Category Archives: Genealogy

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.)

Evolution of a Cubi Tour(ist)

This was tucked in my grandpa Donald Hickman’s scrapbook and serves as a nice follow up to my post the other week on his time in the Philippines in the 1950s:

Seabee_CubiPointTourist

A lot of the devolution centers on San Miguel beer, which is pretty clearly visible in one of my grandpa’s photos:

Veterans and Academics

My grandpa Donald Hickman (on the left) in the Philippines in the 1950s.

My grandpa Donald Hickman (on the left) in the Philippines when he was stationed there as a Navy Seabee in the 1950s.

I would never think to tell anyone that I come from a military family, though both my parents, my grandpas, and my brother all served at some point.  I’m the only non-veteran in my immediate family.  I interned at a defense contractor for a summer, but that’s about as close as I’ve been to the military industrial complex.  My parents were out of the Air Force by the time I was born, so I didn’t experience a military brat childhood, so I think that’s part of it.  Though I didn’t live through that lifestyle, I can’t say that the American military hasn’t had an enormous impact on my life.

My parents first met on a military airplane going to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.  My paternal grandpa met my Grandma while he was a Navy Seabee in Southern California in the 1950s, and my maternal grandpa met my grandma when he was stationed in Japan in the 1950s.  So, if it weren’t for the military I wouldn’t exist (two generations over).

None of my military family were lifers – if anything it seems like the military can be something you do because you need a job, because you want to get out of the small rural town you grew up in, because it’s a direction to go in other than college – basically, the military is a source of opportunity and possibility.  I can’t speak for anyone, but that’s what it looks like from my outsider perspective.  I respect the individual contributions of veterans and I appreciate what the military offers to our increasingly degree obsessed American society.

I’m pretty much an academic, with all the voodoo mojo jargon writing that goes along with it, and I professionally serve a very ivory tower community.  I don’t discount the value of the academy, but I do get frustrated at elitism and exclusivity and find that contemporary American society’s privileging of excessive credentials is fueling an educational industrial complex.

I don’t believe in intellectual elitism, but I’m unfortunately starting another masters degree in January, and I still haven’t discounted the possibility of eventually going back for a PhD of the history variety.  I’ve already got enough degrees and educational certificates to wipe an ass after a pretty sizable dump.  So I’m a bit of a hypocrite, but I’m also in a place in my career where I don’t feel like I have the power yet to change the system and I think having an arsenal of letters after my name will help.  You have to fully understand the system to affect lasting change (=how I sleep at night).

Enough ranting – in belated celebration of the contributions of veterans past and present, here is a gallery of my maternal grandpa Donald Hickman’s photographs from his Navy Seabee time in the Philippines in the 1950s, complete with captions he handwrote on the backs (where applicable):

Roadside: Lake Murray Lodge, Ardmore, Oklahoma

Lately I’ve been cleaning up my digital life and trying to give my files some semblance of order. Through the process I’ve been reliving a bunch of trips via old photos.

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge

Lake Murray Lodge is really, really close to where my Grandma and Oklahoma family live, though I didn’t visit until 2012. I think my great grandpa Aubrey Hickman worked on building some things at Lake Murray through a WPA program, but I haven’t found the paper trail to confirm it yet.

Supposedly Lake Murray Lodge (built in 1949) and a group of cabins from the 1930s were going to be demolished to make way for building a new lodge.  I haven’t kept up on the story and I’m not sure what’s still there, but I do know that I fell in love with the little old 1930s cabins and aspects of the 1949 Lodge while I was out there.

There are newer cabins still open for rent, but we stayed in the old Lodge because when we planned the trip the cabins were already all booked for the weekend we were out there.  The rooms were really dated, but as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, dated just means a place has character to me.  The bathroom tile was so great I actually took photos of it.

When I go back through these photos of Lake Murray I imagine these places when they were brand new, when a family from 80 years ago got to take a summer vacation and stay by the water in their very own cabin space.  Beautiful lake views through big windows and screened in porches.

Sadly the only cabin denizens when I visited were wasps, but there’s still some magic in these old wood and glass boxes:

Somewhere Over-the-Rhine-bow

Likely Cincinnati (check out the "Queen City" label on the inside of the overhang).  I think the second kid from the left is probably my great grandpa, but I'm not 100%.

