Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Dollmaker

The second ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my maternal grandmother, Bonnie Mae (Lambertson) Wright.

Bonnie was born 18 February 1924 in Elwood, Madison County, Indiana at home at 1906 North F Street.  Her parents were Clemon Beals & June Kirk (Gilliland) Lambertson.  She was the third child of four and the oldest daughter.

Though her birth certificate clearly gives her middle name as "May", Bonnie used the alternative spelling "Mae" during her adult life.  I've found no evidence of a legal change, it was apparently a stylistic choice.

Ruby & Bonnie
Bonnie grew up in the house she was born which was just south of Callaway Park and the pool.  Bonnie and her brothers & sisters all spent a lot of time there working as lifeguards.  City directories show that they were living in that house through 1938.

In the 1939-40 period the family moved from Elwood to near Greentown in Howard County.  Bonnie's grandparents, Charles & Pearl (Beals) Lambertson were living near Greentown and that is likely why the move.  In an interview with Bonnie's sister, Ruby, she mentioned that her dad liked to have space for a garden, as the new place had 3 acres.

1938 freshman photo

The family moved back to Elwood, and Bonnie graduated from Elwood High School in 1941. The story I was told was that during the time she moved to Greentown, she took classes that put her ahead when she returned to Elwood and she was able to graduate in 1941, rather than 1942.

A newspaper story from 1938 mentioned a Halloween party that Bonnie attended with her future husband, Bill Wright.  I do not know if that was the first time that they met, but aunt Ruby told me that she would double date with her future husband, Bob.

Bonnie and Bill were married on 7 June 1941 in Elwood at the First Baptist Church by Rev. Sage.  Shortly afterward, they moved to Alexandria where Bill's family was from. At the time of their marriage, Bill was a factory worker and Bonnie had to have parental consent to get married, as she was only 17.

Her first child, my uncle was born in the spring of 1942 when they were living at 610 West Broadway in Alexandria.  The war was on and my grandpa enlisted together with my great-uncle Bob on 19 January 1944 in the U.S. Army, determined to become pilots.

A heart murmur kept grandpa from becoming a pilot, and instead he became a radio instructor.  One of my first genealogy interviews when I was a teenager was listening to grandma tell me about all of the various Army bases that she travelled to with grandpa with my uncle in tow.  I need to track down the notes, but I seem to remember her saying one time in Biloxi they were scared - must have been a fight between locals and servicemen or something.

Grandpa was always state-side during the war, and after his discharge he returned home and was soon employed at the local post office and Bonnie settled into being a housewife.  By the winter of 1946, they were a family of four when my mother arrived.

Bonnie and Bill were socially active in events in small town Alexandria with groups such as the Elks, the First Christian Church and school parent committees.

By the time I came along, Bonnie was 44 years old, and I was her second grandson.  She lost my grandfather 5 years later, becoming a widow at 49.  I cannot imagine how painful that loss must have been.  One of the ways she dealt with grief was the therapy of doll making.

Bonnie made a Raggedy Ann doll for her niece Vicki for a graduation gift. When Ruby took it to Guide Lamp in Anderson to show it off, people started putting in orders to have Bonnie make one for their kids and for nursing homes.

The dolls were 25 inches and each strand of hair was tied on by hand so that when the dolls were washed they wouldn't come apart.  She  made an estimated 500 of the dolls.

Bonnie enjoyed making dolls and couldn't stand to see a doll without clothes.  She loved to sew and would make matching clothes for my mother and her dolls when she was a girl. My mom still has examples of her handiwork.

As a youngster, I spent more time with Grandma Bonnie than my other grandmother because she lived closer. I can remember going shopping into downtown Alexandria at stores such as Danner's and going to the bakery to get one of their famous caramel rolls.

I remember walking over to her house after playing baseball at the Babe Ruth diamonds and hanging out. One story I remember was that she had a case of Bloody Mary Mix that she didn't want me to tell anyone about because she didn't want them to think she was a drinker.

One time she made me popcorn and I complained that it didn't have any butter on it.  She promptly went to the kitchen and brought back one of those squeeze bottles of butter and coated that popcorn so much so that it wasn't edible.  I learned a lesson that day not to complain.

When I started working on genealogy, I interviewed her about her family history for my Boy Scout merit badge.  She told me what she could about her heritage, and got me started on tracking down the mysteries on her mother's side of the family.

When I was a sophomore in high school, she became really sick with cancer.  I went with my mom & grandma to many of her visits at the Bluffton clinic.  She eventually became so ill that she had to move in with us.

Bonnie died 9 April 1984 at our house at R.R. 4 Box 328, which was rural Monroe Township, Madison County, Indiana.  I remember her passing like it was yesterday, though it was over 30 years ago.

I was glad I was able to spend some time with her asking her about her relatives.  I wish I could show her some of the things I've found that she probably didn't know about her heritage.

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Postman

The first ancestor in my 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is my maternal grandfather, William Lee "Johnny Bill" Wright (1919-1973)

Bill was born 1 December 1919 in Monroe Township, Madison County, Indiana, just south of Alexandria.  His parents were Virgil Lee & Edna Muriel (Pierce) Wright. He was the only son and the middle of three children.

Though his birth certificate clearly states his name was William Lee, he was known as "Johnny Bill" to family and friends.  His first name is shared by his maternal grandfather, and his middle name was shared by his father.  His paternal grandfather was named John William.  In the 1920 census, he was enumerated as "John W.E.".

