Oct 042010

After receiving all the data from interviewing my mother, now the hard task of verifying and organizing the data.  I’ll start with her father, Harley Hartman Deeter.

This is only picture that I have of Harley H. Deeter.  He is shown here with his third wife, Charlotte Crocker (probably on their wedding day).

As far as I can determine, my mother has no other pictures of her father.  This picture is in possession of my cousin, Linda (nee Deeter).

I did advanced Google searches for Harley H. Deeter (and variations), but found no data there.    My search of FamilySearch and Ancestry.com yielded census records (1900, 1910, 1920, 1930), transcription of Ohio marriage license (Harley & Mable E. Smith), and draft registration cards (WWI & WWII).

Harley’s birth date has not been discovered in primary sources.  I previously wrote to the archivist of Tennessee to determine whether a delayed birth certificate had been issued to Harley H. Deeter, born in October 1881.  The result was negative.  At the time I did not know the county in which he was born.

The 1900 census has a Harley Deeter living in Basil, Fairfield County, Ohio, as a servant in the residence of Ella Fairchild.  His birthdate is listed as October, 1881, in Tennessee.  Harley’s mother (nee Knepper) is from Fairfield County, Ohio.  Listed on the same census page is Cyrus Knepper, possibly a cousin. 

The 1910 Census lists Harley and his wife, Mabel, living as boarders in Dayton, Montgomery County, Ohio.  Their 11 month old son is listed as Bartleh J. (actually, Barthel).  Harley is listed as 28 (therefore, a birth year of 1881 or 1882).  His birth locations as listed is listed as Ohio; both his parents, United States.  It seems likely that this data was not given by Harley, but more likely by one of the Butlers with whom they resided.

1920 Census has Harley and Mabel living in their own home (65 S. Ridgeview Ave., Youngstown, Ohio) with five children, along with Mabel’s mother and brother.  I have learned from my mother that her maternal grandfather also lived with them at this time, but he often went to Georgia or Florida in the wintertime to build a home.  (The census was enumerated on January 8th.)  Harley’s age is listed as 38; his birthplace, Tennessee; his parent’s birthplaces, Indiana and Ohio.

1930 Census has Harley and Mable living at 216 Hazelwood Ave, Youngstown, Ohio.  Their 5 children and Mable’s father are also listed with them.  Harley’s age is 48 and his birthplace is listed as Tennessee; his parents, Indiana and Ohio.   (I previously had difficulty locating this 1930 census record because they were indexed as “Dester” instead of Deeter.)

Indexing of Ohio Marriages (FamilySearch.com) lists Harley H. Deeter and Mabel E. Smith as being married on 15 October, 1908, in Montgomery County, Ohio.  His birth place is listed as Tenn.  No age or birth date is given.

World War I & II registration cards were reviewed.  Harley’s birthday is indexed as 15 October, 1881, from the WWI card.  (Reading the image of the actual card is difficult because of the lack of sharpness.)  The date could be read as either 15 or 17 October.  WWII card, however, is quite clear.  Birthdate is given as 15 October, 1881.  Location is Lawrence County, Tennessee.  His death certificate lists October 15, 1881, as his date of birth.  That information is consistent, even though the informant was his wife of only 2 or 3 years.  (She listed his birth place as “Ohio.”)

I would conclude that Harley H. Deeter was born in Lawrence County, Tennessee, on October 15, 1881.  While the information leading to this conclusion is all dependent upon Harley, himself, the only data to suggest otherwise, lists his birthplace as Ohio.  This information was likely provided by the people with whom he was living at the time, and not by Harley.  This inferrence is supported by the fact that the birthplace of Harley’s parents is simply listed as “United States,” indicating a likely guess, rather than actual knowledge.

So, we know that Harley Hartman Deeter — name verified on WWI & II registration cards, death certificate, and Ohio Death Index (where middle name is “Hart an” with the “m” obscured) — was born in Lawrence County, Tennessee, on October 15, 1881.  His first wife probably died in 1906.  He married his second wife in 1908, and had 6 children with her (one died in infancy). He married for a third time 1939 and died on 11 December, 1942.  His parents (John Henry Deeter & Elmira Knepper) were likely born in Indiana and Ohio, respectively.

Two tasks to be done:   check Lawrence County, Tennessee, for any birth records     and     check Montgomery County, Ohio, for marriage license.

Next information to debrief:   Harley Hartman Deeter’s brothers and sisters

Jun 022010

Dr. Daniel Hubbard, Personal Past Meditations, raises the question of “Why?” we do genealogical research. He suggests a variety of “why’s” — for example:

  • a pastime to wile away the hours
  • a puzzle to be solved
  • we get to play detective
  • the adrenaline rush when uncovering something new
  • moving from the known into the unknown
  • finding new “cousins”
  • religious imperative
  • on a quest
  • making connections
  • a drive to immortalize

I can resonate with most of those “why’s.” I am still trying to refine my “How-tos.” The real challenge for me right now is improving and extending my source citations. (Actually, the real challenge is just doing it!) There is, however, the question that Dan Hubbard is raising — namely, “Why am I so passionate about my genealogical research?” … and … “Why do I want to get it right?”

