Saturday, December 31, 2016

Year in Review: 5 Top 5

As in years past, I like to wind down the blogging year with a look back. It is helpful for me to see what I accomplished and where I need to focus my research energies in the coming year. Frankly, what I see is rather pathetic. No surprise there. In particular, the last four months of 2016 have been the pits as my research came to a grinding halt. Even my beloved Sepia Saturday, my favorite meme for over 4 years, was woefully neglected. What’s more, my break from indexing lasted longer than I intended. Even my participation in the simplest activity like the Genealogy Photo a Day challenge on Instagram fell apart after a few days. What is wrong with me?  Never in my life have I been glad to see a year end.

As if the year itself is to blame.

I hope 2017 gives me a swift kick in the you-know-where to put me back on track.

Top 5 Blog Posts
See how sad this is. Four of the top 5 posts were from the A to Z APRIL Challenge. April! Month #4. The other was from early January. So after April, my blog views went downhill. Waaa!
  1.          H is for Handwriting
  2.          A Funny Thing Happened
  3.          F is for Friends on Frailey
  4.          B is for Baby Stuff
  5.          N is for Newton’s Nursery

Top 5 Personal Connections
1. While I was planning my blog about attending Newton’s Nursery as a child, I posted a request on a Facebook group for people who grew up in Portsmouth. I was looking for a photo of a Tom Thumb wedding. One person responded with a photo. I recognized her name immediately. It was Phyllis Carruthers, one of the daughters of my maternal grandfather’s cousin. As a child and teenager, I had met Phyllis and her sister Mary Lee several times while shopping with my mother, but ours was never a close social relationship. So when I sent Phyllis a message, I explained who I am. She called me right away. She and Mary Lee wanted to get together. It turns out they have been working on their family genealogy too, and they were hoping I could help them with some of their questions. Unfortunately for me, they are more interested in their father’s side because his story is so full of holes and mysteries. Still, it was a fantastic meeting. They brought pictures and cleared up some questions I had about their grandmother, one of the sisters of my great-grandmother Mary Frances Jollett Davis.

2. Probably most of us have some vague shadowy recollection of a person from the past, someone at an event, someone who seemed always to be at Aunt So-n-so’s house but we don’t know why. Who was that person? A relative? A family friend? Well, my shadowy recollection contacted me after Googling his grandmother’s name and finding my blog. It is Cliff Reeves, grandson of my grandaunt Mae Killeen Holland. I remember being at his wedding reception hosted by my grandaunt Helen Killeen Parker, Mae’s sister. Cliff did not really remember me, but he had those vague shadowy recollections of my parents and grandparents. He has pictures to share – can’t wait to see them!

Some very brief connections brought big results.
3. Sandi Craig sent me a copy of the will of our shared ancestor, Edward Herndon.

4. Doug Jenkins has studied the Wilsons of Rockbridge County extensively. While he did not have precise information about my 2X great grandmother Martha Ann Wilson Davis, he offered a clue. One of the bondsmen for her marriage to Mitchell Davis was Daniel Hileman. Doug proposes that based on the 1850 census for Daniel Hileman, our Wilsons were likely related to Nathaniel Wilson who died in Rockbridge County in 1818. Now let me see if I can connect some dots from Nathaniel to Martha’s father Samuel.

5. Joe Glynn alerted me to a child I had missed. Actually I am not related to the Glynns; they are descendants of the sister of John Joseph Killeen, my great-grandmother’s first husband. But I collect Glynn names and facts in the hopes they will further my research on the Sheehans and Walshes.

Top 5 Genealogy-Related Activities
  1. Serving my third year on Thomas MacEntee’s Geneabloggers MIITY team (we interview other bloggers for the “May I Introduce to You” series)
  2. Being inducted into the DAR and jumping right in by agreeing to serve as Registrar
  3. Indexing the day books of tailor Joseph Hamm for the Greene County Historical Society
  4. Participating in Amy Johnson Crow’s 31-Days to Better Genealogy
  5. Meeting the 30-day Genealogy Photo a Day challenge on Instagram for October and most of November (but falling WAY short in December) 

Top 5 Discoveries
1. It’s hardly MY discovery, but with the help of Dara at Black Raven Genealogy, I have learned more than I ever thought possible about my Sheehan family who emigrated one daughter at a time from Ireland to New York in the late 1800s. I sent Dara what I knew – or thought I knew – about Mary Theresa Sheehan and her sisters and brother. She found their birth and baptism information. Finally I had their REAL names, not nicknames, and not faulty guesses. Research was productive. Names signed to greeting cards in Mary Theresa’s scrapbook began to make sense.

