Tuesday, July 5, 2011

An Ancestor is Calling to Me

Yesterday, as the nation celebrated the 235th anniversary of our country's declaration of independence, I made it a point to remind myself of one of my ancestors whose life for several months was devoid of independence.

Isaac Green Mask, my 4th-great-grandfather, was a Confederate political prisoner from October 17, 1861 to January 10, 1862. Charged with treason, he ultimately ended up at Fort Warren on Georges Island, in the harbor just outside of the city of Boston. He was treated well there, but until January 1862, he did not know what his fate would be. A death sentence? Imprisonment until the war was over? A transfer to another prison? Or a release back into society and with his family?

Two years ago, I had visited Fort Warren for the first time to get a sense of where my ancestor was imprisoned. What was his life possibly like? It was a fascinating trip, and it sparked all kinds of questions in my mind. I began a search to find out what brought about his arrest and how he had come to be ultimately released. It's a personal journey still in the works, but I know much more than I did in July 2009.

On my second trip, just yesterday, I was enthusiastic about seeing the new Visitor's Center, which had just been built on the island in the summer of 2010. In 2009, I had e-mailed scanned copies of letters that Isaac wrote from Fort Warren to his family (and following his release, letters he received from an acquaintance still imprisoned there), to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. It was my hope they would choose to utilize those letters for their Visitor's Center, as I would liked to have seen Isaac's letters made available to the public - in essence, making him much more famous than he ever would have imagined. Alas, his letters were not used for the Visitor's Center exhibits.

But I gained further knowledge at the Visitor's Center about the daily lives of the political prisoners. And on one of the informational plaques in the center, I saw an image that captivated me - an image of a page taken from a "yearbook" style photo album of Confederate prisoners. Credit for the image pointed to the Department of Conservation and Recreation Archives. Last night, I sent an e-mail to the DCR and asked if that photo album is available for viewing. I look forward to the response and hope I can take a look at that album.

What if Isaac Green Mask's photograph is in that album? This would be monumental, as I have no images of him. None. I don't even have a clear idea of what he looked like. Perhaps I will, though.

Regardless, I am now determined, more than ever, to write a book about Isaac. His political imprisonment is just one significant event in his life of which I have knowledge. What a story he has to tell - and if not from him or anyone else - it must be told through me. Isaac is calling to me, and I aspire to pass forth his story to the world one day. I have much to research, and it starts with a desire to find a photograph of him.

I can only hope.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

This is the Face of Genealogy

In reference to LA Weekly article about a genealogy conference that showed a very poorly chosen photo, a wonderful blog post by Thomas MacEntee encourages genealogists to post their own favorite ancestor photo to create a "win situation for the genealogy community."

I choose (of course), my great-grandfather John Tyler Fairall from whom we share the same middle name.  He was a pilot during World War I.

John Tyler Fairall, circa 1917-1918, Paris, France

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (9) January 5, 1918

In J.T. Fairall's ninth letter written during WWI, he expressed his joy over the deliciousness of a fruit cake his mother sent him (back when fruit cakes weren't the jokes of desserts).  He celebrated the fruit cake with some champagne that he and some other fellow pilots shared.  He got over his recent cold that he had and was sleeping well with a new comforter that he needed due to the bitter-cold temperatures of the French winter. The closest town was apparently about nine miles away, so the isolation must have made the winter feel all the more chilly.  The small things, like a tobacco pipe he had just received along with the fruit cake, seem to make a big difference for him.

On the last page of his letter, an F.J. Lloyd, 1st Lieutenant, scribbled his name down, presumably someone who was assigned to ensure letters contained no sensitive or confidential details that could be used by the enemy. 


Dear Mother

I received your box last night and had a party at once.  We had two quarts of champagne that we were saving for some unexpected occasion and they surely went fine with the fruit cake.  I don't believe I ever tasted any fruit cake that tasted better.  I invited three other fellows who have bunks in my alley to join me and we were all hunting for the stray crumbs.  I surely did need everything that the box contained and I want to thank all.

