Tag Archives: Quaker

This map would have been a huge help

In my search for George Hodgson’s roots in northern England, this 1773 map of the Quaker Meetings in the northern six counties (shires) would have helped greatly.

As I explain in earlier posts here, I believe his ancestry comes down through Pardshaw in Cumbria, shown in the left portion of this map. Once you insert Lamplaugh from other sources, a much different sense of relationships to other locations emerges than you would glean from today’s highway maps or similar images.

In today’s maps, of course, so much more recent development makes the earlier sites often hard to find. Dent, for example, is sometimes suggested for some of the Hodgson genealogy, and finding it here makes connections appear more likely, especially when you can add up the milage between points.

Another big surprise for me is seeing how close Lamplaugh is to Swarthmore, the Fell manor that served as the headquarters of the Quaker movement during George Fox’s lifetime.

As I found in researching my book Quaking Dover, today’s online resources bring some rare documents to our fingertips, not that trips to the archives are eliminated.

Still, I hope knowing of this historic document by James Backhouse will aid others continuing the research at hand.



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

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

Business, politics, Masons, and religion 

If Leroy touted his Rotorooter and its edge in his plumbing business, Grandpa answered with his Republicanism. Not that he ever ran for office or even served as an Election Day poll checker, as far as I know. Presumably, he could be counted on to contribute financially to campaigns, but even there I’m in the dark. “I know James was a Republican, but I do not know how involved he was,” Wilma says.

Despite his own partisan identification, Grandpa spoke repeatedly of his friend Jesse Haines, his wife’s second-cousin and Hall of Fame pitcher who was urged to run for county auditor after retiring from Major League Baseball. When Republicans approached Haines to run on the slate, he acknowledged that he was good at dealing with the public but knew nothing of auditing. And so, when elected, he invited his young opponent to become his assistant, the half of the team who actually knew the details of auditing. But there was a caveat: if you accept, you agree not to run against me; in return, when I retire, I’ll support your campaign. As a result, Haines returned to office for seven consecutive terms, totalling 28 years – and, true to promise, on his retirement, Jesse Yoder ran unopposed for successive victories.

I imagine that Grandpa’s Republicanism was somehow interwoven with his freemasonry. I faintly remember he wore the ring and perhaps the lapel pin. Beyond that, and an awareness that Grandma was a member of the women’s auxiliary, Order of the Eastern Star, I know little. What I do realize is that these would have been a repudiation of both their Quaker and Brethren heritage, which opposed both the taking of oaths, secrecy, and favoritism to individuals. The United Brethren had already struggled with the issue, as Tom Crouch describes in The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright:

“A group of young ministers – Liberals, as they would come to be called – argued that the church must be brought into step with the times. Secret societies no longer aroused the horror they had in 1840. The Masonic order had grown from a membership of perhaps 5,000 during the 1850s to as many as 200,000 members by 1865. Membership in a lodge or fraternal order offered a sense of belonging and identity so often missing in the lives of American who had left farms, small towns, or villages for the big city.”

The tension finally led the denomination to split in 1882, with Wright heading the minority conservatives. The description of the sense of belonging and identity for those who left farms and small towns for the city would certainly fit the situation of Leroy and James, in moving to Dayton.

Discussing Bishop Milton Wright, Crouch observes, “Masonry – perceived as an elitist conspiracy whose only real purpose was to confer unfair advantage on its members – ran counter to his most cherished values.” But to a young man, now moved to the city and attempting to establish a livelihood, these connections might be considered helpful to survival or success.

As a child, we attended the Shrine Circus, which performed each year in a pavilion at the County Fairgrounds. I knew we got the tickets through Grandpa, but I didn’t know he was a member of this select group of Masons. The circus seemed a rather weird tradition, something I just couldn’t appreciate within its hawking of cotton candy and Cracker Jacks, the parts we really liked. The trapeze artists, elephants, and lion tamers simply came from a surreal dimension that somehow failed to impress children who had television at home.

We knew the Mason’s large limestone temple next to the Dayton Art Institute overlooked the Great Miami River and downtown. There were later stories Grandpa had planned to sponsor Dad in membership, using money he placed in a cigar box after he gave up smoking cigars. But Dad never joined, and I don’t know if it was for lack of interest or whether Grandpa never pressed the issue. Or, for that matter, what happened to the money.

“I know James was a Mason,” Wilma wrote. “I think it was more for business than anything else.”

Sometime after Grandma’s death and his remarriage, Grandpa sent me “this clipping out of my Shrine Monthly News. I like it very much and a bit of joy comes as I realize I am one – only one – of ‘those Shriners.’” I long ago lost the clipping and now wonder just what it was he so much valued. Nevertheless, Masonic membership was part of his self-identity.

