Sunday, November 30, 2014

Randy Seaver's SNGF: Thanksgiving Memories

Every Saturday Randy Seaver over at Genea-Musings blog throws out a challenge to other bloggers called SNGF or Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. The topics are usually an attractive ploy to this blogger so I have to resist dropping what I'm doing and whip up a post. This week I just have to succumb to his bait and do it because he's challenged us to recall and blog about one of our Thanksgiving memories. So Randy, here's my Thanksgiving Memory.

I have a lot of good memories from childhood Thanksgiving feasts but I want to blog about another kind of Thanksgiving. I remember this one in particular because it always reminds me of the deep human need to establish community and form a family of choice no matter where we go and how far from home it is.

In 1988 we had just moved to Florida and the beautiful west coast resort island of Marco Island. The population swelled to 10,000 in the winter tourist season but was less than half that in the hot steamy summer months. Thanksgiving was one of the last holidays to be celebrated by the locals before the winter visitors descended in mass. By Christmas you could feel the difference at the local supermarkets because the check out lines were longer and the prices higher.

We moved to Marco in the spring, just as snow birds went back north, and by fall we had a whole army of new friends. Everyone there was from somewhere else and had moved to warmer climates for health or just to retire. People made new friends with a greater ease than I'd ever seen before. It seemed that all it took was one diner out and you had a new set of best friends. A group of about a dozen or more of us were the new Rat Pack. We went to every concert, every special event, and hosted parties like only those new to a group of friends can manage.

We ladies fixed it that instead of having small Thanksgiving meals on our own we'd do it together. Two o'clock in the afternoon satisfied those whose tradition was a mid-day meal as well as those whose custom was to eat at a later hour. Drinks upon arrival with finger food, and then the big feast a bit later. Our new best friends Jeanie and Bob were hosting. It was settled with enthusiasm and plenty of laughter.

On Thanksgiving morning we awoke to a thin layer of ice on the pool! Icicles had formed on the gutters and it looked more like Massachusetts than Florida! The novelty added to the festive nature of the day.

Jeanie, who had somehow escaped cooking a turkey all of her married life until this point had gotten volunteered by Bob. Jeanie kept saying, "I can't believe he did that," which didn't make it less so. I spent the afternoon before Thanksgiving at her house prepping the turkey, mixing up enough stuffing for an army, and and giving pep talks as well as spouting things my mother taught me about turkeys. The glasses of wine helped a lot. Jeanie seemed ready for the task.

Remember me mentioning the ice on the pool and gutters? Well it proved too much for the delicate nature of the county's electrical grid. Jeanie was to put the gigantic turkey in to roast at 9 AM promptly, and she did. At about 9:45 the electricity went out. My phone rang immediately and all I could think to do was tell her to keep the oven door closed. At any cost, just keep it closed and pray to the cooking gods. At a few moments after 10 the power sprang to life and we were back cooking again. Then 25 minutes later it went out again but for only 10 minutes. And so it went all the morning and into the afternoon.

Guests began arriving just after 2, and the bird was still cooking and it smelled great. Jeanie and I and a few of the ladies who were known to be the best cooks huddled in the kitchen while Bob and his guys poured as much libation as was decent to at that hour.

Not everyone knew what was going on. There were those few in the know and had been sworn to secrecy and those who knew nothing. By the time all had arrived along with their offerings of nibbles, side dishes, salads, and deserts, the consensus was that the turkey was probably done. Probably. Well, maybe. Someone ran back home to fetch a meat thermometer so we could know how much trouble we were in and if we'd be waiting until 7 or 8 that night to sit down to the feast. Meanwhile power was going out with increasing regularity. The candles in every room made a lovely glow while four women fretted in the kitchen. Gosh, that big turkey looked good and smelled good, but was it raw inside? We waited as long as we could, opened the door and stuck in the meat thermometer. It was broken!!

By 3:30-ish all had arrived and it was time to get going and serve the bird. It was a gigantic creature. But was it fully cooked? And what of the stuffing? One of the older ladies who had raised a large family pushed up to the bird, grabbed a big bowel and a gigantic spoon and went mining for stuffing with gusto and confidence. When her head rose out of the fragrant steam of the bird's inner regions, she pronounced for those crowded close in that the big bird was indeed done to perfection! Hurrah!

By this time there were plenty of empty wine bottles and a few scotch glasses as well. Our appetites were primed and everything smelled wonderful. The turkey was brought to the table for carving with pomp and revelry, and Bob carved it like the master of the manor that he was. (Hmm. Was that why he volunteered Jeanie to cook the bird?) All praised Jeanie and her deft handling of the big magnificent Turkey.

To this day I don't know if it was the best turkey of all times... or whether that was the wine talking. It was a rousing success and we all had a happy fun day and evening. It was a memorable Thanksgiving.

