A number of years ago, I was working on my husband’s family, made more difficult by the fact that his grandfather had been married three times, and had children with each wife. My husband’s father’s oldest half-brother had been born in 1888 in Illinois but moved to Valentine, Nebraska, where he died in 1937. The family had long ago lost contact with him or his family.
I had no idea whether he had any living descendants or not, so I found the address for the Valentine newspaper online, and sent a letter to the editor. I explained that I was trying to find relatives of this person, who had once owned an auto dealership there. The very afternoon that the paper came out, I had a phone call from a great-granddaughter of the person I was researching. She told me of all the relatives, and from then on I had constant contact with them. I still maintain contact with one of them.
In addition to that, a couple of weeks after my letter appeared in the Valentine paper, I had a letter from a man living in Amarillo, Texas. He still took his hometown paper, and had seen my letter. He had grown up in Valentine, and told me of going to the auto dealership with his father, as a small boy, and things he remembered about this long lost relative.
So sometimes something as simple as a letter to the editor can bring about dramatic results.
My Mom always got excited every time I found a new relative or ancestor, so I decided to display the family tree at her funeral wake last summer, soon after she turned 90. The night before the wake I printed an all-in-one tree, which was at least 12 feet long. It took a few hours to tape 50+ the pages together so it was logical and readable. It was displayed on two long tables at the funeral home, and soon I noticed relatives looking for their names. I always try to include at least two or three generations of spouses and in-laws, and it was fun to see them find their names too. I even included a boyfriend and a girlfriend of two of our kids, and will connect them to the tree at two weddings this year.
Relatives started writing on the tree, adding more information about spouses, and making spelling and other corrections. The wife of one cousin made a BIG correction. She told me the story of how her dad found out in his 60s or 70s that the man he thought was his father, and who died before he was born, was not his biological father. When he applied for a passport they couldn’t find his birth certificate. His older siblings finally gave him the name of his birth father, who had never married his mother. The birth father’s name was on the certificate, along with her Dad’s real surname. Her dad was so angry that he broke all contact with his half-siblings. No this cousin’s wife is trying to make contact with her first cousins not seen for years.
I’m hoping our kids will agree to let me display the tree at their weddings this year.
This past holiday weekend, I went to Charleston, South Carolina to visit with some family. Charleston is an amazing city, almost a living museum. The preservation laws do not allow for buildings to be torn down, so the city has a lot of history everywhere you turn.
I took a tour and my guide was a very charming native of South Carolina, named Randy Lee Hill. He was quite knowledgeable and entertaining; one of our stops was St. Philips Episcopal church. The church was first built in 1680, and is the burial site of Charles Pinckney, who was one of the signers of the Constitution and Edward Rutledge, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Also buried there, in the West Church yard across the street from the church, is John C Calhoun, a much revered statesman of South Carolina. During the Civil War his body was moved to the East Church Yard near the chapel because it was feared that Federal troops might desecrate it. Federal troops never did, and John C. Calhoun was returned to the West Church yard sometime later.
But why was he originally buried in the West Church yard and not church side? Because he was not a native born Charlestonian. Only native born Charlestonians were buried church side. Not even John C Calhoun who was much admired by South Carolinians was buried there.
So what does that mean from a genealogy point of view? If you know which side of the cemetery your ancestor was buried, you’d know if they were born in Charleston. Which of course, is valuable information. Knowing your history is not only interesting, it can answer a few genealogical questions at the same time!
Ask Ancestry Anne: A few genealogy resolutions for 2012
OK, it’s the middle of January, and I’ve pretty much blown all of my personal New Year’s resolutions. It never takes long with me!
So I’ll make some new ones for my genealogy research and see if I can be more successful there. And I shall be most interested to hear what your genealogy resolutions are as well.
Resolution #1: Try new ways of searching. It is so easy to get into a rut. Maybe you always start your searches from trees. Or from data collection pages. But if you do the same thing all the time, you might be missing something. When you are searching for something on a specific ancestor, you might want to start from:
Search Records from a tree page; this gathers everything you know about the person and searches with that information
Search from the home page or search page; try a minimal search with just names, birth year and birth location
Try searching with all of the exact filters set
Experiment with name filters and find which ones you feel most comfortable starting with
Start on Group page such as census or military. You will find them under the drop down for Search
Start on a data collection page and do a surname search.
Check the Card Catalog, set the sort order to Date Updated or Date Added and see what might be new and interesting
Make sure you check the place pages for the state you are researching (see the map at the bottom of the search page) and see what Ancestry.com has available.
Do a google search. Type first name, surname, state and the word genealogy into the search box and see what happens. Maybe nothing, but what if you do find something?
Start with Ancestry.com, we do have the largest collection of genealogy records and trees, but there are other sites. Make sure you exhaust every possibility.
Resolution #2: Aggressively pursue new theories and hunches. When I am not sure something is right, say someone’s parents, I have started creating a new tree, set it to private, and start testing my theory. Can I find records and possibly other trees to support my idea? And if it works, I sync the tree down to Family Tree Maker 2012 and then merge into my main tree. That way I don’t enter suspect information into my main tree until I feel good about.
Resolution #3: Communicate more. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Places to look for those distant cousins:
Your message box on Ancestry.com. Somebody may already be trying to talk to you.
Look for other people who have your family lines in their trees and send them a message. Maybe if you pool your information you will find the right answer.
Add updates and corrections to transcriptions on records. Maybe somebody will see that you know something and reach out to you. And if someone has already done it, send them a note.
Check the message boards, both for locality and surname. And if you don’t find anything, post what you are looking for. Make sure you include everything you know.
Search for web pages about counties and surnames that you are researching and see if there is a comments section, or send an email to the owner of the site.
Resolution #4: Educate yourself. There are a lot of resources available on our site as well as other places that will help you know more about how to find your ancestors. There are many conferences and genealogical societies that can also help you learn more.
Check out Ancestry.com’s learning center and see if there is anything about what you are currently researching.
Check out Ancestry.com’s wiki and learn about the state and counties you are researching.
Watch a facebook presentation from Ancestry.com (subscribe to our facebook page) or check them out on our livestream page. Fifteen minutes spent with an expert may give you new ideas on how to research your Native American ancestor’s or get more out of the 1840 census.
Attend a conference. Rootstech (Salt Lake City), NGS (Cincinatti), FGS (Birmingham) and SoCal (Burbank) are the biggies, but there lots of smaller ones that might be closer. Hearing someone talk about a subject, might give you a new idea on what to try. And we will be livestreaming classes from the major conferences, so you don’t even have to leave home.
Read a book. You might be amazed at how many genealogy books your local library has or google books. And they don’t cost anything.
Read blogs. Lots of people write out this hobby of ours. Geneabloggers is a good resource to jfind blogs.
Looking over my list, I think I might do a better job of keeping this resolutions. J
Let me know what your resolutions are, I’m always looking for new ways to get better at this.
The year was 1871 and as the year opened in Europe, the city of Paris was under siege and defeat was approaching for the French in the Franco-Prussian War. The siege ended January 28, ten days after the formation of the German Empire, with the King of Prussia becoming the first German Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm I. The German government later that year became embroiled in a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in what was known as Kulturkampf.
