Saturday, July 25, 2009

Learning From the Dead

(From Bruce)

Well, now that the trip is done and life begins to go back to some sense of normality I begin the daunting task of cataloging all this information. My first seven documents gave me 22 new pieces of information. I still have an awful lot to go through and will eventually get it all put into my database.

I shared with you all the good and the bad characters in my family tree and that was at least interesting. I am learning facts now from my dead ancestors and while they may not be quite as interesting I still am learning. One example was from the death certificate of my great grandmother Julia Downing Mencer. Before our trip I knew the month and year of her birth and that was it. Now I know the following:

Her date of birth was Dec 27, 1855
Her date of death was May 11, 1923
The cause of her death was liver cancer that she had suffered with for two years
She died in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

From another mortuary record I learned that her parents were indeed who I thought they were...John Downing and Delila Breeding.

For a long time now, I have pondered over old stories from 1901 that were in the Fort Wayne News Sentinel about a William Mencer. I was never sure if it was my great grandfather, my grandfather or (hopefully) some other William Mencer. Several pieces of information caused my doubt. One was that the William Mencer in these articles was a carpenter and I had found no evidence that my great grandfather ever was one. Another one was that I had record of an unrelated William Mencer in that area during that time. The articles that I had found online did not include the finding of the court either. I found that information at the Allen County Library in an old copy of the newspaper. William Mencer was found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to an additional 30 days in jail. Then I found a copy of the divorce record for my great grandparents in 1910. In the transcript Julia states that William had been in jail for embezzlement and she also mentioned that he made his living as a carpenter. Once again 2+2=4.

I found on a marriage certificate for William's second marriage a second reference to his father being named John. This document also listed his mother, heretofore always listed as unknown, as Catherine Hoffman born in Germany. Perhaps with this new information I can find William somewhere prior to 1880 when he is living in Monroeville. To this point though, no such luck.

I am also still trying to find that elusive "Indian" story documentation. I have heard it as a child, I have heard different versions from other branches of the Mencer family but I cannot get ahold of any fact to verify it.

Have any of you heard a story about our Mencers being born as American Indians? My story includes the name of Godfroy as the original name later changed to Mencer for some reason.

Feel free to comment and list your version of the story.

Thanks for reading

More to come...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The live people were the most fun!

(From Bruce)

This trip was originally about finding information and documentation on our dead ancestors in order to add some "leaves" to the family tree. An unexpected plus was the fun we had with the living. Some of this post will be repeat from earlier but much is new.

At some point we decided that we should make some attempt to actually meet face to face with some of the relatives I had met online while researching genealogy. Here are some of the characters we found:

Our first meeting was with Don and Barb Nickerson. They were kind enough to drive about an hour an a half to meet with us in Milwaukee. The amazing thing was even though we had never met there seemed to be an almost instant connection. We talked and laughed about genealogy and mostly about life in general. Having never really done much in the way of family visits growing up it was a lot of fun to meet and have such great fun with relatives. We enjoyed lunch and then had a photo session out in the parking lot. I am sure we looked like the atypical tourists but it was well worth it.

The next day we were invited to the home of our cousin Shirley Syster. She is a cousin on our Mencer side and she and her husband Bob had us to their house for a Sunday afternoon cookout. We also got to meet their children Daniel, Thomas and Elizabeth. We also got to meet Louis Mencer (aka Louie) who at age 79 is the currect patriarch of our Mencer line. After awhile I felt bad for Bob and the kids as the conversation seemed to center around the Mencers in our past and whether we were American Indian or not, why we Mencers were the way we were and just plain carrying on. Bob cooked us up a delicious bunch of barbequed chicken and ribs and we had that and sides and ate like kings (or gluttons in my case).

Of course since this was a genealogy trip after lunch Shirley took Curt and I out to a couple cemeteries to view gravestones. Earlier Curt had shared with me his just discovered apprehension about "traipsing around" graveyards and he mentioned it again to Shirley. We had a bit of fun with that for awhile. Another funny thing that happened was when we were taking Louie back home and he and Shirley got into a "discussion" on politics. Let's just say that they are COMPLETELY different ends of the political arena and leave it at that. I was sure glad that they were not both in the front seat or there might have been bloodshed .

Our next family group was Dale Wagner, his wife Maureen and their son David. They are cousins on our Nickerson side. They too drove about an hour to meet with us for dinner. It was such good fun to talk with them and to hear their stories from common ancestors. It was also great to just talk about what each of us was doing in our lives at the present time. Their son David told us of some of the experiences he has had on his 7 trips to Japan for missions work and that was very interesting. A good meal, good time was shared by all and again it was out to the parking lot for the group pictures. Another fun evening with another group of relatives that we discovered were a lot like us in many ways.

