Monday, March 30, 2009

What became of George? - I may never know!

But I sure learned a lot about the hospital!
George Leeming, a son of Walter Leeming and Martha Ann Rayner.... patient at the Northampton State Mental Hospital for most of his life. George was born December 18, 1892 in Quebec Canada. He came to the US with his family in 1899. I find him in the household with his parents in the 1900 census - after that, nothing. I was curious about this boy so I asked Grandma what happened to him. She told me that he "needed help all the time" as she put it, and she has no recollection of ever hearing of his death. They admitted him to the hospital in Northampton and he never came home from there. For me of course this means "Another hunt is on!"

Looking into the hospital, I found that it actually had many names -The Northampton Insane Asylum, the Northampton Lunatic Hospital, The State Hospital (for wards of the state) - you get the picture. I found an interesting site which is all about the Massachusetts State Hospitals.

This particular hospital is referred to as the "State Lunatic Asylum". According to this site, the hospital opened in 1858, when overcrowding of other state institutions had gotten so bad that they needed two additional locations. In 1858 they had about 230 patients and the hospital was known for it's moral care of them. By 1965 the much overcrowded location had over 2600 patients and by this time the place had become just a housing unit for the unwanted in society - the insane, homeless and helpless of us. The place finally closed in 1993 and after a short inclusion to the Register of Historical Places in the state, the main building was actually torn down in 2006, much to the dismay of many people who lived in the area who wanted the buildings saved. I also learned on another site that the grounds contained as many as 1000 burials of patients.

Still, I didn't know exactly why George was there so, entering uncharted waters (for me) I began looking into how I might obtain medical records for him. Because the place had been closed down for many years I contacted the Massachusetts State Archives and received a response from them today. Turns out, the state of Massachusetts has very strict rules when it comes to a person's medical records - as do most states I would assume, but because I'd never really looked into this before I had no idea what to expect. The Archives reply was this:
"Records containing medical or mental health information in the state of Massachusetts are very tightly restricted by law. You would need a judicial order authorizing the release of any such records. These restrictions do not end with the death of the subject or the age of the records. For more information, you could try contacting the Department of Mental Health directly"

I didn't realize the rules would be this strict for medical records for the dead and I do not believe that I will attempt to get a "judicial order" to find out what ever became of Uncle George, but I might contact the Department of Mental Health just to see if I can get anywhere - although I'm not hopeful. Some mysteries we just weren't meant to solve.

In the meantime, I learned quite a bit about this hospital, it's history, and a great group of people who fought to save the buildings. Check out the Opacity site to see more really great photos of this place. I hate to see old buildings come down!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - What's the occasion?

Isabella Bellew Turner, her children Katherine, June and possibly Jack
her nephew William Bellew in back (my Grandfather)
not so wordless here... Everytime I look at this photo I wonder why my
Grandfather appears to be dressed like a butler.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not in a slump - just searching for a piece of glitter on a beach

Okay so I'm not ALL in a slump, just not spending as much time writing to my blog (or reading others' for that matter - boy do I have some reading to do!). I think that I just need a break from it for a bit.

I posted previously that I wasn't sure what to do next. Since then I've realized that part of the problem - and I think we've all been there - is trying to do too many things at once, getting sidetracked with some relative that we just can't find, and spending too much time trying to find them when the outcome really isn't going to have an impact on truly anything - but for the life of me I cannot let it go!! Sometimes I feel like I'm searching for a small piece of glitter on a beach, a nearly impossible task and yet when you're not finding anything that you expect to find, you cannot stop looking.

I'm still researching, finding much on family that came from England that I never even knew about. My newly found cousin there has been researching also - it's wonderful to have another researcher's set of eyes and another brain to think things through. Just when I've thought "That's it! I cannot find him and I never will!" she comes back to me through email with another glimmering piece of information! It's great to have someone to bounce things off of and a take a second look!

