Re-energizing my search for family (Part I).

 

English: family tree/genealogy. Nederlands: st...
English: family tree/genealogy.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I retired I made a list of all the things that I was going to do now that I have the time. Ha. Turns out most of the items on the list were not as important as I thought they would be when I couldn’t find the time to do them. A few kept me busy for a couple of years and a couple for quite awhile but one of them essentially took over as a new career. That new infatuation was my family history. I had been interested in genealogy for quite awhile but, somehow, hadn’t had the time to really get it going while I was working. Now that I had the time my genealogy really took off.

It helped that a lot of the work that had to be done by any new researcher was gathering data and a lot of that was rapidly showing up on the internet. Sites such as Ancestry.com and others made that search for common records very doable. I was just familiar enough with computers that the new technology didn’t scare me off. If anything it made it more intriguing. I also had access to a great family history document that had been put together in the ’80s by a couple of my cousins which gave me a strong foundation on one side of my family right from the start. I spent a “lot” of time on this new adventure in the early years of my retirement.

Of course, like most genealogy addicts I suspect, I slowly made it through all of the easy stuff and even connected with some long lost relatives, visited a few hallowed family grounds and spent hours scanning all the photos I could find. Eventually, however, my hours of work yielded less and less results. I began to flounder and spent a lot of my time rearranging my old data into new, hopefully more comprehensible, piles. The correspondence slowed. The ideas dried up. The brick walls multiplied. Occasionally a burst of energy would yield a new shard of a story or an unexpected clue would pop up from the pile and lead me along a new path for awhile but the energy was clearly subsiding. I was definitely in need of a recharge.

Then, after 40 years in the same home, we made the utterly illogical choice to sell it and move into a townhome across town. We threw everything we could bare to away and lugged the rest to our new home. Believe me, that move took most of a year by the time we had cleaned up and sold our old house, hunted for and negotiated the sale of our new one, moved all those years of belongings across town and then put it all away. If not physically a year then psychologically. Needless to say I completely abandoned my genealogy for that year. Then when I finally dug out my data and set it all out it was like looking at someone else’s genealogy. I almost didn’t know where to re-start. Sometime soon I will share with you how I got my voyage re-launched along a new trajectory and , in the process, discovered a bunch of new hurdles that needed to be cleared.

Ancestral inventory…first pass.

The other day I came to the realization that most of my and my wife’s ancestors were already in the United States at the time of the American Revolution.  That means most of my children’s ancestors who migrated here were not immigrants to the United States.  Most of them actually were immigrants to some European Colony, in most cases British.  As a dumb mental exercise I decided to try and figure just how many people that might have been.  Here is what I came up with.

  • All of my paternal grandfathers ancestors may have lived in the thirteen colonies at the time of the Revolution.  I estimate that my direct ancestors in the Murray line, alive at the time of the American Revolution, consisted of 8 children and their 16 parents as well as, potentially, 32 grandparents.  That is a total of 56 ancestors just for my paternal grandfather.
  • My paternal grandmother was descended from Scandinavian and German stock who immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century.  I estimate that this group of ancestors consisted of  four children living in Germany with their 8 parents/16 grandparents and 6 Scandinavian children with their 12 parents/24 grandparents.  In all a total of 70 ancestors in the Nelson line.
  • My maternal grandfather’s ancestors consisted of 8 children/16 parents/32 grandparents.  Total of 56 in the Tunison line.  Some of this group of parents and grandparents may have immigrated but all of the children were born in the newly formed United States.
  • My maternal grandmother’s ancestors also consisted of 8 children/16 parents/32 grandparents with a total of 56 in the Lepper line and, again, all of the children born in the United States. Continue reading Ancestral inventory…first pass.

WikiTree

I have been experimenting with a new genealogy tool call Wiki Tree.  It is a collaborative family tree system that, after guiding you through the entry of your family tree data, tries to match individuals within it to the ancestors of your fellow WikiTree users.  I have used several other family tree projects that attempt to accomplish this same objective but this is the simplest of them all to use.  Interestingly, even though it is pretty easy to use, there is still quite a bit of privacy control and so, for a change, I had little trouble following the basic procedures and producing a basic tree for my family that is just as private as I want it to be.  I am looking forward to exercising some of the more esoteric features and it should really be interesting when my tree starts intersecting with some of the other users.  If any of you have had any experience with this tool I would like to hear how it does with a full compliment of ancestors and all of the complications that entails.

I haven’t spent enough time with it to review it yet, but I will try and remember to update these comments when I have.  So I guess we will have to call this a beta review.  In the meantime I have a new genealogical toy to spend some time on.

