Sunday, August 31, 2014

52 Ancestors #35: Crossing the Line Ceremony

Ancestor Name: Albert Paul DAGUTIS

My husband's uncle, Albert Paul Dagutis, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He enlisted on 14 February 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland, and served on the repair ship USS Alcor and an attack transport USS Harry Lee before being transferred to the destroyer USS Blue in time for its commissioning ceremony on 20 March 1944.

On the way to the Pacific Fleet, the sailors aboard the USS Blue crossed the Equator on 1 September 1944 at 165 degrees longitude.

The USS Blue crossed the equator at 00000.0N 1650000.0W; map
courtesy of Google Maps

Albert must have participated in a Crossing the Line ceremony because he received a certificate from that ceremony and kept it until he died in 1987. It's in our personal collection now.

The Royal Court of Neptunus Rex receiving lowly pollywogs of the Blue
into his domain and duly initiating them into the Royal Order of
Trusty Shellbacks; photograph courtesy of War Diary of USS Blue
Destroyer 744

For those landlubbers reading along today, the Crossing the Line Ceremony is a maritime tradition that is so old, according to Captain Bob Allan, "that no accurate assessment of its origins" can be determined.

It is a rite that commemorates a sailor's first crossing of the Equator. Ceremonies vary a quite bit but usually King Neptune presides, wearing a gold crown and holding a trident. The cast usually includes Queen Amphitrite and Davey Jones as well as many others. At the end of the ceremony pollywogs and tadpoles -- those who have never previously crossed the Equator -- become Shellbacks.

A pollywog sentenced to the stocks by the Royal Court; photograph
courtesy of War Diary of USS Blue Destroyer 744

In the War Diary of the USS Blue Destroyer 744, crossing the Equator was described as follows:

"Three days after Task Force 58 sortied from Eniwetok, it crossed the Equator. Neputunus Rex and his trusty shellbacks initiated many lowly pollywogs while the ship was in his royal domain of latitude 00-00 degrees. 

Thus, it was a salty group which turned northward the next day to launch the initial assaults on Palau and the Philippines. The opening of the Philippines Campaign in September 1944 was the beginning of combat experience for the Blue."

Newly initiated shellbacks display the unmerciful work of the Royal
Barber; photograph courtesy of War Diary of USS Blue
Destroyer 744

I am a little puzzled, though. His previous ship was the USS Harry Lee. After supporting the North African and Sicily invasions, the USS Harry Lee set sail for Wellington, New Zealand, on 12 October 1943 from Norfolk, Virginia, via the Panama Canal and San Franscisco. I cannot figure out how a ship sails to Wellington from San Francisco without crossing the equator. The Navy muster rolls indicated he didn't leave that ship until some time after 16 December 1943.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Albert Paul Dagutis was the youngest son of Adam Peter and Cecelia (Klimasansluski) Dagutis and was born on 18 March 1920 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. His father died when he was five years old. His mother moved with several of her sons to Hamtramck, Michigan, in time for the 1930 census to be enumerated, but by 1935, they were back in West Hazleton, Pennsylvania. Albert was the only child to graduate from high school.  He enlisted in the Navy on 14 February 1942, just two short months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, at the age of 21. He served with the Navy as a Fireman until 20 November 1945 when he was discharged. He settled in Michigan where at least two of his brothers were living with their wives and children. According to my husband, he never owned a car and took the bus everywhere. He died in Traverse City, Michigan, on 16 February 1987, the year before my husband and I were married. So I never got to meet Uncle Al.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shot down Over Cambodia

On 19 December 1971, Warrant Officer Thomas William Skiles was piloting a Hughes Cayuse Observation (OH-6) helicopter on a bomb damage assessment run southeast of Dambe, Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia. The aircraft received intense automatic weapons fire and burst into flames and crashed. WO Skiles' remains were not recovered. His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu memorial.

The Honolulu Memorial is located within the National Memorial of the
Pacific. On either side of the grand stairs leading to the memorial are eight
Courts of the Missing on which are inscribed the names of those missing
from World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam; photograph
courtesy of members Harold and Wanda Blackwell

WO Skiles served with the Air Cavalry Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, known as the "Blackhorse Regiment." At a Blackhorse reunion some years ago, Brig Gen Terry L Tucker, who was a colonel with the regiment during Vietnam, gave a speech about his work on the Joint Task Force "Full Accounting." In that speech he spoke about WO Skiles:

For the past 2 years, I have been privileged to command Joint Task Force "Full Accounting." In that assignment I led 160 outstanding men and women from all services on a mission to achieve the fullest possible accounting of Americans still unaccounted for as a result of the war in Southeast Asia. We conducted over 1,000 investigations and 125 recovery operations and brought home 67 Americans to their families in that 2 years. Let me tell you about one case that I shared with my brother Blackhorse troopers at the July reunion.

