December 29, 2010

Ten "Ancestor Approved" Discoveries

I was thrilled earlier this month when Linda McCauley, who writes Documenting the Details, gave me the “Ancestor Approved Award.” The award was created by Leslie Ann of Ancestors Live Here in March 2010, and has been passed along to many genealogical bloggers. I am honored to be in such wonderful company. Thank you, Linda, for the unexpected but much-appreciated recognition!

Recipients are asked to make a list of ten things they have learned about their ancestors that have humbled, surprised, or enlightened them. Then they are to pass on the award to ten other bloggers who are doing their ancestors proud. Because I had to replace my computer’s hard drive and was busy preparing for the holidays, it took me a little while to compile my list. It’s been a good wrap-up exercise for the end of the year, though. Here are my ten:

1.    I was surprised to find my ancestors Samuel and Matilda Wright living in the area served by the Dublin, Ohio post office in 1870. This is the community where I now live. It’s nice to know I have roots here that go back deep into the city’s 200-year history.

2.    I was humbled by the hardships suffered by two of my Civil War ancestors, Newel King and John Steele. Newel contracted measles in camp, and endured seizures and ill health the rest of his life. John fell sick on a march, which left him permanently weakened and unable to work. They were just ordinary soldiers, but their stories make the sacrifices of that generation real to me.

3.    I was humbled, too, by the fortitude of the women of the Civil War generation. Mary Steele applied for a widow’s pension as soon as she was eligible, but it took over a decade of continuously submitting affidavits and forms before her application was approved. In the meantime, she was destitute. Somehow she managed to raise her kids and survive.

4.    It was enlightening to discover what my 7th great-grandfather, Johan Adam Rausch, likely experienced when he immigrated to the colony of Pennsylvania in 1736. It was a long, hard journey from the German Rhineland to Philadelphia, with an uncertain future upon arrival. There are so many questions I would love to ask him!

5.    It was enlightening to learn about the Revolutionary War service of my 6th great-grandfather, Jacob Roush, who served in a Virginia militia from Dunmore (now Shenandoah) County. He also fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War (October 1774)—a fascinating story of miscommunication and bravery.

6.    I was excited to find Jacob Roush then bought land in Gallia County, Ohio, along the Ohio River, in April 1803—just a month after Ohio became a state. His descendents remained in Gallia County for nearly a century. Maybe that’s why I feel a special affinity for southeastern Ohio. I have a long kinship there. Two of my children have carried the connection forward as students at Ohio University in Athens.

7.    I was thrilled to discover the original baptismal Fraktur of two of my great-grandparents, John Llewellyn Eberhard and Mary Madina Comfort, in my aunt’s possession. These beautifully illustrated parchments, characteristic of the “Pennsylvania Dutch,” document their births in Lehigh County and are priceless family heirlooms.

8.    My husband’s ancestors are just as interesting and inspiring as my own. It’s been tremendously satisfying to trace six generations of his family in Portage County, Ohio, and to locate the graves of his 3rd great-grandfather, Fitch Bishop, and 4th great-grandfather, Eli Barnum—both previously unknown. Sharing what I’ve found with my father-in-law has been one of my highlights  as a family historian.

9.    I am deeply indebted to the ancestors who took up the role of family historian long before me. Christine Steele, Harold Crites, and Harriet Boynton Whiting left written chronologies and summaries that have proven invaluable. Even though they are gone, I feel a sense of partnership with them, almost as if we are collaborating through some transcendence of time.

10. It’s amazing to realize how far back I can go with people I actually knew. I remember my paternal great-grandmother, Irene (Clark) Ballenger, who was born in 1887. My memories of my maternal great-grandmother, Mabel (Seely) Herrel, born in 1891, are even clearer. Of course I knew these women late in their lives, and only from a child’s perspective. But still, that’s a long reach, and it makes me realize I need to write those memories down. Now.  

