Family History and the Census

One of the great things I’ve been doing, particularly this week, has been working on our family history with my sisters. We discovered some anomalies in the information we have looked at.

My grandmother, Gertrude Yates, was born in 1897. Her father, Edward Yates, died in 1911. Her maternal grandfather, James Archer, died in 1912. In the 1920 Census, we discovered that Gert’s widowed grandmother, Harriet, had living with her formerly widowed daughter, Lillian, Lillian’s four children by Edward Yates, and her new husband, a gentleman named Maurice Holland. It’s this guy who caught my eye.

Now in the 1910 Census, Maurice Holland came from Texas, but in 1920 he came from Mexico, and his first name was Mauricio. This suggests but one thing: he lied in one of these Censuses, probably 1910.

Up until the last half dozen Censuses, the Census taker would record all the information, rather than having individual householders do so. Sometimes, the Census taker did it incorrectly. Listed in 1920:
Harriet Archer (head)
Maurcio Holland (son-in-law)
Lillian Holland (wife)
Gertrude Yates (daughter)
Edward Yates (son)
Earnest Yates (son)
Adina Yates (daughter)

It should have had Lillian as daughter of Harriet, and the children as grandchildren of Harriet. As is stands, it appears that Lillian was Harriet’s wife. I’m fairly sure same-sex marriage was not counted in 1920. Also Earnest should have been Ernest and Adina, Adenia.

From looking at the family Bible, it appears that my mother may have had a sibling, who died in 1929. With no date of birth given, one has to assume that the child died in infancy, maybe at birth. My mother knew nothing of this.

In the 1910 Census, my grandmother Gertrude Yates was listed as Gertrude Archie, a variation on the family surname. What was THAT all about?

Relatives I checked for the 1870 and 1880 Census had the children (Lillian and her siblings) whose births changed 10 years over the decade, as they should, but the adults, James and Harriet Archer, aging only about six years over the period.

My great-great-great-great grandmother’s name was Phylisia Wargner. Or Phyllis Waggoner. Or other variations such as Wagner. She was born on April 3, 1807 and died on July 8, 1865. She married William Edward Bell on March 2, 1832. These are the oldest ancestors I could find so far. From Census records, I can tell that Harriet was born in Virginia, and her parents were as well, but that they didn’t know where their parents were born, which suggests slave trade.

I have been watching this show called Who Do They Think They Are?, a genealogy show on NBC. They do a search for the personal histories of celebrities. So far Emmitt Smith found his slave roots; Matthew Broderick discovered ancestors who served in the Civil War at Gettysburg, dying the following year in Georgia, and as a medic in a bloody World War I battle; and co-executive producer Lisa Kudrow found the place where her grandmother died during the Holocaust, but found alive a cousin who had initially brought the news. I’m finding it interesting but irritating. There’s too much “Coming up next” before the commercials, as though it weren’t interesting enough to stick around for, and too much recapitulation after the ads, as though we all have ADHD. I’ve seen similar shows, on PBS and elsewhere, but this particular program seems to have has rekindled this search for my roots.


The 50th Anniversary Celebration

I can only blame it on the fact that I was feeling lousy – still feeling lousy, actually – that I forgot until Friday night that Friday was ten years since my parents’ 50th anniversary. It would be their last one.

My sisters and I decided to surprise them for the event. We called their church, trying to arrange for a room. There was only one problem; someone else wanted the room for the same day. This was months before the date; couldn’t the other party change the date? This is our parents’ 50TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY! Well, no, because the other party, it turned out, was our father, wanted to have a surprise gig for our mom himself. So we decided to join forces.

I came down with my wife and my parents-in-law, who had met my parents at Carol’s and my wedding only the May before, when my father did all the decorations and floral arranging. We all wanted to help, and did somewhat, but he had a vision, and it was difficult for us mortals to fulfill it in the way he had in mind. So he did most of the church hall decoration himself, with my sister Leslie’s help since she had worked with him on these types of things decades earlier. The rest of us did some of the heavy lifting. The difference between this event and the wedding ten months earlier was that my father had to rest occasionally, maybe more than occasionally.