Probably Cincinnati (check out the “Queen City” label on the inside of the overhang). I think the second kid from the left is possibly my great grandpa, but I’m not 100%.

It’s been a number of months and I’m still struggling to write down my impressions of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.  I mostly feel a murky sense of awe at the beautiful architecture and a mix of shame and distress over what kind of living conditions many of the people in the neighborhood deal with on a day to day basis.

In the places we encounter we all bring something to the table.  I’ve lived in Los Angeles for almost six years now.  It is both the richest and poorest place I’ve lived in.  I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was taught that the Bay was beautiful, but LA was a dump.  I’ve always been a fan of the underdog, and now that I’ve been in LA for awhile I feel a sense of ownership and pride and think I can finally call this sprawling metropolis my home and my city.

Downtown Los Angeles has its Skid Row.  It’s a blurry line between bars with $12+ cocktails and industrial streets lined with tents and makeshift shelters.  Well-dressed and high-heeled foodies and cocktail connosseurs cross paths with dishelved individuals who often seem to be aimlessly wandering the streets.  Sometimes you get asked for change, sometimes someone from the tent side of town will try to start a conversation with you (that usually doesn’t make much sense), but as long as you mind your own business the vast majority of encounters with Skid Row residents are passive.

Los Angeles gets such a bad rap for its gang issues, its race riots, its Skid Row.  I’d seen parts of Skid Row enough times at all hours of night and day, so I didn’t think seeing a neglected downtown core in another major city would be any kind of shock, but I think that’s the only word I can use.

I know Cincinnati is a Rust Belt city.  I know Cincinnati has an important significance in the history of my Dad’s dad’s side of the family.  I know when I visited suburban Cincinnati in 2006 all my relatives told me not to go downtown (they all now live in the suburban neighborhoods outside of downtown – no one lives in the city anymore).  Of course that made me want to go even more.

When adult people are slumped over motionless in doorways, it’s easier to distance yourself; to make it a “us” and “them” situation.  We all compartmentalize to some extent as a mental survival mechanism.  The world is full of many things both inside and outside of our control and we place our thoughts and feelings in the bins they need to go in so that we can keep functioning within the narrow scope of our individual lives.

A mystery person (probably a relative) in a photograph taken at a studio at 7th and Vine St. in Cincinnati

A mystery person (probably a relative) in a photograph taken near Over-the-Rhine at Young & Carl photo studio at 7th and Vine St. in Cincinnati (Family Photo Reunion says this studio was in operation at this location between 1895 and 1915)

For months now I’ve placed Over-the-Rhine in its historical bin – a curious look into a past place where my ancestors existed.  Neighborhood neglect has been both a blessing and a curse as many structures still exist, but many are also slowly crumbling away.  Taking a walking tour was a great chance to get to walk the streets my ancestors walked and to see the buildings they saw.  Place is a powerful component of the past.  Getting to see the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood with my own two eyes and feet seemed like the next best thing to climbing in a time machine.  But a very current place exists among the structures of a past time.  While the buildings were neglected and forgotten, so too were the communities that came to live in Over-the-Rhine.

I think that was the biggest shock of the decayed downtown core.  Most of the LA Skid Row individuals I’ve encountered are adults, while walking around Over-the-Rhine felt more like seeing the inside of a multigenerational community existing in spite of human and structural threats.  A group of little kids waved at us from an upper story window, while a gangly woman with a beaten face walked over to a man in a doorway, and a buff weightlifter parked his car along the sidewalk to blast some tunes while he hefted big metal dumbbells on the strip of concrete between sidewalk and asphalt.  This place is alive; people really live here.  (And I don’t mean to knock LA’s Skid Row as a place where people don’t live – it just has a much more transient feel to it, unlike the very rooted feeling of Over-the-Rhine.)

At the beginning of this I mentioned “shame” as one of the feelings percolating in my mind.  I’ve written about the idea of the legacy of historical shame in the past (Legacy Guilt), and I think I’ve come around to a good psychological place on personal genealogical issues.  Despite this, I am still working on finding some level of acceptance in confronting bigger picture injustices that were created by past discrimination and neglect and are perpetuated today.  Like dealing with my personal family history, the bigger family history of humanity (and American humanity in particular) is something that I can’t change.

