Welcome to my world

Category: Family (Page 1 of 4)

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.

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.

Why I Wear a Mask

The sign of the times in the 1920s and 30s.

See if these phrases sound familiar:

  • “There is no vaccine. Prevention is by frequent handwashing, not sharing personal items and staying away from other people when sick.”
  • “It was thought that the disease could be spread through the innocent kiss between a mother and child, neither showing symptoms more serious than a sore throat, yet a “kiss of death” harbouring and unknowingly spreading “the strangler.”

You might think these are unique times, that we are in a “special” place in history, that we must learn lessons from this current pandemic of Corona virus to protect ourselves and our families in the future.

Trust me: anything we are learning today will more than likely be lost over the years as we return to what we think is normal. I say that because the phrases I opened with pertain to two previous episodes in history that affected my own family. And no, I’m not talking about the Spanish Flu of 1918.

The first phrase, the one about frequent handwashing was used to educate people to avoid spreading a disease called Scarlet Fever. In about 1954, my little brother developed this disease and I can remember the ominous red quarantine sign that was affixed to our house, barring anyone from entering or leaving. I was too young to calculate how long we were quarantined, but I know I was not allowed to go to school, and I had a very real sense of how worried my mother seemed. She was pregnant with her third child and cooped up with a sick toddler and a bored 8-year-old in a single car garage tricked out as a temporary living space while my father built our house.

Fun times no doubt, but an interesting illustration of how our current situation is not so unique.

But wait…there’s more. Scarlet Fever wasn’t usually fatal, just highly contagious. The second phrase in my opening describes one possible transmission method of a disease that caused many deaths up until the mid to late 1930’s.

In 1932 one of the most dramatic events of my mother’s life was the death of her older sister, Melvina Wells at the age of 11. Melvina contracted diphtheria, a truly frightening and highly contagious disease. Diphtheria was the third leading cause of death in children in the 1920s and 1930s.

Diphtheria was called “the Strangler” or “the Strangling Angel of Children.” It began with a sore throat, aches and fever, but the fatal effects of the disease as it progressed was a thick membrane that coated throat, nasal passages and organs such as the lungs and heart. Death was often the result of heart failure or suffocation due to this membrane. One physician described it this way:

 “I recall the case of a beautiful girl of five or six years, the fourth child in a farmer’s family to become the victim of diphtheria. She literally choked to death, remaining conscious till the last moment of life. Knowing the utter futility of the various methods which had been tried to get rid of the membrane in diphtheria or to combat the morbid condition, due, as we know now to the toxin, I felt as did every physician of that day, as if my hands were literally tied and I watched the death of that beautiful child feeling absolutely helpless to be of any assistance.” (“Diphtheria: A Popular Health Article,” The Public Health Journal 18 (Dec. 1927): 574)

Diphtheria is transmitted from person to person, usually via respiratory droplets. And to avoid the spread…quarantine is most effective. Sound familiar?

Mom told about how their family was quarantined and how due to that fact, when Melvina died, they were unable to have a normal funeral. Her body was prepared for burial and displayed in the front window of the home for relatives and mourners to come pay their respects. According to the death certificate I found, she was attended by a doctor from February 2 to February 8 when she died and was buried on February 9, 1932.

A vaccine was developed and tested in Canada in the 1920s but was not well known or accepted in the US until the mid-1930s…too late for my young Aunt Melvina.

In my genealogy studies, I also discovered that two of my father’s uncles died in July 1916 within days of each other. I found no record of their deaths that would tell me how or why they died, but I did find that there was a huge outbreak of polio in 1916 that killed many children in the United States and I can only surmise that this was possibly the cause of death of 8 year old Max Donahue and his 1 1/2 year old baby brother Craig that summer long ago.

As far as I can tell, no other members of my family contracted either Scarlet fever or diphtheria or polio. My mother said that she and her siblings were not permitted to enter Melvina’s room after she got sick. Neither my parents nor I got sick with Scarlet Fever. I don’t know about the other children in my father’s family…or even if polio was the cause of those boys’ deaths in 1916.

What I do know is that communicable diseases are nothing new and we should have learned something over the years. So, what have we learned? Scarlet Fever, diphtheria and polio are examples I can relate to because they are family history, and what I believe to be true is that quarantine is not imprisonment, and distancing, washing of hands. and wearing of masks is not an infringement on my freedom. These acts are simple and sensible practices to help save not only my life, but the lives of those I care about.