In the United States, U.S. Grant was President, and was in fact re-elected in November. In April, he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act. Formed in 1866, in the wake of the Civil War, the Klan had been terrorizing African Americans, carpetbaggers (Northerners who went south during Reconstruction, typically for personal gain), and scalawags (Southerners who supported Reconstruction efforts). The legislation did not expand on civil rights, but rather allowed the government more power to act against these types of terrorist organizations (More information on this and other “Enforcement Acts” can be found at PBS.org.)
In New York City, the reign of William Marcy Tweed was ending as the "Boss" of New York’s Tammany Hall political machine. As Commissioner of Public Works for the city, he and his cronies fleeced the city and controlled city contracts. Exposed by the newspapers, and targeted by Thomas Nast, Tweed was arrested in New York on October 27.
Following a Midwest summer drought and a September in which less than an inch of rain fell, dry southwest winds blew into Chicago with temperatures for the first week in October ranging for the most part in the 70s and 80s. These dry conditions made the city of Chicago, a city built largely of wood, ripe for disaster. The first week had already seen many serious fires, and on Sunday, October 8, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 began in the barn behind Patrick O’Leary’s home at 137 (now 558 West) De Koven Street. The fire burned an area four and three-quarter miles long and around a mile wide, including the city’s central business district and nearly 100,000 people were left homeless.
The Chicago fire was actually one of four fires that were sparked that night near Lake Michigan. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and Holland and Manistee, Michigan also flared and spread quickly due to high winds. It is estimated that the Peshtigo fire killed as many as 2,500 people ranking it as the deadliest fire in U.S. history.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Is my great grandfather a Native American?
Question: I was told that my great grandfather was part native american. I don’t know what my great grand father’s name is or if this is true. He lived in Palestine, Tx.
Answer: Start with what you know, and work your way back. Is this your maternal or paternal great grandfather? Start researching his child and try and find who the man was. Gather every bit of information you can on your grandparent and his/her brothers and sisters. You never know which one may have a document that will lead you to the answer.
Also, Crista Cowan, aka The Barefoot Genealogist, has done a great facebook talk on researching your Native American history. Once you know your great grandfather’s name and a few more details, she has some great pointers for you to follow.
Ask Ancestry Anne: What do I do with conflicting dates?
Question: I’d like any advice you can give on criteria to consider which source citation to accept when several offer conflicting facts. It’s a general question, but my specific example is my gr-gr grandfather John Thomas. Here is what I have to select from as his birth year. None of these sources state a specific date, all are calculated from another event (e.g., death or census date).
County death record: 1828
1870 and 1875 census: 1815
1880 census: 1824
1885 census: 1821
1895 census: 1823
After using 1815 for years, I have recently changed and set the gravestone date as the preferred date and labeling the rest as alternate dates, but I’m starting to question that.
Any advice is appreciated.
Answer: To start with you may never know. His birth date seems to be all over the place in these documents. In some he and his wife Honora are the same age, sometimes John is older and sometimes John is older.
With a census, you never know who reported the information. It could be a neighbor, or a child who just was guessing or it may be the person in question. But maybe it was to their advantage to be older or younger at the time due to a pension or some other reason.
I saw the entry in the Drouin records but, there is no age listed. So no help that I could figure out there.
The tombstone implies 1820. The last Minnesota census, implies that he was born in 1823 and that he was 72 in 1895. On his tombstone it says he was 76 in 1896. I suspect two different people gave that information.
Other places to look:
Immigration records. He appears he immigrated from Ireland to Canada to the US. Maybe you can find something there.
Actual marriage record. Maybe his age is listed there.
Look carefully at his children’s ages. Do they vary from census to census? Is there one that looks like somebody got the ages right? Maybe that is his correct age.
Because of the wide variation, I’m not sure you are ever going to feel 100% confident unless you can find a birth record, which may be a challenge in Ireland.
I don’t think it is a bad thing to go with the tombstone as your default. You would assume that whoever had that inscribed wanted it to be correct.
A distant cousin connected with me because of a query I posted on a message board. He had several pictures that he emailed to me, one of which was of my great-grandmother’s wedding picture with her second husband. He has the original pictures and he scanned them with the original cardboard frame.
I am so grateful that he did not crop out the frame, because on the corner of the frame in faded lettering was the name and the city of the studio where the picture was taken. I called him to thank him for the pictures and I asked him where the marriage took place. He did not know but thought it was probably in Wisconsin or Minnesota because they were both from Minnesota and they had ties to Wisconsin. I had always thought the same thing.
As we were talking I looked closer at the scanned picture and saw the studio information which listed its location as Spokane. We talked about that clue and as I was talking I went to the Washington State Digital Archives website and it took me less than three minutes to find the image of the marriage record. Neither of us had thought to look in Washington State. The marriage record listed the bride under her previously married name and it listed the parents of both the bride and groom, the place of birth of the bride and groom and each of the parents. It also gave the middle names of both the bride and groom. (I had not known her middle name before.) Given the location for the wedding, I was able to use Google Maps to see a picture of the Lutheran Church where they married and the parsonage where the minister lived.
Moral of the story, don’t crop out the clues in your pictures or on their frames.
Along with Crista Cowan, you know her as the Barefoot Genealogist, I will be teaching a class 5 new Things to Try at Ancestry.com on Feb 3rd at 1:45 in room 155.
You might think about attending What does it take to get a good result? The inner-workings of the Ancestry.com search engine which will be taught by John Bacus at 3pm on February 3rd at 3:00 in room 255F.
These will also be livestreamed if you can’t be at the conference, stay tuned for details.
We will also be do short demos with question and answer sessions in our booth. Check the booth to get times and subjects. I will be working the booth at least half the day on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Children mysteriously appearing
Question: While researching my family at the turn of the century, I’ve come across an interesting discrepancy. I’ve found my great-great-grandparents in both the 1900 and 1910 censuses, but the 1910 census includes three teenage sons who were not included on the 1900 census. I can think of several theories as to why this might be—they might be orphaned nephews taken in by their aunt and uncle, for example, or the young boys were living with a nearby relative in 1900 for some reason—but I’m at a loss as to how to begin working through this problem. How should I approach this mystery?
Answer: I’ve run across a few census records like this, and they do present some interesting problems, don’t they?
Does the 1910 record list them as “sons” or is it some other relationship?
Here are some ideas for what to do next:
In the 1910 census, in columns 10 and 11, it lists the number of children the woman in the household has had and how many are living. Does it add up to include these children?
The 1900 census lists the same thing in columns 11 and 12. Do these numbers match what they should in 1910? Do the numbers match the 1910?
Can you find birth, marriage or death records for these new children? Some vital records will list the parents. However, remember the further away a record is from the actual event, the less accurate the information may be.
Check the brothers and sisters of the parents in this family; specifically in 1900 census. Do you see names that might match these children? Did the brother/sister die in the period between 1900/1910. If you get desperate, you might try cousins as well. Neighbors in 1900 might be another way to go.
Are there adoption records for that area in that time period?
Try searching the 1900 census in that specific town or county with the age of the child and just the first name entered. Do you find anyone that might be the right person? (It’s a long shot.)
Look at the WWII draft registration cards; they might mention a parent.
Search for obituaries and or wills for the parents. Are the children listed? Maybe their status is referenced.
Are any of these children living with these parents in the 1920 census? What is the relationship to the head of the household?
This is a tough one; but somewhere the answer is out there.
Ask Ancestry Anne: How do I know what records I can find for my ancestor?
Question: How do I know what records I can find for my ancestor?
