Monday, January 31, 2011

Can't see the family for the relatives?

   I have been lost in the world of 23andme and trying to figure out what the astonishing quantity of data I have been given actually means.  I haven't gotten very far...
   23andme is a Genetic Testing service.  With a vial of spit, they can tell you more than you ever thought possible about your health and what conditions you have a greater, typical or decreased risk for based on your genome.  They also give you a report of which conditions you happen to be a carrier even though you may not have that condition yourself.  I really hadn't given much thought to the health information but it is quite interesting.  For example I learned that I am a carrier for hemochromatosis.  I had never heard of it and had to look it up.  But the interesting thing is that it is highly prevalent in people who are Irish or of Irish ancestry.  Fascinating!
   I was a lot more interested in what I could learn to expand my knowledge of my ancestry though.  Through the "Relative Finder" feature the 23andme service sends a report of how many people share matching segments of DNA on their chromosomes.  So far they have determined that I share matching segments with 351 people that have used the service.  That's really neat to know and seems like a lot of cousins...but what do I do with that information? 
   Some of the other participants have Public Profiles, which allow me to see their name and hopefully a list of surnames in their family tree.  So far none of my matches with public profiles have any surnames that seem at all familiar to me.  Others with some common surnames have no segments that match with me.  What to do?
   I have shared trees with some people in hopes that we could discover a common history.  So far that hasn't led to any discoveries of how we could be related.
   From others on the 23andme site, I have learned that there are off-site programs that attempt to process the sheer volume of data and find the connections in ways that go beyond the many features available on the official site.  One such utility is HIRSearch.  From the Facebook page for this site here is what it does:
HIR stands for chromosome Half Identical Region.

HIR Search compares your genome data against another person's genome and find areas where half or more base pairs match. These regions are markers of common ancestry.
After I entered my raw data from 23andme it has given me an easier to contemplate list of people I match and precisely where the match occurs.  Presumably if I find more than one, or several matches at the same spot, then the 3 or more of us should have the same common ancestor.  I think.  So far it has been some fascinating but mind boggling information.

Another offsite utility called merges GEDCOM trees, downloadable from or other family tree software and tries to find common matches.  It also has a function for uploading raw data from 23andme and another genetic testing site and finding not only matches but predicting the degree of relatedness based on those matches.  Since people enter their information voluntarily they can enter their email address and theoretically find it easier to connect with their newly found relatives.  The closest match that I saw of mine was a predicted 4th cousin; many were predicted to be 7th cousins or greater.  The challenge of how to discover the common ancestor shared with so many people is quite daunting; but incredibly compelling at the same time. 

People who have multiple close family members who have also participated in the 23andme process have more information for discovering the connections between themselves and others with whom they have a match.  If Bob Genealogy has a match with Susie Family it is really helpful for him to see if his father Tom Genealogy also matches with Susie at the same location on the same chromosome.  If he does then he knows that their common ancestor must be on his paternal side.  At least they can narrow down their search.  I realize it would be so much more illuminating to have my family members also participate.  I think that will be my next talk them into it!

I haven't had any incredible discoveries yet, beyond the fact that I have 351 new relatives.  But I am just learning what can be done with the information.  All in all it has been incredibly fascinating and I would encourage anyone who was on the fence to give it a try. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Goffs All Together

My maternal grandmother's father, William Goff, was the son of Irish immigrants Thomas Goff and Annie Cleary Goff.  I know that Thomas came from Duncormack, County Wexford, Ireland.  I never knew much about my grandmother's father; and I always believed it was because he was an orphan. 

I knew that he was born in Cleveland, Ohio on March 24 sometime between 1872-1874.  His tombstone says 1873, his death certificate says 1874. The 1880 Census would indicate that maybe he was born in 1872.  I wonder how they decided on 1873 for the tombstone? And as long as we're throwing around possible years, my grandmother told me he was born in 1871. 

When contacting other family members as I started gathering information about my Goff history, I was told that William's mother Annie died when William was a boy, in 1882.  Our family thought that his father had put the children in an orphanage at that time.  The family was living in Dallas, Texas then.  I felt sad about this and wondered if it was just such a different time or were things really so bad that he couldn't have figured out how to keep them together?  This is the last record I have found that places all of William's childhood family in one place.

I wondered what ever became of all those other children? It just made me sad to think of them being separated.

