Monday, February 24, 2014

52 Ancestors: #8 Sharon Gay Hammon

My Aunt Sharon was born on 3 February 1930.  As you can see from the date, she was born during hard times as the nation began the Great Depression.  Sharon was the second child of Daniel Glenn Hammon and Virginia Slater.  She was my mother's younger sister by 5 years.  The Hammons lived in Mohland Utah where Glenn, as he was known, worked in the coal mines.  A younger brother, Donald, joined the family a year later.

Tragically, Virginia died when Sharon was only 3.  My mother, Jean Hammon Brooks, clearly remembers coming home from school and finding the door locked.  She could see her mother collapsed on the floor.  Sharon was with her and this loss had a great effect on the family.  The children were scattered for a time to various relatives; something that would recur from time to time, even after Daniel Glenn remarried in 1935. This picture of the three siblings is probably from the mid-1940s.

Sharon grew up mostly in the Roy, Utah area.  She was a beauty with big green eyes and blond hair.  She was very outgoing and attracted a lot of attention.  She was also anxious to get out of the house which now had 4 additional children from the second marriage.  Sharon married Adrian (Bud ) Draayer in the Salt Lake Temple on 27 May 1948.  She had just graduated from high school.

Five years later, Sharon and Bud had four young children, three boys and a girl. Sharon also took care of other children, so the demands on her time and health were heavy.  She grew increasingly unhappy in her marriage. At the age of 31, she learned to drive and got a job.  Eventually she left her marriage and moved to California.  Her children remained with their dad.  

Sharon and Monte

Lynn, Connie and Vaughan Draayer

Sharon loved California and especially enjoyed the Bay area and all the excitement of the 1960s. She married three more times: to David Lyons in 1961, to Jerry David Bell in 1963, and to Bruce Battles in 1971.  None of these marriages lasted, but her marriage to Jerry Bell did produce another daughter,  Virginia Lee Bell..  Virginia and her half-brother Vaughan had green eyes and were left-handed, like their mother. The others, Monte, Connie and Lynn, were blue eyed and right handed.

Sharon and Virginia

After many moves, including a time in the Philippines, Sharon retired to Arizona. Though she had a difficult relationship with her children, they knew she loved them. Sadly, her four oldest children died within 5 years in the early 2000s.  Sharon died of heart failure on 10 November 2007.  She is buried in Warrenton, VA near the home of her youngest daughter.

Her daughter, Virginia, describes her mom as a paradox: she loved to eat but hated to cook; she was very generous but not good at managing money, she loved clothes but had no style.  If she didn't like you, you knew it.  She was a great story-teller, and would make things up on a whim  I certainly never knew what to believe. I did know that if you admired something of hers she was determined to give it to you!

These are Virginia's words:

When she died and I had to put a tombstone on her plot, I had no idea what to do. One night I had a dream about the Little Prince and his rose. The story is about a difficult relationship with a thorny and vain flower on the little prince's planet and how he travels the universe only to discover that that relationship meant a great deal to him because it was difficult. When I woke up I knew what I had to do:
I ordered a rose granite tombstone from Vermont, with roses etched into the stone including her name and dates, plus an epithet from the Little Prince: "A flower that was unique in all the world"
and she was

Sharon had planted a rose bush for each of her 4 deceased children.  There are rose bushes at her gravesite, and a Rose of Sharon planted behind the tombstone.  She was truly an unforgettable woman with a childlike wonder and enthusiasm for life through all her days.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

52 Ancestors: #7 Ruth Autry and Walter Caswell Brooks

Moving on to my father's side of the family I found a husband-wife February birthday duo.  And it's my own grandparents!

Walter Caswell Brooks

Walter Caswell Brooks was born on the 15th of February 1874 in Pope County, Arkansas. His parents, William Brooks and Rebecca Malinda Cooper, came from Stanly County, North Carolina to farm in Arkansas. They had 7 children, two boys.  Walter was their fifth child.  I don't know as much about my grandfather as I should.  I do know he was a farmer, farming the William Brooks estate in the Holla Bend bottoms near Russellville, Arkansas.  He met my grandmother through his sister, Alta Brooks, who was teaching in Nashville, Arkansas.    He married Ruth Autry on 2 December 1922 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The marriage was performed by Ruth's father, the Reverend Allen Hill Autry.  I have a copy of the service which I will transcribe at some point.

