Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Context in Historic Sites and Old Books--Frontier Life Along the Monongahela River

(You are also invited to visit my other blog, AnnieWritesAbout!)

Previously, fair reader, you were introduced my paternal grandfather, Clarence Pryne, known as C.P. This web log will have much to report about him and his ancestry because, thankfully, his Huguenot and Quaker roots in the early American colonies run very deeply, and there is a great deal of material from which to draw their histories (although never enough to satisfy genealogical curiosity, of course!).

In particular, our family is blessed to have portions of our heritage preserved not only in/on records and tombstones, but plaques, parks, and other historical sites. Of these, one of the most enlightening and exciting is Prickett's Fort State Park in West Virginia. For a run-down on my recent visit to Prickett's Fort, along with some information about its history, check out the post for December 22, 2016 in my other web log, AnnieWritesAbout, at this link.

The descendants of several of the pioneer families who lived in the area around Prickett's Fort eventually settled in southern Ohio, the natal home of Grandpa C.P., and their surnames make a strong showing on our family tree. Most notably, these include the Dunn family that had come to Virginia from Delaware, the Pindell and Mills families from Maryland, and the Springer and Prickett families from New Jersey.

The historian, as well as the genealogist, in me is always tickled when I find old, dusty, crackling books about the lives of people in a specific region about which I am researching. If I can score a free PDF copy of such a book, so much the better! The following is just one wonderful paragraph from a recent discovery, that has led me to an expanded understanding and respect for the challenges faced by our ancestors on the western frontier of Virginia:

"On landing in their new home the first duty was to erect a cabin for shelter, and then to select a suitable spot to cultivate for use when the stores carried with them were exhausted. The cabin was built of round logs, the interstices were chunked and daubed with common clay, or catan clay, which was a mixture of clay and grass, or straw. The chimney was on the outside and made of split logs at the bottom or fireplace, so called, and the top was of smaller split sticks, the whole being well daubed with clay mortar. The fireplace was lined with stone and mortar so as to prevent it catching fire. The floor, where there was any, was made of split logs hewn in shape to closely fit together. One window furnished the light, and one door hung on wooden hinges, with a latch and string, the mode of entrance. The latter drawn in was the lock to prevent entrance. The latchstring hanging out was always a token of welcome to the cabin. The furniture was for the most part rude and made impromptu; the chairs and tables were homemade. The grand old chest, brought from the east, was ample for clothing. The cupboard ware was pewter, and the bed and bedding were brought with them. There was no bedstead save that made by the few tools on hand from split timber. Immigration generally took place in the spring of the year, so that the first crop to be raised was corn and flax, the former to provide food for man and beast and the latter for clothing. The cabin was always located near a spring from which could be obtained water for the household and stock. The early settlers differed very much in the choice of location, some preferring the high and others the low lands. Along the creeks sites for sawmills were the choice of those who had a genius for water machinery, although the original mills were the wind mill and the tramp mill." (Van Voorhis A.M., M.D., John S. Old and New Monongahela. Pittsburgh, PA: Nicholson, Printer and Binder, 1898, pp 7-8.)


"Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man." -- Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Mom's Home Town and C-SPAN for Genealogy

It's a drizzly day here in Marin County. The gray clouds above the hills visible from our office window are offset by the crimson and green leaves of a tree in our front yard that evokes the Advent of Christmas soon to come. Mom loved Christmas. 

The last time I saw Mom over the Holidays, I told her that we always appreciated all the efforts she had made over the years to make sure our Holiday celebrations were special. Because she was bed-ridden, I brought in a small pine tree with little "package" decorations on it and placed it on her dresser so she would have the Christmas-tree smell in her room. Uncle Jimmy, her brother, performed some "Linus magic" on the tree and made it look simply gorgeous! Thanks, Jimmy!

While in a grocery store this week, I spotted several elderly ladies shopping carefully for their Thanksgiving cooking, and it made me miss Mom so much that I almost started crying in the store. I told the checkout clerk about it, and we agreed that there is something universally irreplaceable about mothers. I'll always be grateful for the lovely mother I had and for the tremendously wonderful sisters, nieces, nephews, and uncle who miss her just as much as I do.

Seems a good day to delve a bit into the Mom's relationship with her birthplace, Covington, Kentucky.