English Cousin and I have been communicating pretty regularly and we're trying to solve some of the little mysteries of some of our shared relatives. Many we're now learning came to the US and we weren't aware of it. I probably have many more cousins here that I don't know - add another item on the list - go track those people down!

So, I have an idea what should take priority and yet I don't want to or just don't have the heart to do it right now. I have been updating my tree with the certs that she's shared and bits of new information so I guess I'm doing something but somehow I'm just not feeling it.

So, it may be a few days before I post again, hopefully next time I'll have something blog-worthy to write about. In the meatime I'll be out searching for another piece of glitter!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Search Continues

My yearly "Looking for Hugh Bellew" message has been posted to the message boards, and while I was thinking about Uncle Hugh, my thoughts turned to Uncle Al. What if the same fate came to Hugh? Unfortunately I may never know.

After much contemplation, I decided to publish this photo. I had wondered how others would feel about it, when I told the story of Alfred Bellew in a previous post here, at that time I wasn't comfortable putting it out there. His story is a sad one, as noted in the caption below this photo.

I'm still searching for Hugh, or at least information on what became of him. I know he was born about 1916 in Preston, England, his parents were John Bellew and Margaret McCann Bellew. I know that he came to the US with his mother in 1926. I also know that he graduated from the School of the Holy Trinity in Central Falls RI, and went on to live in North Adams Massachusetts in the 1940's. The family last heard from him in the 1950s, at which time it is believed he may have been in the area of Chicago. What we don't know is what ever became of him after that - there was no further contact.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Military Monday - Unclaimed West Virginia Civil War Medals

I wrote about this some time ago but it seems that I have more readers now (thanks for coming by!) and it is well worth the repeat if someone can claim their Civil War Soldier's medals from my lovely state of West Virginia.

I have over the past year learned how hard it is to get something, anything, from the military. There is much paperwork, waiting, more paperwork, more waiting - you get the picture. I have yet to "nail down" an ancestor who was in the civil war but as research into their lives continues you never know! I managed to track down my Grandfather's WWII medals and think that all families should be reunited with their loved ones' military history.

As I wrote about back in December, I came across some interesting information on a WV site that I visit often. I found that they actually have a list of Union Soldiers from the state of West Virginia who never claimed their medals. The state made an effort at the end of the war to distribute them but still the archives is holding about 5200 (at last count) of the original 26,000+. I understand from reading up on this that these medals are still in their original packaging AND can be claimed by someone proving their relationship to the person. Note: According to the information below, it does not have to be a Direct relationship. I have seen comments from others stating that they claimed a Great-Great Uncle's medal.

Here's some info directly from the site:
"Many heirs of West Virginia Union veterans of the Civil War may be eligible to claim medals struck to honor their ancestors years ago. Most of the medals were claimed by the veterans themselves, their immediate families, or their descendants, but several thousand medals remain unclaimed. A list of the unclaimed medals is available in the Archives and History Library and on its website.

To claim an ancestor's medal, a claimant must submit his or her line of descent from the veteran along with documentation to support this line of descent. To establish line of descent, claimants must include copies of primary sources, including birth, death, marriage, will, deed, military,census, Bible records, etc. Old letters, diaries, marriage announcements, or obituaries may also prove helpful in supporting a descendant's claim. Please note that a family chart submitted without primary source documentation is not sufficient.

The claimant who establishes the most direct relationship to the veteran will be awarded the ancestor's medal six months from the date the fully documented claim is received by Archives and History. The purpose of the six-month waiting period is to allow for sufficient verification of the descendant's claim and for submission of counterclaim(s) by other potential descendant(s). In the case of equal claims, the descendant whose claim was received first will be awarded the medal."

If you know of a Civil War Union Soldier from West Virginia in your family's past, it's worth visiting the site just to check the list. I find it heartbreaking that these medals were never retrieved by the soldiers or their family to pass down to us....