In January 1998, we investigated the site of a 19 December 1971 OH-6 helicopter crash in central Cambodia. In March 1999, we excavated that crash site. The recovery team did not find remains of the crew. However, they did find several items of personal effects. Found were a military identification card and part of another card with an unidentified sticker on it. The recovery team could clearly identify the photograph and name on the identification card, but could not identify the sticker on the second card. Upon my arrival, several possible explanations were offered as to what the sticker might be. After listening to their speculation, I opened my wallet, removed my Blackhorse Association Membership Card, and showed them the exact symbol they were trying to figure out. It was a Blackhorse patch.

The crew of that OH-6 was 1st Lt Peter Forame and WO Thomas Skiles, Air Cavalry Troop, 11 ACR, two of the last Blackhorse troopers to die in Southeast Asia. They were piloting an OH-6A scout helicopter on a bomb damage assessment mission southeast of Dambe, Cambodia. They were hit by .51 caliber and .30 caliber machine gun fire and crashed into a tree line. The helicopter exploded upon impact and was completely destroyed by fire in a short time. Two other helicopters attempted to recover Lt Forame and WO Skiles, but were driven off by heavy automatic weapon fire and rocket propelled grenades. With one helicopter suffering extensive damage. After helicopter gunships arrived to suppress the enemy fire, it was verified that the helicopter was destroyed and that there were no survivors. Further attempts to recover the pilots were unsuccessful despite numerous airstrikes on known and suspected enemy positions.

Thomas William Skiles; source of photograph

Thomas William Skiles, my sixth cousin, would have been 65 years old on 31 August had he survived the war in Southeast Asia.

Thomas William Skiles was my 6th cousin. His great grandmother was a Beard. He was born on 31 August 1949 in El Paso, Texas, to William and Dorothy Lou (Warriner) Skiles. On 3 May 1971 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and was killed in action on 19 December 1971 in Cambodia. He was married and left a wife and at least one son to mourn his death, likely two. One son has left a lovely memorial to him on

Monday, August 25, 2014

Worldwide Genealogy: Sharing a Small Success

Yesterday was the 25th of the month so it was my day to contribute a post to Worldwide Genealogy -- A Geneaglogical Collaboration; and this month I am sharing a small success I had recently, discovering a "new" first cousin once removed and her trove of old photographs!

This photograph is of my cousin's parents and some of her siblings:

My newly discovered cousin's family

I hope you'll click over to read my post entitled, Sharing a Small Success.

Researching Robert Muir (1875-1956), my great grandfather, has been a challenge that has taught me genealogy is a collaborative endeavor. I learned from my new cousin Robert Muir did not die in Tennessee, but rather in Tazewell County, Virginia, which explains why Tennessee could never find his death certificate!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

52 Ancestors #34: James Muir, Scoundrel

Ancestor Name: James MUIR (1844-1926)

James Muir was one of my paternal great great grandfathers. The Muir family is the only "recent" immigrant family in Dad's tree. His other greats were all from families whose ancestors arrived in the American Colonies before the Revolutionary War. When Dad was actively researching his family history, he was unable to do much with the Muir family because most of his research was conducted before the Internet and he did not have access to Scottish records.

Genealogy and my research are one of the few topics that keeps Dad's attention for a long time and makes it easier to talk to him after he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in late 2012 and can no longer speak. My New Year's resolution was to concentrate on the Muir family after discovering the ScotlandsPeople website. Eight months later, I've learned James Muir had 78 known nieces and nephews!

James Muir was born on 2 August 1844 in East Kilbride parish in Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was baptized in the local parish church on the 22nd of the same month. When the 1851 Scotland census was enumerated, he was living with several siblings in Kirkton Village, but his parents were not at home the night the census was taken.

Ten years later, James was living at 2 Birkenshaw in Larkhall with his father and several siblings. He was 17 and already working full-time in the coal mines. His father was no longer working in the mines but his older brothers still living at home were also miners. His mother, Henrietta (Brown) Muir had died, likely before 1856.

