65th Anniversary Update: Well THAT Was a Mistake

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Today I got a reminder of how easy it is to unwittingly make stuff up in genealogy. Earlier this week I wrote an affectionate little post about my parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. This morning I got a call from my mother, who said, “You’re not going to like this.” And she straightened me right out.

First of all, I had the year wrong. Celia Oliver and Bill Hare (born Stephenson) were married in Wellesley, Massachusetts on June 16, 1954 (not 1955), which was four days after Mum’s college graduation and a year before my Dad’s. Secondly, my aunt and uncle were in fact married in 1955, a year, not a few weeks, after my parents. Thirdly, I left out the part where Mum and Daddy were secretly married in Baltimore a year before their official wedding in Massachusetts.

So what, you say? Well, facts matter. And this story is actually different when it’s correct. And, since I’ve never located a marriage certificate for either the Maryland or Massachusetts marriages, I should have double checked with Mum instead of going on my memory of what I thought she’d told me long ago. And yes, this is the downfall of many a sloppy genealogist!

It was the 1950s. My parents were still in school and they quietly got married in 1953 in Baltimore. They were 19 and 20 years old and they never told their parents. Not ever. According to Mum, “Bill was afraid that because I was a year older I’d take off, and if we got married I wouldn’t.” So they got a marriage license, and one afternoon they rounded up two friends–Vince, a fraternity brother of my Dad’s, and Callie, a classmate of Mum’s–and went to the home of a Justice of the Peace. When it was over, Vince and Callie drove off in one car and Celia and Bill drove off in the other.

Because Mum was a year older than my Dad, they decided to get married when she graduated. They could get an apartment together (it was the ’50s) while she worked through his senior year at Johns Hopkins.

This morning Mum explained that my aunt and uncle traveled from Boston to Baltimore to visit them, the newlyweds, during the year before their own wedding in June 1955, again confirming that my dates were mixed up. So it’s actually my aunt and uncle whose 65th anniversary is this month…

And this solves my burning question as to why Mum would wear a suit to my Dad’s graduation a few days before marrying him in the same suit. What bride would do that?! The answer is that she’d worn the suit at her wedding first, the year before. I’m relieved.

So happy 66th (and 67th) anniversary and double check your facts! xxoo

A 65th Anniversary

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Celia and Bill on June 16, 1955 in Wellesley, Massachusetts

A big, fancy-numbered anniversary. Today is the 65th anniversary of my parents’ wedding.

Celia Oliver and Bill Hare (born Stephenson) met in college in Baltimore in the early 1950s. She was a student at Goucher College and he was at Johns Hopkins University. My Mum was a year older than my Dad, graduating from college in 1954. Their wedding took place soon after his 1955 graduation from Hopkins when he was 21 and she was 22.

It was a small, simple wedding at the house my grandparents were renting on the campus of Dana Hall School on Grove Street in Wellesley, Massachusetts. My mother wore a dark suit with white piping around the collar. It’s the same suit she was wearing in photos of my Dad’s graduation from Hopkins earlier that month.

Present were their parents–Ken and Elsie (Mills) Oliver and Bob and Esther Jane (Miller) Hare from Maryland, with Bob’s mother, Fern, (Bob was actually my Dad’s step-father); Mum’s brother Peter Oliver and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Connie Gibbs; my grandfather’s brother, A. Douglas Oliver from Philadelphia with his wife, Dessa, and two young daughters, Anne and Susan; and finally, my great-uncle, Clark Stephenson, (brother of my dad’s father, Bill Stephenson) with his wife Louise. And must not forget my grandparents’ boxer, Judy, who was an important part of my childhood a few years later!

I love the intimacy of the gathering, the silliness of my Dad hamming it up for the camera while Mum beams, the image of my dignified grandfather being silly. The house isn’t one I ever knew, but everything they’re surrounded by–furniture, hangings, rugs–is embedded in my childhood memories. It was a day filled with joy and promise.

My parents had adventures together during their six short years of marriage before my father’s early death. They drove cross-country to spend a year living in Alaska. They spent a year working in Germany. They had four years as parents together in Baltimore. And a dog. For all that, I celebrate them and look back on that day 65 years ago with gratitude.

UPDATE: Oh, my, did I get this wrong! My next post sorts it all out…

Discovered While Hunkered Down at Home: Nellie Miller

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Nellie M. Miller (1908-1920), about age 6.

