Genealogy research is never done … you’re welcome to pitch in

The Orphan George Chronicles detail my long quest to discover where my Hodson line came from, beginning somewhere in the dimness of late 1800s southwest Ohio.

I hope you find the results posted on this blog informative and interesting, all the way back to mid-1500s Cumbria, England.

I thought I was finished, but a realization flashed through my head around the time of my father’s funeral.  In my desire to unearth the unknown, I had leapt over my grandparents in the project, people who had been right in front of me in my earlier years, They were also people who were no longer living, to be pressed for answers.

So I turned to the last living member of my dad’s nuclear family to see what I could glean from her memories, leading to invaluable insights in what I present as the latest postings on this blog.

Especially her quip at the airport – “You know your grandfather’s slogan, used on all of his advertising, was ‘Dayton’s Leading Republican Plumber’?” – this clue, told by the last of the family who would have remembered, instead becomes the key to my finally knowing both grandparents, years after their deaths.

What emerges is a profile of a generation that left not just farming but other traditions that had been practiced in this country for the previous two centuries, as they moved instead to the city and its new ways.

Just who are grandparents, anyway? And what is their role? What is discovered may be far from what is expected, as this personal exploration reveals.

And from there, we start going back … and back much further.

~*~

Let me also repeat my invitation to my wider kin. If you have photos, letters, memories, or other materials about any of the families discussed on this blog, I’d love to share them, if you’re willing.

As always, your comments are important. I look forward to hearing from you.

Where we start, as far as I can tell

Cumbria, at the far northwest corner of England, is said to have the highest concentration of Hodgsons in Britain, and from the surviving records, I can attest that the surname comes in at least 20 variants as early as the mid 1550s.

If my linkage through Ireland is correct, our ancestry was part of Pardshaw Monthly Meeting of Friends, Quakers who met for years outdoors, summer and winter, in the shelter of a large rock outcropping known as Pardshaw Crag. Eventually, worship moved indoors into homes during the winter, before this meetinghouse was constructed. I’m assuming some of our family is buried in the meetinghouse yard, but at a time long before headstones were permitted.

Our line, meanwhile, lived in Lumplagh nearby.

Pardshaw Friends meetinghouse in the northwest corner of England

 

Quaker meetinghouse and school, Pardshaw, near Dean, Cumbria

Seen from the air

 

The meetinghouse grounds approached from a village lane

 

Triggered by a ’50s Christmas like theirs

As we step across the hallway from an 18th century parlor into a mid-20th century living room decked out for Christmas, I freeze in mid-stride. Not simply because of the contrast between the dimly lit, austere Puritan chamber we’ve just left, where Christmas would have had no place, and the gaudy materialism of post-World War II America we’re entering. This self-guided museum tour is supposed to be a re-creation of history in a neighborhood of Colonial and Victorian houses and stores in seacoast New Hampshire. How is it that Candlelight Stroll, this panorama of New England antiquity, so unexpectedly drops me into my grandparents’ living room in Ohio, 872 miles west-southwest, a half-century before?

On that dressed blue spruce has bubbling colored glass lights the shape of small candles identical to theirs, as is the television, with its black-and-white program. “Howdy-Doody,” as I recall or perhaps imagine afterward.

Now that I think of it, Grandpa and Grandma were the first we knew to replace theirs with a color TV set, but that would have been a few years later than this display from the heart of the Eisenhower presidency. As would their aluminum Christmas tree, seemingly all tinsel, illuminated by the revolving plastic disc of colors in front of a light bulb; who knows what happened to the old bubbling decorations after that?

Circling slowly in the room, I keep repeating to my wife and daughters as much as to myself, I’m not that old. I’m not historic. This scene mirrors my own childhood, tinsel and ribbons and all, my own lifetime. History is what comes before us, at least after the last of a generation is buried and preferably much earlier.

In reality, Grandpa and Grandma have both been dead a quarter-century by this time, and that house sold after her death and his remarriage.

What I don’t voice as we pass through the room is my vague, underlying apprehension. No sense of warmth is stirred by encountering these objects from my childhood – no, “Oh, look!” accompanied by memories of comfort or affection, much less any impressions of individuals brought vividly back to life. If anything, that room represents something I’ve spent most of my adult life dodging.

But what, exactly, prompts this reaction?

As I’ve discovered, genealogy research leads to far more than names, dates, and places.  It connects bone and blood over centuries.