In 1871 James Muir's father had been dead two years and his siblings had scattered in all directions. James was a lodger in the home of Daniel Lyle, another coal miner, on 39 Stewarton Street in Cambusnethan. Two years later he married Margaret Semple on 4 Jul 1873 in Swinhill, Dalserf, Lanarkshire. She was the single mother of a young girl named Janet "Jessie" Semple. Margaret was pregnant with their first child at the time of their marriage, who was born on 4 October 1873. Their first son was named Robert Muir, after his paternal grandfather. Sadly, little Robert died on 25 January 1874 of hydrocephalus, which is the build up of too much cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. It is commonly called "water on the brain."

Parish church in Dalserf; photograph commissioned by me

My great grandfather also named Robert Muir was born on 16 March 1875. After my great grandfather, five known children were born in Scotland:

  • Peter Semple Muir (14 February 1877 -- 23 March 1877)
  • Peter Semple Muir (5 July 1878 -- 8 September 1878)
  • Henrietta Brown Muir (29 July 1882 -- 9 January 1884)
  • Margaret "Maggie" Muir (6 May 1884 -- 29 August 1966)
  • Peter Semple Muir (3 February 1886 -- 30 October 1947)
Peter Semple was Margaret's father and naming a child in his honor was obviously important to her.

On 27 May 1887 James boarded the Anchor Line steamship Ethiopia in Glasgow and sailed to the United States. He arrived in New York City on the 6th of June and traveled to Streator, Illinois. Because the 1890 census was destroyed by fire, I do not know if he had relatives or friends who had already immigrated and settled in Streator or if he saw advertisements for Streator at the train station. 

Anchor Line Steamship Ethiopia, built in Glasgow in 1873

James' wife, Margaret, and the living children followed him to Illinois, arriving in the U.S. on 30 September 1887. Margaret's daughter, Jessie, also traveled with her mother and half-siblings.  Margaret and James had two more children in Illinois: Alexander Muir (13 May 1889 -- 6 May 1957) and Jane "Janie" Muir (29 November 1894 -- 23 January 1990).

In 1900 James was living in Mystic, Iowa, a lodger at the home of Mrs. Margaret Greenbank. Appanoose was described as "one continuous mining camp" when James arrived. He claimed he was divorced. His wife, Margaret (Semple) Muir, however, was living in Reading, Illinois. According to her census records, she still believed she was married.

James married Margaret (McIntosh) Greenbank on 9 January 1913 in Princeton, Missouri. Princeton is in Mercer County, Missouri, which borders Iowa. I am left wondering after looking at the map, if Mercer County was a "Gretna Green" county, meaning it was possible to get a quickie marriage. Or perhaps county officials didn't look too closely at your documentation. I've found no evidence that James Muir actually divorced his first wife, nor can I find any evidence that Margaret Greenbank was divorced from her husband, Thomas, who was still alive, though living in the Mount Pleasant Hospital for the Insane.

Proximity of Appanoose County to Mercer County; image courtesy of

When the 1915 Iowa state census was taken, James claimed he had lived in Iowa since 1895. If that is true, then he left his first wife when her youngest children was barely a year old, which makes him a scoundrel in my book.

James Muir died on 18 March 1926 at his home in Mystic of arteo-sclerosis and chronic bronchitis at the ripe old age of 81. He was miner, retired from the Egypt Coal Company. He was interred in Highland Cemetery in Mystic on 20 March 1926. His second wife was the informant listed on the death certificate. She is also buried in Highland Cemetery.

Margaret "McIntosh" Greenbank Muir as a young woman;
photograph courtesy of member pattilee3

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

James Muir was born on 2 August 1844 in East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, Scotland, to Robert and Henrietta (Brown) Muir. He married Margaret Semple on 4 July 1873 in Swinehill (now Swinhill), Dalserf, Scotland. She had 11 children born alive and five lived past infancy. I have only discovered ten children and am still searching for the unknown child. She had an illegitimate daughter in 1871. Their living children born in Scotland were Robert, Margaret, and Peter Semple. Alexander and Jane were born in Illinois after the family immigrated in 1887. James Muir left his family between 1895 and 1900 and moved to Mystic, Iowa. On 9 January 1913 he married Margaret (McIntosh) Greenbank in Princeton, Missouri. Both of them had been married previously. James' first wife Margaret (Semple) Muir died on 31 May 1920 in Kirksville, Missouri, and is buried in Novinger Cemetery. James died on 18 March 1926 in Mystic and is buried in Highland Cemetery, which is located in the same city. His second wife died on 19 February 1936 and is also buried in Highland Cemetery.

