Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Complications of Moving

I'm still here, but moving houses has me pretty preoccupied.  In part, I'm trying to figure out how to keep my place in what I'm doing with the archiving that I have all spread out, and how to safely transport all of it.  In the meantime, perhaps you'd like an interesting picture or two?  The first is captioned, "A little welcome in the P.I." and the second has the caption below.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some Thoughts About Racism in This Context (Happy Columbus Day)

One of the things that I am learning a little bit about through these letters from my grandpa during the war is his feelings toward Japanese people.  Let me say right now that my grandpa was not an outwardly racist man in actions or words when I was alive.  However... when I was in junior high I did a little exchange program with some Japanese students - they came to us for a couple of weeks one summer, then we went to them for a couple of weeks the next summer.  We studied Japanese language and culture in between and tried to be somewhat knowledgeable, at least for junior high kids.  It was a wonderful fun and broadening experience that I'm very lucky to have had.  When I came home from Japan I brought my Grandma and Grandpa some little chopstick grandparents as a souvenir.  I don't remember anymore exactly what made me realize this, but it was a little uncomfortable with my grandpa when I gave them to him.  At that point I knew it related to the war (we had gone to Pearl Harbor on our way to Japan, which gave me a tiny bit of context), but I really couldn't understand it yet, and honestly didn't try very hard (and maybe even felt a little exasperated by it - all of my new Japanese friends were so nice and so much like us - what was the problem?).  He didn't talk about the war, and I didn't ask about it.

In a letter from January 14, 1944, my grandpa wrote about one day when his ship was several miles out, and something was swimming up to them.*  They didn't know what it was for a while, so they had their guns trained on it in case it was a Japanese soldier.  (He said, a "Jap," and that they were "tricky."  You can read his words below.)  It turned out to be a water buffalo that they presumed was scared into the ocean by all the warfare on shore, and was now looking for some safe landing (which makes my disney-fied self unspeakably sad, but that's another story.)  It couldn't get on board, so there wasn't much they could do aside from not shooting it (which they didn't).  So on it went, and on they went, amid air raids and being shot at and watching planes dive bomb their fellow ships. 

I have tried to put myself in his shoes in that situation, and it's terrifying.  And it makes me understand yet another destructive element of war a little bit better.  After you have found yourself pitted against another set of people, who are actively trying to kill you, how could you ever stop seeing them as the enemy on some level?  Even if you had all kinds of context to put something like that in, and years passed and peace was realized between your countries, and their grandkids are friends with your grandkids, do those kinds of muscle memories ever really go away?  Is it maybe good sometimes that we as humans don't have a very good collective memory about a lot of things? I would imagine that for Grandpa it was a very conscious effort to be smarter than his body would have him be, if you will.  I haven't thought it all the way around yet, but I'm working on it, and I wanted to write some of it out and hear what you think as well.  

My grandpa was not a racist man, and yet this part of him has always bothered me because it didn't square in my understanding of him.  Now I know why.  I believe I've said this before and I know I'll say it again: The greatest gift of these letters and keepsakes is the chance to see my ancestors in a more human and complete way.  It was brave of Grandpa to let me and others have these things.  It touches me that the lessons I might learn from these things were worth the risk to him that I would get to see him as himself, which was not perfect.  And I am not perfect, so it makes me love him all the more.  And it makes me feel more brave about preserving my things like this for my daughter.  What a wonderful journey this is.

*Sidenote neat thing:  I found a reference to this water buffalo event in another of his shipmate's journals here:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Words I Cannot Imagine Writing

Here is another postcard from Grandpa, but this one is to my dad.  It reads as follows:

Dear Maxie:
Here is a picture of part of Oakland.
I have been there several times.
It look like Daddy is going for
a long ride on a ship and
won’t see you for a while.  Be
a good boy and don’t forget
me.  I’ll be back some day
and we will have a big
time then.  Take good care of
Danny and be good to Mother
and Sister.  Love,

[postmarked from U.S. Navy Oct. 29, 1944]

I read this and typed out the words and thought about my cutie pie kiddo sleeping downstairs and could not in a million years imagine writing these words out and sending them off.  He also wrote one to his other son, who was less than a year old, and I imagine this might be what is in the postcard from the last post, to my aunt.  It's just beyond comprehension.  It makes me wonder how that changes a person - how it changed Grandpa.  I know he was in love with his family, and I know he was ambivalent about the war... I can't quite get the words out right but this is one of many things that really puts World War II in much more relevant light.  This is the best history course I've ever taken.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Little Mysteries At Each Step

The above is a postcard from my grandpa to my aunt (his young daughter) when he was in training.  Does anyone know the right things to try to get this to expose in a way (digitally) that I might be able to read the writing?  Some of my favorites are the letters to the kids, and I'm sure this is just a little note, but I figure it must be fixable... I just don't know how.  That's how all of this seems to go right now.  I know most of the people in a picture, but who is that one guy?  This box of Oddfellows jewelry is labeled as belonging to one uncle, but then why is the name on the certificates someone else's (who I don't know).  I'm starting to understand what Grandpa's ship was doing during the war, but what does a Quartermaster actually do?  The cool thing is that some of these little mysteries are solvable.  I know a bit about what a Quartermaster does now, and intend to learn more.  I may never know who that guy is, but I may take the picture to my aunt next week and she'll know exactly who he is.  It's wonderful having these little wonders in my life.