Then when I began researching more about this family I discovered that Thomas, William Goff's father, married again, and had another large family.  What's more, it appeared that the woman he married had been a resident at the orphanage!  It just didn't make sense to me how my great great grandfather could have left his children at the orphanage and while he was at it found himself a new wife there!

 As I was considering this dilemma, I got in touch with another Goff descendant through  His family is descended from Thomas Goff and his second wife.  Their story was that Thomas never abandoned his children, but that he WORKED at the orphanage as a carpenter.  They said they remembered older relatives talking about "Willie," my great grandfather, as an older sibling.  They told me that Thomas had hired the young woman who later became his second wife to look after his baby.  Apparently my great grandmother Annie Cleary Goff had died in childbirth with a little baby John.  Thomas, who worked at the orphanage, found a young woman to watch his baby and she fell in love with the baby, and I guess Thomas too.  They married and had several more children.  This descendant of Thomas felt sure that if the older children ever lived at the orphanage it was only because their father was there as well; not because they were abandoned. 

The new version of my family history brought renewed interest in my research into the Goff family.  But I wanted to know beyond a doubt that it could be true.  So I sent an email to Buckner International, asking about their historical records at the children's home in Dallas.  I promptly sent back the form that they emailed me....and I waited.

I got a call today from a lady at Buckner's.  She said, "I found no records of anyone with that last name ever being a resident at Buckner's."  I think deep down I thought she would find something after all.  BUT SHE DIDN'T.

It seems that the family story needs to be rewritten.  My great grandfather did lose his mother as a child, but he wasn't abandoned by his father.  If he wanted to follow the cattle drive to Kansas where he met my great grandmother, Elizabeth, then I can only guess it was because of the sense of adventure that any young man would feel to be off on a great journey. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

But You'll Get Diabetes...!

This is me on my first birthday...
As you can see I had more birthdays after that, and like most kids with sort of regular American childhoods I had a birthday cake each time...
7th birthday with
my stepbrother Casey

15 years and
all about band
First time I had a party
with classmates
   That all seems pretty could even call it better than average.  I mean those are really cute cakes!  But it's surprising I got cake at all...

   This is my paternal grandfather, Wendell Thomas.
Wendell was born in 1922 and grew up during the Depression.  He had some difficult health issues early in life contracting what was known as Tuberculosis of the Spine.  He had surgery in Minnesota at what is now called the Mayo Clinic, although then it was called St. Mary's Hospital.  Wendell had to wear a brace on his back for years.
The Wendell Thomas Orchestra
   He came through it ok though and grew up to have a family of his own. When he was a man he learned to play the drums and had his own jazz band that played for clubs and parties.  It was called the Wendell Thomas Orchestra.  I would sure love to find a recording from that time period.  I love big band music jazz combos; I wish I could have heard them play!

Wendell Thomas plays the drums

   When Wendell was an adult he became an insulin-dependent diabetic.  I didn't know my Grandpa Thomas very well, but his legacy was felt often through the ubiquitous admonition whenever anyone saw me eating anything sweet..."But not too much; you'll get diabetes."
   I don't know if it was a common belief everywhere or just in my family, but I was raised with the wisdom that diabetes "skipped a generation."  Thus I lived with constant reminders to not eat too much sugar, watch what I ate, and "you know you're going to have to get your sugar tested when you're older...diabetes skips a generation...and you know about your Grandpa Thomas."  It was an incontrovertible truth I was raised on.
   Once when I went to the doctor in high school I had my blood tested for something completely unrelated to blood sugar, but when they called me in to the exam room, my heart sank because I was sure they were going to tell me that was it, the end of the road, the party was over, no more Hostess Honey Buns (my favorite at that time).  Diabetes was surely here now!  Imagine my relief when they told me I did or didn't have mono or something completely unrelated!
Wendell Thomas
Thanksgiving 1979
   I recently participated in having genetic testing done through 23andme.  I was interested for genealogy purposes, but read the health findings with curiosity.  One of the most triumphant findings of the whole experience was this:  Genetically, I am at a REDUCED risk for Type I diabetes and TYPICAL risk (no more or less than the general population) for Type II diabetes.
After all those years of having that injunction hanging over my head, I can now say that genetically I have no more chance of developing diabetes than anyone else!  It's kind of nice to have someone on my side after all these years.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