Scottish Ships for Scottish Passengers
Mining in Appanoose County
I'm Sorry Great Great Grandma
Was Grandma's Grandma a Hussy
Genealogy Fosters Global Friendships

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fatal Coal Pit Accident

William Brown Shaw was born on 5 Jun 1866 in Lesmahagow, Scotland, at his grandparent's home. He was the illegitimate son of Mary Watson Shaw (about 1846-1918), the second wife of my great great grand uncle, Robert Orr Muir. No father was identified when William's birth was registered by his grandfather.

Robert Orr Muir married William's mother on 23 June 1871 and the blended family included Robert's three living children from his first marriage to Jane Paton Loudon, his new wife, Mary Watson Shaw, William, and William's half-sister, Margaret McNeil Shaw, also illegitimate. Robert and Mary produced nine of their own children between 1872 and 1887.

In 1878, at the age of 12, William followed his step-father Robert into the coal mines. He worked at the Auchlochan Mine near Coalburn. On 5 October 1878, William was ascending shaft of the No. 2 pit, known as "Major Pit;" when he fell out of the cage, used to raise and lower the miners; and sustained fatal injuries. He survived 18 hours after the accident but died the next day at the home of his mother and step-father.

From the Register of Corrected Entries for William Brown Shaw's
death registration; source ScotlandsPeople

His step-father registered his death with the parish office on 7 October. He provided "Andrew Brown, farmer (reputed father)" to the registrar -- the first and only time a possible father was mentioned in records. Prior to her marriage, Mary Shaw worked as a domestic servant at the 270-acre Auchenheath Farm, owned by William Braxter. He employed several domestic and farm servants and I have often wondered if that is where she met William's father.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Newly Discovered Photo of My Dad

I connected recently with a first cousin once removed on She sent me several old photographs of her family, including her paternal grandfather, who is also my maternal great grandfather, Robert Muir. One of the photographs included Robert Muir with a young boy. That young boy, was my father and was taken sometime before Dad was 10 years old. This photograph was previously unknown to our family.

Robert Muir and his grandson, who is my father; photograph
courtesy of a newly discovered cousin

The idea for this post came from

Sunday, August 17, 2014

52 Ancestors #33: An Early Feminist of the Best Kind

I discovered May Hairston after receiving an application to the Daughters of the American Revolution for an ancestor of my 4 times great grandfather, Samuel Beard.

Lineage portion of May Julia (Jopling) Hairston's DAR application
(the first name of Samuel Beard's wife is incorrect)

The application was submitted by May Julia (Jopling) Hairston. She descended from Elizabeth "Betsey" Beard, Samuel Beard's daughter. I did not know the name of Betsey's spouse or their  children. So I had new avenues to research. I entered the brief information from the application[1] into my tree and began searching for source documents to validate everything.  A couple of days later, my tree looked like this:

A portion of my Jennings/Lange/Muir/Schalin family tree on

And then I discovered Samuel and May Julia (Jopling) Hairston's daughter, May.

May Hairston's timeline from my Jennings/Lange/Muir/Schalin
family tree on

What an interesting story there must be buried in that timeline.  She traveled by herself (surmised from looking at the passenger lists) as a young woman to England in 1928[2] and from Manila in 1933. She never married as was buried along with several siblings at Berry Hill cemetery in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

What did she do on those trips to foreign shores? There had to be a backstory. I believe I found the beginnings of that backstory in a brief 25 May 1935 article in the Danville Bee. 

"Miss May Hairston, of Wenonda, who has been doing mission work for the Episcopal church in foreign fields will speak to the members of the Women's Auxillary of the church of the Epiphany Monday afternoon at four o'clock in the chapel.  Members of missionary societies of other churches are invited to attend."

Her death certificate confirmed she never married, was living in Hendersonville, North Carolina at the time of her death, and was a retired public school teacher. Her obituary, which was published the day after her death in the Danville Bee told me an abbreviated version of her life story:

Published in the Danville Bee on 21 January 1975

But this was the best find of all -- a photo of May in the 1920 Salem College Sights and Insights yearbook. I just love how one clue can lead to so many others!

May Hairston in Sights and Insights, the Salem College yearbook;
image courtesy of the University of North Carolina's Digital NC project

The text accompanying the photograph above had this to say about May:

"Mae Hairston, Danville, Virginia, Dear little Mae, the youngest member of our class. Smart? Well, we'll say she is! Mae hails from Ole Virginia, and a more loyal soul of that dear old state never breathed. Everyone loves Mae; loves her for her generous heart and unspoiled frankness. Who would dream that in her heart she desires "Rights for Women"? Well, she does, and we're proud of her!"