By the next year Maury had been taken by complications of diabetes and his wife moved back up north to live with the kids. Paul and Mary sold their business to their son and moved away. We only stayed two more years before we moved to San Diego. That Thanksgiving was like a moment out of time.  Gosh, that bird really was tasty!

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

A cold day in the morning

Sometimes in reading my own blog I can see that I get carried away with details that are simply small bits of bigger stories. Occupational hazard in a pursuit in which no detail is left unexamined. For example, I was just setting out to tell you something about John Combs of Allegany County, Maryland when I stopped to consider maybe you have no earthly idea where and when I'm talking about. That's never good. So let me take a wee bit of time out and just have a good ramble about the area where my ancestors lived, and where my Mom and Aunt Betty, in their 80s and 90s, still live.

This time of year you are likely to get mostly cold days. Tonight it's going to be 27 degrees. Now that's not so bad if you're in Alaska or Minnesota. But this is in Maryland which has a more southerly latitude, and sensibility. We're talking Western Maryland, or as the more tourist-inclined entities like to now call it, the Mountain Side of Maryland. Your house better have the heat on and been winterized, and the car too. Tomorrow, it will be, as the oldsters in previous generations liked to say,  a cold day in the morning.

Maryland is at least three states within a state. There's Eastern Shore which is the old plantation country and situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. The weather is milder there and much of the land enfolds - or rather is enfolded by - water. Farming is and was the traditional pursuit of old time families there since the very first settlers, but fishing is strong too.

Being the old Plantation Maryland there were slaves to do the work. In Western Maryland there were slaves as well but not as many. The slaves in Western Maryland were often owned by men who owned and ran an inn, tavern, and road house. The number of slaves who worked on farms were fewer. It's mountainous here and the farm fields run up and down often steep embankments. In the eastern part of the state the land is flat and fields much larger requiring more farm hands.

The Western Shore describes the land west of the Bay. If you decide to click through to take a look at the Wikipedia listing for it, you'll not see much. It includes the greater Baltimore - Washington D.C. metropolitan area, also called by some Southern Maryland. Southern Maryland is where the Big History is. The nation's capital, first settlements, and a historic marker every couple of feet. It's probably where Strangers from Afar first get acquainted with what they think is Maryland. The historic homes there are just about the best I've ever seen, but then I'll admit bias. If you've been to Annapolis you know what I mean. (And yes, I've seen the beautiful and grand plantation manses of the South.)

My ancestors inhabited what's generally known as Western Maryland. That link right there to a Wikipedia page will tell you quite a bit about the area, how isolated it is and difficult to get to, how cold it gets in the winter with 20 inch snowfalls as noting to be excited about, and how different the population is in temperament. Pioneers had to go through The Narrows pass to proceed west, and some of them stopped right where they were and styed there. I sometimes get the feeling that my ancestors were squeezed into place by the land and the mountain formations, and just couldn't get unstuck.

It's really quite beautiful with hills gently rolling. Here in California where I live, we have proper mountains. The "mountains" in Mountain Maryland are really hills, old rounded hills geologically speaking. Western Maryland is not a gigantic piece of America, measuring just 120 miles from the eastern part of Frederick County in the east, through Allegany County in the middle, to the western most boundary of Garrett County in the west. Running through the middle from east to west is the Old National Road, one of the earliest routes from the young nation's capital to the western territories. I've written about that route west before so I'll not cover it again now, but just know that having this major wagon road west come through the middle of the county brought some ancestors here and took others of their descendants away west.

Above, old photos of the National Road about 1910.

So that's the gist of it. But what I can't possibly convey is what this crazy, neighborly, cozy, snowy, picture-perfect summery place is like to those who live there. How lovely and attractive it is to tourists in the fall, and how it beckons skiers in the winter. How city dweller escape the oppressive heat of summer and take refuge in the hills with cool afternoon and evening breezes. To the outsider it's too charming by half and many leave to return to their dwelling place and think of it as a very attractive place to retire. A university, reasonably priced real estate where you can purchase a lovely home for a little over $100,000, and a newer hospital. Good book stores and plenty of history lovers and hikers. Lots of wildlife too. And plenty of those cozy diners where you can get a real good breakfast for about $4, served with local news and a strong cup of coffee.

I've often wondered why my ancestors chose to come to Allegany County and stay there. The earliest were after land and prosperity that came with it. The Irish and the Welsh came to work on the railroads and in the coal mines. My German ancestors brought the retail trades of confectionary and barbering with them. 
The area is less prosperous now that it was 100 years ago and the coal is all but gone, and only the lower grade stuff being stripped from the land. When you get down to it, it was then and still is now all about the land, one way or another.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Posts and their popularity

Guess which posts are the most popular? Seriously, go ahead and guess.

