Gertrude had a baby brother?

Receiving loads of old papers and photos has been a godsend for me as a family historian, but sometimes they come in like a tsunami and I don’t have time to properly pore over everything before I must turn my attention back to work and the rest of my life. So it was with me and a couple of boxes of family-history-related items I brought back with me from my grandmother’s house after talking with her for several hours about family history. Normally I would have taken months to go through every last tidbit I brought back, but before I had a chance to do that I travelled to my grandmother’s home town (Wadena, Minnesota) for 10 days and I came back with enough data and scans to occupy me for a couple of years.

Among the items I brought back from my visit with Harriet were a number of photos and written notes that Harriet herself had inherited from her aunt Eva (Scott) Martes, who died on November 22, 2006. Eva was the younger sister of my great-grandmother Gertrude (Scott) Askew (1897–1980). I had time to scan a few hundred photos and sheets of notes before I had to set the project aside to prepare for my Wadena visit. Continue reading

Anora—a fresh look

Anora (“Anna”, “Annie”) (Lee) (Horan) Prettyman (1847–1892) was my 3rd-great-grandmother and she has been something of an enigma to all recent researchers—myself included—who have tried to discover who she was and where she came from.

Thanks to new information I’ve gotten from a handful of newly discovered cousins, I think I’ve got a much better handle on Anora. While there are still large gaps and unknowns in her story, I’ve revised so much of her history that a new post is warranted. Most notably, I had the misidentified her parents (there were two girls named Anora/Anna/Annie Lee born in Indiana at the same time, and I was tracking the wrong one) and I got some details of her early years wrong.

I’d like to thank my newly discovered Horan cousins Lorna, Suzette, and Michael for sharing what they know about our shared Horan and Prettyman ancestors. I’d like to give special recognition to Lorna for responsibly caring for, recording, and organizing so much Horan and Prettyman history and photos. Without her and her late father’s impressive memory, many of the details of Anora’s life would have been lost forever. Continue reading

Anelia’s Shearer history

A little over twenty-six years ago (December 12, 1993) I wrote a letter to my great-aunt Anelia (Shearer) Hayes asking her what she knew about her father Ray Shearer’s family history. Anelia was my grandfather Vernon’s sister. My grandfather was old enough to remember his father Ray Shearer leaving their family, and he went to lengths to distance himself from his birth father, including unofficially but permanently changing his last name to that of his mother’s second husband, Frank Black.

Vernon’s sister Anna Cornelia (she preferred “Anelia”) was born around or just after when her father left the family. Unlike her brother, she kept her father’s surname and she went on to develop a deep interest in family history. Anelia was the one who compiled the “Edell Family History” in 1991 and hosted the Edel/Edell family reunion.

Today’s post is about the response Anelia sent to my letter of twenty-six years ago. When I received her response, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new fascinating information she provided to me. To this day, the letter she wrote is still the sole source for many pieces of Shearer family history that might otherwise have been lost forever.

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Mystery photo #7: The hidden boy

Today’s post is not only about a new mystery photo I just discovered. It’s also a reminder to double-check anything possibly related to family history before throwing it out. You never know what might be hiding within unless you check thoroughly.

From about the mid 1970s to the late 1980s, my father and grandparents accumulated a number of faux vintage photos and frames. I don’t know whether they were fans of the style or whether that’s just the way that the stores they frequented marketed their frames. In any case, they accumulated piles of these that I later inherited and am still going through.

What I mean by ‘faux vintage’ are generally stained and sometimes artificially distressed oak frames with matted black-and-white or sepia-toned prints behind glass. And to add a layer of realism, my grandmother and father were both heavy smokers for periods of their lives, so the glass and frames were coated with a nicotine patina that made them look like they had been hanging in an old house for decades. But when you turn over these faux vintage frames, their modernity becomes a little more apparent. Relatively clean cardboard is held in place by shiny staples that were hastily and asymmetrically placed during mass production. Remove the cardboard and you find that the antique print is just a modern print on thin, glossy paper.

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Who was Margretha (Wolf) Gores?

There are brick walls (ancestors whose own ancestry resists all attempts at discovery) who will probably always be brick walls. These individuals often lived in times and places where record-keeping was sparse or non-existent, or were trying to run away from their past or reinvent themselves, or had descendants who purposefully or accidentally destroyed evidence of the ancestor’s life, or had other circumstances that make it understandable why we may never learn about their ancestry.

And then there are brick walls who have no reason being brick walls. These individuals lived lives that were relatively well documented, they were not trying to hide their past, they had/have descendants who cherish their memories, and they’re only a couple/few generations removed from living descendants. My third-great-grandmother Margretha (“Marg”, “Maggie”) Gores is just such a brick wall. She’s one of my most enduring brick walls and she’s certainly the closest to me in time. For my Prettyman cousins reading this, Margretha was Judge F.E. Gores’ mother.

