My love for genealogy was born in an old family cemetery so it seems only fitting that many of my blogs are about old cemeteries. Cemeteries are the one public place where I skip around like a kid in a candy store excited to see what is around the next bend. Even as a young kid, I was always quick to tag along while someone went to visit a loved one’s grave. I have climbed mountains, crossed the country, and trudged through snake-filled pastures to visit certain cemeteries. To me cemeteries are like a giant open-air genealogical archive.
During a trip to Michigan a couple years ago, I decided to visit the cemetery where my maternal Grandmother’s relatives are laid to rest. She grew up in a small village called Lake and she wanted to see the headstone of a brother that had died in recent years since she lost her mobility. I took my camera and headed off to get the next best thing to a visit…a photo of Uncle Russ’s headstone.
I had never been to the North Brinton Cemetery in Coldwater Township of Isabella County, Michigan. Aside from a couple of my Grandmother’s brothers most of the relatives in the cemetery were either distant or passed away before I was born. Truth be told, until just a few years ago I had not spent much time researching her line and as I wandered stone to stone most of the names were unfamiliar. When she explained it was a family cemetery I assumed more in the aspect of it is where family was buried not that it was a literal family cemetery.
Fast forward a couple years. I have dedicated more time to researching the ancestors of my maternal Grandmother and some of the many collateral lines through the generations. I have a much better picture of how all those many surnames are all connected in one way or another and while the name is not “Spence Cemetery” it has at times been called that through the years in various obituaries published through the area. The actual history of the land and cemetery itself has kept popping up in my research so I decided it was time to give the history of the North Briton Cemetery a blog post of its own.
Brinton is the name of an unincorporated community in Coldwater Township of Isabella County, Michigan. The community was founded in 1862. Originally, it was known as Letson for a local storekeeper who was the first postmaster for the community. In 1886, the town was renamed for Oscar T. Brinton. Records show that James Spence arrived in Coldwater Township after 1890. A land transfer published in the 1893 Isabella County Enterprise show purchases for two sections of land. One of the plots of land James Spence purchased was from Oscar T. Brinton.
Further research shows that James Spence later donated the five acres on which the North Brinton Cemetery sits in 1905. The earliest dated grave in the cemetery is from 1905.
Today the cemetery is still in use. James Spence was buried in the cemetery on the land he donated in 1940. There are several generations of Spence descendants in the cemetery. There are over 800 graves with countless stones dating over a century in age.
This was my Great Grandmother’s recipe box. I’ve had it since she died in 1999 and for the last several years it has sat forgotten in the cupboard above my refrigerator gathering dust.
I don’t recall ever using any of the recipes to cook with either growing up or over the two decades I have had it in my possession. By the time I started making lifelong memories with my Grandma she was already getting up there in years, a widow living alone, and many of her meals were from meals on wheels. The one thing we always made together…each and every time I stayed at her house…was canned biscuits and sausage gravy and that didn’t require a recipe.
I can’t help but find myself drawn to that old recipe box. Many of the yellowed slips of paper are scrawled in her shaky handwriting instantly recognizable even after so many years with her gone. Many of them are stained with decades old food stains.
Later in the same day while searching through a list of blog prompts I see listed a suggestion for Family Recipe Friday and it was too much coincidence for me to ignore. An idea was born.
For the next several weeks, I will be featuring a family recipe in my Family Recipe Friday series. Stay tuned.
Genealogical research is a fun adventure. Decades into the hobby, I still frequently find myself discovering new terms and learning new things. Gretna Green is the term I learned recently.
Gretna Green is a town in Scotland that was famous for being a runaway wedding destination. The town gained its reputation when English marriage laws prohibited marriage under the age of 21. Younger English couples crossed the Scottish border and the first town they arrived at was Gretna Green, Scotland.
The term Gretna Green came to be associated with any locale that drew residents from nearby areas to skirt more restrictive marriage laws where the couple lived. Las Vegas, Nevada is a modern day Gretna Green. Various places served as Gretna Green locations at different periods. Angola, Indiana was a popular Gretna Green destination for residents of Michigan.
The first time I encountered a Gretna Green marriage was when I located the marriage license of my Great Grandmother and her second husband. I searched for that record for years before I finally discovered it. When I looked at the information provided it was no shock I had such trouble. My Great Grandmother provided details that were less than honest and they married far from the city they lived their lives together in. Overall, I found it rather easily considering the details she provided.