 

 

What I’m Reading

Bad Land, by Jonathon Raban, was one of those books that really hit a sensitive spot in my psyche.  The author was writing a story about a group of people, at a particular time and in a specific place.  I was reading it for my book club and, although I knew vaguely what it was about, it wasn’t until I was a ways into the book that I realized that the people he was talking about might as well have been my immediate ancestors.  The time was the early 20th Century and the people were the mass of hopeful immigrants (both American and foreign) who took advantage of the Homestead Law to settle Montana.  My father’s parents were among those immigrants, in their case American farmers from the mid-west, who came in search of a place of their own.  Needless to say, after I made the connection, I couldn’t put this book down. 

The book is ultimately about, not only the ones who arrived, but also about those that were disappointed and eventually left again.   My grandparent’s story ended up that way.   Eventually they ended up on the west coast where my parents met and most of the story of our family took place.  In all of the years I had been listening to the tales my family told, somehow, it had not sunken in that my grandparents were brought to Montana by the Homesteading fever like so many others at that time.  I have a very different view of my family’s history now and I am having to re-read a lot of the things I have collected for my genealogy work in that new light.

The book is well written and very personal in its style.  The author spent a lot of time in Montana recently and talked to the descendants of those Homesteaders.  It was touching to hear how much he found that had been abandoned and still sits where it was left, those many years ago.  It is a sad story but, unfortunately, a common one.  People can be easily persuaded to go almost anywhere if the reward is something for nothing.  Unfortunately, this time the payoff was closer to nothing than something. 

The Murray Line – Part I

Ivan O. "Hap" Murray
Hap Murray (About 1936)

In this post I am going to begin my genealogical journey with the Murray family. It is the most approachable of all of my lines both because I lived in the family and, perhaps more importantly, because I have two cousins who have already done a very thorough job of developing the Murray family tree.  You can find a PDF version of the Murray Pedigree chart in the Family tab, above.

I am going to begin my Murray story with my father Ivan Otho Murray. Not a common name for sure but not many people knew him by that name anyway. Throughout his whole life he was simply known as Hap. The family claimed he carried the name Hap because he was such a happy little boy. I know he had an easy laugh as an adult and it is not much of a stretch to imagine that he was, indeed, a cheerful little tyke.

From his birth certificate I know that Hap was born, in 1918, in a little town in central Montana known as Coffee Creek. His parents, Fred William Murray and Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Nelson (Murray), had arrived here, with their separate families, from Kansas and Iowa respectively about 8 years earlier seeking the promised prosperity of the newly offered Homesteading lands in Montana. He had two brothers, an older brother Orville and a younger brother Eldin. He also had two older sisters, Opal and Carmen. His father, Fred, was a farmer and a wagon hauler in the early days of Montana’s development. I have Census records of Hap and his family for 1920 in Coffee Creek and 1930, where they were living a short distance away from Coffee Creek in the little town of Arrow Creek. These records verify Hap’s parents and siblings as well.

Excluding a few excursions the family would occasionally make in search of new opportunities or simply to make a living, Hap would spend most of his childhood in the area. His mother, Bessie, told stories of little Hap having to be restrained while the other family members were picking fruit in Washington State. In the early ’30s his family headed permanently west, stopping for short stays in western Montana and Washington state before finally settling in the central Willamette Valley in Philomath, Oregon. The depression was in full tilt when they arrived in Oregon and everyone had to pitch in. When I was growing up I listened to stories of my father as a youngster getting up before daylight to milk the neighbor’s cows and getting milk for his family as pay. It was here that he would finish his High School education (in 1936) and meet his future wife.

After finishing High School, Hap attended Oregon State University for a year, until he realized he didn’t have the funds to continue, at which point he headed to California where the opportunities seemed unlimited and a young man could start a new and exciting life. He soon found work in the Aviation industry, working for North American Aviation as they geared up for supporting the war that was building in Europe. Soon he realized he wanted to share his new life with the High School sweetheart he had left behind in Oregon. He returned to the area and, in 1939, married Audrey Jean “Babe” Tunison. According to the Marriage Certificate they were married in Vancouver, Washington. I am not sure I ever heard why they went to Washington State to get married but I suppose they were doing as many young couples do and exploiting some loophole in the marriage rules across state lines. Then the young couple returned to Los Angeles to start their new family.