And so my tree continues to grow. It includes an interesting cast of characters from murderers to missionaries.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

May Hairston was born on 10 February 1904 in Virginia to Samuel and May Julia (Jopling) Hairston. She never married but did missionary work for the Episcopal church in foreign countries. She died on 20 January 1975 in Hendersonville, North Carolina, of congestive heart disease and is buried at Berry Hill cemetery in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. She is my 4th cousin once removed.

[1] DAR standards for admission have certainly become more stringent. A lineage with no dates to be found is no longer acceptable. If a new member wants to use Samuel Beard as their patriot ancestor, they will have some work to do.

[2] This was likely the outward bound trip to Manila, Philippines, where May did missionary work.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Bermuda Gunpowder Plot

Today is the 239th anniversary of a little known American Revolutionary War event -- the Bermuda Gunpowder Plot. The Continental Congress had voted early in the war to ban all trade with British colonies loyal to Great Britain. Yet Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris colluded with Colonel Henry Tucker of Bermuda to deliver much needed gunpowder to the Americans. Colonel Tucker was one of the most prominent merchants on the island and his son president of the royal Governor's Council and son-in-law of the governor.  Two of his other sons, St. George Tucker and Thomas Tudor Tucker later became famous in the newly formed United States. Philip Hamilton, author of The Making and Unmaking of a Revolutionary Family: The Tuckers of Virginia, wrote that the Colonel's "ambition was to advance the political status of his growing clan."

Colonel Henry Tucker (1713-1787); image
courtesy of member RCVinson

The CIA website describes the plot as follows:

"In July 1775, Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris worked out a plan in collaboration with Colonel Henry Tucker, the head of a distinguished Bermuda family, to obtain the store of gunpowder in the Royal Arsenal at Bermuda. To give Bermuda much-needed foodstuffs in exchange for the powder, the Continental Congress resoled on 15 July 1775 to permit the exchange of food for guns and gunpowder brought by any vessel to an American port.

On the night of 14 August 1775, two Patriot ships kept a rendezvous with Colonel Tucker's men off the coast of Bermuda, and sent a raiding party ashore. An American sailor was lowered into the arsenal through an opening in the roof, and the doors opened from the inside. The barrels of gunpowder were rolled to waiting Bermudian whaleboats and transported to the American ships. Twelve days later half of the powder was delivered to Philadelphia and half to American forces at Charleston."

Bermuda eventually sided with Great Britain during the Revolutionary War and the Continental Congress cut of all trade, leaving the island severely short of food. Many ship owners turned to privateering and wreaked havoc on American shipping during the remainder of the war.

Tucker House in Bermuda, built in the 1750s. The house is now a museum;
photo courtesy of the museum's website

My sister-in-law is very distantly related to this Tucker dynasty.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

52 Ancestors #32: The Too Brief Life of Ida Mae (Riggin) Muir

Ancestor Name: Ida Mae (RIGGIN) Muir

All I knew about my great grandmother Ida Mae (Riggin) Muir for years was her death year. Grandma told me she was three when her mother died and when her father remarried she and her older brother, Henry, went to live with their paternal grandmother, Margaret (Semple) Muir. When Grandma's grandma died in 1920, my grandmother, Alice Muir, was 14 years old. From that time until she married in 1924, she had to make her own way in the world.

I was able to discover many things about the Riggin family -- that one of their ancestors was a co-founder of Troy in Madison County, Illinois; another was an early member of the Madison Association to Oppose the Introduction of Slavery into Illnois; the family held family reunions every summer at Ida Mae's brother's summer place; many of her brothers and uncles worked for Donk Brothers Coal Mine until the coal ran out in the 1920s; and on and on. But there was precious little to learn about my great grandmother, Ida Mae Riggin.

I did learn a few things. Ida Mae was born on 8 August 1879, the fifth of six children born to John Wesley "Wes" and his second wife, Clementine (Wells) Riggin. Her father had three children by a previous marriage. He died in 1881 when little Ida Mae was barely two years old. Her mother married William Collins an English immigrant in 1898.

Ida Mae married Robert Muir on 12 October 1902. She had their only son Henry on 29 May 1903 and my grandmother, Alice, on 16 March 1906. Three years later Ida Mae died on 3 Aug 1909. Early on in my research I discovered her tombstone on She was buried in the Troy City Cemetery.