Continue reading Triggered by a ’50s Christmas like theirs

Into the Great Black Swamp

Grandpa’s funeral struck the first crack in my assumptions of his background. His obituary said he was born in Van Wert, Ohio. I stared at the entry. I thought he had told me he was born just northwest of Dayton, “on a farm where Wolf Creek originates.” Only after my dad’s funeral would I realize that farm must have been where Dad was born, instead. And when Grandpa had nodded, over there, maybe he didn’t actually mean the farm in immediate view on that road north of Brookville, but rather a farm somewhere on its far side.

Still, this was the first clue I had that Grandpa hadn’t originated in Montgomery County, but four counties to the north, in the heart of what had been the Great Black Swamp. By now, I had already lived a couple of years in another corner of the swamp’s former expanse – some of America’s richest farmland, once it was drained in the late 1800s. Settled nearly three-quarters of a century after the land around Dayton, this was a place long prone to malaria – and then, to an oil boom, like those of Oklahoma and Texas. When Grandpa was born, it was still newly developing country – much of it only a generation or so – rather than long settled.

But how did he begin there? To understand that requires uncovering something of his grandparents, which I explain in depth in earlier posts on this blog.

In brief, the lives of both of my grandpa and grandma’s paternal grandparents would have centered on distinctive religious communities – for the Hodsons, the Quakers, formally known as the Society of Friends as well as just Friends; for the Ehrstines, it was the Dunkers, or German Baptist Brethren, before their branch emerged as the Church of the Brethren. Other strands would include the Brethren Church and the Grace Brethren – but not the Church of the United Brethren in Christ (generally known simply as United Brethren) and the River Brethren, or Brethren in Christ, which also play significant roles in the family history. Again, you’ll find these detailed in earlier posts.

I knew none of this at the time of Grandpa’s funeral. We were simply homogenous Midwesterners, awash in the middle class of America. Only later would I see how the very practice of simplicity and humility was a distinctive tradition now obscured by its very essence. Unconsciously, I was mourning the loss that accompanied their assimilation – the blackout of two legacies of focused living that had spanned nearly two centuries on this continent.

Even before Grandpa’s funeral, the large family Bible – later re-enforced by Grandma’s notes – had provided a few more clues about the Hodsons. Grandpa’s parents were Joshua and Alice McSherry Hodson, and Joshua was the son of Pleasant and Eunice Osban Hodson. But that was as far as it went, and there were no locations – no hint, especially, of the Tar Heel generations.

Alice, meanwhile, was Joshua’s second wife. His first, Josephine Jones Hodson, had died of complications after the birth of their second son, Kyle. Only their first son, Samuel, survived.

Continue reading Into the Great Black Swamp

Marriage and children

Examining an online copy of the 1910 Census entry book, I chanced upon an unanticipated detail. As children, Grandpa and Grandma had lived on adjacent farms. They never told any of us that detail, as far as I know.

What now disclosed this was Edna Ehrstine’s name at the top of a page just over the enumeration of Joshua Hodson and his family. Knowing she would have been my Aunt Edna Binkley, I backed up a page, and sure enough, there was the rest of Henry Ehrstine’s household.

Since Henry and his wife Susie “bought the old home place” in 1907, as recorded in Grandma’s notes, and since Joshua rented the farms he worked, we can put their two households on a stretch of road just north of Brookville and west of Phillipsburg – in sight of other farms owned by Susie’s kin: the Rasors, Swanks, Michaels, Nicewongers (in their many variant spellings), and possibly Henry’s Danner and Hess kin as well.

Most of Henry and Susie’s ancestors had been pioneer arrivals nearly a century earlier, relocating Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, often by way of Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, or western Pennsylvania. Some of their lines likely lead back together to a few Swiss alpine villages.

The Ehrstine and Hodson farms would have been along the road where Grandpa had nodded once in the direction of the place “where Wolf Creek originates.” Maybe the farm he pointed out to me was simply the one where he had grown up, or maybe he’d been indicating further, to the one where my father was born. I was too young to be impressed, yet the memory somehow remained.

Not only did Grandpa marry the girl next door – or across the road, depending – but they must have attended the same one-room school, along with their siblings, and perhaps even worshiped in the same neighborhood church.

Continue reading Marriage and children

It wasn’t just any city, mind you

In declaring himself “Dayton’s leading Republican plumber,” Grandpa simultaneously claimed pride in his adopted community, his political party, and his new trade. True, he had lived in the city’s orb of influence ever since the family had moved down from Van Wert to Montgomery County. But resettling inside the city limits also meant new experiences, hopes, and horizons, and Dayton could boast a special identity.