Lillie Mae Weatherspoon and Moman Harold Fulkerson wedding photo
Marriage License from Angola Indiana
Normally I would discard the incorrect facts as a case of poor record keeping. In this instance, I am certain the details recorded were as my Great Grandmother provided them. The details she provided, and the reality of the situation as ferreted out by actual supporting documents and records, tell the rest of the story. I have little doubt my Great Grandparents married in Angola, Indiana to avoid too many unwanted questions about their…primarily her…past. Indiana law required them to both be over the age of 18 and unmarried. No documentation was required to prove the facts as presented were accurate. Good thing, she could not have provided documents to prove the facts she provides unless she made them!
Couples had various reasons for Gretna Green weddings. Some like my Great Grandmother had a history that she was trying to escape. Others may have been just looking for the excitement of eloping, or just avoiding family involvement in the ceremony. Whatever their reason Gretna Green weddings have been a genealogy roadblock challenge to overcome since the dawn of time.
A name is the first thing in life most of us receive that stays with us forever. Often times it has been a carefully selected after hours of deliberation by at least one parent and sometimes even larger groups of relatives. Siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents all have suggestions when a new baby is born.
Genealogists get the rare opportunity to see how deep some names go in our families by looking at the broader family landscape. For instance, I have a cousin that is my Grandmother’s namesake. In the bigger picture, however her name is a much older family name. My Grandmother is her own Grandmother’s namesake. The earliest Sarah in that naming streak was born in 1861 and the latest in 1997, 136 years apart.
I am a namesake for my mother’s paternal aunt, Carrie Jamison. She was the wife of my Grandfather’s half-brother. She lived in West Virginia where my Grandfather’s family lived in a rural mountain community and I only had a few opportunities to meet her as a young child. She passed away at the age of 76. I was 9 years old at the time. Despite the fact that Aunt Carrie and I shared no actual genetic material the fact that she gave me her name has made her a topic of research interest for me.
Carrie was an interesting research project before I even looked for a single record. The few stories told about her typically present more questions than answers. Her early history seemed shrouded in mystery and shadowed heavily by whispered “scandal” even while I was a child. All these years later, she still presents many unanswered questions.
Carrie was born to Lula Lawson on 7 February 1912. Lula was a nineteen-year-old woman, recently divorced, living in Prince, Fayette County, West Virginia at the time of Carrie’s birth. Carrie was Lula’s first and only known child. The birth was more than a year after Lula’s separation from her previous spouse, David Brantley, and prior to her marriage to her second husband, Burk Adkins, by more than two years. Carrie’s biological father is currently unknown.
Census records show Carrie, using the last name of Adkins, living with her mother and stepfather in 1920. She was living in Fayette County, West Virginia. Her stepfather worked on the railroad.
The census record for 1930 still eludes me but by 1940, she was again in the household of her mother and stepfather in Fayette County, West Virginia and she is claiming a marital status of divorced. A marriage license registered in Raleigh County, West Virginia in 1935 records her marriage to a cousin on her mother’s side, Fred Lawson.
Myth Meets Research
The 1940 census entry seems like a good time to broach the topic of whispered scandal. When I was growing up it was common knowledge that Aunt Carrie had been married before our Uncle and that she had children. According to family stories, Aunt Carrie’s own mother had assisted in her losing custody of her children. The details of the situation so long ago are murky.
The 1940 census shows Carrie living with Burk and Lula, a divorced woman at the time. She shows no children living in the household. I located a death record for a Vern L Lawson, son of Fred Lawson and Carrie Atkins, who was born 2 February 1934 in Fayette County, West Virginia. Vern died in Los Angeles, California on 29 April 1993. I am still seeking Vern’s location on the 1940 census. I hope to learn what family raised him and to identify the names of more of Carrie’s children if they are in the home with their brother. I believe she had at least one daughter and two sons.
Rumor has it she managed to reunite with at least one of her children but I am unsure who the child was and when in life they reconnected. By all accounts, the loss of her children was something that caused her heartache until her death and she collected dolls to help fill the void.
Carrie and Steward
I do not know at what age Carrie met my Grandfather’s half-brother, James Steward Jamison. I can only wonder if the fact that both of them grew up raised by a stepfather was one thing that drew them together. Whatever the case may be they were together as early as the late 1940’s and in 1973 they officially married in Alleghany, Virginia. The two never had children together. They are buried side by side in the P.A. Shuck Cemetery in Fayette County, West Virginia.
I have been sharing military related history about my Grandfather, a Korean War veteran, in the lead up to Veteran’s Day. In his collection of photographs and documents, he had several certificates that dated to his time in the service.
The Domain of the Golden Dragon is an unofficial Navy award. It is awarded when the receiver crosses the International Date Line. During the Korean War, the troops were transported by ship to the distant battlefield. One of the few stories he mentioned during our rare discussions of his time in the service was watching a volcano erupt as they went by on the ship.