Sorry for the cliché, but this is literally not rocket science. None of the procedures we are being urged to practice are new or revolutionary. Stay home if you are sick, don’t get close to others if there is even a possibility they are sick, wear a mask in public, wash your hands a lot.

Get with the program, people! Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, but we can do our part as well with the most elementary practices we (should) have learned from the past.

There is another cliché that is proven time after time: if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

The Past in the Future

Like ripples in water, it's all connected.

Like ripples in water, it’s all connected.

I’m worried about future generations and how they will know the past. It’s no secret I’ve become obsessed with chasing down my ancestors and stories of my own history, but my concern is not all self-centered. I want my nieces and nephews to know these people, and I worry about how technology outpaces and even leaves the past behind in ways we seem not to notice.

What happened to all the newspapers that were placed in the microfiche program? And now that microfiche is antique, the machines old and clunky, how will we read those old newspapers?

Where are the record players to listen to the original recordings of Bessie Smith and Jimmie Rodgers? And the music that was distributed only on CD…do you still own a CD player?

By nature, I’m a reader and a keeper of “things.” Several years ago, I read an intriguing article about man’s first visit to the moon. Someone got the idea that with all the advances we have made in videography, it might be fun to apply some of those techniques to the video of Neil Armstrong’s first steps in 1969.

“It’ll be fun,” they said. “We can bring out details that couldn’ t be seen in the original material. Let’s do it.”

If you are old enough to remember that blurred, slightly ghostly image of Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface, you saw history happening in real-time. Based on today’s GoPro, cellphone, and dashcam video technology, the fact you were able to watch on TV that historic event as it happened, was a miracle.

I’m not going to get all technical on you in this short rant, but here’s a brief description of how you saw that event.

The lunar module had limited bandwidth to send audio, visual, and medical data back to Earth. Remember, this was 1969. Reel to reel tape decks were cutting edge technology.

Westinghouse developed a special camera that recorded video at an extremely slow rate of 10 frames per second to be transmitted back to Earth. Three tracking stations, two in Australia and one in California, would receive the signals and transfer the video to telemetry tapes, still at the 10 fps rate.

Television broadcasts at 30 fps, so the video couldn’t be broadcast directly to television stations. What you saw was the result of pointing a TV camera at a monitor displaying the non-standard transmission. The original image was of reasonably high quality, but what we saw on TV had traveled through space, hopped across microwave and satellite transmitters, was routed through Houston, …and filmed as it played on a computer monitor.

And that’s the simplified version of what you saw. So, yes — finding, viewing, and enhancing the original tapes could be fun and also educational.

Step one: finding them. Thus, began a treasure hunt of epic proportions. In 2006, NASA announced it was looking for over 700 boxes of magnetic data tapes that had been recorded during the Apollo program. They might be at Goddard Space Flight Center…or maybe not…maybe somewhere else.

Step two: viewing them. In 2006 when the hunt began, there was only one piece of equipment left that could play the specialized tapes. Only one. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I read that the outdated equipment had been designated for destruction. One machine was finally discovered pushed into a corner of an obscure warehouse and covered in dust.

Step three: enhancement. This is a little bit longer story. I watched the transmission of the first step on the moon, and as a writer and a word person, I heard Armstrong’s words this way, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” That’s what I heard, and that was such a poetically strong statement.

What most people heard, though, was, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” No one else seemed to hear that he was talking of himself as “a man” making a leap for mankind. Armstrong himself claimed to have said “a man,” but his words have gone down in history as most people heard them.

In 2006, both audio and video tapes were rediscovered and analyzed. Only then did experts admit that it was very plausible that the tiny word “a” might actually be there.

Peter Shann Ford, a computer programmer, analyzed the audio and found a 35-millisecond blip between “for” and “man,” which was just enough time for the spoken “a” to have been uttered.

I choose to believe I heard the statement as it was meant. That “a” changes the meaning of the statement ever so subtly. It makes more sense to me that a man might feel so tiny and so awestruck to be making such a leap for mankind that he would speak personally.