John William Thomas: 1846 in Wales - 1918 in Illinois

John William Thomas
   When I arrived in Fairbury on the day of discovery, all I knew was that John W. Thomas' last known whereabouts were in 1910 at the age of 64 in Steuben, Marshall County, Illinois.  On that census he is listed as a blacksmith at the coal mine.  Since I couldn't find him anywhere else forward in time I assumed he must have died there and thought that maybe he would have been buried in that area. I went to Fairbury looking for his wife, my great great grandmother Turesa Jones Thomas, because her last known census occurred later in Livingston County, Illinois.
   When we arrived at the Dominy Public Library we looked through the local cemetery register that contained a listing of individuals interred in the Graceland Cemetery.  I started looking for Turesa's name but in addition to T.L. Thomas I couldn't believe my good luck when I found J.W. Thomas as well.  Could it be?  I began my love-hate relationship with microfilm readers and tried to see what I could discover in the town newspaper, the Fairbury Blade.  The cemetery book gave me a date so I started in on the right year for John W. Thomas barely knowing what to expect.  I couldn't believe my eyes when I scrolled to February and there he was!  J.W. Thomas!

   I was stunned;  and thrilled.  I just couldn't believe that after all the years of not knowing where the Thomases came from, I suddenly had more information than I could have guessed that I would discover.
Swansea, Wales
  My great great grandfather John *William* Thomas (William is my dad's name too!) really was from Wales after all! There were so many things here to explore--his other children, the names of the other family members at the funeral and the location of his origin in Wales.
   Where was "Swausea?"  Apparently nowhere.  But "Swansea" is definitely a known location in Wales.  After some investigation I have learned that it is a fairly common transcription error when reading handwriting to mistake a cursive "n" for a "u"; I believe this was the case in John William's obituary.
   "A man of sterling qualities" and a "peaceable citizen."  And surprisingly a Methodist; like me.  I was raised in the United Methodist Church, but all of my living paternal relatives were raised in the Catholic Church.  The patchwork of religious heritage in my family has been another welcome discovery.  With every new generation I discover that all branches of my family were a mixture of both Protestant and Catholic traditions.  I am glad they are all a part of who I am. 
   I was so satisfied to have found John William Thomas.  In a way, it felt like I had really found my family roots for the first time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Thomas Family and their Names

   Meet my great great grandmother and great great grandfather Thomas, and their children.  For years I had this photo and only my imagination to fill in the missing pieces.  The only thing I knew for sure was that the little boy standing in the back row was my great grandfather, Walter J. Thomas.
   I didn't know where they were from or what their names were or anything else about them.  We always guessed that "Thomas" was a Welsh name but we didn't really know anything certain about our heritage on the Thomas side of the family.
   I wondered about the tall young woman with the impossibly tiny waist in the back row; probably my great grandfather's sister.  What was her name?  How could she stand that corset?  When did corsets go out of fashion?  Around the 1920's. Maybe the younger sister was able to skip those altogether.  I hoped so.
   I posted this photo on various websites and looking for clues, hoping others with the last name "Thomas" might have a lead.  I posted what I thought was information about where they might have been from, but as I learned, I was wrong about that too.  For some reason the 1920 census stated that my great grandfather Walter was born in Oklahoma in 1889.  I later learned that he was not.  But this error led me on many wild goose chases.  It was the wedding license of Walter and my great grandmother Blanche that unlocked the secrets to the identities of the people in this photo.
   Tuesday's post was already devoted to the seated lady, my great great grandmother Turesa Jones Thomas.  Turesa gets the award for "most varied spelling of any ancestor."  I have seen her name spelled on various documents: Teresa, Theresa, Turessa, Thrasa, Treasy, and her middle name Lucinda.  I'm opting to go with the one that is "set in stone" on her gravestone, "Turesa."  Surely that is the spelling that she preferred since that is the one that presumably her daughters chose when they ordered the stone.
   The daughter with the tiny waist is Verna; she married Bert Cottrell and lived Peoria.  She was only 53 when she died. I would like to find out more about why she died because it seems so unusual that she died at such a young age.
   The younger sister is Veda.  She married Otto Woodruff and was listed as the next of kin in the cemetery book at the Fairbury library for some of the older relatives' graves. She was also the sister that my great grandfather Walter turned to during the Depression when he was out of work and needed a place to stay.  She had three children and lived in Chillicothe, Illinois.  Maybe her children know more about the remainder of her brother's life.  I would like to connect with them if possible.
   The stately looking gentleman who is the father of this family is my great great grandfather, John William Thomas.  I really thought I would find, at best, information about his wife on that first outing to Fairbury, Illinois.  I couldn't believe my luck when I looked in the cemetery register and found a listing with his name on it too!  His last residence was not in Fairbury according to the census records, but Fairbury was his wife's home town.  So when he died, it was his final resting place.  I learned more than I ever thought possible when I discovered that his obituary was resting safely in the town's newspaper archive...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday: Notes

Genealogy in Progress and To Do For this week...

