Friday, December 27, 2013

Excerpt from "Letters from the Pacific"

These are two of the many letters written between Norma and Reinhart Kowallis while he was stationed on the island of Okinawa in 1945.  In these letters she talks about her sister's Audrey and Phyllis and Ruth and Glena, her brother LaMar, her parents, her brother-in-laws Wayne and Spence, her daughter Cheryl and nephews Jay and David, along with assorted other relatives and neighbors. The letters are currently being compiled into a book.

Left to right: Jay Butler, Audrey (Jensen) Garner, Norma (Jensen) Kowallis, Joseph M. Jensen, Ethel Jane (Chamberlain) Jensen, Glena Jensen, and David Butler. Cheryl Kowallis and Karla Garner are in front of the group in the wagon. Photo take in October 1945.

[1st letter]
Pleasant View, Utah
29 October 1945

Dearest Reinhart,

      Again I haven’t written for two days. Saturday morning we cleaned & in the afternoon I had to visit Sr. Wade & help her with her talk for conference. Friday night Audrey & I went down to the Singer Sewing Machine Co. We are starting to take a sewing course. It lasts 8 weeks & it is every Friday night. You get the course free when you buy a sewing machine. I have never taken advantage of mine so now that Audrey is buying one we decided to go down together & take the course. I will need to know all I can about sewing if we have any sized family at all & it is really a money saver if you can do it. Sunday afternoon I spent at the church practicing songs for our Singing Mother’s Chorus for Conference & then practicing for our play. We then received word that Mrs. Harris our neighbor had died, So we had to visit the family & make arrangements to fix lunch for them to eat on their way to Snowville–as the buriel was to take place there. They surely decided to have the funeral in a hurry–it was today. This morning I went down to Grace’s at 9 o’clock. She wasn’t ready so I started making her sandwiches. Mary Case came & helped me. Then Amelia Dickamore came & we packed six boxes of lunch. Amelia left & then Sr. Roylance came & we rode down to the Malan Mortuary with her. The funeral was held there. They wanted us to take care of the flowers & be the flower girls so we had that job too. Sr. Roylance had to go to the Doctor after the funeral so Grace & I shopped around, On the way home I had them stop at the Paramount Ice Cream & I treated them to malts. They won’t ever let me help with the gas so I repay this way. We got home about 4:30 this afternoon. We stopped & visited Mrs. Tennis. She has been sick. She is a Catholic, but we visit her just the same. She says if she wasn’t so old she would join our church.
      When I got home a package had just arrived from you. It was the neclace & the pins & turtles. Oh honey, I’m just so happy about this neclace. I like it even better than the other one. It is just so dainty with all of them the same color. Mom was glad to get the turtle too. She has is sitting on her little nick-nack shelf. I think it tickled her to have you remember her. I am not going to give the kids theres until Christmas. LaMar is sending three chains. They should be here about tomorrow & then I’ll send them on to you. I hope they will get there before you intirely give up hope of receiving them. Thanks so much for making them.
      Already the kids have started Halloweening. They are busing soaping windows & doing the usual pranks. But Mitzie has them buffaloed–they don’t dare come up here.