Answer: When searching for information on your ancestors in the US, it is important to remember that each state recorded information differently, and the way they record information and what they recorded tended to change over time.
The first page gives you a brief history of the state.
On the right hand side, you’ll see a list of pages specific to different types of records:
One of the most common questions I get is, “Why can’t I find a birth record, or marriage record for my ancestor?” Well, it may not exist. Make sure you check out the Vital Records to see when certain events wererecorded.
If you look at the Kentucky Vital Records page, you’ll discover that vitals were sporadically recorded over time. So if you can’t find that birth record that should exist for your ancestor in 1881, it maybe because it wasn’t recorded.
The list on the right hand side, gives you a good overview of other types of records you may want to find.
Sometimes we forget to go beyond the census and vital records. Land, Probate, and Court records can have a wealth of details about dates as well as interesting information about what our ancestor’s were upto.
Question: What does the letters WFT mean, I see them next to death dates on ancestry public family trees.
Answer: I admit it, I had to do a little looking to find this one. World Family Tree was a product created by Broderbund and sold on CD’s which had family trees on it. They would estimate dates for vital events and mark them as WFT est.
Question: I have found my husband’s great-great-grandfather in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 censuses in Virginia. But because the 1840 census only lists head of household – and because I don’t know his father’s name – I am stuck. My great-great-great-grandfather is George Johnston; he was born July 13, 1805 in Prince William County, Virginia. He died on March 8, 1874 in Page County, Virginia. So far I haven’t been able to find a marriage record that would give parents’ names. What should my next step be?
— Anna Marie Johnston
Answer: I think I found your George Johnston in the 1850 census, in Shenandoah, Virginia. (If this isn’t your George, he’ll work as our example. J)
You’ll notice that there are two children, a 16-year-old and a 19-year old, listed living in the household. I would guess that George and Sarah may have been married around 1830, so George is probably in the 1840 census as well, although finding him may be a little tricky if he’s not the head of his household.
You’re right – finding a marriage certificate could help quite a bit. And it’s possible that you will be able to find one; however in the time period you are probably looking at, parents were not often included unless the people getting married were not of age. But if you can’t you may want to try to locate a death certificate instead. Ancestry.com has a great collection of these for Virginia.
Other routes you may want to pursue include:
Locate a Sons of the American Revolution membership packet for a family member of George or Sarah. George may not be related to a revolutionary war soldier but it is always worth a try. And it is a goldmine if you find the right one.
2. Focus on the children. It’s easier to find info the closer it is to present day. Take George and Sarah’s 1850 census and follow their children forward, locating marriage and death certificates for them, too. Any of these may hold clues that will help you find George’s marriage certificate or another useful document.
Search for Sarah. Finding her death certificate may give you her maiden name. Use this info to locate her parents in earlier censuses, before she was marriage to George. You may find that a family with her maiden name lived very close to a family of Johnstons that match the specs of George’s family (see more about this below).
Note that if you do find a marriage certificate for George and Sarah, it may lead you to the earliest census record you’ll find him listed in by name. If, however, he was married in 1830 AFTER the census was taken, you may still be searching for him and for Sarah using their parents’ name instead.
Regardless, the marriage certificate should include the name of a county – use that in the 1830 or 1820 census to search for all Johnstons (and Johnsons since I imagine the name is recorded both ways) in that county. Identify all the matching households that have a male child in 1820 that might have been born around 1805. The 1820 census has a column for males between 10 and 15, and one for males between 16 and 18. Do the same with Sarah’s maiden name, if provided, and see if you can create a match.
With the holidays in full swing, and Christmas only a day away, I’m sure everyone is preparing their home for a festive holiday, or possibly traveling to spend time with friends and family afar. Either way, the holidays are a time when we think of family, how important they are in our to us, and cherish the time we get to spend with everyone.
At Ancestry.com, we want to wish you and your family a Happy Holidays, and want to let you know that in 2012, we have some really exciting releases coming, including the countdown to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Both the images and indexes to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census will be made free to search, browse, and explore in the United States when this important collection commences streaming onto the website in mid-April 2012.
When complete, more than 3.8 million original document images containing 130 million plus records will be available to search by more than 45 fields, including name, gender, race, street address, county and state. It will be Ancestry.com’s most comprehensively indexed set of historical records to date.
Ancestry.com is committing to make the 1940 Census free from release through to the end of 2013, and by doing so hopes to help more people get started exploring their family history. As this census will be the most recent to be made publicly available, it represents the best chance for those new to family history to make that all-important first discovery.
And we also know that you might have some last minute shopping that needs to get done, and we want to help you give the gift of family this year. You don’t have to be the jolly guy in red to be a master gift giver. Just get someone special an Ancestry.com Gift Membership, and you’ll give them something truly magical – a way to discover their family story. They’re easy to give and easy to use. The lucky person who receives a Gift Membership can do all this and more.
Start a family tree with a few facts and grow it with help from Ancestry.com Hints.
Find answers in billions of historical records from the U.S. or the world.
Easily add new discoveries to a family tree and share them online.
Discover even more in millions of member-submitted family trees, stories and photos.
Get your gift-giving started and click here to send your gift membership. And remember, everyone has a family. Even Santa. Watch our recent interview with Santa to learn more:
I had searched the UK records, without success, for the marriage of my great grandfather Samuel Drew to Jane Harris. My father, uncle, aunt could throw no light on the matter. Great grandfather’s stepmother had written in the family “register” that “Samuel Drew left for a ferran land 7th April 1867”. The ship leaving that day for America was the North American, and on the passenger list were “Samuel Drew, 22, Miner” and “Jane Drew, 21, Spinster”. Why did she travel as a spinster if she was already married? Aha! She wasn’t. Eventually, Ancestry made the Maine marriage records available for viewing, and there they were. Married 26 June 1867 by a Justice of the Peace (JM Heath) in Portland, Maine.
So, they had eloped and traveled to the New World as brother and sister, a fact hidden from their descendants until just recently.
— story submitted by Ancestry member Geoff Drew. By the way, Geoff would love to find the couple leaving America for England (with 5 children) in 1885. Post a comment through the link above if you happen to discover it!
I thought you might like to know of my ‘discovery’ of a ‘missing’ brother (James Babington) of my Irish great grandfather George Babington (1826-1901) thanks to this James Babington’s dealings with the Victoria, Australia bush-ranger Ned Kelly. The story in my Babington family is that my great grandfather George and a brother named James had planned to go to Australia in about the mid 19th century. The lads mother, a Mary Levens in family lore, was not happy with the prospect of ‘losing’ two sons so George stayed in Ireland (in 1885 George and his family went to Canada) and James went to Australia. No one in the current family knew what had happened to this James Babington, let alone if he had made it to Australia. A few years ago I posted an inquiry to the Australia General message board at Ancestry about this ‘missing’ James Babington, never expecting to receive a reply. About a year after posting my inquiry concerning James Babington I received a reply that helped me ‘find’ the missing James Babington. The person who responded asked if I was aware of a Victoria, Australia Police Sergeant James Babington included in a book entitled “The Ned Kelly Encyclopaedia”. When my correspondent at Ancestry said this book included the following I knew I had found the ‘missing’ James Babington: “BABINGTON, JAMES 1832/3/3-1881 … James Babington was born in County Monaghan, the son of John Babington and Mary (nee Levens).”. The reason why this James Babington is included in this book on Ned Kelly is because the only existing letter in Ned Kelly’s own hand is 28 July 1870 letter to Victoria Police Sergeant James Babington. Thanks to my post at Ancestry concerning James Babington I have discovered more about what happened to James Babington, his wife, and children in Australia. It turns out James Babington was no doubt lost to the current generation of my family in Ireland, Canada, and in the USA because none of James Babington’s children in Australia married or had children. I have published an account of my finding the ‘missing’ James Babington in Australia in an issue of the magazine IRISH ROOTS about three years ago.