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Veronika Evertz’ maternal grandparents discovered

Veronika (Evertz) Gores (her maiden name was sometimes spelled Ewertz) was my grandfather Bill Prettyman’s maternal grandmother—she was his mother’s mother. She was born in Germany around 1860 and immigrated to the United States, where she met and married the son of German immigrants. Bill never had the chance to get to know his grandmother Veronika, as she died when Bill was less than a year old. Bill’s mother also died tragically early (read that story here) and after a prolonged period of strain in their relationship that had its origins in a fatal car crash eight years earlier (read that story here). Whatever details Bill’s mother Rose (Gores) Prettyman may have known about her own mother’s German origins apparently never got told to Bill, as he had no stories about Veronika to pass on to me.

Additionally, the stigmatization of German ancestry in the United States that began in the 1910s and carried through the end of World War II caused American families of recent German descent to hide their German ancestry (see here and here for more on this topic) for fear of being seen as un-American or unpatriotic.

Whatever the reason, there is a lot that we don’t know about Veronika Evertz’s German heritage. What we do know is that Veronika was born in Germany to German parents—Peter Evertz and Magdalena Kaufmann, that she had eight siblings (although we don’t know who they were), that her parents also came to the US, and that her mother lived with Veronika and her husband Frank E. Gores in her old age. But that’s just about all we knew for certain.

In an attempt to keep today’s post more brief than it might otherwise become, I’m going to be focusing on just one aspect of my research into Veronika’s German heritage—my discovery of the identity of her maternal grandparents. To the best of my knowledge, this is information that has been lost for nearly a century—since the death of Veronika herself on February 13, 1920.

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An idea—whence “Zygonyi”?

My father’s father’s father’s father was named Zygonyi Ray Shearer (sometimes spelled Zygonia Ray Shearer), and until today I’ve had no clear idea why he was named Zygonyi/Zygonia (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to him from here on as “Ray,” which is what he went by as an adult).

Today, I came across this tidbit from a story (“Odd War Nicknames: Crack Regiments with High Sounding Adopted Titles—Some were won in battle”) that was published on page 12 of the August 19, 1897 edition of the Sterling Standard (Sterling, Illinois) and also on page 6 of the August 24, 1897 edition of the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio):

“Zagoni’s Battalion” of Missouri cavalry, also called “Fremont’s Bodyguard,” has been immortalized in song and story for its charge at Springfield.

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Puzzling out Ray Shearer

It seems odd to me that while I’m able to trace my family back on dozens of lines more than 400 years, my own patrilineal great-grandfather—my father’s father’s father—is nearly a complete mystery to me. I would normally begin an exploration of his life by saying that his name was Ray Shearer, but even that is a bit of a mystery. While many people called him Ray, more often than not, he referred to himself as Zyionyi Ray Shearer. As with many of my difficult-to-research ancestors, I keep setting aside his information, waiting for some hint or help to emerge, as they so often do.

And so it was with Ray. Just this past week I got an unexpected letter from my cousin Peggy, who’s a cousin on my Shearer side. Her great-grandmother was Ray Shearer’s mother—Mary Belle (Coddington) Shearer Stokes. Peggy’s grandmother was Ray’s younger half-sister, Zealia Faye Stokes, and Zealia apparently was very interested in preserving family stories and history, and she passed much of this on to Peggy.

Today’s post could not have been written without Peggy’s help. Thank you, Peggy! Continue reading

A lost history, found

GeorgeWBailey1Lately I’ve been spending a couple of hours each weekend day reorganizing our family history archives. In the yet-to-be-organized portion of the archives, I’ve got a dozen large, plastic storage boxes, each of which holds hundreds of papers, photos, mementos, and other items judged at some point as worthy of being preserved.

One of these boxes is filled with memories and keepsakes from my great-great-aunt Dorothy Mary (“Dot”) Bailey and her husband Clarence Humphrey Bailey. You may know Dot as the young girl pictured at the center of my site’s header photo. Dot and Clarence were distant relations (third cousins; although they apparently didn’t know this when they met) and had the same last name before marriage, so I can’t be sure whether Dot adopted Clarence’s “Bailey” surname according to tradition, or whether she was an independent maverick who bucked tradition and kept her own “Bailey” surname.

I was lucky enough to have known them both as a child and to have known Dot until I was a young man in college. They were incredibly thoughtful, gentle, intelligent, and modest people, but for whatever reason, they never had children. My grandmother, Dorothy McMurry Black, their niece, was like a daughter to them and she was their sole heir. Their tangible memories have now passed to me, and I’m making my way through them.

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The Prettyman boys in school with their uncle

img001One of the pleasant fringe benefits of writing this blog is hearing from distant relatives (nearly all of whom I’ve never before met) who are also interested in family history. Almost without exception, both I and the newly met relatives come away from these correspondences having learned something new about our shared history.

My second cousin twice removed, Lorraine, first commented on my blog two months ago, and since then we’ve exchanged dozens of emails. She’s the one who made me realize that I must have made a mistake in my Horan pedigree, as her grandfather (Arthur Horan) was the brother of my great-great-grandmother, Mary Ann Horan. The Horan family I had pieced together didn’t have an Arthur Horan, which made me dig deeper and ultimately uncover a case of mistaken identity (my second case of two people with the same name, born at nearly the same time in the same geographic area, with a parent of the same name).

One of the things that Lorraine shared with me is this wonderful school photograph of her grandfather Arthur Horan and three of his nephews—Roy Alfred Prettyman, George Irvin Prettyman, and Charles Austin Prettyman.

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