Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Anita's Silver Baby Cup

Anita was born in Brooklyn in 1921. Three years later, Lou was born in Chicago. Fast forward 89 years to 2013. How did Lou, who has never heard of Anita, end up with Anita's silver baby cup in Pennsylvania? How did we find it?

A distant connection does exist between Lou and Anita. Lou's husband and Anita shared a common set of great-grandparents. Think about it. Do you know anyone who is related to you with the closest connection between the two of you being common great-grandparents? Probably not!

Lou lives in Pennsylvania. Her family lives in California. Living alone at 89 years old is rather challenging, especially when your family is completely across the country. Realizing this, Lou decided it was time to relocate. Packing up a home containing years and years worth of accumulated treasures presented an additional challenge.

Gail wanted to see Lou before she left (and I wanted to meet her), so we took the 4 1/2 hour drive to Pennsylvania. We spent two wonderful days with her. We shared family stories, and even went to the place where George Washington crossed the Delaware! While chatting with us, Lou mentioned a silver baby cup, thinking it belonged to someone entirely different. We examined the cup and discovered Anita's name. We could not believe our eyes. How did Anita's cup ever end up here?

Upon further thought, we realized that had we not recently written our family history book, we never would have known Anita's name. Without our book and all the research associated with it, the cup would have been pushed aside and packed into another random box, perhaps on a journey to California, without any of us having any idea as to whom it belonged. Instead, Anita's cup is returning home to Anita! It has been "missing" for around 70 years!

Anita's mother, Beatrice, died in Brooklyn in 1943. At that time, Anita was around 22 years old. A year before her mother died, Anita enlisted in the Marine Corps, during the height of World War II. Our theory is as follows: Anita's parents were divorced. When Beatrice died, her family came and took control of her possessions. Her children went to live with their father. Beatrice's brother, Charles, was living in Rhode Island with his wife, Anne. Charles took the box containing his niece's silver cup back to Rhode Island. He intended to save the cup and return it to Anita when she came home. That never happened. Six months after the death of his sister, Charles died. It was April of 1944. At this point, the silver baby cup remained in a box in Rhode Island, now the possession of Charles' widow, Anne. If you're not already confused enough, Anne and Charles were not only husband and wife, but also first cousins. That's another story!

Anne survived many, many years after the passing of her husband, Charles. She died in Greenville, Rhode Island in 1971. We assume the cup remained in her possession all those years. She probably knew of Anita. She might have even met her at one time, but since the passing of Anita's mother, Anita and her siblings had fallen out of touch with their mother's side of the family. 

What happened next? Since Anne and Charles never had children, we believe that Anne's sister, Rosalie, took control of Anne's possessions when she died in 1971. Rosalie lived in Pennsylvania. This is likely how the cup arrived in that state. Less than two years after the cup fell into the hands of Rosalie, she died. It was January of 1973, and the cup now belonged to her only son, Erdman. The cup remained in the possession of Erdman, and his wife, Lou. It is likely that Erdman had no idea who the original owner was, if he even thought about it at all. Erdman passed away in 2009. That leads us to today (2013), our visit to Lou's Pennsylvania home, and the discovery of the tarnished silver baby cup, engraved with Anita's name.

Fast forward a couple of weeks.

We are now in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, with Anita's brother, Bob, and his wife, Anne. The cup has been cleaned and carefully wrapped. It is heading for Anita.

Arriving at the nursing home where Anita lives, we couldn't help but notice how beautiful it is compared to other nursing homes we have been to. Our anticipation is growing.

Anita is sitting in a wheel chair in a nursing home corridor. Beside her, also in a wheel chair, is her best friend, Millie. Anita and Millie have been friends since World War II.

We approach Anita with cup carefully boxed, and introduce ourselves as her cousins. Anita looks at us with doubt because she has never seen nor heard of us before. We don't bother to try to explain because it is far too complicated.

As the box is opened and the cup is revealed, Bob points to Anita's name on the cup. At this point, Anita smiles as if her entire childhood came back to her in that very moment. While we will never know what she was thinking, the smile on her face said more than words. We watched as she showed the cup to Millie and the many interested nurses who gathered to hear the story. When Bob tried to put the cup in Anita's bedroom, she refused to let go of it. We wondered how long it was before she let it out of her hands.

We returned home to our laundry and dishes. This was certainly not an ordinary day. It's not often that we get a chance to bring such joy to someone we have never met.

About a month later, Anita passed away. We will always remember the day we made her smile. We hope her silver baby cup stays in the hands of her family for many years to come.

