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 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