Friday, May 19, 2017

What's In a Name? Frustration!

This post will be relatively short because I am a bit frustrated. Here is why.

My last name is Wilkinson. It is a very popular name in England, the place I do much of my genealogy research. It is also a very popular name here in the USA in one time period in which I spend considerable research energy. My father, Fred James Wilkinson, most likely graduated from a New Hampshire teachers college, most likely in the late 1940's, from graduate school in Boston, Massachusetts, most likely in the early- to mid-1950's, and from Harvard University's doctoral program while I was living overseas in 1964.

The dates of his Bachelor and Masters degrees are what I am looking for, so far, unsuccessfully. I have contacted school administrators and am spending time researching what I can in newspapers, hoping I will find a clue or two. That is where the frustration is. You see, in the same time period as my study, a very well-known major college football coach was at the peak of his popularity and skill. And newsworthiness. His teams were great and he knew how to spread their popularity. Thus, he garnered many headlines in many newspapers (a major source of study for me) nationwide.

His name? Coach Bud Wilkinson, from my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. He is not a relative.

OH, how frustrating it is, trying to find articles about my Dad, Fred Wilkinson, when my search turns up 30-50 name matches to Bud Wilkinson, even from small, local Massachusetts and New Hampshire newspapers.

But as I keep saying (mostly for my benefit) if it was easy, everyone would do it and there would be no fun or challenge.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Travel Records Discovered

Earlier this week, while I was searching for documents I thought I had to continue a line of investigation of my ancestors - a letter I thought I had read recently and a few photographs I though my deceased Aunt had sent in a box that might be in my basement - I came across a collection of federal-green note books from the former Federal Supply Service, each one filled with lined pages with "Memoranda" on the cover. Years ago, these small notebooks were kept in federal office supply cabinets and were used by federal employees for all kinds of reasons.

The copies I have are mostly filled with irrelevant information, but there are two with entries that contain recorded information I long ago forgot I even kept...details on what would turn out to be my final 11-day permanent-change-of-station, or PCS, road trip from Anchorage, Alaska, to Grand Rapids, Michigan, after I had accepted my final promotion in a 30-year federal career. These were the paper records of that PCS move, including associated gas, hotel, and food receipts.

This blog entry is not specifically related to my own climb up my family tree. I am, however, very sensitive to the longevity of anything put on the Internet, which this will be, and hope that someday, in some way, these small data points might fill blanks for one of my descendants or might answer a question one of them might have as they climb their own tree and encounter my branch. They are the kind of records I wish I had for my own ancestors, but which I have neither found nor expect to find.

This small table might also give a reader some indication of how long a focused road trip from Washington to Michigan across the Northern Plains, done in Spring, in a 2002 Dodge Ram 2500 4X4 pickup with a Lance 1135 camper and everything I thought I would need for 60 days of temporary housing, would take. This was not a luxurious trip one might take on vacation, but was taken "to get there" and show up for work on Monday, May 7, 2007.

(For reference, this was about 2 months before I bought the house I live in now, just before the worldwide financial crisis of 2007/2008. Real estate in my part of Michigan has not improved much; my house continues to be "underwater," meaning I owe more than it is worth on the market.)

Here it is.

April 26, 2007

Depart: Anchorage, AK
Mileage: 50013
Fuel price: $3.19

Arrive: Whittier, AK
Mileage: 50110 (97)

April 26, 2007 - May 1, 2007

Aboard the Alaska Marine Highway System vessel M/V Malaspina en route to Bellingham, WA