She was kicked out of her grave, which was kicked out of the cemetery...

Once upon a time, in the state of Massachusetts, there was a place called the "Swift River Valley"... 

"By the later part of the 19th century the valley towns were lively and productive. A branch of the Boston and Albany railroad carried passengers between Athol and Springfield. Known as the "Rabbit Line" because of the number of stops, or short hops it made, the train took three and a half hours to complete the fifty mile trip. Inns and taverns catered to travelers, while industries such as the Swift River Box Company provided work for local residents. Palm-leaf hats, Shaker bonnets, and soapstone footwarmers were made in Dana. Dana and Greenwich were popular with summer visitors, and residents of Prescott relied on farming to provide their incomes. Enfield was originally part of Greenwich; many mills were located there, and it was considered the wealthiest town in the valley.

Westward expansion and industrialization caused the decline of many rural New England towns, and those in the Swift River Valley did not escape the economic hardships and decrease in population as business and residents were drawn to the opportunities offered elsewhere..."

In 1900, the Swift River Valley consisted of four towns: Dana (population 790), Enfield (population 1,036), Greenwich (GREEN-witch) (population 491) and Prescott (population 380).
Friends of Quabbin (www.foquabbin.org/ )

Anna Amelia Timmerman was born in Poquonock, Connecticut in 1879, the daughter of John Timmerman and Augusta Feige, immigrants from Germany. As a teenager/ young adult, Anna moved to Enfield with her family. There she met her future husband, Rufus Seymour Chaffee. They married in Worcester in June of 1907 and made their home in Enfield. The following April, a son was born to the Chaffee couple. They named him Leslie Seymour. 

While this all may sound like a very ordinary story, it is not. While Enfield, Massachusetts might sound like an ordinary town, it is not. For alongside the town of Enfield flowed the Swift River and that river would, in due time, forever alter the little town of Enfield.

Life, for Mrs. Chaffee, was not going very well. Around 4 months after the birth of her son, Anna became ill with "phthisis pulmonalis" (pulmonary tuberculosis). Six months later, she died, leaving behind her husband and 9 month old son. Anna was 29 years old. Two days after her death, a funeral was held and Anna was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Enfield, Massachusetts.

Shortly after the death of his wife, Rufus Chaffee headed to Boston, perhaps to find work. It is possible that his son, Leslie, joined him there eventually. It is also possible that Leslie was raised by his paternal grandparents in Enfield. Unfortunately, Leslie's life was also cut short. He died on August 28, 1919 at the home of his grandparents in Enfield. The 11-year-old boy was buried beside his mother in Woodlawn cemetery. Rufus Chaffee returned to the Boston area. His parents remained in Enfield. 

"1919 - A Joint Board of the newly created Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) and Department of Public Health is created. Initial studies of additional water supplies [for Boston] include diversion of the Millers, Swift and Ware Rivers at a proposed cost of $65 Million."

"...Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich were dealt a final blow when rumors implying the towns would be flooded began to circulate. Property values decreased, and the Great Depression added its financial strain to the problems facing these small communities."

In 1920, the Swift River Valley consisted of four towns: Dana (population 599), Enfield (population 790), Greenwich (population 399) and Prescott (population 236).
Boston's population - 748,000.

"1922 - Joint report of the MDC and the Department of Public Health is filed. It recommends taking water from the Ware River and creating a massive reservoir in the Swift River Valley."
Friends of Quabbin (www.foquabbin.org/ )

Boston was growing. It is ironic to think that the drinking water needed by Rufus Chaffee in Boston would be the downfall of his birthplace and current residence of his parents. Even though they were 75 miles away, Enfield, Dana, Greenwich and Prescott were about to pay the price for the growth of eastern Massachusetts. 

In 1927, the state legistlature passed the Swift River Act. This gave the state the money to build a reservoir in the Swift River Valley. The valley would now have to be cleared of all buildings, vegetation and people (dead or alive). The residents were basically given no options.
Source: Pamphlet - Quabbin Park and Reservoir, DCR Massachusetts

In 1930, the Swift River Valley consisted of four towns: Dana (population 594), Enfield (population 497), Greenwich (population 238) and Prescott (population 48).

In 1930, the 497 residents of Enfield included Rufus Seymour Chaffee's parents, Norman Seymour Chaffee and Anna Jane Lanphere. They were in their 80s and Enfield had been their home for over 60 years. 

"1932 - Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission votes to call the reservoir Quabbin, a Nipmuck Indian word for the place or the meeting of many waters.