If choosing ten things about my ancestors was hard, choosing just ten bloggers out of the dozens that I read was even harder! There are so many talented and interesting writers in the genealogical blogosphere. And you are all doing your ancestors proud! I tried to identify bloggers who may not have received the Ancestor Approved Award before, though there's probably some overlap:

1.    Malissa at Family Epic
2.    Rita at Tattered Past
3.    Teresa at Teresa’s Tangled Roots
4.    Kelly at Sunny Ancestry
5.    Elizabeth at Genealogy Geek
6.    Cheryl at Have You Seen My Roots?
7.  Caroline at Family Stories
8.  Diana at Random Relatives
9.  Travis at TJL Genes

December 21, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday-Benjamin Hanby: "Up On the Housetop"

Otterbein Cemetery, a pleasant and peaceful graveyard in Westerville, Ohio, is the final resting place of many of my Ballenger ancestors. Near their graves is a prominent marker for Benjamin Russell Hanby. Hanby wrote the Christmas carol “Up On the Housetop,” and I thought the holiday season would be the perfect time to share his memorial.

His tombstone reads:
         Over the Silent Sea Passed
         Benjamin R. Hanby
         Mar. 16, 1867;
         Aged 33 Yrs.

         W. O. Hanby, M. D.
         Died Oct. 19, 1879
         Aged 32 Yrs.

         Brainerd O. Hanby
         1859 –1944
         The Last Man - Editor

An accompanying sign, posted by the Westerville Historical Society and Ohio Historical Society, reads:

Song writer and minister of the United Brethren Church. Hanby was an Otterbein College graduate, class of 1858, known throughout the world for the inspiring songs, “Darling Nellie Gray,” “Up On the Housetop,” and “Who is He in Yonder Stall?”
Hanby House in Westerville is maintained as a memorial honoring Benjamin and his father, Bishop William Hanby.

The song’s lyrics give a glimpse into popular toys of the mid-1800s:
Up on the housetop reindeer pause,
Out jumps good old Santa Claus,
Down thru’ the chimney with lots of toys
All for the little ones, Christmas joys.

Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go!
Ho ho ho, who wouldn’t go!
Up on the housetop, click click click,
Down through the chimney with good Saint Nick.

First comes the stocking of little Nell,
Oh dear Santa, fill it well,
Give her a dolly that laughs and cries,
One that will open and shut her eyes.  (chorus)

Next comes the stocking of little Will,
Oh just see what a glorious fill,
Here is a hammer and lots of tacks,
Also a ball and a whip that cracks.  (chorus)

Hanby wrote over 80 songs in his short life, according to Ohio History Central. One of these was “Darling Nellie Gray,” an popular anti-slavery song. Hanby and his father were abolitionists who actively participated in the Underground Railroad, sheltering runaway slaves. In 1842, a runaway named Joe Selby died of pneumonia while hiding at the Hanby house. The story Selby told the Hanbys of his quest to be reunited with his sweetheart, Nellie Gray, before he died made a deep impression on Benjamin, who was nine years old at the time.

Who would think that a simple Christmas carol could lead to such interesting stories?

December 12, 2010

My True-Life Adventure in Hard Drive Failure

I couldn’t have written this article six months ago. My MacBook Pro had been humming along flawlessly for nearly three years, and I was complacent. But the warnings from other writers (especially Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers) to create a back-up system finally took root. Even though I hoped I’d never need it, I decided I couldn’t risk losing everything. Little did I know I was building a lifeboat that would save me just a few months later.

Because this week, my computer's hard drive died. I started getting the spinning beach ball that every Mac user dreads more and more often, and time and again it ground my system to a halt. I thought maybe I had contracted some sort of rare virus or malicious spyware. Frustrated, I made an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store on Friday. The technician did a diagnostic check and gave me the bad news: my hard drive was going down. The only option was to replace it. Was I backed up?

I swallowed hard and said yes. Fortunately, there was some good news as well. The part was in stock, and a kind soul in the back had offered to do the replacement overnight. I left the store with an empty case and a worried mind. Would the backup really work?

Here’s what I had in place:
1.    Reunion for iPhone: my genealogy files on Reunion were synced to my iPod Touch. Reverse syncing, from the mobile device to the computer, is also possible, so I knew my data was safe. Lesson: if your genealogy program of choice offers a mobile version, get it and use it.

2.    Mozy: over the summer I subscribed to the online backup service Mozy. Although the initial transfer of data was a lengthy process, for the most part it seems to have worked smoothly. So I figured if worse came to worse, I could retrieve my documents, photos, music, genealogy, and other files by requesting a restore disk. Lesson: a cloud backup gives great peace of mind for a reasonable price tag. Though I didn’t end up needing it, this is added insurance, especially in the event of a disaster that could destroy both the computer and a physical backup drive.