      Today we have also been busy gathering up as many articles of clothing as we can spare. The Church has sent out an urgent call from the people. Our Saints in Europe are going with only rags to cover them. Some only have rags that they put around them when they come to the door. If we do not help them, they will starve this winter. It is really wonderful the way everyone is responding. Dad was over at the Church tonight & they have all kinds of stuff. We sent two huge boxes of stuff. I put in that old brown fur coat that I used to wear so long ago. We put in sweaters, dresses, two men’s suits. About 4 old coats, several pairs of shoes & all kinds of stuff. The telegram came to the Church Saturday morning & they sent out the call Sunday & then stuff had to be in to the store house tonight. That’s fast work isn’t it–but they say it’s imperitive that they get it at once.
      Sunday night 4 of our returned Soldiers spoke. I can truthfully say I was a little disappointed. They just gave that old – “On such & such a date I was here & then we moved here & so forth.” They didn’t even end with “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen” but just sat down without bearing a testimony or anything. One fellow, Glen Christofferson, who was on Gwam when you were & was on one of the pictures you sent home told about the Church services on Gwam & told how much the Church had ment to him. Everyone was thrilled over his humble & sincere testimony & he was the least active when he was home, but while he was away he tried to learn more about the church. Maybe it’s just that we are tired of the war & all we want to know is that our boys still have that faith in God & a testimony of the Gospel. Don’t think I don’t want to hear every little detail of what you are doing & so will the people here at home. I know you wouldn’t give a talk like they did but I couldn’t help but think how I would feel if I was the wife of one of those fellows. For instance, the one fellow said, “I guess it was luck or something else that brought me home, but I ain’t talking.” That was Howard Berrett. [Here there is a crossed out and scribbled over line] I’ll be so glad when you can be up there giving you welcome home talk. Nearly everyone is coming home now but you. I keep thinking every day a letter will come saying “kill the fatted calf–put on the glad rags–your one & only is coming home.” Maybe I’ll get that letter tomorrow–I hope.
      Here are a couple of snow Goose feathers from the goose Wayne got when he went hunting Friday. He gave us two ducks he also got. I thought you could sort of imagine you were duck hunting if you saw these feathers. [See photo of feathers on previous page]
      LaMar has started taking his R. T. training now & he’s plenty happy. Mr. Seely’s boy has his bunk right across from LaMar.
      When I got home today, Mom had some more tales to tell me about Cheryl. David & Jay have been staying out over the week end & David of course loves the water. He had turned it on & let it run down the road. Cheryl, who followed him around, thought the mud & water was especially for her benifit. When Mom found her she was black from head to toe. Her shoes were mud inside & out. Her dress was black & her sweater was black. Her hair had mud all over & through it. Then her big eyes looked up at Mom through the blackest face you ever saw. Mom had to strip her & put her in the tub. Her shoes had to be washed inside & out.
      When I came home she was so sweet & clean. I went in the house & in a few minutes I dashed out. She & David were at the back of the house & over in the young peach orchard. A pile of rotten peaches had been thrown over there. Cheryl was sitting in the middle of them. She was squeasing them with her hands & then rubbing her hands on her dress. David had the hose sprinkling her hair & I think he was trying to get her clean. What a mess! She’s in bed now & sweet & clean, but about five minutes after she gets up she’ll be black as coal. Goodnight my Sweetheart.
Love, Norma

