Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Are Family

If we are honest with ourselves most family historians often find our departed ancestors more intriguing than our living relatives.  Consequently we spend a considerable amount of time tracking down records, photos and other sources of information in order to learn more about family who died long before we were born.  I confess to falling into this habit more often than not.  But I had the chance to reconnect with several of my extended family on my mother’s side the other day, an event that reminded me how important it is to take time for our living relatives and to enjoy their company while we can.  Both my parents died at a young age and that makes any opportunity to visit with family who knew them and/or me as a child particularly precious. 
James Montgomery Quesenberry 1847-1913
Of course since this is a family history blog I have to offer a little background on the common ancestors of the group of women that got together yesterday, after all those dead relatives are the ones that makes us a family.  We all descend in some degree from James Montgomery Quesenberry through his oldest son, Andrew Jackson Quesenberry.
James was married twice.  His first wife, Rhoda Nunn was seven years older than James; she is the mother of Andrew.  James and Rhoda married in 1865, after James retuned from Civil War.  He enlisted at the age of 16 in I Company, 50th Virginia Infantry. He fought at Gettysburg, among other places and was captured by Union forces at Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864 and was returned to Virginia in a prisoner exchange. Rhoda died sometime in the 1870’s and when James married again it was to a woman twenty-four years younger than himself, Mary Lawson.  James and Mary had twelve children, of whom ten survived to adulthood. 
James and Rhoda’s son, Andrew Jackson (Andy) married Susie Odell and they also had twelve children, my grandma Rhoda being one of the six girls in the family. I have never been to a Virginia Quesenberry reunion, but I am told there are a lot of relatives there!
Andrew Jackson Quesenberry and Susie Odell Quesenberry

That brings me back to the luncheon that my mom’s cousin, Betty, hosted yesterday.  There were a couple of generations present, although with large families the generations often come in varying ages.  One of my second cousins is in her seventies, one in her thirties and I am in my fifties, yet we share great-grandparents.  Most of the women I had known as a child, even though we don’t stay in touch on a regular basis.  A couple of cousins I had not even met before, or at least don’t remember doing so.  But that is where the wonder of family comes in.  As we talked and laughed and shared photos and memories there was a comfortable feeling, a feeling of being at home.  And isn’t that what family is for?
The Quesenberry Sisters circa 1925: Minnie, Annie, Bertha, Mattie, Rhoda, Lizzie

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Nanny's Diary

Amongst the family photos and memorabilia I inherited from my mother-in-law is a small notebook containing a few brief, but tantalizing, journal entries.  This diary belonged to my husband’s paternal grandmother, Emma Blanck MacKeigan (1897-1977).  I only knew “Nanny” for a brief time; she passed away in 1977, just three years after Dave and I were married.  But I was delighted that this little book allowed me to catch a glimpse of Nanny as a young woman of eighteen.

Naturally I would have loved to find long accounts detailing Emma’s daily life, her emotional state of being and her personal views on world events.  Alas, the entries in the diary are not much longer than tweets, or maybe Facebook updates.  But any personal writing that helps to flesh out our ancestors is a gift. So I try not to whine and complain that it’s not enough (try being the operative word here.)

Not only are the entries brief, so is the diary itself. It begins on January 1 1915, and ends on August 3 of the same year.  Except for the information that Emma began working at O.E.Seidel’s shoe store on Jan 31, the entries are all about her social activities.
Emma started the year by having a New Year’s Eve party at her home. There were six couples at her party and they “had a nice time.”  Emma lived with her parents, Charles and Anna Meister Blanck.  The Blancks lived in Rockport Township (now Lakewood) Ohio.  Emma was an only child, her father was a pharmacist and they led a fairly comfortable middle-class life.
 (As a side note, Charles and Anna were first cousins. When this fact was discovered it elicited the same response from my husband and all his siblings.  They all stated, “that explains a lot.”) 

Capitol Theatre
A young man named Lawrence figures prominently in the diary.  On February 15th he and Emma went to see “Omar the Tentmaker” at the Capitol Theatre downtown on 9th and Superior.  “Omar” was performed live by a touring company and received positive reviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  On the 24th of April they saw the D.W. Griffith silent film, “In Old Kentucky” at the Prospect Theater.  Of the nineteen entries in the diary six are about outings to theaters, either for stage shows or movies, or probably both since many of the vaudeville houses were combining short films with live acts.  Unfortunately Emma did not record her opinion of any of these performances.  Nanny did not live long enough to see her grandson and I perform on stage, but having read these entries I like to think she would enjoy our theatre performances.
Emma's other outings included frequent visits to her Meister relatives, some of whom lived in Lorain,  others in Graytown, near Toledo.  She doesn’t say how she traveled back and forth, but automobile excursions rate several entries including “moonlight rides in the machine.”  The fact that these outings get special mention makes me wonder if she traveled by train or trolley when visiting her out of town family, instead of by car. 
On May 30th she and Lawrence went to Euclid Beach, on July 30th they went to Put-in-Bay with a couple named Jim and Mary.  At Euclid Beach they “had a fine time,” but the Put-in-Bay trip did not rate a review.
Emma is second from the left in this photo

I have not identified the Jim and Mary of the diary, although other people mentioned are known relatives.  As for Lawrence, he is most likely another cousin.  No, unlike her folks, Emma did not marry her cousin; he seems to have been a “pal” rather than a “beau.” In fact I feel somewhat sad reading the bright, happy-go-lucky words of the young Emma.  Because I know that within a few years she will marry a young man named Frank Houck, who survived World War I, only to die in the flu pandemic that followed the war.  He fell out of a second-floor window while in the delirium of a high fever.
  Of course if Emma’s first husband had lived she would not have married Angus Stewart MacKeigan (1896-1969) in 1922.  They had three children, the youngest being my beloved father-in-law, Kenneth, so I am grateful for their marriage, but I can still imagine the pain and grief that Emma suffered when Frank died at such a young age.

 Any attempt to recreate the lives of our ancestors will never be complete, the ephemera left behind is usually sparse and sometimes lacking in context.  As I stated earlier, Emma's diary is brief, but it was accompanied by a photo album and taken together they help to paint the picture of her life for the descendants who only knew her "Nanny" and for those who never met her in person.  So, thank you, Nanny for leaving us a little bit of yourself.