52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 5: So Far Away

January 29- February 4

I have long wanted to both know and to write more about my French-Canadian ancestors. However, it seemed just too daunting with the sheer immensity of information available and the perceived language barrier. ( I do not speak French, having dropped out of my high school French class after only one week.)

I mean, where to even begin??? It felt as overwhelming as eating an elephant. Which apparently can be done.

One bite at a time.

And, so we begin.

In a land, so far, far away…

My ninth great-grandparents, through my father’s French-Canadian family, were Pierre Gagnon and his wife, Renee Roger. They farmed in a little village between the towns of Tourouvres and Ventrouze in the former province of Perche in France. Pierre’s father, Barnabe’ Gagnon, and his wife, Françoise Creste, my 10x great-grandparents, had purchased the property in 1565 from Gervais and Marion Roger.

perche france-By Milenioscuro - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindexphpcurid=84445326
Perch, France, Attributed to Milenioscuro, Wikipedia

Perche was just south of Normandy, a hilly and forested area in the 1600s.

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Barnabe’ and Françoise had at least two sons, Olivier and Pierre.

About 1597, Pierre married Renee Roger, the daughter of the former owners of the family farm. Pierre and Renee had at least seven children.

Pierre was a plowman, in addition to owning an inn on his father’s property, the White Horse Inn. The inn was a well-known stopping place to sign contracts and make final arrangements before leaving for New France.

 

Sometime before 1635, Pierre passed away, leaving Renee a widow. That is the year that three Gagnon brothers, son Pierre, 23, Jean, 25, and Mathurin, 29, immigrated to the New World, . In addition to these three sons, a daughter, Marguerite, and her husband also left France for the New World sometime before 1640. It is also thought that their mother, Renee, immigrated at this time as well.

So, we have three generations at this point in the narrative:

  • 10x great-grandparents, Barnabe’ Gagnon and Françoise Crest (parents of Pierre)
  • 10x great-grandparents, Gervais Roger and Marion Roger (parents of Renee)
  • 9x great-grandparents,  Pierre Gagnon and Renee Roger
  • 8x great-grandparents???

So, if you’ve followed the story so far, which one of the children of Pierre and Renee who came to the New World are my 8x great-grandparents? Marguerite, Jean, Mathurin, or Pierre?

Well, there isn’t just one, dear reader. Nor two. I descend from three of their children: Marguerite, Jean, and Mathurin. And, to make things even more confusing, I descend from not one but two of Marguerite’s children!

Welcome to the tangled shrub that is a French-Canadian family tree!

But, I digress…

In summary, nearly an entire family uprooted themselves from where they had lived and farmed for generations. They ventured across a very wide ocean in rickety little wooden ship, using only the stars to navigate, trusting their very lives to their Creator and the captain’s wisdom and experience. I don’t know if I have that kind of courage.

In 1635, New France was a very desolate, empty, and cold place. Only a few French families had established themselves by this time, including the families of  Abraham Martin and Louis Hébert, also ancestors.

Once in Québec, the Gagnon brothers built a house in the Lower Town, on land granted them from the governor. By 1651, they had established a store in partnership with their sister Marguerite’s husband, Eloi Tavernier,  in the Rue Saint-Pierre, also in the Lower Town. They sold this business in 1668.

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The site of the Gagnon brothers’ store in the Lower Town of Quebec City, with a memorial plaque.

The brothers were not only successful businessmen, they were also farmers in the New World as they had been in the Old. They had bought land on the north bank of the St. Lawrence known as the Beaupré Shore. This area later became known as Château-Richer.

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A map dated 1709, showing land owners. The red arrows indicate where the lands were located that were granted to the Gagnon brothers. There are other plots that were deeded from father to son.
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The beautiful Beaupré area of Québec, 2019

In Nouvelle-France, all the brothers eventually married. First, Jean married Marguerite Cochon in 1640. Then, Pierre married Marguerite Desvarieux September 14, 1642. And lastly, Mathurin married Françoise Boudeau in 1647. He was forty-one, and she was a young girl of thirteen, which I find rather disquieting, even though I understand it wasn’t that unusual for the time. Nevertheless…

Mathurin was perhaps the best known of the brothers. In addition to the store and his farm, he was also one of the first elected church wardens of the parish of Château-Richer. He and Françoise also had a full household, with an estimated fifteen children born to them, the last when he was seventy-one. In contrast, his brother, Pierre, had ten, while Jean lagged behind with only eight. Sadly of course, not all the children survived to adulthood, but the vast majority did, leaving a vast legacy of Gagnons in a new land, far, far away.

