Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Find – Ernest Solomon

Last summer I was looking through a book of historical images of the town of Londonderry, Vermont. One photo’s caption claimed that it was of the home of Ernest Davis [1], my great-grandfather. Since many of my Davis ancestors had lived in Londonderry, and the pages contained at least one image related to them, I bought it and brought it home.

A couple of months later I was documenting Ernest’s life.  On his wedding record, his occupation was listed as “blacksmith” [2].  I remembered one of my relatives mentioning once that my great-grandfather had been a blacksmith, so this bit of information wasn’t surprising.

As I worked my way back through his life, I again found mention of blacksmith as his occupation, this time on the 1900 census.  What was interesting this time, however, is that he was boarding with another blacksmith, Harvey Clough [3].  As I was making a note of this, I remember another photo that I had seen in Sincerely Yours, the book I had picked up earlier.  I pulled the book from my shelf and found the page with the photo I had been thinking of.

“Interior shot of Leslie Benson’s Blacksmith Shop.  June 20, 1909…” read the caption [4].  Three men were pictured in the photo.  Thinking that there probably wasn’t more than a single blacksmith shop in the small town of Londonderry, I looked at the photo closer.  Though I couldn’t remember seeing a photo of my great-grandfather before, the man in the middle of the photo reminded me of my grandfather.  I wondered if it was his father, Ernest Solomon Davis.

I asked my relatives via Facebook if the man in the photo might, indeed, be Ernest Davis.  Those who also owned the book, and therefore had seen the photo, thought that it might be, but none of us had another photo to use as a comparison.  One person remembered being told that Ernest was a tall man, which didn’t really fit the description of the man in the photo.  I later found a description of him on his World War I draft card that described him as “medium build”, [5] which did seem to fit the photo.

Without a positive way to identify if it was Ernest in the picture, I put the book away, documented some more of his life, and continued on to other things.

The photo came back to me again last night.  The other day, while I was sorting my “stuff”, I found a photograph of my grandfather that I thought had been lost a long time ago.  To my surprise, there was another older portrait attached to it.  On the back was written “Ernest Solomon Davis”.  Not only had I found my grandfather’s missing photo, I had found a photo of his father that I didn’t even know I had!

After sharing the photo with my relatives, I took out my copy of Sincerely Yours again.  Putting the portrait next to the image in the book, it appears to me that it is Ernest in the blacksmith shop.  What a cool feeling it is to see not only my great-grandfather, but also the place where he lived and worked, all thanks to a chance encounter at a bookstore, and a “lost” photo!

Blacksmith photo from page 45 of the book Sincerely Yours by George F. Newell.
Inset photo from the private collection of Elroy Davis
[1] George F. Newell, Sincerely Yours - Historic Postcard Views of Londonderry & South Londonderry, Vermont, (Poultney, VT: Historic Pages Company, 2007), 69.
[2] "Vermont, Vital Records, 1760-1954," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 29 Oct 2012), Ernest Solomon Davis and Minnie Laura Jenkins, 1903.
[3] Harvey R. Clough household, 1900 U.S. census, Windham County, Vermont, population schedule, town of Londonderry, enumeration district [ED] 253 (penned), supervisor's district [SD] 274 (penned), sheet 2A (penned), dwelling 25, family 29 ; digital image, (accessed 28 Oct 2012).
[4] George F. Newell, Sincerely Yours - Historic Postcard Views of Londonderry & South Londonderry, Vermont, (Poultney, VT: Historic Pages Company, 2007), 45.
[5] Ernest Solomon Davis World War I Draft card, 12 Sep 1918, 2850. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [DATABASE ON-LINE]. Provo, UT, USA; citing United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration. M1509, 4,582 rolls.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What Is It Wednesday – Mystery Chain

Sometimes our ancestors leave us the strangest things.  As a kid, I remember walking into my grandfather’s tool shed, looking at all the weird implements tucked into corners and hanging on the walls.  Occasionally my father would explain what they were for.  “That?  It’s a cant dog.  Used to use that to move logs.  Those?  Ice tongs to carry chunks of ice for the icebox.”

