The Flexible Flyer

The Flexible Flyer

by Leon Chamberlain

One of my fondest memories was sleigh riding on my sleigh. When I was growing up in the 1940s and into the 1950s, I believe our needs and wants were much simpler than today’s. When I was a young boy if you had a bicycle, a flipper crutch and a sleigh you had most of what it would take to make you happy.  The “Cadillac” of sleighs was a Flexible Flyer. They were strong, well-built and could take a lot of beating. Most of all, you could steer them. Back in the forties they did not use salt on the roads so usually for a good two or three months the roads around my house were snow-packed and it snowed much more back then. 

We didn’t have many hills around my house so we would “belly slam”, meaning we would get running as fast as we could down the road and then slam our sleighs down and coast. If the road was icy you could coast 100 feet or more. That’s what we did in the winter. Sometimes Dad would take us to a street with a slope and we would coast down the street often going very fast.

Sometimes we would pile snow up and make our own hills. Of course there were dangers, and a bloody nose or a skinned forehead were not uncommon and did not require a trip to InstaCare. Winter did not mean you spent time indoors. I even knew of kids who put roller skate wheels on their sleds and would belly slam on dry roads. Today it is rare to see someone on a sleigh.”

Indexing Hugs & Kisses

Indexing Hugs & Kisses

How about a few hugs & kisses? One of our favorite letters in our grandmother’s Kindex archive is one she wrote when she was just nine years old. Written while Dorothy’s mother June was out of town for an extended period working on a medical certification, it’s the earliest letter we have. In Dorothy’s letter to her mother, it reveals details about her childhood that are both mundane and fascinating: clothes she crocheted for her doll, fun things she was doing to prepare for Halloween, and good reports on her piano lessons and school quizzes. She closes her letter with an endearing chart of hugs and kisses to be applied to specific recipients.

While the hugs and kisses were a little tricky to index, we are treated to a wonderful snapshot of who Dorothy was as a child: smart, affectionate, and playful. We count the hugs and kisses and see that Dorothy esteemed Aunt Mary high enough to send her the same amounts of hugs and kisses that she sent her mother. Reading this now is like receiving a virtual hug and kiss from the past: a gift of affection and greater understanding.

Dorothy dressed as a fairy at about the same age she wrote this letter.

This letter plays an important role in not just Dorothy’s life narrative, but the narratives of her parents, Louis, and Aunt Mary. Stepping back even further, Dorothy’s papers as a whole—if transcribe and tagged—will have an expansive influence, reaching hundreds of additional people, adding citable sources for hundreds of places and events, and marking time with thousands of dates.

The influence of primary source records is key to providing rich details to our family history. Trees can’t stand alone in our body of research. We must digitize and share our historical records through indexing and create content-based resources. Through the ability to connect with our primary sources through transcriptions, markup and tagging, we create accessible, searchable sources for our families.

Indexing shouldn’t be a tool reserved for official records or the so-called historically important. Building narrative genealogies through indexing the letters, journals and papers of everyday people is a key step to adding the depth and dimension we yearn for in our ancestors.

See the original letter and transcript on smith-clark.kindex.org

Do you have family letters to index? Start your own searchable family archive on Kindex for just $5/month.

Planting Pansies: A Remembrance

Planting Pansies: A Remembrance

Recently I visited the coastal village of Bosham, Sussex, where my Chamberlain ancestors lived out their days fishing, gathering oysters, mending nets, and laundering clothes. I walked around the marshy harbor, past the quay on to Shore Road, where high tides brush the steps of the sea-facing homes. I passed the Millhouse where my Second Great Grandmother Ida Gardner lived with her husband and children. And I stepped quietly on the worn floors of the 1000-year-old Holy Trinity church where my Great Grandfather Archie was baptized in an ancient stone font. As I wandered through the churchyard, brushing my hands against sea-pocked headstones, I noticed something that took my breath away: bunches of pansies dotted the yard, planted seemingly at random. To understand why these pansies meant anything to me requires the telling of another story: how through loss, pansies became a flower of remembrance for my ancestors.

Sisters Ida and Ellen Gardner were young — 10 and 13 years old respectively —when their mother died. Following her death, Ida lived with her maternal grandparents while her older sister Ellen stayed with cousins in nearby Fishbourne. In 1878, 17-year-old Ida Gardner gave birth to a son, Archie. The birth record did not reveal a father. Three years later, Ellen married Percy Chamberlain, a fisherman who was orphaned as a boy and was also raised by his grandparents. During this time, younger sister Ida worked as a laundress, living with her grandmother and son Archie.[1] By 1887, Ida was married to George Brown while Ellen, Percy, and their three children lived in Fisher’s Gate, near Brighton. 1887 was a pivotal year for the Chamberlains. In March of that year the family decided to join themselves to the Mormon faith. On a foggy evening missionary George Miller[2]  baptized Percy and Ellen Chamberlain in the sea near Brighton’s West Pier.  From George Miller’s diary:

Wednesday March the 2 1887 […] then we go to the west pier to meet a man and his wife who wished to be Baptized it being a very foggy night so we baptized them close by the pier in the sea though it was so foggy and dark we was not alone for one man came along just as we were going into the water and ask us if we were going to lurn them to swim but we Baptized them all rite we came out on the street, shake hands and Bid them good by they go for Fishers gate we for Albion Hill.[3]

In the ensuing months, Ellen and Percy determined that they would sell their possessions and emigrate to Utah with their children, Albert, Ellen Rose, Mabel, and infant Robert. When they set sail on the S. S. Wyoming in June 1888, there was one extra family member: their ten-year-old nephew Archie. He was thereafter was known as their son Archibald Percy Chamberlain. In my mind’s eye I can see young Archie pacing the ship’s deck, already missing his mother and grandmother, bracing for new adventure with his new family.