I’ve being searching for my ancestors now for 31 years, and with the help of Ancestry. the past 4-5 years. A cousin in Moline IL found me searching the family in the US and Can. She never knew what she was in for. Here in Belgium most people get back in history to Napoleon years, then it stops. Well I did got a little bit further. My root father and here mothers line of the family,was married in 1625 In Bruges, Belgium
Adrianus Fools X Anna De Pape he was 30 years old. so that puts him born in 1595. Now if that was not enough she asked on here fathers side to have a look over here in Belgium, because that whas where he came from. She had a Frank Goossens, and no community here could find him.. He was born Franciscus.. so the story continued. And a friend found his three also back to the 1600… That is what Ancestry could do for people searching people…
Thanks Toby for the 2012 version and all the US updates. Werner Vols
Someone posted my great grandfather’s death certificate on ancestry.com a couple of months ago. I have been to Arkansas and Baton Rouge trying to find information on him after he divorced my great grandmother in 1904. Still not sure if he had other descendents but this is great info!
I never knew exactly when my paternal grandparents were married. All I had ever seen was 1906 in San Francisco, CA. I knew that my dad had been born 7/15/1907 in San Francisco, CA, but never had a birth certificate for him.
Last year my sons got my husband and I round trip tickets and a weeks accomodations in San Francisco for my 65th birthday. We went this past April and I started searching for any information I could find. First I went in search of my dad’s birth certificate, but I had no luck. I wasn’t too surprised because during that time many children were born at home and not in a hospital and frequently the births were not recorded. I had that happen on my mom, so I didn’t think too much of it when I didn’t find dads. Next I started looking for a marriage license for my grandparents. I searched in 1906 and found nothing, so I looked for brides since my maiden name starts with an M and that is the most common start for a last name. Lo and behold, I found it, but not in 1906 as I thought. They were married on my birthday (June 13th), but in 1907, not 1906. I guess that is why my grandmother would never say exactly when they were married. It was not in either her or his obituary. I’m sure she must have taken a lot of grief over that as it was not very common in those days. I wonder what she must have thought when I was born all those years later on the date of her wedding, but she couldn’t say a word.
I look forward to seeing her again one day and tell her I know the truth, but perhaps she already knows.
Ask Ancestry Anne: Just Because It Looks Wrong, Doesn't Mean You Shouldn't Look
I was doing a bit of research for a friend on an ancestor named Amos Owens. He was born in Rutherford, North Carolina, about 1821, and he died there in 1906. All of his census records are in Rutherford, but I couldn’t find one for him there in 1880.
One result did pop up for him, but the residence, was Albany, New York. It just didn’t seem right. But a negative fine is just as important as a positive find, so I took a look:
He was a prisoner in the Albany County Penitentiary. Turns out Amos made more than a bit of moonshine in North Carolina.
Always look in the expected places first. But if those don’t pan out, start to open your search. You just never know what might be hiding in your family tree. :-)
My late grandmother Eleanor Agnes Fazzone Stanton, she of the bird legs and long nose I inherited, was born on December 7, 1914. A day that would eventually live in infamy. Today marks the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt exhorted Americans that they had nothing to fear but fear itself.
Nana encouraged a similar fearlessness in me, particularly in the dozens of letters she wrote me every year of my life. Until those final years when dementia crept in and then soon cloaked the spry nana that I once knew. Friends and the verses of songs stayed wrapped around her mind’s spindle, but her awareness of the present came completely unspooled.
Her handwriting started to look wobbly. The letters she sent decreased in frequency, the inside containing a pre-printed message, signed with her wobbly name.
I pulled away. I made no effort to visit her after she fell and broke her hip and spent months recovering in the hospital. She moved in with my uncle. Occasionally I sent letters with pictures of my daughter. I feared seeing her, I feared the feelings of helplessness that would accompany seeing her. I could not help this frail woman who had sat with me watching daytime television and making me tea when I was home from school, vomiting into buckets.
I wanted to cryogenically freeze my memories of her and let time do no harm to my impression of Nana.
I eventually got over myself. I went to visit her twice before she passed away. She sat in the living room of my uncle’s home where she smiled sweetly and nodded her head at my baby and occasionally hummed songs from memory. The final moments of happiness for my 94 year-old grandmother, crystallized by my six month-old daughter.
*** Two years later I was watching the ancestry program “Who Do You Think You Are?”. The celebrity accounts moved me in a way that reality television never does. The star’s searches netted them personal interviews with distant relatives, visits to slave plantations and European cemeteries. And while we cannot all finance a DNA consult with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., something they all seemed to echo about newfound identity –ascertaining who one was in the context of ancestry—spoke to me.
I had always desired the standard-issue answers about my stock: places of origin, dates, names, jobs, from where I inherited this impossibly round chin. I wanted to mine the raw facts, unmuddled by oral tradition, unsullied by personal agendas. I sought the hard documents, whatever public record could offer me, anything that had not been lost in translation.
So I joined Ancestry.com like the program touted, and my digital dig began. The initial phase of my search was rapid. Cousins once and twice-removed had already paved some of the way for my search. The software will gamely connect names and dates and relationships based largely on census records, and within a few days I had connected more than a few stars in my family’s constellation.
But the thing about geneology is that the grid of names and dates is never enough. I hungered for an artifact, some small piece d’ resistance that could speak volumes about whatever it was I was supposed to learn about my family and myself.
There was a romance to excavating all the pieces, even from the online archives. My search expanded. I e-mailed with distant cousins whom I’d never met, whom I may still never meet. I foraged through the Latter-Day Saints’ database. I purchased memberships to newspaper archives. The weeks turned into months, and my desk turned into a rat’s nest made of scraps of paper with family tree branches scrawled on both sides.
As my family tree solidified, two things became abundantly clear: That which I could find would surprise me. That which I couldn’t find would not. I learned that search entries were not always so cut and dry. Census takers estimated ages. Newspapers fudged facts. My grandmother forged her maiden name.
When I found my Nana’s perfect Catholic schoolgirl penmanship lopping off the whole second half of her maiden name on her marriage license and then again on the affidavit for the county records, I felt the weight of her secret. Did she fear discrimination of her Italian surname when she married in Kansas City, Missouri in the early 1940s? Was she trying to create a new identity as she settled with my grandfather in Nashville, TN. Had she already disinherited her late father, whom I also learned my great grandmother attempted to divorce for “cruel and barbarous treatment” per another snippet from the New Castle News?
As the oldest of my siblings and cousins, I have always stood at the edge of the forest where the mighty trees are established or felled, and where the little saplings are trying to take root. There is never a steady rain of information from the canopy, only sporadic droplets of memories and news that I work hard to shield from my siblings and cousins when I am able.