When we go looking for the past, we may not find what we’re looking for, but we often discover what we never expected. The Rolling Stones got it just about perfect: “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try, sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”

Let’s never forget that while looking ahead is important, what’s in front of us is only there because of what we see when we look over our shoulder. It’s all part of the same picture.

And that’s why I want to meet the family that came before me.

If you are interested, here are a couple of links:

https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Neil_Armstrong

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_11_missing_tapes

Getting Closer to Home

The historic marker for Brashear’s Station shows the names Crist and Collings as early settlers.

Over the past few months I’ve taken you on a journey that often went into uncharted territory. When I decided to research my family’s roots, I never expected to find a journal that covered daily American life for 3 generations. I found stories of survival in the most extreme conditions and a story of utter despair as a family struggled to survive while all their sons fought in the Revolutionary War.

Now I want to introduce you to the major players of the story I originally came to tell, the event that started my journey down this path. Not to lead you on…but the biggest family story is yet to come.

William Edward Collings, my six times great grandfather, was born December 1724 in Pennsylvania. When he was 20 years old, he married Anne Elston, 21. Anne had been born in Middlesex New Jersey to Spencer and Mary Elston.

I can’t document exactly when William’s family came to America, but he was born here and it’s relatively safe to say his parents probably were as well. And last week, I told you about the Elston family, in America since the 1600s. My pirate ancestor, remember?

William and Anne were married in Pennsylvania, but apparently lived in New Jersey for a few years. We have church records that show them as members of the Scotch Plains Baptist Church in New Jersey around 1747. Scotch Plains is roughly near Middlesex, NJ, so they probably lived near Anne’s parents.

Son Zebulon was born in New Jersey around 1745 and second son Spencer appears to have been born there in 1750. By 1752, their third child, Elizabeth was born in Pennsylvania.

I’ve mentioned before how fluid state and county lines were in the 1700s, so all mentions of state names are subject to where and when and who was in charge of the area at the time, but I’ve used a couple of these place names for some reference.

I actually Googled a mapped route from Middlesex, New Jersey (where Anne was born) to Somerset, Pennsylvania (where her third child was reportedly born). In land miles the distance is 276 miles and would take a little over 4 hours to drive on good highways.

Google also very helpfully told me that should I want to walk the route, I could do that in something like 100 hours. Assuming one could walk 8 hours a day, it would take 12.5 days to travel between the two cities. That assumes, of course, good weather…no baggage…on straight wide roads as we know them, not meandering trails hacked out of heavily wooded areas. And, by the way, the route passes through the Allegheny Mountains.

This nearly 300-mile journey was the first move west for my Collings family.

Somerset in the western part of Pennsylvania, is south and a little east of present-day Pittsburgh. In the 1750s, this was frontier, nearly uninhabited wilderness. The governmental agencies of Somerset didn’t even come into existence until the 1790s. I also can’t find any recorded history of settlers to that area prior to 1760, so if this is where the Collings came, they may have come here through a series of moves that I cannot find in any documentation.

One key fact about the Somerset, Pennsylvania area is that it is drained by Coxes Creek, which empties into the Ohio River. This means that in the mid 1700s, my family relocated to the pioneer version of an interstate highway.

In the 1770s, there are several official records (okay, court records) of the Collings family in Yohogania Co., VA located near Somerset, PA

William Collings and his sons owned land, they were charged with maintaining roads near their property, they witnessed wills and incurred debts and even tangled with their neighbors and with the law at times. All told, they were active in the area for several years.

We tend to think our early ancestors had hard lives and died young, but consider this: in his mid-50s, around 1783 or so, William Edward Collings packed up his family and with his grown children and several friends traveled down the Ohio River from Pennsylvania to the wild and untamed territory that later became Kentucky.

As when leaving New Jersey, the Collings family moved from a place that was somewhat civilized, with boundaries and courts and government officials, into a wilderness frontier of danger and adventure.

This move was made after the Collings men…William Edward, his sons Zebulon, Spencer, William Elston and Thomas, fought in the Revolutionary War. William, the father, and the two older boys are reported to have served in the Jefferson County Militia under General George Rogers Clark in the Northwest Campaign.

I’ve actually seen an image of a payroll roster, dated 1782, for the company of Captain John Clark who served under General George Rogers Clark. This roster includes the name of Spencer Collings and also George Crist whose family name often appears in the Collings story.