“Til next time.

 

 

 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 4: Close to Home

January 22-28

Most of my ancestors weren’t very adventurous folks. I can find branch after branch in my family tree where for generations, everyone pretty much stayed put. Except for those brave souls who ventured out and across an ocean or a continent. But, those are stories for next week.

Starting way back, from the early 1600s until 1910 or so, my father’s Keene family stayed along the coast in Massachusetts: Plymouth, Marblehead, Lynn, Salem, and Boston.

Until 1882, my father’s mother’s French-Canadian family had been in Quebec, Canada from the time it was Nouvelle-France, well over 200 years prior.

On my mother’s side of the family, her Norwegian grandmother immigrated when only 11 years old in 1878. Until then, her family had been in the Vest-Adger province in western Norway for generations, farming the same land.

My mother’s father’s Wells family was perhaps the most mobile, moving from Vermont to Wisconsin, then South Dakota, and Montana.

Currently, I live in California, where I was born. I am the third woman of four generations to have been born here: my mother’s mother, my mother, me, and my daughter.

And considering that we are neither Native American, Mexican, or Spanish (who were all here long before my family was), that’s a long time, about 130 years in a state that has only existed as a state since 1850.

My great-grandmother, Eva Kesterson Gard, moved to California from Indiana sometime between 1890 and 1896. She had been born in Indiana, as had both her father and mother.

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My great-grandmother, Eva, my grandmother, Vida, and my great-grandfather, Willis. Los Angeles, circa 1898

She had my grandmother, Vida, in 1896, in Los Angeles.

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My grandmother, Vida, born in 1896, in Los Angeles.

My mother was born in 1921, also in Los Angeles.

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Vida and newborn Bula, Los Angeles, August 1921

I was born in 1958, but not in Los Angeles. Rather, I was born out on the California desert in Trona, a very small mining community.

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With my Nampie Wells, 1958

When my daughter was born in 1979, my husband and I were back in the Los Angeles area.

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Nana Wells, my daughter, and me, 1979, in Pico Rivera, California

And, there you have it: four generations of women in my family born in California. I’m sorry to say the run ended there. My daughter had her girls in Virginia. But, when they visited as little ones, they believed they were California girls, too.

‘Til next time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 3: Long Line

January 15-21

On both sides of my family, through both my mom and my dad, I have long lines of documented genealogy going back to the 1500s. (And, really we ALL have long lines, don’t we?) Now, lest you think all this was accomplished through my own genealogy skills, I assure you, it was not. But, more about that as we come to it.

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My mother, Bula, circa 1922

On my mother’s mother’s side of the family, the Gards, I have already written about my DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Revolutionary War Patriot, Jeremiah Gard. Jeremiah came from a rather well-documented family with roots back to Roger Garde (LeGard) and Phillippa Gist, who married July 4, 1610, in Devonshire, England. Both were born circa 1585.

I inherited quite a bit of genealogical material about this side of the family from my Nana Wells, born a Gard, who while never being very systematic about it all, thankfully kept the records.

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The earliest photo I have of my Gard ancestors. These are my great-great grandparents, William Perry and Phoebe Stewart Gard, 1861

Through my mother’s father’s family, the Wells family, I just learned a while ago that we go back to the Mayflower, and because of that, beyond. My ancestors who came over on that rickety little ship were John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Their daughter, Rebecca (or Mary), married Thomas Delano, whose father Philippe Delano (DeLannoy) came to North America in 1623 from the Netherlands.

This line is a rabbit hole that I could easily fall down and not be heard from for days as a result. Because the Mayflower passengers, their ancestors, and descendants have been so thoroughly documented, there is a wealth of information.

