writing everything you know about your father, do the same for your mother. Then do the same for your father’s father, your father’s mother, your mother’s father, and your mother’s mother. The order matters! You are person number one on the chart; your father is number two, your mother is number three, your father’s father is number four, and so on. After number one, all the even numbers are men and all the odd numbers are women. But—this is even more important—every father’s number is double that of his son or daughter. So your father will be two, your father’s father four, his father eight, and so on back to Adam.

When you have written everything you know—which might include great-grandparents, but probably not every detail about them—is it time to go to the library? No, you’ve only taken the first step. Your second step is to talk with your living relatives to fill the gaps on your chart. Your parents, your grandparents, your uncles and aunts, and your cousins probably can answer some of the questions you needed to leave blank. As you talk with them, let them tell you stories about the family. Encourage them to share the stories. The other data is just a roll call; the stories make family history truly meaningful.

Once you’ve visited with your living relatives, you are ready to go to the library. Libraries have a multitude of resources for genealogy. These resources can help you fill the gaps. Increasingly, online services like ancestry.com have gathered these resources from various libraries and locations. They include official government documents—not only the Census, but also land sale records, military records, and court documents (especially wills and probate proceedings). Plus there are family records, church records, community histories, and the research of other genealogists. All this information tells the researcher about many people, and a few of those many people are your relatives, even your ancestors.

Several problems can occur when tracing your family tree. If you are easily frustrated, you might want to try a different hobby. Frequently several people have the same name. You have so sort through everything you know about your ancestor to find the right one. That’s why birth dates, death dates and places are important in genealogy—they help to distinguish your John Smith from the other five John Smiths who lived in the same general area around the same time.

Second, people make mistakes. Your relatives’ memory might be faulty. Even your memory might be faulty. You thought your grandmother was born in 1930—she always told people that—but actually she was born in 1924. To make matters more complicated, census takers, church secretaries, and even the stone carvers who made the grave markers all make mistakes. One person’s bad handwriting might cause another person to get a name or a year wrong. The information you record must be verified carefully among several sources. Just because it shows up in one book or on ancestry.com doesn’t mean that it’s true.

Genealogists often hit a wall. Scraps of important information don’t seem to exist. Sometimes, people disappeared on purpose. They didn’t want to be found. Some records have been lost to natural disasters. (Even the U.S. Census of 1890 was lost in a fire.) But, given persistence and newly found sources—a distant cousin, perhaps, or a library in another city—the story gradually unfolds. And the journey through that story is educating, exciting, and entertaining.

Who are you? Your family tree cannot fully answer that question, but it offers some useful hints. J.

Keep your soul diligently

We’ve all seen those memes on Facebook and other places where the letters of each word are scrambled, but the first and last letters are kept unchanged. Sometimes these memes are accompanied by statements such as, “Only intelligent people are able to understand this message.” Actually, most adept readers are able to read them; as we learned to read, our brains developed shortcuts that recognize words even when the internal parts of the words have been changed.

But, by the same token, sometimes we mistake one word for another. The slip-up can be amusing, such as confusing “immorality” and “immortality.” Usually a second glance fixes the misreading. But this morning in my Bible reading, I faced a misreading that indicates just how overwhelming our current virus crisis has become.

I was reading Deuteronomy chapter four. I got to verse nine, which says, “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your hearts all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and to your children’s children.” This is a trustworthy saying. But when my eyes first scanned the verse, my brain changed the beginning to, “Only take care, and keep your social distancing.”

Of course a second glance fixed the misreading. I suppose the words “take care” only added to the tendency to expect s…l d……..y to be “social distancing.” But my mildly amusing experience only shows how overwhelming this virus crisis has become, that I even expect the holy Word of God to command social distancing.

My experiences with the virus crisis are like those of most people. As an introvert, I don’t mind keeping my distance from other people. Three times a week I take a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. I do what I was taught as a child: I walk on the left-hand side of the road, facing the traffic. But now, with social distancing, if someone is coming toward me on the same side of the road, I cross to the other side to avoid that person. I’ve always wanted to do that. Now, not is it not rude to cross the road to avoid people—it’s recommended.

I’m very much blessed to have three jobs that all paid me my regular salary while I worked from home. Every week I write a sermon, and every Saturday I email it to the members of the congregation. Our church musician presents a concert of church music on Facebook every Sunday. We mail in our offerings, and my check comes in the mail. My history class was changed from classroom to online. Some students dropped out, and a couple have fallen behind on the work, but several are faithfully taking their quizzes (open book, since we don’t have the classroom discussion before the quiz) and—I expect—writing their essays that are due next week. But my full time job at the library raised the biggest concerns. How can a library function when the doors are locked and the workers are told to stay home?

The first week the library was closed, we were told that it was like snow days—we would stay home and be paid. The second week, they began encouraging us to do tasks at home that were somehow job related. Since I am an archivist, I began sorting and arranging the family pictures I brought from my father’s house several years ago. After they were arranged, I even started putting them on Facebook and tagging family members. I also explored the family genealogy. More than half the people who visit our research room in the library are doing genealogy—some in great depth, others just getting started. I’ve always been able to guide people to resources, but now I have much more experience in genealogical research and will be more helpful.

By the third week, we had a process of reporting how we were spending our time “on the clock.” But after that, the library decided that 75% of our hours had to be of direct benefit to the library system; the other 25% could be for learning and wellness activities. Some library branches began experimenting with curb-side services. Four branches are providing free meals to neighborhood children who usually get fed at school. My department remains locked up; but we are taking turns being in the building to answer the phone and help patrons.

Last week, with the phone-answering system in place, I was invited to return to my desk and continue processing archival materials. I must wear a mask everywhere in the building except at my desk; I must wash my hands frequently and wipe down surfaces often. This procedure might last for the rest of the summer.

Since it is losing some money—parking and meeting room fees, and overdue fines—the library director decided that he would reduce or eliminate some positions temporarily to save the library money. All positions will be restored when the crisis is over. People in eliminated positions retain their health insurance and other benefits but must apply for unemployment. Those who are reduced will—if the state government allows—work only part-time and receive unemployment money for the hours lost. I have been placed in the second category.

I do not feel comfortable with the likelihood that I will be receiving unemployment compensation for ten weeks or so. It’s not that I don’t need the money. It’s that every person thrown into the unemployment system is added to the financial burden that taxpayers like me and my children will be reimbursing for years to come. I disagree with the library’s decision to lower its costs by putting its workers temporarily into unemployment. In fact, I cannot help but view this as a cynical political ploy to deepen the crisis (and the feeling of crisis) at the expense of the current administration.

We will all get through this together. Stress and anxiety are high right now. (I spend little time on social media precisely because I rapidly tire of all the talk of virus and quarantine. It makes me shaky and queasy.) Meanwhile it’s important for each of us to take care, and keep our social distancing… I mean, keep our souls diligently. J.