Letter to Reinhart from Norma, which included two goose feathers. The feathers and the letter all returned from Okinawa intact.

Norma (Jensen) Kowallis holding her daughter Cheryl in the fall of 1945.

[2nd letter]
Pleasant View, Utah
30 October 1945

Dearest Sweetheart,

      Just think–today I received two letters from you–dated the 20th of Oct & the 21st. You say you arn’t getting many letters from me & I’m not getting many from you. Here is one way you can tell if you are getting all my letters. If a day goes by & I don’t write, I always mention it in my letter. I usually say, “I didn’t get to write yesterday,” or something to that effect. I am wondering if you received the letter where I listed all of the pictures the family wanted printed up from those you developed & printed for me.
      So–you are thinking of trading me off for Ruth. Tsk Tsk! I never thought it would come to that. Ruth is still going with that friend of Margaret’s–much to the families displeasure. I do wish she could find a good man with a fine disposition like yours–but then there’s only one like you in the world & I just won’t give you up–no sirree.
      Glena is the bell of the ball. About five fellows call her every night. She is going with a Lee Lollie (who is a Catholic) but he goes to our church & he says he is going to join it. Then of course she is still writting every day to Alma.
      Spence doesn’t expect to get home until February. He has just been writting about his experiences in Switzerland. They could only spend so much while there & he saw something he wanted for Audrey for Christmas so he spent what he had & then sold his shirt, two shaffer life time pens & his eversharp pencil, his rain coat, socks, candy, gum & his insignias. Then he sold some of his American money. He was broke & he had five days left to stay in Switzerland & he didn’t know what he was going to eat. I think Spence will find a way though–he usually does.
      Why couldn’t it have been you coming home–I guess I hadn’t better say “instead of Paul,” because I’m glad he is going to get home, but I just wish you could get a break like that.
      That is pretty nice–you get to go to Church twice in a day & then get pie alamod & ice cream. They must have some pretty good meals down where Paul is.
      Have you seen any more of Delbert? Aunt Anna hadn’t heard from him the last I saw her. Maybe she has by now. He isn’t very sociable, but maybe you could help him a little.
      I went to Relief Society this afternoon. We practiced our play after meeting. Just as we were about to leave it just started blowing & pouring down. I was glad Amelia had her car. As soon as I came in the door at home Cheryl came dashing in the front room from the kitchen & calling “Ma Ma.” She triped & went flat but scrambled up & kept coming. I surely have to laugh at her. She thinks those beads you sent are for her & she just about had a fit when I took them. She wants to take all the letters she finds down to the mail box. They are all for “Da Da.” I tell her to pull her pants up if they sort of hang down & she reaches down & tugs away to get them up & just looks so funny.
      Audrey is going down to Sing for a barn dance at the 6th ward & Dad & Mom are going too. I think I’ll just go to bed & try to get some rest. Cheryl gets me up at 6 o’clock in the morning calling “toe toe” & jumping on my head & pulling my hair. Then she plants three or four juicey kisses on my mouth. Then I usually open my eyes & give her a grin. She is always so tickled when she finally gets me to open my eyes.
      We’ll be looking for you for Christmas so don’t dissapoint us. We are so sure that when Santa comes prancing in with his reindeers it will be you that he will have in that big black bag–so don’t dissapoint us. Of course if you come earlier why you can just skip the black bag.
All My Love & then some

LDS Servicemen's Conference in Okinawa in October of 1945. Over 400 LDS servicemen attended the conference including Capt. Reinhart Kowallis.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Accidental Death of John Stone of Scarborough

The following report appeared in the Newport Mercury on January 25, 1773 reporting the accident that led to the death of John Stone. The accident occurred on December 28, 1772.

Scarborough (probably a now non-existent town in Rhode Island, but it could refer to a town in Maine or New York as well).
"Last Monday morning a sorrowful accident happened at the house of Mr. William Hurman, in this town, as three of his neighbors, viz., John Stone, Paul Thompson, and John Waterhouse, were about to assist him in butchering a large hog. Waterhouse with an ax went into the pen and struck the hog on the head, in order to stick the hog, but the stroke not being effectual, the hog rose, ran between Thompson's legs, and brought him up against one corner of the pen, where in order to secure himself, he placed his arm and hand in which he held the knife over the side of the pen. Stone unfortunately came up to the place, and reaching over to seize the hog by the bristles, received the knife into his bowels, which wound put a period to his life in less than 48 hours, to the inexpressible grief and loss of his poor widow and 7 small children. Thus died a very honest, industrious member of society, who in the anguish of death, as it were wiped the tears from the eye of his neighbor that held the fateful knife."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Don't Just Use the Index!

As I consult with people who visit our family history center, I always encourage them to not just rely on the indexes for their information, but to use images of the original records. I came across another case this week of why this is important.

I was looking for information on the second husband of one of my cousins. His name was Thurston Viele and on his WWI draft card his birthday was given as 10 June 1881. I found him in several censuses with his first wife Ida, but one census seemed very odd. It was the 1892 New York State census. Thurston should have been about 11 years old, but there he was in the index born about 1868 (24 years old).

I clicked on the link to look at the image and here is what I found.

Here's a blow-up showing Thurston and his wife Ida, ages 24 and 23.

Remember this is indexed as the 1892 New York State census. However, if we look at the year listed on this page it is not 1892.