Ida M. Muir tombstone at the Troy City Cemetery in
Troy, Illinois; photo courtesy of Findagrave member

Last summer, my brother, husband and I cleaned out Mom and Dad's house prior to selling it. I came home with all Dad's genealogy files and all the family photograph albums. When sorting the papers and trying to create some sort of order out of chaos, I found Ida Mae's obituary:

Ida Mae (Riggin) Muir's obituary as it appeared in the Troy
Weekly Call
; personal collection

Mrs. Robert Muir, nee Ida Riggin, died at the home of her mother, Mrs. William Collins, in Troy, Tuesday morning at 3:30 o'clock, after an illness of six months. Mrs. Muir contracted a severe case of the grippe in March which later developed into tuberculosis, causing her death on the day above mentioned. She was well known here having kept house for her brothers the Messrs. Riggin's [sic] for about four years. If she would have lived until Sunday she would have reached the age of thirty years. She was married in 1902 and of this union were born two children, Henry aged six years and Alice aged three who with the father survive her. Mr. and Mrs. Muir resided here for about a year after their marriage, then locating in Missouri where they remained for about two years and then to O'Fallon, where they have since resided. About three weeks previous to her death, she express a wish to be taken to her mother's home in Troy, and the journey was immediately made. She was a devoted wife and daughter, a kind and loving mother, and a dear friend to all and he sympathy of this community is with the bereft family in their affliction. Deceased leaves besides her mother, husband and children, five brothers, Orland Riggin of Chicago; T. A. and Lawrence W. Riggin of this city; H. W. Riggin of Wichita, Kans.; and J. A. Riggin of Oakland, Cal., who were all at her bedside on Sunday before the end came. Many friends mourn her demise, as she was a woman that was loved by all and with whom she came in contact with. The funeral which was largely attended took place from the residence of her mother Wednesday afternoon at two o'clock, the remains being then laid to rest in the Troy Cemetery. The floral offerings were many and beautiful showing the high esteem in which this young woman was held.

And sadly that is all I know about my great grandmother.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Ida Mae Riggin was born on 8 August 1879 in Troy, Illinois, to John Wesley and Clementine (Wells) Collins. She married Robert Muir on 12 October 1902 in Collinsville, Illinois. Robert had emigrated from Scotland in 1887 and was a coal miner. They had two children -- Henry in 1903 and Alice in 1906. Ida Mae Riggin died a few days before her 30th birthday on 3 August 1909 and was buried at the Troy City Cemetery.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mystery Behind the Documents

Documents are certainly important to a genealogist or family historian as they provide the skeleton compiled of facts and dates about our ancestors. And sometimes a skeleton is all we are lucky enough to get. For some of our ancestors we never can find letters, or diaries or recollections of others about them and we have to settle for the skeleton.

I recently built the skeleton of one of my ancestors, using ScotlandsPeople to acquire vital records and census information. Agnes Riddell McCormick is actually the step-daughter, or possibly the daughter, of my first cousin twice removed, Robert Riddell (1861-1944). Every public family tree on that includes children lists Agnes as Robert's daughter and oldest child. But for some strange reason I couldn't find her birth registration using Riddell as her surname.

Then I noticed that her year of birth based on the age listed on several census records would have been 1884. Robert Riddell married Catherine McCormick on 19 December 1884. What if Agnes was born before the marriage, which seemed likely and not all that unusual in Scotland I've discovered. One of my Scottish research instructors at a genealogy conference called it "try before you buy!"

After a lot of search variations, I found Agnes. Her name when her birth was registered was Agnes Riddell McCormick and she was born on 21 February 1884, ten months prior to her mother's marriage to Robert. No father was included on the birth registration and Agnes was identified as illegitimate.

Snippet from Agnes Riddell McCormick's birth registration;
personal collection

Agnes lived with Robert and her mother, Catherine, until she married on 1 January 1903. On her marriage registration her name is listed as Agnes McCormick and only her mother was listed as her parent.  Even on her death registration no father was listed. Yet the birth registrations of her seven children tell a different tale.

The surname Agnes used when she registered the births of her three oldest children -- John, Jean, and Agnes -- was McCormick the same name listed on Agnes' birth registration in 1884. Even when her husband, John, registered the birth of their fourth child, Ann, he listed his wife's maiden name as McCormick. And then things changed. Child number five, born in 1907, was named Robert Riddell Douglas, after his mother's step-father/father. When John Douglas registered his son, Robert's birth, he listed his wife's maiden name as Riddell. The use of Riddell as Agnes' maiden name continued for the birth of her youngest two children, Catherine McCormick Douglas and Charles Douglas.

