September 4, 2014

The One Where I Feel Incredibly Honored

Last week I received some exciting news from the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE). ISFHWE encourages “excellence in writing and editorial standards in genealogical publishing,” and to promote that goal they host an annual Excellence-in-Writing Competition. I submitted entries in the “Columns” and “Published Articles” categories for this year’s contest. After I sent them in, I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind for awhile. That is, until this message from Tina Sansone, the competition coordinator, showed up in my inbox:

Dear Shelley,
Congratulations! You have won the following in the ISFHWE “Excellence in Writing” competition:
1st Place Columns: Shelley K. Bishop, “The Legacy of Mary Comfort Eberhard”
2nd Place Articles: Shelley K. Bishop, “Turning Forests into Farms: The George Clark Family of Licking and Delaware Counties, Ohio”

Woohoo! I’m thrilled, to say the least, and so honored to have won awards in two categories. A hearty congratulations to all the other award winners. As I look over the names on the ISFHWE announcement, I’m humbled to be in such great company.

Like many genealogists, I write primarily to share and preserve what I’ve learned from researching my ancestors. At the same time, I try to find universal themes within my family’s story that might strike a chord with a wider audience. But it’s hard to know if I’ve succeeded in doing that or not until something like this happens. When it does, it’s oh-so-rewarding.

"The Legacy of Mary Comfort Eberhard” first appeared here, as a post on A Sense of Family, on February 6, 2013. It grew out of my desire to share some of my grandmother’s stories about her mother, coupled with fascinating information I found in an old dairy company newsletter. Telling the stories of our female ancestors, who generally show up in fewer official records than men, can present special challenges. Digging into home sources such as letters, baby books, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and keepsakes—some of which may be held by other relatives—can lead to neat discoveries about their lives.

“Turning Forests into Farms: The George Clark Family of Licking and Delaware Counties, Ohio” was originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly (Vol. 53, No. 4). It traces one branch of my family tree through four generations, beginning with their 1811 arrival in the Ohio frontier. Weaving information from early land office registers, deeds, vital records, agricultural censuses, newspapers, cemeteries, and other records together with social history sources like county histories, published memoirs, and maps, I show how the family’s growth echoed—and was tragically affected by—the times they lived in.

ISFHWE will be publishing all the articles they awarded prizes to in future issues of Columns, their quarterly newsletter. You can become a member and read them all for just $20. I know I’m looking forward to some excellent reading in the coming months.

Thank you to ISFHWE and its judges for this recognition. Thanks also to the Ohio Genealogical Society for publishing my work, and to all my blog readers. It’s a pleasure to be writing for you. Now, what story should I work on next?...


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August 24, 2014

Two Degrees of Separation: SNGF

Randy Seaver always posts the most interesting questions for his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun series on his Genea-Musings blog. I usually don’t get the chance to participate in a timely manner, but this week’s challenge caught my eye right away. Randy asks:

1)  Using your ancestral lines, how far back in time can you go with two degrees of separation?  That means "you knew an ancestor, who knew another ancestor."  When was that second ancestor born?

2)  Tell us about it in a blog post of your own, in a comment to this blog post, in a status line on Facebook or a stream post on Google Plus.

Ok, Randy, here’s my answer:

When I was a toddler, my grandmother’s side of the family gathered for a five-generation picture. Although I don’t have any memory of that day, both I and my great-great-grandmother, Minnie (King) Steele, were in it. My mother recently gave me another picture of Minnie holding me.

Minnie King was born November 23, 1873, in Cheshire Township in Gallia County, Ohio. She had just turned 88 years old when she died on December 13, 1961, not long after our picture was taken. Mom says she was her usual cheery and active self right up to the end.

Minnie King Steele 1873-1961 Ohio
Great-great-grandma Minnie (King) Steele and me, 1961

As I looked for the earliest family member Minnie might have known, I breezed past her father and mother, Newel and Electa (Roush) King. I considered her grandfather, Gideon Roush, who lived until July 1894, when Minnie was 20 years old. Could I do better than that?

Yes. Minnie’s life overlapped with her great-grandmother, Hannah (Roush) Roush. Hannah was born December 30, 1790, and died in Cheshire Township at the age of 85 on March 26, 1876. Minnie was about two and a half years old at the time, living in the same small community. How I wish I had a photo of them together!

So with two degrees of separation, my life touched my great-great-grandmother, whose life touched her great-grandmother, who was born as the calendar turned from 1790 to 1791. That’s 223 years and counting.

Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

We are closer to history than we realize.


August 20, 2014

Indian Lake Bathing Beauty 1935: Wordless Wednesday

My grandmother, Wilma Steele, at Indian Lake in Logan County, Ohio, in the summer of 1935. At not quite 19 years old, I think she looked pretty cute in her little swim shorts. This was a few months before she eloped to marry Fred Herrel.


