Monday, January 28, 2013

When genealogy leads you to the dark side...

Tonight, as I finished writing a letter to an old friend turned pen pal, I stopped and looked at my handwriting. I thought of my mother's handwriting, which I have always loved. Her writing is a mix between print and penmanship. For a while in high school, I perfected the art of forging it to skip school. Thinking of this, and of my grandparents' writing, I thought... if I have children, I wonder if they will look at my writing someday and think about how beautiful it is, and how it reminds them of all the little notes in their lunch boxes, the 'I miss you!' cards when they're away, the letters on special occasions.

I shared this with my partner, who naturally then asked, "Is genealogy making you want kids more?"

My grandmother holding my mother, approx. Dec 1961

Good question.

I have had a staunchly anti-parenting plan for my entire adult life. I did not want children. Now, puppies and kittens, I could get on board with. But kids? Money-siphoning, back talking, germ spreading kids? No thank you. At 28 years old, I find that my uterus has turned against me. I'm questioning my life plans. I know it's hormones, but my God, they are powerful.

Thinking about the bonds between families, spending time talking to mine, looking at the records of people long since past... none of this is helping in my battle against the biological clock. I think my girlfriend is right. Gulp.

I need to adopt a kitten. Stat. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Family Recipe Friday: Friendship Cake

My grandmother is always telling me about this pound cake she bakes. She bakes it for parties, holidays, and friends. I vaguely remember eating this cake as a kid, and recently I asked my grandmother if she would share her recipe with me. She was really excited that I asked, and told me she would write it out for me and send it.

Since I live in California and my family lives in Pennsylvania, I had to wait for the info to come in the mail. A few weeks later I received a giant box from her. She sent me the recipe, the pan I had to make it in, some of the ingredients, measuring spoons, and some other little gifts. I had planned to make the cake over the holidays when I was off from work, but unfortunately I was under the weather.

This past weekend, I decided to make the cake. My girlfriend had a good time laughing at my total lack of knowledge about baking (sugar is supposed to go in the wet ingredients? Why??).

Probably the first time I've ever used this mixer.

I think it turned out pretty well.

A little powdered sugar and the cake looks quite pretty.

We wrapped up the cake so we could each take half to work to share with our coworkers.

I am cheating a little bit in this post because... I'm not going to share the recipe. My grandmother asked me not to share it with anyone, and I promised. This pound cake is a family secret!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Finding unpleasant information about your ancestors

A while back, while digging around the Delaware County (PA) Online Newspaper Archive, I did a quick search for Charles McConnell. That was the name I had been given for my great grandfather, although I wasn't sure it was accurate until just recently.  I found a disturbing article about a crime committed by this man. At the time, I saved the article for future reference, unsure if this was my relative or not.

Now, I feel quite certain the man referenced in the article was in fact my great grandfather. In addition to some arrests for causing a disturbance while intoxicated, I found this article:

There are lot of things that would disappoint me if I learned my ancestors had done them. Things like abandoning one's children, adultery, having one's wife committed, etc. But learning you've got a rapist (or attempted rapist in this case), in the family tree is the most disturbing thing I've found, especially since he was attacking children1. I can't imagine anything I find later being much worse than this one.

Fortunately, this man was my paternal grandfather's father. I am not in contact with any living decedents from this family, so I don't have to worry about bringing up an bad memories for relatives, or having anyone feel that I am disgracing his name by discovering this. If this were on my mother's side, I would have to tread more carefully with whom I could tell.

In case anyone should think I am assuming Charles's guilt without properly researching it, I found a follow up article. On 08/06/1937, the paper reported that Charles McConnell was sentenced to 30 days in jail after complaints from several neighborhood parents that he had approached their young daughters2. Evidence that he approached them for "immoral purposes" was lacking, so that is why he got a short sentence. Lest you still think this guy is just getting a bad rap, he was again arrested, on 09/04/1937, a mere two days after he was released from jail. He was again charged with enticing minors3.

Unfortunately, the age given in the articles fits for my ancestor, Charles McConnell. The article discloses his residence as being in the 300 block of Upland Street. Other articles I found specify his address as 307 Upland Street. Charles's son, William, was born July 28, 1925 in Chester4. I found an article about William's 12th birthday party, dated 07/30/1937, which gives his address as 307 Upland Street5. This makes me fairly certain I'm dealing with the right family.

I am a little nervous about what else I will find on this guy now.

1 "Man Suspected of Enticing Tots," Chester Times, 03 Aug 1937, p. 2.
2"Today's Police Court Hearings," Chester Times, 06 Aug 1937, p. 16.
3"Mayor Sits as Police Judge," Chester Times, 06 Sep 1937, p. 2.
4Pennsylvania Department of Health, Vital Records, birth certificate 115688-1925 (1925), William Norris McConnell.
5"Gossip about People You Know," Chester Times, 30 Jul 1937, p. 8.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Finally... the state of PA comes through!

Of my eight great grandparents, I have five that I know a decent amount of information on (birth dates, general history, parents' names). One is an Irish immigrant who lied about her age and who has proven quite challenging to map out. The other two were even more troublesome.

He looks nothing like Chuck Norris.
This particular pair are the parents of my paternal grandfather, William Norris McConnell (in spite of the fact that I know what he looked like, I envision him as similar to Chuck Norris, just based on the name!). My baby book, which was completed by my mother with information provided by my biological father, lists William's parents as Myrtle Parks and Charles Walter McConnell.  A preliminary search of census records on Ancestry didn't illuminate things any further. There were some families that seemed they could be mine, but none of them quite fit all the information I had. I began to wonder if the names in the baby book were even correct.

Pennsylvania's Vital Records Department will provide you a copy of a certified birth certificate for a reasonable fee, so it seemed the best course of action was to obtain my grandfather's birth certificate. When I filled out my request way back in October (10/25 to be exact), I was quite excited. My first vital record request! The vital records website informed me that:
Typical processing time for certified copies of birth certificates with a date of birth of 1967 to the present is ten to fifteen business days (from the date the check is cashed) which does not include delivery time. For certified copies of birth with a date of birth of prior to 1967, please allow an additional ten to fifteen days for processing time, excluding delivery time.
Birth Certificate - 1925
Okay. That sounded reasonable. I sent in my money. My check was cashed on 11/13/12. I began counting down the days, eagerly anticipating the genealogical gold mine sure to arrive at any day. And I waited. And waited. It was like that scene in Twilight (yes, I've seen it, so sue me!) where Bella stares waifishly out her bedroom window while the seasons pass around her. But this was no teenage vampire romance gone wrong; this was serious business!

Well, it only took an extra three weeks (slow clap for the state of Pennsylvania), but the birth certificate has arrived!

One assumes they put the giant "DECEASED" on there to dash one's hopes of identity fraud. A little unsightly. I do have confirmation on their names now (Park, not Parks), and their ages should allow me to narrow things down somewhat. I guess, to be honest, I was hoping their names were wrong in the baby book, since I haven't had any luck so far with these names.

C'est la vie. Now I know, and I'll get back on the hunt.
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