1. Sent records request form to Buckner Orphan's Home in Dallas, TX. inquiring whether my great grandfather William Goff and siblings were residents there and if they have employment records for my great great grandfather Thomas Goff. 

2. Sent email to the Cathedral in Dallas inquiring about records concerning great great grandmother Annie Goff's grave location.

3. Checked Illinois Regional Archives Database website link to confirm the death date of great great great grandfather Theodore B. Jones in Fairbury, Illinois and doubled checked the turnaround time customary for requesting death certificates from the Illinois Department of Public Health.  Was going to call to ask if there was a problem with this form submission but see that it says to allow 8-10 weeks processing time.  I submitted the form right before Christmas so this is still within that timeframe. Very curious to know more about Theodore and how he died. Maybe a clue as to why no gravestone or obituary?

4. Sent an email to the Wayne County Ohio Public Library requesting a search for an obituary for great grandfather Walter Thomas. I wonder if his obituary would have been listed there as well as in Kissimmee since it was his last permanent residence before retiring to Florida and the home of his son and grandchildren? Florida obituary states interment would be at a later date, but death certificate says that Walter's remains were cremated. Does Walter have a grave??? If so is it in Wooster? Would there be information about this in a Wooster area obituary? 

5. Awaiting copy of vintage photo including cousin Crystal with her mother Linda. Will send to publisher of author Linda Capus Riley and ask to forward.  Will ask if she is the woman in the photo and if so then tell her I am her daughter's cousin and send my contact info.

6. Received electronic copy of great grandmother Elizabeth Osborne and William Goff's marriage certificate from cousin Douglas Ferguson.  Marriage date is October 6,( just like grandma and grandpa and Mom & Bob!)  year is 1900.  Need to determine how to get copy of original from Jasper County, MO. 

7. See what other sources are on the Missouri gen web site.

8. Visit Local FHL

9. Goal: See if I can contact any of Verna or Veda Thomas' living descendants.  Ask Sue Ann if she has made any progress with this.

10. Write letter to cousin JoAnn Rebuck re: great grandfather Albert Milton McElfresh and her connection to the McElfresh family.  Who was Albert's brother and where did they come from? Why did they move to Anderson? Did A.M. come alone or with his brother. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: Turesa Lucinda Jones Thomas (1857-1923)

My great grandmother Blanche
with her mother-in-law
Turesa Jones Thomas
   When I started trying to find out more about my father's grandfather, one of the things that my family gave me was a photo of my great grandfather's mother.  On the back it is marked "Blanche & Walter Thomas' mother."  No one was left in our branch of the family who could remember the name of my great grandfather's mother.  But nevertheless here was a picture of her with her daughter-in-law, my great grandmother. It wasn't much to go on, but it was all I had when I started looking.
   I wondered many things about my un-named great great grandmother in this photo.  How was it that our family lost touch with her entirely when my great grandparents divorced? Even if her son and his wife went their separate ways, wouldn't a grandmother want to know her grandson, my grandfather Wendell? I couldn't figure out why we didn't know more about her.
  Eventually I found the key to my unknown great great grandmother's identity on the marriage license of my great grandparents.  Not only did I learn her name, but I learned that she was from Illinois.  It wasn't too hard then to find her in the census record after that; poor name transcriptions notwithstanding.  The last census record in which I could find her was 1920, living with HER mother (star of the previous two days' posts).  I couldn't believe my luck that their town of Fairbury, Illinois, was only about two hours away from my home.
  With some excitement and no idea what I would find, we set out on our first real genealogy expedition.  Maybe it was just beginner's luck, or maybe my ancestors wanted to be known.  But I was able to find both the obituary and the grave site of my great great grandparents that day. 
  The smiling lady in the photo with my great grandmother Blanche was Turesa Thomas. And undoubtedly she would have been delighted to know her grandson Wendell.  But after seeing her gravestone and reading her obituary I learned that she died after February 17, 1923, only seven months after her little grandson Wendell was born.  That is why we never knew her and why she never knew him.  I later sent for her death certificate and learned that she was very ill with influenza and bronchitis for two weeks before her death at age 65.  I was sad for her early loss and sorry she never knew my grandfather, but glad to know that there was a good reason that our part of the family didn't know her better.
   I still didn't know what had become of her son Walter but made a promise to myself there at her grave that I would find out.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Keeping Up with the Joneses

