Friday, April 29, 2011

Follow Friday: My Favorite Blog Posts This Week!

This has been a busy week in the genealogy blogging world, and I've been having fun catching up on some of my favorite bloggers, as well as checking out some blogs that are new to me! Here's what I found that might also interest you:
My cousin, Jennifer, over at Climbing My Family Tree was on a roll this week. I enjoyed all of her posts, especially her story on Shopping Through Ages. I loved that you could buy a number of fake beards from the 1896 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog! Jen also gave us a glimpse of an old salt dish that has been passed down through the generations of her family, and she shared with us a lovely photo of a church choir at in Lockport, NY, taken at Easter 1925. 

Deb at Adventures in Genealogy offered some helpful links for getting kids involved in genealogy, and made me wish I could get my nephews more interested in our family history. I'm not giving up on them, yet... =)

James at Genealogy's Star explained genealogy "citations" and inspired me to better cite my sources. I'm really bad at that, and I know it's going to bite me in the caboose one of these days. 

Elizabeth at Pulled Through the Knothole of Time (and who is also one of my Knitting Genealogy friends on Ravelry) shared a fascinating story about unusual naming practices in one generation of her family. I don't want to give away the ending of the story, so you'll have to click over to read it for yourself!

I got some good tips and inspiration on cleaning up my blog from Tessa at The Keough Corner. One improvement that I've already implemented is an added link at the bottom of each post that you can click to make the post "printer friendly." Thanks, Tessa!
Finally, Nikki at Family History Teacher caught my eye with her story about finding her great great grandfather's POW records from the Civil War. Congrats on that wonderful find, Nikki!
Thanks again to everyone for entertaining, educating and inspiring me this week. I can't wait to read all your stories next week!


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Those Places Thursday: John Bruhns' Barn in Tracy, CA

Johann Bruhns (1848-1934)
For the most part, I grew up in Tracy, California. We moved there in 1974 from Livermore (via a very short stint in Wadsworth, Nevada, that I prefer to forget), just before I turned nine years old. It wasn't until I was a sophomore or junior in high school that I learned that some of my maternal ancestors were early pioneers in Tracy. My mom overhead my friend, Sean, and me talking about some other high school friends and casually mentioned that one of them, Andrea, was my cousin. Huh?? Silly me: I thought I knew who all my cousins were.  Well, it turned out that Andrea and I are third cousins: our great grandmothers were sisters and we share the same Great Great Grandfather, John (Johann) Bruhns. We thought that was pretty cool!

Over the last 10 years or so, I've delved deeper into my maternal family history and had the good fortune to learn more about Andrea's and my Great Great Grandpa Bruhns. I've already written quite a bit about him in this blog. He was born in Holstein, Germany, in 1848, and arrived in the United States in 1870. He married Christina Marguerita Schlichtmann in 1881, and they raised five children on their Tracy farm: Matilda, Christina (Andrea's great grandmother), Johanna (my great grandmother), Bertha and John.

John Bruhns and his family farmed in what was then known as the Bethany area of Tracy, which was a few miles south of the main part of town. Johanna went to grammar school at Jefferson Elementary (the "rival" country to school to my alma mater, New Jerusalem Elementary, which was the other country school on the rural south side of Tracy).
The 1930 US Census that shows John & Christina Bruhns living with their son, John Jr. on what was then
known as Carnegie Road. I can see that they are living next to another relative, Johannes Krohn.
(Click on the image for a larger view)

For years, our family have driven past the old Bruhns farm at the corner of Corral Hollow and Valpico roads, but I never paid much attention. Now, whenever I'm in the area, I try to do a drive-by to make sure the big barn is still standing and in good shape. It's now partially hidden between two of the large churches that have sprung up in the area, and I'm always afraid that someone is going to make an offer that the current owner can't refuse and then tear down a piece of Tracy history, and my own family history. This past weekend, I cajoled my boyfriend into driving up the little dirt road between the two churches and take a picture of the barn. The man working there was a bit perplexed by us, and had no idea who John Bruhns was, but allowed me to get out of the car and snap a few shots.  Here's what I saw!

John Bruhns' barn at the corner of Corral Hollow & Valpico Roads in Tracy, CA
Here's a satellite shot (thanks to Google Maps!) of the barn nestled between the two big churches:
John Jr., with his dogs and his ride, along the side of the barn
Given the increase in real estate development in the area, I wonder if the current owners are having to fight off developers wanting to purchase the land for more lucrative purposes. I hope they are able to keep the land, and the barn, for a good, long time. I really do enjoy driving past it and remembering my ancestors' roles as pioneers in my home town of Tracy, California.