At the time, the Gem City was benefiting from a handful of exceptional leaders. Long the home of inventors and tinkers – Dayton had already laid claim to having more patent holders per capita than anywhere else in the country – the city was now famed as the home of the Wright brothers, an economic legacy that would blossom through the sprawling Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The brothers were sons of Bishop Milton Wright, who had served as pastor of what would become Euclid Avenue United Brethren church before heading the traditionalist faction in a split within the denomination – the same congregation, in its liberal incarnation, where Grandpa and Grandma were devoted members. Although the Wright brothers started out as bicycle makers before turning their attention to flying, another line of Dayton-made bicycles did prosper – Huffy, with its popular fat-tire bikes of my childhood.

More influential on the locale was John Henry Patterson, an idealistic and paternalistic manufacturer who turned a rudimentary invention by a Dayton tavern owner into a ubiquitous and indispensable retailing instrument. As the genius behind the National Cash Register Co., Patterson not only pioneered modern marketing and sales strategies but also improved working conditions for his employees, something that often earned him the loathing of other industrialists. Rather than settle for an ugly slum factory, the NCR complex in Dayton was a light-filled, tree-lined campus more akin to a college in appearance. Patterson’s ancestors had been founders of Lexington, Kentucky, but left for Ohio in protest when that state voted to allow slavery; some of his kin joined the Shaker community in nearby Lebanon, Ohio, while his parents moved to Rubicon Farm, a sprawling tract then just south of Dayton containing much of the land that would become the NCR compound.

After the Flood of 1913 devasted both the city and the Miami Valley, Patterson spearheaded the drive that would assure such catastrophe would never strike again. The result was the Miami Conservancy District, which straightened the conflux of rivers, built levees and raised bridges, and between 1919 and 1921 erected five large dry-basin dams that would retain flood waters for slower, safer release. The project also brought its young manager to prominence, a young engineer named Arthur Morgan, who would later apply the same principles to the construction of the federal Tennessee Valley Authority during the Great Depression before becoming president of nearby Antioch College.

Patterson also brought a young inventor to town who would add his own impact, Charles F. Kettering. Joining with another NCR manager, Edward Deeds, Kettering would redesign the electrical system of the automobile to allow it to be started without recourse to the unsafe and peevish ratchet, appropriately known as a crank. Their work become Dayton Electronics Laboratory Company, or DELCO, which would soon merge into General Motors Corp. and make Dayton GM’s largest center of operations outside of Detroit. Kettering, second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents to his name, led GM’s team of scientists and engineers in Dayton to many useful inventions, including the refrigerator, no-knock gasoline, and a working Diesel engine. Eventually, five GM divisions operated in the city.

Already, the city had pioneered in a new way of municipal government, one based on a nonpartisan city manager rather than the mayor.

Continue reading It wasn’t just any city, mind you

A strip of Dayton postcards, back in the day  

This is my hometown, a decade or so before I showed up.

The public library. I got my first card here, before the structure was torn down and replaced.

 

 

Newcomb Tavern. You can still tour it, though it’s been moved to Carillon Park.

 

That’s John Henry PATTERSON, the patriarchal industrial pioneer who founded the National Cash Register Company, now NCR.

 

 

The epicenter of town, right at Third and Main streets.

 

My, times have changed!

 

I knew it well.

 

Next to the art institute. My grandpa was a member, but it was secret-secret.

 

What we would now call a veterans hospital.

 

Every city has to have a skyline, right? Like right out of Hollywood?

 

McOwen Street, action central

After moving from the farm, the family lived in a succession of rented houses Grandpa later pointed out as I rode with him around the northwestern quadrant of town. In these houses, Grandma was soon coping with three small children – Marion, my dad, born in 1922, Myrl Yvonne in 1924, and Donna June in 1927. One photo of the three kids gives the location as 421 Upland Avenue and has Dad in overalls and a fireman’s hat. Another, from Gettysburg Avenue, shows Myrl holding a doll nearly her own size, a scowling Donna gripping a teddy bear, and Dad in knickers and sneakers, deep in a book rather than acknowledging the camera.

The place I knew is the home they eventually owned at 39 McOwen Street, which was also the headquarters for his plumbing business. What catches me off-guard is that the actual purchase didn’t take place until June 20, 1940 – for $3,825. Up to this point, Grandpa had been, like his own father, landless; Joshua had set forth from the family’s small “plantation” in North Carolina, as all farms there were called, and become a sojourning tenant among the Hoosiers and Buckeyes. Now entering his own fifth decade, Grandpa could finally say he was sinking roots.

It was here that their fourth child, Thelma, quickly dubbed TJ by her siblings, was born. As we reexamine the time frame, she calculates, “so they had to have moved there before 1934. They converted the living room to the delivery room. Dad took your Dad, Myrl, and Donna to Uncle Arlie’s earlier that Sunday morning, so they were not present for this superhuman birth.”

