Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Petty Officer 3rd Class Donald W. Keillor, Photographer's Mate

We recently interviewed my father-in-law by telephone to learn more about his history in the Navy. We learned that he joined the Navy Reserves in 1950 at NAS Grosse Ile, and began training as an aerographer, or Navy weatherman. Apparently there was some sort of paperwork snafu, he was supposed to be exempt from attending drills, and when he didn't attend, got turned in for not attending. He returned to the draft board, who sent him to the personnel office. He spent a brief time as a clerk until an opening came up in the photography lab. He took a few photos and was told "Welcome Aboard!"



During the time he was stationed at Grosse Ile, he took classes at the University of Detroit. He also found a way to hop MAC flights to exotic places in the Carribean such as Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica.

He became an aerial photographer, as seen here in the bubble of a PBY Catalina. After two years, he left the Navy to finish his studies at the University of Detroit. He was working at the University of Indiana when his co-workers starting tell him good-bye. They had seen that an opening at the University of Puerto Rico had come up and knew that he would take it, and he did.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What are the Odds?

Recently we hosted a new-found cousin for a week. We had met via ancestry.com, got acquainted through email and skype, and formed an eternal bond during our visit. Like my mother-in-law, she grew up in Jamaica, but now lived and worked in Germany. I had extended an invitation to her that if she was ever in the States to visit with us, and she took us up on it in February.

The family name we have in common is Robinson from Jamaica. Her great-grandfather, Rose Bingham Robinson and my mother-in-law’s great grandfather Charles Robinson were brothers. His first name of Rose is a family surname, and yes, it does cause a good bit of confusion regarding his gender, but several documents confirm him as a him.

On our last night together, I was introducing her to the joys of familysearch.org. We were able to find several documents for which she had been searching for some time.
Above are the christening record for her grandfather Earnest, and the death record of Rose Bingham Robinson.

Almost as a post-script, I mentioned another website that she might find helpful, findagrave.com. I wasn't too sure there were many memorials from Jamaica, but I thought I’d enter Robinson as a search term without a given name just to see what turned up. The search results showed nine Robinson memorials in Jamaica, including an R.B. Robinson, died 15 April, 1899. We held our collective breaths as we double-checked the death date from the document we’d just found on familysearch.org. Then the collective hooting began! It was him, the great-grandfather whose burial place had always been a mystery to her. And more amazing that he was found in a cemetery in Port Maria, so very close to the village where she grew up. 

How did we ever do family history before the internet?
(Many thanks to Scooter T for the photograph and findagrave memorial!)



Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dig a Little Deeper

I never met Louis (pronounced in the French “Loo-ie”) Derragon (der-A-gun). But over my lifetime, I heard so many stories about him that I felt that I had known him. He died in his mid-forties, a few years before I was born, and according to my dad, he was asthmatic, so apparently that was a contributing cause of death.
His photos all show a handsome, open smiling face, and the whole family seemed to hold him in the highest regard.

 One photograph shows him in the traditional Navy “crackerjack” uniform. My dad remembered that he worked at the Fargo Building in Boston as a recruiter, since he was restricted by his asthma. Many years later in an ancestry.com search, I came across the application for a military headstone for him. I was surprised to see it listed his service aboard the USS Ira Jeffrey as a Ship’s Cook First Class.

It was very interesting to learn about the history of the USS Ira Jeffrey. Based on the time period of Louis’ enlistment, 7 November, 1942 – 25 Sep 1945, and the time line of the IraJeffrey, 13 February 1943 until it was sunk in a target exercise off the coast of Charleston, SC in 1962, it looks like Louis may have been a “plank owner,” or part of the original ship’s crew. It also suggests that Louis may indeed have spent some time as a recruiter in Boston before his time aboard the Ira Jeffrey.

A history of the Charlestown Navy Yard published by the National Park Service states: “The Fargo Building on Summer Street in South Boston which served as headquarters for the First Naval District. The building today is owned by the Army and known as the Barnes Building.” It was a recruiting and processing station for the Navy during WWII.

The Ira Jeffrey was built at the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1943 and was sponsored at its launching by the mother of the young Ensign for whom the ship was named. The shakedown cruise took her crew from Maine to Bermuda, and then an assignment to Quonset, RI. From there, she escorted eight troop convoys to Europe. From The Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, we learn that: ‘On the [last] return crossing, 20 December 1944, the escort's convoy was attacked by a German submarine.  After sinking an LST and damaging destroyer escort FOGG (DE-57), the submarine was driven off.  IRA JEFFERY assisted the damaged ship and eventually escorted her through rough seas to the Azores.”
Following her cruises across the Atlantic, the Ira Jeffrey was converted to a high-speed transport at New York Shipyard, and following a shakedown cruise in the Chesapeake Bay, she “then sailed 25 May with aircraft carrier ANTIETAM (CV-36) for the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor, where she arrived 18 June 1945.”
In San Diego, she began training with underwater demolition teams which entered Pacific beaches in advance of the “American occupation landings,” and after island-hopping her way across the Pacific, returned to San Diego. The Ira Jeffrey was decommissioned  in Jacksonville, Florida in 1946.
Although he is listed as a Ship’s Cook, I know that he must have received other training, at least as a fireman – all Navy ships train their crew as fire/damage control – and during WWII, probably gunnery training as well.


