All I Know

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Old Recipes

These were in that box. The box that sells for $1 and contains history and stories untold.

I’m a sucker for that box at an estate sale. You know the box, the one they throw all the cruft into, the stuff they don’t think will sell by itself. Every orphan item goes into the box meant for a quick sale: little ceramic shepherds, a tin of hairpins, a couple of small frames with broken glass and dented sides, a chipped mug.

The contracted auctioneers are required to sell everything, and if they think an item will slow the sale down, it goes in the box.

That’s my box. The best box is near all the kitchen stuff because it usually has all the old cookbooks and loose recipes. I mean OLD cookbooks. Early pots and pans and kitchen gadgets (electric skillets and blenders, etc.) and certain food products (I’m thinking Jell-O, Bisquick, etc.) used to provide commercially produced recipes featuring their products. Those go in the box. The torn, worn cookbooks go in the box. Sometimes there are scraps of handwritten recipes stuck in the books. Sometimes there are pages torn out of books that no longer exist.

My prize purchase from one of these sales is a very old, very worn cigar box mostly full of recipe clippings as well as a couple of handwritten ones. Carefully pinning the recipe and any artwork together with a straight pin, some long-ago homemaker treasured dreams of fancy dinner parties featuring Jellied Salmon Loaf and Orange Charlotte for dessert.

As I read through them, I try to picture the husband, home from a typical day at the office or dusty from farm work, or weary from a day of selling useless products. He greets his wife, peels off his work jacket, “washes up,” and sits down to a meal that opened with Jellied Shrimp Salad and went on to feature Stuffed Eggplant, or Beef-Hash Pudding, or Macaroni Loaf.

Some notable examples of the types of recipes I found in the box:

Hunter’s Salad: one can of peas, three tablespoons of chopped cheese, three tablespoons chopped onion, three tablespoons sweet pickles, one cup chopped nut meats. Put together with salad dressing.

Celery and Dried Beef au Crème: “Cut celery in small pieces and cook in boiling salted water until tender; add to Libby’s Dried Beef creamed. Arrange on a plate and garnish with parsley.”

Hawaiian Salad for Gala Occasions): “Never have you seen such a novel and delicious salad, so easy to prepare. Border a salad bowl with crisp lettuce leaves. Then fill the center with Libby’s luscious, sliced pineapple. Garnish with strips of Libby’s piquant pimientos and serve with light mayonnaise. Try it once and you will serve it often.”

Some of the cookbooks also include household tips, and those are just as fascinating as the old recipes. For instance, one book describes how to care for “barb wire cuts,” which are “often deep, and contain germs that will cause blood poison if not take care of promptly.” Hidden in these hints are subtle advertisements for things like Barb Wire Liniment, Kristol Salve, and F.W. McNess’ Sarsaparilla and Burdock blood purifier.

Strangely enough, all the health hints involve products supplied by F.W. McNess Co.

It becomes evident that this particular “cookbook” was a giveaway provided by the F.W. McNess, Co., maker of Sanitary Medicines. The pamphlet includes recipes from satisfied customers because “most of our customers’ eat to live’ even if they don’t ‘live to eat.’”

What fascinates me about the recipes in this book is that there are ingredients but no cooking times or temperatures, presumably because wood-fired stoves and ovens ruled the kitchens. I had to assume from these recipes that any experienced cook would know when to pull food from the stove. Based on some deeply ingrained instinct developed over the years of cooking in her overheated kitchen, she could feel temperatures and know the moment.

One word is liberally used in the clipped recipes I found in the old cigar box:  “gelatin.” I was reasonably sure these recipes came from the 1950s due to the sheer quantity of recipes containing the words gelatin or jellied or aspic.

You don’t want to know what is involved in gelatin production (or what gelatin is), but I will say this natural food product, a great source of protein, has been around for centuries. It’s not an easy product to produce. In the 1890s, a man named Charles Knox watched his wife go through the laborious process and developed an “instant” powdered version that was probably instrumental in building the popularity of jellied foods. Even today, we can still find Knox Gelatin in the supermarket.