For those of you not familiar with George Rogers Clark and his exploits during and after the Revolutionary War, you need to know at least this: The United States as we know it would look completely different on the map without his efforts. Almost entirely on foot, with a ragtag bunch of independent pioneers, woodsmen, and a few professional soldiers, young George Rogers Clark defeated the British regular army tasked with securing the western territory for England.

George Rogers Clark felt this Northwestern Territory that later became the states of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan was the key to the westward expansion of our United States. As we would say today, he nailed it.

When the battles were won and negotiations secured the boundaries, my family packed up and moved to claim their place in this fertile and hopeful new land.

A Sort of Review

No treasure, but maybe a pirate or two…

I think I’ve made clear that there is no beginning and no end to family stories, and this makes it difficult to follow a strict timeline in research. The beginning of a new year and a new decade seems to warrant a bit of review, but as usual, I discovered a sideroad…

In 1607, the first successful English settlement in “our” part of the continent, North America, was at Jamestown, Virginia. In spite of the difficulties the new immigrants encountered, the flow of newcomers increased steadily through the 1600 and 1700s bringing thousands of settlers.

At some point during that 100-year period a man named Collings came to America seeking something…land, wealth, freedom, adventure, something that he couldn’t find in his homeland. He came from Ireland or England or Wales, probably as a young man. I don’t know if he came with a wife and children, or if he came as a child himself.

I can’t truly document this family line beyond one William Edward Collings who was born December 11, 1724 In Pennsylvania. I can’t pin down his father, though I am fairly certain his father’s name was Zebulon. There are some records that this is the case and William named his first son Zebulon, which seems to back up that theory.

In 1744 William Edward Collings married Anne Elston (daughter of Spencer and Mary Elston) in Frederick, Pennsylvania. Their first two children, Zebulon and Spencer were born in New Jersey in 1745 and 1750 respectively. Three more children followed — Elizabeth in 1752, William Elston in 1758 and Thomas in 1760, all born in Pennsylvania.

There were a couple of accounts that William might have married a woman named Anne Nowlin, so that was one side road I got lost on for a while.

Tracing women in genealogy is a little trickier than tracing men, but I’m convinced William Edward Collings married Anne Elston. Naming conventions were fairly common in the day and William and Anne named their first son Zebulon (after his father), their second son Spencer (after her father) and their third son William Elston, (Elston being her maiden name).

Anne’s family, the Elstons (also spelled Elson, Alston and various other ways), have a long, long history, as detailed extensively in a book titled “The Elstons in America” that I found on Ancestry.com. Although not documented, there is some speculation that in England, a Peter Elston was part of a group responsible for the execution of King Charles II in 1649, which would surely have been a pretty good reason to emigrate to another country.

He wouldn’t have been the first immigrant. The earliest documented mention of an Elston in America is an account of a shipwreck in the “Annals of Salem,” Vol. II, page 210, Joseph B. Felt:

“1631, July 26, Winthrop relates, ‘…a small bark of Salem, of about twelve tons, coming towards the bay, John Elston and two of Mr. Craddock’s fishermen being in her, and two tons of stone and three hogsheads of train oil, was overset in a gust, and being buoyed up by the oil, she floated up and down forty-eight hours, and the three men sitting upon her until Henry Way his boat, coming by, espied them and saved them.’”

This same John Elston was described as coming over on the Winthrop Fleet as “probably one of Craddock’s servants.” And before you ask, I have no idea why you would transport two tons of stone, nor what “train oil” was, there being no trains in 1631. Those questions are two sideroads I avoided.

In 1698, one of the more interesting Elston men, gave an account of his adventures as a young cabin boy on what could only be described as a pirate ship. Claiming that he ran away from home and fell asleep on a ship, he awoke to find the ship (and himself) out to sea. He names the various ports the ship visited and the “encounters” they had with other ships. Authorities investigating his actions wrote:

Dureing the time of theire being on the Coast they tooke two shipps Danes and Sweedes Laden with Goods for the Guinea trade takeing as many men out of them as were willing to saile…turning the shipps a drift, that in the Acc’on they had a Dispute with said shipps for about halfe an hour looseing one man

Apparently, there was a little bureaucratic snarkiness going on at the time John Elston was being investigated. He and another young man (both aged 19 or 20) were “seized” by the Earl of Bellmont, but the Earl seemed to view their adventures as youthful hijinks. He wrote in a letter to his bosses, the Lords of Trade, that since the boys were so young at the time of the piracy (12 or 13), were merely cabin boys and did not partake or profit from any of the encounters, he saw no reason to hold them or send them to England for a trial, and that they should be released on bail.