At the time that I wrote my last letter I had a little cold but I stayed indoors for a day or two and soon got over it.  It has been very cold here for the last couple weeks and of course going from about 35˚ to 7˚  below is bound to give you a little cold.  When the cold snap started Ottis Williamson to get me a comforter in town and I have been sleeping like a log since.  The town is about 9 mi. away and is nothing more than a village the size of Shepherdstown^ so I have only been in once since my arrival.

When Raynor comes out I wish that you would thank him for the tobacco and pipes.  I broke the one that I brought along so you can see how I needed it.  Tell Milton to write and tell me some of the happenings.  Hoping to hear from all soon.  

I am
Your loving son

J.T. Fairall
Aviation Section Signal Corps
% B.M.C.

[FJ Lloyd
1st Lt. ASSORC]

* Though J.T. wrote 1917, the context and known timeline would indicate that it was actually 1918.  Writing 1917 for the previous twelve months made this an understandable error.

^ Shepherdstown, West Virginia was the home of many Fairall relatives - and it was where J.T. went to college before the war.  To give meaning to J.T.'s reference to Shepherdstown's population, in 1920 the town had 1,063 residents [Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1921), 314, "Table 51, Population of Incorporated Places."].

Envelope (front)
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Monday, April 18, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (8) December 26, 1917

Jack and fellow pilots in a wintry photo
Christmas Day has just passed, and in J.T.'s eighth letter written during WWI, he describes the Christmas activities he and others have had in France.  One can picture many of these pilots staying warm in their decorated barracks with the two Christmas trees that would remind them so much of home.  Indeed, Jack recalls with a sense of nostalgia the holidays in Baltimore and the last-minute holiday shopping at the bustling Lexington Market at Lexington and Eutaw Streets (one of the largest markets in the U.S. at the time).

Jack describes the gifts provided by the Red Cross to the military, some of which might raise eyebrows nowadays, like cigarettes and tobacco.  They enjoyed a traditional holiday dinner and were treated to a white Christmas.  Of course, with the wintry weather, Jack also was met with an "inconvenient" cold. 

Jack's brother Campbell is also serving in the military, but the brothers haven't been able to keep in touch thus far.  Mail delivery has not been the best, and Jack mentions the curious delays his family appears to experience in receiving his letters from France.  Perhaps the delay is due to the need for the U.S. government to meticulously censor any military information in all of the soliders' letters, an act demonstrated in this particular letter from Jack with sections cut out from the second page.

This is the last letter that Jack wrote in 1917, but many more are written in the next year.     

 12/26 [1917]

My Dear Mother

As an Xmas preasant I received 2 letters from you.  The letters from home are always events.  We had a white Xmas one that would surely make the kids stay awake all night waiting for Santa.  We had two trees in our barracks one in each end.  We made a pool of 10 F each and had our stockings filled.  Beside this the Red Cross gave out a bag to each one containing 1 towel tooth brush 1 bar soap toothpaste 1 pr socks 1 handkerchief and cigarettes and tobacco.  This was very nice but when I pictured Lex and Eutaw Sts on Xmas Eve about 7 P.M. when all of late comers are pushing and shoving to finish their purchases.  Then look back a little further to the time when the family was younger.  How there was one grand rush for Xmas presants.  This all comes into my mind.  How lucky we have always been.

I was sorry to hear that Bernice had taken the baby down to Mrs. Howards for Xmas instead of staying with you.  It surely would have made up at bit for Campbell's and my absence.  I often wonder where Camie is at various times.  I hope that he was at least be able to be ashore in the U.S. for shipboard wouldn't be any idea of a wonderful time for Xmas.

Our dinner was very good turkey cranberries fried potatoes, and coffee with nuts and figs on the side.  That is doing pretty well when you consider the number of men in the Army on this side and it is a pretty safe bet that they all fared alike.

In your last letter dated about Dec. 3 you say that you haven't received any mail from me.  This is rather peculiar as I mailed a letter at [censored] just before the boat left also one just before getting off of the [censored].  Both of these letters should have arrived before Dec. 3.  There are of course others that could not have arrived.  You say that Marguerite hasn't heard from her Jack.  She should have heard from him if he has written for he left about 1 mo before I did.

The weather has been pretty cold and snowy and I have managed to catch a slight cold of course.  I could hardly go through a winter without something of the kind.  It doesn't amount to much but is surely inconvenient.