Isn’t she precious?

Like many of us this housebound spring, I’ve been finding it hard to concentrate well enough to blog or even read much. But rummaging through old pictures is a perfect distraction.

My pictures are horribly unorganized (I know! A perfect quarantine project…) but I thought I knew what I had. To my delight, yesterday’s finds included three envelopes of pictures (1915-1980s) given to me years ago by my Aunt Marjorie (Miller) Willbern, my grandmother’s sister and my godmother. And out popped this picture of their sister Nellie M. Miller, which I don’t remember having seen before.

I don’t know much about Aunt Nell. She was the third child of Frank and Stella (Owen) Miller, born in 1908 after her family moved from Marshfield, Missouri to Coffeyville, Kansas and she died in 1920.

Stella (Owen) Miller with daughters (l-r) Marjorie, Nell, and Thelma. Taken about 1908.

I’ve always loved this picture of Stella with her first three daughters, and the one below, taken when Nellie was two and looking very solemn. Nellie was six when my grandmother, Esther Jane Miller was born in 1914, and sadly, she died at age twelve when Grandma was only six. Finding the sweet image of her in hat, coat, and boots pleases me so much–she is not forgotten.

Nellie at age 2 at a large gathering of Miller cousins in 1910.

Postscript: My great grandmother Stella’s first daughter, Marjorie, was born in 1901. On August 11, 1923, Stella gave birth to Martha Lee Miller, her fifth daughter, but lost her two days later. Below are the three surviving sisters.

This Charming Kansas Bride

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From The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 28 July 1938

“This Charming Kansas Bride” is Grandma in 1938, and newspaper archives may just be my favorite resource.

Esther Jane (Miller) (Stephenson) Hare was born in 1914 and raised in Coffeyville, Kansas. I knew she had done some modeling, and have a copy of this photograph, but until I was poking around in newspapers.com today, I didn’t know what the bridal shot had been used for. It was NOT from the wedding of the “lovely Mrs. Hare,” but the “true story of her romance” with Bob Hare, my dad’s stepfather, told above is one I’ve never heard, and may hold some grain of truth. Or not.

The text is hard to read in the image above, but describes how she first met Bob in high school, (probably not true–he was five years older, but did grow up in Independence, the next town to Coffeyville), but he had no interest in her. “And I blamed my complexion.” Then, thank goodness, Grandma discovered Camay soap.

Wichita–Spring 1936. “Five years passed during which Bob and I never met [During which she started college, met my grandfather, gave birth to my dad, got divorced, all before she turned 23]–and then we met at a dance. What a difference there was then in the way Bob treated me!” All thanks to Camay and her lovely complexion.

Coffeyville–Fall 1936. “Then one fall night under a harvest moon I became engaged–yes, to the man who once had never even noticed me!” And in fact, Jane and Bob were married in February 1937.

Bob and Esther Jane with my dad, Bill. Taken about 1938.

What is not fiction is that she truly was beautiful and charming. Also funny and smart. And, even with a little eye rolling at the “Soap of Beautiful Women” commercial fiction, I’m so happy to have stumbled across this advertisement today.

Relationships:

  • Esther Jane Miller (Stephenson) (1914-1975) and Robert Ralph Hare (1909-1979), my grandmother and step-grandfather
  • William Edward Stephenson, Jr. (adopted by Bob and changed his name to William Stephenson Hare) (1933-1961), my dad
  • Me

Family History Magic from Augusta, Kansas

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Maybe it’s because the internet didn’t become part of my life until I was well into adulthood, but I still believe it’s magical. And that’s been proven again and again in my family history research. Sometimes the magic is random, and sometimes it’s been the result of methodical research, but either way, the information and contacts that have come to light feel like gifts that have fallen from the sky.

My grandfather, William Edward Stephenson (1910-2004), was born and raised in Augusta, Kansas. His dad, Richard W. Stephenson (1874-1960), started a men’s clothing store in town around the 1910s, and Bill’s older brother Paul Noble Stephenson (1902-1972) and his wife Dorothy continued the business until about the 1960s. I wrote a post about Grandpa Bill and his younger brother, Clark (1911-1994), and their high school and college yearbooks here.