Maybe at least increasing awareness is a good step in the right direction.  It definitely opened my eyes and made me want to know more, to see more, to understand more.  My inner optimist fell in love with the neighborhood and I feel hopeful that there is some sort of possible middle ground for Over-the-Rhine, where it can keep its roots but become a structurally and culturally safer place for the community to grow.

There are changes and movers and shakers working on the neighborhood, though there is always a fine line between saving buildings and bringing in money and pushing out those that live in the neighborhood.  Can gentrification be a positive for everyone involved?

Ancestors, childhood, and abortion.

When researching genealogy, documenting siblings of direct ancestors and the siblings’ children has proven very helpful in finding clues to the whereabouts of my direct ancestors. Though researching the many siblings in large ancestral family groups is also often an old timey reality check. My modern self starts all enthusiastic about tracking down the husbands, wives, and children, only to realize that my ancestor’s sibling died at 10 or 8 or 15 or 1. One of the saddest things is realizing that some families lost half of their children before those kids even had a shot at adulthood.

As a history person the news isn’t surprising. I know that people died young of all sorts of diseases and accidents and general tough living, but seeing it in your own family, giving names and lives to these individuals, makes the statistics people. It makes me realize how lucky we are in the U.S. in 2013. Yeah, people die of curable things because our healthcare system isn’t, erm, optimally run (totally different topic), but when I think of all the families I know with living children – well, this sure isn’t rural Tennessee in 1798!

It is a rarer tragedy when children get sick, and the families I know haven’t lost half their brood to disease or other causes. This makes me think about how our attitudes toward childhood and children are shaped by the expectation that children will make it to adulthood, and how this might inform modern day attitudes toward abortion.

I recently watched a couple documentaries on abortion. The fervent anti-abortion protestors standing outside clinics were most often portrayed as religiously motivated. I have no doubt that religion plays a major role in many individual attitudes on the subject, but the religious fixation of the anti-abortion protestors made me wonder less about biblical rationales and more about other cultural factors that play into American attitudes toward abortion. You don’t have to be super religious or non-religious to have an opinion on the subject. Separate from religious views, how might a modern day American’s worldview impact their attitudes on abortion?  Is it possible to separate religion from the issue?

Retrospect is often shrouded in a glowy halo. Not everyone I know loved childhood, but I think the general American cultural attitude privileges childhood as some sort of sacred phase. When you privilege the phase of life known as “childhood” as something special, memorable, and innocent, it seems worse to deny this phase to any cell with potential to become a human being.

So though vocal anti-abortion advocates cry foul in the name of religion, could more mild opinions be shaped by the value we place on childhood and optimistic beliefs that our modern medicine can solve the woes of childhood disease and award everyone the opportunity to grow to a fulfilling adulthood? Is it harder for modern Americans to accept that sometimes a fetus that doesn’t develop properly or is impeded by incurable disease has no fighting chance?

And this is not to say that the death of children in any time period is ever an easy thing (my great great great grandparents Thomas Crutcher and Nancy Holt each wrote a mourning poem when their son died in 1865), but I wonder if we’ve forgotten how to accept and mourn death with our overly optimistic rosy lenses – visions of cute children playing in the pages of Toys ‘R’ Us ads and in new clothes for the first day of school override images of infants hooked up on life support systems in the few months before they pass or (in abortions based on choice and not on medical conditions) children put in the adoption/foster system or children kept and not given the developmental support of their peers due to poor financial or emotional environments?

The history of American childhood, abortion, and death and mourning are not my specialties, so I could probably use some more reading before coming to any sort of real conclusions, but I do know enough to at least ask questions and wonder.

(As an aside, I’ll also note that I’m super impressed how old some of my ancestors got – 70s, 80s, even 90s!)

Me in DNA form.

Freshly opened DNA kit!

Freshly opened DNA kit!

So I decided to spit in a tube, drop it in a mailbox, and get my DNA analyzed via AncestryDNA (the ancestry.com DNA test, not the other one floating around on Groupon).  It was incredibly simple and the results of the test analysis showed up a couple weeks earlier than I’d anticipated.  Win, win, win.