2. An inquiry about Union camps in Jollett Hollow sent me looking for answers. One source led to another source which led to another and before I knew it, I was looking at a Revolutionary War-era ancestor: Frances Jolly/Jollett and Richard Gaines. Frances had been a question mark in my Jollett timeline for many MANY years. While I do not yet know how she is related, I have found her descendants and some leads to push back another generation or two.

3. During the 31 Days to Better Genealogy challenge, Amy Johnson Crow recommended we look at Linkpendium. Not expecting much, I typed “Jollett” into a worldwide search. One of the hits was the Kanawha County (West Virginia) Family Tree Project. Kanawha?? I didn’t know of any Jolletts in Kanawha. But there they were! Melinda Jollett and her husband Thomas Marsh, aka MASH. Now I know why I could never find them after 1850. I imagined they all had been massacred. No. Just a lazy southern drawl lost the “r.”

4. A death record released last year in Virginia for Julia Booton Keane named Reuben Booton as her father and Mary Jollett as her mother. I was all excited about researching a NEW ancestor when I received an email from a descendant of L. L. Kean, the informant on Julia’s death certificate. Marriage records show that Reuben was married to Mary Anderson, not Mary Jollett. The descendant has a note next to Mary’s name saying “Adopted by aunt Miss Sampson.” So WHO exactly was adopted by Miss Sampson? And who was Miss Sampson? And why did Lonzo Kean think his grandmother was Mary Jollett rather than Anderson? This discovery is yet to be completed, but it is nevertheless a discovery.

5. When I decided to work on a Jollett Family Reunion book, I planned brief biographies of James Franklin Jollett’s wives and children. That led me to learn how the Jolletts came to live in Harriston in the first place. It also revealed the many children Frank and Eliza informally adopted as well as their long-term care for adopted son James Ira Sullivan. I researched his birth family too.

Top 5 Best Money Spent
  1. DAR courses in preparation for my new role as Registrar for the Fort Nelson Chapter
  2. Boston trip to see the exhibit of my father’s Coast Guard photos
  3. Fold3
  4. Ancestry
  5. Newspaper Archive

I have lots to do in 2017. Let’s get this party started!

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Snow Stories

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week Sepia Saturday is all about snow. Here on the east coast of Virginia, an annual snow event is not a given. We are just as likely to get snow in October or March as in a winter month. In 2015, we ran the air conditioner Christmas Eve. A white Christmas is rare. Growing up, I never asked for a sled or toboggan, ice skates or skis. In fact, I’ve gone years with no snow boots. So it is not surprising that my snow memories are few.


Jordan snowboarding
Daughter snowboarding 1990 something --
she will have some snow memories for sure!
Nothing is more beautiful than new-fallen snow. It begs to be rolled into balls as ammunition in a friendly fight or formed into snowmen. It invites us to get out and play, to find a hill to sled down. Maybe that was how my dad felt back in January 1959 when he coaxed my mother onto a sled, not to race down a hill but simply to pull her up and down snow-covered Frailey Place for the fun of it. She was a full 9-months pregnant, just days before delivering my much-wished-for baby sister.

It was a wonderful afternoon. All the neighbors were out making snowmen and pulling one another on sleds. It’s a good thing too because when Momma was done with sledding, it took Daddy and three other men to get her up off that sled. Momma was not one to recover easily from public humiliation. I don’t think she got on a sled ever again after that.
Snow 1965 Portsmouth, Virginia
Sister, Me, Momma in 1965
6 years after the sled incident

After the Great Humiliation of 1959, you would think Momma might also have quit listening to my dad’s ideas, but no. In the late 1970s, a heavy snowfall covered the roads making them treacherous for several days. When cabin fever set in, Daddy decided it would be fun to walk from their neighborhood to mine, only about 2 miles. Of course, our family is rarely prepared for disaster, and that was one of those years when Momma had no snow boots. Solution? Daddy tied plastic garbage bags over her shoes, and they set off on their 2-mile walk through the snow. Have you ever walked in plastic bags? There is no traction. There is, however, a lot of slipping involved. Quite the cardio-workout.


Being caught off-guard is nothing new for our family, and we never learn our lesson. However, that is not the case for my city and the surrounding cities. At the first sign of even a remote POSSIBILITY of one little snowflake, Hampton Roads kicks into gear salting roads and bridges. We learned a powerful lesson in March of 1980.

