Sunday, March 1, 2015

52 Ancestors #9: Grandma's Genalogy Notebook

Ancestor Name: Alice (MUIR) Jennings (1906-1993)

Many of you know I got my love of genealogy and family history from my father. Well, he got it from his mother, Alice (Muir) Jennings. When I was organizing my genealogy books and papers, I found, among Dad's possessions, a notebook in my grandmother's handwriting. Grandma Jennings was the only grandparent who lived to see me married. She took me on my first plane trip, spoiled me rotten and listened when I thought my parents weren't. We were very close. That's my close to home connection because home is where the heart is and Grandma Jennings is in my heart.

Her paternal grandparents were James Muir (c1848-1926) and Margaret (Semple) Muir (1849-1920). Grandma lived with her "Grandmum Maggie" after her mother died in 1909 until 1920 when Margaret died following an operation. Alice was 14 years old and found she had to make her own way in the world.

In 1924 she was working as maid and nanny for a family in West Virginia. She had taken their young son to the "talkies." The little boy could not yet read so Grandma read the movie to him. Behind her were a group of young men who mimicked her, generally having a wonderful time at her expense.

Marvin Edward and Alice (Muir) Jennings on vacation in 1951

She started walking out with one of those men. His name was Marvin Edward Jennings. He was 23 years old, from Roanoke, Virginia, and worked as a clerk for the railroad. Grandma always said they were a couple of misfits who did well together. She was blind in one eye; born with a detached retina. He had polio as a young child and was lame in one leg, wearing a brace and a special shoe to help him walk more normally.[1]

Alice Muir and Marvin Jennings married in East St. Louis, Illinois, on 13 May 1924. Their first child was born that September but died three months later. Two sons followed in 1927 and 1931.

Marvin Edward and Alice (Muir) Jennings
and their sons; personal collection

Neither of them experienced much parental love in their childhood. Grandma's mother died when she was three and her father quickly remarried and gave the children by his first wife to his mother. Grandpa's mother died when he was 5 years old; four years later his father put him in the Lutheran Orphanage in Salem, Virginia.

Perhaps because neither of my grandparents really got to know or receive parental love, both of them were always interested in their family history. I've found pages of information about the Jennings family written in my Grandfather's hand on railroad company stationery.  And then I found Grandma's notebook. It includes 39 pages of names and birth, death and marriage dates, starting with her great grand parents Peter and Janet (Torrance) Semple.

The first page of Grandma's notebook with my great great great
grandparents, Peter and Janet (Torrance) Semple at the top of the page;
personal collection

Grandma's research must have started with conversations with her paternal grandmother. There is no other explanation for some of the information in the notebook. But her cousin, Roberta, was also a big help. Her daughter was assigned a school pen pal project. She started writing to distant cousins in Scotland. Grandma and Roberta stayed in contact with some of them throughout much of their lives. Grandma was able to visit Scotland in the 1970s and met some of her distant cousins.

I took photographs of all the pages with my phone and sent them off to my Semple research collaborator in New Zealand, who has worked on the Semple line for years. We've found discrepancies in "Grandmum Maggie's" memory, but also new bits and bobs of information we never knew before. Most exciting for me was finding "Grandmum Maggie's" missing child. The 1900 and 1910 census indicated she had 11 child born alive and 6 were still living, but I could only find ten. I was able to verify the existence of this missing child with birth and death registration records. Her fifth son and the third one named Peter after her father lived just eleven days.

The page in Grandma's notebook listing the names of her Grandmum's
eleven children; personal collection

Grandma's genealogy notebook also made me re-examine my thinking about James Muir's birth date. I had an old Scottish church parish record that indicated he was born in on 2 August 1844 and baptized on 22 August. But his death certificate had 13 June 1845 as his birth date. Plus, the 1851 census indicated he was 2 years old. My conclusion is he was born on 13 June 1848 or 1849 and the James Muir for which I had a birth record was an older brother who had died before my great great grandfather was born.

Researching Grandma's notebook has been a delight.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Close to Home.

[1] That Grandpa Jennings was lame in one leg because of polio was the story my father, his son, had always heard. However, the application to admit him to the Lutheran orphanage said the lameness was caused by measles.

The Too Brief Life of Ida Mae (Riggin) Muir
My Grandfather and the Orphanage
The Lutheran Orphanage in Salem Virginia
Sunday's Obituary: A Real Find


  1. How exciting it must have been when you first found that notebook, and to read in her hand writing. Just the thought of someone before you having your interest. There probably isn't many during those times that researched their family. I wonder if they even knew the name genealogy? She's truly a treasure to have left you this treasure; I'm so jealous but happy for you.

  2. I have to admit that your first few paragraphs choked me up a bit. There's a lot of emotion there and it's finely written. What a treasure to have from your grandparents.

  3. Information written in her own hand, how wonderful. Even with a few things not quite right, I've found the information my mother left me invaluable in finding the real info.