I have come to understand my life as being the story I live. Like all stories, it has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. The middle of the story is compromised of many chapters. As I approach my 70th birthday, I am aware that a) I have chapters still to write and b) there are far more chapters that have already been written than those that are yet to be penned.

As I discover more and more of the chapters of the life stories of my ancestors, I find that I learn more of my own story – both the already-written as well as the yet-to-be-written chapters. When I learn that my gg-grandfather (a nursery man and a tombstone carver) and my grandfather (an arc engraver) were artisans of a sort, I begin to understand something of my own artistic inclinations. When I see a consistent story of involvement by my ancestors in church and community affairs, I begin to understand that my call to ministry is as much a matter of family heritage as it is a purely spiritual matter.

Our stories are marvelously connected, generation after generation after generation. The individualism of American culture might suggest that we each start with a blank sheet of paper as we write our own stories. The more I learn about my family’s history and the more I hear others talk and write about theirs, I am increasingly convinced that no one writes his or her story, as if on a blank sheet. My story is a continuation of the stories of the Brenners & the Venningers of Adelshofen, Baden; of the Messeralls of eastern Pennsylvania; of the Smiths from Dayton, Ohio; and of the melting pot that was Youngstown, Ohio. Each new fact that goes into my database, each new ancestor I can name, each new “cousin” with whom I become connected, each of these help me write just a little more of my own story.

So, WHY do I engage in genealogical research? The simple answer is that I learn the facts about my ancestors in order to tell their stories… and I tell their stories so I can be more deeply invested in my own story.

Oh, yes! and I want to leave a good story for my grandchildren to grow with, into, and beyond!

Mar 012010

I am fascinated by the question “What is Genealogy?”   My answer seems always to come back to the same assertion – genealogy is part of our quest for meaning.

Some have suggested that we human beings inhabit the universe’s capacity for self-awareness.  To be self-aware is to know something about where and how we fit into the big picture.  To be self-aware is to be on a quest toward meaning.  One metaphor for that quest for meaning is genealogy. I was trained in philosophy and theology long before I began my genealogical journey; but I find a lot of similarities in the processes.

Origen of Alexandria took note of the 42 stops the Israelites made during their wilderness wanderings.  He allegorized those 42 stops into the 42 stages that comprise our journey toward meaning (toward God).  Bernard of Clairvaux suggested that the journey toward meaning begins with the senses (“the flesh”), moves toward sensability (“the intellect”), and finally finds meaning (“wisdom”).  He called that wisdom “union” with God (ultimate meaning ).

I am not sure how many “steps” there are in the genealogical journey – maybe there are 42 (maybe more, maybe less).  But I am aware of my moving through three journey stages (similar to those described by Bernard) as I engage my genealogy. 

First stage: Finding Facts.  I encounter the sensory data (photo albums, shoebox full of pictures and letters, school papers and diplomas, digital images, GEDCOM files, online family trees, emails for new “cousins,” and so much more).  These data are the facts, potentially the stepping stones for the genealogical journney.  But facts, by themselves, are just facts.  I can have piles on my desk, boxes, file cabinets, computer folders, and online backup services filled with facts.  By themselves, the data don’t become genealogy – that is, they don’t create connections or meaning.  I gathered raw data for about thirty years before I seriously entered into the next step of the journey – making sense of the data.

Second Stage: Making Sense.  My 1st cousin (once removed) did a remarkable job of making sense of the data he had gathered (much of which I received from him).  He gathered and organized his genealogical journey in the days of paper, pencil, and loose leaf notebook genealogy.  Fortunately, I have access to a desktop (and laptop) computer, a wide range of desktop and online genealogy software, as well as online search engines and data repositories that are growing in depth and breadth every day.  These tools have helped me find new data and  to organize the raw data into categories and relationships that make sense.   These sensible relationships (pedigrees, family group sheets, ahnentafels, citations, etc.) become the stepping stones for the genealogical journey.  The insistence on proper citation for sources is a result of our desire not to wobble or fall when we move onto particular stepping stones.  As important as the stepping stones are, however, they are not the end of the journey.

Stage Three: Meaning (Union).   For Bernard, the final step, reached only occasionally but sought after always, was mystical union with God (ultimate meaning).  I believe it is so also with genealogy’s journey.  As we immerse ourselves in the data and in the process of organizing those data so that they make sense, we periodically have those “Aha!” moments when it All seems to make sense.  It is no longer just the story of how my gg-grandmother managed with 15 children or that our family is NOT directly related to the Mayflower Bradfords…  somehow I find myself in my ancestors; their stories and my stories emerge as one story;  meaning flows forth.  

From fact to sense to meaning and connection…   that is what it means for us to be sentient beings, the universe’s capacity for self-reflection and -awareness.  For me, that is what genealogy is all about — the quest for meaning and purpose.  Every once in a while, for brief moments, I find myself there.  And in those brief moments, I know that it has ALL been worthwhile!