And on a completely different note, my family and I are moving houses in the next month, and so posting has been light and may continue to be light.  I'm not really sure.  But don't worry, I'm still here, and I promise I have a huge stack of letters and pictures and odds and ends still waiting to be explored, so there will be much more to come.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"My Highest Ambition"

I found this tonight and really wanted to share it.  On the back Grandpa wrote, "Just a little daydreaming by 'Pop' De Vore on one of those 'uncomfortable' afternoons in the Pacific."  Next step: figure out who "Pop" De Vore is and share this with him and/or his loved ones (he is the artist, not my grandpa)!  He must have been on Grandpa's boat, so that's a great first clue.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

These Moments of Connection are the Best

 This whole family archive ride is such a wild one sometimes!  I have been on a vacation visiting the hub's side of the family, so I've been out of the groove of these archives and was a bit reluctant to dive back in because I can get so lost in it all.  However, dive I have, and I am having such fun again (and once again totally lost in a good way)!

I've been going through more WWII letters to and from Grandpa, and will be for some time I think.  The first thing I scanned tonight was a letter from January 1945, which Grandpa wrote after the biggest battle his ship participated in, and after not receiving mail for two months. Imagining what that might have been like is incredibly difficult for me (as I just now run downstairs to soothe my kiddo as she sleeps and kiss my husband).  To me, my grandpa was not a violent or macho person or even one to mention his war experiences particularly, so it's strange to read his accounts of things and hear the necessary hard edge that I would imagine he would have to have gained quickly to get through it.  That, too, must have been strange for him.  And then in the next line after describing his war duties, he reminds my grandma of how much he loves her and misses everyone.  I am incredibly grateful to get to witness the nuances of his experience and personality at the time. 

As I was pondering all of this, the next document I came to was a timeline of sorts of his ship, the LCI (R) 226, which was a Landing Craft Infantry rocket ship.  I didn't even know that much at the time, but do now because as soon as I started reading his timeline I started googling.  I almost lost my mind for a moment because as soon as I started searching I was finding pictures of his ship, other people's timelines of the ship, and other odds and ends like that.  I could actually compare his timeline with some of the others and see them match up.  I can't quite recapture why exactly it blew my mind, but it was a really wonderful moment of connection that has come to be one of my favorite things about going through these archives.

This was the first thing I found:
That's his boat!!

I'm still a little amazed, and not feeling fully coherent about why this is so exciting, but for now I'll work on it in my head some more, and leave you with another picture.  The first picture was of the crew of  the LCI 226 on August, 1945.  This bottom picture is of the Illinois contingent, with Grandpa's caption for names.  Grandpa is the oldest of the bunch (most likely), standing on the far right.

[Reads: Illinois members of the crew of LCI (R) 226.
Left to right:
Back row - Hurley - Chief Pharmacist Mate.
                  Warwick - Ships Cook 1/c
                  Goodwin - Quartermaster 3/c
Front row - Zelinski - Seaman 1/c
                   Hoffman - Fireman 1/c

Taken aboard ship somewhere in The Philippines, April 21, 1945.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Living by Our Wits Since the Early 1900's

We had our family reunion on Saturday and it was wonderful to see everyone and I did get a few answers from my Aunt and Great Aunt, with the results of the answers to come later.  I also was entrusted with some more treasures to scan and catalog, which is always exciting.  Until I get the huge box of stuff home and look at another stack of pictures, some labeled, some total mysteries, and... phew.  This is going to take a while.  I have some funny things that I've found that I thought you'd like too.  One has to do with Uncle Dow again, but I need more time to get that all scanned.  The one I have for you today is a picture with an inscription from my Grandpa G on the back.  Here's the picture and the inscription, with transcription below:

Ed Boles was a cousin of my grandmother (your great-grandmother) G.  He was a hobo who would come to our house occasionally to see Grandma G who lived with us.  He was intelligent, well-travelled, well dressed, and adverse to hard work.  He lived by his wits.