By the 1950s, gelatin was a staple of American cuisine. Those ladies “jellied” everything from salmon to rice to fruit to carrots to eggs.

I probably won’t be using any of the recipes from the box since I’m not a fan of gelatin, but it has been fun sifting through them to judge what our ancestors were eating. It turns out we’re not so inventive as we thought with our cheeseburger pizzas and our deep-fried pickles and our baked ice cream and our chocolate-covered bacon.

Old Negatives

I found a box…well, I must admit, it wasn’t lost…it had been sitting on my desk for a very long time. I knew it was a box of “things” rescued from my mom’s desk when we cleaned out the old homeplace. I don’t know why I had been avoiding it, but there it was and this week I decided to deal with it.

I think I avoided it because I knew what would happen…and I was right…I got lost. Lost in a time long gone, lost in trying to identify people I had never known, places that lived in only the briefest of my  memories of Mom’s stories.

My grandfather was an amateur photographer. In a time when a camera was a wondrous bit of magic he owned a twin lens reflex camera. He wasn’t making art or trying to capture history, he was just trying to preserve a bit of his life.

That’s what I found in the box, snapshots of life. There were studio portraits of people I did not know, and clippings a couple of postcards, but the treasure trove proved to be three crumbling brown envelopes full of negatives.

Smith & Smith Photographers of Mitchell, Indiana, in their Kodak Finishing Department (our motto: “Speed and Quality”) had developed my grandfather’s films for him at a cost of 10 cents a roll and 5 cents per print. I don’t know what happened to the prints, but here were the negatives and I wondered what they would show.

I have some experience with computers, scanners and photo software, so I stumbled around and discovered a way to use my scanner to “develop” the negatives into images on the computer screen.

That’s when I got lost in the past.

There was my mother and her sisters, in the front yard of the house I only knew from stories. There were babies playing on blankets in the grass. There was my Aunt Lena, very young and standing beside a young man who may have been a beau, but certainly wasn’t my Uncle Clarence.

There was my young grandfather, strong and muscular and very much in command of a motorized grader that featured three steering wheels and gears and levers. My mom worshipped her “daddy” and I got the impression she believed he could do anything…maybe she was right. I knew he made or worked on shoes and harness, built furniture, operated a camera somewhat competently, was a traveling preacher, a writer and musician. Apparently, he also operated heavy equipment.

The vast majority of the photos were of young people in groups of two or three or four, smiling at the camera or trying on serious grown up looks. Young ladies stood with hands on hips, a man’s hat cocked comically on their heads. Two youths dressed in overalls stood in front of some sort of out of focus plant life that might have been berry bushes or maybe fruit trees.

By the time I finished scanning these negatives, studying them for the clothing of the time, the surrounding countryside, searching the faces for some feature I could recognize to identify people I had only known as adults…by that time, I felt almost a part of their world. It was a little unsettling when I finished with the negatives and felt myself tumbling back into my own world of pandemics and civil unrest.

I believe the majority of these photos, especially the ones of the young men and women, were taken in the mid-1930’s. Were the times better back then? Were these people happier then? I couldn’t fail to see how thin they all were. They stood for the camera in clothes that were their everyday uniforms with worn or torn knees or slightly ragged cuffs. When they were dressed in their best it was clear they were ready for some event, but I liked seeing the more casual clothing, the young men with rolled up sleeves and the girls with their stockings and worn, flat shoes.

In just a few years, all these young men went off to wars. They may or may not have come home. If they didn’t grow old, they certainly grew up. The young ladies had careers or they didn’t, they married happily or unhappily and had children who turned out okay or didn’t.

They all lived lives they could not fathom as they stood for my grandfather’s camera and smiled and became part of my story.

New Year Intentions

To see the world more clearly.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Resolutions are too harsh, and they lead to frustration and despair and a sense of failure…because, of course, few resolutions make it past the first week or month of the New Year.

I do New Year’s Intentions. Every year I intend to be a better person, eat better, get more exercise, stay in closer touch with my loved ones…and you know, just be kinder and gentler.

There is a lot less pressure with intentions, and you can start over if you fail early in the year. In June, when you take stock of how your year has gone so far, you can still revisit the “intention” to be a better person, but resolutions are gone until the next New Year’s Eve.

