Category Archives: Genealogy

Faces to go with Names.

Here is a portrait of James A Graham (1855-1925) and Viola Alice (Allie) Kelly (1858-1923), my great, great grandparents referenced in the last obituary post.

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James A Graham (1855-1925) and Viola Alice (Allie) Kelly (1858-1923)

Remembrance in the 1920s Newspaper.

While my mind is still musing on the modern-day obits section of the newspaper, here are two obituaries from my Ohio side of the family. James A Graham (1855-1925) and Viola Alice (Allie) Kelly (1858-1923) are my great, great grandparents. They lived in Adams County, Ohio at the end of both of their lives.

The obits are actually pretty diverse. James’ spends a good deal of time detailing his last day of life, while Allie’s focuses primarily on her virtuousness. Could it be gender at play, or diversity in obit author styles?

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Obituaries for James A Graham (1855-1925) and Viola Alice (Allie) Kelly (1858-1923)

How Not to Write An Obituary.

I use to read the obituaries every week in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. I’d look for the oldest person to die and then read their obit for inspiration. Where did they come from? What did they do with all that time they had? And, there was also a tinier voice asking, “How do I get to where they were? How can I absorb so much of life too?”

Then there were always the sad obits. They were of people of my own age, my parents’ ages, friends’ ages. There were the little annual memorials to kids lost far too early; reminders that the memory of them continued to age, though they did not. It was these obits that started to bring me down. I started to identify a little too closely to some stories, some timeframes. In the older obits any form of identification was a bonus, but with these young departed it was too real a reminder of what obituaries signify: someone has left the building.

2016 has been a rough year for death, and particularly for music fans, as several well-known and loved lumnaries of the profession have passed on. On Thursday I found out that my Great Uncle Jerry moved on. He’d been sick for years, in a slow, slow decline that gradually robbed him of the ability to do many of the things the able-bodied take for granted. He wasn’t a musician, but I did learn very recently that he enjoyed photography.

It was almost a funny thing to learn that he liked photography. I knew he worked as a truck driver for years, as he’d tell stories from the road. In all non-obit-like honesty, Jerry presented himself as a tough trucker guy from rural Oklahoma. He’d sit around the house, smoking away, and puffing out homophobic, sexist, and racist things in a loud voice (when he still had a volume dial to turn up on his vocal cords). I never knew anything about him acting on any of his words, but the words were still tough to hear sometimes.

Is this speaking ill of the dead? It is at least speaking truth. I don’t aim to rob him of his humanity by glossing over the way that he presented himself. At the same time I don’t aim to portray him negatively either. I don’t aim to portray him in any other way than the very way he portrayed himself.

I think where this becomes complicated, is that the public presentation of self is often conflated with things that reside outside the self, or roles we are trying to play in society. Depending on the person it can be easy to be consumed by the reflection you’d like to see, rather than drawing on an internal well. It’s tough.

I think there are lovely things about Jerry that I never knew. There was something in him that my Great Aunt saw, and I adore her. He had a good wit, though it was often misdirected to social baggage better left behind in the 20th century. I don’t know enough about where he grew up and what formed him in his early years. I want to know more, I want to better understand.

In the meantime I will remember Jerry. I can’t bring myself to honor the dead by distorting the past, but I can respect the context in which people lived, and strive to better understand all angles of humanity. And sometimes I still sneak a peek at the obits page, and sometimes there is still beauty and inspiration in death.

Momday

Always thirsty - for knowledge, for beverages.

Always thirsty for knowledge.

From an early age my Mom instilled in me the idea that “haters gonna hate.” In grade school she put a little laminated clipping in my lunchbox with a picture of Albert Einstein and his quote, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Kids can be really mean to each other, but my Mom made sure I had perspective and understood that things other people say about you or to you explain a lot more about them than you. I think this is one of the most valuable things my Mom taught me. That it’s ok to be your weird self. That being quirky and creative is a value, even if others react to it negatively.

Now I surround myself with a bunch of openminded wonderful people or “great spirits” and mostly only encounter mediocre mind attitudes on the internet. There’s a lot of ugly out there in the world, and I don’t ignore it, but I feel like you need to be secure in yourself first. Like the airplane safety instructions that tell you, “You must secure your own oxygen mask before trying to help someone else.” Then it’s easier to have compassion and perspective because your own negative feelings aren’t getting tangled up in your reactions. Often easier said than done, but not impossible.

One lesson of many, thanks Mom!

Application for a Date with a Seabee

While working with 20th century archival materials I think a lot about the privacy of the individuals represented in archives that have no idea some physical detritus of their earlier years is preserved for others to access. Access is one of the primary intentions of preserving anything in an archives, and even temporary restrictions are best avoided, but sometimes you have to look out for people.

There aren’t too many things in my family papers that need restriction before being launched online, but I felt compelled to be a little extra cautious with this Application for a Date with a Seabee from the 1950s. It’s tucked into my grandpa Donald Hickman’s scrapbook (the one that served in the Navy, including a tour in the Philippines). I doubt this individual (it’s not my Grandma) still lives in the same house in Oklahoma, and you wouldn’t get too far with a four digit phone number these days, but just in case.

There’s a blank form and a filled out version in my grandpa’s papers, but the filled out one is way more fun! I don’t know the form’s origin story, but it’s fun to think about really serious questions like: do you think the french kiss will replace the toothbrush?

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Grade E in Sandy Springs, Ohio.

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My great grandma Edith Graham wasn’t too into school, at least during the 1901-1902 year. What came before the “F” for fail grade? An E!

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My recreational life, with some exceptions, is mostly described as “school” these days. I’m so used to the A-B-C-D-F system, that it’s funny to think about past alternatives.

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I’m okay not leaving footprints, though I do want to examine the impressions that are already out there in the sands of time. It feels a little mean to post a bad report card on the internet, but she kept it and it made it to 2015, so it must’ve not been all that terrible a memory!

Cincinnati Public Housing: Winton Terrace

When my great grandpa William Howard Furnier passed away in 1940, he left behind his wife Edith Myrtle (nee Graham) and their two kids.  Sometime around then she moved to the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority project Winton Terrace.  In my Grandpa’s (Edith’s son’s) papers there are newsletters from Winton Terrace in the latter half of the 20th century.  This one particularly caught my eye for its colorful cover and anniversary theme.

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Unfortunately there isn’t much history inside the newsletter, aside from this page making a special tribute to the families that moved in when Winton Terrace first opened (including my great grandma):

 

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The auto-fill that pops up when I type Winton Terrace into a Google search bar looks something like:

winton terrace beating

winton terrace fights

winton terrace cincinnati shooting

winton terrace cincinnati oh fight

The history of Winton Terrace

My Cincinnati and public housing history knowledge isn’t very sharp, so I don’t feel qualified to really dig into the social-cultural issues that make up Winton Terrace’s history and present.  (Best thing found in a quick online search is this report.)

I asked relatives about their memories of Winton Terrace. The small details of kid memory get me the most, like my aunt remembering “Grandma’s bricks on her aluminum garbage cans.” Memories from multiple family members about their Grandma (my great grandma) threatening (but never hitting) them with a flyswatter when they misbehaved.

I want to know more, but I started grad school this year and stuff got pretty real in February, so I have to set aside in-depth personal research for research of the school and work variety for now. But Winton Terrace will be hanging around in the back of my mind for awhile. That tension between the hope of public housing and the reality of decades of aging and change, and how personal memories and contemporary stereotypes about housing projects shape the conversation. Lots of questions; lots and lots of questions.

(P.S. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth is a really good documentary on a public housing project in St. Louis.)