   I had discovered that my father's grandfather's grandmother was Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy Jones; but the more I tried to learn about her the more enigmatic she became.  Let's look at what I knew...

I had her obituary from yesterday's post, which stated very clearly that she had married a man named Theodore B. Jones.  Yet when looking on the internet and on other people's trees on I kept encountering listings for Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy married to "Henry Jones" or sometimes they said Theodore with (Henry) in parenthesis as if they weren't sure of his name.  Well I had her obituary so I was sure she married Theodore not Henry...or so I thought.  That was until I sent to Livingston County, Illinois for her marriage license.  I got a very thoughtful handwritten note from someone at the clerk's office saying that the only marriage license they found for Elizabeth R. Popejoy was to Henry Jones. What?  The plot thickens.

Now I was really perplexed. (And on top of everything else the county clerk at that time was an S. Ladd which is an intriguing link to my husband's family.) But I had also sent for Elizabeth Rachel's death certificate.  It only said "widowed" but not the name of her husband.  I looked to the records of her children for more information.  I had already researched her daughter Turesa Jones Thomas, so I returned to her death certificate just to be sure, "Name of Father: Theodore Jones."  So who was Henry?  Was Theodore's middle name Henry? Did he go by another name earlier in life?  I was puzzled.

To make matters more confusing the only time I could find Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy as a child, she appears on the 1850 census listed with several other Popejoy children but living with a head of household, presumably a step-father who is also --you guessed it -- a Jones!

It became a joke in our house; every time I saw "Jones" on anything I just laughed and shook my head, oh no another one!

I finally looked carefully once more at the language in Elizabeth Rachel's obituary and noticed what I had failed to recognize before--the date of her marriage to Theodore: September 12, 1856.  But the date on the marriage certificate to *Henry* Jones was August 8, 1852, a whole four years earlier!  Why hadn't I noticed that before?!  Apparently Elizabeth Rachel had married TWO men named "Jones."

Armed with this new insight I discovered that I could search the Illinois Statewide Marriage Index, 1763-1900, on the Illinois State Archives Website.  So I searched for the Groom's name:
"Jones, Theodore" in Livingston County and what do you suppose I found...

JONES, THEODORE     JONES, ELIZABETH R (MRS)    1856-09-12 C  /24   47  LIVINGSTON   

No wonder they hadn't found a record for Elizabeth Rachel "Popejoy" marrying Theodore Jones at the county clerk's office; by the time she married Theodore, she was already a Jones! 

What a fascinating turn of events.  Elizabeth Rachel had been raised by a step-father named Charles Jones, she married a Henry Jones, then four years later she married my great great great grandfather Theodore B. Jones.

What's more, I discovered that her sister Susan Popejoy married the Joseph Jones that you see listed on the 1850 Census above.  I've yet to untangle the mystery of all these Joneses. It's clear that while I may not understand them all, my great great great grandmother Elizabeth Rachel had no trouble at all keeping up with the Joneses!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday's Obituary: Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy Jones

   When I started looking up information about my genealogy I thought I might be able to learn more about the relatives who were just names on a page.  Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy is an ancestor that until last Summer, I never knew even existed.  I was able to "discover" this great great great grandmother through the extremely satisfying process of good old fashioned on the ground sleuthing.  In a word; it was just fun.

