Archive for the My Family History Category

Family in 50 States #26: Oregon

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Oregon was admitted to the Union on February 14, 1859. Serious settlement began with the opening of the Oregon Trail 1842-43. I had some relatives among the earliest settlers.

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My first cousin 5x removed Nancy Hale (1823-1881) was originally from Jefferson County, Tennessee. She married a farmer named John Baker in Illinois, and they moved on to Oregon in 1848 where they raised their large brood.

Ephraim Stout (1775-1852), my first cousin 7x removed was a Quaker from the community at Cane Creek NC. He moved thence to Tennessee, where he was excommunicated for a time for bearing arms. Later he moved to Missouri, and finally to Salem, OR where he died in 1852.

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Oregon Trail started in Missouri

Finally my (4th) great uncle Benjamin Harrison Hale (1809-1870) was originally from Tennessee and then moved to Arkansas with his family. He died in Oregon ca. 1870 but the rest of the family seems to have stayed behind in Arkansas. What brought him up there at the age of 61 remains a mystery.  It is tempting to think he was visiting Nancy (above) but they were not closely related.

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Family in 50 States #25: Arizona

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Arizona became America’s 48th state on February 14, 1912 — the last of the “lower 48” to join. Long a part of New Spain, and then Mexico, its desert climate ensured a sparse population until well into the 20th century, explaining its late entry into statehood despite having been U.S. territory since 1848.

Still its legend looms large, mostly because of the disproportionate attention the state has gotten from western films and televisions shows. When I was a kid, like several generations before me, we played “Cowboys and Indians”. Our idea of “Indians” was invariably the Chiricahua Apache largely because of the fame of Geronimo and Cochise. In the scheme of things they were a minor tribe, but their final defeat came late in the game. The story captured the modern imagination. And the stark desert beauty photographs so impressively. Plus, when you’re telling a story it is helpful to exaggerate. When you want to suggest a harsh, extreme environment for your heroes to have an adventure in, there’s no sense in taking half measures. If you set your story in the Arizona desert, there is no question your hero is suffering an ordeal.

I researched Arizona quite a lot for a screenplay I am writing. I feel I know its landmarks, history and geography quite well. But I still haven’t visited, and I’m dying to!

So I was thrilled to learn I had some Old West relations there.

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Ellison branding a steer on the Q ranch.

My first cousin 4x removed Colonel Jesse Washington Ellison was a substantial Texas cattleman, former Texas Ranger and Confederate veteran who moved his operation to Arizona in July, 1885. From the book Cities of Gold: A Journey Across the American Southwest by Douglas Preston:

…he arrived in Bowie Station, Arizona with a line of railcars containing two thousand head of cattle and horses…He found a good-looking ranch just west of Cherry Creek, which he purchased from the owner. Ellison’s cows had come from Texas with his brand, a “Q”, and his ranch became known as the “Q” ranch. The fact that the previous owner and many of his neighbors had been ruined by cattle rustlers meant nothing to Ellison: it was just one more fight he was willing to undertake – which he did with devastating effectiveness.

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George W.P. Hunt, Arizona’s first Governor, married my 2nd cousin 3x removed Duett Ellison

Ellison had mostly daughters, of which he was very proud. “They were all good ropers and good shots,” he told a newspaper reporter in 1887. “They drove cattle instead of playing bridge and they lived on beans when we could get ‘em.” One of his daughters, Duette, married Arizona Territory’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt becoming the first of Arizona’s First Ladies. She liked to be photographed with a gun.

Here’s another good description of Colonel Ellison.

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Hosea Stout, Jr.

My 3rd cousin 5x removed Hosea Stout, Jr (1851-1918), was the son of the more famous Mormon figure we’ve written about a couple of times. The younger Stout was originally from Salt Lake City. He moved to Pima, Arizona between 1884 and 1886. His occupation on the census is given as “teamster”. He’s also the gent in this other photo, next to the “x”:

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My 1st cousin 3x removed Clara Cady and her husband James Pritchett moved to Tempe, AZ from Nevada  between 1891 and 1903. As we wrote here, the mines at Tuscarora, NV had played out, necessitating a move to greener pastures. But the fact that Clara died at 39 indicates that life in Arizona wasn’t a bed of roses either.

