Thursday, April 30, 2015

Books & Their Owners, Part 2

Burton Howard Peake's parents were John Howard & Ella L. Peake.  John's employment was listed on the 1910 and 1920 census as Motorman on a trolley car.  

Being also a bit drawn to trains, I wanted to see what I could find out about trolley cars in Cleveland in the early 1900's.  This site, Cleveland Transit System Through The Years, has some great images that date from 1904 forward. The ones from the time period 1910 to 1920's are in the first row.  The Motorman on the trolley car was the driver.  There was likely a conductor on the car as well, handling the flow of human traffic, etc.  Lots out there on the internet on strikes during the early 1900's involving the employees of the Railway systems. 

 More history on Cleveland transportation at  Streetcar lines in Cleveland in 1910 (according to a Wikipedia article) were operated by the Cleveland Railway, but date back as far as 1834 - when the first wood rail lines were created in the city - see for some more wonderful images, maps and information from the time period.  

John Howard Peake was born in 1868 (approx) in Louisville, Kentucky. His and Ella's Marriage Record gives us a lot of additional information.   What a wonderful record! I now know Ella's maiden name and that she was previously married.  But we'll get to her later.  According to this document,

John Howard or J. Howard, as he signs his name, was a Conductor in 1901 when they applied for marriage.  He was born in Louisville, Kentucky to George J. Peake and Lucretia Cotton.  This was his first marriage.  The document is certified by the Rev. Harris R. Cooley that the couple were married on the 23rd day of February 1901. 

Aren't old documents a wonderful thing?  What new levels of this family's history this opens up to me. Maiden names, parents and their information.  It opens up the past.   Thanks to the hands who maintained them, microfilmed them and made them online accessible.

More to read, more to compile. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

An Obsession with Old Books and Their Owners

Many years ago when I lived outside of Akron and was going to the University of Akron I would stop on my way home at the old book stores.  One was located in an old school turned into shops, mostly full of various genre of old books.  I found a book there (in the 80's) that I still have.  Through every move, I've obsessively held on to it.

I am not a particularly religious person, so it was odd for me to even pick up a Bible, but it was a very small "S.S. Scholars Edition" of The Holy Bible Containing The Old And New Testaments: Translated out of the Original Tongues; and with the former translations diligently compared and revised by His Majesty's Special Command (as reads the title page).  "Appointed to be read in churches" it went on, published by Oxford University Press, American Branch, New York, printed by Eaton & Mains, New York, U.S.A.  In the back of the book is a Table of Contents that indicates the Copyright was 1904.

On the first blank page inside below the penciled-in price of 9.95, reduced to the $6.00 I paid, it says "Burton Howard Peake Dec. 25, 1910" in beautiful cursive writing (for you young folks that the connected lettering you might use for a signature if you write a check...) clearly done with a quill and ink.  It's fading and I worry someday I won't be able to see it.

Just on the other side of that inscription were these words:

"Remember Dear who gave thee this
When other days shall come
When she who had thine earliest kiss
Sleeps in her narrow home.
Remember t'was a mother gave
The gift to one she'd die to save."

It was the same handwriting with a beautiful flourish to the capital letters at the beginning of each row.  My mind immediately began to picture this woman in 1910 giving this to her son and how special a Christmas present it was to her.  The odd thing is I wasn't nearly as sentimental in the 80's as I am  now and yet, I had to have it.  I had to own it. I could not put it down.  Who was Burton Howard Peake.  Who was his mother?

I know over the years I would pick it up and hold it, flip through it carefully.  The cloth binding is just holding on to the inside.  I would pause over the glossy paged images here and there - they seemed out of place to me.  At the back was a Sunday School Primer section and maps of the holy lands in the Middle East.

I actually had it for years before I discovered more writing inside the back cover on a blank page.  And it made me think even more about Burton Howard Peake's mother and what had become of him.
In very small print but the same handwriting and quill pen it reads:

Howard -
"Do you know that your soul
Is of my soul, such a part
That you seem to be fiber
and core of my heart.
None other can pain me
As you Son can do.
None other can please me
or praise me as you.
Remember the world will be
Quick with its blame
Should shadow or stain
Ever darken your name.
"Like Mother Like Son"
is a saying so true
That the world will judge
Mother, largely by you.
Be this then your task
If task it shall be
To face this proud world
To do homage to me.
Be sure it will say
When its verdict you've won
She reaps as she sowed,
This man is her Son!"