This year, I have a couple of more specific intentions, though; intentions that relate to my personal goals. Goals are another way of setting one up for failure, but they aren’t so rigid as resolutions. One of my personal, all-time goals is never to stop learning, never stop searching, so I’m building that into my New Year’s Intentions for 2021.

My main intention for 2021, though, relates to my problems with seeing.  Quickly, I will point out that I’m not talking about physical vision. My eyesight literally (and I can say that because it is true) has never been better since cataract and lens replacement surgery. I no longer rely on glasses to navigate my world as I have since I was nine years old. Oh, I use reading glasses, but that’s pretty normal at my age. The fact is, I see at a distance better than 20/20, and I never, ever thought that would be possible.

So, my eyesight isn’t the problem. It’s more…how can I put this…heart sight or, here’s a good word…insight.

Back when I was doing a lot of newspaper photography, I saw things others did not see. When you’re a photographer, you have to see the whole picture before pressing the button. You don’t want a tree in the background that looks like it’s growing out of your subject’s head. You do want their classic car in the background if that’s all they can talk about as you interview them. You do want to catch the quick look a bystander is giving to a subject with blue hair. You do want the subject’s shadow pointing to the car crash they walked out of unharmed.

Over the years, I’ve lost some of my ability to see. My intention for 2021 is to see the world around me. I don’t want to just look over things; I want to take them in, all the things before me.

This year has been a challenge; a year we have been very focused on keeping ourselves safe and healthy, a year we found we have very little control over that. 2020 has been a year that something outside of us, something outside of our control, something we can’t see or touch, can take our lives or the lives of those around us.

As this year winds to a close, I find that people I have never seen have gone and, in a sense, a way of life we never fully appreciated is gone as well. Some things will never be the same; some families will never again be complete; some things that could have been will never be.

So in 2021, I intend to look and not just look, but see life around me. I want to see each day, not only with my eyes but with my heart and mind.

That’s my New Year’s Intention. Good luck with your New Year’s Resolutions…I think my way is better!

Happy New Year.

The Story of the Manger

First of all, I just want to say that I cannot take credit for the story I am about to tell you. It is not even a story. This is a tradition based on legend…or a legend based on tradition and I think it has no real beginning. It is a story told by many, attributed to none, but it is so close to home there must be some truth.

We all know that early religions used sacrificial animals to offer to God or the gods for the forgiveness of sins. And we all know that this Christmas Day that we Christians everywhere celebrate is about the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to be sacrificed for the sins of all.

There is a lot of symbolism in every religion, but I recently heard of the symbol of the manger, where Jesus was laid after his birth, awaiting the visit of the shepherds and the wise men of the East.

Shepherds were people whose job it was to watch over and care for the sheep of a community. As the keepers of the sheep, it was also their job to choose and protect specific lambs to be used as sacrifices in the temple.

A sacrificial lamb was to have lived to adulthood and have no faults or blemishes. As lambs were born in early winter, it was a sacred duty for the shepherds to choose the finest, strongest lambs to be groomed for the temple ritual of sacrifice. To protect those lambs from birth, they gently carried them to the stables, wrapped them in cloth to keep them warm …and they further protected them by placing them in the stone mangers in the cave that served as a stable, the safest place they knew for a baby meant to become a holy sacrifice.

That’s why the shepherds were called by the angels to be the first to meet the baby Jesus. Of all people, shepherds would understand the significance of a baby announced by angels and lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Not my story, but a good one you have to admit. Something to think about.

Merry Christmas to all.

Rambling

My weighted blanket…”in” before weighted blankets were “in.”

My thoughts are sort of jumbled today, but I wanted to get a post ready, so …

~~

Nobody has to sell me (or give me for Christmas) one of those weighted blankets. I see ads for them everywhere. They’re supposed to put you into a deep and satisfying sleep whether you use them for naps or a full night’s rest.

This is not one of those elegantly designed quilts with tiny, artistic stitches, either. The beautiful quilts you see in museums and antique stores are works of art, the only way early housewives had to express their love of design and beauty.

