Sunday, December 15, 2013

Dix D. Dewey, Jr.: The Forgotten Uncle I Never Knew

Pictured here is my mother's older brother Dix. The family called him Dixie. Dixie and my mother were very close and she never got over his death. He died many years before I was born. I heard many stories about him throughout my life. Dix was born Dix Darius Dewey (Jr.) on 27 July 1917 in Chicago (Cook County), Illinois. He was the first born child of my grandparents Dix and Myrtle (Schmitt) Dewey. My mother was born two years later in April, 1919, sister Sue was born a few years later followed by another brother Chuck (Charles). In the early 1920s the family moved to Elgin, Illinois. According to my mom, Dixie was very athletic and excelled in many different sports in school and at the Elgin Y.M.C.A. On Saturday, June 13, 1931 when Dixie was just 14 an event took place that would change his life forever. Dixie was one of five young teens representing their Y.M.C.A. chapter for the Y.M.C.A. junior track and field state championship in Chicago. The director of the Elgin Y.M.C.A. Arthur Wild drove the 5 boys in his car, however, they never made it to the championship games. On the way there a fire extinguisher truck hit the car the team was in so hard that it flipped the car over. The emergency crew that responded to the accident had to extricate everyone in the car before rushing them to the Belmont Hospital. All 5 boys were severely injured and the director, Arthur Wild was rushed into surgery where he died on the operating table. My uncle received a serious head injury. The story my mother told me about this accident perfectly matched all the newspaper articles I found about the incident. According to my mother, less than a year later, Dixie began suffering from epileptic seizures. The family always believed that his epilepsy was a result of his head injury. Despite his epilepsy, Dixie continued to participate in his favorite sports, in particular, track, javelin throw competitions and his favorite of all, swimming. On May 24, 1935, Dix was at the "Big Seven" meet measuring the distance of a javelin throw when he was severely injured in the leg by a javelin. After Dixie graduated from Elgin High School he continued to work with the students athletic endeavors there. He was a volunteer member of the Maroon Athletic Club where he helped train young athletes and mentored them. By the age of 18 Dixie had already attained the degree of master builder in his local Masonic lodge where he was very active. Dixie was an intelligent young man who did very well in school. But as he entered the workforce his epilepsy had to be kept as secret as possible because in 1930s Elgin, no one would hire anyone with handicaps. Every time he would have a seizure at work, he would be fired. As word got around Elgin that Dixie had epilepsy, it became more difficult for him to find jobs. The final job he had at the time of his death was a tax assessor.
Despite all this, Dixie still was able to participate in the sports he loved so much. His passion was swimming and diving though. In the summer he went every day to the stone quarry pool in Elgin to swim and dive. On June 26, 1948 Dixie went to the quarry to swim. He was standing near the diving platform when he had a sudden epileptic seizure and dropped into the deep water. Grant Steffen saw him fall in and rushed in to recover him. Life guards assisted and the police and fire departments were called. Attempts were made from the time he fell into the water at 3:20 until 5 pm to resuscitate him, however, to no avail. Dixie died at the age of 30. My mother was on a date with my father at the time in Chicago. My father drove my mother home from their date and as the car approached the house, they knew something was horribly wrong. They could see several police cars parked in front of the house. Since my mother's 2 elderly grandmother's lived with them, she assumed something happened to one of them. When she found out what really happened, she was devastated.
I doubt there is anyone living now who remembers him. He left no widow or children. His awards, trophies and all evidence of his life is long gone. All that remains is his bible which is in my possession. But I will always remember all the memories of him that my mother shared with me. Although he did not live long, he lived a full life and made every day count.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Impressions Of My First FGS Conference

