Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Government Efficiency at It's Best

 A couple of days ago a very thick manila envelope arrived addressed to me.  That's funny - I didn't remember sending for anything.  My genealogy passion has had to take a back seat to my work since school started.  When I looked at it, I was even more puzzled.  It was from the Department of Veterans Affairs - WICHITA OFFICE??  This meant it was about my father.  Why was I getting something from them?  I quickly opened it and found my father's medical file along with the letter I wrote requesting it  - dated over one year before!  The stamp on the back verifies that they received it in Aug.  This odyssey began when I learned that an immediate family member can request the service records at no charge - or so I thought.  My parent's divorced when I was seven or eight and I never saw my father after that time. So, since my father is a bit of a mystery, I thought I would give it a go.  Free is always a good price.  The letter below is four months after my initial request which involved applying online then they sent a letter for me to actually sign for permission then they sent a request for $20.  There goes the free part!  A couple of months later I received a single sheet separation paper.  Minimal, but a couple of new pieces of information.   Hey! Wait a minute. Where was the medical record I requested?  So I called to find out.  I am nothing if not tenacious.  The letter below is my next step after the phone call. I have cropped it to leave out the identifying information for my father and myself.  After all,  I am sure the paparazzi would be hiding in the shrubs for a photo.

I skimmed the medical file that spanned his military service until shortly before his death.  It will take some time to look at it in more detail.  But I will have to look at it when my mood is right.  Anything about my father is either completely devoid of emotion or absolutely drenched in it. 

My quick observations:  It confirmed his stay in a TB hospital after the divorce.  I have always tested positive for TB even though I have never had it.  Interestingly, the information that was the most upsetting wasn't his continual alcoholism, which I knew about, but the fact that he had some type of infection during his military service and had lost quite a few of his teeth!  Oh vanity, my vanity.  I am sure there are more surprises in store.

The best part of this surprise was that over a year after my request, it was sent Priority Mail for $4.90 because they obviously wanted to get it to me as quickly as possible  Remember this is the same government that paid $2000 for a toilet seat!  I wonder how long it took to deliver those?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Tale of Two Margels

My name is Margel (prounced Marge-l). I have never gone by any other name.  Not Marge or Margie,  just Margel unless you count the times my mother got mad at me, and then it was "Lady Locket".  I have NO idea where that came from?When I was growing up my classmates had names like Linda, Sally and Barbara with a Carla or Beth sprinkled in.   As a young child I remember wanting a name "like everyone else."  I always held my breath and waited as attendance lists were called knowing that there was a 90% chance that they would say Mar- Gel with a hard G and the emphasis on the second syllable.  My only decision was to correct them, and the whole group would turn to look at me, or let it go. "Is that what you go by or do you have a nickname?"  Nametags would inevitably be a conversation starter with the question, "Where did that name come from? Is it a family name?"  But if they asked, I told them . . .

I'd always known where my name came from, but it wasn't until I was a teenager that I began to really think about it more.  Margel was my mother's sister, but my mother never knew her because she died before my mother was born around age two of spinal meningitis. At some point in my teenage years, I became very proud of carrying this family name and of being a living reminder of a very special little girl.  As a teen, I remember asking my mother where she was buried.  Why didn't anyone visit her grave?  "Oh, her grave washed away long ago." my mother replied, "There's nothing to visit"  I had visions of coffins floating down a river.

Margel Florence Kennelly
Then a couple of years ago, I became interested in family history.  Finding Margel was at the top of my list.  At that point in time, I assumed that I would enter her name in the search engine for Cook County, and the information would magically pop up on the screen.  But, oh no, Cook County vital records database had no record of her.  The wheels in my head started spinning.  Could she have died somewhere else?  There were lots of photos of her with the family in Clinton.  Maybe she died there.  But they had no record of her death either.  Then a chance encounter with another researcher at my local library introduced my to CyberDrive Illinois and the searchable online databases of the Illinois Archives.  This time when I typed in her name and, hit enter, I found the record!  Back I went to the Cook County website with the record number . . . . again it was not to be as they had someone else listed with that record number.  Frustrations, frustrations.  Then when I was unsure of what to do next, a post on the Ancestry.com  Cook county message boards suggested that I contact Cynthia at Chicago Genealogy so I did.  Yippeeee!  She found the death record and the price was very cheap reasonable.  Unexpectedly, I cried when I opened it.  I have used Cynthia's services through her genealogy lookup service Genlighten several times since then and always been immensely satisfied. 