Sunday, March 12, 2000, we all went to church, diverting our mother from the building’s assembly hall. We attended the church service, during which a peculiar thing happened: my parents were invited to renew their vows. I don’t know if my father knew about this, but my mother, my sisters and I certainly did not. I think my sisters and I gulped a bit. Would she actually say yes? My father could be…well, let’s say, five decades of marriage always has its complications. There was what seemed to be an interminable pause before she replied in the affirmative.

Afterward, we had the party. There was singing and tributes from various folks. My sisters and I had put together one of those video montages of photos that ran throughout the event.

The next day, the wife, the in-laws and I went home. Well not quite home. We left Charlotte at 6 a.m.. got to the in-laws’ house in Oneonta, NY, 715 miles away, at 9 p.m. and just crashed.

What had been a family tradition was to get a family photo every time the Greens got together if it had been a while. The last one we sat for was on their anniversary in 1995, but for some obscure reason – probably the contentiousness of that day (but that’s another story) – we didn’t in 2000. Since my father died that August 10 from prostate cancer, the lack of the family photo became one of those “coulda, shoulda” things in the family lore.


How Not To Fly

With all this recent attention to airlines and flight safety, I thought I’d share my most recent flying experience.

It was June of 2009. My sisters, my mother and I were having some only-occasionally-productive talk at my mother’s home in Charlotte, NC. My mother left for her adult day care, and my sisters and I continued on, though I was trying to end the conversation at every opportunity.

One of my sisters was driving my daughter and me to the airport. She asked me the night before when I wanted to depart for the airport. I said that I wish to leave the house by two hours before the flight leaves. That would be 9:25 a.m. for an 11:25 a.m. flight. With a 20-30 minute trip to the airport, this seemed reasonable at the time for a domestic flight.

Except the talking continued, though I was no longer initiating any of it, but rather, periodically, whirling around my arm like an NFL field official restarting the clock. Finally, at 10:10, we left.

We’ve both been to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport before a number of times, but somehow, this trip, we miss the exit. We end up four miles away and have to double back. I do not panic. I do not shout. I do, however, say, in the most rational tone I could muster “I am now officially concerned about this situation.”

She drops me off at the airport and suggests that I check my luggage in at the kiosk in front of the airport. I considered this a useful suggestion. The only trouble was that none of the kiosks were for Delta, my carrier. So that was not an option.

I go inside and go to the the first Delta counter. Unfortunately, and it was marked, though I didn’t notice in my haste, that first line was only for three cities, Minneapolis and two others. But not Albany, NY.

By then, my sister has parked the car. I am in another long line waiting to get to either a person or a check-in machine. By the time I DO get to the machine, I have no idea how to operate it. It is asking for my password. I HAVE A PASSWORD? Fortunately, some kind gentleman suggested that I ought to swipe any of my credit cards. Sure enough, that worked. Scary, but good.

Not so good was the fact that it was, by then, 11:03. As I said, our flight was at 11:25. So my daughter and I could get on the flight, our carry-on luggage could get on the flight, but our checked bag could not. Was there another flight I could take? Not that day.

What took then was probably very comical to watch. My sister and I are switching items from bag to bag in the TSA line. Books, dirty clothes and whatever else I were schlepping. I didn’t NEED my worn underwear at that moment, so that went into the suitcase staying behind, whereas some medicines, except for the liquid ones we knew wouldn’t get past the screeners, went into the carry-on. I think that any sense of possible mortification was trumped by panic and adrenaline.

At one point some TSA guy barked at me, “You’re holdin’ up the line.” I replied in kind, “No, I’m NOT.” Which I wasn’t, actually. Still, note to self: don’t yell at TSA screeners, even if they yell at you.

My daughter and I are running to our gate as they are calling our names at said gate, and we got home together in one piece. I did forget a couple things I wish I had taken, but we got them eventually, as my sister sent the suitcase to the Greyhound bus station, and I retrieved the bag when it arrived two days later.