Last week I attended my first FGS Conference. Having worked for my dad since I was a child on internationally attended conferences and seminars, I know exactly how much work goes into them. In my opinion based on my experience at the FGS Conference they worked very hard and it showed. Aside from a fire alarm that went off Thursday all went extremely well. The sessions and their speakers were all outstanding. Of course, my favorite speakers were Elizabeth Shown Mills who inspires us all to be the very best and thorough as we can be as well as how to properly conduct research, document and of course, site those sources. I cannot forget to mention Judy Russell (AKA The Legal Genealogist) whose passion and humor not only teaches but inspires and entertains. I think if Judy wanted to, she could add professional comedienne to her list of professions. In addition to that, Judy keeps us out of trouble. Based on her session on copyright law, I think I had better go through my websites and check those images! I was also impressed with Laura Prescott's obvious passion. But all the speakers were great and they had quite a list of speakers that represented the best genealogy has to offer. I attended this conference to learn and with their impressive list of speakers, I certainly did that. I also had the opportunity to meet many people, network and have fun.
The exhibits in the exhibit hall were all great and several book and map vendors were there. I had been to their booths every day looking through their collections of books and maps. They had books on everything you could imagine. I found books on researching every state in the United States, African American, Germany, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Scandinavian, Slovakian, Czech, Serbian, Russian, Jewish even several Caribbean Islands. What I did not find was anything related to Italian Roots. One vendor had a map of Sicily and Naples. That was all for Italian resources! I have been aware for years that the genealogy community in general has mostly ignored the Italians. But not a single session included anything Italian related and even the vendors have ignored those with Italian roots. Family Search understands well how many people with Italian roots are looking which probably explains why they have put so many Italian records online. I think the time the genealogy community begin to offer at least something for the Italian community is long overdue. My experience at the conference did not entirely lack an Italian experience though. Thanks to Dr. John Phillip Colletta and the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Italians did have some representation. Dr. Colletta was the speaker for the APG luncheon and did an outstanding, extremely funny speech regarding the keepers of the records and his experiences in Sicily. His presentation was very funny and he rocked an awesome imitation of the Italians.
Lessons Learned
If you want it buy it now: I found several books I wished to purchase in the exhibit hall, however, because I found them on short breaks between sessions and did not wish to carry these heavy volumes around, I waited. When I returned to purchase them, they were gone. One of these books was a 2 volume set on Colonial Virginia printed in 1906. The set was offered for an extremely reasonable price of $50 for the pair and was probably a once in a lifetime opportunity. Next time, I will at the very least ask if they can either hold them until the end of the day after I purchase them or have them shipped. At least one of the book vendors did offer free shipping for purchases.
Carry light: I have a huge bag I use all the time when visiting repositories, etc. It is a huge heavy thick leather bag with big brass clips. Empty this bag weights about 5 pounds. Next time, I leave that bag home! By the time I packed everything I needed into that bag, it felt like it weighted 50 pounds! I doubt it did but by the end of the conference my back and shoulders were hurting quite bad.
Book the hotel early! By the time I committed to go, the venue hotel was booked, as was the hotel across the street. In fact, my top 4 choices were all booked. Next time I will book the hotel before the conference - as soon as the dates are announced.
Come early, stay late! This particular conference was held in Fort Wayne. Located here is one of the largest genealogy libraries in the country. Next time I attend a conference (particularly one with a genealogy library I can use) I will book a hotel at least a day early and stay a day after the conference so I have more time for research. Roots Tech will be held in Salt Lake City, the Mecca of genealogists. Booking an additional week still would not be enough time to go through the amazing collections of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I need to choose a few lines to concentrate on and be super organized for this visit.
Overall it was a great experience that I cannot wait to repeat.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Death Records: A Love Hate Relationship

Recently I have been trying to help someone at one of my Family History Centers who is new to Italian records. She was confused because things were not making sense. Things were not making sense because she was tracing the wrong family. Hence, this blog post.
I learned early that death records can provide the place of birth, the parent's names and more. Many United States death records also provide a cause of death. I love death records! The biggest problem with death records is, the information contained on them is provided by another person. Although I will be using Italian examples, most of the content here works with American records also.
This is the death record of my paternal second great grandmother, Caterina Nicastro. According to this death record (atti di morte or act of death) Caterina died at the age of 80 in November of 1904. The record identifies her as the wife of Filippo Napolitano so we know we have the correct Caterina Nicastro. The record also states that her father was the late Giuseppe and her mother was Carmela Alfano. Great! So now we have the parents of Caterina, right? Wrong! The first question I had when I found this record was how can Caterina's mother still be living when Caterina was 80 years old? The fact is Carmela Alfano was only 9 years older than Caterina. Next we look at the people who reported her death. Pasquale Arturi, age 40 and Emilio Arturi, age 27 reported the death. Two of Caterina's daughters married men named Arturi, however, neither of these men were close family members to her son in laws. Pasquale was a 2nd cousin to one of her son in laws. So, how did they know Caterina's parent's names? The answer may be that they guessed. If they did, they guessed incorrectly. Caterina was actually 75 years old when she died, not 80. Her father was actually the late Francesco Nicasto and her mother was the late Isabella Fullone. The only correct information on this record is the date and her name. So, how do I know this? Her marriage, processetti and birth records.
This is a portion of Caterina's marriage record that clearly shows her (still living) parent's names. Both Caterina and her parents were present so we can assume that this record is correct, however, her birth record provides further confirmation.
My own grandfather's death record was incorrect. His son reported the death, however, his children never knew his true age nor where in Italy he was born. I love death records but I never trust them by themselves.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday Dudley Kent Of Suffield, Connecticut