A cousin at the reunion told me that Grandpa told a story about how Ed would buy bars of soap, cut them up into smaller pieces, wrap the pieces in tin foil, then sell them as spot remover until he was run out of town.  The story makes me think of Harold Hill, which makes me like cousin Ed.  I don't know what happened to cousin Ed. tells me he was born in 1872, but I don't have information about his death, and I don't know what the story with the sign is - is this a photo studio or a real train or what??  Any guesses?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finally, A Visual Anchor for You

Most of my posting thus far has been related to my Grandpa G's side of the family.  That's the place where I started because he was careful to preserve documents and pictures, so the bulk of my information comes from him.  I got into some pictures tonight because it's Labor Day weekend and Friday, and pictures tend to be easier than letters, I think.  I love that I can get from these pictures a more lively image of some family characters who are still a little flat to me.

I hope that these pictures will help us all get some visual anchors for all of these other stories and tidbits.  So, I give you now my Grandma and Grandpa, back together after the war, in 1945 with their three children.  My dad is the one on Grandpa's lap. 

Oh - and I have looked for a photo of Dow, who wrote the letter in the previous post - but have been woefully unsuccessful thus far.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tell Her Not to Give Up Until She Has a Good Education

I have been enchanted with this letter from my Grandpa's Uncle Dow (his dad's brother, who was born in 1858, and was 18 years older than Grandpa's dad - another topic for another day there).  He mentions Liz, one of his sisters who was eight years younger than Dow, and Newt (full name: Isaac Newton - yet another next topic) and Joe are two of his brothers, 12 and 18 years younger, respectively.  Dow would have been 36, Liz 28, Newt 24 and Joe 18.  Phew.  Adding calculators to the long list of modern conveniences they didn't have then.

In the letter Dow mentions "Young Peoples Papers" as being something Liz should be reading.  I'm trying to figure out what those are, and google is telling me I'm going to have to dig deeper than a few pages of results, so I'll get back on that.  In the meantime, dear reader, do you happen to know?

The thing I love most about this letter, which I will put below with only this further ado, is his encouragement of Liz's education as well as the boys.  My gut tells me that it might be a bit less common for a woman to be urged to study, and less common for all of them as they were in rural Illinois on the farm, I believe.  I also don't know whether the book Dow mentions is the same thing as the Young Peoples Papers, or if they're different, and I really hope I can find out.  He mentions a book in another letter and urges his reader to read the book several times, so I wonder if he had one book that he tried to encourage everyone to read, or whether he just generally encouraged everyone to read books.

What do you think?

If you'd like my transcription, just take the jump.  Anything I'm uncertain of or my own comments at the end I put in [ ] or use a [?], so feel free to suggest what you think might be missing.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Word About Procedure

So I’m trying so hard to figure out a method for getting these documents catalogued and organized in a way that makes sense, is easy to use, and that is universal enough that my aunts and uncles and cousins won’t have any trouble getting to these documents and using my system.

It turns out that is so much easier said that done.  The first night I started with scanning into tif files of 600 ppi, because I read that was a good resolution for precious documents like this.  However, that makes for a huge file, so now I have to figure out how to make a second set of all of this that is much smaller in file size for just general perusal.  I haven't found a good method to do that yet except re-sizing each file to a jpeg in Irfanview, so if you have ideas I'd love to hear them!

I'm also transcribing everything in a Word document that is getting the same file name.  I figure I may also want to tag the files themselves, but I'm not yet sure how I want to do that.  

I realized tonight that I should be printing copies as I go so that I can make notes and keep track of my questions and whatnot on those copies.  However, my printer cartridge is low (I hate mundane things like that which must be tended to but always at a time that's inconvenient!), so I think I'll print them in town in a couple of days.  Until then, I have lots more to figure out, so I'll probably change plans five more times before I even have a chance to print the files.  

Ultimately, I'm hoping to have pictures, letters, Grandpa's book excerpts, comments from relatives clarifying and illuminating things, recordings, and anything else I come upon, all together in one digital place.  What do you think?  Is that possible?  Would I have to be a museum to do it?  Speaking of museums, I will have a question for you about museums tomorrow!  Come back so you can give me some answers!

Full Steam Ahead into World War II

My Grandpa G served in World War II in the navy.  When he left he had two children and a wife whom he adored, and a third and unexpected child on the way.  Grandpa was a school teacher in a one room schoolhouse in Edgar County, Illinois, which he took very seriously, enjoyed quite a lot, and I think excelled at (though we always want to think that of our ancestors, right?).  He was a very sincere man with a strong sense of loyalty to family and his country, and he had a great sense of humor.

I have a lot to learn about his particular ship (and would love to hear what you know about it!), but he was in the little ship that went in front of the bigger boats to clear out the beach and make it safe for the army to land.  I believe he may have been a "bazooka boy," but I'm not certain of that, and it's not anything I think he ever would have called himself.  He wrote a story about their biggest event, called The Little Lady Grew Angry, and I look forward to sharing that with you.