So I did a little looking on today.  Why had I not done that earlier?  Burton Howard Peak was born in Ohio Dec. 16, 1901 to John H. & Ella L Peake (that's Mamma!).  Just turned nine years old when bestowed with this Bible. In 1910 (according to the 1910 United States Census) he was living with his parents and his younger sister Esther in Middleburg, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  His father, originally from Kentucky, was a Motorman on a Streetcar.  They lived in a rented home on Seminary Street (if I am reading the handwritten census correctly).

In 1920, they were living on 3rd Avenue in Middleburg, Cuyahoga County, Ohio.  His father was still a Motorman on a streetcar, but at this time, his mother was now working as a Public School Teacher.  By 1930, Burton was married to his wife Doris and living in Akron at 131 Brown Street.  His profession:  Public School Teacher!  By 1940, Burton and his wife and growing family (two daughters - Patricia, age 5, and Janet, age 1) had moved back to the Cleveland area (Euclid, Ohio) where he continued to work as a Teacher in the Public Schools.

At what point did this little book return to Akron?  Or while a teacher in Akron, had he given it to a student there? How appropriate that it ended up in a shop in an old school!

To Be Continued...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Genealogy and the Challenge of Sanitizing Family History

I inherited my family's genealogy from my mom.  The really tough stuff had already been done and it was more a matter of maintenance.  At least that is what I thought.  But then I realized that some "sanitizing" had been done.  Early on it was pointed out that a "cousin" was really an uncle and the anecdote that surrounded that one was very commonplace for the time.

My maternal grandfather's first wife and two of his three children died in the flu epidemic in 1919. 

Here was a young man of 26 left with an infant son.  His son was 'given' to his sister who was married, to raise.  I would have assumed this was a temporary arrangement until he got married again.  However, the woman he married a year later came from a very Catholic family and having met (and been raised in that situation) them likely did not approve of the previous marriage even though it did not end in divorce (oh my, imagine what that would have brought on).  So my Uncle Worthington, whom I have only seen in a single photo from his WWII military service, was always mentioned as a cousin, until I was old enough to ask questions. Then that little discrepancy was cleared up.  Why such a need to hide the truth?  There was no scandal.

When I started working on the history in my twenties and supplementing it with the census records and documents that I could find, I discovered that my Great Uncle John who we had been told as children was a wanderer, who loved to travel and he went off and did not return from his adventures...was not at all a wanderer.  He had been placed in a mental asylum in Michigan where he lived until he died. Apparently in this very same strict Catholic family not only could you not be a widower, but it was also frowned upon to be depressed or mentally ill.

No one could tell me where or when he died or what name he had been there under.  And at the time I was searching that lead in 2002, Michigan records were a tough nut to crack. It is probably time to try that again.  All I really want to know is where the location of his grave is.  They were adamant that no information about his health could be released due to privacy laws.  He's dead?  And I don't want to know about his health record.

Thanks to I did locate a copy of his World War I registration card which indicated that he was in a hospital in Ohio as early as the age of 20.  That was an interesting experience, finding that document and the eye strain to read the fading scan.  When the words ("unemployed patient at Massillon State Hospital") appeared before my eyes I felt like I had another piece of the puzzle after all this time.  It was a sad piece, but still a piece.  I have no idea when he was shipped off to Michigan, though there is a substantial amount of info on the asylums located there online.

Not long ago, spurred on by the information from draft card and legal documents, I kept digging on relatives and had a surprising find.  I discovered that my father's sister had been married before being married to the uncle I knew growing up.  I saw in the court documents that her mother had gone to the court and authorized her underage marriage to a young man leaving for War in 1944.  I had this wonderful romantic story of the quickie marriage and tragic loss of her husband in battle.  Not quite.  This one was a divorce.  That and the Protestant background of my father were two strikes in the eyes of my Mother's large Catholic family.

I've been working on a friend's genealogy and have hit an interesting somewhat related brick wall.  When his paternal grandmother died, at nearly the same time as my grandfather's first wife, though I suspect of complications of childbirth, the other children were not as lucky as my Uncle Worthington.  They were not placed with a relative.  They were place in an orphanage run by Catholic Nuns in Western Massachusetts called Brightside.

Knowing that it was a Catholic run facility, I knew up front that it would be difficult to locate "facts" no matter how you define the word.  The stories related from my friend were not glowing, warm fuzzy tales of loving care that you read in the history of the facility posted on the church sites in the area.  The facility still exists today though not in the same location or with the same purpose.  Two of the four boys were adopted out, one died in care and my friends father was returned to his home after his father remarried.  At a very young age, he had to care for his sick brother in the facility until the older brother died.