Heres the website link:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thank you Randy! and Maryland Land Records on Line

First I want to say Thanks to Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings for including me in his best of the Genea-Blogs post this week. I wrote the previous post last evening and was feeling like I was all alone out here, drowning in the pile of certificates, research documents, reports, books and reference materials. But, Randy let me know that I'm not the only one who has to sometimes get their thoughts together before continuing in my search - even if there are seemingly 50 searches going on at once. Randy mentioned that I didn't include a link to the Maryland Land Records site in my post and honestly, while that would usually seem like a very important thing to include, last night the thought didn't even cross my mind.

I came across this link a couple weeks ago on the Genealogy on a Budget Blog. The state of Maryland is giving free access to this data to anyone who wishes to try out their new system. Currently, you cannot view the actual plats but it appears that it's because it's in a different area of their system and cannot be accessed with the username and password they gave me for the home page. I sent an email to them yesterday requesting access to this area if they are permitting it and I will update when they reply. They want feedback on the system should we run into problems looking up documents etc.

So, if you've got ancestors in Maryland it's worth taking a look at the site. I didn't read the user guide till yesterday - I'm more of a "figure it out while I'm trying it" kind of person, but the user guide is worth taking a look at.

Here's the link MDLandRec.Net. First you have to fill out a form to request access to the site and they will email you with a password. This only took one day for me and let me tell you, with all the deeds I've found it's been well worth it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

At a loss...

It's not like me to skip so many days without a post. I've been up to my eyes in documents, deeds and research for the last few days and when I sat down to write tonight... ideas just escape me right now.

So, in an attempt to clear my head and get all this under control I thought I'd put into words what all this stuff is around me, and then maybe I can see clearly what to do next and go for it. Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees... right now I feel like I'm researching lots of stuff and don't have any idea where it's supposed to take me. Anyone else ever feel that way, or am I headed for a Genealogy burn out?

Maryland recently gave access to their property deeds on line for testing and I've been busily researching my Kidwell and Thomas families' records from the late 1600s to mid 1800s in Prince George's and Charles Counties. This research brought up a few questions about the information I received from another researcher years ago - research "facts" that I was always meaning to go back and source myself... We're talking about my 8th, 9th, 10 and even 11th Great-Grandfathers. I've found many deeds for the Kidwell family and have been copying, printing and attempting to make sense of them all with regards to the location of the properties, who sold what to whom and how the original 300+ acre plantation was split up - "gifted" to sons and sons-in-laws, etc. Not to mention that all important burial plot that is there somewhere and is actually mentioned in one of the deeds as part of it changed hands from the Kidwells back to the Thomas'. I don't get how on earth these people knew what they actually owned, with the measurements from a black oak to that river rock, 13 perches to this other tree... I suppose it worked, but I can't imagine trying to find this exact spot today. There are some interesting things I've come across, property changing hands between the Kidwells and the Sarrat/Surrat family AND deals between the Kidwells and the Mudd family... more on that later - if anything cool comes of it - ah more research to do!

I've got 30+ BMD records to get through, transcribe and enter into my software and neatly attach my England ancestors together. This would be my McCann, Smith, and Morris, lines, plus a new surname - Makepeace. Because I have the documents here in hand, I've been taking this project in small pieces just to take a break from doing research (and blogging).

I've also been trying to chase down an Aunt from the England McCann family who seems to have vanished after 1924, but before last week I didn't even know that she ever came to the US. Catherine McCann Aspin who came to the US in 1919 with her husband, James William Aspin, appears in a city directory in 1924 and then is no where to be found in the records - but, I know that she lived at least into the 1950s because my Mother went to her home when she was a child. I've reached out to another living Aunt of mine and also a 2nd cousin here in the US in an attempt to find out if someone knows anything about this lady and what ever became of her.

Finally, I've also been doing research work for one of my neighbors, who both happen to be from a very long line of local families so the information is fairly easy to get my hands on, but then I can't just hand them the documents, I need to get reports together for them, clearly source all the facts I've found and get this off my desk. This has taken a back seat to all other projects sitting here.