Continue reading Business, politics, Masons, and religion 

The bishop

I’ve long sensed that Grandpa had two best friends. The first was the farmer Arlie Binkley, his wife’s brother-in-law and the father of Wilma, Orpha, and Kenny.

The other was David Thomas Gregory, for a decade the pastor of Euclid Avenue church, where much of their social life was centered.

In a way, they embodied two different identities for Grandpa: one, with rural life and its older values, and the other urban, accompanied by prestige, learning, and no doubt the political skills to maneuver through the denomination’s hierarchy, including its merger with the Evangelical Association a couple of years before I was born, to form what would be known as the Evangelical United Brethren, or EUB, church.

One was a Midwestern native who stayed close to his roots; the other, from the East Coast side of the Allegheny Mountains, albeit from the easternmost tip of West Virginia.

Both of them were a decade older than Grandpa. Arlie was born November 30, 1891; David, July 16, 1889. Perhaps growing up as the youngest of three boys in his family inclined Grandpa toward older males. In turn, his two comrades died within eight months of each other – David, in a late-night collision on December 27, 1956; Arlie on August 9, 1957, after a long decline to Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). The dislocation and grief he must have felt in these two losses so close together must have been overwhelming.

The admiration was apparent for Bishop Gregory or Doctor Gregory, the two terms by which I always heard him referenced. Grandpa spoke often of the man and was proud of the cedar-wood-cover New Testament gift (along with a small vial of Jordan River water) bought back from the Holy Land – but I had no idea of Grandpa’s idolization, as TJ put it, to the point he would do anything the bishop asked. So was Gregory the one who moved Grandpa into the Masonic circles? Or was it his own brother, Leroy? Considering how much Grandpa treasured that identity, I’m surprised Dad never joined – or was encouraged to become one.

From denominational records Henry E. Gable posted online, a sketch  of Gregory’s career emerges.

Continue reading The bishop

In the mirror

What precisely did I see? And of that, what have I blotted out? As a kid, I always felt somehow lacking any authentic traditions, not solely from Grandpa and Grandma’s side, either. While much of their Sunday dinner conversation felt banal, I’d assumed – only half-right, as it turns out, we’d been in Ohio since its beginning. Nothing of the Carolina Piedmont was acknowledged, although in time I would eventually hear a touch lingering in Aunt Vera’s inflection.

What I remember is imbued with a sense of loss and foreboding. Contemplating my grandparents is difficult because I, too, have spent so much of my life trying to break away from their ways, no less than they did in regard to their own grandparents – I, with my passion for fine arts and literature, my radical political convictions, and, especially, my zigzag spiritual quest that paradoxically led me to reclaim practices and teachings of our earlier ancestors. Even after I was active within the Society of Friends, Grandpa never mentioned it had been the faith of his own father. Nor did he ever let on that he knew our surname had used three spellings – Hodson, Hodgson, and Hodgin – a problem that plagued Floyd and me as we delved into the labyrinth of our family origins. Only after Grandpa’s death and much struggle in piecing together the appropriate Quaker minutes and our finally concluding the three spellings really did spring from a single source, did Aunt Myrl recall having a slip of paper on which Grandpa had written the three variants.

Theirs was also the generation that relocated from the farm to the city. For Grandpa, there were other departures from tradition, such as joining a secret society, the Masonic lodge, which would have been a disownable offense in the churches of most of his ancestors. Leroy, his brother, did likewise, in addition to serving in the U.S. Army during World War I.

Granted, these reflected society at large, and my grandparents did live through two world wars that reshaped American attitudes and life. Nor were they that far removed from the American Civil War; both of their fathers had been born before its eruption, one in North Carolina, the other in Ohio, in pacifist households.

Also hindering clear perceptions of Grandpa and Grandma were my subconscious attempts to fit them into the archetypes of idealized grandparents. Or, more fully, my mother’s efforts to fit them into the fairy tales she held regarding perfect families. Who insists, after all, that grandparents are to be doting and spoiling, free to go home at the end of the day? Or even that anyone deserves to be perfect? For that matter, Mom was the one to complain when her stepmother, our Gran, slipped my sister and me each a dollar bill for the week – effectively doubling our allowance.

In the long haul, simply showing up for occasions marking others’ milestones conveys more than I had imagined, regardless of my sense at the time. From the photographs, I see Grandpa and Grandma were present when I received my Eagle Scout badge, took confirmation, and graduated from high school (but not college).

More telling, there was no need to call them Grandpa and Grandma Hodson.

Look closely, though, or ask around, and you’re likely to find nobody whose grandparents quite fit into the warm, doting prototypes. The same goes for exemplars as parents or the idealized home life.

Continue reading In the mirror

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.