One item that was handed down to me by my mother is the chain pictured to the left.  The story she told is that they belonged to her father, who had been a cop.  The chain was used to restrain prisoner’s hands, similar to modern-day handcuffs.  The narrow T on one end of the chain fits into a groove in the wider T on the other end.  The handles are locked together by another groove, and then the chain is twisted to control the prisoner.

I never questioned the provenance of this item till I began seriously researching my family.  So far, I’ve found my grandfather’s occupations listed as a hired man on a farm, a general laborer, a laborer in an electrical plant, and a worker in a grocery store.  No documentation of police work anywhere.  He moved around a lot between western Massachusetts, eastern New York, and southern Vermont.  He was married a few times, and never really seemed to settle down.  He just doesn’t seem like he was the “protect and serve” type.

Lacking any printed evidence that my grandfather was a police officer of some sort, I decided to research the item itself.  After some false Internet searches on “handcuffs”, “chain restraints”, and so on, I found that this particular artifact is called a “chain nipper”.[1]  They were first manufactured in the late 1800s, and continued to be used until the late 1950s, and early 1960s.  It appears that there were several types made by a few different manufacturers.  I’ll need to do some more research to see if I can identify the particular type that I have, but the timeframe of the late 1950s would fit with my grandfather’s timeline.  I have documentation of him on the 1940 Federal Census, and the newspaper story of his death in a car accident in 1959.  It’s possible that he did some form of police work between those two dates.

The trick, of course, is finding documentation.

[1] Matthew G. Forte, American Police Equipment: A Guide to Early Restraints, Clubs and Lanterns, (Upper Montclair, NJ: Turn of the Century Publishers, 2000), chap. 5.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Motivation Monday – Organization

Organization seems to be the bane of my existence.  Every few years I seem to try to organize my notes, photos, books, documentation and so on.  It lasts for a little while, then seems to completely fall apart.

Seeing the blogging prompt for Motivation Monday, I decided to make an attempt, once again, to get organized.

I started with my physical pile of “stuff”.

A couple of years ago I bought a bin to hold hanging folders.  I used it correctly for a while, then just starting putting things into it, without folders.  It became sort of a catch-all for my genealogical papers and books.  After a bit, the bin filled up, so I added a cardboard box to the system.  Then I started joining various genealogical organizations, which meant trying to organize magazines, newsletters, and mailings.

Last night I dragged all of this stuff, including books from my shelves, into my living room and sat down to organize.

My first step was to empty the boxes.  Next, I grabbed 26 hanging file folders and labeled them A to Z.  These I placed into the hanging bin.  The next step was to go through each pile, paper by paper and book by book, filing them in the folders by the first letter of the surname the item was associated with.  Some items didn’t fit a particular surname, or were too large to fit into the folders.  These I put aside into a “general” pile.

My next step was to grab the “A” folder, sort the items in it by individual surname, then put those piles into new folders that were then put back into the “A” folder.  Then I moved onto “B”, “C”, and so on.  My files and photos from my two boxes of “stuff” are now organized alphabetically by surname.

Finally, I organized my books and magazines.  While documentation and photos went into the hanging file, I placed the books and magazines in the cardboard box.  Later I’ll put these on a shelf where they’ll be easily accessible.

At some point I’ll need to tackle my digital files and photos.  These, unfortunately, are scattered across at least four different PCs, and have been organized (or disorganized) in various different ways over the years.  Ideally, I’d like to get these all on a single machine, and organized by surname like my physical files.

That job may need another Motivational Monday.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sentimental Sunday – Road Trips

Amos Batchelder with his 6th-great-grandaughter in 2009.
First, I’d like to thank the Geneabloggers for the warm welcome.  Originally I was going to post about my Davis line next, but a few people mentioned their own Batchelder lines, which made me think back to the research I’ve done on that side of my family.

For those familiar with the Batchelder, Batcheller Genealogy by Frederick Clifton Pierce[1], my line is the one listed in the second half of the book, those descended from the brothers Joseph, Henry, Joshua and John.  The family came from England in 1636, settling in the area of Salem, Massachusetts.  They lived in the Salem/Wenham area until the time of the American Revolution when the family migrated to Mont Vernon, New Hampshire.  In the 1800s, the family moved again, this time to Peru, Vermont, where Batchelders lived until my great uncle, the last Batchelder in town, passed away in 2006.