In the midst of this, there is the house to clean (not), meals to cook, 6 other people and a dog to take care of, laundry to do, errands to run, yadda yadda yadda... suddenly I feel really guilty sitting here right now... LOL

Looking back at this post, I guess I wasn't "at a loss" for words, maybe just at a loss of what to do next.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Final Post - Margaret's Envelope Post 9

If you've just happened upon this series, you may want to start at the beginning - go to the labels listed below on the right, select Margaret's Envelope and start with Post 1 - you don't want to miss a thing!
Margaret and her husband John Bellew lived in Central Falls Rhode Island until at least August of 1934, where they're listed in the city directory. Their son Alfred was born on October 27th 1928 in Central Falls, and was baptized on November 11th at the Holy Spirit Parish. In the 1930 census both John and Margaret are listed as Weavers at a local silk mill. Two of their boys graduated from the School of the Holy Trinity, a Catholic school in Central Falls. Hugh graduated in 1931 and William in 1932. Their youngest son Al attended school in Adams Massachusetts. John registered for the WWII draft in 1942, at that time they were living in Adams, Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

John Bellew died on December 15th, 1958 in Chevy Chase, Montgomery County, Maryland. Margaret remained in Maryland until November of 1968 when she entered a nursing home in Massachusetts and she died on December 5th, 1968. The last items I have to post from her envelope of memories are she and John's obituaries.

As I wrap up my posts of items from Margaret's Envelope, I want to thank my newly found Cousin in England - you know who you are! This dear lady has sent me a treasure of information on our family - 30+ BMD certificates on various members from our various lines in England and photos that sometime I hope to share here. It will take me days to get through all the info and get it all entered into my database.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Keener Brothers

The word prompt for the 11th Edition of Smile For The Camera is brothers & sisters. Were they battling brothers, shy little sisters, or was it brother & sister against the world? Our ancestors often had only their siblings for company. Were they best friends or not? Show us that picture that you found with your family photographs or in your collection that shows your rendition of brothers & sisters. Bring them to the carnival and share.

Since I've not yet written much on my Keener family line, which is my Father's side of the family, I'd like to highlight them for this edition of Smile For The Camera.

Toothless grins, knobby knees and great looking hair!

This photo was taken in 1949
Vernon Keener, Donald Keener and Jerry Keener
My Father and his brothers

Her Family and Her Faith - Margaret's Envelope Post 8

If you've just happened upon this series, you may want to start at the beginning - go to the labels listed below on the right, select Margaret's Envelope and start with Post 1 - you don't want to miss a thing!

There are only a few items left to post in this series of items from Margaret's Envelope. Of note, is the theme of most of the items that I've uncovered - all were of her family or her faith, and some both. One item is missing from this envelope - Margaret's Rosary. I am told that it was in a small pouch and was among these items for many years, but now it is missing - something that I would love to find. Obviously a devout Catholic, Margaret had a prayer book that I'm told she read from often. This book, The Treasury of the Sacred Heart, is pictured here along with a very small bookmark that was inside.

Inside this book is a Preface, dated 1860, stating that this smaller work is acceptable by the Cardinal Archbishop of Dublin. Yet the book was printed in London. I can't help but wonder if it previously belonged to one of Margaret's parents.

As I thumb through the pages of this very small book (it's only 3x5") I find Margaret's memories tucked between the pages, some of which have already been posted here. With her son John's First Communion card, I find a small tattered piece of ribbon - could he have worn that with a flower that day? In the page with the Mass for the Dead I find the memorial cards for her father and father-in-law. There are a couple of folded small newspaper clippings about her son William, a rosary prayer card, things that have been laminated, and years of wear to the book which is in very good condition for its age, yet worn from hands that held it and read from it. Margaret obviously had a great love for her family and her Catholic faith. Although I am told that she was a stoic, almost stern woman, who didn't talk about things - she kept much tucked away where she could revisit it and could remember, while praying and keeping her faith.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cemetery Saturday - Abraham Smith Keener

Today's headstone is for Abraham Smith Keener and his wife Elizabeth G. Hume Keener. Abraham is my 3rd Great Grand Uncle, or the brother of my 3rd Great Grandfather. Abraham was the son of George W. Keener and Margaret Miller. He was born June 29, 1830 in Taylor County WV, and died on Oct 3, 1921 also in Taylor County.

