Bethel Cemetery 

My introduction to this country cemetery was when I was nine and we drove for what like seemed forever from the first funeral in my experience and out across the bleak fields of Ohio to the burial.

I had no idea where we were, though now I’m surprised to find it was only a mile from Uncle Arlie’s farm, as the crow would fly northwest.

I was also clueless why this was the destination, rather than another one where I’d been on repeated stops. More on that in a future posting.


I eventually returned to this place decades later, once I’d undertaken the genealogy and had a name for the site, this time to find the graves of my great-great-grandparents, Jacob and Caroline Ehrstine. I was truly perplexed, why here?

I’m guessing this stone was erected in the 20th century, replacing earlier ones.
Their toddler son, Jesse
And toddler son Eli


The question was why they were buried at Bethel, rather than at the Ehrstine cemetery a township to the east, where many of my earlier ancestors are interred. I see no evidence of a family lift and can only conclude that their decision reflected a commitment to their community of faith, centered at the Salem Church of the Brethren across the road. From the German-American names on the gravestones, many with strong Brethren roots, Bethel appears to have been the church graveyard.

Not only are Arlie and Edna (Ehrstine) Binkley buried here, so are two generations of his ancestors and kin, including the Taylors, plus Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Jesse Haines, another Ehrstine descendant.

And my father was born not that far to the west.

A genealogist can learn a lot nosing around among old tombstones.

Other burials, giving a sense of the Brethren community, include Jesse Kinsey Brumbaugh, a minister.
Mary Hocker Brumbaugh upholds the Plain Brethren appearance.
Lowell Dale Gerber maintained tradition. Men wore beards but not mustaches.
As did Hubert Paul Balsbaugh.


Back to the countryside

Grandpa’s final years were spent in a brick ranch house set in a loop amid fields along the National Road. Through this period, we seldom saw each other. I came down, from another corner of the state, with my fiancee when he remarried. And later, after our return from the Pacific Northwest and resettlement in another corner of the state, we came down for his funeral, conducted by two members of their church. “They nearly converted me,” my then-wife said afterward. His widow, meanwhile, said, “Don’t those hymns really move you? Don’t they really say it all?” Referring to the heavy vibrato electronic organ, rather than any singing we might have done.

He had married another woman with impressive Brethren roots. Another Capricorn, for that matter. “A good Christian woman,” as he put it. I remember a somber woman with two gracious sons, and rumors of some conflict with one of my cousins.

There were more trips to California, too, with his preference for Knotts Berry Farm rather than Disneyland.

Perhaps this was a time of reflection for him, before he collapsed and died while shaving.

We did not smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, or tell certain kinds of stories the way others did. We did not gamble, that I can tell. We did not party much, at least not in the raucous, outgoing, overbearing way that brings the police. We were not wealthy and did not live in the classier parts of town, either. In short, we were – and still are – a rather simple people. With some pretty good reasons.

About all we seemed to have was this odd, seemingly rare, six-letter name. Not as rare, it turns out, as I had thought. But still uncommon enough to cause problems: a name others often misspelled as Hudson or, as I could never understand, as Hodgson, with a g. Yet, as cousin Floyd Hodson has remarked, “A name is something we should live up to, wear with pride, constantly strive to upgrade its identity, let it always stand for honesty.” He adds: “I think the name Hodson has done all of these things. I’ve never been ashamed to introduce a Hodson to anyone. My name, because of the value and high standards given to it by my ancestors, has been one of my most valuable possessions.”

When I was an intern reporter at the Journal Herald in Dayton, I was surprised at the number of times I encountered the response, “Oh, you’re Marion’s boy,” or, “Are you any relation to James the plumber?” – to which would be added: “They’re a good family.”

But what does that mean?

Perhaps it was simply the lack of talk about anyplace else that misled me.

I do not recall hearing, as a child, many stories of my family roots – at least beyond my grandparents. My Hodson line seemed to possess little in the way of music, literature, or the visual arts, other than a generic Protestant religiosity and plastic-fork consumerism.

At any rate, searching for family roots was something I would have shied away from. In the end, each individual must assume responsibility for his own destiny, regardless of the strengths or weaknesses of genetic endowment. What is the good of finding distant linkage to royalty or fame unless estates or lost fortunes are involved? There is ego gratification, of course, but that urge entails risk: consider those who set out with high hopes that quickly shatter when they discover an ancestor hanged as a horse thief or that their good Christian name exposes relatively recent Jewish descent. At such points the quest is usually dropped. For others, genealogical investigation is a form of ancestor worship; frankly, I can think of better ways of spending eternity than being bound to legions sharing a surname.