I thought tracing my family roots would allow me to finally funnel all those droplets from the canopy above. Instead of being a passive reception, though, it became more of an exercise of writing a love letter to the ones I would come to know through the archives, and to those that would read what I had exhumed. Dear Family of the Past. I don’t know what kind of stunts you pulled, but you’re interesting and I love you. Thank you for making it possible for me to be here, learning about you. Dear Family of the Present and Future. Thanks for understanding my need to figure all this out. I’m getting closer. I hope you are, too.
As Pearl Harbor Day passes again this year, F.D.R.’S words echo resoundingly against fear as we approach our future, but also as we engage the stories of our past, personal, public, or otherwise. The ink that penned these stories might be difficult to decipher, but the messages of love and fearlessness are unmistakable.
My Dad, Whit Criswell Bryan, was proud of his service in the Navy. A Chief Petty Officer (HMC), he was a veteran of three wars and a Pearl Harbor survivor. Dad was a pharmacist mate stationed at Mobile Naval Hospital #2 about 800 feet above Pearl Harbor on Aiea Heights. He arrived at the Mobile Naval Hospital #2 on December 1, 1941 where all of the medical staff was charged with building the hospital.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor began, Dad was delivering newspapers for a friend who had a paper route. He had driven the friend’s car and was at a top of a hill when he saw the planes. He watched, first thinking that they were US planes, but, when the bombing occurred, he left the car and ran back to the hospital. From the hill, he could see into the cockpits of the Japanese planes.
The hospital was only half finished on the day of the attack. Shrapnel fired upon the hospital was the result of friendly fire. One sailor was killed as they watched the attack. Much of the hospital equipment was still crated. Beds were taken out of the crates and set up as a roofless hospital in minutes. The completed barracks was used for injured patients and the staff slept outside in ditches.
Whit Criswell Bryan remained in the Navy until 1969, serving for 29 years.
Jackson Parker Centers, my dad, was born in 1918, and joined the US Navy in 1937. He was first assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, and was still aboard when the ship was tied at Pearl. Dad didn’t speak much about the attack because he lost many friends aboard, but what he did say, enhanced by news articles and military records speak much about the man who was my father.
He had just finished breakfast and was relaxing in his bunk when the alarm of the attack blared out. Apparently it was not the standard “This is not a drill,” because he would never assault his daughter’s innocent ears with exactly what was said. The first thing he did do was go to his locker to grab a pack of cigarettes. Then while running to his station he was startled to see a torpedo heading midship.
There were five men at his station when the Oklahoma was dealt her fatal blow and the ship turned upside down looking to all viewing from above like a beached whale. The men fought to climb up to the bottom of the ship for the water line and available air, having to wrench open the heavy metal doors to get there. For two days, up to their necks in water and oil they fought for survival. My dad had taken off his belt and used the buckle to pound on the inside of the hull to alert those on the outside of their whereabouts. Finally, on Tuesday morning, December 2, 1941, at approximately 2:30 in the morning, hearing my dad’s banging, men in a passing boat found the men. They were cut out of the hull by the light of the burning Arizona. And I am told, a torch could not be used because it could set fire to the oil in the water, so another method was use. Unfortunately, by the time they were able to reach the men, only two of the five remained alive, my dad and a mate. Dad was the last of only 32 survivors from the USS Oklahoma.
The folks at home had no idea of dad’s fate for about six weeks. He went from the Oklahoma to the military hospital for an unknown length of time. His girlfriend, my mother, and his dad checked frequently at the local post office for any news.
In 1943, after Mom finally agreed to marry dad, they became one when he was on military leave that year. Dad lived to fight other close calls in that war. I was born in 1947.
I can’t imagine the horror it must have felt like to be 23 years old, sinking with your ship and the struggle to survive, men dying around you. I don’t know if I could have handled it. But it gave dad the philosophy that each new day of life was a gift. Dad passed in 1993.
Thank you to all veterans of all wars who fight to preserve our blessed way of life
My son joined the Navy in 1989. In 1991, the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I asked my uncle — who had been there — to write a memoir of the event for my son. This is what my uncle had to say about December 7, 1941.
written by Carroll Joseph Oliver, USN, Retired (The Oliver family lived in Haddonfield, New Jersey; “Uncle Ollie” was born October 10, 1919.)
I enlised in the Navy on February 1, 1937. I was 18 years old. I was trained to be a shipfitter and the first ship I was stationed on was the West Virginia. I was then transferred to the Pennsylvania.
December 7 began like any other Sunday morning: I got up, showered, dressed, ate breakfast and left my ship, the Pennsylvania, for the Block Recreation Center, where we were going to hear Mass. When I got there, the stage was set up for Mass. Suddenly the Chaplain ran out onto the stage and hollered that everyone should immediately return to their ship or station. We didn’t know what was going on, and I hung around for a few minutes before going outside. When I got outside, I could see the Jap planes coming over from Hickam Field. They were strafing everyone who was running back towards the Fleet Landing and Receiving Station. I waited a few minutes, then started running myself. Excuse the comparison, but Jesse Owens would be put to shame the way I ran. I passed quite a few sailors, their white uniforms torn and bloody, lying dead on the sidewalk. I saw men with all different types of guns on the roof of the Receiving Station firing away at the oncoming planes. I somehow made it to the Receiving Station and to the officer’s living area (where the officers had their homes). This whole area had been bombed, and I thought a few bombs had been dropped right in front of the admiral’s house.
I crawled into a large storm pipe (the pipe that carried away run-off rain water) that extended on either side of the drive that circled the area. I kept crawling through this pipe to the end and saw Mr. Ensign Arnold, who was an officer on the Pennsy. I have to laugh about it now, because the situation was so desperate, and there he was with the back seam of his khaki pants split open. He and I continued running towards the Pennsy. Our ship was in dry dock. At this point, the air around the harbor was actually black from the shots being fired at the enemy planes. In the harbor itself, I could see the USS Oklahome turning over, with her bottom pointed towards the sky.
When I got to the Pennsy, I immediately reported to my battle station which was under the armoured deck. I believe the deck itself was about six inches thick. Before I had gotten back to the ship, the Pennsy had been hit with a 500 pound aerial bomb, killing many of my shipmates. Repairs began immediately and we had to bypass the broken piping. This was necessary becuse the bomb had severed all the pipes that had supplied the Pennsy with water. Our repair officer gave me and three other shipfitters orders to make immediate arrangements to place submersible pumps out and over the caisson to get water for fire fighting, machinery, guns, etc.
Because there had been a change of plans, the Pennsy was moved out of dry dock, and the USS Cassin and USS Downs were placed forward in the dry dock and then they put the Pennsy back in. The two destroyers who were with us (Cassin and Downs) as well as the Pennsy were back up on blocks. I myself think this move saved the Pennsy, because after being in dry dock the Pennsy would have been moved back over to Battleship Row on December 6.
While we worked frantically making repairs, the hospital corpsmen were removing the dead and taking care of the wounded. It was a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Lt. Commander Craig was the head of my repair department. I believe he was the only officer from the Pennsy killed on December 7. When the attack began, he was on the dry dock wall checking the utilities: steam, water and air. All three of these are needed for the machinery, etc. on board the ship. Fresh water and harbor water were much needed for fire fighting. That was the purpose of our going on the dry dock caisson: to get water aboard.