Abraham married Elizabeth G. Hume in Taylor County in about 1853.
The couple had 11 children*:
Thomas Jefferson Keener born 1853
George W. Keener born 1855
John Addison Keener born 1858
Mary Margaret Keener born 1860
Susanna J. Keener born 1862
Emily J. Keener born 1866
Alice L. Keener born 1868
Hannah Keener born 1869
Agnes D. Keener born 1873
Eva Keener born 1876
Martha E. Keener born 1871

The top of the stone shows the details for Abraham, the lowest area on the front of the stone has the details of Elizabeth, she died May 21, 1916.

This stones and many others of this line of the Keener family can be found on private property in the Keener Cemetery, in Taylor County WV. A great big thanks to Melissa Wisen - a distant Keener cousin of mine, who photographed the stones in that cemetery and made them available on the Find A Grave website and gave permission for me to use them here on my blog.

See all of Melissa's memorials here, or visit Find-a-Grave to search for your own ancestors.

*some information in this post was obtained from another researcher's work and has not been confirmed or denied.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More Memories of Home - Margaret's Envelope Post 7

If you've just happened upon this series, you may want to start at the beginning - go to the labels listed below on the right, select Margaret's Envelope and start with Post 1 - you don't want to miss a thing!
Another item from Margaret's Prayer Book today - the memorial card from the funeral of her father, Hugh McCann, here's what I know about him:

Hugh McCann was born in about 1866 in Preston Lancashire England, and died Jan 24 1914 in Preston as well. He was the son of Patrick McCann and Cahterine Byrne (both from Ireland).

Hugh married Alice Ann Smith (b. abt 1867, d.1904) also of Preston. The couple had the following children, all were born in Preston.
Elizabeth McCann b. 1888
Catherine McCann b. 1890
Alice Ann McCann b. 1894
Margaret McCann b. 1896, d. 1968 in Adams, Massachusetts.
Ellen McCann b. 1897
Mary Agnes McCann b. 1899
James Francis McCann b. 1903 and d. 1903

I do not have much more information on Hugh. I do know that by the 1911 census his wife had died and he was still living in his household with his daughters. He died in 1914 and his grandson Hugh Bellew was born in 1916 - named for his Grandfather.

I also do not have many details at this time about all of Margaret's sisters. My newly found cousin is busily sharing her research informaation with me. Elizabeth married John Mee in 1911, Catherine married John Aspin and came to the U.S. and Alice Ann never married. I do not have details on the lives of Ellen and Mary Agnes at this point.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Memories of Home - Margaret's Envelope Post 6

If you've just happened upon this series, you may want to start at the beginning - go to the labels listed below on the right, select Margaret's Envelope and start with Post 1 - you don't want to miss a thing!
The next few items I find in Margaret's Envelope were actually tucked away in her prayer book. These items remind she and John of their separate families and no doubt, of "home".

This card is a memorial card for Patrick Bellew. Patrick was the father of John Bellew.

Patrick Bellew was born in about 1864 in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland. His wife was Elizabeth Hall. She was born in about 1864 in Preston, Lancashire, England.
Together this couple had the following children:
James Bellew b. Jan-Mar 1888, d. Jan-Mar 1888 Preston
John William Bellew b. 1889 Preston, d. 1968 Maryland USA
William Bellew b. 1891, d. 1910 Preston
James Bellew b. Jan-Mar 1893 d. Apr-Jun 1893 Preston
Frances Bellew b. 1894, d. 1951 Preston
Mary Bellew b. Jan-Mar 1897, d. Jul-Sep 1898 Preston
Isabella Bellew b. 15 Nov. 1900 Preston, d. 14 Nov 1993 Rockville Maryland USA

Patrick was a weaver at one of the mills in Preston and later a powerloom overlooker (supervisor?) at the mills (according to the 1911 census). The family lived at 180 St. George's Street in Preston. Patrick died Jun 8, 1923, only two months prior to John's arrival in the US.