I am confident of our descent because of the research of my third cousin, Judy, who shares great-great grandparents, Matthias Wells and Alberta Pettingill, with me. Just this past year, she proved her descent from John and Priscilla Mullins through Matthias and Alberta and was able to join the Mayflower Society. This year, 2020, is the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival, and one of my genealogical goals for 2020 is to join the Society like Judy.

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Matthias and Alberta Pettingill Wells

On my father’s side of the family, I also have long lines through both his parents. His father was from Massachusetts, and his mother was French-Canadian Catholic. Both New Englanders and Catholics are wonderful record-keepers.

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My dad, Charles and his big sister, Elizabeth (Betsy), circa 1920

On my father’s mother’s, the Bergeron, French-Canadian side of the family, I have multiple ancestors documented well into the 1500s. Again, not through my own research, but rather that of my wonderful cousin, Peter, and the copious records kept by French-Canadian Catholics.

French-Canadians, through the history and records kept of early ancestors, especially the 700 or so Filles du Roi, are blessed with abundant information. Because of that, I have documented 41 Filles du Roi ancestors (women who arrived in New France 1663-1673), 28 Filles a Marier (women who arrived prior to 1663), and 11 Carignan Regiment (military men who served New France beginning in 1659).

Again, because these all were members of the Catholic church, the records are detailed and abundant, some going back to the late 1400s. A second genealogical goal for 2020 is to join La Société des Filles du roi et soldats du Carignan.

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My great grandparents, Osias Joseph and Marie-Amelia Gaumond Bergeron

Through my father’s father’s New England Keene side of the family, I have broken down a long-standing brick wall and now have evidence that we descend from John Keen, born about 1578, in England. There’s a blog post coming, so hang tight, Keene family!

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My great grandparents, George Augustus and Lydia Kent Keene

That’s it for today, dear readers. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

“Til later!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 2: Favorite Photo

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As I have mentioned before a time or two, my Nana Wells, my mother’s mother, was pretty much my heroine growing up. We were closer to her than to my father’s mother, as Mom was an only child, so my siblings and I were her only grandchildren. My father had five siblings, so there were a lot of kids on that side of the family.

But, we had Nana Wells to ourselves.

I remember her as being rather formal, not really the kind of grandmother who  made cookies and snuggled on the couch. In fact, she wasn’t much of a cook at all. She was really rather terrible at it.

She wore dresses, hose, and sturdy heels daily; it wasn’t until the end of her life that she ever wore pants.

I do remember her hugs. only because she wore impressive girdles her whole life. Hugging her was akin to hugging a tree trunk.  A very solid, rigid, non-giving tree trunk.

She was a prolific letter writer; at one time, I had stacks of her letters to me. They were sadly lost in a move, and I feel their loss now.

She taught woodshop in the 1920s and 30s, graduated college, supported her little family on her teacher’s salary, held down the home front with my infant mother while my grandfather searched for work in the far reaches of California, and had her driver license and her own car at a time when it just wasn’t done.

And, for all her formality and, well, frankly uprightness, she was a fierce woman who blazed her own trail. And, the photo below epitomizes her spirit to me.  It’s my favorite picture of her.

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Vida Gard Wells, Mt. Wilson, April 12, 1919

‘Til next time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2020 | Week 1: Fresh Start

January 1-7

Well, hello there!

I bet you thought I’d forgotten all about this little blog. Be reassured, my few but faithful readers, I haven’t left it behind and moved on to other things.

Sadly though, other things squeezed it out of place there for a good while in 2019. And, quite frankly, I needed a little break from the schedule.

But, today is January 1, 2020, the start of a brand new year, and it’s all bright and shiny with new possibilities and adventures to discover.

And, once again, I’ve decided to participate in Amy Johnson Crow’s 53 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.  I successfully wrote 52 blog posts in 2018, mainly due to my compulsion to finish whatever I begin.

And, that was a very good thing, as I discovered all sorts of things about my family and even knocked down what appeared to be a pretty solid block wall.

I wasn’t idle in 2019, to be sure.  The Hubs and I bought and remodeled a rental house in the town where our daughter and her family live.  We took a few short trips. We remain close by my mother-in-law, who’s in a Memory Care Facility and had several serious falls. I continue to work and decided to transfer my base, which triggered the desire to relearn the all the German I have forgotten.