Wedding Wednesday: Jesse James & Louiza Jane Jaggers

I love finding really old documents and photos of my family. The old marriage certificates and licenses were not only beautiful, but they also often contain information that may help me to fill out the branches of my family tree. For example, some marriage records show that their parents may have given them permission to marry (especially if they were quite young). Marriage records also list witnesses to the ceremony, and those witnesses are often family members. I don't know why, but I also get a kick out of seeing their own handwriting.

Here's the marriage record for my paternal 3rd great grandparents, Jesse James Jaggers and Louiza Jane Turman. They were married on October 3, 1875, in Sanford County, Alabama, by the Reverend J.R. Baker, Minister of the Gospel. Alexander Cobb was the probate judge who granted them the marriage license. It appears that a mistake was made in the part where the time of marriage was supposed to be written: Louiza's father's name, Robert, appears on that line. Strangely, it also appears Jesse, along with Robert, was witness to his own wedding (unless there's another Jesse J. Jaggers in my line that I'm not aware of...).

Jesse was born sometime in 1854 in Morgan County, Alabama, to Benjamin Franklin Jaggers and Nancy Catherine Sandlin. I can't find any record of his death but, based on census documents and the birthdates of his children, I believe that it happened sometime after 1889 and likely somewhere in Oklahoma. 

Louiza was born on December 15, 1854, in Alabama to Robert Wilson Turman and Dezina Noe. I don't have documentation, but it is believed that she died on October 14, 1905, in LeFlore, Oklahoma. 

Like most of my ancestors, Jesse was a farmer. He and Louiza had five children: Robert Franklin, Nancy Dezina, James Thomas, Catherine Elzoria and William Donald. All lived into adulthood and had families of their own. Their daughter, Nancy Dezina Jaggers, was my great great grandmother. 

I don't really know much else about Jesse and Louiza, but I love the one picture of them that I found in my Grandma Edith's files.

Here's how I'm descended from Jesse and Louiza:

Jesse James Jaggers (1854-?) & Louiza Jane Turman (1854-1905) >
Nancy Dezina Jaggers Martindale (1877-1944) and Riley Harrison Martindale (1876-1899) >
Ethel Modena Martindale Hunt (1896-1977) and James William "Earl" Hunt (1891-1961) >
Edith Vivian Hunt Brittain (1921-1993) and Woodie Leroy Brittain (living) >
William Lee Brittain (1942-2003) and Rebecca Elizabeth Bartram Brittain (living) >

Friday, April 22, 2011

Family Recipe Friday: Aunt Rae's Crabby Potato Salad

Rae Harriett Madsen Christensen
Easter has always been a big holiday for our family. It wasn't so much a religious day for us, but more of a family reunion sort of day. The earliest Easter celebrations I remember were held out at Alden Lane in Livermore, California. Later, when our family moved out to the Koster Ranch, outside of Tracy, we started hosting the picnics out there. Then, when Mom and Dad moved up the hill to the end of Bird Road, the party moved with them. They were always big events with a lot of family and good friends.

As with most family celebrations, we had our Easter Sunday traditions. Of course, we hunted Easter eggs: hard boiled, chocolate and plastic filled with coins. One year we started having two separate hunts: one for the kids and one for the adults. We hid Easter beers to get the men interested. We also played games, including sack races, egg toss, hay bale rolling and other fun picnic games. My Great Uncle Rob used to bring his guitar and serenade us with old standards and classic country western songs (think Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline, Gene Autry). My Great Aunt Rae also used to fill a jar full of jelly beans and attach a $5 bill to it -- whoever guessed the correct number of jelly beans in the jar got both as the prize!
Sack Race up on Bird Road in Tracy, CA
Another tradition at all of our family celebrations, including Easter, is an abundance of really good food. Our family potlucks are something to behold, and nobody goes hungry. One favorite dish that we could always count on at Easter was Aunt Rae's Crabby Potato Salad. I don't know when she started making this simple, yet tasty, concoction, but it just wasn't a family gathering if she didn't bring it. Our Aunt Rae passed away last year, and Easter -- or any holiday, really -- just isn't the same without her. She left us with a lot of fun memories. She also left with us the recipe for her yummy Crabby Potato Salad. I'm going to see if Mom wants to help me make it for the Easter picnic out at Uncle Clay and Robin's house this year!
Aunt Rae & Dad
Aunt Rae’s Crabby Potato Salad

12-15 red potatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper
1 can crab + juice
1 quart Best Foods mayonnaise

Cook potatoes until done; don’t overcook. Let cool about one hour; skin and slice in large bowl. Add ingredients in order given. It might seem sloppy, but all the juices will soak into potatoes overnight. Store covered in refrigerator overnight. Sprinkle with paprika, if desired. 