In the 1920s, Arizona started to become a tourist destination, with the proliferation of spas and dude ranches. My great grand father went out there for his health at that time, an indication that he was doing well financially. (His son, my grandfather didn’t fare as well.)

Why Ronald Reagan Is Turning In His Grave

Posted in CULTURE & POLITICS, ME, My Family History with tags , , , on February 6, 2017 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004). Reagan has to be one of the most polarizing figures in American history. People tend to either love him or hate him. Personally, as is typically the case when I weigh historical figures, I am a “neither/both”. I’ve written some about this polarizing leader in my all-the-Presidents post, and in this one about the movies of the 1980s. There are some particular reasons to talk about him at this political moment.

I used to say, diplomatically, to my children, “Overall, history will look kindly on Reagan.” This was phrased carefully so as not to imply that I approved of everything he did, but that on balance, the virtues would outweigh the negatives. Today, for reasons I’ll get to, I’m not so sure. That I would ever have ANYTHING positive to say about Reagan I imagine will hurt and outrage plenty of my friends. There are so many black marks against him. His refusal to lift a finger to combat AIDS amounts to a passive gay holocaust; the War on Drugs and racist demonization of the mythical “Welfare Queen”; his Faustian bargain with religious Fundamentalists who, though a minority, have monopolized American domestic policy for close to four decades; and his enormous increases in military spending combined with an unconscionable lowering of taxes that resulted in the metastasizing of the national debt. I believe in small, prudent government. But I also believe in paying what you owe. Reagan changed America into a nation where it was now okay to pursue profit at any cost and in doing so to shirk your duty to the government, your employees, and your fellow man. And he also brought a new bellicosity to the culture; somehow violence became patriotic and sanctioned at the highest levels. In many ways, Reagan gave birth to millions of monsters, the most monstrous of which is our current president. Trump was the absolute embodiment of the soul-sickness of the ’80s. He was (and is) the poster boy for all the Deadly Sins.

"Some day I will turn American into a banana republic!"

“Some day I will turn America into a banana republic!”

So what’s good about Reagan? Even this will be qualified with criticism, but at bottom it’s this: when it comes to leadership, clarity is a virtue. For Reagan, the over-riding American idea was Freedom, and while he applied it too selectively, he made that idea the drumbeat of both his domestic and foreign policies in a manner that everyone understood. Do you know what Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton stood for? Frankly I don’t. While I feel like I do know what JFK and LBJ stood for, Carter and Clinton not so much. I offer them up as contrasts. In foreign policy, Carter and Clinton seemed to be more in the Nixon mode, a slippery ethic of realpolitik. But here’s what we unambiguously know about Reagan: he was anti-socialist and anti-Communist. That may be said about many, but normally with far less clarity. It defined Reagan so much he became a lightning rod for both the left and right. Domestically, while I am in favor of lean government, I am less a fan of his many of his policies. But in terms of foreign policy: his hard line ended the Cold War. And while, like any war it was not unmarred by atrocities, I have come to see the Cold War overall as a moral undertaking in the mold of the War to Free the Slaves and the two World Wars (none of which was perfect either).

In doing my family history posts, I found myself a bit stymied when it came to the 20th century. I had ancestors and relatives who’d fought in the French and Indian war, the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War, but none really in the World Wars. But then it occurred to me that so many people close to me served in the Cold War: my brother, my father, every single one of my uncles, some cousins, and even both of my in-laws (my late mother-in-law was one of the first female marines). I am proud of what they did to help check expansionist, totalitarian aggression. (I almost enlisted myself, but caved at the last second, a story for another day)

Read it. Know it. Try not to live it.

Read it. Know it. Try not to live it.

There are things about the Cold War to be decried, yes, and because of that the issue has become murky for some people. Reagan was far too forgiving of right-wing dictators. And as for the early Cold War, I am not a fan of HUAC any more than you are; I can’t think of anything less American. But some people seem awfully confused, creating a false equivalency between America, where some screenwriters were forced to use pseudonyms, and the Soviet Union were tens of millions were killed at the whim of the state. Castro, who jailed and killed political prisoners, homosexuals, and others, dies and “boo hoo hoo!” While I bet — I just know — that trying to get certain people to admit that Ronald Reagan was better for humanity than, say, Gorbachev, would be like pulling teeth. My question for them: “Are ya cuckoo?” You need to look at history from an imaginary height to get any perspective. At this moment, Gorbachev happens to be a huge fan of his current president, Vladimir Putin. What does that tell you?