I have not yet acquired the marriage record of Louis Philizia Derragon to my Aunt, Agnes Louis Smith, but they were married in 1945, and remained wed until his death in 1955. It is a great regret of mine that I did not take the time and overcome some timidity to ask Aunt Agnes more about a man with such a history as Louis Derragon. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Aunt Hattie's Hermits

As a child, one of my favorite dessert treats was "Aunt Hattie's Hermits," a raisin-filled spice cookie in bar form. But all those years, I never knew who Aunt Hattie was. Later, as the family historian, I had collected all the impersonal, cold hard facts about Henrietta Josephine Wenz. It was many years before I ever saw her photograph. Now she seems like an old friend! She was born in Acquackanouk, Passaic, New Jersey in 1878, lived with her older brother, my great-grandfather, in 1930, never married, and worked as a housekeeper until she died in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1943. She is buried in an unmarked grave in Mountain View Cemetery in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.



I believe the recipe came from her father, Philip Henry Wenz, a German immigrant to New York and New Jersey, who was listed as a confectioner, baker or cook in various censuses and city directories from 1875 to 1902. The photo below is believed to be of Philip’s bakery wagon in Passaic.



Here is her recipe for Hermits:
Cream together:
¾ cup shortening or butter        ½ cup molasses
1 ½ cups granulated sugar        2 eggs
 Combine and add to mix:
¼ cup warm water                    1 teaspoon baking soda
 Combine and add to mix:
3 ½ cups flour                          ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon    ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger         ½ teaspoon ground cloves
 Add:
¾ cup raisins                            ½ cup chopped nuts (optional)

 Spread in greased shallow baking pan or jelly-roll pan and bake at 376° for about 35-45 minutes.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Uncle Benno


I never met Uncle Benno, but my husband Howard seems to hold very fond memories of him. He married Howard’s grandmother’s next older sister, Jane Elizabeth McDonald on 26 Oct 1922 in Huron County,  Michigan.
Benno Frederick Christian Hahn was the son of German immigrants, August R. and Fredericka (Boettcher) Hahn. When the United States declared war in April of 1917, Benno was already 26, elderly by military standards, but he ended up in the Army anyway. Because of his German parentage, he was not allowed to serve in the infantry, so he was assigned to the Ambulance Corps.

As Howard remembers it, Uncle Benno had Parkinson’s disease, because he had an arm with a serious tremor, so severe he would sit on it to keep it still, and wore a spot in his recliner from the vibrations. 

It wasn't until a few years ago that we learned it was not Parkinson’s – Uncle Benno had been wounded in the war, hit in the head by shrapnel in the land of his ancestry and carried his badge of courage throughout his life.
Evidence of his struggle is poignantly shown in his signature on his draft card in 1942 – the “Old Man’s Draft” as it became known because men between the ages of 45 to 64 years of age were required to register.
 Below are Mr. & Mrs. Benno Hahn and Mr. & Mrs. Howard Keillor, probably about the late 1920s.






Sunday, July 22, 2012

Nurses in Combat Boots


On a recent visit with us, my mom brought a ridiculously heavy green suitcase full of what she told me was family history books. Not having time to cope with it, I set it in the “junk room” and spent a couple of months ignoring it. I know that there’s a reason I opened it up, but now I don’t remember why. But it was like opening up Pandora’s Box, because once it was opened, there was no going back! There were several family history books, but there were also many invaluable family mementos such as Uncle Phil’s medals, their WWII ration books and letters between my Great Uncle Phil and his grandmother during WWI (that's a whole 'nother blog post!). There were also dozens of clipped obituaries from many different newspapers, and someone had taken the time to make sure there was a date written on most of them. One such obituary was for Mary Aloise Canning. Mary’s mother, Ernestine Rose Vautrinot Canning was a younger sister of my great-grandmother, Grace Eugenie Vautrinot Wenz.
Here is the text of the obituary, from the Boston Globe, dated 4 Sep 1987:
          “DEDHAM – A funeral Mass was to be said Sept. 8 at St. Mary’s Church, Dedham, for Mary A. Canning, who died Sept. 4 at the Goddard Home, Jamaica Plain. She was 86.
          Born in Dedham, and a lifelong resident. She was a graduate of Massachusetts General Hospital Nursing School, Class of 1921. Miss Canning was employed at the hospital until 1941, when she joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. During World War II, she served in Casablanca, North, Africa, and assisted wounded troops through the Italian campaign, serving troops at Monte Cassino with distinction.
          Upon the conclusion of the war in Europe, she served in the Far East, arriving in Tokyo shortly after the Armistice was signed. She retained the rank of major when she retired. After she returned to Dedham, she worked as a public health nurse for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, retiring in 1967. Miss Canning was a member of the Dedham American Legion Post.
          She was the daughter of the late Thomas and Ernestine (Votreneau [sic]) and the aunt of Richard Canning of Wilmington, Del., Edward X. Canning of Fairfield Conn., Harry Canning of Hudson, Ohio, Thomas Canning of California and Rita Meuer of Hagerstown, Md.
          Arrangements were handled by the George F. Doherty & Sons Wilson-Cannon Funeral Hom, 456 High St., Dedham. Burial will take place at Brookdale Cemetery, Dedham.
Having an interest in military history, I was entranced to think someone with whom I was closely related played a critical part in such important campaigns in WWII. The more I read, the more I was impressed with her contributions and distressed to know that the involvement of these women has been so overlooked by history. I read an excellent work by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemarie Neidel-Greenlee entitled “And if I Perish,” which details their amazing service. When the troops landed in Africa, those nurses, including Mary Canning, were landing right next to them. Between Africa and Italy, they had two hospital ships bombed out from under them. In Italy, the nurses were delayed in landing for three days, but remained trapped with the troops on Anzio Beach, otherwise known as “Hell’s Half-Acre,” for the entire time of the German bombardment. This was the first time in U.S. Military history where nurses in uniform travelled just behind the combat troops, and in many ways, they were making it up as they went along.