I'd love to hear if any readers make Aunt Rae's Crabby Potato Salad for their own picnic. I'm sure you and your family will enjoy it!
Ready! Set! Go get some Easter Eggs!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Not so) Wordless Wednesday: Bruhns Family Photo

One of the daily blogging prompts that we genealogy bloggers sometimes use is "Wordless Wednesday," where we can show off a photo that might tell a story all on it's own. Yeah, I have a hard time being "wordless." So, this is a (Not so) Wordless Wednesday!

This is such a cool picture! It's of my great great grandparents, John and Christina (Schlichtmann) Bruhns, and their large, extended family. According to my cousin, Vikki, our Great Aunt Rae said that it was taken Easter 1922. We think it was taken at the Bruhns family farm outside of Tracy, California.
John and Christina Bruhns in the center of their large family
 One of the things I love about this photo is that it reminds me of the big Easter picnics we used to have when I was a kid: first out on Alden Lane in Livermore, California, then at the Koster ranch south of Tracy and finally a few miles from the Koster place, out at the end of Bird Road. Our Easter picnics were legendary. We generally had anywhere between 50-80 people -- family and friends -- in attendance. We played games, flew kites and ate lots of great food. And, of course, we hunted Easter Eggs. At some point, we even started hiding and hunting Easter Beers (for the adults, of course)!

It looks like the Bruhns family were all having fun together that Easter!

UPDATE: My cousin, Vikki, shared with me the list of all the people in the photo. Our Great Aunt Rae remembered it like this:  Tillie Bruhns, Mrs. Fred Harns, Mrs. Linne, John Krohn, G.Ma von Sosten, A. Sophie Krohn, Emma von Sosten, John von Sosten, Mamma (Johanna Madsen), Olive Baily, G. Pa Bruhns, Tina Arada, G. Ma Bruhns, Anna Krohn, Amanda Coglin, Uncle Johnny, Lily Schlichtmann, Fred von Sosten, Fred Spiekerman, Cy Arada, Tina Bruhns von Sosten, ??? , Irma von Sosten, Helen Hansen, Donna Madsen, Thelma von Sosten, Lloyd Madsen, Dorothy Arada, Charlotte and Mark Coglin, Lars Hansen Madsen w/ Rae Madsen on lap, Carl von Sosten.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: Louis and Johanna Madsen

Here is the lovely tombstone of my maternal great grandparents, Lars Hansen (Louis) and Johanna Bruhns Madsen. I've already written quite a bit about them in earlier posts. They are buried at the Memory Gardens Odd Fellows cemetery in Livermore, California.
Johanna Bruhns Madsen (1886-1965) and Lars (Louis) Hansen Madsen (1893-1971)
I visit the cemetery often to pay respects to my Grandma and Grandpa Bartram and Aunt Rae and Uncle Rob, but have really neglected old Louie and Hannah. I'm making it my belated resolution to walk over and say "Hi" to them and my cousin, Maryann (who died way too soon), whenever I'm at the cemetery. I look forward to "seeing" them all this Saturday when I stop by on my way to Mom's house for Easter weekend!
Seated: Johanna Bruhns Madsen (with Brenda Bartram on lap) and Lars Hansen Madsen
Standing: Lloyd Madsen, Rae Madsen Christensen and Donna Madsen Bartram (with Jim Bartram in front of her)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Follow Friday: What I'm Following This Week

Here's what I've been reading this week!
Heather at Leaves For Trees has introduced me to another TV program to feed my Civil War habit. It's called Civil Warriors, and it's on the National Geographic Channel. Off to find out when the three episodes air in my area!
Over at Roots Traveler, I got some tips for planning a family research trip. This is on my mind because I'm planning a work trip to Boston this summer and I'm really looking forward to spending some time at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Cheryl at Have You Seen My Roots offers some great tips on using message boards for your genealogy research. And, she's right -- that's how I found my cousin, Jennifer, over at Climbing My Family Tree! Cheryl also suggests having a Facebook Friday blogging prompt to share stories of families reunited on FB. I'm all for that. Yay for Social Media!