Which brings us closer to the title of this essay. Reagan is of course turning in his grave because President Trump has sold America to the Russians. He’s pals with Putin, who called the fall of the USSR “the greatest tragedy of the 20th century”. At this very moment, Trump’s taking heat for making a claim for moral equivalency with Russia the wrong way, outright saying that America is no better as a nation than Russia has been! And Trump’s in the pocket of Russian oligarchs, and this is ultimately the largest reason why I say history will no longer smile on Ronald Reagan. The greed of the ’80s ultimately gave us a president who’s a Russian puppet, thus potentially making the Cold War a Pyrrhic Victory, one in which the ultimate winner may turn out to be our former rival. So much for 40 years of staring down Russia. The irony is astounding.

Worst karaoke singer

Worst karaoke singer ever!

Those of you on the left: I think most of you realize that the anti-Trump movement has some allies among the admirers of Ronald Reagan, people like George Will and Bill Kristol and Evan McMullen. If you can’t wrap your head around it, I’ve recently latched onto a useful concept. It’s the idea of having people who are allies in some things. Not rejecting people with whom you partially disagree with in toto. I’m sure this is the only way many members of Congress keep sane. Practically everyone has at least one issue they degree with their own party on. The people in the other party are their ally in that one thing. And really — look at almost any historical figure. Most great figures in history, given the less enlightened attitudes of the past, are our allies in some things. Jefferson wrote “All Men Are Created Equal” but he kept slaves. We deplore the slavery but we admire those words. And right now there are many conservatives who believe in the United States Constitution and hate autocracy, and hate Vladimir Putin plenty. These guys — these Ronald Reagan fans — are my allies in these things.

Family in 50 States #24: Massachusetts

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , on February 6, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

February 7, 1788 was the day the Commonwealth of Massachusetts signed off on the Constitution, becoming the sixth state to join the union.

Massachusetts is easily the U.S. state in which I have the greatest number of ancestors; all of my mother’s ancestral lines enter America in Massachusetts. I wrote here about my significant forebears in the Plymouth Colony (including most of the Mayflower passengers), and here about many of the early Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Several of my ancestors were involved in the Salem Witch Trials. Several relatives fought at Lexington and Concord. Because of the mutual descent from the Puritan Founders, I am distantly related to a long list of Massachusetts natives of note: John and Abigail Adams, John Hancock, Sam Adams, Daniel Webster, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Louis May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Endicott Peabody (founder of Groton, as well as his grandson the governor), Edward Everett Hale, Henry Cabot Lodge, right up to recent figures like Massachusetts Governors William Weld and Mitt Romney. 

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I think of Massachusetts and Virginia as the twin mothers of America; as most of my mother’s forebears started in the former, most of my father’s started in the latter. From the Plymouth and Massachusetts colonies radiated Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine (Vermont actually split from New York). Growing up in Rhode Island, my entire notion of patriotism is intricately tied up with Boston, New England’s regional capital. I was ten years old during America’s bicentennial; Boston’s role especially was dunned into us. Imagine my indignation one day when President George W. Bush used Massachusetts as a punchline in front of some western or southern audience. It seemed at once unpresidential, unpatriotic, ignorant of history, and dishonest (the Bushes were New England people until the time of his father, who transplanted the family to Texas). To me Massachusetts is Paul Revere and Bunker Hill, John Adams, Sam Adams, the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, on and on and one. And John F. Kennedy, so close to my own time and yet so far; I could only look backward in history with envy.