I don’t need one because I have one. It’s not the new, silky, advertised version. Mine is soft like a flannel shirt you’ve had for years…as a matter of fact, I think it IS made from old flannel shirts.

Mine is an old-style patchwork quilt made of leftover and recovered scraps of cloth from no longer functional clothing. The front or patchwork part of my blanket is secured to the lining and the backing with yarn knots at regular intervals.

My blanket is what I grew up calling a comforter, which efficiently says exactly what those wordy ads are claiming about weighted blankets “…shown to produce a soothing effect that reduces anxiety.”

I don’t know what lining is in my comforter. The outside is soft, yet the blanket is sort of heavy in warm and comforting way. Bringing it out of the closet in September or October is as heartwarming as that first bowl of winter chili or the sound of a crackling fireplace.

So, if I’m on your Christmas list for a weighted blanket…you can cross me off as DONE.

~~

A couple of years ago, on the second day of classes at the college where I work, I found a spiral notebook in a classroom; one of those cheap, one-subject notebooks moms always buy the week before school starts. I opened it to see if there was a name or some identification so I could return it to the owner. All I found was a list on the first page. It read:

Things I Forgot Today

  • USB
  • How to use Mac
  • Jaket
  • The date
  • My C number

After I finished laughing, I added “my notebook” to the list and set the thing aside to wait for the hapless student to come looking for it.

It is still laying on my desk. Two years later.

~~

And then there are my own notes. I’ve been cleaning off my desk the last couple of days and I keep coming across cryptic notes I’ve written to myself. For instance:

  • 00357626
  • Legacy = Cisco
  • 12 x 10 x 7.5
  • August 4th (with an exclamation point…if that was an appointment, I missed it)
  • A lot of phone numbers with no names
  • A lot of passwords with no subject…I don’t know what these passwords open

A lot of my time today has been spent with the age old question: throw away something I no longer recognize or keep…just in case? Maybe I’ll create a folder of Notes I No Longer Need.

So goes my desk cleaning.

~~

Finally, I’ve been fending off a lot of unknown and slightly shady characters from my blog and have become fascinated by the user names. Most hat frankly are so ridiculous they immediately stand out as fake).

Today, someone actually signed up as JonathanHacker. Another one, which I am convinced is the same jerk, has signed up numerous times using the word “scuby” (as in Scooby Doo?) in the fake name, for instance “pbyeiScuby.”

One of the most “normal” users was one called DavidDat. I have a bit of an inferiority complex and find it difficult to believe that a person I don’t know would want to be notified every time I post an article. I don’t know a DavidDat or any name remotely like that, so after much consideration, I deleted him:

“David, if you are reading this, email me and introduce yourself.”

You might be wondering why I don’t want all these followers. Most people who blog count their success by the number of subscribers they have. Not me. I’ve been in the business long enough to know that bad characters want the right to post unfettered comments on my page, comments that refer to products they are selling or to post trash talk or to lure my readers to their websites (for questionable reasons, I might add).

So, if you’re serious about being a subscriber and receiving notifications when I post, then you are reading this even now and you should know that an email request will quickly get you added to my subscriber list.

The More Things Change

The San Francisco Call, June 24, 1903

First you need to understand how research can go sideways, literally. The researcher usually has a goal, a fact or a hunch that needs to be proven. This is probably a lot like fishing (though I don’t fish). One goes out to catch a fish, maybe even a specific type of fish, but once one throws the line into the water, all fish are fair game, and the sportsman is just as likely to catch a boot or an underwater branch. At least, that’s been my experience, which is why I don’t fish.

In genealogy, a name is not a name. For instance, I’m currently looking into the Collings line of my family, but I also have to hunt for Collins, Kollings, Kolin, etc. I have to cast a very wide net, catch what looks reasonable and throw the rest back.

The other day I cast my net and as I waded through some 332 possible stories, I got sidetracked. Very sidetracked. The first 50–75 stories were relevant but mostly stories I had already seen, so I decided to keep going in the hope of stumbling across something new.

I got totally lost. My plan for the day disappeared as I stumbled onto an old newspaper front page from 1903 San Francisco and what I discovered is the world hasn’t changed much in 113 years.