1933 - ... Quabbin Park Cemetery is dedicated...

1935 - (6/ 1) Last run of the Athol and Enfield "Rabbit Run" in the Swift River Valley. 
- Daniel Shays highway (Route 202) opens.
- Last active factory in the Swift River Valley closes. "

In 1935, the Swift River Valley consisted of four towns: Dana (population 387), Enfield (population 495), Greenwich (population 219) and Prescott (population 18).
Friends of Quabbin (www.foquabbin.org/ )

"Homes and factories were puchased from the townspeople, then razed or moved. Large tracts of land were puchased including 25,000 acres for the reservoir alone. The land which was to be flooded was clearcut and burned. The state removed 7,613 bodies from the valley's 34 cemeteries and the majority (6,601) were reubried at Quabbin Park Cemetery. On April 28, 1938, Dana, Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich officially ceased to exist and the 2,500 people who once populated the towns and villages no longer had a place to call home."
Source: Pamphlet - Quabbin Park and Reservoir, DCR Massachusetts

Norman Seymour Chaffee died in 1935 at the age of 86. His wife died two years before him. Neither lived long enough to witness the flooding of their beloved town of Enfield; however, the uncertainty of their future must have weighed heavily on them in their final years.

Construction began in 1936. 

"1938 - (3/ 28) Remaining unbought land in the Swift River Valley is taken by eminent domain.
- (4/ 28) Enfield, Greenwich, Dana and Prescott are disincorporated. Farewell Ball held in the Enfield Town Hall."
Friends of Quabbin (www.foquabbin.org/ )

In 1938, the Swift River Valley consisted of four towns: Dana (population 0), Enfield (population 0), Greenwich (population 0) and Prescott (population 0).

"Filling commenced on August 14, 1939 and was completed in 1946 when water first flowed over the spillway. The Quabbin Reservoir was filled with water from the Swift River and flood skimming from the Ware River during eight months of the year. At the time, the 412 billion gallon reservoir was the largest man-made reservoir in the world which was devoted solely to water supply."
Source: Massachusetts Water Resources Authority website - www.mwra.state.ma.us/ 

Rufus Seymour Chaffee died in 1941, before ever getting a chance to sip a cold glassful of Quabbin water. Did he witness the demise of his hometown and the beginnings of what is now the Quabbin Reservoir? It is difficult to imagine how he must have felt to lose his wife, son, parents, hometown, and to bury his wife and son twice. 

When I look out at the Quabbin through the eyes of a curious tourist, all I can see is its beauty. Examining its history, I picture a steady flowing river born of the tears of 2,500 people, slowly engulfing their lives, drowning their dreams and submerging their memories - just about enough water to fill a reservoir.

The Car Jack and the Hair Brush

It was supposed to be a cool autumn New England-type day, but typical of New England weather predictions, it turned out to be quite warm. We were in Connecticut on a mission: Find our ancestor's gravestone and rescue it from the destructive forces of time and nature. Armed with a map and an unfamiliar vehicle (which periodically threatened to trap us in its seat belts), we entered the cemetery, quite pleased that we had found it easily. Now, to find the gravestone. Gail was trying to locate the grave on the cemetery map; however, there were no signs inside the cemetery to indicate our location. I was trying to maneuver the unfamiliar vehicle routinely driven by my husband (and avoided by me). Deciding we had been car-bound long enough, I pulled over into what seemed to be an area large enough to fit the van. "Let's just get out of this van and then we can figure out where we are and find the grave." Once we got out, I immediately spotted the grave we were looking for. It was right next to the van. How convenient?

Feeling a bit fortunate that we didn't have to wander around the cemetery in the heat, we went about our task. August's grave, in that location since 1904, was slowly being reclaimed by the Earth. It was sinking out of sight and it was going to be lost for all time. Though we never knew him, he is a part of us. We began to dig, at first carefully around the perimeter of the gravestone. It wasn't long before we realized that this was some of the toughest grass we had ever encountered. Out came the big shovel. That seemed to do the trick and work progressed fairly quickly from that point forward. Our next problem: The stone was heavy. We needed leverage to lift it from the hole. Wishing we had brought a crow bar, we thought about the problem and decided the car jack might do the trick. Removing the car jack from the van wasn't easy. The people who designed it really should have made the compartment where it is stored bigger than the jack itself. Once removed, the jack was not as long as we had wished. Somehow, between the jack and the shovel, we were able to get the leverage we needed and together we rolled the stone over up onto the grass.