Her cousin Wilma, in comparison, admits, “I don’t remember anything about the time when TJ was born.” From her perspective, maybe it was just another day of playing ball with her cousins Marion, Myrl, and Donna.

The McOwen Street house we remember is as least twice the size it was in fact. The frame structure was built in the late 1800s on a narrow lot, and had a railroad-car sequence of living room, dining room, kitchen, and, at the back, the office of James F. Hodson Plumbing & Heating. Its clapboards were narrow, painted a café au lait. An L-shaped porch wrapped around the front, allowing entry to the residence through the dining room, rather than the door to the living room. It helped that the dining room was essentially set sideways into the house, with a bay window on the side beside the entry, with the stairs to the second floor opposite. A natural-gas fireplace sat along the wall against the kitchen, though I never recall it actually working. (It probably would have been too hot for the room, anyway.) A separate entry at the end of a walkway beside the house led to the office. There was also a corridor from the kitchen to the office, as well as a doorway no longer in use.

Along an alley at the back of the lot was “the shop,” a small two-story carriage house filled with bins of plumbing supplies – the various joints and elbows, valves, caulking, solder and muriatic acid – as well as a much-used pipe cutter and threader on a stand. The structure had its own definitive smells: the mixture of oil and metal shavings, plus old warehouse dust, especially. In front of this but behind a trellis lay rows of cast-iron and lead pipes in many diameters. There was barely room at the side for the boarded gate to the alley, where Grandpa rented neighboring garages to securely park his trucks overnight. His own car was out on the street.

As kids, we would play on the pipes, of course, though there weren’t many fantasies we could construct from their utilitarian appearance. It was more like walking metal tight-rope.

Continue reading McOwen Street, action central

Riding along in Bessie and other business

When I came along, as their second grandchild, Grandpa was 48 – not quite five years older than his father had been at Grandpa’s birth. This might suggest Grandpa had experienced some of the emotional distance from his own father that I, in turn, felt from him.  That is, he was repeating a pattern he had absorbed as a child. There was, at least, something formal in the relationship between generations.

My earliest memories include climbing – repeatedly – up through his legs as he sat in his upholstered chair in their living room (in the days before the recliner) or of being bounced on his lap – the same chair he’d wind up snoring in after Sunday dinners. Curiously, I don’t recall the same playfulness with my own dad, although I carry a memory of riding home on his shoulders once, all the way from Wayne Avenue to our rental on Wilmington, and impressions of riding piggy-back from time to time.

Later memories have Grandpa sitting in the chair, teasing at a strand of hair – a nervous habit that left bald patches in his otherwise thick head of hair.

While his plumbers relied on a fleet of paneled vans, Grandpa always relied on a pickup named “Bessie,” no matter the make or model, or a nondescript car for his rounds. The vinyl seat-covers he proudly installed were sticky hot in the summer and stiffly cold in winter. During the years we were without a car of our own, Dad would sometimes borrow Bessie for the weekend so we could run errands or go out to the farm. In those days, we kids could always ride in the open-air bed, as long as we behaved ourselves. It’s been outlawed, at least where I live.

By the time I remember riding along with Grandpa on his plumbing rounds, he was well established and in his 50s. At that time in my life, chemistry experiments would have been more interesting, along with seining crawdads. But there was little explanation in these trips to the plumbing supply warehouse or the Ford dealer, much less the intricacies of one hot water heater over another, or the reasons we were popping into basements all over town.

As boss, he could combine business and pleasure. I remember his  stopping at a small grocery on Riverside Drive, the only place for miles that carried a delicacy known as pickled pigs feet. He bought several jars, and then found an excuse to be in another part of town where he could pull to the curb, run up to a door, and hand one to the woman of the house. “Surprise Ike when he comes home tonight,” he told her.

“Oh, James!” she shrieked. “You know how much he likes these!”

Ike was one of his black diggers. Or “colored,” as they said.

Me, I never touched the stuff. And, come to think of it, I’m not sure he offered.

Once, he let me open the mail when it arrived beside the dining room. I remember handling a check for almost seven hundred dollars and thinking it was an impressive sum. (In fairness, the average annual wage at the time was under $5,000.) I imagined Grandpa must be a very rich man to be getting checks like that. But another envelope had a cancelation mark saying HELP STAMP OUT SYPHILLIS. “Grandpa, what’s syphillis?” I asked innocently.

Continue reading Riding along in Bessie and other business

A genealogy regarding Piedmont Quaker pioneer George Hodgson and his lines