I present to you a sampling of headlines and news stories from a weirdly familiar past: “White Insects Worry Farmers,” “Decent Burial Denied Paupers,” “Child Thought Dead is Found,” “Bigamy Charge May Be Result,” “Brisk Wooing Ends in an Elopement,” and just to prove times don’t change: “Hordes of Aliens Still Pouring In” a story about 521,320 immigrants entering the country (mostly legally, I might add).

How can you read those headlines and not want to know the rest of the story? For instance, consider the elopement story. (Note: I’m hoping the copyrights have expired, because I must share the full article, but I will credit these excerpts from The San Francisco Call, June 24, 1903) :

Walla Walla, June 24 – A brisk wooing terminated yesterday afternoon in the elopement of fifteen-year-old Zella Masse with Henry C. Stewart, a man twice her age and who is proprietor of the Northwestern Music Company of this city. Stewart, accompanied by a stranger giving his name as Ross Leslie, appeared in the Auditor’s office at 3 o’clock and secured a license, Leslie swearing that the bride-to-be was eighteen years of age. The girl went to Stewart’s room and changed her short dress for a traveling suit. Immediately after the ceremony they drove to the depot and took the 3:30 o’clock train for Pendleton.

The girl’s father, a wealthy retired farmer, in company with Sheriff Painter, started after the couple last night. Masse swears that he will have his son-in-law arrested on a charge of abduction.

And then there was this tiny filler (by the way, a “footpad” is a robber who is on foot as opposed to on horseback, I looked it up):

Port Richmond, June 24 – While James P. Arnold and his partner, M. W. Truitt, were on their way home last night between 10 and 11 o’clock they were held up near G. A. Dimick’s place on East Richmond avenue by an armed footpad. As they had a large amount of money with them, however, they took no chances on being shot and ran when ordered to hold up their hands. The would-be robber failed to fire and his intended victims escaped without injury.

Traffic accidents appeared to be a problem in 1903:

Oakland, June 24 – Herbert Kaphin, the driver of a butcher wagon, was the victim of a runaway accident this morning which came nearly ending disastrously. His horse ran away and his wagon collided with a car standing at Tenth and Washington streets and he was thrown to the ground and found to be suffering from concussion of the brain. He was removed to the Receiving Hospital and later was able to go to his home at 854 Alice street. The horse was caught uninjured.

A story that could be on the front page of any paper today tells of how the growth of the community is taxing the infrastructure. Even the headline is timely: “Suburbanites Good Boomers.” The story describes the problems of growth by calling for better roads: “Every night and all night long on the one avenue leading from San Mateo County to San Francisco a stream of teams conveying the produce of our rural country struggle in the dark on the heavy road to reach the market of San Francisco. We need these improvements from every standpoint that common sense can indicate, and never so much as now.”

Finally, another timely story about a child born to an unwed mother. She was told by officials after delivery that her child was blind and otherwise physically disabled and must be placed in a public institution. The story goes on to describe a chance meeting, some years later, between the mother and one of the attendants at the birth:

…and the nurse asked Mrs. Nicholson about the baby, and she told her it was dead.

“Why, no it isn’t; some people out in West Berkeley are taking care of it,” was the woman’s reply, and an investigation was begun which resulted in the discovery of the boy, now 3 years and 8 months old.

In the meantime, Mrs. Nicholson has been married to the father of the boy, and they are bending their efforts to recover the child they have mourned all these years as dead. Owing to the fact that Judge Melvin is going East on Monday for his vacation the hearing of the habeas corpus matter could not be heard until his return a month hence, and the case was continued until that time.

Finally, a little medical advice that might also seem timely, here’s an ad which looks more like a news tidbit headlined: “To Cure a Cold in One Day.”

Take Laxative Bromo Quinine Tablets. Druggists refund money if it fails to cure. E.W.Grove’s sig. on each box. 25c.”

Seasons

September = soups and other comfort foods.