Hours later, when we finally did secure from general quarters, I returned to my living space and locker, still wearing my whites. You can imagine what condition they were in. If I remember correctly, I threw them away. My most vivid memory of the attack was the condition of our living space. There had been many dead and wounded in a collecting station nearby, and the angle iron (similar to a baseboard) caused all the blood to drain onto the deck of our living space. There must have been two inches of blood on the deck. I was then a young man at the time and my appetite was gone for quite a few days afterwards. To this day I cannot erase that scene from my memory. I knew everyone from the Pennsy who was killed on December 7, but on board ship you go ashore with other men from the same division.
This may sound funny, but believe me, at the time I jumped about ten feet in the air. In our ship area we kept our bedding and cots in what the Navy calls ‘hammock netting.’ In some division, they were outboard in the living compartments and they just dropped canvas over them, but in the shipfitter’s shop, ours were heavy galvanized metal. Someone went to get his bedding and cot and dropped the cover. It sounded like another bomb going off and everyone in the area was ready for general quarters all over again.
We got the Pennsy squared away in just a few weeks and left for San Francisco. When we arrived in San Francisco, I believe it was New Year’s Eve. I left the Pennsy in 1943 after being in the Aleutian Islands. The Bering Sea surrounding the Aleutian Islands is the roughest water I’ve ever sailed on.
The bell from the Pennsy was on display and the ship’s silverware was used for the Officer’s Ward Room Mess on the new Pennsy, which is a nuke sub. The ship’s bell from the USS Cassin is in the Navy Reserve Building in the shipyard at Philadelphia. Both of these destroyers were scrpped after they salvaged what could be used on other ships like them or in the same class.
My Uncle James Gunter and his two best friends, brothers Charles and Melvin Murdock were from Grove Oak a little town in northern, Alabama. They were wet behind the ears teenagers who were filled with excitement at he prospect of seeing the world. They enlisted at the same time and ironically were all stationed on the USS Arizona. In late November 1941 my uncle found out that he was being transferred to Pensacola, Florida, but was going to go home on leave first. He caught his ride to the states on Tuesday December 2nd, 1941, but before leaving the ship bought a postcard with a picture of the USS Arizona and mailed it to his family back home. He said goodbye to his two buddies Charles and Melvin never realizing that would be the last time he would ever see them again. Both brothers were killed on the USS Arizona on Dec. 7th 1941.
As for me, I was always fascinated as a child by the picture postcard with the one cent George Washington stamp that my grandmother kept in a basket on her dresser, and the story she would tell about how my uncle narrowly missed coming home in December of 1941, so much so that she gave it to me and today it is one of my prized posessions.
My father, Jack Pearce Jones, was living in Hemphill, TX on Dec.6, 1941. He was a lineman for the telephone company which his father owned and my mother was the operator. They were married on December 7, 1940. At some point on Dec. 7, 1942 my mother and father went home to eat and my grandparents were both home. My grandfather was the recruiting officer for three counties. He told my parents about the attack and asked my father which branch of the service he was going to join. As my father told me he was not too anxious to go to any war but was convinced it was his duty. He joined the Navy and was at Pearl in three weeks. H said they could smell the steanch of the dead before they got inside the harbor. He said it was totoal bedlam. A lot of the service people were still in shock and confused. My father was given a job removing bodies. When the officers found out he had been a telephone lineman they made him the dispatcher at the harbor. The harbor was mined and each ship coming in had to be identified which became his job. He said they told him NOT to mess up. He was later transferred to a mine sweeper in the Pacific until the end of the war. Daughter, Carol Jones Couvillion
Ask Ancestry Anne: What does CC mean in the 1810 census
Questions: I am (along with a lot of others) struggling to prove the parents of my 4ggrandfather Henry Pitts. There are 3 Henry Pitts living in Newberry Co, SC but I know my Henry died in 1817.
The 1810 census lists Henry Pitts and just below him John Pitts (presumably his son John) and after each name is CC or EC or maybe GC. This is not shown on the 1790 census, do you know what it means? Is this a title?
Answer: I don’t think I’m going to be much help with the parents of Henry Pitts, but I’m willing to take a shot at CC.
I look at the image, and it does look like CC. That is hard to read.
So I googled “abbreviation cc genealogy” and found a couple of links of interest:
A page of Genealogy Abbreviations lists CC as being possibly: County Clerk; county court, county commissioner; company commander
On Genealogy Magazine, CC Is listed as: chain carrier (see chain bearer); also used for County Clerk or County Court, it lists Chain Bearer:
chain bearer / chain carrier / “C. C.”: The person who carried and placed the land surveyor’s chain, a measuring device. An adjacent property owner was often selected for this task
Are there local histories for Newberry County for that time? A historical society? They might have information on this. I would be willing to bet it is something along these lines.
And as my readers are proving to be very knowledgable about many things, anyone else got an idea?
Pearl Harbor Stories: A Day in the Life of a 13 year old
She always got up early to have breakfast with her Dad. That Sunday was no different. Blanche and her Dad, Louis, were having a quiet breakfast in the kitchen while the rest of the family slept. Then, oddly, there were planes flying down the gulch behind the house outside the window. Her Dad said that they were Japanese Zeros and jumped up and ran to the phone in the living room. He called Pearl Harbor Naval Base where he worked as a carpenter and told the guy that answered the phone that there was at least a squadron of Japanese Zeros on their way to Pearl. The guy on the phone told Louis to go sober up and hung up on him. The air in the living room turned blue as Louis cursed at the phone operator and watched in horror as the first bombs began dropping on Pearl Harbor.
Blanche was just 13 years old that Sunday and the life that she had known ended that day. As she sat at the table in the kitchen, she could see the faces of the Japanese pilots as they flew past the kitchen window. When her Dad was on the phone she leapt to the front kitchen window and also witnessed the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. At first she didn’t quite realize what she was seeing, but when an bomb struck the Arizona, she saw the bow of the ship rise up out of the water as the ship blew apart. She understood that Hawaii was being attached. Later she would grasp the bigger picture that America was being attached but for now, her home was under attach and she was afraid. She could see men jumping off of ships all over the Harbor trying to avoid being burned or drowned as the ships burned or went down. She could see the flames in the water and the fierce black smoke from the stricken ships. Soon and mercifully, that thick black smoke would blot out her view from the kitchen window. Slowly, the sounds of explosions diminished but the acrid smell of fuel oil burning remained and the sun was blotted out.
By mid morning another strange thing was going on. Women and children were trudging up the hill from down below. People were all around the normally secluded farmstead. Apparently, the officers housed in Aiea at McGrew housing, had told their families to take cover in the hills surrounding Pearl Harbor. They, like everyone on Oahu, were expecting landing craft and an invading army to come ashore at any moment. These families remained camped on the property for the better part of a week after the attach. Blanche and her family sharing what they had with them.
Blanche never returned to the plantation school she had been attending in Aiea. Her Dad insisted that she and her siblings go to school in downtown Honolulu after December 7th. She didn’t go to school for more than three weeks. When she did get back to school, she learned how to don a gas mask and evacuate the school building to a trench dug in the school yard during air raid drills. She learned how to search the skies for zeros and the beaches for landing craft. She heard the stories of what Pearl Harbor was like after the smoke had clouded her view; of the hell of coffins stacked up on the piers. She could smell for herself the awful smell of death as it wafted on the trade winds. She watched, stunned, as neighbors and friends were rounded up and sent to undisclosed internment camps. It would be decades before she knew where some of them had gone, others she would never know.
A little more than a year later, Blanches’ beloved father would pass away leaving her devastated and adrift. Her mother would struggle to keep the farm and the family together. Blanche would grow older and in time become a chronological adult, but the reality was that she became an adult on December 7th 1941.