   In what began as a quest to discover more about my paternal great grandfather, whose roots were unknown to our family, my husband and I ended up taking a lovely day trip to the quiet farming town of Fairbury, Illinois.  Patience and the microfilm machine unlocked many secrets that day.  When there was less than a half an hour left before closing time I decided to keep trolling through just a little bit more microfilm, hoping I could find my great great grandmother's mother listed in the newspaper. I had very nearly missed it due to terrible transcription of names, but the 1920 census showed that my great great grandmother had moved back home to live with her mother after the death of my great great grandfather. That alone was an amazing discovery!  I was so surprised to find that her mother could still be alive.  Sitting at the microfilm machine, I thought I would just look a little longer and give myself just enough time to reel in the microfilm before the library closed; I just knew that somewhere on those rolls was the information that I wanted to find.  But where?  When I had just about given up; there was her name!  Mrs. Theodore B. Jones!  Suddenly she came to life before my eyes and I knew her name.  My 3rd great grandmother was Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy Jones! 

I frantically made a copy of her obituary and reeled in the microfilm as quickly as I could, replaced the cover and paid my quarters to the very kind librarians.  The copy I made that day would not scan well, as microfilm copies never seem to be very readable even in person.  Here is a transcription of Elizabeth Rachel's obituary, appearing July 9, 1920.

Mrs. Theodore B. Jones
Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy was born at Avoca March 4, 1838, and passed away Wednesday, July 7, at the age of 82 years, 4 months and 3 days.
She grew to young womanhood in Avoca township, and on September 12, 1856, was united in marriage to Theodore B. Jones. To this union five children were born, two of whom died in infancy. One son, Edwin T. Jones died in 1906. The surviving children are H.T. Jones of Peoria, and Mrs. J.W. Thomas, of this city, who mourn the loss of a kind and loving mother. Four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren also survive.
The funeral services were held at the late home Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 o'clock, Rev. C.S. Davies officiating. Interment was in Graceland cemetery.
Those attending from out of town were Mr. And Mrs. Walter J. Thomas, of Anderson, Ind.; Mr. and Mrs. Bert L. Cottrell and Mrs. O.D. Woodruff, of Peoria; also other relatives from the vicinity of Cropsey.
(Reading this obituary also told me that my own great grandmother that I did know very well, attended this funeral with her husband Walter Thomas, about whom we knew very little at that point, so it was another clue.)

At the unmarked grave of
Elizabeth Rachel Popejoy Jones
We looked in vain for a grave for Elizabeth Rachel and her husband Theodore and left feeling that we just hadn't looked closely enough, it being a hot afternoon. I was determined to return to find them.  We returned to Fairbury in December on a conversely cold day, but this time with information from the cemetery sexton.  For some reason that I have yet to understand, Elizabeth Rachel and Theodore B. Jones don't have a marker at their grave site. The cemetery sexton was able to give me verbal directions to their grave though and we visited and paid our respects, wondering if the family intended to mark the grave but wasn't able to, or if the grave stone has simply not withstood the test of time for some reason? I hope I can unravel this mystery at some point.  But for this day I was glad to discover their final resting place.  I have yet to find an obituary for Theodore either so there is much more to learn about the Jones family of Fairbury, Illinois. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday's Treasure Every Day

Today was the culmination of 10 days of tending the Amish Friendship Bread starter given to me by one of my knitting friends. My 18 year old son was sure we were all going to die of food poisoning from breaking all food safety rules. But when the cinnamon-y smell was wafting through the house, I thought we were probably on to a good thing. While I was mixing up the batter and setting aside more starter for other friends I was wondering what I might have to blog about today. When I took my bread out of the oven I realized the answer was right in front of my eyes!

My "Thursday Treasures" are two things I use almost every day.  The wooden cooling rack made by my Grandpa Charles Blevins,
which you can see is used well and often.  My grandpa was a USDA meat inspector at Emge Packing Co. In Anderson, Indiana.  Sometime around his retirement from meat inspecting Grandpa was able to enjoy more time with his hobby of woodworking.  One of the items he made at that time was this cooling rack that I use in my kitchen every week.

   A larger project was one that my grandma always wanted.  Grandma always wanted a trestle table.  Eventually Grandpa made her one.  Cleverly he made the table top out of a door so that it would be all one solid piece.  We had many family dinners at Grandma's table over the years. It is long enough that you can put six along each side if you really need to, and it doesn't seem too crowded.  I am pleased to enjoy using it now in my own home with the five of us each day, whether we are eating dinner, doing homework, playing Bananagrams, or having back to back dueling laptops, it is a central place in our household where we often gather. 
Grandpa Charles Blevins
with 4 generations on Christmas Day

Some treasures are ones that we have to go on journeys to find, but some are with us all along.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A response from Buckner International!