The Batchelders were the first family that I began researching with my mother when I was a child.  I have memories of walking the two town cemeteries while she pointed out the gravestones of various family members.  I also recall visiting a cemetery in another state, though I didn’t realize until many years later that it was the cemetery where her father was buried in New York.

Road trips like that to the cemetery were a constant when I was growing up.  I remember many trips to see family, and to visit old homestead sites, or even road trips just for the sake of taking a road trip.

As an adult, I still enjoy road trips, and I still enjoy going to cemeteries, visiting my ancestors.  Like many genealogists, visiting the burial sites of my ancestors gives me a sense of their lives and their communities.  Small towns seem to be in my bloodlines.  Most of the towns that I’ve visited haven’t changed much since my ancestors lived there.

One example of such a place is Wenham, Massachusetts.  Several years ago my wife and I decided to visit the Wenham Museum.  While we were in town, we took a tour of the cemetery, looking for Batchelder headstones.  We found the grave site of my ancestor Amos Batchelder.  About a year later my daughter and I took another road trip, again passing through Wenham.  As we drove past the cemetery, I said, “Hey, let’s go visit Grandpa Amos.”  Though not interested in genealogy, my daughter was a good sport, letting me capture the above photo of ancestor and descendant together.

Every time I see this photo now, I think of all the road trips I’ve been on;  visiting Washington, D.C. with my oldest daughter, or going to Stephentown, New York with my mother, or those solo road trips that I’ve taken to places like Mont Vernon, New Hampshire.

[1] Frederick Clifton Pierce, Batchelder, Batcheller Genealogy (Chicago, IL: W.B. Conkey Company, 1898).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Ancestors

Yesterday was my 40th birthday and, if you believe the Mayan Doomsday folks, tomorrow will be the end of the world as we know it.

Today seems like as good a time as any to start a genealogy blog.

My introduction to genealogy came at an early age.  My grandmother had been married twice, and her second husband, my grandfather, had been married multiple times.  The children resulting from the various marriages therefore made an interesting mix of half-siblings, related to each other through one parent or the other.  My mother, in fact, had thirteen half-brothers and half-sisters.  Some of these she knew, others she knew about, but hadn’t met.

When I was a kid, my mother began documenting her family.  I still have some of her handwritten notes.  I don’t ever recall hearing the term “genealogy” used, but what my mother was doing definitely fell under the labels of genealogy and family history.  In today’s terms I suppose she would be considered a name-gatherer.  Most of her notes were based on memory, family stories, and a published genealogy from the 1800s.  Very little was fully documented, but the framework for research was there.  I remember helping her fill out pedigree charts and family group sheets, and even writing to distant relatives for information when I was about 10 years old.

Through the process of learning about my mother’s family with her, I also began to learn bits of local history.  The Batchelder family had been in the same area for several generations. My great-uncle, who raised my mother along with my grandmother, died at the age of 92 at his home, which was built on a portion of land that once belonged to the farm where he was born.  His father (my great-grandfather) had been born in town, as well as his grandfather.  My great-uncle’s memories went far back in time.  Where visitors to town saw a recreational park with a pond, he remembered what used to be a village with a sawmill.  As a teenager working in the woods with him, I would hear recollections of his time in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  Through his stories, old cellar holes became families, and main roads reverted to horse and wagon paths.

As an adult, my experiences with genealogy and history are some of my fondest memories of growing up.  While I’ve always been a name-collector, in the past few years I’ve become more serious about my genealogical research, documenting sources, verifying my mother’s notes, researching my father’s family, and fleshing out the stories of my ancestor’s lives.  Through my research, my ancestors have become as real to me as my living family.  I enjoy spending time with them and learning about the world as they saw it.

And so, today, Thankful Thursday, I use my first blog post to thank my ancestors.  They are a part of me spiritually as much as they are genetically, and I enjoy learning about each and every one.