On a whim this week, I did a search on WordPress for Augusta, Kansas. No particular reason. And what popped up was a bunch of blog posts by crittersandcats/Dave, who shares stories for his kids and grandchildren about growing up in Augusta in the ’40s and ’50s.

As if it wasn’t enough for me to get some local flavor for a place I’d only visited a couple of times, Dave answered my comment by sharing that he’d known my family and had written a story including Uncle Paul, Aunt Do, and their son, my dad’s cousin Dick!

Back in the 1950’s, we had a men’s clothing store in Augusta, Kansas. It was owned and operated by Paul Stephenson as Stephenson’s Men’s Clothing. The store was located on the east side of the 500 block of State Street, nestled up against the Prairie State Bank, on its north and Mamie Hall’s book store on the south. Paul and his wife (only 60 years and I’ve forgotten her name) were in the store every day, well dressed and professional but friendly in demeanor. Their son, Dick, was a classmate of mine. Dick and I graduated in 1954 and I went to work and I think Dick headed for the University of Kansas. The following year, I was going to attend a wedding and needed a new suit. I went down to Stephenson’s and Paul fitted me with a new outfit and his wife set me up with a lay-away plan to pay for it. Those were the last dealings I had with the Stephenson family.

crittersandcats, https://crittersandcats.com/2017/08/24/small-speck-small-world-big-ocean/

Dave goes on to write about an unplanned landing in Guam in 1959, where he bumped into Dick, who was by then an ensign in the Navy. Small world!

Richard (Dick) I. Stephenson (1937-2009) Yearbook, University of Kansas, 1958

The moral of the story is: Methodical research is all well and good, but don’t forget that serendipity also plays a part. Indulge yourself in the obscure Google search. See if somebody has written a blog post about your grandfather’s small home town, or the tiny school your great grandmother attended, or the newspaper your great great grandfather published. Surprise connections sometimes fall from the sky. There IS magic. (And thank you, Dave!)

P.S. Dick had won my heart as a five year old (just a few years after Dave’s story) when he came to visit, looking quite dashing in his Navy uniform. He pulled out a guitar and sang to me. “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” has been a favorite folk song of mine ever since…

Family History Greatest Hits of 2019 (Just a Little Late…)

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I managed to spend more time than usual frolicking in my family research this year, including a trip to England in August and a road trip through family-related places in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina in March. The research was a refuge and escape from other worries at times, and the travel and people I connected with were pure magic. Genealogy was definitely a highlight of my 2019, with a few particularly special discoveries and experiences.

A brick wall came tumbling down; never seen photos emerged; I visited a cousin in England and made contact with several cousins I hadn’t known about; I walked in places where my ancestors spent their days. My plan was to blog about each of these, but most of those posts are still drafts… Goals for 2020!

People

Olivers and Oliphants – Finding the father of my born-out-of-wedlock 2nd great grandfather, David Oliver (my mother’s family name), has long been a challenge, and the discovery of DNA matches named Oliphant helped redirect my search. Thanks to the help of a great new online community, Walk My Past (see below), the mystery has been solved. David Oliver’s father, my 3rd great grandfather, was George Oliphant (1827-1904) from Bower, Caithness, Scotland. And… I found a photograph of the place he was living at the end of his life!

Barrock Lodge, Lyth, Bower, Caithness, Scotland. Postcard posted 18 July 1928.
Credit: Alex MacManus from his mother’s collection here.
George Oliphant was living here at the time of his death on 10 December 1904.

James Mills and Maria Milnes Photos – I’ve always had a fair amount of information on Granny’s (Elsie Mills, 1899-1993) maternal family, but not much on her father’s side. So far I’ve only turned up one blurry passport photograph of her father, James Mills (1863-1925). And then this unexpected gift! An Ancestry member posted a pair of photos from a family album–Granny’s grandparents, James Mills (1824-1904) and Maria Milnes (1825-1892). It was remarkable to see their faces and especially to discover how much my Granny looked like her grandmother.

James Mills and his Maria Milnes were married in Derby, England in 1845. They emigrated to Staunton, Virginia about 1871 with 9 of their 10 surviving children.
Credit: Mills/Mason Watson/Brewer Family Tree on Ancestry.com, courtesy Korina Mills

Living Cousins – 2019 brought re-connection and first contact with close-ish cousins in England, Scotland, New Mexico, Texas, and New York. Some were through DNA matching and others through more old-fashioned methods. It turns out that a childhood friend is a 10th cousin (thank you, Ancestry DNA) and a friend from college is a 9th cousin. Best of all, I spent a lovely afternoon with my Mum’s first cousin in London. Another goal for 2020 is to be in contact with more cousins.