Speaking of Jen... I loved her post on Sunday commemorating her own soldier ancestors for the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.

Thanks to Vicki at for sharing her really cool -- and USEFUL -- kinship chart!

Shari at Past & Present also shared her tech tip for using the Voice Memo app on your iPhone (or other smart phone) to record stories as they are being told by family members. I need to remember this one!

I like reading blogs on my iPhone and iPad. Sounds like a lot of others like to read blogs on mobile devices. Thanks to A.C. at Find My Ancestor Blog, I now have some tips to make my own blog more mobile friendly. I know what I'll be working on this weekend!
 Thanks again to my fellow bloggers for your entertaining and enlightening posts this week!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tombstone Tuesday: Richard T. Purser 1841-1896

Here's a photo I found online of the tombstone of 3rd great grand uncle, Richard Thomas Purser. You may have read a little bit about Richard in my stories about his brother (and my 3rd great grandfather), James Monroe Purser. Richard, Jim and their brother, Moses, served during the Civil War in the 28th Alabama Infantry, Company B. Richard and Jim were captured at Missionary Ridge during the Battle of Chattanooga on November 23/24, 1863. They were both held by the Union Army at Rock Island Prison until Spring 1865, when they were released at the end of the war.

Richard was born on April 11, 1841, in Henry County, Georgia. After the Civil War, Richard and his family eventually moved from Alabama to Texas. He died on May 19, 1896, in Lexington, Lee County Texas. He is buried near his mother, Elizabeth Scott Bentley Purser, at the Hugh Wilson (Tanglewood) Cemetery in Tanglewood, Texas.

Photo by Carol Wilson at

Monday, April 11, 2011

Military Monday: Honoring My Civil War Ancestors

Battle of Missionary Ridge, where my 3rd Great Grandfather,
James Monroe Purser, was captured by the Union Army
Tomorrow, April 12, marks the 150th anniversary of the start of America's Civil War. Hostilities officially began on April 12, 1861, when Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumpter, South Carolina. The war lasted for four years, and claimed the lives of an estimated 620,000 soldiers and an unknown number of civilian casualties.

Studying the Civil War in school, I'd always identified as a Northerner, and cheered that President Lincoln's Union Army defeated the secessionist, slavery-supporting Confederate Army. I still feel that way, of course, but as I've learned more about my own family involvement in the Civil War, I've learned about good men on both sides who fought for their beliefs. 

Here are three of my known Civil War ancestors, both Union and Confederate:
James M. Purser
  • James Monroe Purser (1843-1914), Confederate, 3rd Great Grandfather. On February 4, 1862, at at Murphee's Crossroads in Blount County, Alabama, Jim enlisted in the Confederate army. His brothers, Richard and Moses, also enlisted and fought in the war. Jim was promoted from Private to 2nd Corporal in the 28th Alabama Infantry, Company B, but his service in the Confederate army wasn't without its trials and tribulations. Jim became ill within just a couple of months of enlisting, and ended up in the hospital at Shelby Springs, Alabama, for a time. Shortly after that, he somehow managed to lose his "gun and accoutrements" somewhere near Tupelo, Mississippi. However, the worst was yet to come.