Blanche was a Pearl Harbor survivor and she was my Mom. We talked often and at length about what she witnessed and what her life was like after that dreadful day. Some memories were funny, some were sad but all were colored in the hues of human suffering from that day forward. This is just some of her story.
I was 7 years old and my mother, sister and I were visiting relatives. I was sitting on the floor in front of the big radio as we were listening to a Sunday broadcast. It was interupted by President Roosevelt making the annoucement that Pearl Harbor had just been bombed by the Japanese. To this day I can still see that scene with the radio and all my family.
Question: For years I was under the assumption that my grandmother, Ethel Hall Burtchell, was the child of Wealthy Hall Burtchell and Walter D. Burtchell. Ethel was born on October 13, 1895, presumably in Brooklyn, but I have not had any luck in finding a birth certificate for her with either the name Hall or Burtchell. What makes this more complicated is that I found a newspaper announcement of Walter and Wealthy’s wedding, which took place in late October, 1899 - four years after Ethel was born. So was Ethel a child of one of them from a prior relationship? Was she adopted by them? If so, was Ethel a child of another member of the family? Without a last name, I can’t find a proper birth certificate, and there are no elder relatives still around who can help solve this mystery. Can you?
— Cathy Schaefer
Answer: What I like about this question and some of the conclusions that you have reached is that you are letting the facts drive your assumptions.
You have Walter and Wealthy’s wedding announcement a date of 1899. There are multiple census records and a Social Security Death Index entry that consistently say that Ethel was born in 1895. Adding these two facts together, it’s not clear that Ethel was the child of Walter and Wealthy.
I couldn’t find this family in the 1900 census. But I did, like I’m sure you did, find them in 1910. Ethel is listed as the daughter of Walter, and Walter and Wealthy are listed as having been married since 1895, not 1899. Wealthy is listed as having three children and all three are living. So if Ethel isn’t Wealthy’s daughter, where is the other child? But it is curious as to why there’s an eight-year gap between Ethel and Gerard …
Walter and Wealthy are living in the same house as the family of Thomas Lyne (not sure if I am reading that last name correctly.)
Fast forward to 1920, we have Walter and Wealthy living with four sons in the same house as Walter Ingram. Ethel is living next door as a boarder in the house of John Hofstad. Are any of these people relatives?
The 1930 census gives us a more tantalizing clue. Walter and Wealthy are living with their four sons. Walter is 57 years old and his age at his first marriage was at age 21. Do a little subtraction and that means he was first married in 1893. Wealthy is 52 years old and her age at her first marriage was also 21. But that means she was first married in 1898. Hmm.
Putting these details together makes me wonder if Walter and Wealthy were married in 1899 as stated in the marriage announcement and if Walter was married previously in 1893, give or take a year.
I got temporary duty to the mine school. It was for two months, and then I was to report back to the Oklahoma. That was my key toward getting over to the Asiatic Fleet. This was November 1941. I stayed at the mine school barracks right by the submarine base. To me, those were beautiful barracks with neat rows of bunk beds. The barracks were right above the mess hall. There must have been fifty guys in the school. We were in class about eight hours a day.
The Oklahoma was in the harbor part of the time, so I took a launch out on Sundays to see the guys a couple of times. On the weekends we would go to Honolulu. We’d drink a few beers, look at the girls and wander around. I was living in hog heaven. I thought to myself, going to mine school was an excellent decision.
We had the idea that war was imminent. We knew what was going on in Europe. But, you know, when you’re seventeen years old you don’t think anything is going to happen the next day. We didn’t have training for war. In boot camp it was all, “hip, two, three, four” – marching and hand-washing our clothes and tying knots.
On December 7, 1941, I bailed out of bed pretty early. It was almost like any other day except it was a Sunday. So I leisurely took a shower, then I headed down the stairs and into the mess hall. Other guys were up. There were quite a few in the mess hall. After I got done eating about a quarter of eight, I started outside. I stood there looking around; it was a beautiful morning. No clouds, just a beautiful day to be in Hawaii.
Then all of a sudden I heard this machine gun fire going off. This plane came right over the barracks and let off quite a row of bullets. We just stood there in amazement at first. We couldn’t believe this was happening. I looked up and saw those big red meatballs on the wings.
“Hell, that’s Japs!”
All hell broke loose. Someone hollered, “Let’s get to the armory.”
So we all ran down to the armory. They had to cut the locks off to get the guns, and then they quickly passed out weapons. They gave us 30-06 rifles; the same gun I practiced shooting in boot camp. We grabbed belt line bandoliers with ammo on them. These 30-06s even had bayonets on them. It’s a powerful rifle, but it’s a bolt action. You can only get off one round at a time.
I ran back over to the dock because I saw these Japanese torpedo planes coming up the channel. I went to the edge of the dock and there were several submarines right there. The subs had machine guns on deck and they were cutting loose on these torpedo planes as they came over.
Those Japanese pilots, I could see their faces as they flew over me. They were that close, strafing with machine guns all over the place. The bullets were tearing up the grass fifty feet from us. Some of these planes had three guns on each wing. That’s six machine guns going off at once; that’s a pretty good pile of strafing. Of course, we were trying to knock them down. I fired round after round as fast as I could. We popped a few holes in those planes with our rifles; we could hardly miss, they flew right over us. Planes were coming in pairs, just like a swarm of bees. Then the light bombers came after them.
Getting killed didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to kill the Japanese, though. I was so angry at what I was seeing, watching the battleships get hit. I saw the bomber that came down on the Arizona. The Arizona was pretty well intact up to this point. I watched that sucker fly over the Arizona and that bomb just dropped down. I thought it was going to go down the smoke stack. Some people say it landed forward of the smoke stack. I still think the bomb went down the stack. When it hit and blew up down below, it must have been in the ammo locker, where the powder was. It looked like the whole ship just rose up out of the water and shook. Smoke everywhere. That bomb put the Arizona down and killed a lot of guys.
The stern of the Pelias, that’s a submarine tender, was facing outboard, toward the channel. They had a 4”/50 caliber gun mounted on deck, which is a pretty heavy weapon. The Pelias cut loose with that 4”/50 and hit this torpedo plane right in the engine. The plane looked like it just stopped dead in midair. Then it dropped straight down into the water. Torpedo and all, thank goodness. He didn’t have a chance to drop that torpedo.
Through the smoke I saw the Oklahoma lying there on her side, flipped practically upside down. I didn’t see it happen, but I could see she was rolled over. I thought, my God, how many guys are in there? How many are trapped? There were fires burning and smoke was everywhere. I saw Hickham airbase being hit hard. I was firing at the planes flying over Hickham and this fellow said to me, “You’re not going to hit anything.”
“Maybe you’re right, but it makes me feel better to keep firing at them.” I got rid of quite a bit of ammunition. But I didn’t run out. I had a whole belt full of ammunition. I stayed right there on the dock during the whole attack. We fired for a couple of hours, off and on. Then word came out that the Japanese were invading, landing. The word just went up and down the line, so we put our bayonets on and got ready for combat. Of course, that didn’t happen, thank goodness.
Finally, the planes stopped coming. There was nobody really in charge. People were just running around. Then I heard they wanted gun crews up high on this building near the barracks. They had mounted machine guns up there on the top deck of this building. So, I went up there and stayed all day.
