Thursday, July 23, 2015

Where Were They in 1870?

I like maps. And since family history tends to be glimpses of tiny details, all separate from one another, I like to stop and get a big picture now and then.  So I'll start with the kind of very basic information that you find in genealogy: Raw info from census and birth and death records.  Names, dates, places.

I'm looking at my great-granparents on the "Spear" side -- or my father's side of the family.  His side is the side that all ended up in Benzie County, Michigan.  Benzie is the central spot of my childhood, and the stage on which most of the stories and legends I've heard took place.

But in 1870, none of my family was there yet.  Also, in 1870, three of the great grandparents hadn't been born yet - though they soon would be. In Maud's case her parents (FrankVinson and Nancy York) hadn't likely even met yet.

Still, except for Frank and Nancy, all their families were living in or near they were born.

This all comes from U. S. Census data, which can be tricky (and conflicting, as in the case of Maud's mother, Nancy York), so I tried to find additional info to back it up where possible.

And yet, all the tiny bits of data do lead up to a story -- and a mystery.  It's not just raw facts, and points on a map.

So tomorrow we start with Frank Vinson and Nancy York, Maud's parents.  In 1970, he was living in a boarding house and working in a saw mill.   She was only 13 years old, and was not living with her parents, but rather with relatives who do not appear in any other census -- at least not in any form I can tie to these specific people.

It is enough of a puzzle that I will likely start with her, even though I have the least hard information....

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Spear Side vs Distaff Side

Just a little genealogical terminology, since I am wont to use old-fashioned language. (Such as "wont" which means "in the habit of" or "tend" to.)

You may have heard of the "Distaff Side" of a family.  It's usually a term used by people who are snobbily showing off their blue blood and family crests.

It refers to the female line of the family: Mom's side of the family.

Some people may know that. Fewer people know how to refer to the manly side of the family.  That's the "Spear Side" or the "Spear Line."

This is because in the very old days, ladies supposedly sat around spinning wool. (And a distaff is the spindle you keep the wool on while you spin.)  Dudes, in the meantime, went around stabbing people with spears.

Occasionally a lady would stab somebody with a spindle, which are freaking sharp (as anyone who has read any version of Sleeping Beauty knows).  But it wouldn't happen often because the blood messes up the wool, and besides it was one of those things that could get you accused of being a witch.

So I am starting this blog by examining the Spear line of my family -- my father's side -- because I know more about it, and have more tools at my fingertips.

But I'm starting the story his family on the Distaff Side, because his mother's mother was someone who just might stab you with a spindle.

It All Begins With Great

My great grandmother had a confusion of names.  In one document she's Alice Maud Vinson, and in another she's Maud Alice Vincent.  After marriage she was referred to by the newspapers as Mrs. A. N. Eastman, or Maud Eastman or Alice Eastman (sometimes all three in the same issue).  And after her second marriage she was known as Mrs. King.

But to the kids of my generation, of which there were quite a few, she was known as "Great."

The first great grandchild dubbed her that, and for most of my life I never knew her as anything else.  Great towered over the family as a legend (albeit one whose main superpowers were pastry and a sense of humor).  She's also the oldest member of my family whom I have personally met.

Great was a storyteller, a prankster and a pioneer, and an unparalleled cook -- in particular a pastry chef and baker.

But for me she is also (like all legends) an incomplete puzzle.  I'd heard so much, but the details were missing.  And the elderly, frail, tiny woman I knew didn't do any of the things she was famous for any more. When prompted she might come up with a story, but not the endless stream I had heard about. She didn't cook, or prank any more. She certainly didn't climb trees or run restaurants, or wrangle teenaged boys.

Were the stories about her true?

On one level, I don't really care if they are true.  They are the myths and legends of my youth.  But I still want to touch them, to find evidence of the germ of truth, if it's there.  I'm like those 19th century German archaeologists, digging madly to find the lost city of Troy.  It's enough to know that part of it's true. It's enough to be able to stand on the place where it did (or did not) happen.

In The Kitchen at Three

(For clarity, I'm going to try to remember to call her Maud from here on in, but I don't know if I'll succeed.)

I know two things about Maud's childhood.  One is that she began her career in the kitchen at three years old, standing on a box in a lumber camp, doing dishes.  (The lumber camp aspect may be an embroidery - it could have been she was doing dishes at home while her mother was cooking for all the lumberjacks, of which her father was probably one.)

Gramma (Naomi), who followed in Maud's footsteps as a marvelous cook, did her own dish washing as a toddler, though not as a career move.

One Thanksgiving when she was about five years old (or younger - I don't recall what she said) all the adults had retired to the living room to digest their meal. So Little Naomi decided to do the dishes for holding each dish out for the dog to lick clean.

I'm not sure that Maud did much better of a job.  She could take shortcuts with the best of them.  One time, says Gramma, they were preparing butter for market, when they dropped it on the floor.  Money was scarce and butter was a cash commodity.  Oh no! They couldn't afford to lose any of it.  So... Maud picked the butter back up, and with a conspiratorial wink at her daughter, refolded the butter so that the dirty part was inside.

The Drunken Lumberjack

The other thing is the only thing Gramma told me about Maud's parents: Her father was a "terrible drunk." (This may be literally true, or it may be a redundancy -- Gramma was a prohibitionist, an elector for the Temperance Party convention right up into the 1980s.  She described all drunks as terrible.)

Though Gramma never said specifically, I had the impression that Maud's father was a lumberjack (perhaps because of the story of Maud doing dishes in a lumber camp). And that he was possibly French Canadian.

And because of him being a terrible drunk, Maud's mother wanted to get her out of the house fast, and married her off to a sober Congregationalist as soon as possible.

So That's My First Quest

I have these little glimpses into little Maudy Vinson's childhood, up until she married.  I need to find the touchstones of that life.

Unfortunately, those years were spent in a bit of a black hole in my best research tools.  Even the U. S. Census lets me down, because most of the 1890 Census was destroyed long ago in a fire.  All the same, it's amazing how much you can find, even with the minimum genealogical tools.

So next time, we'll build what we can from what I've found out about her parents and early years.