Yet some curiosity remained. As Floyd observed in his letter: “When we think or speak of a name, we immediately think of those people’s characteristics, their habits, their personalities, and everything [else] that makes up every fiber of their being and [whether] it adds up to good or bad.”

During a visit home during Dad’s long decline to Alzheimer’s, I worshipped at a pastoral Friends meeting, rather than my more traditional “silent” variety. When an older woman asked why I chose them rather than another meeting nearby, I explained briefly that I enjoyed experiencing the other kinds of Quakers – and besides, I had the book, meaning a thorough oral history of the congregation and its town before they were relocated by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam project. She gazed at me and said, “It’s fiction. It’s all fiction.”

I keep coming back to this matter of identities and their influences. I think it’s often easier to say who or what we’re not than who or what we are, exactly. At least the negative list will always be muc­h longer than the positive one. And that’s not even touching on what we’d like to be. But we can also look to the ways and times our personalities are revealed through relationship – or even opposition to another. Or, as the local rabbi asks, why do we keep telling the same stories – what keeps drawing us back to the Biblical dramas?

Self-identities and a sense of importance do shape us.

Going through my files, I find a later, undated note to me headed, “Formerly Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber, Now Just Grandpa Hodson.” Until TJ had asked if I knew his slogan, this entry was entirely baffling. Now, in context, he observes “a bit of joy comes as I realize I am one – only one – of ‘Those Shriners.’ That reminds me of what my good friend Dr. Gregory once said, ‘After all there is nothing much more valuable than a host of Christian friends.’

“Lots of good old fashioned Preble County love.”

This, after he had sold the house in Dayton and retired across the county line in Lewisville.

At last the meaning comes clear. All these years later.

*   *   *

Who would describe himself as a leading Republican plumber today? Not after Watergate, when “Republican plumber” became a euphemism for buglar, the band of bungling former spies and thugs actively attempting to subvert open elections and American democracy. A “Republican plumber” was even a CREEP, thanks to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Watergate, the hotel and office complex, itself carried a biting irony in this matter: “water gate” was originally a kind of plumbing.

Not that the Grand Old Party hasn’t tried. In 2008, the John McCain presidential campaign floated “Joe the Plumber,” touting Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher as just another regular Ohio man. A plumber, however, who wasn’t licensed and inexplicably had an income far above what any hourly wage would provide or an average homeowner could afford.

Of course, the Republican Party was transmuting from the party of Lincoln and Hoover into its opposite.

Dayton, too, is not what it was.

My attitude toward the bubbling Christmas tree candle lights has changed, too. They become somehow appropriate for a plumber’s Christmas tree, or perhaps even our own, which will never have tinsel. (My wife’s style is folk arts, unlike theirs.) As the owner of a house built about the same time as their McOwen street home, I’ve come to treasure a good plumber. The range of required skills for maintaining an old structure far exceeds my own, and with Rick, our carpenter and electrician, we’ve uncovered too many examples of people in over their heads over the years; it’s a wonder the kitchen roof never blew off in a nor’easter or blizzard.

In all of this, as I probe my memories of Grandpa and Grandma, I also sense a legion of ghosts behind them – not apparitions, exactly, but rather the people who were already old when they were small: connections from the years before automobiles and farm tractors became commonplace. This, I will argue, is their essence – something they knew they had lost, much the way Adam and Eve sensed deep loss in their expulsion from Eden. Of course, Grandpa and Grandma would openly admit that farming was never an Eden, not with so much endless hard labor. And like Adam and Eve, something was both lost and gained in moving on. Even so, in our Sunday afternoon visits to Grandma’s sister and her family, we returned to something unspeakably fundamental and true – the farm, set so close to so many other family connections.

Greetings to all

Here we are, a day shy of the date given – without support – as Orphan George’s birthday. Not that Quakers would have celebrated.

What I would like to celebrate, though, is the conclusion of the serialized branch of the family that Michael Howard Hodgson shared through the past year. Yay! I still believe it’s a remarkable document of family movement westward in generations across the frontier.

I’m hoping it will inspire other family members who have documents or artwork to contribute to do so. The blog’s open!

Before the postings return to Ohio, for now, let me return to our North Carolina roots.

Researchers who go to the old Quaker minute books can expect to face pages like this.

A page from the New Garden Friends men’s meeting minutes that include mention of Orphan George’s son, George, my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather.


And the New Garden Friends meetinghouse in Guilford County, North Carolina, is one our family knew well.

The exterior in its later years.


And what to expect inside, seen from the men’s side of the room. The vertical shutters seen as open windows across the middle of the room could be closed for business sessions, with the women handling their own agenda.