The Governor of East Jersey, on the other hand, was furious. He wrote to the House of Commons (his bosses) that it was his duty to refuse bail but that the Earl of Bellemont “by pretended Admiralty power forced them out of your petitioner’s hands and set them at liberty upon insufficient bayle, to the great hazard and danger of your Petitioner.”

There was detail as to how these young men posed a danger to the Governor and there are no additional records about how this case resolved, but I have to say: I’m excited to have a pirate in the family, even if he was “sort of” innocent.

New Year_Same Story

Papaw with his dog Yogi.

The past couple of years have been a difficult time with the loss of too many relatives and friends, losses that seem almost too much to bear. As we start a new year, I find myself dwelling on memories of people I have known.

What we remember of a person isn’t the person. Our memories are 2D, but a person is 3D. It takes all the memories of all the people who knew this person and still that’s not the person. The person, the actual 3D person, is what dies. That whole person. That’s what we lose and that’s what we miss, that 3D person that we only knew in 2D. Everyone who knew that person in life misses a different person than we miss…but that’s what’s gone…that multi-dimensional person.

That’s why we tell stories. We try to round out the person that has gone, but all we ever do is make an imperfect copy to remember.

In this blog I’ve been telling stories of people I’ve never known. Still, I feel some connection because they are my people, the people who have become me, the people who have given me depth, make me 3D. I try to imagine how it must have been for them, how they felt as they tried to make it through their world.

This year I will continue to tell these stories, but I want to also share the people I have known. I’m aware that “young” people become frustrated with “old” people who are always telling stories of the past, but I’d like to remind those “young” people that we have more past than we have future. As their future is important to them, our past is important to us. No, strike that…our past IS us. It is what makes us who we are…it is our third dimension.

So today, instead of telling you more about my pioneer ancestors (don’t worry, they’ll be back), I want to tell you about my paternal grandfather. I called him Papaw.

These are my memories of him. There are others who can add to this picture, give depth to the man he was, but there can never get a true three-dimensional image of him because that would take the man himself standing in front of me.

I was little, he was big, well over 6’6”, he was thin and sinewy, and as I knew him, always old. I see him wearing overalls and a blue work shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Always the sleeves rolled up. Never down and buttoned. I know he dressed up. I have pictures of him in a suit, but that’s not how I remember him. Always in overalls and a work shirt.

This is the way Papaw always sat in a lawn chair.

He had a machine shop a few hundred yards from his house and I remember him there. When I remember him there are two images…on summer nights, after supper, he and my grandmother (Mamaw), sat in their metal lawn chairs on the back porch looking out over their property. The chairs were rocking chairs and while Mamaw rocked, Papaw sat leaning way back on the rockers of his chair, fly swatter in hand. With his long arms hanging down he could almost touch the porch floor. They sat from supper through twilight to darkness, and the murmur of their voices, the certainty that they were there, was the music of my childhood.

The other picture of him I have from my childhood is in their old house before they remodeled it, in a room that was all things. It contained the old iron, coal-burning stove, chairs pulled up in a circle around that stove, a table where we ate, a “daybed,” and a “sideboard.” Those are the names of the furniture I remember. This was the room where we spent our time, the living room.

On that sideboard, the top of which I was too short to see, were many wondrous things, tobacco pouches, small coins, safety pins, any small thing a person might need…and cough drops. My grandfather favored the Luden brand black lozenges. When he took one from the box, I wanted one too. I would call forth what I believed was a very convincing cough. Papaw always seriously offered me one from his box, but I learned early on that those black ones were horrible tasting. I pouted, shook my head, coughed again for good measure as he put the black box back and started to walk away. But then he would pick up another box, one that held red lozenges. I couldn’t read but I could recognize the box. He would ask me to be sure that was the one I wanted…not this one, holding up the black box? I pointed to the red and he shook one out in my little hand.