When I visited Suffield, Connecticut in 2011, I was very disappointed that my local ancestor's headstones no longer exist. I was told by a staff member at the Kent Memorial Library that the church had expanded and renovated over the years and built the additions to the church over the graves. Although I was very disappointed, I was happy to find this wonderful headstone for Dudley Kent. Dudley was born to John Kent (my ancestor) and his first wife Abigail Dudley (who is not my ancestor). Dudley was born in Suffield on 23 October 1695 and married Ruth Ruggles who bore him 10 children. Dudley lived to be 71 years old.The headstone is a typical style for the Hartford County area of this period. We are very fortunate his headstone exists in remarkable condition considering it is over 246 years old!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Funeral Card Friday - Mary Earle Huffman Rigsby

Mary Earle Huffman was the sister of my biological grandfather William Huffman. She was known by her middle name Earle. Earle was born on the 9th of May 1903 in Barren County, Kentucky. Her parents were (James) Marion and Mary Belle (Baldock) Huffman. Her siblings were:
  • Sherman Arthur Huffman
  • Otha Marion Huffman
  • Nannie Mae Huffman Rigsby
  • Mattie S. Huffman
  • Carl Thomas Huffman
  • Earl Huffman
  • William Marion Huffman
Earle married John Rigsby in Barren County and had 3 children. Earle lived to be 90 years old and was loved by all who knew her. Below is her funeral card.

Treasure Chest Thursday - My Grandmother's Quilt

My mother's mother was Myrtle (Schmitt) Dewey. She was quite the crafty woman and was accomplished at sewing, needlepoint and even made quite beautiful Christmas ornaments. She was the perfect grandmother in every way except one. She lived over a thousand miles away in San Diego, California.
Both my mother and my grandmother were quite gifted in the art of letter writing. My grandmother wrote me every week and I reciprocated until her death in 1973. When I was 10 years old my grandmother came to Chicago and stayed with us for a month to help care for my mother after her hysterectomy. She brought with her one of the quilts she had made from her husband's neckties. This quilt is a small piece of both my grandmother and grandfather. Knowing how proper was grandfather was, I was quite surprised at how whimsical some of his ties were and wondered if he actually wore them. Although the pictures do not do it justice, it is one of my prized possessions because it reminds me of my sweet grandma.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Motivation Monday - Life Happens

I realize I have not made many blog posts or updates to my websites this year. I have actually been uncharacteristically very quiet on my blog as well as all social media and my websites have not been updated. I have had good reasons for this though. 2012 was a huge year for me personally. In July I received my original birth certificate with revealed my original name at birth before I was adopted. I had no idea at that time the emotional journey that would transpire in the days and months to follow after meeting my biological family. I have learned more about myself and my own personal past in the past 6 months than I could ever imagine. I have also spent this time trying to get to know my new found family and have discovered so much about myself as a result. Because their world and mine are so different, I have had a unique view into what aspects of our personalities are influenced by genetics and what was a result of environment, learning and life experiences. My life has been dramatically changed forever. If you ask a genealogist why they do what they do, many may tell you it is a journey to discover where (and who) they come from. But for an adopted person it is all that and to discover themselves as well. To know who they look like and what personality traits they share with whom, family health history and so much more. I did not have that basic knowledge. The past 6 months have been an unexpected intense journey of discovery for me. I have been given answers to questions I never knew existed until I met my brother. We share so many personality traits it is hard to believe how different we were raised in every way but still have so much in common in our personalities. It has been an exciting and very happy time in my life. It has also been quite healing. However, I have also had another issue in my life that takes most of my time. I prefer to keep the circumstances private for now. It has been these things that have kept me silent on social networking, my blog and my websites. I simply have not had the time or energy.
Finding my biological family has been an amazing, happy journey of discovery. It has also been a time of confusion for me. From a genealogy point of view, I have become uncertain where I belong. I have begun many blog posts for various branches of both my biological lines as well as lines for the family that raised me. These posts have never been completed because I simply have not felt right posting them. I have been uncomfortable writing about any of my family lines. The term family became quite complicated for me. I imagine this was all part of my personal journey of processing everything in my mind. The fact is I should be writing about both my biological and adoptive families. My biological family is my bloodline, my DNA and part of why I am who I am. My adoptive family is also a huge part of why I am who I am and I love them all dearly. And I know them well. They are both my family. So I have decided to simply jump back in as time permits. Since I did not grow up knowing my biological family or hear family stories as I grew up, I will need more help from them to learn and more work will be necessary to write the Huffman-Smith stories. They have all been wonderful about that and I am learning. 2013 will be the year I begin writing about the Huffman and Smith families, however, I still have so much work to do to finish writing about the Napolitano families and Dewey families and have no intention of stopping my work on them. I have decided to redesign my website Early American Ancestors to add the Huffman and Smith families. Before I do that, I need to choose a new CSS based template for a totally new look and begin writing the Huffman and Smith family genealogy. This will be a lot of work and my plate is pretty full with my personal issue so I will be unable to create any time schedules for myself. I will have to do what I can, when I can. My huge list of priorities will have to wait and I must be patient. I hope everyone understands.