It is interesting to note that Walter was 48 years old when he married.  He must have thought he was going to be a bachelor for life.  I'm sure there were many adjustments to family life, as his first son, Walter Allen Brooks was born less than 2 years later in early 1924.  My father, Robert Autry Brooks, came along five years after that.  Walter was killed in an automobile accident on 30 May 1941 when the car went out of control on a bend coming down Crow Mountain.  My father was only 12 years old.  I can see the resemblance, especially in the eyes.

Ruth Autry

This picture, from around 1916, is how my grandmother must have looked when Walter met her. Wow, what a beauty! Ruth Autry was born 8 February 1892 in Booneville, Logan, Arkansas.  I wrote about her mother, Mary Esther Nifong, here  in week #3.  She attended Ouachita Baptist College in Arkadelphia, graduating in 1911 with a degree in art.  Ruth was an accomplished painter; you can see some of her work in my blogpost here.  I have several of her paintings in my home that were painted during her time at college. She was the first in her family to attend college and returned to Nashville where she taught school.  She even taught her younger brothers, Dan and Paul, before becoming principal of the primary school there.

After her marriage, she was a leader in the Russellville community, organizing a book club and active in the Baptist church.  Her two sons, Walter A and Robert A, were born there.  My father, Robert, tells stories of his mother sewing clothes (I have her Singer treadle machine with her papers still in the drawers), churning butter (I have the churn and the ladle) and cooking.  She was a fabulous cook.  Here is what my father said about the family meals:

She did not consider herself a major cook, but did an excellent job of it.  She also canned a lot because the depression was on, and fruit and other food was available locally.  There was only my brother, 5 years older, and me so we had to help.  I recall canning a bushel of peaches every summer. She also canned pickles and pears and some vegetables and various jams and jellies. These were all canned in glass quart fruit jars, or smaller, and were stored on shelves in the basement. In the winter, half a pig was brought up from the farm and she made sausage and other other things. I remember my brother, Walter Allen, and I having a huge pan of sausage, rolling up elongated portions and squeezing them down in cloth bags that she made from old feed sacks.  We rather liked that because our hands got greasy. Every project took about a week.  We raised and ate lots of chicken which were raised in the back lot.  We chopped the head off on a stump and when it stopped flopping around, dipped it in boiling water and pulled the feathers off.  A messy job! Mother would clean it, burn the little feathers off (I forgot their name!), dress it and fry it. Or if it was a hen, she baked it with dressing.
The other thing I remember is having to help her clean up dishes, especially as a teen ager when she taught school. I whined and complained about it. One day, she ran me out of the kitchen. Then, I felt very guilty! I hope I did better after that! She was very clean and it was harder to achieve that then. She was very religious. Sunday dinner was a major meal and delicious. It was fixed after church. We did nothing else on Sunday, except for the Sunday night services which included a young people's meeting.
These are probably my most discrete memories. After all, food was important during the depression and money was scarce. I have often thought that I have more money now and the food is much more expensive, but I don't eat as well as when I had Mother's home cooking and home made food.
After her husband died, Ruth went back to work as a teacher.  My father describes her as one of the smartest people he ever knew.  She could think quickly and was an analytic thinker.  He also says, "This made her very stubborn, since she was seldom wrong."  I think that's how my kids would describe me!
By the time I knew my grandmother, she was suffering from Parkinson's Disease.  She had a helper at the house, Miss Maggie, whom I loved.  But Nanya, as we called her, was a bit daunting.  She didn't like that I was left-handed and would try to get me to color with my right hand.  I did love her big house which you can see in my post here.  It had great hiding places and  a secret passageway to a play room that I remember. The magnolia trees in the neighborhood were amazing.  
As Nanya deteriorated, she needed more care and moved to a nursing home in Quanah Texas where Walter Allen lived with his family.  My last visit was with her there. She could still sing the French anthem, La Marseilles.  I remember answering the phone on Christmas morning 1975 when my uncle called to say she had passed.  My father cried harder than I have ever seen him.  She was buried in Russellville Arkansas during that break from my freshman year at college.  I am grateful that my father and my great-aunt Esther have written so much about her.  I feel I know a lot about her as I walk through my house and see her beautiful paintings.  These two pictures are from when she graduated high school and when she taught elementary school.  I love the subtle smile and the luxurious hair.