There shouldn’t be a difference between August 31 and September 1, but there definitely is. For some reason, September 1 has become a sort of milestone for the progress of a year. It can be 85° on the last day of August and 87° on the first day of September yet something seems changed, something has come to an end (or a beginning). I begin to think of soups and stews instead of fresh vegetables; blankets and long pants in place of shorts; books instead of bike rides.

I thought my feelings on this might be colored by the fact that I have a birthday in September, but I’ve been asking other people about this and many agreed that September just feels different. The day’s heat seems to vanish at sundown, mornings are a little crisper. And of course, there is a noticeable difference in the length of the days. It’s almost as if the sun is sliding away from us, the nights of winter are looming.

The fact is I love September. It has nothing to do with my “special” day and everything to do with this sense of change, this return to the inside life as opposed to the outdoors. Even in this time of Covid-19 and social distancing and self-isolation, I’ve been living my life “outside.” Sitting on my deck has become a morning habit. A walk to the mailbox feels like an adventure. Visits with my family all take place outside, 6 to 10 feet apart.

But now…September. I’ve already made a pot of Taco Soup, dug out my long-sleeved blouses and washed up my sweatshirts. I’ve started working to restock my “to read” bookshelf that I keep for weeks I can’t make it to the library. And of course I’ve checked my jigsaw puzzle stash…there are 5 on the stack that I haven’t yet worked.

In the spring you throw things off, open things up, spread your arms to welcome everything.

In the fall you pull yourself in, feather your nest, prepare to hunker down.

With no apology to those who have seasonal affective disorder (which I too begin to experience about March 1)…I really love September.

Salt of the Earth

Salt was important in the lives of early mankind for many reasons.

My people came to Kentucky as hunters.

Having made that statement, let’s talk a little bit about salt. That saltshaker on your supper table, the one the doctor advises you to throw away or at least ignore because it is unhealthy, that saltshaker contains the mineral formula named NaCI. Salt is a compound substance made up of sodium and chloride ions. In spite of all the literature and health claims and the bad press, salt has been used by humans for thousands of years. I think it would be safe to say we humans would not be where or who we are today without salt.

Very early on, mankind grew weary of having to constantly hunt for each day’s food. If only there were some way to preserve one day’s bounty to be used, say on a day when it was too cold or wet to go hunting.

Salt…that was the answer. It wasn’t an easy answer, though. Salt was difficult to obtain. There are two main sources for salt, sea water which could be evaporated for the resulting salt crystals, or underground “beds” of the sodium chloride mineral halite or rock salt, which could be mined.

As salt came into common use for the preservation of food, the value increased and the difficulty of acquiring it created a rewarding source of employment.

In the late 1700s, certain areas in the Kentucky wilderness were found to have the mineral deposits that made salt production a viable and financially rewarding endeavor. This discovery came as hunter’s wisdom. Because salt is vital not only to preserve food, but to life itself, the wild game of the area, buffalo, deer, etc. all found their way to the “salt licks” where they could add the mineral to their diet by licking at the clay that held it. The minerals from the ground leached into the creeks and rivers and smart guys from the east knew that water could be boiled away to produce salt crystals. Many settlements or salt camps soon cropped up in the wilderness providing income and employment.

There is little doubt among historians that the discovery and production of salt was instrumental in the settling of Bullitt, Jefferson, Nicholas, Mason, Lewis, Henry, Boone, Carter and other counties in Kentucky. At the peak of production, salt produced in Kentucky was shipped as far south as New Orleans.[1]


Thus, my people came to Kentucky as hunters. They hunted the game that fed the workers at the salt camps and they hunted the game that other entrepreneurs preserved to ship to more urban areas or places without wild game and hunters. Not only did this salt production contribute to the early settlers and the areas surrounding the salt licks, it also served to contribute to the economy of the nearby river port of Louisville.

They came as hunters sometime after the Revolutionary War, but they brought their families and like many hunters with families, as the game began to dwindle, they faced two options: move on or stay…settling down, planting crops and their own family roots.

My people stayed. They staked claims, built homes, cleared fields. They became citizens interested in the politics and laws of the land, requesting recognition by the government they had fought to create. They sought statehood and accomplished that. They built roads and towns. They created a life from nearly nothing.