My Grandfather completed his Army training at Fort Meade, Maryland. He was a member of the Quartermaster Corps and served as a cook. As a child, I loved when Grandpa would invade Grandma’s kitchen and make his “S.O.S” recipe from his time in the service.
While the brothers were all serving in Korea they had the opportunity to all get together while in the combat zone. This article announcing the event made the local paper in Fayette County, West Virginia in October 1953.
My Grandfather always had an interesting sense of humor. This “memo” he wrote regarding employees who refused to fall over after they were dead.
I wish I had taken more opportunity to ask him so many questions now that he has been gone for several years. If you have aging veterans in your life consider taking a moment to see if they are willing to discuss their time in service.
Growing up my Grandfather was one of the influential people in my life. I knew he had been in the Army but he never cared much to discuss his time served during the Korean War.
He always told us he was “just a cook” and played off the fact that he enlisted to calm his fretting Mother after his brother decided to join. In all 3 Shuck brothers would serve at the same time in the Korean War.
November is one of the all-star months when it comes to opportunities to preserve and share family history. Veteran’s Day gets everyone thinking about service members and the conflicts they may have served in while protecting our nation. As Veteran’s Day passes, we transition into Thanksgiving preparations and family gatherings where we try to remember to be thankful. On the heels of Family History Month in October, now is a great time to work on preserving family history for the next generations.
Veteran’s Day is Saturday November 11, 2017. The holiday will be rife with opportunities to research military records at discounted rates. Ancestry, Find My Past, Fold3 and countless other sites will likely have specials this weekend.
More than an opportunity to get free access to some records, Veteran’s day is a great chance to focus on preserving our veteran’s history for future generations.
Did you know?
On 12 July 1973, a fire ravaged the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St Louis, Missouri. The fire destroyed 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF). An estimated 80% of Army records for personnel discharged between 1912 and 1960 are gone. The Air Force lost records for 75% of personnel discharged between 1947 and 1964. The loss was catastrophic; most of the records lost had no duplicates.
As time passes, we lose more and more of our Veterans who served in early wars. At this point every WWI veteran known to be living in the world has officially died, the last one on 4 Feb 2012 at age 110. Of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, only approximately 550,000 are still living today. As seniors in their 80’s and 90’s these great veterans are dying at a rate of 362 every day. Coming fast behind the decline of the WWII veteran’s are the 5.7 million American Korean War vets of which 2.25 million are still living. With each passing day, we lose more and more of these generations.
Do You Know a WWII Veteran?
Each of us can play a part in preserving the heritage and history of these earlier generations. Ancestry.com has announced that they are working to capture the stories of as many of the last living half a million WWII service members as possible. Ancestry is inviting everyone to interview any WWII veterans willing to tell their story, record the interview, and upload it to the free searchable database they are creating. If you know a WWII veteran consider checking out the new project and adding their story to the database.
Genealogy for me is more than just hunting up vital records and putting together a list of names and dates to show the passing generations of a family. It is something spiritual, a labor of love, often for people who came and went long before I existed. Eternal life to me is defined by how the world remembers you long after you are gone. That is our legacy.
Not everyone leaves a good legacy but we all leave a legacy. It is not dictated by wealth or power, both the poor and the emperors of the world leave a legacy. Genealogy is about discovering the forgotten legacy of people who can no longer tell their own story.
I am the storyteller. I breathe life back into names that exist only on records and cold stones in cemeteries. I give them eternal life by preserving those legacies no matter how simple. Sometimes it is a struggle to reconcile personal feelings with the obligation to tell the story of our ancestors as it is told by historic proof. That relative you liked as a child may later be revealed to be a convicted criminal in earlier life. The drunk uncle you disliked as a child may have once saved kids from a burning building when he was younger. As a genealogist, I feel it is my obligation to tell the story as the records tell it to me and when information conflicts with what I want to think of that person, I force myself to face that bias head on.
I write often about my Great Grandmother Lillie Mae Weatherspoon. She was probably my favorite female elder growing up and my house contains several items that she owned or made during her long lifetime. For me she was that rock. The person that I always felt I could run to for a safe place.
I was aware that not everyone thoughts she was as great as I did. She would often refuse to tell me too much about her early life with statements that “if anyone knew all the things she had done no one would like her.” We never had large family functions on my paternal side of the family and it was the world’s worst kept secret that my grandmother and my great grandmother did not like each other
In all my childhood years, I am not aware of one memory of both my grandmother and her mother in law in the same place at the same time. They both spent a lot of time with me growing up. Neither ever talked bad about the other in my presence. I was always aware of that quiet dislike between them lurking beneath the surface of my life. None of that mattered to me. I cannot fathom anything that would change the way I fell about the part she played in my life. The person she was to me as a child vanquished any skeletons that danced in her closet.