An August visit with Robin Monro, my first cousin once removed, in London was a delight, and seeing the strong family resemblance to my Granny (his aunt) made me happy. Then the photo of Maria Milnes (above) appeared–his great grandmother–and I see the same resemblance to her.

Places

Ackworth School – Oh, my, what a thrill this was! In August I arranged to spend a day visiting Ackworth School in West Yorkshire, exploring the buildings, and poring through the archival material collected for me by Celia Wolfe, the school’s kind and incredibly knowledgeable archivist. I won’t spoil the post that I really, truly do still plan to write, but the short version is that I strolled the campus where my great grandmother, Emily Wright (1865-1954) was born and spent most of her childhood, where her parents worked, and where her ancestors on both sides and her siblings were students from 1780 through the late 19th century. The original buildings and grounds of this Quaker boarding school are little changed, so it felt like they could have been right there, walking the halls and pathways with me.

Ackworth School, Pontrefact, West Yorkshire

And there were photographs of students and teachers, including lots of wonderful images of Emily Wright and her parents, Mary Ann Deane (1841-1884) and Alfred Wright (1831-1901). The Quakers are precise record keepers, so there were documents rich in details about many family members. Proper blog post to follow!

Pennsylvania/Virginia/North Carolina Road Trip – A spur of the moment driving trip in March took me first to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, in the Susquehanna River Valley, north of Harrisburg, where I researched my Miller and Deppen ancestors. Thanks to the helpful folks at the Northumberland County Historical Society, I learned that my 4th great grandfather, John Miller (1774-1821), is said to have drowned in the Susquehanna River while checking his flooded land on the Isle of Que. The tiny island is one half mile wide and 5.5 miles long, part of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania on the west side of the river. I paid a quiet visit to that shore at dusk.

Isle of Que, Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania

Next stop was Staunton, Virginia, where James and Maria (Milnes) Mills settled around 1870. I took a whirlwind tour of Trinity Church, where the family worshiped; Thornrose Cemetery, with a sizable Mills family plot beneath a majestic magnolia tree. Census records and city directories provided me with the addresses of several family homes, so I was able to find where James and Maria lived during their later years with some of their children.

The North Carolina leg of my road trip took me to Davidson County in search of late 18th to mid-19th century graves of my Owen, Bodenhamer and Goss ancestors. It was a bit of a wild goose chase. Visits to the Abbott’s Creek Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery, Reeds Baptist Church Cemetery, and Becks Reformed Church Cemetery led me to graves of some collateral ancestors, but no direct ones. But the bonus was some exceptional decorative gravestones–well worth a quick visit!

New Resource

Walk My Past – A new resource for genealogists appeared on the scene this year when amateur genealogist Abbie Allen decided to create Walk My Past, a website where people could easily offer or request help with their family history. The idea is simple– volunteer “genies” are available to help with requests for information, cemetery photos, or a trip to a nearby archive. With willing helpers scattered across the globe, it gives access to information that can be out of reach otherwise. There are now 187 genies in 14 countries and the numbers are growing. Definitely worth checking it out!

And I’m the happiest of users. A kind-hearted “genie”, Meredith Cane of Revill McKay, Scotland, saw my request for help tracking down the answer to my Oliver/Oliphant mystery. She was already working in Scottish records for that region, and was able to identify my 3rd great grandfather, George Oliphant. Hoorah!

There’s my 2019 in a very large nutshell. Now, onward to 2020 and new adventures.

Colliding Worlds: My Family and My Step-In-Laws Knew Each Other? Four Generations Ago?

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When Ancestry alerted me of the anniversary of my great great grandmother Mary (Cocke) Hill’s death, I pulled up her obituary from the Baltimore Sun of October 31, 1903. I’d read it before, but imagine my surprise to read down to the list of honorary pallbearers. Out jumped a name I hadn’t noticed before–Major W. Stuart Symington–none other than (bear with me here) my husband’s step-father’s grandfather. OK, so Mary Hill’s husband, Nicholas S. Hill, also served in the Confederate Army, and both were from Baltimore. Not shocking, but fun to find.