Now that I had the death record, I found that Margel was buried at Calvary cemetery in Evanston and IT'S LOCATED ON LAKE MICHIGAN.  It turns out that there was a scrap of truth to my mother's story of the grave washing away - it is located near water.   Next, I called the cemetery to find out how I could locate a grave if I would travel there for a visit.  The wonderfully helpful man told me that there was a kiosk that I could type in the name, and it would print a map of the grave location if I came during the hours the office was open.  Fabulous!  Now . .  how could I talk my brother into traveling with me to the Chicago area to find her grave?  I better get more information about other family members so that I could sell this as a package deal.

I began to assemble a list of Chicago family members and the cemeteries where they were buried. In addition to Margel, I found three ancestors who were buried at Calvary - Margret Kennelly Logan (my g-g-grandmother), John J. Kennelly (her son and my great grandfather's brother who was unknown to most family members), and Edward Kennelly (possibly my g-g-grandfather and Margret's first husband).  Then last Fall, when I knew winter was fast approaching and I might have to wait another six months, I talked my brother into committing to a weekend in Chicago. Remember, he does the driving and at that time, had the only GPS. Besides, this would be way more fun if we could share it.  This seemed like a good opportunity to also visit with another cousin of my mother's if she was available. We originally met at a funeral and so didn't have much time for conversation, but we emailed a few times, and she sent me a large brown envelope full of family photos, obituaries, and newspaper clippings.  She told us that no one in her family wanted them, and she had already thrown some away.  I was thrilled.  Luck was on our side, and she was free on the Sunday afternoon we would be in Chicago. She would go with us to Calvary.

Calvary Catholic Cemetery - Evanston, IL
The Saturday of our trip was spent traveling to Chicago and then going to several of the other cemeteries on our list.  Again, my sister-in-law was a good sport tramping up an down rows of graves helping my brother and I find our family.  We managed to find most of the people on our list, but finding the graves would have been near impossible without the kiosks and maps.  It is a great system.  We needed to quickly stop by Calvary while the office was still open so we could get the map for the next day.  I typed in the name Margel Kennelly, but the information on the screen said that no one by that name was buried there.  WHAT!  But the death certificate said she was buried there.  I approached the counter and told the man of my dilemma.  He asked for the information that I had and disappeared into a back room. A few moments later, he reappeared with a record in hand.  It seems that she was listed as Margaret and the age was incorrect due to a very poor copy of the death certificate.  Here's the bonus:  The record he copied for us had a list of everyone who was buried in that block of graves, the dates of death and identified James Logan, Margret's second husband, as the owner of the block.  Margel, Margret Logan, and John Kennelly were all buried in the same block.  This was a goldmine that I have still not sorted out.  "Did you have any other graves you were looking for" he asked.  "Why, yes I do." was my speedy reply as I handed him the death certificate of Edward Kennelly.  Again, he went to the back and came out with a complete listing of everyone in that block of graves.  We explained that we wouldn't be able to look for the graves until the next day, and he told us to look for the cemetery custodian who went through every hour if we had any difficulty. I was so excited.

The next day, we stopped by one more cemetery before we went to our cousin's house.  When we arrived, we found that she had invited her sister to join us - how wonderful!  She told us so many family stories and pulled out more photos.  It was almost too much to absorb and we loved it.  Then we got in the car and headed for the cemetery.  It was a very cold windy day, and we were not prepared for it.  I only had on a thin jacket when I really needed mittens and a wool hat.  If you have ever been to Chicago, you know how the wind can blow off the lake, and the trees only slowed it down a little.  We walked to where we thought the map showed the grave, but there were no Kennelly graves in sight.  We spread out farther.  No luck.  There seemed to be lots of missing headstones.  Maybe we weren't in the right section, I suggested hopefully.  I did not want to get this close and not find her.  When our fingers were numb from cold and we were just about to give up, a truck came towards us on the cemetery road - the custodian, I thought as I flagged him down. 