3.    Time Machine and a backup hard drive: just this fall, I finally upgraded to the Leopard operating system (Mac 10.5), which includes the backup program Time Machine. I purchased an Iomega eGo portable hard drive formatted for Mac. Time Machine transferred an exact copy of my entire system to the Iomega drive quickly and effortlessly. Since then, I’ve backed up every night before going to bed (you can also set it to run automatically). Lesson: a portable hard drive combined with good backup software is an unbeatable combination. Prices on these drives have come way down; mine cost $70. You literally can’t afford not to have one.

When I picked up my computer Saturday afternoon, the technician walked me through the steps I’d be taking. Turn the computer on. Select my country and language. When prompted whether I want to transfer from another source, select to transfer from Time Machine. Plug the Iomega drive into the computer. Select the drive, click continue, and wait for Time Machine to do its magic. Simple enough.

And it worked! In just about an hour’s time, my familiar desktop picture appeared onscreen, with all the little icons in their right places. Nothing was missing, nothing was changed. All my bookmarks, all my settings, and all my applications worked perfectly. After doing a little happy dance through the kitchen, I went out to eat with my family, celebrating my son’s return from a semester abroad (he was in transit at the same time my computer failed, and I have the extra gray hairs to show for it).

The moral of the story is: it can happen. Chances are, it will happen, and possibly at a most inconvenient time. If you don’t have a backup drive, put one at the top of your wish list, or just buy it yourself. Don’t wait to use it. My husband and kids are getting portable drives for Christmas. In the scheme of things, my experience with hard drive failure was relatively painless—a hiccup rather than a catastrophe. My holiday wish is for you to have the peace of mind of knowing that, should you find yourself in a similar situation, your experience will be as painless as possible, too.

December 8, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Eberhard Children

My grandmother, Nora Eberhard (subject of my COG post, "The Life of the Party"), and some of her siblings on the family farm near Galena, Ohio, about 1918. From left to right are Bertha Alice, born April 12, 1911; Georgia Madina (in front), born December 12, 1915;  Carrie Marie, born January 19, 1908; Nora Belle, born March 16, 1910; Robert John (in front), born May 9, 1912; and Anna Lephia, born February 13, 1909. Eight older and two younger siblings are not pictured. The children appear to be dressed up for a special occasion, and look happy and excited. From their clothing, it seems to be summertime. This is the earliest picture I have seen of my grandmother.

(photo copyright S. Bishop 2010)

November 30, 2010

There's One in Every Family: The Life of the Party

We used to joke that we could never get a picture of Grandma with her mouth shut. She could talk your ear off, and about the time you snapped the shutter she’d say, “Don’t take my picture now, my hair’s a mess!” And boy, could she laugh. She’d have the whole room in stitches, look innocent for just a moment, then wink and burst out laughing as hard as the rest of us. And she would sing at the drop of a hat--preferably something with a little zest to it, like “Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh what those five foot could do, has anybody seen my gal?”

Oh yes, Grandma could be the life of the party.

Nora Belle Eberhard was one of 18 children born to John Llewellyn Eberhard and Mary Madina Comfort. A set of twins died shortly after birth, but the other 16 Eberhard kids grew to adulthood. Nora made her appearance on March 16, 1910—just in time for the census taker making the rounds in Rushcreek Township, a rural community in Logan County, Ohio, near Bellfontaine. When she was four or five the family moved to a farm near Galena, Ohio. She recalled being told that she sang the whole way.

Llewellyn Eberhard was a dairy farmer. Growing up on the farm, there were always a lot of chores to be done, and never much money. Nora liked the house chores better than the barn chores, because the cows smelled so bad. She’d be the first to tell you they were just plain poor. She quit school after eighth grade to take a job in the Kilgore factory in Westerville, putting rivets on cap guns. Maybe she got her spunk from this hardscrabble start, but somehow I think she was just born with it.