I suppose that you often wonder why I don't describe the country over here.  Well I have been in France more than a month and have only been to one city the rest of the time I have been cooped up on camp.  So you can see that [missing words] very little about anything on this side.

I [missing words] for this time.  Hoping that all enjoyed their Xmas and that all have a prosperous New Year.  I am

Your affectionate son

Address J.T. Fairall
Aviation Sec. Sig. Corps
American Exp Forces
American Air Service
% B.M.C.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

NERGC 2011: Thoughts and Future Paths

I just returned last night from my second New England Regional Genealogical Conference 2011 in Springfield, Mass., the theme of which was "Exploring New Paths to Your Roots."  I enjoyed seeing my two Northeimer cousins as well as eight of my classmates from "the 4th BU regiment" Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program.  I felt right at home among the 800 or so fellow genealogists, and I'm now feeling re-invigorated and ready to pursue some new (and renewed) personal genealogical goals. 

I've put together a few thoughts on future potential paths I could take, and I've referenced some of the excellent presenters at the conference.  Maybe one of these ideas would work well for you, too!

1. Explore university libraries special collections and archives.  Previously, I only pursued academic transcripts and yearbooks in my genealogical research.  But I never considered searching special collections and archives of university libraries.  Laura Prescott presented a wide range of materials available in university libraries.  If you know an ancestor attended a particular institution of higher education, chances are alumni records might shine a light on that individual.  It makes sense when you consider that alumni tend to brag about their accomplishments and family developments via their alma mater's publications.  And if an ancestor happened to work at a university, their research or involvement might also be in their records.  Why did I not think about this considering I've worked at three universities over the last ten years?  You might even be surprised to find a family portrait as part of a university collection; for example, if you search "family" at Miami University's Digital Archive, you'll find many family photographs and interviews. 

This is a perfect time to give a shout-out to my alma mater, Radford University, for their treasure chest in their Archives and Special Collections.  They've digitized so much history, and they even have recent yearbooks on-line, where you could find me in 2001, for instance).

2. Look at school district records.  This is another academic area, but I hadn't considered checking these out before.  These might be harder to find, but the information potentially contained within school district records includes: student enumeration lists, tax payer records, teacher term reports, school district meeting minutes (to name a few).  Pam Stone EaglesonCG did a wonderful presentation on this.  I have at least a couple of ancestors who I know were teachers; perhaps I can find out more about them through school district records.

3. Utilize Twitter to connect with other genealogists.  Admittedly, I have not completely warmed to Twitter; I use it sparingly to promote my blogs, but I haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet.  But I know Twitter can be used to get to know and connect with others.  D. Joshua Taylor, who I was surprised to learn was born in 1985 yet is already nationally known and respected in the genealogy community (and with celebrities through NBC's Who Do You Think You Are television series), briefly mentioned in his introductory keynote speech that he finds great use for Twitter.  So, alright, perhaps it is time for me to really push myself into the so-called "Twitter-verse."  After all, the younger generations of genealogists (like myself) tend to be more social media savvy.

4. Start recording personal histories of family members.  I should really start collecting personal memories of family members, like my mother for instance!  I'm always telling her, "Mom, you should write such and such story down!"  But she's a busy person and understandably finds writing all those stories down an overwhelming prospect.  I picked up a book called "Legacy: A step-by-step guide to writing personal history" by Linda Spence in the exhibitor hall, and it has hundreds of questions you can ask yourself or others in order to compile a personal history.  So my idea is I'll e-mail my mother one question each week and hope that she responds back with some details.  This way she won't be overwhelmed but over time I'll get plenty of tidbits.

5. Write a book.  What a wish I've got here.  My BU classmates continue to encourage me to write a book about my 4th-great grandfather Isaac Green Mask (see my previous blog post on him), due to the fact that I have a collection of twenty original letters written to and from this man from 1854-1871.  He and some of his close relatives had lives definitely worth writing about.  One of my classmates is about to publish her own book this year, which I think is so exciting (I'll be certain to mention her book on my blog when it's published).  I really should consider writing a book -- I know I can do it; I just need to get started. 