I found just one article in a mental health journal that referenced an overwhelming number of babies during the time period (1920's) that died in care due to failure to thrive specifically mentioning Brightside.  The article also outlined the difficulties of those researchers to find anyone willing to say that the generous nuns had not given all they could in taking in these children and how the closed mouths hindered their research.  No one wants to say bad things about a Nun.  (My Great-Aunt was a Nun....and believe me....I know that she essentially gave her life to a cause, but I never understood how what I saw as a child in her behavior squared with the near royal treatment that Nuns and Priests received).

My confusion lies in the fact that there was not one message board to be found that had adult children looking for family members or relaying stories of their care or lack of care.  I am guessing that the internet came late for the communication.  I am hoping that I can find where my friend's uncle is buried. It would be great also to locate the adopted brothers, but one needle in a haystack at a time.

If anyone who researches cemeteries in Western Mass knows of a cemetery associated with Brightside Orphanage, I would be very grateful for the name and address of it. 

From here on out, I think family members should just be honest with each other.  It makes doing a genealogy challenging when stories are told that are sanitized - which can be fun for someone like me, but it can also leave holes in people's hearts too. 

#brightsideorphanage #orphanage #genealogy #familyhistory

UPDATES:   I was able to locate my friend's uncle who died at age eleven.  He had been shipped from the Brightside orphanage to a hospital in eastern Massachusetts where he died.  I have not found the grave yet (in North Adams, far northwestern Mass. - he really criss-crossed the state).  My friend expressed a lot of gratitude for this knowledge.  Each piece of knowledge is a gift.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Old Center Cemetery, Suffield, CT

This past weekend had the pleasure of attending the Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) Western Massachusetts Chapter Meeting held on the campus of the Suffield Academy in Suffield, CT.  There were some very interesting presentations that re-invigorated my interest in headstones.  I got busy with work this year and somehow got distanced from my passion. 

Here are a few of the images from the afternoon exploration of the stunning Old Center Cemetery abutting the school.  Thanks to Bill Sullivan ( for hosting.

Here are some of the great views and stones:

 I had not seen red/brown sandstone.  This is believed to be from a quarry near Springfield, MA though there are also sources of it in Connecticut as well.  This stone (below) was attributed to the work of Ezra Stebbins (#ezrastebbins) known for the profile and lettering style.  I am awed by members' knowledge of the stone cutters. 

(below) Two more Stebbins. 

(above) note the mention of the college degree attained. 

The Receiving Vault

For More information on AGS - Click here:

To see more of my pictures from that meeting - Click here:

#AGS  #oldcentercemetery #suffieldct #ezrastebbins #headstones #gravestoneart #cemeteryart

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Renewing My Interests

I recently started working on memorial videos for people.  I love taking pictures, but also looking at and scanning old pictures.   The video allows me to take a bunch and string them together in a hopefully logical manner that also tells a story about someone or a family, put to music and a theme for them to enjoy.  In doing this project for a friend, I suggested we look at their family tree as well.

Initially I was suggesting that they look at doing their family tree and pointed them at  I figured I could add to her video some snippets of a tree like graphic to help with gaps in the video where there were no pictures of some people (note to you all - take pictures of everyone even if they hate having their photo taken - someday you and they will appreciate having those shots of them).  But I got antsy after about sixty seconds and I went to and starting doing the research myself. 

I LOVE research and particularly genealogy.  To me it is as close as I currently get to time travel outside of Doctor Who (the tenth Doctor being the best) and I do so want to travel in time (back not forward).  Almost immediately I was again hooked. 

I'd worked on my own family's history for nearly a decade until a falling out made it too sensitive for me to work on.  This is just as exciting to me even though not my family.  They become my family as I learn more about them.

It all came back, the excitement over the wealth of information on a single line of census data!  Why was she living with her parents at the age of 31? Oh, she was divorced - how scandalous in the twenties...I wonder what happened.   They owned a radio set.  Why was the government asking about that?  More research!! 

Is it sick that I enjoy research so much?  Maybe.  But being a closet detective/librarian/stalker, it just fits with who I am. 

So I use my favorite tools to find out more.  The Radio question was fascinating - more about that later after I research it further.  And yes, she was divorced, but then remarried, a wealthy younger man.  More interesting soap opera like thoughts come to mind. 

As I work it gives me things that I can use to trigger the living in that family and listen to stories.  A big voyeuristic, but anecdotes add to a great family history story.  It's all about stories.  Everything we are is all about stories.  Stories we live, remember, perceive, tell ourselves, tell others - some accurate, some not. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

To Each His Own

I went to the funeral of a dear friend this week. So close that I would call him family really.  Considering how much time I spend in cemeteries, I can probably count on one hand (wait, I left out Uncle Henry, so two hands) the number of funerals I have been to.