With a smile on his face he asked if he could help us find a grave.  We handed him our map, and he walked us over to the correct area.  My heart sank, still no headstones, only grass.  He told us to wait, and he drove back to the office garage.  A few minutes later he was back with a shovel, a brush, and a long metal rod.  Quickly, he stepped off a measurement from the road then took the shovel and tapped the ground until there was a thunk.  Using the shovel he revealed a circular stone marker with numbers which indicated the block of graves and explained how we could read them to find our block.  Then he started to probe the ground, explaining that early graves would have had wood coffins that would have rotted away by now.  It had rained recently and the ground was very soft.  He took his shovel and again went along one side vigorously tapping the ground.  Nothing, nothing, clunk!  This would be a headstone, he told us.  So he pushed the shovel into the ground feeling for the edge of the headstone.  The level grass showed no evidence of a headstone below. When he had gone all the way around, he knelt down and peeled back the seven inches of grass and dirt to reveal . . . MARGEL KENNELLY.  She shared a headstone with her great grandmother, Margret Kennelly Logan, and her uncle, John J. Kennelly.  I couldn't believe it.  The headstone looked like new.  I quickly knelt down and started brushing the excess dirt from the top.  It may sound silly, but it felt like I had reached into the abyss and pulled her out.  Then I noticed the dirt and roots that had been peeled back.  The names were clearly visible in the roots that had filled in their names.  When I asked, how we could have the stone lifted, he told us to call the office and they would take care of it. "How much will it cost?" I asked.  "No charge."  What a nice surprise.  As I looked around the grassy cemetery, I envisioned the multitude of stones hidden beneath the surface. I hope others will heed this lesson and check for sunken headstones before they give up like I almost did.

It was getting late, and we had to go.  We had a long trip home and our cousin, Kitty, had dinner waiting for us at her house.   The grassy plot of Edward Kennelly would have to wait for another visit.  We never even checked for any other stones in our block.  We were so excited, we didn't think about any others, but I noticed the headstones in the block next to theirs was O'Connor.  Hmmm . . . Margret Kennelly Logan's maiden name was O'Connor.  Do you suppose they're relatives?  I took a few photos just in case, but that is another story.

The search for Margel was a roller coaster ride with a satisfying and exciting end.  It was very late that night when we arrived back at my house, but this still remains one of my most emotional experiences.  How can anyone think genealogy is boring?

Oh, who is that girl in the photo at the top you ask??   Why she is the third and original Margel.  She was my grandmother's school friend at Mount St. Clare college, and so she named her first daughter, Margel Kennelly, after her.  I don't know her last name, but this was taken at Lake Delavan according to my grandmother's photo album. This is a special photo for obvious reasons.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two Weeks in Ireland . . . . and It Rained Every Day

Last summer, a friend and I took a two week vacation to Ireland. I have shared some of my experiences before from this trip here and here and here. Today I want to share more of my photos. It was difficult to choose and so in only a vague order . . . . from Inishmore, Aran Islands, past the Cliffs of Mohr, around the Ring of Kerry, exploring the Dingle Peninsula along Slea Head Drive, to Kinsale and the Dunbrody Famine Ship. We stopped at backyard ring forts and those perched on edges of  cliffs. We traveled through farm roads and small towns past castle ruins,famine cottages, and quaint pubs as the GPS steered us to our destination. Our nights were at friendly and picturesque B&B's. We climbed over rock fields just to see the Black Fort and explored cemeteries around ruins of abbeys, castles, and manor houses. As we dressed each day, the only question was what we should wear under our rain coat. My friend was a fabulous navigator and always reminde me to "stay to the left" . . . and for the most part I did.   I have worked and worked to insert a slideshow in my blog and this is it. I think it might be too small to see - we'll find out.  I first tried to do a collage, but it was really teeny photos so I switched tactics.  Hopefully, I will get better.  I also choose photos without either of us, save one, in them.  That also, determined which photos I chose.  I did insert LOTS of tombstones, but I took lots of photos of them.  What can I say, I have the soul of a graveyard rabbit.

Note:  The slideshow worked but I don't know why it made the photos such low quality.  Was there a choice somewhere?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Guilfoil, Gilfoyle, Gilfoil, Guilford, Gilfail etc.,etc. . . . .

Well, Geneabloggers designates this surname Saturday, and there is only one surname for this Saturday and that is Guilfoil.  I know I mentioned this surname in a previous post about my summer family history trip to Clinton, Iowa, but so much has happened since then.