As The War approached the young couple set up their life in southwest Los Angeles and Hap devoted his time to his new job in the world of big time aircraft production. In 1941 Babe became pregnant with their first child (me actually) but at about the same time the tragedy at Pearl Harbor happened and changed their lives as it did almost all American’s lives at the time. Hap immediately tried to sign up for military service but was rejected because of a couple of medical issues (which he evidently considered trivial infirmities). Frustrated by his failure to be able to serve his country, he continued working at North American Aviation and took on very responsible job assignments for a young man of his age as his coworkers left to head for the Pacific and European war zones. During the War, Hap supervised aircraft assembly and even traveled to various military sites to train military personnel in aircraft systems and maintenance. A surviving list of residences that Babe had prepared for a job interview shows her, and now me as well, bouncing around several locations in Los Angeles, the old hometown of Philomath, Oregon and even Grand Prairie, Texas. All in a relatively short period of time. It isn’t clear that they were together in all of those locations and she may have been staying with relatives while he was off training pilots and mechanics. I remember her telling me about our stay in sizzling Texas but I don’t remember her mentioning all of the other places.

After the war we returned to the Los Angeles area, settling in Compton, a suburb southeast of Los Angeles.   This is where their daughter (my sister) was born. For several years Hap tried to make a go of an automobile repair shop which he owned in partnership with his brother-in-law, Bob Hughey. According to Compton phone books of the time it appears as if his father, Fred, may have been working there as well. The phone books also reveal that the Hugheys were living at the same address as Hap. Bob’s daughter, who is a little older than I am, remembers living in a small apartment separated from the main house. Bob eventually pulled out of the venture and in short order Hap did too.

In late 1949 they headed back to Oregon hoping for a new start. During that time in Oregon, Hap sold cars. He worked for several dealers but eventually he moved the family to Albany and ran the used car part of a dealership owned by his brother-in-law, Babe’s older brother Bud. He was good at selling cars. In the relatively slow economic climate of the early ’50s he managed to support his family, if not lavishly, at least comfortably. But Hap had bigger dreams and wouldn’t long be happy with selling cars in small town Oregon. He had convinced himself after the war that, without the war to support it, the aircraft industry wouldn’t be able to survive and that is why he had left. But he kept in touch with some of old co-workers and the company had not folded at all. It seemed, in fact, to be prospering. Even though he had lost a lot of seniority by leaving he decided to head back to LA and give it another try. Back in Compton, Hap sold cars for a short while before getting back on with North American albeit at a reduced position. Now working for managers that had been working for him during the war, he went to work utilizing the skills that had been feeding his family since he had left.  He became a part of the marketing and field service arm of North American Aviation. Eventually, he found his niche and made it into upper management selling and supporting commercial versions of Rockwell’s airplanes to industrial clients.

The Murray family were all athletic and loved sports. The game of choice was baseball and the family played together in Montana and continued to play organized ball even as adults when they were together in California. At some point, however, Hap decided he needed to learn how to play golf. I was part of this because at first, until he felt confident enough to play with his peers, he needed to have someone play golf with him and it turned out to be me. As a teenager, I was dragged around a series of golf courses while he honed his skills. Eventually, to my uninterested teenage relief, he gained his confidence and I was let off the hook. Golf for Hap, however, became his defining pleasure and although he didn’t ever have enough time, he spent as much time as he could playing his favorite game.

He was a hard worker and worked long hours and was gone for long periods as he traveled around the country, and the world, selling airplanes. He was proud of his job and had accomplished a fair measure of success but then, when North American was bought out by Rockwell International, Hap’s world was severely shaken. Co-workers and associates that he had been working with for years disappeared into the corporate void or were summarily dismissed. He managed to hang on by virtue of having an irreplaceable skill and a lot of important contacts among those people that would have to be considered the new company’s customer base. But it took it’s toll on Hap. He never managed to quite recover from that shock. He continued to work for the company for several more years but died of a heart attack (an acute myocardial infarction according to his death certificate) when he was only 57, never getting to enjoy the retirement, and all that golf, that he and Babe had been dreaming about and planning for.

I remember Hap as a kind and thoughtful man who often drove himself a little too hard and sometimes expected a little too much from those he loved. Most considered him charming, loyal and responsible. Over the years he had forged a strong and loving marriage with Babe. They were in love, they liked to party and they were ready to dance whenever the opportunity presented itself.  He was also clearly a product of the depression that he grew up in.  He was thrifty and he held onto his “stuff.” He didn’t spend easily but when he bought something he bought the best that he could afford. He loved cars and always had a nice car to drive. He hated debt. He only owned one house that he bought from his brother and only owned it for a few years before going back to renting.