Snippet from Robert Riddell Douglas' birth registration;
personal collection

What happened in 1907 when Robert Riddell Douglas was born that caused the change in maiden names? Did Robert Riddell finally acknowledge Agnes was his child? Was he such a softie that naming a grandchild after him caused the acknowledgement? Did he no longer care that Agnes may have been someone else's child? Or am I reading way too much into the documents? It's times like these I wish someone would have left a diary!

Agnes Riddell McCormick was born on 21 February 1884 at Hamilton, Scotland. She was the illegitimate daughter of Catherine McCormick, who subsequently married Robert Riddell on 19 December in New Monkland. Agnes McCormick married John Douglas, a railway carter, on 1 January 1903. They lived in Glasgow the entirety of their married life and had seven children from 1901 to 1911. (Yes, another illegitimate child!) Agnes Riddell (McCormick) Douglas died on 15 June 1929 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Her husband, John, died the following year on 29 Nov 1930 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Out of Africa: Breakfast at Kimingini

My Aunt Joan's father was a missionary in British East Africa in the 1920s. Her older brother, Homer, wrote an unpublished memoir about his life, and included many stories of the family's time in Africa. He followed in his father's footsteps and returned to Africa as a missionary in 1933. This is another story from his memoir:

Mining camps have been the setting for many a yarn. Sometimes tragic and other times hilarious. This little incident is sort of in between and just a bit ridiculous. Kimingini was quite a place as it flared into a mining center. Houses were built there tier above tier, ascending the slopes of the hill. Out there in the valley of the Yala river, on this unusual hill, a sort of modern city sprung up almost over night.

Kimingini is located Kakamega County, Kenya

General ordinary kinds of laborers were given quarters on the lower levels. As one climbed to the higher levels, the small houses were occupied by European personnel. Above this level one came to the homes of the white-collar office people. At the very top, overlooking the whole area, stood the mansion of the mine manager. Most of the small cottages cluster about the hillside, were by the nature of things, quite close together. Due to contour or irregularity of the terrain, the houses faced in odd directions. It just so happened that the home of my friend, Morton, had a fine view, directly into the kitchen of the house next door. 

As has been true through the years, of our mining camps anywhere, there were few women. It early developed that the bachelor house holder of Kimingini, had in general, very little knowledge of the intricacies of home making. It therefore was the custom in those camps for a bachelor to employ someone to care for those duties. 

Homer's friend hired a young man based on a recommendation in a language he could not read.

From the book entitled, Diamond Mines of South Africa,
by Gardner Williams

Coming out of the mine at the end of the day, Morton, found his clothes washed and pressed nicely. The house was clean and neat. Some of the food not all that bad. It turned out breakfast was the worst meal of all. At first, the bachelor, "bwana," speaks kindly to the cook: "Breakfast not good." The next morning, it was no better, and gradually the tone of bwana's voice changed; it became sort of hostile. Breakfast was still "not good." The cook sat for hours during the day, wondering what he could do to correct the situation. He'd hate to lose his fine position. At breakfast bwana was no longer patient. He called his cook a few names in Ki-Swahili, punctuating with some choice ones in English. Things were indeed very bad.

The cook gathered that the bacon was too greasy and that was why bwana was so displeased. The next morning, Bwana Morton was surprised. The table was set in good taste. The coffee pot and cup were there, smelling wonderful. The toast was not at all bad. The eggs were fried in an easily acceptable manner. Morton was most surprised by the bacon; it was not greasy. 

How did Morton's cook improve frying the bacon. Homer called the new process "Bacon ala Kimingini."

Lifting each slice of bacon from the frying pan, the boy very carefully held the ends, and gracefully ran the slice through his lips, sucking off the offending grease. He then arranged the breakfast in a neat manner. Placing his white cap, which all servants were want to wear, upon his head and donning a clean white gown, he delivered the breakfast to the dining room table. 

Homer's friend, Morton, likely worked for the Kimingini Gold Mining Company, which had been organized by the Tanganyika Concessions in July 1934. After formation, the company embarked on an intensive development program at Kakamega. By November 1938, the company was in liquidation.

NOTE:  Previous "Out of Africa" posts:

Doctor Livingstone, I Presume
The Kikuyu
The Eland Hunt
The Hippopotamus Hunt
Kagui and the Python
Water Buffalo Trouble
Baboon in the Sweet Potato Patch

Sunday, August 3, 2014

52 Ancestors #31: A Savior of the USS Indianapolis Survivors

Ancestor Name: William Graham CLAYTOR, Jr.

