Apr 03

Helen is Found!

A couple of days ago, I noticed that a check I’d written to the Social Security Administration for the original application of one Helen Potwine, born August 28, 1891 and died in September, 1966. This was the only Helen on the SSDI at Rootsweb.com that matched the birthday of my grandmother, Helen L. Palmer, and appeared to have connections to New York and Vermont where she lived. I had also found a burial for Helen Potwine with her husband Roy, a veteran, at the Long Island National Cemetery. He was a Vermont native who died in April, 1966.

Yesterday I found the highly anticipated envelope, marked Social Security Administration, Official Business, in my mail box. I didn’t yell, I quietly carried the mail in and set it down, went downstairs and changed my load of wash, came up and divided the mail up, Papa’s on his chair, D1’s on the stairs, D3’s on the dining room table. Finally I opened it, and then I did a little dance.

It’s definitely her. Helen Lois Potwine, with Palmer written in above Lois and an arrow indicating it is her maiden name. Parents Orlando W. Palmer and Libbie Winn, born Aug 28, 1891, Hoosick Falls N.Y. Hurrah! Although I’ll never have any relationship with this grandmother, or understand her life, times, motives or actions; I am satisfied to find she had some stability in her life, and a marriage of some duration after two short ones. I hope she found happiness, and touched some other people in a positive way. But I can never know.

I do know that my Mom would be happy her mother Helen is buried in a marked grave, with a stone that memorializes her passing through this world. Mom searched for her parents on and off for years, and had purchased a stone to mark her father’s grave, when she finally found his burial place. Now the fun begins. I need to find a obituary (a kind volunteer is looking one place for me). I need to check city directories in the areas she may have lived. I need a cheap flight to New York to put flowers on that grave, if only once.

Are there any Potwine relatives out there who knew of Roy and Helen? Any friends or acquaintances of the family? I need to talk to you!

Mar 27

Good Old-Fashioned Hard Work???

If you’ve been retired for a while, and I have, it gets harder to focus and accomplish tasks. At least it has for me. That is because time is available. Lots of it. It is easy to forget that it (the time, that is) continues to march on, even when nothing is done. And, there is always tomorrow, or next week, or whenever.

Which brings me to the current problem: how to structure my time so something gets done, but I don’t feel rushed, pushed or some similar desperate feeling. It actually turns out that I get more done when I feel a need to get it done. That is, the tasks need to have importance in the larger scheme of my life. I can tell you for sure that organization is important to me, but dust isn’t. It’s not just the spin, it’s the comfort level I have with a certain “look”. So, organized notebooks and files are comfortable, piles are out. Stuffed but neatly stacked totes are in, but stacks on shelves are out. And so on and on and on. And, the list is in, and haphazard thinking and disorganization are out.

We were trying to bring order out of chaos last weekend. Papa is the proud owner of a new laptop. He needed a wee bit more room, so I inspected the shelf near his desk. I removed two shelves of books, leaving room for more camera and computer equipment. I carried the notebooks into the dining room, and balanced them on the top of the shelf Papa build me in front of the bay window. I would have put them on the shelf, but it was full. Then I went into the bedroom, looked at the shelf (you guessed it) Papa build me there and considered the problem. I e-mailed D1 to ask if she could clear out the build-in drawers at the top of the stairs. She said yes. So, I took a tote, piled the extra sheets and bed pads from the shelf in the bedroom into it. Then I picked all the instruments up from the closet, put the shoes on the bottom, and piled the instruments on top.

But a funny think happened on the way to organization. D3 came into the dining room and asked if we had gotten some new notebooks. I said, “No, I just moved some of the old ones to give Dad some more room”. She replied that she was afraid I had found more relatives. I just laughed, and said of course we have new ancestors, sometimes at an amazing rate, but mostly slowly.

Then, I took a good look at the notebooks on the top of the shelf. They are the same white color as the large fleet of notebooks on the shelves below. The ones below contain the evidence I’ve collected in my more than 20 year search for our collective roots. There are transcriptions of land records, census records, and military records. There are birth, baptism, death and burial records. There are transcriptions of school records, county histories, military histories, church histories. These notebooks are arranged by last name from Abbott, Orsen, one of Papa’s 3rd great grandfathers, to Ziegler, Susan, one of Papa’s 2nd great aunts. Funny that no one in my family is first or last, isn’t it?