Bill was raised on the family farm and was active in agricultural pursuits.  Newspaper articles from the Alexandria Times-Tribune indicate he was a member of 4-H and raised gilts.  The family farm was the same one where I was raised, though by then it had ceased to be an active animal-farm.

In 1934, Bill was certified to attend high school after completing schooling in the Monroe Township schools through the eighth grade.  He would attend high school in Alexandria.

While in high school, Bill was a member of Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H, continuing to participate in agricultural activities such as corn shows, visiting stockyards and husking bees.  He became a member of the executive committee of FFA and was awarded prizes at the county fair.

Bill graduated from Alexandria High School in 1938 and continued to engage in agricultural pursuits. At the time of the 1940 census, he was still living with his parents, with his occupation listed as farmer.  I imagine he assumed he would continue in the family farm, but other forces were at work that would soon put him on a different path.

A newspaper story from 1938 mentioned at Halloween party that Bill attended with his future wife, Bonnie Lambertson.  I don't know if that was the first time they met but I do know that Bill's mother didn't approve of the match.  I had previously blogged about how my great-grandmother had already picked out the girl for him.

Bill and Bonnie were married on 7 June 1941 in Elwood, Madison County, Indiana at the First Baptist Church where Bonnie's family attended.  I believe that for a short time, they set up house in Elwood, but it wasn't long before they were back in Alexandria.

My uncle Terry was born in the spring of 1942, the same week that Bill's parents  purchased the home at 610 West Broadway in Alexandria that would be Bill and Bonnie's home for the rest of their lives.  Though Bill & Bonnie made the payments on the house, this purchase caused some consternation with Bill's older sister, as she thought her parents had a house bought for Bill and Bonnie.

Bill was working as an armature winder at Delco Remy in Anderson before going into the military.

Even with a young baby at home, there was a war on and Bill was determined to sign up.  He and my-great uncle Bob Walsh enlisted in the U.S. Army together  on 19 January 1944.  Supposedly, Bill's mother was so upset at this that she tried to get enlistment rescinded, even writing Congressmen to get him out.

Bill served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a LORAN mechanic & instructor. LORAN is short for long range navigation. He wanted to be a pilot, but a heart murmur kept him from being one.  The story Bonnie told me was that at each post, they would find the murmur and he would be under observation for a period.  I would newspaper mention of him being sent from a radio school in Racine, Wisconsin to Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois.  Bonnie told me of time in Biloxi, Mississippi as well.  Both Bonnie and my uncle Terry travelled with Bill at each assignment.

Bill was discharged 27 April 1946 from the separation center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  He returned home to Alexandria, Indiana.  According to his separation paperwork, he applied for an Indiana service bonus.  

Shortly after returning, he began working at the Alexandria Post Office, where he worked the rest of his life. Local tidbits mentioned in the Alexandria Times-Tribune mention "Johnny Bill" at the post office and his quips of humor.  He was known for doing crossword puzzles and reading the dictionary.  He was an avid fisherman, who often took the family to Lake Tippecanoe and later Silver Lake.  I didn't pick up the fishing gene, but my brother did, and still has some of Bill's equipment.

During this post-war period, Bill was active in the local Elks and the American Legion.  My mom came along, and Bill was active with the parents of Clarke Elementary and later the high school.  In 1962, he helped host the meeting of the local 3070 of Postal Clerks and was active in community affairs.

By the time I came along, Bill was 49 years old.  I was his second grandson.  However, I don't really have too many memories of him.  One memory I have is of me &  mom walking on the sidewalk in town and grandpa coming down the street in his pickup truck and taking us to his place.  Another memory I have is that he liked to keep Pringle's potato chips at his house hidden in a nail barrel that had been converted into a table.

Bill died of a coronary occlusion on 9 July 1973 at Community Hospital in Anderson, Madison County, Indiana.  He was 53 years old. According to his death certificate, he died at 12:44 a.m.  I have a vague memory of that happening, mostly feelings of panic, perhaps I heard the phone calls discussing what happened.  At the time of his death, I was four years old.

I wish I would have been able to know him.  I'm left to reading newspaper tidbits and stories passed on from others in order to get a picture of who he was.

The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge was created by Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small blog.  The premise is to write once a week about a specific ancestor – whether it be a story, a biography, a photograph or a research problem.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Tracking and Tracing DNA Matches

During the cold, wintry days between Christmas and New Year's Day, I spent my genealogy time contacting and tracking the DNA matches of my maternal great-aunt using Genome Mate Pro.

This post is by no means a full review of the program - for that would take more experience than I have with it, but so far I'm really impressed with this tool.

The sheer volume of DNA matches in the 4th cousin level, for example, makes a tracking tool such as Genome Mate Pro so valuable.  Being able to track who you've emailed, what family lines they have, where the chromosomes match, etc. make this a wonderful tool.  There is a steep learning curve, and I'd recommend you watch all the You Tube videos and join the Facebook group.

My great-aunt is only tested at FTDNA, and I've know reached out via email to all of her matches greater than 20 cMs.  Now the fun part begins of finding the connections and marking where we match on each chromosome.

Since my maternal side has an unsolved mystery - the identity of my 2nd-great  grandfather, it is hoped that some of my great-aunt's matches will set me on the right path.  So far, there are a number of matches she has that do not match me, so I'm glad I was able to have her test.

Here's to a successful search in 2018!