Remember, too, this blog has other centers of action, including much from my Pennsylvania Dutch background as it was transplanted into southwest Ohio.

This year we’ll be paying special attention to my grandfather and grandmother, who I had pretty much leapt over in trying to learn about my roots. It gets rather personal.

So, yes, we’re returning to Ohio … unless you have something to take us elsewhere!

A few reflections on this serialization

I hope you’ve enjoyed this serialization of Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s history of this line of the family as much as I have.

Feeling there was a gritty honesty in the telling of these memories as they stood, I decided to refrain from correcting grammar or syntax or inserting details.

This account is full of telling particulars but also retains a sense of life for many on the western frontier in this period. For that, I’m deeply grateful.

Having lived for four years in the dry interior of Washington state, I can recall many obituaries of people his age that included the line, “A Pioneer,” people whose childhood had often included the first few years in a tent, even through difficult winters.

So it’s not just a genealogical document that adds much to our understanding of the family – many other lines also drifted out of the Quaker faith and westward like this – but also a vital history of the settling of a particular corner of the Pacific Northwest.

Many thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson for sharing this with us, and our best wishes in his ongoing research.

And our gratitude, too, to David Evert Sailor who keyboarded the manuscript and mildly edited the text in May 1987.

Don Fleck’s recollections dated March 2007

With thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson for providing this.

I knew Gerald growing up as a young man in Kettle Falls, He was my Great Uncle. My Grandfather was Victor Hodgson, my mother was Leona Hodgson /Fleck/. We did not see Gerald but about one or two times a year, he did not visit often, he would usually stop in sometime in the spring. My mom always had a “Christmas” gift for him. We would occasionally visit his place on Boulder Creek. I remember he had a large pasture and always there was a bull in the pasture. For some reason we were afraid of the bull. I told this story to Gerald a short time before his death and he just laughed. He thought it strange that we would be afraid his bull. He said that he treated him well and that he was not aggressive. I could have been my sister or my cousin that said that the bull was mean. Perhaps it was from watching too much TV, rodeo‟s etc that placed that idea in my head. When we didn‟t see him in the pasture we would explore the woods to the south west of this house. I remember many visits that he made to our home, he always stopped in after a visit to Colville, it was usually in the evening. I remember on one visit we ate dinner. We had shrimp that night, to his remembrance had never had them before. I thought it curious that he ate the tails and all. Being young I never really took the time to get to know him. For this I missed a great opportunity to learn a great deal from him. Gerald died July 21, 2002, a memorial gathering was held on August 18, 2002, in the Colville Park. I was honored to have known Gerald, a short time before his death, we visited with him and I asked him why he never married. He told me that, he had cared for his parents in their old age, well into his 40‟s and by the time they were gone he stated that “I had lived so long without a woman, I couldn‟t figure what I needed with one.” There are many that knew Gerald much better than, I but I always knew him to be honest in all his dealings. He was an avid reader and loved science fiction books and magazines. I asked him if he ever tried writing a science fiction story. He said that once he tried but by the time it was done it was too much like all the ones he had read.

The old Indian horse trail

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

In the good old days, the Indians had a well-defined horse trail through here. I am told it originally came down off Kelly Hill near the south end of Toulou Mountain, crossed Kettle River at a shallows which still exists, and climbed the steep hillside at the south end of the Sandcuts and just north of ‘Mayor’ Schmidt’s field, circling above the sand slide and crossing portions of the Charlie Anderson place and portions of the Hollenbeck Place, thence taking a course along the back (the sunny) side of the mountain on which my place is located. At the upper end, the trail crosses the west end of my place and drops almost straight down the steep hill to Boulder Creek where it crosses the main stream at what was called ‘The Ford’ before taking its course up North Boulder on its way to Curlew. Portions of this trail can still be located if you know where to look.

A very large and tall fir tree once stood on my side of The Ford. A dead man, believed to have been a murdered prospector was found at the foot of this tree at sometime during the early history of the locality. The tree later fell directly across Boulder Creek and I used it as a foot bridge many times during my growing years.

During my lifetime, the Old Indian Trail took off from the public road a little ways south of the old schoolhouse, and I have seen pack trains of Indians ascend the schoolhouse pipeline to take the route around the Hill — one writer says that Indians called it ‘The Little Mountain Trail.’

My sister Elva and I heard horses traveling along it when we were herding sheep. We did not see them, however, as we preferred to hide out.

The trail saw a lot of service during the old days — Indians, prospectors, frontiersman and, according to Lawyer Thomas Oakshott, its most famous traveler was General William Tecumseh Sherman who went through here in the 1870’s on a diplomatic mission to Canada and to parley with local Indian chiefs. He was accompanied by Lieutenant George W. Goethalls, who later superintended the construction of the Panama Canal.