Lately, I have become aware of the culture of the “Homesteaders,” like his parents, who came in and settled Montana in the early 20th Century. Out of necessity they were a frugal lot who fought incredible adversity building their livelihood out of nothing, and Hap was raised in their midst. He was born in the middle of the first great test that the Homesteaders faced as a multi-year drought wiped out all of the tiny gains that they had made over the preceding years. It is possible that his outlook on life came as much from that earlier experience than from the Depression itself.

My Family – A line at a time

In my genealogy work I have now identified my roots back, at least, four generations. In most cases even more. In the process I have attached myself to 16 different family lines. In this process I have collected a lot of information and, alas, found myself more or less overwhelmed by it all. So I am going to start a project of writing down what I know about each of the families in an attempt to sort it all out. As I proceed, I am going to concentrate on one family line at a time and work my way back as far as I can.

Since my genealogical work is primarily for my kids I am going to use my surname and my spouse’s maiden name as the starting point and pursue each of the other lines as they are encountered in the family tree. My genealogical tree is available on Ancestry.com (Murray_Summers Family Tree_B) but this is an attempt to expand the tree into some kind of narrative.

I am not sure that this will be an orderly process. At this point I hope to deal with each line separately, and then move on to the next one, but who knows. The family tree process is not a pretty one. I will try to label the articles so that the pieces can be assembled easily and I hope to build a supporting set of data in the My Family tab of the blog. Hopefully I can keep it all in order.

As you might suspect I have an ulterior motive for all of this. I have reached a point in my genealogical life that I need to take a step back and get a grip on the information that I have gathered. So behind all of these entries I will be putting my data together and cleaning up my tree and all of the citations. 

Grappling with historical source data.

Since I started working with my family history a couple of years ago I have gradually been able to track down nearly all of the important Census data for my family.  One of the important items, however, eluded me.  The 1930 U. S. Census numbers for my father’s family could not be found.  I needed to find it because there was some uncertainty about when the family left their traditional homestead in Montana and headed west.  I had waded through the search forms many times trying to find them, even going through the census data by hand in places that they might have been.

Then, yesterday, I convinced myself that, if they were counted, the surname must have been fouled up beyond recognition when the forms were transcribed.  So I went into the search form with a first name only and the State they were probably in.  It worked.  I had to wade through several pages but there they were.  When the census taker had written their name down he had messed it up, overwritten, and left a smudgy mess.  I could read it because I knew what I was looking for but I doubt if I could have if I saw it cold.  Whoever did the transcribing came up with a name that was just too different for the search engine to suggest it to me.  To further complicate things they were not in the town I was expecting but a short distance away in another town.

The final result, however, was that the family still lived in Montana in 1930, leaving only a short period of “unaccounted for” time before they had finally settled in Oregon where my father attended High School and met my mother.

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Today is the anniversary of the first crossword puzzle being published (1913) and the opening of the first animated feature film (Disney’s Snow White in 1937).

Family Generations – part II

In an earlier post I hinted that I was thinking about trying to incorporate my Family Tree into the TimePage structure.  I have just made my first baby step in that direction.  The Family Generations web page lists my family ancestors in relation to the social cycles of U. S. history as set out in the TimePage.  As time goes on, and in concert with other updates that I am working on, I will be expanding the scope of this content and integrating it into the timelines.

Generations of Family

I have been working with the TimePage, in one form or another, for a dozen years or so now.  It isn’t surprising, then, that my notion of history has been thoroughly shaped by the generational model of social cycles in history.   About two years ago, for reasons completely unrelated to my TimePage activity, I became interested in my genealogy.  I spent many hours grinding through the seemingly endless databases at Ancestry.com, wandering through old family photo albums and bothering relatives with requests for information about the family.  Then, just recently, I was quietly staring at the family tree one night when a thought suddenly pushed its way into my old, cluttered brain.  You know, my TimePage time lines and my family tree are really the same thing.  Wow.  Talk about a light bulb moment.  In retrospect, it seems so obvious that I don’t know how it could have escaped me.   At one time I had even mentioned a couple of my direct ancestors in the time lines.  Maybe, all this time, I have been tapping the same, hidden need to understand my past in both of these commitments.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I am now trying to come up with a way to combine the two elements within the TimePage structure.  I have mentioned in earlier posts that I am instituting a slight philosophical shift in the content of the TimePage.  In fact, part of that shift is related to the inclusion of genealogical data into the timelines.  I haven’t completely sealed the deal yet in my head but as time goes on expect to see a few more family tree details appear in my time lines.  If you think about it, the representation of social cycles are really just a family tree for everyone.  I just have to come up with a good way to hook the two together.