My collection of genealogy “stuff” comes under scrutiny often, because it is so visible. But I keep finding more, and organizing more. Crazy hobby. Crazy.

Feb 23

So Here I Am

I am at the genealogy section of the Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne Indiana. Helen is not here. Well, she probably is, but I didn’t find her. I also didn’t find a couple of other people I’m looking for. John Fenton and Martin Herrington. I went through about 15 microfilms, looking for even a little bit on any of them and found very little. I guess I won’t have to look in those places again. John is one of Papa’s maternal 2nd-grandfather, and Martin is one of mine. So, I do equal opportunity brick wall kicking. I’ll tell you more about them sometime. I have a lot of “stuff” on each of them, but their origins are undocumented consist of guesstimates at this time. Maybe I’ll find out something this year about each of them. I’d settle for a tidbit each.

That’s what a day at a microfilm machine will do for you, make you ready to settle. And now I get a bus ride home. Better than driving for sure. I guess this was a good Saturday, even without breakthroughs.

Feb 19

Where is Helen?

Will ever find out where my maternal grandmother went, and why? Helen Lois Palmer was born in Hoosick Falls, NY on 28 August 1891. She was baptized 7 August 1892 at the Methodist church in Hoosick Falls. Helen was counted on the 1900 census with her family, including parents Orlando W. Palmer and Libbie Winn, in Hoosick Falls. She graduated from Hoosick Falls High School 21 June 1907, a year later than her twin sister, Hazel.

Helen has been delicately described to me as a kind of a black sheep, she apparently didn’t fall in line, and didn’t exactly do what her parents expected. In any event, she attended the Troy (NY) Business college, and became a bookkeeper or office worker. On the back of a grade report containing her name, which was tucked into the Orlando Palmer family bible, is a note which says: on Monday March 17, 1919 a son was born to Helen L Palmer Hill, weighting 6 pounds. Edwin Palmer, my mother’s cousin, who owns the bible, said he though it was Orlando’s handwriting. Helen had married George Gardner Hill on 3 July 1918 in Hoosick Falls.

In 1920, Helen and her son, George G. Hill, were counted in the household of her father, back in Hoosick Falls. She apparently divorced Hill within the next several years. That son, know to his family, and the world as Donald William Hill, served in the US Marine Corps between 1939 and 1941, married, and passed away on 4 April 1985 in Lake Elsinore, Riverside County, California leaving 2 daughters. I haven’t been able to find or contact them, and his wife is also deceased. Donald’s obituary is missing from the file at the funeral home, but his death record states his mother was Helen Herrington. That makes sense as the name his wife, who was the informant on the certificate, might have known his mother by.

Helen married David H. Herrington sometime before my mother was born in 1926. In 1929, Herrington, Mrs. Helen L is listed as a resident on Spring Street in the Hoosick Falls directory. In 1930, the family is listed on the census in Bennington, Bennington County Vermont:

Line 48-51, 204 River Street, dwelling 225, family 261
Harrington, David H., head, renting for $12, no radio, male, white, 38, married, first married at age 21, not in school, can read and write, born New York, father born New Jersey, mother born New York, speaks English, houseman hotel, wages, is actually employed, not a veteran.

Helen L., wife, female, white, 38, married, first married at age 26, not in school, can read and write, born New York, father born Vermont, mother born New York, speaks English, no occupation.

Marjorie H., daughter, female, white, 3, single, not in school, born New York, both parents born New York, no occupation.

Hill, Donald, step-son, male, white, 11, single, attending school, can read and write, born New York, both parents born New York, speaks English, no occupation.

On 13 March 1931, Herrington died, apparently of a massive stroke. He was 39 years old. His death certificate states the cause as Cerebral hemorrhage. He was the son of Martin L. Herrington and Catherine/Katherine/Kate Knapp, both born in NY. I have quite a bit of documented information on the Herrington family, but Martin L. is a brick wall, just like his daughter-in-law, Helen.