As you might have realized, I have been under the delusion illusion that only a few interested family members have read my blog and half of them have been coerced by my repetitive question, "Have you read my latest blog post?"  I ignore their eyeroll when they answer, "Not recently".  Now, as you can tell, I have a very boring basic blog layout - no buttons for twitter, facebook, or list of blogs I follow, no beautiful family photo at the top, and no button to conveniently email me with questions.   While, I hope to snazzify my look in the near future, it isn't a priority at this moment.  So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered  several comments from someone researching the same Guilfoil (the officially correct spelling) line.  How did she find me?  What happened to being invisible?  I know that this blog is on the internet, but I was operating on the assumption that I was the proverbial needle in a haystack. After all, I never registered my blog with Geneabloggers, I have a blog name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue and, doesn't include any "genealogy type" words in it that might attract a search.  What a surprise - a wonderful surprise, and then she told me that another Guilfoil descendant told her about my blog.  You mean there is another person who stumbled across me too?

I  realized the wonder of internet connections, when she told me that my  g-g-g-grandmother, Ellen Guilfoil, also had a brother Michael who lived in the Sabula/Clinton area.  We knew she had a brother, James because of the 1850 census I included in an earlier post but although we found other names similar to Guilfoil, we couldn't make a connection.  I only just discovered that Sabula is in two different counties - Clinton and Jackson - and it was closer to go to Illinois to get married than it was to go to Clinton because of the bridges.  So that means researching two states in addition to two counties even when they didn't move.  I never knew about Michael, AND she never knew about Ellen. Yippee, this is the my family connection to the Guilfoils that I found in Evergreen cemetery in Sabula, Iowa.  To top it off,  she isn't even a direct descendant.  She is descendant of Michael's wife, Zilpha's - don't ya just love the old names - and her second husband McGann. it turns out that Zilpha's will was the key to connecting the families.  Confusing?  Nah, I know this is clear and understandable for anyone who is interested in genealogy, unlike when I was telling my daughter. I got the eyeroll again, accompanied by a loud sigh.

Now for my biggest surprise. One hour after I returned home from my visiting with my double cousin, the phone rang.  As she introduced herself, I spaced out on her first and last name, because I only heard Guilfoil in the middle.  She was a descendant of the same Michael Guilfoil, mentioned above, and she didn't know about Ellen either.  How could this be when they were all listed in the census together?  Oh yeahhhh. . . . . Ellen was married and only her married name was listed.  Meanwhile, my new cousins wondered why the Guilfoils were living with the Gilshannons in Elk River township. They had run across the name, but didn't know how it connected to their Guilfoil family. Are you ready for this?  It turns out that John, Ellen's father, and James, her brother, were ALSO listed in the census in Jackson county just one month later living down the road from Michael. They were listed as Guilford in this census. As I looked at this new record that I had probably dismissed at sometime in the past, it became clear that it was definitely them.  What incredible luck this was because if this had been reversed with the Jackson county census was taken first and the Clinton county second, they might not have been listed at all.

Wow!  Now I began to doubt myself.  I needed to find some tangible record of Ellen Guilfoil but where?  We have not yet found a death record and our trip to Clinton didn't turn up her burial location. After thinking and re-thinking, I decided to take my own advice. I was browsing Ancestry.com one day last week during my lunch hour when I  thought I would check out the Illinois Archives.  Surely, I had checked for her here before, but let's give it one more try before the bell rings and I am back to teacher mode.  Groom's name: Gilshannon and it's multitude of variations. . . . no luck.  Then Bride's name:  Guilfoil. . . . bingo! And with the correct spelling.  It listed  an Ellen Guilfoil marriage to Thomas Gulshan in 1847 in JoDaviess county, Illinois.  I couldn't believe it. I then followed the path explaining how to obtain a copy of the original record and called The Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) at Northern Illinois University.  The nice young man took my information and explained that there would be no charge.  Unbelievable!

Then a few days ago, I received the following record.  This documents the previously assumed.

Thomas and Ellen - I now pronounce you man and wife!

Genealogy is just so much fun.

Editorial Note: I do realize that a surname Saturday post is intended to be posted on Saturday, but I started it on Saturday so I think it still qualifies.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Wordless Wednesday

I know what you're thinking. There's no way she can post a "Wordless Wednesday".  But really what more is there to say about this. . . a much younger me with my grandfather at a movie premiere. He was the theatre manager.