And, in between all those things, I have continued to collect more family memorabilia and unearth new information. So, I have quite the list things to write about.

While the structure of the 52 Ancestors project and blog prompts might seem rather confining, I found in 2018 that it forced me to think about family outside those ancestors with whom I was already familiar and comfortable. And, to make it even easier on myself, I have already made all 52 drafts with the blog prompts and their target dates.

So, here’s to 2020:  New trails to follow, more family to connect with, and stories to write.

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Frohes Neujahr!

My Ancestral Super Couples

I have finally finished the huge task of inputting all the family data from my cousin, Peter, for my French Canadian ancestors . It was an enormous amount of work, but not nearly close to the work Peter did in gathering, translating, and collating all that information in the first place. I am deeply grateful to him for sharing his work, an 80-page PDF, with me.

I have been putting this task off for far too long, and our recent trip to Quebec spurred me into action. I came home with loads of information and photos,  and I quickly realized that unless I filled out my family tree on My Heritage, I had no context for that new information.

So, two weeks later, I am done!

In all fairness to me, I do have a cold. Additionally, we’ve been dealing with an ill family member’s care. And, I had to go to Chicago for a mandantory company event.

But, I’m on the road to feeling better, the medical crisis is being managed, and I have a nice stretch of days off ahead of me. I am anxious to get to work!

I thought for today, though, I’d share a bit of information that I found while working on my tree.

I have mentioned endogamy and pedigree collapse in past posts. If you need a refresher, you can read those posts here and hereHere you will find a simple explaination of endogamy.

And, boy, do I have endogamy in my family tree! Both colonial New England and Novelle France are hotbeds of it, and I have deep roots in both.  I read recently that French Canadians don’t so much have a family tree as a they do a wreath. I’m a believer.

Over and over again as I filled out my tree, I was finding the same names repeated in different family lines. It became trickier to add a new name, as I had to check and double check to make sure the new person wasn’t already in the tree. It also became easier as I came to the end of the task of entering the information from Peter, as most of the names were already there. I just had to make sure that they were then connected correctly to the new person.

Whew… Are you still with me? Did I lose you?

A recent article about French Canadian “super couples” now made a LOT more sense to me. And, it might explain better what I am dealing with!

I have two of these couples in my tree: Abraham Martin and Marguerite Langlois, and Zacharie Cloustier and Xainte Dupont.

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The view across the St. Lawrence River to the south from the Plains of Abraham

(And, isn’t Xainte just the best name?)

In the article referenced above, the Martin-Langlois couple appear in 77% of French Canadian genealogies. Cloustier-Dupont are in 82%.

What is mind-boggling is how many times those same couples appear in the same genealogy. In other words, how many different branches can one shimmy up from one starting point and get to the same apple?

The third couple referenced in the article are the clear winners here. While Pierre Tremblay and Anne Achon appear in only 46% of the genealogies (and not in mine), they clearly win for the largest number of references in the same genealogy, a whopping 92 times!

A cursory glance at my genealogy shows that I descend from Abraham Martin and Marguerite Langlois through three different genealogical pathways. It’s much easier to see how this could happen with a visual!

endogamy

 

The green down arrow represent a clear line of descent from that point down to me, as far as I can make out.

But, it doesn’t always look that simple. Trust me.

I’m thinking long and hard about how to make a 3-D family tree that best illustrates the tangled briar patch that is my family. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears!

‘Til next time!

A Little Taste of Quebec

I haven’t disappeared! Life just happened, coming at me fast and furious. I’m catching up, but some things do need to take a back seat occasionally.

In the midst of all the happenings around here, the hubs and I did manage a few days away for a real vacation. And, ta-da! we finally made it to Quebec! We had planned on going last year, but I got terribly beat up by a severe cold.

I had six days of vacation in October, and we thought it would be a great time to visit. And, it was!

I’m just going to give you a little introduction into our travels, as I have so much more to share. It’s really rather overwhelming. So, I’m starting with just a wee post to whet your appetite.