At this point, we examined what we originally thought was a pesky rock that had been hindering our excavation efforts. Upon further digging and examination, we determined that it was the original base for August's stone. We cleaned it off and rolled August's stone on top. We filled in the hole left where we dug out the stone, which apparently had slipped off its base over time. Then, we planted mums - some for August and some for his daughter whose grave was nearby. Gail didn't like the looks of August's stone which was all covered with dirt. Water and our hands could do little to rectify the problem. That's when Gail walked over to the van and returned with her hair brush. The hair brush served as a more-than-adequate dirt removal tool. 

Feeling pleased with the results of our efforts, we turned our attention to the fact that we were now dirty and sweaty. Gail returned to the van for a new change of clothes while I found the cemetery's water supply and used it as a make-shift "shower".

We took pictures of our rewarding "work" and headed on to part two of our adventure - another town, another ancestor...

As Gail said, "August, you are good for another 100 years."

Six Inches Under

There are many mystery graves in the cemetery. We have found several. This is the story of one.

Last October (coincidentally Halloween), I discovered the grave of whom I thought might just be my g-g-g-g-grandmother who came to the U.S. from Prussia in 1853. The grave stone said "R.S." nothing else. It was located next to a person whom I knew to be her eldest daughter, Johanna. I took a photo. The quest for the truth began.

When my cousin, Gail, saw this photo, she immediately thought that the stone had tipped over. I never would have guessed that in a million years. Was this the person we thought it might be? Did the stone tip over? What was on the other side?

So off we went on an two-day journey to the cemetery, armed with shovels, rakes, dirt, mulch, flowers, fertilizer, jugs of water, blocks of wood... Our mission -- lift up this stone and see if there is anything on the back. 

Carefully, we raised the stone (it is smaller than it looks), and discovered that nothing is on the back. HOWEVER, something is on the top -- it says "MOTHER"! Gail was right! This confirms to us that this is Johanna's mother, my g-g-g-g-grandmother and Gail's g-g-grandmother!

It was a busy day for us. While painting the cemetery with marigolds of various sizes and colors, we discovered what might very well be another stone - buried - six inches under. What other mysteries lie inside the cemetery? We know of several in plain sight, yet undocumented. We also know of one, concealed by time, six inches under. 

A new mystery = a new journey... Stay tuned.

Cemeteries

As a child, I used to skateboard on cemetery roads. The local cemetery served as a playground.

Reaching teenage years, yes, it became a place of romance (or a "makeout" spot, depending upon whether you were the guy or the girl). It might seem a bit strange, but I can remember on several occasions having to relocate due to the arrival of a funeral crowd.

My uncle's grave was the only one I was familiar with in that particular cemetery, though I later discovered that more family was there. I did occasionally remember to pay my respects.

Having grown up thinking that cemeteries were fun, I have never felt uneasy in them. I have never thought of there being spirits there or anything besides stones and a great deal of history.

Looking for my ancestors, I have discovered something new about cemeteries. There is a bit of "life" in them, whether real or perceived.

Three examples:

(1) I had the opportunity to visit Oak Glen Cemetery in Ledyard, Cayuga, New York. I was looking for the grave of one of my g-g-g-g-grandfathers. His name was Sherman Smith. I was fortunate that day in that there were many people with me including my husband, son, mother and mother-in-law. They were all good sports about it and agreed to help me locate this grave. We split up and walked through the cemetery row by row. We did not find the grave, yet I had records indicating it was there somewhere. A bit disappointed, and ready to leave, I had a sudden feeling come over me that told me to go back to one particular spot and look there. This was an area that my husband had just finished searching and, knowing him, he was more thorough about searching than I was. Something made me go to that spot. The grave was right there in plain sight. Trying not to read into this, it almost felt like I was supposed to be the one to find it. Very strange.

(2) I dragged my husband to Pittsfield Cemetery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It was Halloween (that was a coincidence). I was looking for the graves of my g-g-g-g-grandparents, Charles and Rosalie Theunert (who changed their name to Smith or Schmidt). The cemetery had no record of such graves, but they also had no record of the grave of their daughter, Augusta, and I had previously located it there. Unfortunately, this cemetery is HUGE. So section by section and row by row my husband and I searched. At one point, I was in a section and was suddenly surrounded by crows. They were making an absolute racket. It was not until my husband called me on my cell phone to ask me what all the noise was and to find out if I was okay, that I began to feel a bit creepy about the situation. I changed course. The day went on and the cemetery was too big for us to handle. On the way out, I asked him to take one last drive around. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a stone with "Vogel" on it. That name meant something to me and I told him to stop. It turned out that at that spot were the graves of two of Charles and Rosalie's children - Johanna and Mary Caroline. They were there with their spouses, Henry Vogel and Augustus Frohlich. Beside the Vogel graves was a small stone -- "R.S." I know it's a long shot, but I really feel like this could be the grave of Rosalie Smith/ Schmidt.