Mom and the Flood
Bonnie Rae Pryne was born in Covington on the 26th of July 1937, a few months following a devastating flood of the Ohio River that Mom was able to describe to my sisters and I in some detail, despite the fact that she was still in utero when it happened in late January and early February of that year. No doubt, her family talked about the flood quite a bit during the early years of Mom's life. There were likely to have been quite a few areas of flood damage remaining in the neighborhood where Mom would play as a little girl--sights that could have fueled wonder in her young mind, helping her to imagine the horrors of the disaster described by her family. 

In particular, Mom would tell us about the flood waters having washed away topsoil from cemetery plots, exposing and opening a number of coffins and, in a few cases, revealing scratch marks on the insides of coffin lids. The thought of someone awakening from a death-like coma, to discover that they had been buried prematurely, is a terrifying thought to anyone, particularly a little girl, who could very well have had nightmares about suffocating as she tried to scratch her way out of a tomb!
(A photo from the 1937 flood.)

Arrival from One War, Departure for Another
Mom's family had lived in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio, in the region of metropolitan Cincinnati, since the early years following the Revolutionary War. The family of her father, Clarence Everett Prine (later Pryne), farmed mostly in Brown, Union, Adams, and Highland counties in Ohio. The family of Mom's mother, Dorothy Esther Marksberry, were mostly craftspeople, such as tool-and-dye makers, builders, and machinists, although they raised animals and crops, as well, and she had one uncle who was a physician. 

Clarence Pryne, known as "C.P.," decided early in his life that farming was not for him. He loved to draw and paint. He could draw a straight line without a ruler and a perfect circle without a compass. C.P. had only an 8th-grade education, but his mother was a voracious reader whose vocabulary and fund of knowledge were so advanced that she was, according to her granddaughter (my mother), ever in search of crossword puzzles that were difficult enough to challenge her. Lorena May (Segondollar) Prine had left her husband, James Millburn Prine, when Clarence was a small child. Apparently, their marriage was destroyed by the devastating loss of C.P.'s older brother, Aaron, who died at age seven of tuberculosis. This left little C.P. and his mother to look after themselves, but they were both intelligent, hard workers who found ways to get by. 

As yet, I have no evidence of where C.P. and his mother lived immediately after his parents separated, but when C.P. was 13 his mother married a fireman named Frank McMurray in Cincinnati. Clearly, Lorena had chosen to take her son away from rural Ohio, where both her father and ex-husband had farms. By the time of the 1930 Federal Census, 19-year-old C.P. and his mother were living on their own in Bellevue, Kentucky (a suburb southeast of Cincinnati) away from Mr. McMurray, who had remained at his Cincinnati residence. Following another failed marriage, Lorena was waiting tables in a restaurant, and C.P. was pressing clothes for a dry cleaner. 

Their economic situation was likely the cause of C.P.'s limited formal education. The idea of helping his mother financially by starting work as a young teenager probably appealed to C.P. Of course, in those days, many men began full-time work at a younger age than we typically see today. However, C.P. inherited his mother's penchant for mental challenge and was a seeker of knowledge throughout his life. C.P. was always keen to share his knowledge with me as I was growing up and seemed delighted by my curiosity. My grandfather C.P. gave me a slide rule and showed me how to use it, since I showed an interest in mathematics. He would show me blueprints and other drawings he liked to do, and he shared his magazines about history and geography with me (Biblical Archaeological Review was a favorite of his). He did not live to witness his granddaughter's own scholastic pursuits in History and Archaeology, but he deserves great credit for stoking my interests.

It could not have been long before the Great Depression affected the ability of C.P. and his mother to find work. My great-grandmother Lorena told us about a Depression-era job she had sitting overnight with dead bodies in a funeral parlor, making sure no one came in during the night to steal clothing and other valuables from the bodies. She brought books and puzzles with her to pass the time so, despite the interruption of her circadian rhythms, the job was fairly easy. She stated, however, that she never became accustomed to the sudden movements of the bodies as rigor mortis set in because, if the corpses had not been properly secured in their coffins, they would sit straight up suddenly and give poor Lorena quite a start! 