No it's not the 1892 census at all, but the 1905 census. In 1905, Thurston's age should have been 24, so this fits with other records. I searched for Thurston in the 1905 New York State census, and sure enough the index lists him and Ida as 24 and 23 years of age, but when I click on the image link, it takes me to an image that does not have this couple listed. Here it is. It's a nice image of pages from the 1905 New York State census, but not the pages that contain Thurston and Ida.

I did find Thurston in the 1892 New York State census, age 11, but indexed as Thurston Velia.

And here is his family.

But Velia did not come up when I searched using Viela. I only found him when I searched using only his first name, Thurston.

So, be very grateful for those indexes. They have been and will continue to be great helps in finding records, but don't count on them always being correct.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Kowallis Name Origins

Distribution of haplogroup I2a1 (formerly I2a) in Europe
Y-DNA haplogroup I2a map from Eupedia.

Several years ago my wife bought for me a DNA test through the National Geographic Genographic Project. She got it for me because she knew how very interested I was in family history and, I think she wanted to test to see if I was actually human, there being, on occasion, some question about that fact. It was a 12 marker Y-DNA test that by today's standards is a fairly minimal sampling of the DNA, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

I was hoping that the DNA test would help to identify the origin of the name Kowallis. My most distant ancestor, Jacob Kowallis, was born about 1735 and lived in Berlin, Brandenburg, Prussia (now Germany). But Kowallis is not a German name. One of my Kowallis relatives, Stephan Kowallis, who still lives in Germany, communicated this about the Kowallis name to my niece, Jernae:

"The name Kowallis has a background in the east European old Slavic language. Kowall means smith (blacksmith). In different areas they extended the name with different endings. For example, Kowallow (Russia); Kowalski, Kowallek, Kowalsky (Poland); Kowallis (Latvia, Lithuania); Kowalowsky (Russia/Poland), etc."

So, what did my 12 marker Y-DNA test show? It showed that my Y-DNA haplogroup (my branch of the human tree) was I2a (I-P37.2). The map above shows where the I2a haplogroup is concentrated, mostly in the Balkans, the area of southern and eastern Europe that borders the Adriatic and Black Seas. The Kowallis family could still have migrated through one of the Baltic countries, but there is a strong possibility that prior to that they came from the Balkans.

This year in March while attending the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City I had my Genographic results transferred over to Family Tree DNA (the company that actually ran the tests for Genographic). They gave me some additional information about the test. From their database, my 12 markers were an exact match for 5 people: one each from Poland, Hungary, and Bosnia-Herzogovina, and two people from Greece. In addition, I matched 11 of the 12 markers with 8.0% (7 of 87) of the people in their database from Bosnia-Herzogovina, 3.3 % (7 of 213) from Croatia, 1.4% (2 of 148) from Slovenia, and much smaller percentages from 30+ other countries. All of the highest percentages for the close matches and most of the exact matches come from the Balkans area.

Now that I've got my appetite whetted with this fairly minimal information on the Kowallis family origins, I have ordered a more detailed 37 marker Y-DNA test as well as a mitochondrial DNA test. The additional markers on the Y-DNA test may help to further constrain the origins of the Kowallis family and tie me more precisely to possible relatives. The mitochondial test may help to find cousins on my maternal line, where I am also at a dead end.

There is the other possibility too. These tests may conclusively show that I am not human, as a number in the family have suspected for some time.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Tragic Tale of John Abel Wight

Michigan State Prison (or Jackson State Prison) from Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection in U.S. Library of Congress

John Abel "Jack" Wight was born on the 1st of March 1889 in the Township of Alabama, Genesee County, New York, the first son and first child of Noah Wight and Ida May Ackerson. Noah was an apple farmer and worked 50 acres of land that he leased from Ida's father.

Jack's life as a young boy was probably like many other boys in the farming country of western New York. He would have needed to help his father on the farm and yet would likely have had ample opportunity to be a boy. There is no indication in any of the local papers that Jack was a troubled youth.