August 4, 2014

Hiram College Tuition in 1872

Old newspapers are always fascinating. Even when I don’t find the obituary or whatever I’m looking for (which happens more often than not), I usually turn up something of interest. Consider the following advertisement for Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio. It ran on the front page of the Portage County Democrat, published in Ravenna, Ohio, on January 10, 1872:

Hiram College ad 1872

Hiram College
Hiram College offers the student a choice of six courses of study: Biblical, Classical, Scientific, Ladies’, Teachers’ and Commercial.
Common English Branches, Algebra, Composition 
       and Natural Philosophy, per term…..$7.00
All other Studies……$10.00
Penmanship (daily lessons)…..$6.00
Penmanship (complete course)……$15.00
Complete Commercial Course…..$20.00
Instrumental Music…..$12.00
Use of instrument one hour per day…..$2.00
      Students in the Commercial Course can have access to the College classes upon further payment of five dollars per term.
Calender, 1871-2  [sic]
First Term commences—Tuesday, August 22, 1871
First Term closes—Friday, November 17, 1871
Second Term commences—Tuesday, Dec. 5, 1871
Second Term closes—Friday, March 1, 1872
Third Term commences—Tuesday, March 19, 1871 [should be 1872]
Third Term closes with Commencement day, June 20, 1872
      Board $3.50 to $4.00 per week. Good facilities for self boarding, by which students materially reduce expenses.
      For catalogue or further information, address B.A. HINSDALE, Pres’t 
                                                                                             Hiram, Ohio

I did a quick check using the Measuring Worth website, and found $10 had the same relative purchasing power in 1872 as $197 does today. I have a hunch the incoming Class of 2018 would find that a pretty attractive course fee.

It’s interesting to see the curriculum offerings, too. I wonder what classes were offered in the Ladies’ course of study? The fact that Penmanship was listed separately in this little advertisement suggests it was popular. With the decline of teaching cursive handwriting in elementary school, will we eventually see Penmanship on college class schedules again?

Western Reserve Eclectic Institute at Hiram, Ohio, 1858; from the Hiram College Archives

Hiram College was founded as the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute in 1850, and has a proud history of higher education. My father-in-law and at least three of his ancestors attended Hiram at one time or another. He also has a family connection by marriage to one of its founders. So the accidental discovery of this little ad might lead me into a little more investigation.

That’s the fun thing about newspaper research. You never know what you might find, cranking through the microfilm on a summer afternoon.


Photo credit: "WREI-Hiram" by Unknown - Hiram College Archives. Via Wikipedia -

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July 6, 2014

Willard Bishop's Model T Camper: 52 Ancestors

In the spring of 1929, Willard Bishop faced a dilemma. With an auto garage business and growing family in Garrettsville, Ohio, he liked to get away to go fishing whenever he could. A few years earlier, he’d bought a vacant lot on the hillside shore of Lake Milton, about 20 miles away. But where could he and his fishing buddies sleep when they wanted to spend the night there?

Lacking the resources to build a house, Willard fell back on what he knew best: automobiles. Born February 21, 1892, he had started tinkering with cars as a teenager, and landed a job as a mechanic by 1917.[1] Why not build a little cabin on wheels?

Willard enlisted the help of a friend, blacksmith Welty Rood. The lack of a blueprint didn’t discourage them. They cleared out a bay in Willard’s repair shop and got to work.

Willard Bishop's Chrysler-Plymouth garage and dealership, Garrettsville, Ohio

Starting with an old four-cylinder Model T Ford, they removed everything except the engine, windshield, and front seat. They constructed a box to fit over the bare chassis. Inside they built two sets of bunks, and installed an icebox and sink. A small table and chairs completed the setup. Willard wired it with electric lights and cut out windows. It was tight, but four people could sleep safe from the elements, wash up, and keep some food brought from home. 

There was just one problem. The contraption was too high to get out of the garage.

Their only recourse was to cut several inches off the top of the camper. Willard’s head nearly touched the ceiling of the new top. Even then, it wouldn’t clear the garage door. So they let the air out of all the tires, and with the help of a few other fellows, crept the motor home gingerly out of the garage.

Willard Bishop, left, and Welty Rood with their homemade Model T camper

With the tires re-inflated, Willard and Welty drove the homemade camper slowly over the winding road out of Garrettsville. They passed through the town of Newton Falls, continuing down narrow County Line Road to Lake Milton. There was no hurry; it would be her only voyage.

Positioned proudly on the lot, the camper reigned over the lake below. With the addition of an outhouse and fire ring, Willard and his buddies could fish, eat, and sleep in comfort all summer. After a long winter, it sat there waiting to welcome them back.

Soon Willard’s kids were clamoring to go to Lake Milton, too. He started taking his three boys fishing and boating with him. The shack, as they called it, was too crude to suit his wife, Annah, and their daughter. Willard eventually bought a factory-made motor home for the ladies and himself, leaving the shack to the boys. The new one even came with a kitchen.

Willard and his daughter with the store-bought camper, about 1937

Willard's son, Bob, showing off his catch 

In 1940, Willard sold his property and purchased two nearby lots, one of which held a small 1928 cottage. While the cottage still required use of an outhouse, it felt luxuriously spacious compared to the campers. Now the family could enjoy quiet mornings overlooking glass-still water, hot afternoons of swimming, and lingering twilights all summer. Willard usually stayed in Garrettsville to work during the week, joining them on weekends.

The old Model T shack made the move, too. Its hand-cranked engine sprang to life even after years of disuse. Willard kept it for storage for a few years, finally taking it away during World War II. Although it would be forgotten until the discovery of a photo decades later, its legacy was firmly established. Willard’s son and his wife, their children and grandchildren still gather at the lake for a family reunion every summer. And while a bathroom was installed in 1983, the place is no bigger than before. Leading to another dilemma: where does everyone sleep?

Ah, what Willard would have given for one of these modern beauties, with their slide-out sitting rooms, full kitchens and baths, and queen-size beds.

Then again, maybe not.


© Shelley Ballenger Bishop 2014

The blog series “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” is coordinated by Amy Johnson Crow, CG, author of No Story Too Small.

[1] “U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database and digital images, Ancestry ( accessed 1 July 2014), card for Willard Hiram Bishop (Portage County, Ohio); imaged from Family History Library microfilm 1,851,082, citing NARA microfilm publication M1509.

July 4, 2014


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