And I think they got bored. Because after nearly 20 years in Kentucky, when word came of the new territory being opened north of the Ohio River, with new land to be claimed, they decided to pack up all they had and move north.

If they came to Kentucky as hunters, randomly following the game, they came to Indiana as seekers with a goal: a desire to lay their claim, build their own community, start again in a place uniquely theirs.

[1] The Early Salt Trade of the Ohio Valley, Isaac Lippincott, Journal of Political Economy, Dec., 1912, Vol. 20, No. 10, pp. 1029-1052, The University of Chicago Press, URL:  http://www.jstor.com/stable/1820548

Heading West

Maybe we headed west in short bursts, stopping for a time when the weather got bad or the wagon broke down.

When I last wrote about my family, I was in the process of moving William Edward Collings, his wife Anne and their two young sons, Zebulon and Spencer, from New Jersey to southwestern Pennsylvania. The majority of actual “facts” I had turned up showed that the two boys were born in New Jersey in 1745 and 1750. The third Collings child, Elizabeth was recorded as born in Pennsylvania in 1752.

It seemed logical to me that since my family had spent a large part of their lives in southwestern Pennsylvania, they must have traveled there sometime between 1750 and 1752.

There were two important facts that I ignored by making that assumption:

  • Pennsylvania from east to west is a long state which would take weeks if not months to span, and
  • the area of southwestern Pennsylvania where they were headed was not necessarily Pennsylvania in 1752. Virginia was claiming the country around the headwaters of the Ohio River and therefore assuming it was called Pennsylvania at that time was a bit of a mistake. Oops.

I began working these problems out when I also discovered that my family’s ultimate goal, the area around what is today Pittsburgh, PA, was in the bullseye of the French and Indian War, officially dated 1756 to 1763 but fueled by territorial conflicts from the early 1750s. Why would William Edward set out to put his family in such a dangerous location?

A casual, friendly conversation with a co-worker provided some insight. Not realizing what I was starting, I asked my friend about the origin of his unique family name and he said he was of Armenian descent. My blank look triggered much more information. Michael told me that Armenia is the oldest Christian based country in the world, the first state in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion in the late 3rd or early 4th century AD.

Armenia isn’t a country often mentioned or studied in geography/history class in school, so I went looking for some context. Armenia is located between the Caspian and the Black Seas, south of Russia, north of Iraq and Iran and east of Turkey. According to Wikipedia, during World War I, Armenians living in their ancestral lands in the Ottoman Empire were systematically exterminated during a time called the Armenian Genocide. This genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases—the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection to forced labor, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian Desert and resulting in the systematic mass murder and expulsion of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians between 1914 and 1923.

My friend told me that his grandparents seldom talked about their past, so he had little knowledge of how these events affected his family beyond the fact that they did flee the country. Shortly before his grandfather died, Michael did talk with him some about the family history and found that his was a family that was nomadic for several years. They would travel to a seemingly welcoming country, settle, learn the language begin to assimilate, then for one reason or another, move on seeking a better life. His family eventually arrived in the US, settling in Michigan, but Michael says he has a lot of relatives in France and some scattered throughout Europe.

Michael’s story got me thinking about my own family. Their move west didn’t have to be one great journey across the wide expanse of Pennsylvania. They may have moved in several short bursts, constantly seeking the perfect place. The New Jersey they left in the early 1750s was fairly civilized with laws and boundaries and commerce. Western Pennsylvania was wild and new and they may have moved into that wilderness just a few steps at a time, gradually moving on as they sought that perfect place to build a life.

What I do know is they eventually settled in an area of western Pennsylvania in a county called Yohogania County. I have read court records of the area for the 1770s and found familiar names: Isaac Cox, Nicholas Crist, George Crist, Henry Newkirk, Joseph & William Breshers, Paul Froman, and Hogland. This cast of players all continue to show up in future adventures of the Collings family.

In these court records, William Edward’s grown sons Zebulon and Spencer appear to have been landowners at this time in this place because I see them charged with maintaining roadways near their property. They may have been a little rowdy too, as court records show them posting bail and having bail posted for them for various suits (with no details as to what the alleged misdeeds were).