As his mother kept the body-snatchers at bay, C.P. was able to secure a job with the Work Projects Administration (WPA) as a draftsman, so finally he could put his drawing talent to work! By the mid-1930s, C.P. was in love with Dorothy (who was the niece of his mother's cousin's husband--such things we learn through Genealogy!) and ready to start a family. The couple settled in Covington, had my mother in 1937 and boy-girl twins in 1939, and lived there until the World War brought an opportunity for C.P. to work on secret projects for the Department of War as a civilian. This new job took the Pryne family away from the region that had been home to generations of their kin for about a century and a half, as they were called upon to move to different areas of the country during the war years.
(L-R, Lorena, C.P., and Dorothy, mid-1960s)

C-SPAN for Genealogy!
Grandpa C.P. would have loved the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, known as C-SPAN! Although he was still alive during C-SPAN's early years (they began broadcasting in 1979, and C.P. died in 1985), he never had access to cable or satellite television. I imagine that C-SPAN's weekend broadcasts of American History TV and Book TV would have become obsessions of his, as they have become mine.

It has been fun to discover how useful the C-SPAN website can be, not just for following current events, but for researching geographical and historical context for Genealogy! 

The C-SPAN Cities Tour, for example, offers over 2000 video tours of historical and cultural sites in cities all over the U.S. There is a great deal of contextual learning to be found at C-SPAN Classroom, as well. You don't have to be a teacher to find much to appreciate about the thousands of videos they have covering such topics as U.S. History, World History, Comparative Government, and Geography. For primary resources about culture, people, and events of the 20th and 21st centuries, C-SPAN's Reel America features over a thousand historic videos that are sure to spark your own memories!

One way to search C-SPAN for genealogical purposes is to visit their American History TV page and enter the name of a place, historical event, or historical person in the "search" box at the top of the web page, which you can filter by media such as "videos" or "clips." You can also click on the "Filter/Sort Options" to the right of the "search" box to enter more specific criteria for what you seek. For instance, a simple search of "Covington, Kentucky" yielded over 60 videos through which to scroll in order to find something new to learn about Mom's home town. 

Covington and the Bridge
One of the video choices on American History TV for Covington is about the Roebling Suspension Bridge. The video treats us to 6-1/2 minutes of history about this bridge across the Ohio River that links Covington and Cincinnati. It was engineered by a Prussian immigrant named John Roebling, who had arrived in the U.S. in 1832. Roebling invented a method of building suspension bridges by winding metal cables on-site. This method has been used to build many suspension bridges over the years, and Roebling's wire-rope technique is still used today. 

For about 20 years, people in northern Kentucky expressed their desire for a bridge to be built over the river because they wanted to avoid the cost of transporting livestock and other goods across the river by ferry boats into the Cincinnati markets. The State of Kentucky granted a charter to build the bridge in 1845, but the State of Ohio did not grant a charter for their end of the bridge until 1849. The project was further held up by a lack of funding, and construction did not begin until 1856, only to be discontinued in 1858 due to a financial panic. During the Civil War, the need to transport troops across the Ohio River convinced government officials to raise funds and resume the project, and the Roebling Bridge was completed in 1867, the year that work began on another suspension bridge utilizing Roebling's cable method, the Brooklyn Bridge. Sadly, before the Brooklyn Bridge was built, Roebling's foot was badly injured by an arriving ferry boat as he stood on a dock, and he died a few weeks later in Brooklyn Heights of tetanus. 

The Roebling Bridge has been updated a few times and strengthened to handle modern traffic, but it is still essentially the original bridge. The State of Kentucky took full ownership of the bridge in 1953. The original floor of the bridge was made of oak, although later the oak was replaced by a metal grate system. The bridge's metal mesh creates a humming/rumbling sound as vehicles drive over it, so the structure has been given the nickname, "the singing bridge."

Interestingly, a cousin of Mom's home-town Roebling Bridge is the Golden Gate Bridge that opened in 1937, the year Mom was born. I drive over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco at least once a week--a fact that further connects my family to Covington, Roebling, and suspension bridges. But alas, the Golden Gate Bridge is paved and does not sing!
(A statue of Roebling along the Northern Kentucky Riverwalk, with the bridge and the Cincinnati skyline in the distance.)

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Monday, November 13, 2017

Yes, It's About Time!

Welcome to my new web log, everyone!

After more than ten years of active involvement with the world of Genealogy, the time has come for me, finally, to begin a web log that is dedicated specifically to topics related to the art and science of researching and writing about Family History. The subject of Genealogy has been touched upon in my previous blogs, mostly notably AnnieWritesAbout--a blog in which I will continue to make entries regarding personal adventures in thought and travel.

Stay tuned for the first article to be posted here, which is currently being prepared!

Thanks to all!

Context in Historic Sites and Old Books--Frontier Life Along the Monongahela River

( You are also invited to visit my other blog,  AnnieWritesAbout ! ) Previously, fair reader, you were introduced my paternal grandfather...