    On November 25, Union soldiers assaulted and captured the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. Jim and his brother, Richard, were both captured during the Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge in November 1863. They were confined at Rock Island Prison, Illinois, on December 5, 1863. During the Civil War, more than 12,000 men were imprisoned at Rock Island, and nearly 2,000 prisoners died there. Both Jim and Richard Purser lived through their imprisonment, and were released in March 1865 as part of a P.O.W. exchange program with the Union army.
Benjamin F. Jaggers
  • Benjamin Franklin Jaggers (1832-1862), Confederate, 4th Great Grandfather. Benjamin joined the Confederate Army, enlisting on July 21, 1862, and mustering in at Huntsville, Alabama, on August 18, 1962. He was 30 years old and a Private in the 1st Alabama Cavalry. Benjamin would not get to see much, if any, action during the Civil War. Less than two months after he joined up, he died on October 16, 1862, of measles in Hospital #14 at Nashville, Tennessee. He is buried at the Nashville National Cemetery in Section A, plot 4518.
  • Solomon Ishmael (1817-1894), Union, 4th Great Grandfather. Solomon was a Private in the Missouri 23rd Regiment Infantry Volunteers, Company B, under Captain Nash. He enlisted on July 25, 1862, in Trenton, Missouri, and mustered in at Hudson, Missouri, on August 31, 1862. He was 44 1/2 years old (no spring chicken). Solomon contracted small pox in around February 1864, and was in the hospital in McMinnville, Tennessee, until at least after the muster roll dated January 14, 1865. He was mustered out on May 18, 1865, near Washington, D.C.
Solomon Ishmael's examination report
I'm still researching a couple more great grandfathers who I believe fought in the Civil War. I also have several uncles and distant cousins who fought for both sides. 

While I'm proud of my Union soldiers for helping to protect and preserve our country, I've also grown surprisingly fond of my Confederate soldier ancestors. I might not believe in the same causes that they fought for, but I'm proud of their bravery. They also fought for their own beliefs and to preserve what they felt was important to their way of living. I'm glad the Union army prevailed, and my heart goes out to all of the soldiers on both sides -- as well as their parents, wives and children -- who endured, in many cases, four years of hell. Some gave their lives, and all gave their hearts and souls, for what they believed. These soldiers, both Union and Confederate, helped to shape our United States of America.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Obituary: Ralph Bartram

I love it when I find an obituary that has a photo of one of my family members. This one was particularly exciting for me because it contains a photo of my Great Uncle Ralph Bartram, who was one of my Grandpa John's older brothers. I never got to meet Uncle Ralph, so I was tickled to see in the photo that he looked almost exactly like Grandpa John!

This obituary and photo, along with several other family member obituaries, were sent to me by Emma at the Emporia Library in Emporia, Kansas. She was so helpful, as are many of the employees and volunteers I contact at the various libraries, clerks offices and historical societies around the US.

Ralph Bartram 1899-1998
Emporia Gazette, March 30, 1998

Ralph Bartram

The memorial service for Ralph Bartram, 99, a resident of the Holiday Care Resort Center, will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Patio Garden of Memorial Lawn Cemetery.  The Rev. Dale Pracht, chaplain at Newman Hospital, will conduct the service.

Memorial Contributions to the Young Eagles Program at the Emporia Municipal Airport or Hand in Hand Hospice may be sent to the Roberts-Blue-Barnett Funeral Home.

Mr. Bartram died March 20, 1998, at the care center.

He farmed near Allen for many years until he retired in 1979. Earlier he was employed at the Putman Ranch near Admire, the Wiser (now Coffman) Ranch near Allen and the Nelson farm, which he bought. He was named the Soil Conservation “Farmer of the Year” in 1967. After retirement, he and his wife lived at 1345 Prairie Park Lane and later, he lived at Stanton Heights. He was also a pilot.

Ralph Bartram, the son of Joseph and Alice Veal Bartram, was born Jan. 26, 1899, at Crestone, Colo. He attended school at Harveyville.

He married N. Mae Dick on Aug. 14, 1919, at her parents’ home in Burlingame. She died April 27, 1982.

Mr. Bartram was a former member of the Farm Bureau.

He is survived by a son, Dean Bartram, 1927 W. 24th Ave.; a daughter, Avanell Wagaman, 2640 West Ridge Drive; a brother, Joseph Bartram of Walnut Creek, Colo.;  three sisters, Florence Dick of Osage City, Eunice Gower of Bend, Ore., and Lorna West of Fort Collins, Colo.; three grandchildren; two stepgrandchildren; six great-grandchildren; three stepgreat-grandchildren; two great-great-grandchildren; and one stepgreat-great-grandchildren. An infant son and another son, George Bartram, died earlier. Five brothers and five sisters also died earlier.
Note: Ralph's brother, Joseph, was from Walnut Creek, California (not Colorado, as is noted in the obituary). This is a reminder to us family historians that not all historical records are always accurate, and that we should always try to cite dates, places and other data with multiple sources!

Below are the actual scans of the obituary as it appeared in the newspaper:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Follow Friday: Check Out These Great Genealogy Blogs!