Getting into the war letters is a little daunting.  There are a lot of them, to and from various people, including his wife and kids, and they are often long.  They also seem to be in no particular order.  They are pretty honest, it seems, and it's just hard to imagine and hard to think about, especially now that I have a child and husband myself.  My mind is constantly on the families who are going through it now.  Grandpa is always thanking people for writing and encouraging them to write again, and sometimes ribbing them to write more often. I don't have close friends overseas right now, but it makes me wonder if I should be trying to find a soldier who needs a pen pal.  It must be different in the days of email, and I wonder what his correspondence would have been like over email.  As it is, he sometimes uses v-mail, which I also don't yet know much about except that it's very hard to read because it's so little!  Can any of you shed a little light on v-mail?  I'll post a picture of one soon.

Here's your cliff hanger for the night: Grandpa says in one letter to his good friends that the war experience has changed his values completely, but he doesn't go into it further!  I hope that in the diary he kept during the war or other letters I will learn more about his change.

Scanning Begins

I could hardly wait for my daughter to go to sleep so I could get into scanning my new treasures!  I fretted about turning on the air conditioner to keep the documents safe (the documents that had been in my mom’s unheated and uncooled garage for the past few years), but the weather is so mild and we’ve been so happy leaving it off that I couldn’t bring myself to turn it on now.  I decided instead to bring the dehumidifier up to the office.

My palms would NOT stop sweating because I was so excited, so I did a lot of hand washing that night.  I worked from about 9:00 until about 1:00 a.m.  The letters were mostly between my Grandpa G’s parents while they were courting, from 1903-1905.  My Great Grandpa Joe and Great Grandma Nelle wrote to each other through the week, maybe?  And then seemed to see each other on Sundays sometimes, and maybe other times as well.  They began each letter with “Dear Friend” and closed with “yours only” or “ever your friend” and similar.  They seemed to have a sense of humor (or what seems like a dry sense of humor is really them being crabby – but I’m pretty sure it’s the former).  They didn’t get flowery, but there does seem to be some flirting happening in a subtle way.  I’ll put my favorite from each below - once I get my procedures figured out.  The large files are making my computer move like molasses, so once I make them small we'll be in business and you'll get a peek!

A Big Box of Stuff

I went to my mom's house this weekend and asked if she had the old box of stuff from Grandpa G that I seemed to remember she had.  She pointed me in the right direction, then took off, leaving my husband, my daughter and I to check out the box.  And my daughter is two years old, so that mostly consisted of us finding cool stuff (woah - look at these medals!) then quickly prying them out of her grasp or hiding the pretty shiny things from sight.

The box has pictures from the late 1800's and 1900's, letters from various relatives from the same time period, relics from World War II, and other odds and ends.  Some of it was so old I was too scared to really get into it until I was at my home with the scanner nearby, so I'm not even sure of what is there!
I decided to take the box back home to scan what I could, and started researching how to take care of these old things.  I’ve never tried to do any of this before, so it’s all new to me.  I called the Indiana University library in case they had someone who could help me scan.  They were incredibly nice and gave me some links to resources, but unless the documents are in their collection they don’t have the resources to work with them.  Because my relatives on that side are all from Illinois, the Indiana University library isn’t generally interested in our stuff. 

So I read up on how to scan and preserve precious documents, and started to dig in!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It Begins

I have long been mildly interested in the high points of my family history.  For example, I have always heard that Stonewall Jackson is someone's great great great uncle down the line, and while it's unfortunate that he was with the wrong side, he's still an interesting figure, so I've thought that was cool.

As I've gotten older, I've taken more interest in the less flashy details of my family's history, but it's hit a new level this week.  I watched Who Do You Think You Are, the TV show, on Hulu last week, and I signed in to before I had gotten more than a few episodes in.  (It turns out I already had an account that I started in 2007 and forgot about quickly, which is a good summary of my previous efforts at family history research.)   (And note: I'm not affiliated with anyone, so this is just my spontaneous drivel, not sponsored drivel.)

Once I got going on I started with my Grandma G's (my dad's mom) Bible.  She had some of the family history written in, so it was a good jumping off point.  I entered in that information, then went to my Grandpa G's (my dad's dad) book for more on his side.  My Grandpa G, who was born in 1909, wrote this book (at my Grandma's urging) by hand, full of family details, historical information like how they slaughtered a pig in his day, and his thoughts on all of those things.  I feel incredibly lucky to have his book, and will write more about it as I go.

I then broke down and signed up for the 14-day trial at in order to get at the "hints" that they said were there.  Those hints were all kinds of records of birth, death, etc., and also links in to other personal family trees that helped me fill in the gaps and take my family tree further back than I could do on my own.  I won't be able to subscribe for an annual membership when my trial expires, as we're on an austerity budget over here, but look forward to doing it sometime in the future.

So all of this got me to the next step, which is more interesting, and which will be in the next post!  Stay with me - it's going to get interesting, I hope!