Our first day in Quebec could not have been more lovely. The temperature was just right, the sky was clear, and there was just a slight breeze. Our Airbnb was a 10-15 walk from the Citadelle of Quebec and the Plains of Abraham. I’m so glad we began here, as the rest of our stay was rather wet and cold.

We began with the Citadelle, which is right on the bank of the St. Lawrence River.

The Citadelle is a masterful design; star-shaped and sunk into earthen berms to be all but hidden. And, once inside the outer walls, there is a deep trench and yet another wall.

We took a tour later on in the afternoon and found it fascinating. Inside the walls, it’s rather a self-contained little village.

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Looking over the Citadelle walls to the city center.

There have been rather a lot of changes to the Citadelle during the 400 or so years it has existed. It began as a wooden structure, and my ancestor, Nicolas Pelletier (born circa 1609) was once a master carpenter there.

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The defensive walls of the Citadelle of Quebec.

The Citadelle sits between the city of Quebec and Plains of Abraham, named for another ancestor, Abraham Martin. Though Abraham didn’t own the land, he was permitted to graze his animals there, and it came to be known by his name.

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The plaque commemorating Abraham Martin.

The Plains of Abraham is the site of the battle between the English and the French in 1759 that the French lost, which is how Canada became a part of the English empire.

Today, it’s a lovely park and open space.

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The motto of Quebec is je me souviens. It means “I remember.”

My history.

My people.

My comrades.

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Je me souviens.

More to come!

‘Till then…

Just When Happiness was Finally in Reach…

My husband’s grandfather, Arthur Francis Mabery Casada, had a rough life. And, when he passed away just days before his 27th birthday, it was also altogether too short.

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Arthur Francis Mabery Casada

Arthur Francis was born in Drywood, Kansas on September 25, 1902, to parents James William Mabery and Nancy Ellen Large Mabery. He joined an older brother, Jesse Emmett, and an older sister, Molly Sopironia. (Side note: Isn’t that the most amazing middle name? I’ve never seen it anywhere else.)

James, Arthur’s father, was born in Kansas, not far from Drywood, and he lost his mother when he was only two. Remember this fact. His father remarried, and James and his older siblings were raised by their father and stepmother.

James married Nancy Large, and they were farmers in their small community, renting their land and raising their children, Jesse, Molly, and Arthur.

That all changed when Nancy passed away in early 1905, when little Arthur was only a few months past his second birthday.

And things were never the same for him.

Arthur’s father, James, was now a young widower, a farmer, with three small children to care for. Jesse was six; Molly was four; Arthur only two.

According to a written family record, James decided that he couldn’t care for little Arthur, and his neighbors, the Casadas, stepped in to help. Eventually, they convinced James to let them adopt Arthur, with promises that things would remain the same, and James would always have access to his son.

Do you have a bad feeling about this, too?

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The Adoption Papers for Arthur Francis Mabery

Eventually, the Casadas moved away from James’ farm, taking Arthur with them. They began to fight James when he wanted to see his son. James often made a way to see Arthur, but the Casadas would punish Arthur with a “whipping.”

When Arthur was 16, James bought him a team of horses and a wagon. Arthur was whipped, and the horses were sold.

Apparently, the whippings weren’t enough of a deterrent, and Arthur would make a way to see his father and older brother, Jess.

Arthur married Irene Gier July 12, 1927. I don’t know how or where they met, but I can imagine that in little neighboring Kansas towns, it wouldn’t be difficult to cross paths.

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Irene and Arthur Casada’s Wedding Photograph

According to Irene’s sister, Ruth, Irene made her own wedding dress, and she and Arthur “made their home look like a million bucks on a couple hundred.”

“We all loved Arthur. He fit into the family like he had always been there.”

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Irene and Arthur

Apparently, the Casadas weren’t happy that Arthur had married, as their plan was that he would be there to take care of them in their old age. They made life hard for Arthur and Irene.

Irene and Arthur were to have gotten their own farm in the fall after their wedding, but that never happened. Instead, Arthur stayed and worked on the Casadas’ farm.

When they had been married only a year, Arthur was in the field, riding the disk, when his appendix ruptured. The Casadas felt that it was no use wasting money going to the doctor for just a little stomach ache. After all, there was work to be done.