Baltimore Sun, 31 October, 1903, Saturday, page 6

I chuckled, texted a couple of family members, and went back to read it again. And noticed that Frank H. Hambleton, my step-father-in-law Fife Symington’s other grandfather, was also listed as an honorary usher! For real.

Mary Hill was taken ill while entertaining guests at the Washington, D.C. home of her daughter Irene Bolling. And bless the Baltimore Sun’s fuzzy little heart, they even gave Irene’s street address and mentioned that Mary was entertaining in the drawing room when she was stricken. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Zillow and similar real estate websites are fantastic resources for getting a look at family places.

Here is Aunt Irene’s home at 1808 Riggs Place in the Dupont Circle section of Washington:

1808 Riggs Place NW, Washington, DC
Home of Irene (Johnson) and George Melville Bolling from approximately 1903 to 1906
Image from Zillow.com

City directories list Professor George M. Bolling at this address only from 1904 until 1906, with many other Washington addresses in the years preceding and following, so they must have been renting. Bolling taught Greek and Sanskrit at Catholic University during these years.

Thanks to the magic of Zillow, (oh, how I do love the internet!) I was even able to find interior photographs of this lovely, well-preserved house. This may have been the drawing room mentioned in Mary’s obituary:

Interior of 1808 Riggs Place, NW, Washington, DC
Image from Zillow.com

A follow-up article appeared the next day, 1 November, 1903, describing the funeral held at the Baltimore Cathedral, where many other Hill family occasions occurred, and the procession to Bonnie Brae Cemetery. I recently visited the Cathedral and the cemetery (now New Cathedral Cemetery), where both my great grandparents are buried, and was touched to find their son-in-law, my great grandfather, James J. Mills with them.

What an unimaginable thing it would have been for the Hills and Symingtons and Hambletons to think of the connection of their respective offspring so many generations later!

Relationships:

  • Mary Watkins Cocke (Johnson) (1834-1903) and Nicholas Snowden Hill (1839-1912) – 2nd great grandparents (Irene (Johnson) Bolling (1862-1946) was the daughter from Mary’s first marriage.)
  • Mary Carroll Hill (1876-1937) and James J. Mills (1863-1925) great grandparents
  • Elsie Mills (1899-1993) grandmother
  • My mum
  • Me

He Hung the Moon

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Ken Oliver and me
Fall, 1958
Dover Massachusetts

Damdaddy was my Mum’s father. (I couldn’t say Grandaddy. It stuck.) Today would have been his 121st birthday and when this picture was taken, he was a little younger than I am now. He was a quiet, intensely supportive and loving presence in my life for my first eighteen years, and remains with me still.

We’re on the front lawn of my grandparents’ little Cape style house in the outskirts of Boston. You can just make out the roses twined around the split rail fence behind us. Damdaddy became quite the gardener during his twenty years in this house, and much of the front yard was a huge (at least to my small eyes) flower bed. I especially remember bleeding hearts and snap dragons. And the sweet tasting honeysuckle vine.

The whole neighborhood smelled of the pine trees that towered over us and the shrieking of blue jays was constant. The back yard was shaded by the large pines, and in the spring it was sprinkled with lilies of the valley and violets. There was a freestanding garage (my British grandfather always put the emphasis on the first syllable–GAR-age) and I still remember its smell too.

Inside was the smell of his wonderful cooking, the sound of the BBC news on the radio in the morning while the coffee perked in the Pyrex coffee pot. In the evening there was a crackling fire in the living room fireplace. During the weeks before Christmas, he and I would go down to the basement, where we’d brush racks of Granny’s fruitcakes with brandy and port–another smell I remember well.

And a dog. There was always a dog. During my childhood there was a succession of boxers–Judy, Penny, and Jenny. Devoted dog lovers, my grandparents had always been firm training their dogs, but as they aged, the rules relaxed. By the time Jenny came along, there were (heaven forbid!) even tidbits fed from the table!

The Lavins next door had a pasture with sheep and one cranky goat. Willy got loose every now and then and would end up in Damdaddy’s garden, munching on his flowers–never a good thing. I was a big fan.

My most precious childhood memories are of this man in this place, and my sensory memories here are powerful. And yes, he did hang the moon. Happy birthday, Damdaddy.

Kenneth Stuart Oliver (October 28, 1898-January 26, 1975)