My fellow family history bloggers have been busy this week. There are so many great genealogy blogs out there (over 2,000, I'm told!). I wish I had time to read them all. Meanwhile, here are some of the blog posts that caught my eye, and my imagination, this week. Enjoy! 
Randy Seaver at Genea-Musings reminds us that, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, is making available -- for FREE -- their Civil War collection of records. He's also been busy sharing his own Civil War treasures, which are so interesting.
Lynn at the Armchair Genealogist has tipped us off that Family Tree Magazine is looking for some family recipes and their stories. I'm thinking that my Aunt Rae's Crabby Potato Salad is worthy of submission.
I'm trying to figure out a way to go on the Welsh Heritage Tour that Roots Traveler writes about. I have cousins in Cardiff, and I'm DYING to meet them!
My cousin, Jennifer, over at Climbing My Family Tree writes about why she loves having Swedish roots. Got me thinking about why I love my Danish/English/Welsh/German roots. =)
The Hibbit Family History Blog offers some Victorian-era tips for housecleaning. My favorite: "Servants are no quicker than we are, and we should know for ourselves exactly how long it takes to do every household task, so that we need not allow laziness, or expect too much from those we employ." Oh, my...

I also loved the picture of Becky's ADORABLE Grandmom doing a little spring cleaning on Barking up our Family Tree. 
Please be sure to check out these great blogs and tell the writers how much you enjoy their stories!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Treasure Chest Thursday: Great Grandma and Grandpa Madsen's Wedding Bowl

This beautiful porcelain bowl and silver serving spoon were given as wedding gifts to my great grandparents, Lars Hansen Madsen and Johanna Bruhns Madsen, on their wedding day: April 4, 1917. Lars (also known as Grandpa Louie) immigrated in 1908 from Risemark, Ærø, Denmark. Johanna was born and raised in Tracy, California. They were married in San Francisco, California, and made their home in and around the Livermore Valley, including the little towns of Murray and Altamont, which no longer exist. There, they raised three children: Lloyd Harold (b. 1918), my maternal grandmother, Donna Marie (1919-1966), and Rae Harriett (1921-2010).

As you can see from the tape on the bottom of the bowl, my Great Aunt Rae gave this bowl to my mom at some point (I'm not sure when because it had been proudly displayed for years in our home).
The other piece of tape illustrates a funny little family tradition my immediate family has: my sister, Cindy, and I somehow started putting our names on masking tape and "marking" the family heirlooms that we eventually wanted to nab. Now, we aren't at all the type of family who fights over the family loot. It's become a bit of a joke, really. For example, I've been known to "tag" an item that I know my sister covets, just get her hackles up (all in fun!). Or, she'll put my name on something she knows I detest. Mom once even put rolls of masking tape and markers in our Christmas stockings. That year, about 10 years ago, when my mom and dad's new Border Collie puppy came to live with them, I half-jokingly wrote my name on a big piece of tape and stuck it to cute little Blaise. I'll still claim her if Mom ever wants to give her up!

Of course, I was thrilled when Mom noticed how much I loved Great Grandma and Grandpa Madsen's wedding bowl and decided to bequeath it to me. I'm enjoying it now, and hopefully someday I'll notice that one of my nephews has discovered it and taped their own name to the bottom...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wednesday's Child: Who is This Little Cutie-Pie?

I've been lucky to scan some photos from a very old album that I believe once belonged to my great grandmother, Johanna Bruhns. Grandma Hannah is in several of the pictures as a young girl. I also see photos of her parents, brother and sisters as well as her sisters' spouses and some other children. I've always liked this picture of a rather adorable little one, but I'm not exactly sure who it is.

At first glance, it looks like a little girl in a dress. However, after looking at Victorian child fashions, I'm now wondering if it's a boy. It's possible that it could be the son of Grandma Hannah's sister Matilda (Tillie) Bruhns and her husband, John von Sosten. John Jr. was born in 1905, and I think the fashion fits that time.

Who is this cutie-patootie from the Bruhns side of the family?
Maybe someone in my family will recognize the photo and let me know (Mom and Aunt Brenda, I'm lookin' at you!).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Happy 100th Birthday to Grandpa John Bartram!

John Bartram 1911-1987
If you've been following my posts, you know that I have a huge soft spot for my maternal grandpa, John Bartram. Today would have been Grandpa John's 100th birthday, so I'm dedicating this blog post to him.