The journey took its toll on the Chamberlain family. Ellen struggled with a persistent illness throughout the voyage across the Atlantic. Too weak to care for her infant son Robert on the journey, she allowed a kind stranger to assist her. As they grew closer to Salt Lake City, Robert also fell ill with fever. The night they arrived by train in Salt Lake City, residents took the ailing family to the Tithing Yard [4]—an open-air, temporary accommodation where incoming emigrants could sleep outdoors and receive provisions and rest. Despite these comforts, Robert died that first night on the straw in the Tithing Yard. They buried the him in a pauper’s area of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Tragedy also caught up with Ellen. Doctors determined that her illness was tuberculosis, and she died the following January, six months after the family arrived in Utah. She was buried in the same cemetery, not far from her son Robert. With no headstone to mark their burial place, Percy marked their graves with pansies.

Percy never remarried. His family lived in an area of the Salt Lake Avenues called “the crummies”, and  Percy—far removed from his fisherman days—worked as a gardener. He could often be seen walking through avenues with his sack of gardening tools slung over his shoulder. Many times those walks lead to the cemetery where he cared for the pansies that marked the resting place of his wife and son. Perhaps he loved pansies for their delicate hardiness, and how they bloomed despite the cold.  Or perhaps he knew that pansies symbolized humility and remembrance. A remembrance of seaside days, gathering cockles in the shallow marshes of Bosham harbour. A remembrance of Ellen and the love of his youth. A remembrance of home and the flowers that bloomed there.

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A collage of the Percy & Ellen Chamberlain Family designed by Clark Chamberlain.

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Bosham homes on Shore Road.

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Great Grandfather Archibald Percival Chamberlain

[1]  1881 England Census, Class: RG11; Piece: 1135; Folio: 24; Page: 9; GSU roll: 1341277, Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 1881 British Isles Census Index provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints © Copyright 1999 Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

[2] Amazingly, George Miller’s great-granddaughter is my neighbor Sydnee Spencer. It was her family that donated his journal to the Church History Library.

[3]  George Miller, 1850-1918. “George Miller papers, 1886-1925”. Church History Library Catalog, Call Number: MS 2816, Image name: MS 2816_f0002_00113.JPG

[4] Fred E. Woods, “The Arrival of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Emigrants in Salt Lake city,” in  Salt Lake City: The Place Which God Prepared, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Kenneth L. Alford (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2011), 203–230.

A Day in the Life

A Day in the Life

Despite all the busyness of preparing for RootsTech, this morning I had a few quiet moments this morning thinking of our Grandma Dorothy Smith Clark. I wondered, what was she doing this week, so many years ago? I searched “Feb 27” on her Kindex archive, and found these diary pages from 1928:

Sunday Feb 26th

Stay home from S S with Virgil who has a bad cold. Go to church with Lucille & to Mutual. In our J class we discuss getting or “J” pin. Discuss contest numbers for M.I.A. Day & began plan for  Progressive Supper.

Monday Night Feb 27 Lucille P. and I went down to Galt Hospital to see Anna Nielson who had her appendix out last Friday. She was feeling pretty good. We took her some flowers in behalf of our Junior class.

Wed. Feb 29th – Leap year

We washed & in P.M. I went to bed as I had a little sore throat.

Thurs. Mar 1st Spring weather

March 2nd

Friday. I’m up & better. Sr. Wallburger sends us some cakes & tarts.

Nothing much: some church activities, a sore throat, a visit to a friend, and a comment on the weather. And yet, it is so much, because with every found page the knowledge of who she was becomes more complete. Getting face-to-face with her history is one the greatest gifts I can think of.

What will you discover when you index your family records? Try it out free on Kindex.org.

 

Family letters: Opening the door to our ancestor’s lives

Family letters: Opening the door to our ancestor’s lives

If a photo is a window into a family’s life, then a letter is the door. This 1904 portrait of the Emma Woolley and Charles Rich Clark family is beautiful, but offers few clues about the challenges, personalities and relationships between these family members.

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Today, we transcribed a letter written by Emma Woolley to her husband Charles Rich Clark while he was away serving a church mission in 1892.  In this letter we learn that Emma had a migraine, and that the oldest child, Marion, was the serious one who concerned himself with his mother’s help and offered a little prayer on her behalf. We learn that Vernon, the next oldest, was the silly one and said funny things that made his mother and neighbors laugh. We learned how devoted Emma is as a wife, managing the family accounts, nurturing sick children, doing laundry,  and settling debts. She closes the letter saying,

“I guess this is not what would be called a love letter but it is written in love all the same, and I am proud of the man I love, and hope to keep ever fresh and alive that affection that exists between us”

To read the full transcription, go to the Ezra T. Clark Family Archive.

Make insights like this possible with your own family records and start your own family archive.

woolley

Stealing Peonies

Stealing Peonies

To Annie Virginia Chamberlain

My grandma’s home in Poplar Grove (a neighborhood in Salt Lake City, Utah) was an oasis of certainty in an uncertain place. Her double lot on the corner of Navajo and Wasatch had been in the family for two generations, but it was just hers now. Inside, it was an evolving patchwork of hand-hewn cabinets and pink homewallpaper. Outside, a bright stamp of green and pink in a neighborhood of thumping cars and chain link fences. Years of raising chickens made the roses flush with color and grass so thick that mowing was an aching chore that stole the Saturdays of our fathers and brothers. On one corner there was a pine so tall we could play under its boughs standing up. On the other, a patio surrounded by roses, a clothesline, and large patch of pink peonies. (more…)