Those old court records, by the way, are full of fun stories and I may share some of them with you at a later date. Just an example to whet your appetite:

  • In one the court ordered that “…the Sheriff Imploy a Workman to build a Ducking Stool at the Confluence of the Ohio with the Monongohale and…”
  • and another ruled that “On the Motion of Saml’l Semple, It is Ord(ered) that his Mark be recorded a Crop of the right Ear and a Nick in the Edge.” One would hope that this is the recording of a brand or mark to be made on an animal…not on a slave.

William Edward and Ann Collings and their family lived in this area for over 20 years as the states of Virginia and Pennsylvania battled the British in the Revolutionary War and later as they wrangled over ownership of their territories in the west.

Old Records

More interesting than you would expect, more puzzling, too, raising questions you never even considered.

A few weeks into my pandemic inspired confinement, I decided to spend my time like many of my friends who wrote about how productive they became. They were organizing clothes closets and Tupperware collections, moving furniture to increase the feng shui of their bedrooms, creating gourmet meals from canned beans and frozen chopped spinach.

Inspired, I decided to rebuild my family tree and nail down actual dates—birth, death, marriage, etc. I expected this to be a boring, very detail driven exercise, but that seemed to be the way to pass the hours and avoid the mind-numbing alternative of binge watching every episode of Law & Order.

I began with my generation which went very fast. I have three sisters and a brother and their birth certificates on record just proved the birth dates I already knew. One generation done, I moved on to my mom and dad’s generation. Here, I decided to expand to include my aunts and uncles…and the fun began. You have no idea how interesting official records are until you start doing genealogical research!

I found a birth certificate for a male child named Stanley L. with my grandmother and grandfather listed as parents. I had never heard of an Uncle Stanley. I thought perhaps this was a child who had been stillborn or died in infancy and never mentioned, but the official record stated this was a live birth and the birth weight would indicate an extremely healthy baby. The best clue on the certificate was the birthdate which was the same day as the family-recognized birthdate of my Uncle Jock.

Jock, of course, was a nickname, but I knew his given name to be Howard, very surely not Stanley. Howard was on my uncle’s death certificate; Howard was on his tombstone. Neither of my uncles, nor my dad had a middle name, so a baby named Stanley L. was a huge mystery.

I contacted a cousin who has been at this genealogical game longer than I, and asked about Stanley L. He told me he had discovered this a few years ago when his mom was still alive and asked her about it. Her simple explanation…an error on the birth certificate.

I can’t stop thinking about what my uncle, who all his life went by Howard or Jock, would have to go through today to try to get that ID level driver’s license we are all eventually going to carry. Try to explain to a clerk in the BMV that your birth certificate is just wrong…I can only imagine how that would go.

Just like that, I found that official records could be as much fun and as entertaining as the history I had been chasing earlier.

I went on to find several more interesting facts:

  • my Uncle Bud, whose given name was Harold, was shown on his birth certificate as Herald;
  • my great grandfather had been married twice and had a son with his first wife. The boy was about 3 when the first wife died, around 5 when my great grandfather married my great grandmother and went on to have 9 more children. I vaguely remember an Uncle John, but never knew he was a half sibling;
  • my great uncle, Uncle Pete was not named Pete or Peter, he was named Charles Walter;
  • my grandmother had two siblings who died in childhood in July 1916;
  • my mother’s sister who died from diphtheria in 1932, was seen by a doctor for about a week prior to her passing;
  • my great great grandfather died in 1934…or maybe he died in 1891, I have more research to do on that one.

Interestingly, death certificates list cause of death, other known illnesses, occupations, marital status, and parents, including a mother’s maiden name when known. Death certificates are vitally important to researchers, but not easily found for deaths prior to  1920 or so

I’ve only found official records back about four generations and I realize they will become very difficult to find as I reach back further and further, but this has been an entertaining way to spend time over the last few months.

Oh, and one more thing I learned…Ancestry.com owns almost all the online historical information you will ever go looking for…. I don’t have to drive town to town, county to county, state to state to find these records, but I do have to pay a fee to a for-profit company. Very convenient, yet somehow disturbing and very modern.

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