Not recommended.
Since I’m thinking about flying, I should note that I’ve been hearing a lot about the potential change of rules, but I’m not clear exactly what I that means, even after looking at the TSA website. Of the ideas that have been floating around, I particularly hate the idea of not getting up during the last hour of the flight to go to the bathroom. Do any of these people suggesting this have a five-year-old? It doesn’t make me feel safer; nor the “nothing on the lap” rule. And I must wonder: If the government can somehow create safe air travel, will this mean that the other forms of transportation are at greater risk? I have to think so.

Maybe I should just stay home? Nah, but air travel, which I’ve long described as a flying bus – remember the old days, when flying was considered special? – can only become less comfortable. What is the tipping point at which travelers will consider increased security and restrictions to be unacceptable trade-offs? I don’t fly enough for it to be a large issue for me personally. But I must believe that frequent fliers and the airlines that serve them must be worried what this will mean to the industry’s bottom line.

The Girl in the Middle

Oh, no, remember, remember
The fifth of November.

Remember by John Lennon

I have alluded to the trip that I took with Lydia to Charlotte, NC back in June, and how peevish some things made me. The thing that made me the most angry I never wrote about, in large measure because I was SO ticked that I thought I would write some characterization of the event that was full of bile and venom.

So now I’ve counted to 100 (1000? 10,000?).

On my mother’s wall are three pictures of her three granddaughters. Although she’s by far the youngest, Lydia’s picture is in the middle. It’s a photo from a couple years ago, and I wasn’t positive that she recognized her own image. So on that Saturday afternoon, I said to Lydia, “Who’s that girl in the middle? Who’s that pretty girl in the middle?” This was a conversation I was having with my daughter, and I wasn’t even particularly aware that anyone else was around, not that it would have mattered.

OK. So on Monday morning, while we’re having a conversation ostensibly about my mother, one of my sisters says to me: “Do you know what’s bothering me? When you were talking to Lydia about the pictures.”

Though it was only two days earlier, I had no idea what she was talking about.

“You know, when you were saying that SHE was the pretty one, as though her cousins were not.”

I said, “You’re KIDDING!”

“Well, you can see how I could see how we could think that.” Now to be fair, I don’t know if the other sister was party to this.

Well, no, I don’t see how you can see that. Not if I had NEVER said anything uncomplimentary about my beautiful nieces’ looks. EVER. Not only did I find it absurd, I felt it was insulting to my integrity.

“I wasn’t even talking to you. I was talking to my DAUGHTER to see if she could RECOGNIZE herself.” My voice got louder, and probably, a bit shrill.

I was so angry that for the next several days back in Albany, anyone I talked to, whether I knew them or not, I told the story to. One was a woman from the Red Cross, who told me that the sister’s reaction was the “silliest thing” that she’s every heard. Another said it was like a game of peekaboo you’d play with a child.

And I can finally tell the story now because it no longer burns a hole in the pit of my stomach. And writing about it reduces the power it had held over me.

I have my theories about what the conversation was REALLY about, but I’ll withhold that for the foreseeable future, except to say that I’m guessing that it REALLY wasn’t about what I said at all, but rather some of her internal stuff, something I can see now but couldn’t in the moment.


The Beckster

My niece Rebecca turns 31 tomorrow. Since my sister Leslie was kind enough to share some photos of Becky’s 1st year, when they lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, NYC, NY, this seems like an appropriate time to post them here:

Leslie and Becky

Becky with her paternal grandmother, I believe

I always liked that quilt

With her Daddy Eric

The woman to the right was Leslie and Eric’s neighbor Maria

The ultimate before picture

Held by grandma

Maria (left), Becky, Maria’s mom(?)

Having babysat Becky, I can attest that she would put herself in the drawer

Mother and child

Maria, Leslie, Eric with bundle o joy

May have been 1st birthday party. My great aunt Charlotte is in the rear center; I’m at rear left.

Child with her daddy

Here’s Rebecca (third from the right) with her group Siren’s Crush. You can check out “exciting new 100% Live Video Footage” here. The band’s MySpace page is here.


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