Like Uncle Ned, she passed away before I was ever aware of her history. But I have been in correspondence with one of her nephews who graciously shared her photo with me. He told me that “she was a very outgoing person and liked to party. She spent much time keeping in touch with relatives. I don’t think she felt that all her activities were any hardship. She rather enjoyed all her adventures.”

 L-R Jack McLaughlin, Millie Irving Wenz, with her husband Fred Wenz behind her, Emily Wenz Morse, Mary Canning, Marie Wenz McLaughlin and Dot Irving Wenz (my grandmother). The occasion was probably the anniversary of the McLaughlins, taken at their home in Hanson, MA in 1975.

And I’ve just learned that I had actually met her in 1975! Oh, that I had known! Hopefully more research will reveal more details of her life and I’ll be able to update this post with more detail soon. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Aunt Tille and the Wenz Family


Every family has at least one brickwall, and as many methods of climbing over them. One of my strategies was to write a family history of one of our lines that ended at that ancestor’s immigration into the United States.
What an undertaking it became! But it forced me to re-examine thirty years of evidence and helped me to find some clues I’d overlooked.
Twenty-six pages later, my data had congealed into a reasonably decent narrative that I felt I could share with family members, known and unknown. Now, how to distribute it? Since I’m currently out of work, it had to be very budget-friendly. Well, I had plenty of stamps and envelopes and access to online people searches – so I went looking for distant cousins. I started with just one line – the Maitlands. I had been in contact with one of the cousins years ago, and was dismayed to learn that he had since passed away. But his obituary listed the names and towns of his siblings and children, so I wrote six letters. Well, one of them hit paydirt! I heard from the granddaughter of Aunt Tillie, my great-grandfather’s older sister. Tillie had lived with them for a time after her husband passed away.

The cousin shared a few stories with me that contained some important clues, and I’ll share a few of them here:
“During the second WW, my Mom worked several hours a day in a cemetery greenhouse.  My Mom had the greenest thumb you could find.  So....Grandma Maitland took care of us kids, or vice versa many times.  She was funny, because she wanted the neighbors to think that she was earning her keep - she would stand in one place on the sidewalk with a broom in her hand and sweep periodically. That was long before senior residences.  Altho, when she lived with Uncle Bill in Delaware, she told me that to keep busy there, she would take the bus to the Nursing Home to visit the "girls".  She was 10 years older that most of them were, but they were her friends.  I remember visiting at her home when Grandpa was still living.  They had an old pump organ, which my kid brother and I loved.  We could not reach the peddles and the keys at the same time, so we took turns.  He would play while I pumped the peddle and then we would change places.  Didn't bother Grandma doing it that way. Grandma Maitland (Wenz) lived with us about 6 months of the year after Grandpa died.  She had two sons, William and Robert Laurie Maitland, Jr. (my dad).  They took turns caring for her until she died.  She told me, since I was the youngest and would listen, stories about growing up in her family.  She said that they never spoke anything but German until they went to school.  She taught me one little verse in German that they always insisted she learn and it still is with me a lot, and she told me about her brother and his understanding of American idioms.  He was chopping wood and seemed to struggle with it.  They told him he needed more "elbow grease".  The next thing they saw was her brother in the yard greasing his elbows.  I always assumed it was Uncle Ed, who may be your grandfather figure.  I remember him well, because he came once in a while to visit with Matilda.  He was a beautiful person - very large- and very gracious, especially with us a little kids.  He had the biggest hands I ever remember, but he was a farmer in the Boston area and I assumed that was his largest."
What a great peek inside my family history – the real people, not just the names and dates on a page! So, reach out to distant cousins – you’ll never know what you’ll find!
And the book? Here's the link: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B47bUrlyCkJhRndzeGx3NlQ4eFk