Our final meeting of living family was with Don and Doe Whetstone. Don and I had met online when we discovered that he had an ancestor who was a child of my wife's great great grandfather. This ancestor had been adopted out of the family and I had no idea that he existed. Don, working from the other direction had no idea that there were any remaining living relatives who knew our common ancestor James Magee. He and his wife Doe, live in Arizona until the summer months and then travel the US in a motorhome. We met them at his sisters house where they had the motorhome parked. We pulled up just moments after Don had somehow knocked out all the electric to it. We had a nice lunch together though and enjoyed the common family ties and the craziness that is genealogical research.

I know this is getting long but along the way outside of the family folks we met some interesting people. While at the Allen County Courthouse in Fort Wayne Indiana there was the guard who had to "'splain it to me like I was a five year old" that when the sign says no cell phones are allowed in the courthouse that doesn't mean they have a place you can keep them while you visit that means DON'T BRING THEM INTO THE COURTHOUSE! DUH! There was the jovial guard at the Ohio County Courthouse in Wheeling, WV who asked after we went through the metal detector, "you don't have a pocket knife or anything like that on you do you?" to each person that came through.

I also want to say thanks to the gals at the Allen County Courthouse for taking the time to dig up an old court record on a divorce for my great grandfather. When I gave one of the gals the 7 digit docket number she said "no, no, that is not a docket number they are much longer and have letters too." When I said it was from 1901 she laughed and realized that WAS the docket number. They took about an hour to go dig it out of the basement and made copies for me. The gals at the Ohio County Courthouse were also very helpful. Here you get to roam around in the books yourself and go through the indexes and get the volume you need out on your own - EXCEPT don't go back "THERE" which I did because they didn't tell me that up front. They got as big a laugh out of it as I did. Finally there were the gals at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Steubenville, Ohio. As we were going through the old record books they offered us and then brought us coffee. That was some kind of service there.

The live people made the trip both interesting and funny. The real "dirt" of the trip was about the dead ancestors and I will detail a little of that in the next post.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Well... if there is stuff to be learned in a week and things to be done and people to meet and food to eat and discoveries to be made, we been there, done that and definitely got the "T" shirt!

Here I am on Day 6, posing with the last of the roadside motorcycles we discovered along the way... since this trip was loosely based on the Wild Hogs movie, we thought it only appropriate to honor that by picturing me next to a bunch of Harleys... truth is, I am not (obviously) the Harley type, but it was all part of the fun!

Now that I am home, I'm convined that I could not have made better use of the time than traveling around the Mid-West with Bruce, discovering things about our lineage that are both frightening and delightful, finding all the great restaurants in the best out of the way places in all these towns (you do this by dueling IPhones and Blackberrys), learning more about how we 'tick' as people, and learning that there is real value to family ties and bonding!!

Great times! Great week!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

All this information

Friday July 3, 2009 my brother and I left for his home. Looking over the information and pictures I have aquired I am truly amazed.

38 new documents that I never had before
4 pictures of Mencer ancestors I had never seen before
28 pictures of gravesites that I did not have

These items filled in a lot of gaps in my family tree. Each document above has verification or first finding of from 1-5 facts each. Each gravesite picture has documentation of 1-3 facts each. All of these records together probably will give me hundreds of new things to chase after.

I am truly amazed at the amount of information I was able to find and the degree of detail I found.

My suggestion to anyone who has never gone to the Allen County Library Genealogy Center is to have a list (8-10 to start) of documents you need or facts you want to prove. Take them with you and rather than try to find them yourself, ask someone where you can find them. It will save a lot of time and they are very willing to help.

I will post a final wrap up tomorrow making sure to tell you a little more about the other relatives that we met and what my brother and I have planned for the future.

Thanks for the kind words from so many of you.


Thursday brought the discovery of sad stories about my great grandfather Nehemiah Nickerson and his father David Nickerson, my great, great grandfather. Several years ago someone had emailed me part of an article about Nehemiah after his death where it stated that the “untimely deaths of father and son are strangely similar. Today I found out the details…
David Nickerson died on February 10, 1892. He was assisting his son to put into a wagon a quantity of goods for Jefferson’s store, the goods having been left by the freight train. As he was attempting to put a part of the load into the wagon, he slipped and fell across the tracks in front of a fast moving passenger train. He was unable to rise and he was crushed by the train. The article had some of the following to say about him:
“Mr. Nickerson was one of Marshall county’s oldest citizens…a man well known in the vicinity and respected by all who knew him.”
“He was 78 years old and often boasted that he had never, even for one day, been ill.”
“He had by his uprightness and Christian charity won the love and respect of a host of people.”