Monday, February 10, 2014

52 Ancestors: #6 Alvah Palmer and a legacy of more February birthdays

After last week's post on the Nortons, it didn't occur to me that I could find another father/son combination born in the same month. But Alvah and Hiram Palmer celebrate their birthdays only one week apart.  In addition, Hiram's birthday falls on February 16, which is also W.W. and Clint Norton's birthday!  That means February 16 is probably the most important single date in our family's history!  I can't believe the coincidence that we would have three grandfathers in our direct line born on the same date.

Let's start with Alvah Palmer, my husband's 3rd great-grandfather .  He was born on 9 February 1796 in Shelburne, Vermont.  We have records of both his birth and his 1816 marriage in Vermont.

The story is that he took his honeymoon trip with new bride, Harriet Hurd, to the wilds of western New York. They were probably escaping the infamous "Summer That Never Was" where frost was killing the crops as late as June.  They settled in the beautiful valley along the Genesee River near a place called Portageville.  Alvah built a sawmill at the Middle Falls in what is now Letchworth State Park.   He also built a cabin there where the Glenn Iris Inn now stands.  The following story has been told through the generations. This is a version from page 181 of A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemmison, first published in 1824. (book is available on Google Books).

In November, 1822, Capt. Stephen Rolph and Mr. Alva Palmer drove a deer into Genesee river, a short distance above the middle falls, where the banks were so steep and the current so impetuous, that it could not regain the shore, and consequently was precipitated over the falls, one hundred and ten feet, into the gulph below. The hunters ran along the bank below the falls, to watch the fate of the animal, expecting it would be dashed in pieces. But to their great astonishment it came up alive, and by swimming across a small eddy, reached the bank almost under the falls; and as it stood in that situation, Capt. Rolph, who was on the top of the bank, shot it. This being done, the next thing to be considered was, how to get their prize. The rock being perpendicular, upwards of one hundred feet, would not admit of their climbing down to it, and there was no way, apparently, for them to get at it, short of going down the river two miles, to the lower falls, and then by creeping between the water and the precipice, they might possibly reach their game. This process would be too tedious. At length Mr. Palmer proposed to Capt. Rolph and Mr. Heman Merwin, who had joined them, that if they would make a windlas and fasten it to a couple of saplings that stood near, and then procure some ropes, he would be let down and get the deer. The apparatus was prepared; the rope was tied round Palmer's body, and he was let down. On arriving at the bottom he unloosed himself, fastened the rope round the deer, which they drew up, and then threw down the rope, in which he fastened himself, and was drawn up, without having sustained any injury. From the top to the bottom of the rock, where he was let down, was exactly one hundred and twenty feet.

Alvah sold his sawmill in the 1820s but continued to live in New York. He died in Hume, Allegany, New York on 30 May 1860. The mortality census lists his age as 66 which would mean he was actually born in 1794. There is some evidence for that year but more research is needed. There are records of land transactions and other dealings in the area.  We are lucky that Alvah is a popular subject for genealogy research due to his importance as an early settler of the Genesee Valley. He also had 8 children who lived to adulthood so his descendants are numerous!

Alvah's 4th son and 7th child, Hiram Palmer, was born somewhere in this area of upstate western New York. It is usually listed as Wyoming County, and assumed to be Middle Falls, near Portageville.  The day of course was February 16; the year 1832.   Hiram married Philena Lydia Palmiter on 17 September 1853 in Portageville. I have plenty of work to do on Hiram and his life. He had 3 sons; the first was born in Michigan in 1856. I have no idea what they were doing that far west. But he must have returned to be near his father as his second son, our ancestor Walter Truman Palmer, was born in Hume New York.

Eventually, the family migrated to Pennsylvania, as both Hiram and Philena died and are buried in Shinglehouse, Potter, Pennsylvania. Hiram lived to be 90 years old, passing on 26 September 1922. Longevity seems to be a family trait as his grandson, Nelson Pattison Palmer, also lived into his 90s.  I am excited to find out more about this family and happy that we get to spend so much time in this beautiful area of New York at the family cottage on Silver Lake. 