A little over a week ago I sent an email to the offices of Buckner International when I discovered that they are the modern day organization that grew out of the orphanage that played some role in the life of my great grandfather William Goff. Today I got an email from them with their official "records request form" attached! I sent it off very promptly. I hope to know something official soon about whether they have any records of my great grandfather ever being a resident there or not. The email was very nice and helpful. I am expectantly hopeful and very excited that there are people from the organization still maintaining these records.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


William Goff with wife Elizabeth
on their 50th Wedding Anniversary
   Remember the game of "telephone" that you used to play when you were young?  You would sit in a circle and someone would whisper a word from the first person to the next.  The secret word would be passed around the circle in a whisper until it got back to the beginning.  The last person would announce what word had been whispered into her ear.  Then the first person would tell everyone what word he had whispered in the beginning.  The words were almost never the same and sometimes the changes that had been produced in the telling from one person to the next created great laughter!
   I am beginning to think that family stories might be a little like the game of "telephone."  The stories are told from one person, or one generation, to the next; sometimes even with a whisper; and by the time a few years have gone by the story has changed so much that sometimes we don't even remember what the original tale was like.  Could this be what happened with the story of my great grandfather Goff and his father?
   Every time I saw a "shaking leaf" on connected with William Goff or his father Thomas Goff I sent a message to the owners of the tree and asked them if they knew what happened to the siblings of William Goff after their mother died and they were put in the orphanage; no one ever responded...until I looked in my ancestry message box last week. The reply that I found was stunning...
My Thomas was a carpenter at Buckner's Orphanage. While working there his first wife, Annie (last name unknown to our family), died from complications due to childbirth with son John, Thomas was left with 8 children so he hired Annie Laurie Elam, a resident at Buckner's, to babysit and tend his children, Annie Laurie loved baby John so she and Thomas married. Annie Laurie proceeded to have a large family of her own, the oldest James being my husband's line. Annie Laurie's orphanage papers came from Buckner's files. Annie Laurie often spoke about being at Buckner's and telling this info to her children. If your William is of this family he was not an orphanage resident except that his father worked there.
I kept wondering how my family could have told this story so differently...but I liked this version so much better!  Then I got an email from the Goff family member...

I am excited to make contact with Thomas's first family. My grandfather James was from Thomas's second family. He and my grandmother talked about Willie as an older brother. I can promise you that they all lived around each other and were not placed in an orphanage except for Thomas's work there. My great grandmother, Annie, was the baby sitter for the first family and would have had no reason to do that if they were confined to an orphanage. My grandparents always talked about the first family as brothers and sisters.
I emailed a family member who is also interested in genealogy and she called these kind long lost family members and they talked for an hour!  Meanwhile I felt such lightening of joy for my great grandfather; yes, he still lost his mother at an early age, but maybe his father didn't abandon him and his siblings as I had believed.  I felt so relieved to know this.

I wondered how my branch of the family could have such a different version of the story.  I still don't know the answer to that question.  I started by searching for information on Buckner's Orphanage in Dallas and expected to find an old historical reference.  What I found instead was a link to a huge international organization that still exists.  Not only is it still in Dallas but it has missions around the globe.  In reading about the founding of the original orphanage it appears that the original Mr. Buckner was quite progressive for his time, seeing a need to meet the needs of orphans, African Americans, the elderly and women.  Not only that but he gained support of multiple denominations and religions.  Whether my great great grandfather was merely employed there or whether this organization helped my great grandfather when his mother died, I'm glad that these type of people were there to help in their time of need.  It appears that they were very ahead of their time in thoughts and actions.

Later that week I got another email from my distant cousin telling me about some old letters from Goff cousins in Ireland.  I started reading them, just out of curiosity. 

   While blithely reading along the middle page of the normal news that relatives might send I was stopped in my tracks with complete surprise as I read the sentence saying, "We used to hear from Hazel... from Nevada & Virginia Gough from Joplin but we never hear from any of them now. Hazel has married since & perhaps Virginia too." Yes, Virginia had indeed married, and in 1948 when this letter was dated she had just given birth to my mother, so she was probably pretty busy! VIRGINIA 'GOUGH' (or Goff) from Joplin was my Grandma!  I could not believe that I had just discovered my very own Grandma in the writings of some distant cousins from Ireland on someone else's family tree!  