May 1, 2007

Arrive and depart: Bellingham, WA
Mileage: 50,110

Arrive: Seattle, WA
Mileage: 50,215
Fuel price: $3.59

Arrive: Vantage, WA
Mileage: 50,355
Fuel price: $3.9

Arrive: Coeur d'Alene, ID
Mileage: 50,532
Fuel price: $2.94

May 2, 2007

Arrive: Frenchtown, MT
Mileage: 50,685
Fuel price: $2.99

Arrive: Bozeman, MT
Mileage: 50,902
Fuel price: $2.9
May 3, 2007

Arrive: Hardin, MT
Mileage: 51,092
Fuel price: $2.99

Arrive: Gillette, WY
Mileage: 51,279
Fuel price: $2.76

Arrive: Western, WY
Mileage: 51,464
Fuel price: $2.99

May 5, 2007

Arrive: Chamberlain, SD
Mileage: 51,639
Fuel price: $3.06

Arrive: Sioux Falls, SD
Mileage: 51,774
Fuel price: $2.94

Arrive: Fairmont, MN
Mileage: 51,896
Fuel price: $2.97

May 6, 2007

Arrive: Rochester, MN
Mileage: 52,023
Fuel price: $2.99

Arrive: Mauston, WI
Mileage: 52,162
Fuel price: $3.05

Arrive: Rockford, IL
Mileage: 52,303
Fuel price: $3.15

Arrive terminus: Grand Rapids, MI
Mileage: 52,579


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Who Are You, Elizabeth? Please Let Me Find You

There is not much that can be said about brick walls, true brick walls, other than to describe the frustration and angst they create. I have been dealing with one in my recent ancestry.

As I have written before, I have no written records or photographs of my grandparents and they never talked about their pre-immigration lives. In fact, they hardly even acknowledged living in England, so I know almost nothing about my roots. Everything I know I have gleaned through painstaking, often frustrating research. Such has been the case with my positively identifying my paternal grandfather's father, my great-grandfather.

I heard his name only occasionally as a child. He was named either Samuel or he was named Sam, which can either be a true name or a shortened version of Samuel. I am relatively sure that both of those point to him because of my childhood memory of hearing my grandfather mention that name, though never the "here is a story about my father, Sam" sense. I also have found supporting documents leading me to conclude that both identify the same person. However, without any more evidence, I can only conclude a high likelihood, not an absolute certainty. For me, that is good enough for now, though my search is not done.

But he is not the brick wall that is the subject of this post.

Great-grandfather Sam married a woman named Elizabeth or Eliza, depending on which record I review. That is the first problem - trying to determine the correct name. I originally thought that census enumerators and other record keepers were merely shortening 'Elizabeth' into 'Eliza,' which I found to be a fairly common result, but when I dug a bit deeper, I also learned that 'Eliza' was a perfectly acceptable name by itself. It was not just a shortened version of Elizabeth, but was relatively popular stand-alone name in late-1800's England, the land and time of her birth and upbringing.

That leaves me with the possibility that my great-grandmother is named either Elizabeth or Eliza, though most of the evidence points to Elizabeth. And that is the easy part because she has become my brick wall. Why, you ask?

What I do not know is her last name is.

There are two likely choices, Mitchell or Wakefield and so far, I cannot conclude to a high likelihood which it is. I have official documents that point to each of them and each one of the names is supported in one way or another, but so far, I have found nothing that helps me pin down the correct one. And, of course, it is also possible that neither of those is her correct last name. Wakefield and Mitchell do seem to be the strong choices, though.

USA and England census documents only show Sam as being married to "Elizabeth Wilkinson." Other supporting documents show Sam or Samuel being married to "Elizabeth" with no last name being listed for her. So far, I have not located Sam's marriage certificate, so I cannot validate to whom he was married--the marriage happened before he immigrated to the USA. I have also found nothing documenting her unmarried name to a high degree of certainty.

Being an experienced investigator, I have tried to approach this puzzle in all the ways I can think of with the hope of finding the clue that will open up this case for me. But I recall something I was told long ago by an instructor of mine. It was in reference to investigations and applies to genealogical research.

Not all clues lead somewhere. Not all questions have answers. Sometimes, the sidewalk just ends and doesn't go anywhere.

I am not ready to give up this search yet. Many others, including professional genealogists, have encountered brick walls that have taken years to break down. Mine might be one of those.