Legendary citizens of Orient, Washington

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

There was the local storekeeper who had paid a visit to the ‘house’. Someone warned his wife and she headed for the joint with a horsewhip. He managed to dodge her but had to jump out a window in his shirt tail.

The saloonkeeper, ‘Farmer’ Jones, was bitten in the thumb by a drunk he was trying to roll and died of blood poisoning as a result.

‘Old August’ was a German immigrant and local handyman. Someone got him drunk at a dance one night and suggested that he play the piano, which he did with surprising ability. Under questioning, he admitted that he had once done a command performance for the Kaiser.

‘Old Man Schmidt’ was a cranky old bachelor who lived at Barstow, which at that time was just a siding and an openfronted shed by the railroad. He was sometimes called “The Mayor”. The Mayor had one fixed peculiarity. He ate lots of fried food and would use no other shortening than bacon grease which, of course, he carefully saved. Some newcomers, short on money, arrived nearby. They had, as he knew, just been to Orient and back, so assuming they had any money or credit, they should have come back well supplied with groceries. Well, in the evening they (the womenfolk) came over to borrow some lard. Naturally he had no desire to give away any of his precious bacon grease, so his reply was, “Borrow? Hell! I buys my grayse!” He shut the door in their faces. Courtesy of the Old West. The Mayor died in the Ferry County Poorhouse at the age of ninety. The Poorhouse was still a very real thing in the early days of the Great Depression, and was still known by that name.

On hawks and owls and free schoolbooks

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

Hawks and owls were much more common in my youth than they are today. People shoot them and their natural prey is more scarce. The hawks were mostly large grey hawks or the smaller blue hawks. I never saw a redtail until two or three years ago and they didn’t seem to frighten the chickens. Of course, a chicken knows when a hawk is acting threatening. Redtails are supposed to be harmless. The owls were horned owls with ears like a cat.

In recently reading the life of Huey Long, I could understand what a real talking point he had in his first campaigns when he advocated state purchase of books for school children. Under his control, Louisianans did buy books for all school children, black or white. regardless of the kind of school they attended. He got around state limitations by buying them for the children, rather than for the school. Great quantities of stored up books collected from small districts were fed into the Orient furnace after consolidation.


On 19th century economics

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

The economics of those days were considerably different than those of today. The only completely dependable money was either gold coin or yellow-backed gold certificates. Mortgages and leases were ironclad; that is, they tied up everything you had and to add injury to insult, they were made out payable in gold — a proviso that was not usually enforced because it was unenforceable. People who had gold and could, hung onto it and spent silver and silver certificates. I don’t know whether it was still legal for banks to issue money on their own authority in Dad’s day but in an earlier day it was common — if the bank failed so did the money. A form of greenback called the National Banknote was in circulation — a sort of carryover from the old banknote — guaranteed by the Federal Treasury and based on the National Debt. It was started during Lincoln’s time to finance the Civil War. A private bank could invest most of its deposits in government bonds, deposit the bonds with the National Bank and receive the National Banknotes in return for up to 90% of the face value of the bonds — changed to 100% during World War I.

The National Banknotes the banker received bore the name of the local bank and the engraved signature of its president — a sort of limited paper inflation and the Government paid the bank interest on its bonds for the use of its name. The National Banknotes were a political football up till the time they were all called in during the first years of FDR’s administration. The Federal Reserve Banks, started earlier, have pretty well replaced them with Federal Reserve Notes. We no longer have bimetallism, and the money is as good as the government behind it — and no better!  In due course, along came the depression of 1893 and the Election year of 1896 when William J. Bryan ran for president on the platform of free coinage of silver on a basis of 16 to 1 with gold — taken by itself, it wouldn’t have been a patch on some of things that have happened since. Through fear, concerted action or both — banks refused to lend money and business shut down. It wouldn’t happen today, but Bryan was defeated and McKinley went to his inauguration and later, death. With restored confidence, business picked up, gold ‘from the Klondike and McKinley’s Federal Reserve Law plus the war boom of ’98.

On the castration of animals

Continuing with Gerald Nathan Hodgson’s Northwest family narrative, with thanks to Michael Howard Hodgson:

It is a relatively simple operation if you know what you are doing and most animals survive it without too much difficulty. Some animals die from infection or excessive bleeding. A good deal of superstitions have been associated with it the signs of the Zodiac — the moon phases, etc. My own conclusion — mild weather and reasonable cleanliness. Also the animal should be as young as other circumstances permit. With larger animals, I tie the main cord with string to prevent bleeding.

A genealogy regarding Piedmont Quaker pioneer George Hodgson and his lines