Virginia Goff, my grandmother

Kate Whelan and Alice Goff
Cousins in Ireland

Not only was that delightful to discover my grandmother in an unsuspected place, but knowing that these distant cousins in Ireland were writing to the sons of my great great grandfather Thomas's 2nd wife and talking about my grandma who was the daughter of a son of the first wife, lends credibility to the idea that the whole family knew each other and was in contact with each other.  I think that means that my newly found cousins on ancestry are probably right about my great grandfather and his siblings not being abandoned by their father.  This has been a week of very promising discovery!

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Empty Box

Files for each of my family branches
...or nearly empty. 

   When I started researching my family history I read that it was a good idea to start a file or box for each major family branch.  I didn't have any boxes, so grabbed the first thing I could find; some old magazine storage boxes and decided they would do until I could get something better. (The something better is starting from the bottom up --acid-free boxes sold with scrap-bookers in mind.  I got the first one as a Christmas present and will be getting three more in different colors soon!)
   The thing that is the most ironic is that the box on the left is my paternal grandfather's box.  I thought we would have nothing in that box since we didn't know a thing about my dad's grandfather.  The quest to know more about him filled the Thomas box so much that I don't think I could put one more document in that box if I tried.  I hope my new lovely storage boxes come soon!
Me & Grandma
Mom's College Graduation
   The box on the far right is for my maternal grandmother's line.  Even though I have probably spent the most time in my life with my maternal grandma, her box is the one that has remained the emptiest!  Every time I have logged on to and thought "I will look up more about the Goffs" either I couldn't find more than I already knew, or I was disheartened and just didn't feel motivated to look further. 
   My grandmother, born Virginia Goff, was the sweetest grandma anyone could ever want.  She thought of others first and I always knew I was unconditionally loved by her just because.  At her funeral a lady from her church told a story about an outing on which they were going the wrong direction.  Apparently Grandma knew they were going the wrong way.  Later she told one of the other ladies, "Yes, I knew we were going the wrong way."  When asked why she didn't say something Grandma said, "I didn't want to hurt her feelings."  She was just like that!  
Virginia & brother
being very bad
   When beginning my current family research my jumping off point has always been the family tree I started in grade school.  At that time I asked the oldest family members available and wrote down what they told me.  The farthest back my grandma could tell me about on her paternal side was only as far back as her father.  She told me she never knew his parents; they had both died.  As a child I had visions of a baby in a basket on a doorstep.  When I contacted the other genealogy buff of the family she also said that my grandmother's father, William Goff,  and all his siblings were put in an orphanage when their mother died. I also discovered that my great grandfather's father, Thomas Goff, married again and had many more children.  To tell you the truth, my heart just wasn't in looking up more information about a guy who could put his 6 kids in an orphanage then start a new family.   I couldn't reconcile how my sweet grandma and her fun loving sister could have come from such a background.  It didn't make sense to me. 

   That was before I got a reply from another member with Thomas Goff in her tree.   Now I think my Goff box won't be empty much longer.



Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pulled Through the Knothole of Time

Bill Thomas, John Blevins, Linda, Marsha, Babies Crystal & Me

   I like to get out old picture albums that remind me where I've been.  Sometimes I like to show my teenagers that we actually tucked our shirts in when I was in high school in the 1980's! But sometimes I like to get out the older photos that go back to the very beginning when I was small.  It's starting to be shocking how old they look.  I have an album of photos from my baby and toddler years full of my earliest memories.
  This picture is a snapshot of time gone by in so many ways.  My dad and mother are on either end of the couch; they divorced when I was little.  I am in my aunt Linda's lap.  She and my Uncle John also divorced and she moved away with my cousin Crystal and I never knew my cousin. I wish I could find her some day.  But maybe this photo is an example of the life of families; always changing with the the years.  The photographs capture stationary moments but as we live our lives so many things flow and change, while others, remain steadfastly the same. 
   I think that is what has captured my interest in genealogy.  What is in in families that comes down to us through the ages and remains unchanged?  What is passed on from those people that we've never met but comes to us anyway?  Is it in our genes?  Do they pass it to us by example?   When it comes down to it, it's fairly miraculous that any of us has made it through the incalculable odds of time, place and biology to be here at all.  Yet here we are. That is a fact worth celebrating; and one that fascinates me enough to want to learn more about how my own family managed to be pulled through the knothole of time.