Bershires, Western Mass., which we seldom think of, but ought to

Bershires, Western Mass., which we seldom think of, but ought to

For my mother’s people in Woodstock, Connecticut, which was part of Massachusetts until 1749, the effective local capital is Worcester (birthplace of Abbie Hoffman, who always saw himself as an American patriot in the tradition of Sam Adams, and I agree). I’ve been there and to Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston and Plymouth and Salem of course and the Connecticut River Valley towns of Springfield, Holyoke, Northampton and Amherst. But there are many parts of the state I still aspire to visit and never have, despite having grown up so close: the former whaling centers of New Bedford and Nantucket, Fall River (home to Lizzie Borden), Walden Pond, the northern fishing village of Gloucester (so hard hit by The Perfect Storm and present home to playwright Israel Horovitz), Pittsfield (home to Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s house), and North Adams (home to MASS MoCA). And Jack Kerouac is from Lowell, although I don’t know that I need to go there.

Fisherman's Memorial, Gloucester

Fisherman’s Memorial, Gloucester

Keith and Albee founded their vaudeville empire in Boston; Jack Haley, Ray Bolger and Benny Rubin are the top vaudevillians from that town. And too many actors to name, although some particular favorites who fill me local pride for some reason include Ruth Gordon, Walter Brennan, Bette Davis, and Roger Bowen. But really I could sit here and make long lists of Massachusetts excellence all day, and I have other posts to write.

A Series of Posts for Black History Month

Posted in African American Interest, CULTURE & POLITICS, HOLIDAYS/ FESTIVALS/ MEMORIALS/ PARADES, ME, My Family History with tags , , , on February 1, 2017 by travsd

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February is Black History Month.

This year it arrives at a time of deep sadness. The Black Lives Matter movement was picking up momentum last year, but with the election of X%$FR#@ to the Presidency, as always seems to happen, that movement has been overtaken by a tsunami of “greater priorities”, becoming just one of a seeming thousand fronts people of conscience need to do battle on. Justice for the black community ought to remain a priority even as injustice for all becomes the general law.

I have done close to 450 posts on subjects relating to African Americans, beginning with profiles on scores of black vaudeville performers, jazz and blues musicians, the problematic issue of blackface minstrelsy, numerous black writers and more. Over the last couple of years, I have done an increasing number of pieces on race relations and pieces on African American history, spurred on by revelations by my own family’s past…and present. I have black nieces and nephews; they deserve every opportunity and advantage I’ve had, and frankly more.

The African American Interest section of Travalanche is here.  Also, there is a search function in the right hand section of this blog; enter keywords like names or “black” + “vaudeville” to narrow in on specific subjects. And below are some links to past posts I thought might be of special interest today. We’ll be adding several new pieces as the month goes on:

In Which I Learn My Family is Not Unsullied by America’s Original Sin 

A Post Touching on Indentured Servitude, Slavery & Labor

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Juneteenth Message (on the Stars and Bars) 

Slavery and Racism in the North 

The Civil War Never Ended 

Black Vaudeville

A Bert Williams Feature

More on the Import of the Bert Williams Feature 

Zora Neal Hurston 

Reviving the Genius of Zora Neal Hurston 

Let America Be America Again

A Gallery of Great Blues Artists

The Meaning of Dr. Martin Luther King 

Amiri Baraka

The Black Panthers 

Richard Pryor

Crash Course in August Wilson 

Daughters of the Dust 

A Black Lives Matter Protest

Godspeed, Obama 

Family in 50 States #23: Kansas

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , on January 29, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

January 29, 1861 was the day Kansas joined the Union. Her birth pangs were greater than those of almost any other state, for the moment was preceded by the six years in which she was known as “Bleeding Kansas”, as pro-slavery settlers (many from Missouri), and Free-Soilers (many from Massachusetts) flooded the state, each side hoping to capture the territorial government and determine what kind of state it would be, slave or free. The Civil War settled the matter.