I've already written about Grandpa's rodeo exploits and his knack for telling tall tales. Here's a little bit more about his life. John Bartram was born on April 4, 1911, in Allen, Kansas, to Joseph and Alice Veale Bartram. He was the fourth youngest of 17 (!!) kids. He and his siblings grew up on his father's farm, and he left school after third grade to help out with the necessary chores that kept this large ranching family alive, including farm work, carpentry and horse shoeing.

Grandpa had the adventurous spirit that was so prevalent in many of my ancestors. In 1924, at the young age of 13 years old, he made his first trip to California, hopping a west-bound freight. He stayed here for one year, working on ranches in the Clearlake area, before heading back home to Kansas. He again returned to California in around 1927 at the age of 16 (again riding a westbound freight train), and this time he stayed for good. He landed a job at the Rowell Ranch in Dublin Canyon (between Hayward and Dublin) where his brother, Dutch, was working as ranch foreman. He worked at the Rowell Ranch until the early 1950s.

Riding in a parade at the
1939 World's Fair in San Francisco
In 1932, Grandpa began his career as a professional rodeo performer, competing in rodeos all over the west for over 20 years. He bulldogged and roped steers and rode broncs and bulls. He joined rodeo greats Johnny and Frank Schneider and Joe Berl to make up the American team of rodeo riders sent to the World Games in Australia in 1936, where they competed against cowboys from Russia, Australia and other countries. He also participated in the rodeo portion of the World’s Fair in 1939 in San Francisco. This was a dangerous sport, but he competed with gusto. At one rodeo, Grandpa was bucked off a bull and broke his back.  He recovered and continued his rodeo career, but the injury stayed with him through his life.

In 1936, Grandpa met a pretty little rodeo queen at the Livermore Rodeo: my grandmother, Donna Madsen. They fell in love and were married in Reno, Nevada, on March 26, 1938. Grandma and Grandpa had four children: Clinton James, Brenda Rae, Rebecca Elizabeth (my mom); and Clay John. In 1959, Donna and John were involved in a terrible automobile accident which left my grandma brain damaged. She passed away in 1966, leaving Grandpa John to care for the family.

Back: Uncle Jim, Aunt Brenda, Mom (Becky)
Front: Uncle Clay, Grandma Donna, Grandpa John
L-R: Uncle Jim, Aunt Brenda, Grandpa John, Mom, Uncle Clay
As a grandfather, he was wonderful to all eight of his grandchildren. He was loving and attentive, and seemed to enjoy spending time with us. We probably didn't realize it at the time, but my sister, Cindy, and I were fortunate that Grandpa lived with us for part of our childhood. Here are some of my memories of growing up with Grandpa John:
  • His tall tales and songs. I've already written about his story of the buzzards who hoisted him out of a dry well. There were plenty of other stories and songs, including some that I can't repeat in polite company... 
  • He never lacked a ride! Grandpa was an alcoholic and we eventually had to take his drivers license away from him. It didn't slow him down, though. Whenever he wanted a six-pack of his favorite beer (Olympia), he'd saddle up his horse and ride a few miles down the road to the local country store. He didn't even need to dismount since the storekeeper would come out with his beer, take his money and then come back out with his change. Then, he and his horse would ride back up the hill and he'd enjoy a nice cold brew out on the porch. 
  • His short-lived excitement at me getting my own drivers license. At first, Grandpa was tickled about me getting my license because it meant I could take him into town for more affordable beer. I wasn't so excited about getting this chore, though, so I made the poor guy suffer it by taking him on joy rides and watching his knuckles turn white with every turn. When I moved away to college, Cindy continued the joy rides with Grandpa (including one infamous ride that entailed running over chickens, which he never really got over).
  • His wake-up calls. I'm not a morning person, but Cindy and I raised sheep in 4-H, which meant we had to get up early each day to feed them. Grandpa made sure we were up every morning to take care of our sheep, and usually had to resort to tearing my bedclothes clear off of me in order to do the trick.
  • He called me Wendower -- not sure why!
  • His pride in us kids. Grandpa didn't get to finish school, so he was proud of us kids and encouraged us to succeed. He helped us when he could, especially with our 4-H endeavors, and cheered us on in everything else.  
Grandpa John and his girls!
Grandpa John passed away on August 15, 1987. He had suffered for years from the effects of alcoholism, emphysema and, finally, lung cancer (not to mention a broken heart from losing his Donna). He was a strong guy with a strong heart, though, and fought these diseases for far longer than anyone expected he could. It was still quite a blow to all of us when we lost him. As I think of Grandpa John on this 100th anniversary of his birth, I'm happy to remember his warmth, humor, resilience and love. Happy Birthday, Grandpa John!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sentimental Sunday: The Men in my Family