But Helen, darn her. She farmed my mother out to foster care, some kind of unofficial placement I really haven’t found out much about. Mom mentioned many homes, none permanent, and the one home she left in her teens, striking out on her own. A cousin thinks Helen remained in Bennington, at least for a while. She also remembers a letter, written by Donald to her father, when Helen died. But the letter went unanswered, cannot be found, and no one knows for sure when or where Helen lived and died after 1931.

There are exactly 17 women named Helen, who were born on 28 August 1891, listed in the Social Security Death Index. Of the 17, only 2 seem to have a connection with New York or Vermont. One of those, Helen Potwine, applied for her SS card in Vermont. She was the wife of a soldier named Roy Potwine and is buried with him in a military cemetery on Long Island, NY – her last residence was Essex, NJ. I’m looking for her obituary, or her husband’s, or both right now. Lacking that, I will send for her Social Security Card application to try to confirm her identy. Perhaps I can put the long mystery of Helen’s life in some kind of framework.

The sad part, the breakthrough about Helen comes after my Mom’s death last year. Mom was haunted her entire life by her abandonment at age four. Perhaps it would have given her some peace to have known even a little about her mother.

Aug 07

Small World

M-in-L’s family reunion was last Sunday. To be as specific as she is, “My mother’s family was the one that got together”. M-in-L was thrilled as more and more people drove in. We think there were about 110 or so, but we didn’t have everyone sign in. I guess that’s new for next year. We do know that it was the largest crowd at M-in-L’s house for this event–the place looked like a parking lot out front.

Papa had a wonderful time, scooping ice cream for the kids, and visiting with cousins. I had a lot of fun, too. It is great to see everyone; all of you who didn’t make it missed some great fun, visiting and food.

In the small world department, a second cousin once removed (I’ll call her “C”) of Papa attended with her husband and sons. C would be a third cousin of our children. It turned out that our S-in-L, D2’s husband, knew C’s husband from high school and football. Additionally, D2’s school recently hired a new principal — who is leaving the school that C teaches in to take the job.

So, have a reunion, and find out all kinds of things you didn’t know.

Mar 04

OK — Whatever

I usually don’t write anything on weekends, but I couldn’t resist this. When I quit working a few years ago, I intended to spend most of my free time on genealogy. And, for the most part, for about 3 years I kept up pretty well. But, this past year a lot of my time has been devoted to my family who live here in this world with me.

I do a lot of reading and fit genealogy in too. That’s where I learned what how I could make a lot of money from genealogy.

(Don’t bet on this method!!!)

Feb 15

Soap ends

What in the world do you do with the ends of your bars of soap? I don’t really think there is much soap in the soap. Not so long ago, if you took a bar of soap out of it’s wrapping it would dry out and harden up. I always brought them home and stored them in a onion bag or a basket to dry. They really did last a lot longer then. These days soap bars melt at the first hint of humidity; not a good situation when you have long-showering grandsons using the bathroom frequently.

I know that I’m almost the only one in the world that uses bar soap, the manufacturer makes is especially so it will melt fast, so I’ll buy more.

Papa’s great-grandfather was a soap maker in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The factory was “down by the river” in New Brighton. According the a centennial history larger businesses failed after and during the war of 1812, but, “..There were small businesses such as the fancy soap and candle business started by Isaac Warren Sr. in 1812 around Seventh Street.”

Now we know that the afore mentioned Isaac Warren didn’t arrive in Pennsylvania that early. His naturalization papers say, in part: Isaac Warren, a native of England, being duly sworn according to law saith (sic) that he came to America in the year of 1832. The burial record on file at the cemetery where he is buried says: buried 1870, age 79, Isaac Warren, first soap maker from Canterbury, England, 5th generation soap maker.

Isaac Sr.’s nephew, also known as Isaac, apparently born in Pennsylvania about 1838, is the great-grandfather of whom I speak. The younger Isaac was a nephew of the older, and named as such in the Isaac Sr.’s will. Isaac the younger and his sister were raised from a young age by the senior Isaac and his wife. Probate records, orphan’s court records, cemetery records or any other source that we’ve been able to find do not reveal his parents names, nor can we find where they came from, went to or when.

But I think that if either Isaac were here today, I could get some soap that wouldn’t melt up in a week. And I could probably get my questions about them answered, too.

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