6. Become actively involved with NERGC or other genealogical societies.  At both NERGC conferences, I have been a volunteer; volunteering helps make the conference flow smoothly, plus it's just a great experience.  I feel as though I could contribute a lot more by serving on a committee for NERGC or another genealogical organization.  As I'm now 31, I expect I have many years ahead of me where I could help make a difference and also gain experience professionally in the process through this sort of involvement.

7.  Use resources such as NUCMC.  NUCMC (I love how it's pronounced nuck-muck; it sounds like a strange creature a child might imagine) is the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections.  I heard it mentioned at least four times in different lectures and presentations at this conference, but beforehand it was completely unknown to me.  It's a useful finding aid for manuscripts, which are essentially hand-written or original copies of works, such as letters, diaries, and dissertations.  Just be sure to go to the OCLC WorldCat Search on its web site.

8. Get back to researching my genealogy!  I've completely neglected researching my genealogy.  Around April 2010, I took all of my family tree information down from my web site and Ancestry.com after completing the BU class, because a fair amount of my data was either uncited or taken from other researchers' family trees (both I had learned were a big no-no!).  However, I never really started the research again.  So much to do!  While I'm at it, I also really should update my family history web site.  It needs some love.

9. More and more, I'm thinking I'd love to move to the Baltimore area.  I've been searching for jobs lately, and I've had fleeting thoughts of moving to Baltimore, Maryland where many of my ancestors lived.  It also helps that the National Archives and Library of Congress are close by in Washington, D.C.  After attending a presentation by John Philip Colletta, Ph.D. about the resources available at the Library of Congress, I am really keen on putting down this idea of moving to Baltimore as a serious goal.

10. Take more photos.  I'm a little frustrated with myself for not taking pictures at the conference.  So a reminder to myself and others to visually document your adventures in the future!  There's a good photo out there somewhere of many of the BU graduates at the conference, though.  I'll try to get a hold of it!
Did you attend the NERGC 2011 or have some thoughts?  Feel free to comment on this post or e-mail me at michael@goodhartfamily.org.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (7) December 21, 1917

In the seventh letter written, Jack has finally received mail since leaving the U.S.  It took over a month for the mail to get to him at that time.  His satisfaction in receiving mail serves as a reminder for how important it is to all of those in the military overseas to hear from people at home.

John, age 8
Much of his letter focuses on individuals in the family and possibly neighors or friends of the family.  Unfortunately, I do not know who many of the people he references are, so the snippets of information Jack mentions don't tell a clear story since we're missing the other side of the conversations (only letters he sent are available).  However, there are a select few people that I have identified who are family members.  All of the letters he received must have provided him with updates on how people back home were doing.  One person in particular that he mentions is his Uncle Will; he recalled that he had a lot of fun with Will when he was younger (see the photo on right of Jack at a young age).

Jack's days are busy while in training.  He doesn't seem entirely happy with how he's doing, experiencing some difficulty keeping it all together.  Of course, we know based on future letters and his military record, he eventually did figure it out and serve as a reconnaissance pilot.

My Dear Mother

At last I have received some mail.  One from Mrs. Kelly one from Raynor, the one that he mailed to Dayton and 4 from you.  I tell you they made me feel 200% better.  I think that I have read them over at least a dozen times.

Your first letter written 11/4/17 arrived 12/20/17.  One mo. 16 da.  You mention the last Sunday morning breakfast.  I would certainly enjoy another such a one if I could drop in unexpectedly on Xmas morning.  If you remember this will only be the 2 Xmas I have ever been away.

I hope that Emmett* and Mr. Slocomb got together again.  There is a much better chance with an interest in a business than there is managing some other persons.

I am sorry to hear that the baby was sick and surely hope that she is well by now.  She is at the age where she must be watched over very carefully.  I suppose that when her Uncle Jack gets home again she will be quit grown up.  She could talk the last time.  She will be quit accomplished.

The supper that you had with Uncle Will and Aunt J^ and Raynor must have been very pleasant.  I am sure that it lasted 2 hrs.  I would liked to have been there.  Willie was as full of fun as ever or has he gotten over it by now.  Somehow I always enjoyed life more when Willie Raynor and I were together.  I wonder if we will have any of those times over again.  I am sorry that G-ma wasn't home when I left.  If I had known that she would come I would have sent her word.  Tell her to take good care of herself and she will be there when "Johnny comes marching home."  I bought $10,000.00 insurance and sent a signed copy of the application to you which you have received by this time.