Nora singing to great-granddaughter Sarah
Nora married a dashing young restaurant worker named Lloyd Ballenger on March 30, 1935, during the height of the Depression. Their first baby, Marilyn Sue, died in infancy—a recollection that still moved Nora to tears decades later. Their three other children grew up, married, and eventually gave them seven grandchildren. To us, Nora was Grandma, a white-haired bundle of energy who always had popsicles in the freezer, candy on the table, and a song to sing.

As we grew older, we found the real fun was egging her on to tell stories and jokes while we sat around the table at the family cottage at Buckeye Lake. Not that she needed much encouragement—a little something to drink and she’d be off and running. And heaven forbid if she got going at a party. She always wanted to stay to the very end.

And she did. She stayed with us until just shy of her 97th birthday, when her party finally came to a close on February 26, 2007. I still think of her, though, laughing and singing and telling a slightly risqué tale now and then. Here’s to you, Grandma, as you toasted us so many times: 
“May you live forever and I never die.”

(Written for the 100th edition Carnival of Genealogy, "There's One in Every Family." All rights reserved by author.)

November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving at the Kids' Table

Growing up, our Thanksgiving dinners were always at Grandma and Grandpa Ballenger’s house. Grandpa cooked two huge turkeys—one in the old basement kitchen and one in the oven upstairs—and the sweet scent of turkey roasting permeated the house. My brother and I loved to sneak down the basement and pick at the crusty top of the turkey down there. Upstairs, the closer it got to Time to Sit Down, the crazier (and noisier) things became. Potatoes, hot and soft, needed to be mashed and the milk and butter whipped in with the electric mixer. Gravy, made from the turkey drippings, required constant adding and stirring and testing—a group effort (“Here, stir this gravy a minute. Mom, I still think it needs more salt.”). The electric knife whirred as it sliced through the turkey. In the midst of it all, Grandma’s voice reigned supreme: “Someone cover that stuffing with foil. Where’s the second bowl for the potatoes? Get your hands off that turkey!”

Finally, it was Time. The eight adults took their seats around the dining room table, which had been elegantly set hours before with the best china. The seven of us grandkids, meanwhile, rushed to jostle over position at the folding tables pushed together in the living room, set with the everyday plates. A momentary silence hushed us all as grace was said. Then—well, I imagine there was polite passing in the dining room, but at the kids’ table bowls were swapped over and under, back and forth, and whatever you could reach was fair game.

For awhile, we were too busy eating to talk. But as the meal wore on, the fun began. Someone would make a sculpture out of mashed potatoes, which naturally had to be topped. Someone would tell a joke, which led to more jokes, which inevitably led to someone snorting milk out his nose. The generally hilarity would be briefly quenched when a parent called, “What are you guys doing in there?” Then the story-telling would resume in whispers, leading someone to lean in to hear better, resulting in a glass being knocked over and spilled (“Be quiet! Take my napkin! It’s on the carpet too!”) A contest to see who could make the most creative thing out of the leftovers on his plate ensued. Eventually, our game would be up when a parent came in and found the table in total disarray. Plates in hand, we filed into the kitchen—where it seemed a food bomb had exploded. The lucky ones escaped to the basement before clean-up.

I’ve had many wonderful Thanksgiving dinners since then, but nothing has matched those teen-age years at the kids’ table for sheer fun. How about you? Was there a kids’ table at the holiday dinners in your past?

November 19, 2010

A day at the OGS Library

Yesterday I visited the Ohio Genealogical Society's new library in Bellville. One of my husband’s cousins had contacted me about a branch of his family that I haven’t researched yet. I thought the OGS library might be a good place to start looking for the family of Jonathan Crites, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The library, which opened in July, is beautiful—spacious, inviting, and designed with patrons in mind. Even on a gray November day, the main room was filled with natural light. Long tables beckoned me to spread my materials out. In its former building, the various OGS collections were crammed into every nook and cranny. Now the stacks are neatly organized for browsing. Vertical cabinets housing family files, ancestor charts, and Bible records are easy to access. Classic wooden card files hold special collections. Computers and microfilm readers fill an entire room. And it’s all about genealogy! (sigh)

I started by checking the unpublished materials, because these can’t be found anywhere else. I copied a pedigree chart that might prove to be a collateral line. Next I looked through the county resources for published marriage and death records for Ashland and Licking counties, and picked up a pretty good lead. There wasn't a Crites family history book. If I had been farther along in my research, I could have checked city and rural directories, maps, yearbooks, or periodicals.