I don’t know how all school systems work, but here in Virginia, public schools must be in session a certain number of days. Every year “snow days” are built into the school calendar allowing the schools to close in bad weather or for other emergencies without having to extend the school year in order to make up lost days. In case a school must close early for whatever reason, the rule is that if lunch was served, it counts as a full day.

So on March 2, 1980, it started to snow. And snow hard. I was teaching – or trying to before I just gave up because the students and I couldn’t keep from looking out the windows. We could tell by the look of the sky that this was no routine snow. This was going to be big. But it wasn’t lunch time yet. Teachers kept popping in and out of each other’s classrooms. “Are we closing early? Have you heard anything yet?” Hours went by. Finally the last lunch was served and we were sent home.

My mother, also a teacher, inched her way from her school to mine, picked me up, and we headed for home which was just 5 miles away, usually a 15-minute drive. As we approached the Churchland Bridge, we saw that cars were sliding back down, unable to climb the icy grade. There was nothing to do but make a slow u-turn and try another route. That day it took us TWO HOURS to get home.

At least we got home. People who had gone to the Circus at Scope in Norfolk were stranded there over night when the cities declared a travel curfew.

Now whenever there is snow in Hampton Roads, film clips and reports of “the Circus Blizzard of 1980” are brought out again.
March 2, 1980
photo courtesy Harvey T. Siegel

Snow is a two-edged sword.

Bundle up and head over to Sepia Saturday for more stories of snow.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sepia Saturday: Sister Dea

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

As Sepia Saturday turns to thoughts of the holiday season with a vintage German calendar, I am reminded of this Christmas card from 1935.

1935 Christmas card from Dea Christian to Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh

1935 Christmas card from Dea Christian to Mary Theresa Sheehan Walsh

It was sent by Delia “Dea” Sheehan Christian to her sister Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, my father’s maternal grandmother.

If the sheer number of cards from Dea in Mary Theresa’s scrapbook can be relied on as evidence of their relationship, they were close despite the ten years age difference and the 400 miles that separated them.

Born January 26, 1879 in Limerick, Ireland, Dea was the baby of the family of Daniel Sheehan and Bridget Gorman. When she reached the age of 17, she immigrated to the United States just as her sisters had done previously.

In 1900 she was living in Manhattan, New York with an aunt and uncle, John and Delia Hogan. Four years later she married William Henry Christian. They had a baby girl right away, but she did not survive. Five more children came in regular intervals, but sadly one baby boy did not live.

Julia Walsh with Grace and Elmyra Christian
Grace Christian, Julia Walsh (my grandmother),
and Elmyra Christian 

While Dea ran the household, her husband William worked as a shipping clerk for a time. In 1920, they were a farm family in William’s home state New Jersey, but by 1925 they were back in New York, Brooklyn to be exact. William went into the dry cleaning business.

Dea died June 8, 1942, in Brooklyn.

Even though I found Dea’s granddaughter on Facebook, I have been unable to learn anything new about this family. Promised photos never came. Questions were never answered. Family trees on Ancestry posted by descendants of Dea’s daughter Grace know less than I do. They do not even know Dea’s maiden name. They also do not know names and dates associated with Grace’s brothers Raymond and William and sister Elmyra.

Evidently the affection and regard for family in one generation does not always pass to the next generation. Still, since someone posted a family tree, I have hope that eventually I can learn more about a much loved sister.

Delia Sheehan (26 Jan 1879 Croom, Limerick, Ireland – 8 Jun 1942 Brooklyn, New York ) & William Henry Christian (1 Nov 1881 New Brunswick, New Jersey) married 24 Apr 1904 Manhattan, New York
  • Baby Girl (1904 – 29 Oct 1904 Manhattan, New York)
  • Elmyra Dorothy (29 Jun 1907 New York – 29 Mar 1996 New York) & Edward T. Zarek (9 Sep 1909 Rhode Island – 8 Mar 1978 New York) married 1942
  • William (1910 – 27 Sep 1910 Manhattan, New York)
  • Grace (6 Jan 1912 New York – 19 Mar 1997 Ossining, New York) & Charles Anthony Smith (1907 Brooklyn, New York – 2 Dec 1965 Brooklyn, New York)
  • Raymond (1915 New York – ) & Theodora Brown (22 Jul 1918 – 2006 Westbury, New York)
  • William Patrick (17 Mar 1918 New York – 17 Jan 2002 Flushing, New York) & Mildred Mae Meyer (1 Nov 1920 Brooklyn, New York – 28 Jul 1970 Brooklyn New York)
Please visit Sepia Saturday to see what others have marked on the calendar.

© 2016, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.