Nehemiah Nickerson died on Oct 26, 1913. The headlines of the combination obituary/article read:
Nehemiah Nickerson, an old Civil War veteran and one of the oldest citizens of Ohio county, was found dead in his room at the Kraft Brothers Hotel. Death was due to asphyxiation caused by gas escaping from a valve. It seems that Mr. Nickerson had in some way or other extinguished the light but had not turned off the gas, which continued to enter the room until a sufficient amount had entered to cause his death.
The old gentleman who had faced the battles of the Civil War for four years of supreme trial had answered the last call and had gone to join the bivouac of the dead around the everlasting campfire.
A man who knew Nehemiah said the following when asked by a reporter, “I have known him for the past 40 years and during that time I have known him to be always a straightforward, reliable and responsible man…Now that he is gone this country has lost a citizen who will be greatly missed and one who will not be duplicated for some time.”
(The article goes on to say) – Few men have enjoyed the friendship of a greater man in the confines of Ohio County, and few men leave behind them as many sincere friends at their death as did Nehemiah Nickerson.
Two sides of a family with two very different types of characters. Interesting to say the least.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Marriages and Deaths

Wednesday was a day of discovery. I discovered just how nice, friendly and helpful some courthouses are. At the Ohio County Courthouse we could wander through most of the record books and get what we wanted and there was always someone to ask if you needed help. I learned how to read an old marriage record index (not quite as easy as you may think). We found bunches of marriage certificates with the one I found most interesting was that of my great grandfather Nehemiah Nickerson. He was married to Amanda Eliza Robinson on July 4, 1866. The record had a note written at the top in the handwriting of Amanda's father, Israel Robinson, giving his permission for the wedding. Israel was born in 1812 and Amanda was his second oldest daughter. Earlier in the day we had gone graveyard discovering in the Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling. A most helpful place this was as they had easy to find indexes listing all the information. We were given a map of the place and off we went. We had some trouble but ultimately found what we were looking for. Grave stones of Nehemiah and Amanda, Henry Nehemiah Nickerson who was awarded the Medal of Honor from President John F Kennedy and John Robinson who was Amanda's older brother.

We also found a detailed story about my uncle John Griffith and his son Walker who had both drowned in 1968. Walker had fallen into a rained swollen creek he had been told not to get into and was washed away. His father John jumped in to save him and both perished. Walker's body was not found until the next day some 12 miles downstream from where he had fallen in. I knew about the story from my mother years and years ago, but reading it in detail made me realize yet another reason why I am so attracted (addicted?) to this study of genealogy. I want to leave a detailed history for my descendents that gives not only the facts but the stories; good, bad, sad and happy all.

The plan for Thursday is to move on to Steubenville for more of the same and perhaps back to Wheeling for more "digging".

All in all, another very fulfilling day.

SKELETONS and SCOUNDRELS in the closet

This post is being entered by Bruce. Tuesday was a day of discovery in a lot of ways. We took the information that we got from the Genealogy Center to the Allen County Courthouse to find two documents or at least to find details and truth about two things...There was a William Mencer who was arrested and charged back in 1901 with embezzlement. I needed to know if there was any chance this could have been my great grandfather. There were a couple of William Mencers in the area during that time although they had different spellings of their surname. Secondly I had just found out the day before the date on which my great grandparents were divorced and I wanted to get a chance to see the case information to find out why.

Well, there is a song by Chris Daughtry that has a line that says, "be careful what you wish for...because you just might get it, you just might get it all." I felt I had to know the answers and I got them all.

Without going into all the ugly details, suffice to say that my great grandfather was at least for the 10 years or so prior to 1910 a very rude, selfish, uncaring and abusive man to his wife. He took to calling her the most foul names you can imagine, would often leave for weeks at a time without saying when he would return and accused his wife of running around on him. The fact is that he was "chasing everything in a skirt" and according to the case records did little or nothing to try and hide it. In the testimonial part of the case the plaintiff, my great grandmother, said that about 10 years prior to this her husband had spent about six months in the Allen County Jail after being found guilty of embezzlement.

As Paul Harvey would say, "and now you know...the rest of the story." It happened so far back in the past that I am not troubled or changed by it, but it certainly does add to the experiences in the family tree.

Another interesting tale was found in the Fort Wayne News back in 1906. Seems as though the younger sister of my great grandmother, Carrie Redding was the proprietor of the Riverside Hotel in Fort Wayne and due to recent activities, "the police are preparing to prosecute the case against the hotel vigorously".

Verrry INTERESTING. All in the family. This has been a most interesting trip to this point with documentation, meeting new family and discovery...lots of discovery.

The trip next winds its way to the Wheeling, West Virginia/Steubenville, OH area to take a look into the goings ons of some of the other side of the family, the Nickersons. I am hoping to find a lot of information, some good documentation and perhaps a story or two more.

All for now.