I can't leave this line without pointing out another amazing coincidence. Alvah's mother is Chloe Chittenden and he named a daughter Chloe. This Chloe was born in 1830 on . . .  16 February. The name Chloe is also important to me because of my beautiful granddaughter, Chloe Rose Cox. Her name has meaning in so many ways. But to me it means love.


News Flash:

I learned from our first cousin, Eric Wetjen, that the February 16 birthdays have continued to another generation.  His son, Tyler Alan Wetjen, was born on that date and is celebrating his 4th birthday today!
Tyler is the 4th great-grandson of Alvah Palmer.  We're so glad that this handsome young man has continued the tradition!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

52 Ancestors: #5 Four Generations (Almost) of February Nortons

While it was hard to find January birthdays in our family tree, February is another story.  This week we have three of four generations born within a day of each other!

It all started with

William Wellington Norton

William Wellington Norton was born 16 February 1881 in Elmira, New York.  He is the paternal grandfather of my husband, Phil.  He taught in schools in New York before moving west.  I found record of him both at the University of Nebraska (1898) and thence to Minneapolis where he attended the University of Minnesota.  While there he directed a Chatutauqua Orchestra and Band that traveled throughout the midwest.  This picture is taken from a flyer, dated 1909, I found in the University of Iowa archives,  It says that he directed the University of Minnesota Glee Club for three seasons.  Praise is recorded from Kansas to South Dakota.  He certainly got around!

While in Minnesota, he must have met his wife, Jennie Belle Lewis, whom he married in 1915. I have blogged both about the wedding here and Jennie Belle here.  According to his obituary in the Phi Kappa Psi journals, he moved to Flint in 1921, teaching and conducting until his retirement in 1948.  During the summer months he taught music at the national music camp at Interlochen, Michigan.

After Jennie Belle Lewis' death in 1944, W.W. remarried and moved to California around 1948.  He died in Stockton CA on 24 October 1960.  Here is a later in life photo of Dr William Wellington Norton.

While residing in Flint, William and Jennie Belle had five children.  The youngest of these, Clinton Edward Norton, was born on his father's 42nd birthday, February 16, 1923!  Clint is my husband's father and inherited Daddo's (their nickname for William) musical talents. I love this photo of Clint.  I think he must be 8 to 10 years old.

World War II broke out while Clint was still a young man and he served in the Air Corps of the US Army (there was no Air Force at that time).  It was during his service that his mother passed and he flew a plane up to Flint to attend the funeral.  Here's another great photo of Clint. Don't you love a man in uniform?

Like his father, Clint was well educated (a Norton tradition!) choosing the University of Rochester.  I find it interesting that he returned to the New York area.  Clint's grandfather, Asahel Wellington Norton, has a degree from the University of Rochester.  Clint also used his schooling to find a wife as he met Doris Jennie Palmer at Rochester.  They married in 1951.  Clint's work as an administrator of performing arts centers took them all over, including stops in Fredonia, New York, Akron, Ohio and Austin TX.  He died in Austin on 9 February 2008, just a week shy of his 85th birthday.

The next generation of Nortons just missed having a February birthday by less than 24 hours.  Clint's youngest son, Christopher Scott Norton, was born on January 31st.  I guess my brother-in-law, Chris, just couldn't wait for the new month.  He did inherit the family musical talents and also attended the University of Rochester, studying at the Eastman School of Music. Like his father, he, too, found a bride at the university.  Chris and Leslie Boggs Norton married in 1983 and have two beautiful daughters. Chris is a professor of music and the director of percussion studies at Belmont University in Nashville TN. He has traveled even more extensively than his grandfather, W.W., both performing and directing. See if you spot the family resemblance.

After (barely) skipping a generation, another February Norton appeared.  Phillip Robert Norton, my son and William's great-grandson, was born on February 19 - a
three days after William's and Clint's birthdays (Thanks, Phillip, for correcting me). Though he does not get paid for his musical talents, we enjoy his spontaneous lyrics and his skill on Rock Band!  Phil graduated from National Louis University with a degree in information systems. He works as a systems analyst and is the best big brother that four younger sisters could want.  I think the Norton look continues with him.

Happy Birthday to all these amazing Norton Men!