When he left England only his Mother and sisters were still living. Isabella later came to the US with her husband John Turner, Frances never married.

The question I always ask when making these posts - "Do you think they knew that they'd never see their family members again?

Margaret's Journey and Her Heartbreak - Margaret's Envelope Post 5

If you've just happened upon this series, you may want to start at the beginning - go to the labels listed below on the right, select Margaret's Envelope and start with Post 1 - you don't want to miss a thing!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Margaret McCann Bellew remained in England until 1926. In May of that year she finally joined her husband and her son William who had been in the US already for almost 3 years. How I wish that there was a diary in Margaret's Envelope telling me how she felt during that time and most importantly, all she felt during her journey to the US.

Margaret and John had three children at the time, Hugh Bellew born in 1916, William Bellew, born in 1917 and John Jr (or Jacky) born in 1919. From what I understand she never really spoke of it, or him, and the heartache of her decision must've haunted her for her entire life. Margaret came to the US without one of her sons, the youngest, John was left in England.

I've written at length about John in several previous posts, but the story about him being left in England is truly a sad one. You can read about it here and here. Today I post another item from Margaret's Envelope, the one item that probably reminded her of him - a card from his First Communion which occurred only months before she left the country. You can see the reverse of it in one of the above previous posts.

Not having a diary of her thoughts and the pain that she must've had during this time, my mind is filled with images of a Mother boarding the ship with one of her children, leaving her young son crying on shore with an Aunt. Or her hastily dropping him off at her home so she could make this journey to join her husband in the US. He was only 7 years old when she left England.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What Brought Them Here? Margaret's Envelope Post 4

If you've just happened upon this series, you may want to start at the beginning - go to the labels listed below on the right, select Margaret's Envelope and start with Post 1 - you don't want to miss a thing!
We left of with John and Margaret seperated by the Atlantic Ocean. Her in England and he in the US. But what brought him here? The passenger list needed studying further, which I've done and in the process I found another member of the McCann family had come to the US.

Page two of the passenger list has an area where the traveling person lists if they're going to be joining a relative or friend upon arrival here. In this box was some typed text, some crossed out text and some of what I will call "scribbling". Upon very close inspection of this area I see that he originally listed the following:

Mrs. Aspin, Friend
Victoria Rd. Pawtucket R.I.

The "s" in Mrs is crossed out making it a Mr. Aspin. The word Friend is somewhat crossed out and what appeared to be f i l is listed next to this word... Friend in Law? After zooming in to 400% I could see that the cursive lower case f was probably likely a b.. Brother in Law!!!

I then went back to the BMD database for Lancashire and found a McCann and Aspin marriage, being Catherine McCann, my great great grandmother's sister, who had married James William Aspin in 1919. The two traveled to the US in Dec of 1919 and were apparently welcoming other family to join them.
But the question remained - why Pawtucket or Central Falls Rhode Island? Work of course! This area was booming with textile mills at the time, (like many other New England cities) bringing thousands of immigrant workers to the area. John is listed as a weaver in the census records from England, not unlike many of his family members and neighbors. Those who were interested in relocating to the US were drawn to the work that they already knew, and of course the promise of a better life.

Margaret's sister was in the states only a short time before she died. I find her on the 1920 census - only a month after their arrival - living as a border in Central Falls. Then again in 1924 in the city directory for Central Falls, but in 1930 her husband James is living with a woman named Margaret as his wife. Catherine vanished from the records between 1924 & 1930. Having found this information just last evening, more research needs to be done to determine exactly when she died.

Today from Margaret's Envelope, I'm posting another postcard - this one from Margaret to John.