In 1910, Jack was living at home, but working as a fireman for the railroad and by 1915, at the age of 26 years, he had left his family farm in Alabama Townsip and was living in the big city of Buffalo. He registered there for the draft during WWI, but Buffalo couldn't hold him. We don't know for sure, maybe it was the sudden death of his father, or perhaps he could not find the kind of work he wanted there, or perhaps it was still too close for comfort to the family farm. For whatever reason, Jack moved on and found a young Scottish immigrant, named Anna with whom he fell in love. Anna was a couple of years older than Jack, born about 1887. They were married sometime before 1920 and moved to Norwalk, Huron County, Ohio where he found employment as a garage mechanic. For whatever reason children did not come to the young couple. Still, I imagine that they were mostly happy with no more than the usual problems that arise in a marriage.

But life moves on. Ohio was not the final stop on Jack's road. Sometime in the early 1920's, he and Anna moved to Flint, Genesee County, Michigan. It was here in Michigan where life began to really take its toll. First, in 1927, Jack's mother, Ida May, died on the 18th of February. He traveled back home for the funeral, but his ties to family were now weakened. Then in October of 1929 the world economy collapsed. Jobs were so hard to find. Jack was one of the millions out of work. He may have always had a drinking problem, we don't know, but during this period of his life, there is little question that he began to drink more, and drinking did not make him a happy man.

At home, Anna must have tried to hold things together. Somehow they eked by until Jack was given work with the WPA, the government's answer to the rampant unemployment of the Great Depression. But employment through the WPA, although a godsend for many, was also hard on a man. He was a second class citizen, a government supported drone who couldn't make it on his own.

Still, no matter what the problems, they did not merit the events that followed. On the 10th of January in 1939, Jack came home drunk. Anna was understandably upset and would not talk to him. Here he was spending the few dollars they had on liquor. Jack berated her and undoubtedly placed much of the blame for their troubles onto her. She still refused to talk. In his drunken state, probably not realizing exactly what he was doing, Jack proceeded to pour kerosene over Anna. He then threw a lighted match into her lap setting her on fire. It appears at this point that Jack realized what he had done and called for help to put her out. Anna, however, was severely burned and died one or two days later.

Jack was arrested and convicted of second-degree murder and then sentenced in April 1939 for a term of 25 to 40 years in the Southern Michigan State Prison in Blackman Township, Jackson County, Michigan. “Michigan State Prison or Jackson State Prison, which opened in 1839, was the first prison in Michigan. The first permanent structure was constructed there in 1842. In 1926, the prison was relocated to new building, and soon became the largest walled prison in the world with nearly 6,000 inmates. The prison was renamed the State Prison of Southern Michigan in 1935.”

Life in prison is tough. But life after prison can be even tougher. Jack was released from prison in the mid-1950s and moved to Texas where he found work as a dishwasher at a cafe. He had been in Texas for only about a year, however, when he died at his home on 2518 Seevers Street on 26 March 1956 in Dallas of asphyxiation due to an open burning stove in his apartment; the death was officially determined to be an accident, but the circumstances suggest that it was more likely suicide.

I recount this story here because John Abel Wight is my cousin, my 4th cousin 2 times removed to be exact. We both descend from the same man, David Dewers (or Duers), a ship master who lived in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. I hope that somewhere David is putting his arm around his great-great-great-great grandson and that, even for Jack, there will be redemption.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Keeping up with Family Search

Just incredible the number of new data and image collections that are becoming available on Family Search. Here is the list of new things that have appeared in just the last two weeks.