I always loved Baum's description of the farm, and this illustration by W.W. Denslow, and connected it with my own farming family

I always loved Baum’s description of the farm, and this illustration by W.W. Denslow, and connected it with my own farming family

Like many people, I have had a romance about Kansas since childhood because of The Wizard of Oz. (Ironically L. Frank Baum hadn’t lived in Kansas, only Upstate New York, South Dakota and Chicago). And there are its many “western” associations: The railheads for Texas cattle drives were located in Kansas. Dodge City (where Wyatt Earp had been a marshall) is in Kansas, as are Wichita and Abilene, all depicted in countless westerns. Quantrill and his Raiders destroyed the town of Lawrence during the Civil War. The Dalton Gang rode in the area around Coffeyville. Silent comedian Buster Keaton may be the most mythologized Kansan ever; his parents met while working in a medicine show, and he was said to have been whisked away by a tornado as a baby. I have visited his birthplace at Piqua, Kansas, which is really just a crossroads in the middle of the Great Plains. In 1906,  Louise Brooks was born in Cherryvale. (To which she later returned for for a time with her tail between her legs). The state has also been home to the serial killing Bloody Benders, and, a century later, Dick and Perry, the perps chronicled in Truman Capote’s greatest work In Cold Blood. And in the 20th century the state has been further mythologized by the writings of playwright/ screenwriter William Inge.

So I was glad to learn that a significant part of my extended family lived and lives in the storied State of Kansas. Three of my great-great grandfather James Stewart’s six siblings moved there from the family homeland in Tennessee. Polk Lafayette Stewart, Elizabeth Jane Stewart Finley and Nancy Stewart Finley all moved west in hops, first to Missouri in the 1860s, and then to the area around Cherryvale, Kansas around 1880. (The Finleys these two Stewart girls married were cousins of the man many claim was the first American explorer to venture into what would become Kentucky, John Finley). These siblings all moved at different times and with some differences in location but that is the general movement and they all wound up in the same place. Then they were fruitful and multiplied. They were all farm people, of course,

Here’s a picture gallery of some of them:

Elizabeth Jane (Stewart) Finley (1843-1913)

Elizabeth Jane (Stewart) Finley (1843-1913)

Her husband, James Young Finley (1835-1894)

Her husband, James Young Finley (1835-1894)

Thomas Barney Finley (Nancy's husband, 1839-1897)

Thomas Barney Finley (Nancy’s husband, 1839-1897)

Polk Lafayette Stewart, 1845-1924

Polk Lafayette Stewart, 1845-1924

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family in 50 States #22: Michigan

Posted in AMERICANA, ME, My Family History with tags , , , on January 26, 2017 by travsd

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This new series of posts came out of the realization that I have relatives and roots in all 50 U.S. states. My ancestors lived in 14 of them (all on the eastern seaboard or adjacent), and I have already written about many of those folks. But the siblings and cousins of my ancestors kept going west, and this is an attempt, in the spirit of Whitman, to celebrate my connection to every corner of the country. And when I’m done with that, I’ll celebrate all the countries of the world in similar manner. 

Michigan was admitted to the Union on January 26, 1837. It was the last state to which I found a family connection (I even found a relative who’d lived in Hawaii before it), and really I never expected to find one at all. If you look at a map of the U.S. it is such a detour for those migrating westward, essentially you have to hang a right onto a dead end street. My folks in New England are roughly at the same latitude as Michigan, which meant anyone migrating would have to do it in a U-shape.

First part of French America, then Canada, then the U.S., Michigan came into its own in the 20th century with manufacturing, when Henry Ford and others established the auto industry in Detroit and Flint, Will Keith Kellogg started his cereal empire in Battle Creek, etc. In the late 20th century, the state became symbolic of America’s decline, as manufacturing jobs increasingly went overseas, and people like journalist and documentarian Michael Moore have chronicled its conditions. In recent years, Detroit has worked hard to make a reputation in the arts; several of my friends have actually moved  there from NYC to pursue opportunities. I myself have been through Detroit, performed at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and attended a wedding on Mackinac Island.

As for family: my (5th) great uncle Ezra Bellows (1785-1862), a farmer, moved from Worcester County, Mass, then to Vermont, then to upstate New York briefly in the early 1820s, and finally arrived in Shelby, Michigan by 1828. His half brother Benjamin Bellows (1795-1865), a laborer and blacksmith, was born in Vermont, spent a couple of decades in Ohio, and finally settled in Michigan near Ezra with his family in the 1850s. One of my distant Bellows relatives was the CEO of United Dairy Industries of Michigan for 25 years; I found this reference to an agriculture scholarship he endowed. This is a clear cultural link between the people of my home region and those moved farther west; I wrote a little about my family’s connection to dairy farming here.

 

 

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