This was the first time I experienced being around the home during the planning part of the process.  Without going into much detail, I discovered it wasn't quite what I thought it would be.  I hadn't factored into the process that not everyone would want an obituary or a service.  I hadn't factored into the process that everyone believes something different and may not even plan to ever visit the cemetery.  Not visit a cemetery??  How could that be?  Well, to be honest, I haven't visited my mother or father's graves once since their funerals.  I've visited the graves of hundreds if not thousands of others....hmmm....

I hadn't wanted to ask too many pointed questions and kept looking for an obituary not realizing that there would not be one. then, I wondered, did friends and acquaintances find out?  "Those who need to know, know."  True and with the internet, word will spread even without the traditional channels. 

To me, most of the process, writing an obituary, selecting a spot in the cemetery, selecting an urn or coffin, coming up with something to say at the service, was sort of a tradition or an obligation.  It is what is expected.  But it isn't an obligation at all.   It's whatever the the deceased had planned or the living decide to do.    And everyone is different.  Everyone grieves differently, so the outcome can be very different in different families. 

I think most of what we do when someone has died is for others - all the notifications and such.  It allows them to learn of the death without us making a lot of emotional phone calls.  Texting just wouldn't be right would it?  It is more and more right than you would imagine.  A service and burial doesn't ever give the close loved ones closure. That, too, is for the others.   Once that part is over, those folks go back about their daily lives and you get to grieve in private as you need to.  It gets them out of your hair.  And whether or not anyone plans to or ever does visit the grave site selected is really irrelevant. 

The people you lose that held a spot in your heart aren't there at the cemetery, they are in your heart where they always were and always will remain.

I will visit this grave, not because I think he is there (I don't believe he is) but just because, it was a nice spot and it will be a quiet space where I can remember.  And because I like cemeteries. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Missing Remains....My Internal Debate

I love cemeteries, as is evidenced by the massive amount of time I spend in them, taking pictures, remembering and memorializing on behalf of people I don't know. I love the small seventeenth and eighteenth century cemeteries near where I live and also the large rolling garden cemeteries.  That being said, I would prefer a green, unmarked burial myself.  I have a connection to nature and want to just return to it, but also I have self esteem issues and don't believe anyone would visit my grave.   Space is also a consideration - is there room for the space required for vaults and coffins and all?  And what are we preserving those bodies for?

Until green cemeteries began to grow (so to speak) in popularity, my choice was cremation and some sort of potentially illegal distribution by wind...or water.  I was reading an article today about missing cremains.  Here is the link:

I am struck by a number of things in this article.  Mostly, the complete ineptness of a cemetery management company that they misplaced not only a container of remains, but a vault and personal mementos and are making the suggestion that someone had a motive to remove or steal them.  Let's face it, they lost them, they were never interred to start with or they were interred in the wrong grave site and will never be found.  Apparently interring people or their remains in whatever form in the wrong grave is a common occurrence.  How often is probably impossible to know unless someone questions it.  But  who goes back to the grave after the funeral and how soon after? 

How many funerals have you been to where you have returned to the grave later to visit?  I've never been back to my father's grave (of course that is because I didn't really enjoy his company when he was alive).  I would, I suspect, find it difficult to locate the exact section even though I consider myself to have a good memory and an affinity for directions. Often when I speak with people or go with them to look for someone, they have a very different idea of the location of the grave based on their recollection of the funeral.  Emotion and memory are tricky.  So you wander and wander until you find it or give up.  Or you ask for a map.  You get a map and it is not even close to your recollection, but do you question it when you find the headstone with the name?  Not likely.  You accept the name on the monument as verification that you were wrong and they are right.

This family has been visiting their father's grave for sixteen years.  Sixteen years!!  And there is nothing there. To be honest I feel they have every right to run that cemetery management company through the courts as far as they can.  They paid a hefty price (just guessing) for the cremation, the container, the vault, the opening of the grave, the all adds up.  They paid for a service and were cheated.   They trusted and were let down.

But I also feel that people we loved aren't tied to that location where we leave their mortal remains.  I think they are tied to our hearts and our memories.  I don't think it matters where I am or where their remains are when I recollect our times together or my feelings about the loss of them.  That they went there regularly for sixteen years, reflects on how much they loved him and his memory lives on beautifully in their hearts.  It doesn't really matter that he wasn't in that exact spot. 

I realize that in saying this, I am contradicting my own obsession with visiting cemeteries which is just another issue for therapy.