His profession was machinist and his shop was a wondrous place with tools that whirled and turned and drilled. I loved it. The shop smelled of oil and hot metal and work. Papaw would put on a big, black mask with a little window and make sparks fly like Fourth of July sparklers and when he took off the mask, two pieces of metal had become one forever.

There were bins of ball bearings and stacks of sheets of metal. He had one machine that cut screw threads into rods, shedding razor thin coils of metal shavings onto the floor.

The shop was a dangerous place for a child who walked barefoot through her young world. I knew the dangers from a very young age. I knew that by simply appearing in the doorway to his shop I could make him stop what he was doing and rush to pick me up and deposit me on the tall stool by his desk. The scolding I got for coming into the shop with no shoes was painless…the candy he handed me to make up for his scolds was priceless.

Other people knew other sides to the man who was my papaw. He was a son, husband, father, uncle, grandfather to more than just me. Some of you reading this knew many different dimensions of the man called Papaw, Shorty, Nick, Mr. Nicholas.

I really know very little of the man, but I never doubt he is in me.

Blue

The Blue Fugates of Kentucky

One of the fun things about chasing down one’s ancestors is the numerous sideroads and detours one finds.

This week I’m deep into studies about my family’s role in the Revolutionary War. This is more difficult than I thought it would be, so I’m taking the week off to follow a side path into a curious family story that actually has nothing to do with my family…as far as I can tell, anyway.

Racism has been a dark part of our national story since before we began shipping in captured Africans to work on our plantations and farms. I can only imagine how it feels to wear the badge of your so-called “status” in such an obvious way as the color of your skin. As a so-called “white,” I can never claim that I’m not racist since I’ve never had to think twice about the instant judgment people make upon seeing my skin color.

In the early 1800s, in the eastern Kentucky Appalachians, there was a family whose skin color made them the target of fear and scorn. Strangely, they weren’t black…they were blue.

Yes, you read that correctly. They were blue like robin’s eggs, like an April sky, like the waters of the deepest lake. Blue.

The family of Martin Fugate, who had emigrated from France, came to be known as the “blue people of Kentucky.”

When I first heard this story, I thought it was one of those mountain myths, a story told by someone who heard that someone else had talked to someone else who had seen them. I thought it might be a story easily explained; maybe a coal miner’s skin absorbed the coal dust in a way that appeared blue in the light of day. Maybe it was a dietary aberration, much like too many carrots can turn your skin orange for a brief time.

Nope. This family was blue. I have seen a grainy photo of a crude painting of a family unit: a blue father and four blue children with a “normal” mother and three “normal” children. There is no doubt the artist was on his honor to render the family as he saw them. Public opinion would have roasted him if he had pictured them all as white; the family would have hunted him down if he had colored them all blue.

Of course, this family was much talked about and even feared as ghosts and “haints.” Women dragged children across the street so as not to walk past them on the sidewalk. Merchants laid the change from their purchases on the counter to keep from accidentally touching them.

The condition now has a name: methemoglobinemia, and it was discovered in the 1960s to be the result of a faulty gene. If a person has two of these genes, the levels of methemoglobin cause their skin to be blue, their lips purple, their blood to be a chocolate brown. If a person inherits only a single gene, they look “normal” but can pass the disorder on to their children.

Blueman Martin Fugate was an orphan who had traveled to Kentucky from France. He met and married red-haired Elizabeth Smith, who, as it turned out, carried one gene for the disorder. She and her husband had seven children, four of whom inherited the gene from each parent and had blue skin.

Being so visibly different, the family hid in the hills of Appalachia, attempting to hide their skin with long sleeves and bonnets and gloves during trips into town.

As a result of their social and geographical isolation, there was intermarriage between cousins and aunts and uncles, producing more “blues” as children were born.

Kim Michele Richardson has written a novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. I picked up the book because I was intrigued by the history of the ladies of the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project. Richardson, however, chose to tell the story from the perspective of one young woman who happened to be blue, and I was quickly drawn into the story of the Blue People of Kentucky.

The entire book is based on fact, the story a fictional account of being a person, a real person with hopes and dreams and issues, but a person with the added difficulty of being “different.”

What is normal? And who decides? I’ve often wondered about that. I have a friend who says, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine,” and we laugh, but it’s true that normal is a very fuzzy state of being.

It seems a shame that the color of our skin hides the person underneath, and an even bigger shame that what we see is all we ever know of others.

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