Your description of the US club is very interesting.  There will be more than one poor sucker get homesick for such treatment when he gets over on this side especially the infantry men.  They are the boys that have the nasty work.

I haven't receive either the sweater or the box.  They will be along though.  The mail is so heavy that they have to haul it from [censored - maybe Paris?] in trucks a distance of about [censored].  I hope that the fruit cake doesn't go astray as fruit cake are going to be mighty scarce over here.  The tobacco and cigaretts are also needed very much.  I have exactly 4 pcks of 20 cigaretts ea left of the store that I brought along.

My flying is coming along slowly.  I will get it into my head some of these days.  I am in the best of health.  Outside of a little cold in my throat I have been O.K.

I will write to Issy Cath and G-ma in a day or two.  Tell them to write often as my days are all crowed from daylight to dark.  We have a lot to learn besides flying so we are rushed all the time.

If you see anything in the papers send it.  We don't get very much news from the states.  I would enjoy reading the register so you might mail one now and then or better still several together.

With love to all

J.T. Fairall
American Exp. Forces
% B.M.C.

*Emmett's full name is Emmett Mills Howard (b. 6 Apr 1890, d. unknown); he was the husband of John's sister, Bernice Fairall.
^Uncle Will is likely William Henry Kline, Jr., John's maternal uncle (b. 18 Aug 1880, d. unknown); Aunt J. was William's wife Virginia - possibly going by Jennie (maiden name presently unknown).
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

The J.T. Fairall WWI Letters: (6) December 13, 1917

One of the planes flown in WWI
In his sixth letter home to his mother, Jack covers two topics: flying and food.

For the past ten days, Jack and others have been training in "scout machines" which presumably were for reconnaissance missions.  If someone wasn't fit for flying the scouts, they'd instead fly bombing machines.  Jack shows an obvious preference for the faster scout machine, which is what he ended up flying throughout the war.

The dominant topic of his letter was about food, though!  He eats well and there is a variety of hot food, though this shouldn't be a surprise since he wasn't that close to the war front yet.  I personally take an interest in Jack's use of the words dinner and supper.  Many people, like myself, use the two words interchangeably.  But often in other cultures, dinner is a late afternoon meal while supper is a late evening meal.  The latter perspective is how Jack views these meals.  Also, he mentions Karo syrup which I've never heard of before, but their web site shows they have a wide presence in the U.S. today and have been around 1902.

On a side note, Jack may have written this letter in a hurry, due to some spelling mistakes and missing or repetitive words.  That is generally not the norm for his letters.  Perhaps training was taking up more of his time.  He also was getting anxious to receive more mail from his family, as he wasn't really getting any letters at the time.


My Dear Mother

No mail but still have hopes.  We have been here since 12/3 and have started our training for the scout machines which are the fastest machines.  If we break a machine we will be sent to another field and put on a bombing machine which is much slower.  Of course we don't care for this although there have been quite a number apply for these machines of their own accord.

This camp is much more comfortable than other that we have been to.  We have very warm barrack heated by the large coal heater which do except when some fresh air friend opens the windows.  Our food is very good.  We had turkey one day since our arrival this doesn't happen often but every day it is good.  For breakfast we have oatmeal with milk and sugar or molasses which goes very good try it some time.  Don't put any milk on the oats but use a little Karo syrup.  We always have bacon or some other meat and coffee along with this.  For dinner we potatoes and tomatoes or beans also coffee and meat.  I forgot mention that we quite frequently have hot biscuits or hot cakes for breakfast.  Supper is usually about the same as dinner.  From the above you can see that I am far from starvation.  I am really in fine health.  I haven't ever had a cold this winter, which is out of the ordinary.

The next time you write I wish you would tell me weather Raynor has ever sold the oboe and the amount so I can send the balance to him.  I would like get that matter out of the way.  Tell Peck* I would like to hear from him also.

For this time I am
Your affect. son

John T. Fairall
American Exp. Forces
American Air Service
Via B M C

*Peck is the nickname of Jack's younger brother Milton Lee Fairall.

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