Eventually, Arthur did have an operation, but the incision never healed correctly.

Little Esther Marie, my husband’s mother, was born three months later, November 8, 1928.

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Esther Marie Casada

Again from a recollection of Irene’s sister Ruth:

The old folks did let them move the the winter after Marie arrived…They were a happy family… evenings Arthur would get his fiddle out and play. Marie would clap and laugh. Arthur was a terrific person. He and Jess (his older brother) were so alike that if they were in a different room you couldn’t tell which was talking or laughing. Marie was always looking for a daddy like Uncle Jess…

Arthur went into the hospital in the fall of 1929, right before Marie turned a year old. It was to be for his third operation due to the appendicitis. While in the hospital, just when it appeared that all was going well, he contracted typhoid fever.

Tragically, on September 19, 1929, he passed away.

That tragedy wasn’t the only one that night in Hepler, Kansas. The roads were slick, as it had been raining hard. Irene was on her way to the hospital, riding in a Model A Coupe belonging to a family friend. The top-heavy car turned over, and Irene’s right leg was scraped on an open vent. She developed blood poisoning, and the night Arthur died, doctors were sure that her leg would have to be amputated. Thirty-six hours of round-the-clock hot packs were administered, as this was long before the invention of antibiotics.

Arthur’s funeral was held the next Sunday. Irene’s brothers had to carry her, as it would be yet another week before the doctors were sure that her leg could be saved.

In the funeral program, I think it is telling that there is no mention of any of the Casada family attending or participating.

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They didn’t even send flowers.

After the funeral, the Casadas demanded that Irene pay her money that Arthur “owed” them. They had kept an accounting of money they had spent on Arthur going several years back. So, less than a month after Arthur’s funeral, Irene was forced to hold a farm sale. The Casadas even had a sheriff at the sale to ensure that they weren’t cheated.

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After the sale, Irene and little Marie moved back into the Gier’s home.

Irene’s brothers helped to ensure that she could go to college for her teacher’s certificate, enabling her to provide for herself and Marie. Which she did, for a very long time, until marrying again when Marie was 14.

Arthur’s death, Irene’s injury, the emotional distress dealing with his adoptive family, and the necessity of having to move back into the family home was a tremendous trauma in Irene’s and Marie’s lives, with ripples that still radiate. I believe that my mother-in-law, even though not a year old when her father died, was profoundly affected by this and still is to this day. And while Irene did eventually remarry and have another child, her life was marked by struggles, difficulties, and strained relationships with their roots in this horrible time.

‘Til next time; be well and hug your loved ones.

 

 

 

 

 

The Bureau of Contention

So, I’ve been sorting and scanning and filing, yada yada yada…

Are you tired of hearing about this yet???

However, in my defense, I keep coming across things that I didn’t know I had, which is the whole point of this exercise, right?

I was scanning a box of photos from my husband’s family this week, when I came across this photo:

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It’s a small, 3×2″, black and white, lightly scratched photo.

And, it made me think, why a photo of chest of drawers?

Then I remembered the story.

I first have to give you a run-down of the characters in this saga.

Mary Morgan Garrett was my husband’s great-grandmother, daughter of James Morgan and Sally Hadley and wife of Edward Garrett.

Mary and Edward had four children:

  • Lewis Edward, my husband’s grandfather
  • (Lydia) Violet
  • George Gilbert (Chief)
  • Ferne

You only need to note two of the above names, Violet and Chief, brother and sister.

Are you still with me? Because I have to add another character to this story, Veda, wife of Chief and therefore sister-in-law to Violet.

Family lore is that Violet and Veda never really got along, and the bureau only exacerbated an already rocky relationship.

The history of the bureau is recorded in this letter below.

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It all seems so cut and dried and legal-looking, doesn’t it? So, what happened?

My husband remembers being told that after Chief died in 1980, his wife Veda became close with another family in town, eventually giving the bureau away to them.

And, like that, after more than 130 years, the bureau was no longer in the possession of the Garrett family. Violet apparently took such offense at this that she and Veda didn’t speak for years.