She has been gone a long time. I still miss her often and when I miss her, I delve into a world of records and work on preserving the legacy she left behind even the ugly parts. I started out with more missing links than I did concrete facts because of her hesitation to share information.
Grandma’s Skeleton in the Bottom of a Jewelry Box
Often the documents I do find confirm the scant facts she shared while expanding on a complicated life she tried to leave behind. Last year I discussed some of her early family life in my blog about the strange tale in Ripley County. Since that blog I have also managed to discover that when she married her second husband she used and alias…no doubt to hide the fact that she had failed to secure a divorce from her first husband. In her defense, her first husband was abusive and she did eventually get divorced. The details of her early life slowly reveal themselves over time and research and not one single thing has altered my perception of her legacy. However, she has presented me with my first heirloom conundrum.
When she died, she left her estate to the church and the church allowed family members to go through the house to collect sentimental items. I collected many items from her house that day. Plants, nick-knacks, old glassware, handmade afghans, and one old wooden jewelry box full of costume jewelry that looked like a pirate’s chest were all carefully selected not for monetary value but because they reminded me of her.
After the rawness of her loss passed, I finally went through some of those items in that old jewelry box. Buried under piles of beaded necklaces and clip-on earrings was an odd tarnished coin type medallion I had never seen before. The language was not in English but it was not hard to recognize the names on the medallion. Of all the things I have discovered in my research, of all the things I have learned about the history she wanted to forget that medallion has caused me the most distress.
I have no clue how my great grandmother came to be in possession of a piece of early Hitler memorabilia. Her husband at the time did not serve in WW2; he worked in the automobile factories in Flint, Michigan during that period. Her only child, a son, was not old enough for the military when the war ended.
Germany was on the other side of the world from Michigan. What did this medallion mean? She was never overtly racist from my recollection. I never heard anyone express anti Jewish sentiments in my family. Was my beloved Grandma Hon a closet Nazi sympathizer?
She has been gone for decades. I was a new Mom when she passed; today I am a grandmother in my own right. I have moved that medallion, buried in the bottom of a jewelry box out of sight but always in the back of my mind, from house to house and state to state. It felt wrong to get rid of it and buried in that box I could at least refrain from explaining it to others.
Still it haunted me. For all her flaws she may have had, this just did not ring true to her character. I have spent countless hours of my life wondering about that medallion.
Another Page out of History
Fast forward to today. I still have that medallion buried in a jewelry box. I came across it just the other day. While the pitter-patter of my own grandchild’s feet ring though my house. His father is from a Jewish family. I do not want him to wonder the same things I had to contemplate about my own beloved grandmother. More than that, it renewed my search for how my Grandmother came into possession of that dreaded heirloom.
In a moment of what some might call strange serendipity I discovered a blog about POW camps in Michigan during WWII. Indeed, it was a “gift basket from Michigan” as the url of the blog proclaimed. I grew up in Michigan. Michigan history is a major source of pride for locals and even small town communities get in on the local historic pride with annual festivals. Yet somehow, I had no clue the state once housed thousands of German POW’s during WWII.
It seemed more plausible that my Great Grandparents may have known someone who worked at a POW camp than it did that they were closet Nazi sympathizers. I decided to dig further to see if there may have been one located near where they lived. 30 miles from their home on Niagara Street in Flint to what is the present day Owosso Speedway was Camp Owosso. Camp Owosso housed hundreds of German POW’s.
I do not have definitive proof that my Great Grandmother was not a closet Nazi Sympathizer but it seems even less likely in the face of this new evidence. The proximity of the POW camp seems too much to dismiss. She was much closer to Owosso than she was to Germany…or even knowing German to understand what the medallion was commemorating. Discovering this odd chapter of local history added a new more rational reason behind the medallion.
I still do not know the story behind this medallion. I likely never will but now I have a story to put with it about how my home state, so far removed from the battlefields of Europe, served such a major role in the war effort.
By The Numbers:
Michigan had 32 POW camps by the end of WW2
An estimated 8000 German POWs were in Michigan by the end of 1945
The last camp closed in June 1946.
The POWs filled the shortages in local workforces while American men fought overseas.
Obadiah Holmes was an early Baptist minster who was brutally flogged by the Puritan government of colonial Massachusetts for his religious beliefs. He went on to help settle Rhode Island and led the First Baptist church of Newport for 3 decades.