The Ohio Genealogical Society Library is located off I-71 at the Rt. 97 exit, about mid-way between Columbus and Cleveland. Non-members are welcome for a nominal daily fee. It makes a pleasant and productive base for Ohio research.

Related Posts:
A New Look for OGS

November 18, 2010

November 11, 2010

In Honor of Veteran's Day

Recently I’ve been looking into the military service of two of my great-great-great grandfathers, both of whom fought for the Union in the Civil War. Newel King, from Gallia County, served in Company B of the 91st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. John Steele, a Virginian by birth but transplanted to Meigs County, served in Company K of the 18th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

I don’t believe the two men ever met in their lifetimes. But nearly three decades after the war, Newel’s daughter married John’s son. And here I am today, pouring over the paperwork that gives a glimpse into their lives. From their compiled service records and military pension files, I can get a sense of their hardships, their sacrifices, and their frustrations, both during the war and afterward as they made their cases for compensation. It wasn’t pretty. Although both men survived the war, neither emerged as healthy and productive as before.

I find myself thinking of them as if I knew them. What was it like to be carted off to a field hospital after being stricken with measles? To march through a pelting sleet with frozen feet and hands? To come home at war’s end, only to be stricken with epileptic seizures, like Newel? Or to lack the strength to walk to work, like John? I think of their wives, whose own stories emerge in the widows’ pension applications. I think of their children. There are layer upon layer of stories tucked in these files.

Veteran’s Day takes on a new light when you get up close and personal. To all the veterans out there, and to those from long ago whose stories are waiting to be heard, thank you.

October 28, 2010

Musings on my 18th Century German Immigrant

I was fortunate to hear Marianne Wokeck, historian and author of the book Trade in Strangers: The Beginnings of Mass Migration to North America, at the recent Ohio Chapter Palatines to America fall seminar. Wokeck gave a fascinating presentation about German immigrants in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Since I have an ancestor, John Adam Roush, who came to Philadelphia in 1736, I found her talk especially interesting.

Among other things, I learned that about a third of the immigrants coming from the Rhineland to America in those years chose to sign a contract for indentured service in order to pay for their transatlantic fare. These immigrants faced a lot of challenges, and their decision to make a new life in a new land wasn’t an easy one. They had to learn the social customs, business practices, and language of America, and secure food, housing, and other necessities for their families. Agreeing to a period of indentured service not only paid for the journey (which was quite expensive), but also made it easier to do these things.

Unfortunately, very few written records about indentured servants, or “redemptioners” as they were called, have survived. Wokeck suggested checking court records (for a possible contract dispute) and business records in and around Philadelphia for a possible connection. I hope to be able to do that soon.

Johan Adam Rausch, as he was known then, was in his early twenties in 1736. If he was young and healthy, and hadn’t yet saved up a lot of money, might he have opted to spend a few years as an indentured servant in exchange for a start in Pennsylvania? Maybe, maybe not. Will I ever know for sure? To be honest, probably not. Does it matter? No, not really—but it sure would be interesting to find out! One thing’s for sure: since Wokeck’s presentation, I have a new respect for these hard-working early German immigrants, and the choices they had to make. 

October 20, 2010


Hello and welcome to A Sense of Family!

In many ways, fall seems like a natural time for new beginnings. I’m excited about starting this journey into the blogging community, but somehow I feel like a kid starting a new school—eager, anxious, hopeful, and a little bit scared, all at the same time!

Family history is a fascinating pursuit, isn’t it? It’s a joy to make the discoveries that connect us to our ancestors. It’s challenging to flesh out their life stories by researching the places and events that shaped them. And it’s exciting when the puzzle pieces actually fit together! I feel a great satisfaction knowing where I fit into the larger stream of history.

My adventures in finding these connections and stories will be the main focus of my blog. I’m a “transitional” genealogist, which means I’m still actively learning. Through this blog I aim to record some of my family history discoveries, as well as some things I’ve found helpful. Since I’m from Ohio, I hope to share a few insights into Ohio research as well. And if I find a great new tool, a hot tip, or a database that looks promising, I’ll pass it along. I hope you’ll join me for the journey!


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