Everything was a disaster. From up on top of this building I could see everything that was going on all day. Motor launches were going around picking guys out of the water. The water was covered with oil. They brought some guys who were still alive back to the sub base. They all needed dry clothes. I went down and pulled clothes out of my locker and put them in the pile. Then I went back up on that building.
It was just mass confusion for awhile. We didn’t know if the enemy was coming in again. The day finally wore into the evening. Motor launches were out there all night picking up guys, dead and alive, out of the water. We were there on top of that building through the night until the next morning. Everybody was awake. Nobody could sleep. Our nerves were wound up tighter than drums.
The next morning word came along that they needed a working party to go out to the Oklahoma. Of course, I volunteered. There were maybe eight or ten of us that climbed into this launch. And I was still in whites, my dress whites, if you can imagine. We started out and I could see all the carnage. There were still bodies in different places, washed up here and there. People were out in launches, anything that would float, picking up bodies. There was smoke all over the place. The Arizona was still belching fumes.
We got out to the Oklahoma and we climbed up on the belly of the ship. We handled air lines to help these guys who were standing on the Oklahoma, trying to cut out the trapped men. They were using cutting torches and chipping guns. There was this big Hawaiian out there with muscles as big as suitcases. He worked in the shipyards. He was trying to cut these guys out. I’ll never forget him, watching him work like a demon trying to save those guys. They had plans laid out, drawings of the ship. But, I don’t know how much good those were. We went by sounds. We’d hear tapping – tap, tap, tap.
“Here’s a sound over here!”
We’d rush over there and tap on the hull, and someone would tap back from inside. So, that’s where we would start cutting. It was terrible; you could hear them down below. In some spots where we cut through, a blast of air would come out and the guys would holler, “Quit cutting, quit cutting!” As soon as the pressure was released through the hole, it let water come in. It was just horrendous. It tore my heart out.
I helped pull out three or four guys. I think, altogether, about thirty guys were pulled out from the ship. I did this all day, until evening. I don’t remember being tired, even though I hadn’t slept in about thirty-six hours. It was my birthday. My eighteenth birthday. I was so busy all day I don’t think it even occurred to me that it was my birthday. My whole world was upside down. In the evening they cut us loose and told us to go back to the barracks at the sub base. I don’t think I’d eaten anything since the day before at breakfast.
I’ll never in my life forget that day standing there on the Oklahoma. I’ll carry it with me to my grave. It’s stuck with me all these years. I can still hear those guys down there tapping. More than 400 guys died on the Oklahoma. It was heartbreaking. It was a lucky decision on my part to put in for the mine school and get off that ship.
I thought about the leading seaman who helped me get into mine school. He went down with the Oklahoma. It was heart-shaking. It took me a long time to learn to live with that. It took me twenty years, probably, before I could think about that time without it ripping me up. I’d wake up at night with bad dreams for years. I wasn’t the only one. Others who survived felt the same way. I was a lucky survivor. I wondered, why me? Why was I spared? It’s the way fate is. At times I felt guilty for surviving. I couldn’t run around jumping for joy about surviving, not after all those other guys died. They weren’t lucky like me. I saw more action in three or four hours than some people did in the whole war. I saw enough killing to last a lifetime at Pearl Harbor. That was my baptism in the fire of war.
From the book, Just Do It, Crazy of Not; the life story of 30 year Navy veteran Irvin Hornkohl, by Mary Penner and Irvin Hornkohl. www.manzanoalley.com.
My father was a medical officer on a ship patrolling the west coast of South America when Pearl Harbor was bombed. His ship was harbored in Callao, Peru.
He had been dating a woman who he hoped to marry. Pearl Harbor clinched it. He called her at her family’s home in Manhattan and proposed.
Dad’s ship was headed for Vallejo later in December. My mother did not want to miss Christmas with her family so they agreed to meet in Reno, Nevada, where they could marry after a 24-hour residency.
Mom resigned from her job with Young & Rubicam and left home on the day after Christmas. Meeting in Reno, they took separate rooms in the Hotel Cortez, met with a priest at the cathedral to arrange for the ceremony and bought two $15 gold rings.
My father, Adrian Gerard Sira, moved to Hawaii from New Jersey in 1934 during the height of the Depression in search of a job. He was a widower with an infant daughter named Elaine whom he left with his first wife’s parents on Long Island to raise because he could not cope with being jobless. His intention was to bring Elaine out to Hawaii with his second wife, my mother, as soon as he got settled.
Dad began teaching math at Hilo High School, sent for my mother when he had the money for a ticket for her to travel across country and the Pacific Ocean. Elaine did not go out on that first trip for unknown reasons
My parents lived in Hilo where my sister was born and then moved to Oahu where he began working at Pearl Harbor in 1938, the year I was born. We lived in paradise in a small house near Waikiki for the next three years.
On December 6, 1941, my father went to work on the night shift at Pearl Harbor, expecting to leave for home at 7:00 the next morning. That morning our lives changed drastically. I remember standing outside in our yard (I was 3, my sister 5 and my mother 5 months pregnant with my brother) with our neighbors, looking at the sky as planes flew over our house. I remember the adults saying that those were not American planes…they were Japanese!
For the next several days, my mother had no word from my father…communications were rather sparse out there…and we could see smoke rising from the direction of Pearl Harbor. When Dad arrived home safely except for some burned hands, we learned that he had been getting ready to leave for home when they were attacked. He’d spent the next several days rescuing people, putting out fires, and doing whatever was needed to survive.
Dad never really told how he felt witnessing the bombing of those warships, especially the USS Arizona. I think it was just too horrific an event for him to talk about.
After that we were ordered to move closer to the base since Dad’s skills as a machinist were critically needed. With gas rationing it was essential that he ride a scooter to work rather than use our car. For the next four years our lives revolved around the war effort.
My brother was born during a blackout. Conversations always included talk about the war. I can’t say it was an unhappy time for me as life went on as usual with school, including taking my gas mask with each day, and the usual childhood activities.
Several times we were awakened during the night to go to the neighborhood bomb shelter. They were scary tunnels with huge cobwebs and big red ants (to this day I still keep my bathrobe nearby in case of a nighttime emergency!).
The war years gave my father a stable career at Pearl Harbor that continued until his retirement in 1962. He loved working for a cause and always felt proud of his contribution on that Day of Infamy in 1941. He took us on trips to the base, and we were even allowed to go out to the submerged USS Arizona and stand on its huge overturned side. Little did I know at that time that there were bodies inside that ship…we were not disrespectful at all but in some way my father was reminding us of what happened on December 7th. I still get shivers thinking about it.
Recently I went to a Pearl Harbor Survivor event, eager to tell my story about my father. The civilian side of this story may never be told in its entirely as their contributions have been overshadowed by the more dramatic events of that day.
The biggest change for our family was that it was impossible for Elaine to be reunited with my father and his new family. She stayed back in New York and was raised by her grandparents. When the war was over, it was too late as by then she was a teenager and had her own life back East. Also other troubles were brewing like a dock strike and the Korean War.
We wrote letters to her and did not meet until many years later as adults. My father did visit her when his job sent him back East. I think there were hard feelings on all sides that the war created this huge divide in our family.
While I cannot return to Hawaii for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Habor this coming December, I will be going back next summer with my daughter and her family. Of course we intend to visit Pearl Harbor, visit the USS Arizona memorial, and throw a lei into the waters where my father’s ashes were spread many years ago.