Hungary, Civil Registration, 1895-198051,149 *5 Feb 2013
Italy, Napoli, Sant'Angelo, Parocchia di San Michele Arcangelo, Catholic Church Records, 1905-1929Browse Images *5 Feb 2013
Spain, Cádiz, Civil Registration Records, 1870-1960Browse Images *5 Feb 2013
United States, Draper Manuscript Collection, 1740-1892Browse Images *5 Feb 2013
United States, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783Browse Images *5 Feb 2013
Czech Republic, Land Records, 1450-1889Browse Images *2 Feb 2013
England and Wales Census, 18715,617,114 *2 Feb 2013
Korea, Collection of Genealogies, 1500-2009Browse Images *2 Feb 2013
United States, New England, Petitions for Naturalization, 1787-1906Browse Images *2 Feb 2013
Vermont, Orange County, Randolph District Probate Records, 1790-1935Browse Images *2 Feb 2013
BillionGraves Index2,664,703 *1 Feb 2013
Italy, Benevento, Benevento, Civil Registration (Comune), 1861-1929Browse Images *1 Feb 2013
Italy, Catania, Diocesi di Caltagirone, Catholic Church Records, 1502-1942Browse Images *1 Feb 2013
Italy, Napoli, Barano d'Ischia, Parrocchia di San Sebastiano Martire, Catholic Church Records, 1671-1929Browse Images *1 Feb 2013
Italy, Napoli, Panza, Parrocchia di San Leonardo Abate, Catholic Church Records, 1670-1929Browse Images *1 Feb 2013
Minnesota, Itasca County Land Records, 1872-1930Browse Images *1 Feb 2013
New York, State Census, 1855594,539 *1 Feb 2013
Texas, County Marriage Records, 1837-1977187,126 *1 Feb 2013
Argentina, Santa Fe, Catholic Church Records, 1634-1975278,080 *31 Jan 2013
Idaho, Butte County Records,1882-1970Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Idaho, Twin Falls County Records, 1906-1988Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Louisiana, Orleans Parish Will Books, 1805-1920Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Maine, County Probate Records, 1760-1979Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Manitoba, Census Indexes, 1831-1870Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Montana, Sanders County Records, 1866-2010Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Netherlands, Zuid-Holland Province, Church Records, 1367-1911Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Oregon, Douglas County Records, 1852-1952Browse Images *31 Jan 2013
Australia, Tasmania, Miscellaneous Records, 1829-1961Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Brazil, Mato Grosso, Civil Registration, 1889-2012Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
California, San Mateo County Records, 1855-1991Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Montana, Sweet Grass County Records, 1885-2011Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Netherlands, Utrecht Province, Church Records, 1542-1902Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
New York, Queens County Probate Records, 1899-1924Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Quebec Notarial Records, 1800-1900Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Tennessee, Putnam County Records, 1867-1955Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Texas, Birth Certificates, 1903-19352,278,910 *30 Jan 2013
Texas, Eastland County Records, 1868-1949Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Ukraine, Western Ukraine Catholic Church Book Duplicates, 1600-1937Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
United States, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-191821,844,005 *30 Jan 2013
Utah, Probate Records, 1851-1961Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Vermont, Franklin County Probate Records, 1796-1921Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Wisconsin, Probate Estate Files, 1848-1948Browse Images *30 Jan 2013
Dominican Republic, Civil Registration, 1801-2010Browse Images *29 Jan 2013
Illinois, Probate Records, 1819-1970Browse Images *29 Jan 2013
Netherlands, Drenthe Province, Church Records, 1580-1911Browse Images *29 Jan 2013
North Carolina, Estate Files, 1663-1979138,899 *29 Jan 2013
Washington, County Marriages, 1855-200848,385 *29 Jan 2013
Australia, New South Wales, Alphabetical Index to Newspaper Cuttings, 1841-198750,488 *26 Jan 2013
Indiana, Marriages, 1811-19592,184,579 *26 Jan 2013
Maryland, Naturalization Indexes, 1797-195185,222 *26 Jan 2013
Netherlands, Groningen Province, Church Records, 1595-1864Browse Images *26 Jan 2013
North Carolina, County Records, 1833-1970Browse Images *26 Jan 2013
South Africa, Dutch Reformed Church Registers, 1660-1970220,122 *26 Jan 2013
Canada Census Mortality Schedules, 187145,371 *24 Jan 2013
Estonia, Population Registers, 1918-1944Browse Images *24 Jan 2013