Remembering Arthur

One of my weekly routines is picking up the mail at our Quaker Meeting’s post office box.

Among the items we receive is the Earlhamite alumni magazine, and while I never attended Earlham College, it’s not far from where I grew up and, besides, I frequently enjoy perusing its handsome pages.

In the most recent issue, I was randomly scanning its alumni obituaries, taking in the many varied routes its graduates had taken through life – few of them Quaker but inspiring all the same.

Then I stopped altogether on one notice – read it a second time, in fact:

ARTHUR DANIEL HODGIN, 95, died July 23, 2018. Art was a lifelong resident of the Richmond, Indiana, community. Art served in the U.S. Navy on the U.S.S. black during WWII. He graduated from Earlham College in 1950 and retired from the Palladium-Item in 1984. Art was a member of West Richmond Friends Meeting.

“Could it be?” I asked myself. I don’t think I ever knew his middle name, but I vaguely recalled his using the middle initial. The Arthur I knew was a member of West Richmond Friends. And, oh yes, he did eventually mention working in newspapers – something we had in common. He sheepishly admitted being an ad rep, soliciting advertising accounts, while I had been in the newsroom. (The two sides of the business were quite separate operations, and relations were sometimes prickly.)

To back up. When I first got in involved in genealogy, which turns out to be a couple of years before he retired, I came across his name somewhere in my early diggings. All of it’s pretty fuzzy by now, but it was likely through files of correspondence you would find in genealogical libraries or through references relayed by other correspondents. Paul Mills, who compiled a very useful Mills Family History: Quakers and Other Early Arrivals, may have been the source – he included his own address in Oregon at the opening of that paperback volume. I do remember having some useful exchanges with him, too.

My cousin Floyd Hodson and I were trying to connect our line in Ohio to earlier Hodsons in North Carolina. As this blog relates, we descend from Orphan George through Joshua Francis Hodson, who came north after the Civil War. Joshua was Floyd’s grandfather and my great-grandfather. But for years we were stymied in our quest.

Arthur, who descends from Orphan George’s son Robert, helped me work from the other end. His long letters to me were generous, gentle, and meticulous. You’ll find quotations from them in the chapter on Orphan George himself.

Arthur may have been the one who opened my eyes to the Hodgin variant of our surname. Floyd had already come across a mimeographed piece on Orphan George’s son George, one saying that this line dropped the “g” from Hodgson during the marriage of the son – an account that was helpful, if not entirely accurate. (We simply weren’t consistent in the spelling, as I eventually determined. We often used Hodgin, even for the same individual who also went by Hodson.)

Arthur and I kept in touch after I moved from northeast Ohio to Baltimore and then on to New Hampshire, though his focus shifted to his other lines. Fair enough. I did keep him updated on our project as Floyd and I finally made our conection to Orphan George, through George and Delilah Hodson/Hodgin and then William and Diannah to Orphan George’s son George.

That took Floyd and me to the point where everyone’s been stuck – Orphan George’s roots.

Somewhere in my files, I have a snapshot of Arthur, which I can’t locate at the moment – along with our correspondence. Alas.

My last exchange with Arthur occurred about a decade ago, when I finally came up with a plausible account of Orphan George’s ancestry – the mystery that has plagued genealogists for, well, it feels forever. He was pleased to hear this take but also cautious – after all, we still need confirmation on key points.

And then, as happens in genealogy, we lost touch. A few months ago, I found myself wondering what had happened to him. And then the alumni notice showed up. Gee, I didn’t even realize he’d gone to Earlham. (On the GI bill?)

The funeral home’s online obituary adds little more, other than confirming that he was unmarried but had nephews and nieces. I recall his commenting that his sister had little interest in the family history. Sound familiar?

The Navy role comes as a surprise but does reflect the reality that during World War II, some Yearly Meetings relaxed their stance on pacifism, acknowledging that innocent parties were at risk if this evil were not opposed.

Arthur’s passing has me reflecting, too, on how much genealogical research has changed since we corresponded. There was no substitute for trekking to specialized libraries or historical archives, pencil and paper in hand. Some of those collections limited photocopying, even. If you were lucky, their stacks might have a published volume, like Paul Mills’. Or you might find a manuscript file or, beyond that, copies of correspondence. Again, if you were lucky, some of those correspondents were still living and capable of responding to your questions. And then there were treks to cemeteries and county courthouses, that sort of thing.

The Internet has changed the availability of material greatly, though it still doesn’t beat doing the actual fieldwork. As for typed letters delivered by real mail? How ancient it all seems now.

My motivation in launching this blog was to keep their findings alive – and to make it easier for others to pick up the trail. So much of our work remains ahead of us. I, for one, have not kept my own branch up to date as my father’s generation has passed on.

Let us pause, then, each of us engaged in the Hodgson/Hodson/Hodson family history relayed in this blog, and acknowledge our debt to Arthur and others like him. It is a joint effort over generations.

Sometimes we even become familiar with our research colleagues, miles and miles apart.

Still, Arthur was special.

And to think, I didn’t know he went by Art, either.

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