(3) My cousin, Gail, and I went to Saint Mary's Cemetery in Warwick, Rhode Island, looking for my g-g-grandparents, John Baker and Jane Davis, immigrants from Ireland. Records found in the Warwick library indicated that the graves of some of their children were there, listed in a particular section. We got out of the car and walked that section and did not find the graves. We got distracted and started talking and walking around, randomly looking. After a while, Gail (being a voice of reason) told me that the cemetery was too big and we could walk it forever and never find what we were looking for. About to give up, I jokingly raised my hands into the air and pleaded "ancestors, will you help us out?". I turned around, and the Baker family graves were right behind me. I never found John and Jane's graves, but I did find the graves of their children. It was as if I called and they answered. 

Strange and funny things...

I suppose I could start to wonder about who might have been watching during those moments of cemetery "romance", but I won't go there...

To those who come after us

I have wanted to write this for a while, but could not find the words.

Looking back on this whole experience, searching for ancestors and developing this web site, I realize that it has become an obsession. It has truly grown to the point where it has taken on a life of its own.

Would I do it again? Absolutely! Here's why: Through the years of working on this, I have met many people. Considering myself to be not much of a people-person, that was not my original intention, nor did it even initially enter into my mind. Meeting people has been an interesting side-effect of this whole process. I have met cousins who have shared some wonderful photos and stories, one even an amazing audio CD containing the voices of several of my great-aunts, all passed on. One of the best photos I received was of my g-g-g-grandfather, George Salisbury, who fought in the Civil War and was at the battle of Gettysburg. People have contributed to the web site and the growing compilation of our family's history in countless ways. Not every encounter has been wonderful, but most have been pleasant and worth my time.

The most unexpected and most valuable experience I had was with a cousin from Rhode Island. I replied to a message she posted eight years prior on ancestry.com, thinking I had found her family and that she was a part of my family. Through many conversations and countless hours of research, we discovered that she is related to me on both my father's and mother's sides, in fact, distantly related to all four of my grandparents! This would have been enough to make it worthwhile; but, the relationship has developed to the point where I now consider her to be not only my cousin, but my dearest friend. The adventure is fascinating, heart-warming, and truly wonderful in many ways far beyond my ability to find the words to bring clarity when you read this.

While I don't consider myself old enough to be wise, my message to those who come after us is this: Take the time to find your family. Their blood is in your veins. When you meet them, you will feel it. Learn about them, "meet" them if you can. Hear their stories, current and of centuries passed. In doing so, you will discover much about yourself. I can't promise you this, but it's even possible that you might find someone so special that his/ her friendship becomes a life-altering experience in an amazingly positive, fascinating, wonderful way. Nothing could be more valuable than that.

The Great Reno, Escape Artist

While looking for ancestors in a local cemetery, I came across a stone that read "The Great Reno (1890-1965)". I thought it was pretty funny that someone might have that on their gravestone. Knowing that some of my relatives had the last name "Renaud", I thought there might be a connection, so I took a picture of the stone.

Many months went by and the picture remained on my computer in the vast dumping ground of files that I would probably never do anything with. One day, a man named Roger Renaud introduced himself to me via email. He had been talking with my grandfather's cousin, Lionel, (see "I Met My Grandfather’s 93-year-old Cousin on the Internet"). Roger sent me a huge file with family history information about the Renaud family. Someone had clearly spent a great deal of time documenting this family. Some of the family members were my "Renaud" family. As I gazed upon the many branches of this Renaud family, I came across the "Great Reno". He was born in Southbridge, Massachusetts in 1890. By the time he was 16, he was performing in vaudeville as an acrobat. He went on to perform strong-man tasks as well as being an escape artist. For more information on the Great Reno, visit The Great Reno - Escape King.

In 1914, he was arrested on the eve of his wedding. The headline in the Boston Journal dated January 8, 1914 read "Arrest Acrobat on the Eve of his Wedding - Southbridge Man Accused of Embezzling $1100 by Old Flame - Widow with nine children complains - Admits to writing love letters to acrobat while her husband was dying". For more details on the story, see article on the left.

I dug up the old photo from the depths of my hard drive, dusted it off, and created a page for Frank Xavier Renaud as a colorful member of my family tree.