1. Spit in tube after not eating for awhile.

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Drooool. (After at least 30 minutes of not eating – don’t want to contaminate your precious cargo.)

2. Close tube cap and release spit DNA preservation stuff.  Oooo, it’s blue!

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Spit enhanced by blue preservation substance.

3. Remove tube funnel and screw on the tube cap.  Place the tube in the biohazard envelope.  Oooo, your spit is a biohazard!

Radioactive....but not.

Radioactive….but not.

4. Place the tube+envelope in the mailer and drop it off at your nearest postal pick-up locale.

Have a safe trip little vial of spit!

Have a safe trip little vial of spit!

5. Wait as patiently as possible. (taps foot -> tap, tap, tap, tap)

6.  Get extremely excited when an e-mail shows up in your inbox announcing your results are ready!  Whoo!

ethnicitybreakdown

Me in regional DNA estimate form.  It’s like my high-tech selfie.  Oooo, I feel so exposed. (P.S. This is much more readable if you click the image and plaster it across your monitor.)

For the most part I found what I was expecting to find.  I really hoped I was at least a dash American Indian, so that was an exciting find.  The trace of Asia Central was unexpected but not entirely surprising.  The most surprising was the 9% estimate for Iberian Peninsula.

On my paternal side I’m Japanese and a mishmash of European – German, French, Irish, and English mostly.  These ancestors lived in the Ohio/Kentucky/Pennsylvania/Maryland region.

On the maternal side I’m half Eastern European (Polish and Slovene) and a mishmash of European.  I’m still working on researching back further, but so far the European side seems likely to be English/Scottish/Irish.  This group of Euro settlers mostly began in North Carolina, migrated to Tennessee, and then later to Texas and Oklahoma.

I’m really not sure which side (or both?) the Iberian peninsula comes from!  I thought maybe it could be southern France, but the last French ancestor I had intermarried into other communities back in the 1700s, so 9% seemed a little excessive for such a distant ancestor.  I’m also not sure where in France my ancestor came from.  We (the family in general) are pretty certain our French ancestor was Huguenot – I’m not sure if this could have some contribution to the mystery.

My actual initial thought was that there was maybe a connection to Slovenia.  It’s a bit of a leap maybe, but in non-DNA percentages I’m 25% Eastern European, so initially I looked to the other percentages to see why the Eastern European estimate was so low.  The more I think about it, the more obscure this connection seems.  I haven’t found any evidence to back up this knee-jerk theory.  I know the DNA that gets passed down to you doesn’t split 50/50 from each parent and I really don’t know if my Eastern European ancestors moved around a bunch in the past couple hundred years.  I just know that they lived in those particular countries before coming to the U.S. circa 1900.

I also read some stuff online about a possible migratory connection between the Iberian peninsula and Ireland, leaving it possible that a couple of my Irish ancestors might have lived on the Iberian peninsula at one point?  I’m not sure.  I need to do some more reading and researching.  I just feel pretty certain that there isn’t a hidden recent ancestor from Portugal/Spain/Southern France/Northern Africa.  But universe, go ahead and surprise me!

I don’t have any documentation of Scandinavian relatives on either side of the family, but I imagine that has something to do with the migration of Scandinavian groups to the British Isles way back in old timey Viking days.  That seems like a pretty straightforward possibility.  Dang, Britain and Western Europe have a pretty strong showing.  Makes sense, but just looks like such a big number to have all those odds and ends of British and Western European ancestors grouped in one percentage.  I don’t tend to think of that part of my ancestry as cohesive since they’ve all been in the U.S. for so long – I tend to think more distinctly about the cultural/ethnic identities of my 20th century immigrant ancestors.

My Mom tells me her dad (of the generally North Carolina->Tennessee->Texas/Oklahoma branch) always said he was “‘Merican” when asked what he was.  Ultimately, that is what I am too!  Americans often get a bad rap (that is also often earned), but I’m happy and proud to be one.  Somebody get me a Stars and Stripes to wave!

All in all, totally worth it.  It was my birthday present from my parents and definitely exactly what I wanted.  🙂