And, that, dear readers, is why I have a small, black and white photo of a cherry wood chest of drawers.

Til next time.

“A Girl’s Guide to Missiles”: A Review and Reflections

I recently read a Girl’s Guide to Missiles: Growing up in America’s Secret Desert, by Karen Piper, an autobiography of the author’s (mostly) pre- and teen years living in China Lake and Ridgecrest.

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Photo Credit: Amazon

I was looking forward to hearing another perspective about growing up in this strange, isolated place. And, I did find it interesting to read about a places the author and I both knew, like John’s Pizza, Emmanuel Baptist Church, or the base swimming pool.

However, the story quickly veered off into more of a memoir of her college and young adult years and the conflict she felt over her parents’ and her own involvement in the military build-up during the Reagan years. Meh…

The book did, however, get me thinking about the unique experiences of my childhood growing up in the same place:

  • The constant sound of sonic booms in the air.
  • Seeing the poofs of dark gray smoke rising from the desert floor, not knowing if it was yet another Navy jet crash or just another explosion.
  • Pens, mechanical pencils, and blankets in our house were pretty much all stamped, “Property of the US Government.”
  • My brothers and I would sometimes, as Pooh and Christopher Robin would say, “go on an explore.”  If we went east, past the railroad tracks, we might easily wonder into restricted military space, as there were no fences out there. Unexploded ordinance could be stumbled upon. A low-flying jet could drop a bomb at any time. Yikes.

How did we end up here anyway?

In 1946, my dad was fresh out of the Army and needed a job to provide for his growing family. A friend had already found employment at China Lake, and he encouraged my dad to apply. Dad got a job as a pipe fitter, as a civil servant, which is what non-military government employees were called.

Back in 1942, he had been employed at a shipping company as a steam fitter, a work experience which he carried over to China Lake, also known as NOTS (Naval Ordinance Testing Station). His work was making the water cooling systems for rocket launchers. Or that was what we were told…

1949-efficiency rating-KEENE-charles jr- NOTS CA
Dad’s work evaluation from 1949, stating his position, Pipefitter, and department, Rockets & Explosives.

My parents packed up their belongings and their children and drove three hours north of Los Angeles to a very rudimentary community in the middle of pretty much nowhere.

Robert and Jeanne, 1946, trailer house at China Lake Ct., Inyokern
My parents’ first home on the desert.

They eventually moved into a “real” house, a duplex on the base.

bula and charles' home in NOTS bse inyokern, 8-47
My parents’ duplex at NOTS.

They soon outgrew the duplex and bought an acre across the valley, out by Inyokern. They built a house, raised animals and vegetables, and expanded their family to six children.

roof on
Our Inyokern house in the first stages.

As you can see, there wasn’t much out there. Accordingly, that meant that a lot of our life’s activities remained either on the base or in Ridgecrest, the town that grew up just outside the military border.

I remember:

  • Community ice cream socials on the cool, grassy grounds of the base chapel, where my sister married a navy sailor.
  • Having junior high PE swimming lessons in the huge, indoor, Olympic-sized base pool.
  • My mom shopping in the base commissary.
  • Working one summer in the base library, surrounded by books and the sweet, sweet comfort of air conditioning. Best job ever…

My high school, Sherman E. Burroughs, edged right up to the base border. Between the base and the school was a tall chain-link fence. And, right across from the tennis courts and the football field was a gate, with an armed guard. The kids who lived on the base had passes that allowed them access to the school without having to go all the way around through the main gate.

It was at this gate where I would meet my dad after track practice. He would be waiting in the parking area in his green Datsun pickup on the base side of the fence. I didn’t have a pass, but Dad did, and the guard knew who he was. I always envied the base kids a bit, as they could just walk to school. I had a ten-mile bus ride. Without air conditioning…

1950-LARK missile-KEENE-charles jr-CA (1).jpg

Dad retired very soon after I married in 1978. He and Mom moved up to Nevada, as the valley was getting “too crowded.”

In retrospect, growing up in America’s Secret Desert seems, even to me, to be quirky and interesting. It was, in actuality, hot, dusty, boring, and lonely.

But, then again, I didn’t work in Rockets & Explosives…

‘Til next time.