This blog has a built in traffic monitor that tells me how I'm doing and how many visitors look at each post. I have a curious nature so every once in a while I check it and see what's what. Have to mention that I'm not the type of blogger who monitors my blog traffic too often or one who maybe hopes to eventually slap some adds over there on the right side and earn some revenue, although come to think of it, if I did I could get more genealogy stuff! No, I'm happiest and think the blog is doing it's work if a new-to-me cousin contacts me out of the blue. And that happens regularly enough so all's right in my blog world.

Posts that get pretty good traffic are the ones picked up by other blogs or Best Of articles. Then everyone has to click through to see what's of interest. That's pretty cool but it's a once in a while thing and a novelty that keeps me amused for a moment or two. These are not the posts that get the most traffic.

What totally floats my blogging boat is knowing what terms people Google and are looking for that brings them here. I hear that "genealogy" is the second most searched term, after porn, and I'm willing to bet that you already knew that;)

Overwhelmingly, people are seeking out information on and Googling DNA. And toping that group of posts is Neanderthal DNA. People must be fascinated by the concept that our origins have a different path than what they might have thought. I was somewhat amused when the topic of Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens interbreeding first hit the mainstream press how a good number of people had a freak out. Postings to social media revealed a deep dislike of such a thing! All I can say is: LOL.

The second term that brings a crowd is Haplogroup. There's nothing like a hearty discussion of what percent Neanderthal each of us might be, but after that Haplogroup is what attracts attention. I get it because it still fascinates me to think of some millennia-ago ancestor traversing continents, mating with other travelers, and little by little, moving on.

I think that the popularity of personal DNA testing is a transformative thing in our world. This self-knowledge at our deepest levels is a powerful tool that we're only starting to comprehend. And I think and anticipate that it will bring even more changes and some in ways we can't even imagine now. We struggle with it. We push it away and then draw it back to us. We Google and then click away. But more and more of us are using the personal DNA test and liking that we can. We understand more about how DNA works as we go along. What seemed a steep learning curve a couple of years ago is becoming common knowledge very quickly. The numbers of people tested continues to climb, companies offering services expand their offerings, and slowly the price still continues to come down. We want to know increasingly more about ourselves.

Imagine what you and I might have said 20 years ago if we were told that anyone, anyone at all, could spit into a tube and a month or two later find out who we match based on a common ancestor. Not to mention the Neanderthal thing;)

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Monday, November 10, 2014

The Troutman wrap-up and what I found that I didn't know

If you've been following along as I tracked down the life and times of Peter Troutman and his descendants down to my sweet and dear Grandma Kelly, you'll know how much fun I've been having. I've traced the line from Grandma Kelly back through her mother, Moretta (Workman) Zeller, and then her mother, Nancy Ann (Troutman) Workman, then her father Benjamin Franklin Troutman then to the patriot, Peter Troutman. The land records were plentiful and yielded much as did the court records and estate papers. I started to realize that vital records are nice and easy but all the other records just mentioned sometimes give a much fuller picture of what was going on in a family.

When I finally got back to Peter Troutman's generation I felt like I had arrived at my destination! He was the one who fought in the Revolutionary War, and moved from Berks County in Pennsylvania to Somerset County in the western part of the state taking advantage of his military land grant. He settled there and became a part of the community. He farmed, of course, but he was a weaver and carpenter. With other men from the Southampton community, they rebuilt the Comp Church after a fire destroyed it.

His son, Benjamin Franklin Troutman, remained in the area also farming and working as a gunsmith. He went down to Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland to work as an apprentice to a blacksmith and learn the trade. But then look! His father was a carpenter and he probably learned much of that craft from Peter. So he knew carpentry and metal working and used those skills to become a fine gunsmith. He's listed as such in a book about gunsmiths of the region. It is said that he was a "fine musician" and played the fiddle.

He apprenticed in 1807 and married in 1812 so I'm wondering if he met his young bride while sojourning in Cumberland because she was from Maryland. Oh, and I should mention that Cumberland and Southampton are about 15 miles apart.

His daughter Nancy Ann Troutman married Elisha Workman from a prosperous and landed family in Western Maryland. Their families resided just 12 miles away from each other. Until quite recently I had difficulty organizing some of the records for Nancy Ann. Growing up she was called Nancy, but once she married she became Anne or Anna, or even Angeline. Maybe I had three different people? But no. Once I made a list of which name she used and when I could see how it went. Her birth family called her Nancy, a diminutive of Anne. It was only in her marriage that she was also called Angeline. All the same person.

I don't really know why knowing such details of these ancestors lives makes me so happy, but it does. I guess it gives them some flesh and bones. Early on when I first started doing genealogy I read something that's stayed with me. The writer said that it's what the dash represents, the one between the birth and death years, that's the most fascinating part of this work. Yes it is!

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