I have an ancestor who once wrote:

"If any family tree is shaken hard enough, I am sure it will produce stories of heroes and horse thieves. Lives to be proud of and some to regret. Your family tree, no doubt will be the same, so I think it is wise to remember that we are totally responsible for ourselves and our lives but we owe no debt to the past."

This is a story about one of the heroes.

I have written about William Graham Claytor, Jr., and his father before. Both were accomplished professionals who gave much to their communities and the country. But today I'd like to write about the highlight of William Graham Claytor's service during World War II.

Lt. Wilbur C. Gwinn was on a routine patrol mission. Flying low over the ocean he spotted an oil slick and followed it until he saw several men waving madly and floating in the vast Pacific ocean. He sent an urgent message to squadron headquarters and began dropping supplies to the survivors. Gwinn was stunned; a major ship must have sunk and he had received no word of it prior to his patrol mission. Gwinn was replaced by Lt. Marks, flying a PBY. As he approached the site, he believed he was on a wild goose chase and responding to a garbled message. He was incredulous when he arrived and made his own count of the survivors. Wouldn't someone know if a vessel carrying at least 150 men had been sunk?

USS Indianapolis survivors with a shark in the
water, the survivors worst enemy during the 5 days
before they were rescued; photograph from a
French website

Then Marks heard from the commander of the destroyer USS Cecil J. Doyle. In his book, Fatal Voyage: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis, Dan Kurzman describes this moment:

"...Claytor, a stone-faced officer with a will to match, who, like Marks, was a bright young lawyer and reserve officer endowed with a deep sense of personal mission in the war.

Anything up? Claytor asked.

Marks told him of our mission, but with skepticism. Claytor was puzzled by the report, too. Actually he'd heard of it minutes earlier from his own command and was heading toward the designated area to help in the rescue effort. If the report was accurate, the horror these men must be going through! What ship must have gone down? He could not have guessed that it was the USS Indianapolis -- commanded by Captain McVay, the husband of his dear cousin Louise." 

Commander William G. Claytor (center) with crew members from the
USS Cecil J. Doyle; photograph courtesy of member Steve

As Claytor neared the survivors, he lit up the ship's search lights, turning the clouds a pinkish white the survivors could see. It was the first glimmer of hope they'd had in several days.

"...Claytor had given the men the a pink cloud as a symbol of hope. Whoever was guiding him, it wasn't his superiors. He was breaking Navy rules repeatedly, but like Marks, was ready to risk court-martial if it meant saving even one life. 

Though sailing in submarine territory, Claytor had ordered his seamen to switch on two 24-inch search lights -- one to find the survivors in the water and avoid running over them and the other beamed to the heavens to let them know help was on the way. The danger was that any enemy submarine lurking in the area would find his ship a perfect target. But, given the circumstances, he felt that it was a calculated risk was warranted. Claytor had been well-trained to to calculate risks, and to bend rules when conditions so required. A native of Roanoke, Virginia, he had served as president of the Harvard Law Review and law clerk to Judge Learned Hand and Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis."

The USS Cecil J. Doyle was the first Navy ship on scene and immediately began plucking survivors out of the ocean. What they found was horrific. Soon several ships had arrived and the rescue continued in earnest. It is thought nearly 800 men survived the torpedo explosions and sinking yet 112 hours later only 300 men were rescued. The rest were victims of their injuries and sharks.

Captain McVay was court-marshaled, the only Navy man so punished for losing a ship in wartime. He committed suicide in 1968 but was finally vindicated by Congress in 2001. His second wife, the former Louise Claytor, died of cancer in 1961. William Graham Claytor, Jr. went on to become president of Southern Railway, secretary of the Navy, deputy secretary of Defense, acting secretary of Transportation, and president of Amtrak.

The main hall at Union Station in Washington, DC, is named Claytor Concourse in his honor.

To learn more about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and why it took so long for the survivors to be rescued, please read my brother's guest blog. My brother is a World War II historian and will be publishing a book in the near future.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

William Graham Claytor, Jr. was born 14 Mar 1912 in Roanoke, Virginia, to William Graham and Gertrude Harris (Boatwright) Claytor. His father was a prominent executive in the utility industry and his mother was a poet. He married Frances Murray Hammond and they had two children. He died on 14 May 1994 in Bradenton, Florida, and is buried at Fair View Cemetery in Roanoke. The reference in Dan Kuzman's book about his "dear cousin Louise" was tantalizing. No one with Claytors in their tree had a Louise Claytor. I traced her back to her great grandfather; her Claytor family came from southern Maryland and her father was a physician, who moved his family to Washington, DC, about 1900. I have yet to find a connection between the two Claytor lines.