I've been on a serious scanning frenzy since I got my new Flip-Pal scanner a couple of weeks ago. Wow, has it brought back some wonderful memories from my childhood. Here's a picture I found that made me happy to see some of the men in our family who have since left us. It's from Christmas 1979, and it's in the kitchen of our old house on Koster Road in Tracy, California.

From left to right: Uncle Clay Bartram, Grandpa John Bartram (1911-1987),
Dad - William Lee Brittain (1942-2003), Uncle Jim Bartram (1938-2001),
Uncle Rob Christensen (1920-1995)

We had lots of fun parties at that house way out in the country, and our close family and friends often gathered there for holidays. The men in our family were all sweet, good-natured guys. As you can see, they also liked their cigarettes and whiskey (I'm guessing my dad is holding a Canandian Mist in this picture -- probably where I got my love of good whiskey!).

I had to laugh a little looking at the ruffly mint curtains, green and white checkered wallpaper and, um, art in the background, but that was really stylish back in the '70s! Funny, we lived in that house only from 1974-1984, but I still have a lot of really vivid dreams that are set there.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandma Edith!!

Edith Vivian Hunt
b. April 1, 1920
My paternal grandmother, Edith Vivian Hunt Brittain, was born on this date, April 1, in 1920. And she was no fool! Since I've been following in Grandma Edith's genealogy footsteps, I'd like to take a moment to honor her memory.

Edith Vivian Hunt was born in Slick, Creek County, Oklahoma to James William "Earl" Hunt and Ethel Modina Martindale Hunt. She was the older sister to Edgar James "Bud" Hunt and George Lee Hunt. She grew up in Oklahoma, and that's where she married my grandfather, Woodie Leroy Brittain, on August 18, 1938. They then moved to California shortly after that, settling in Hayward. There, Grandma and Grandpa had one son: my dad, William Lee Brittain, on October 28, 1942.

Grandma and Grandpa stayed in the East Bay Area, eventually moving to Livermore. This is where my sister, Cindy, and I spent most of our time with Grandma Edith, and where our fond memories of her live. Grandma Edith was a wonderful grandmother! She was a bit childlike, herself, so she had no problem keeping up with Cindy and me, and seemed to love playing with us for hours on end. Here are some of my dearest memories of spending time with Grandma Edith:
  • There was a pond near their house in the Springtown neighborhood of Livermore, California. Grandma would save up the ends of her bread loaves until Cindy and I came to visit. Then, we'd walk over to the pond and feed the ducks. If we were lucky, Grandma would let us walk across the street to the 7-11 and get a Slurpee and some candy!
  • Grandma loved board games and often played Chinese Checkers and Monopoly with us. The Monopoly games were often marathon events, but Grandma had endless patience (and/or stamina!) and usually stuck with us to the end of each game. 
  • Grandma Edith and I shared a love of black licorice. One of our favorite things to do was to buy a pack of the really long, skinny licorice strings and unfurl it. Then, each of us would take an end and start nibbling until we met in the middle with a sweet kiss. 
  • Grandma's southern cooking! Oh, she made the best fried chicken and pecan pie and homemade biscuits and... Everything she made was wonderful. She also liked to fry her eggs in about an inch of bacon fat (I know -- could have had something to do with the hardening of the arteries she eventually suffered from). She was also great at letting Cindy and me "help" in the kitchen, and she often let me sneak sips of her coffee when Mom wasn't looking. 
  • Her passion for genealogy. Grandma spent hours researching Grandpa Woodie's and her family histories. This was long before personal computers and the Internet. Grandma did it "old school style." I remember sitting with her while she read letters from cousins (near and distant) comparing notes on their research and answering questions for one another. I loved hearing about her regular trips to Oklahoma to visit her family there. I'm indebted to Grandma Edith for her dedication and hard work on our family tree, and for planting the genealogy seed that eventually grew in me.

Grandma was also a breast cancer survivor, and battled that beast with bravery. She eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease at some point during my teenage years. It was brutal for all of us to watch her decline and see her once curious mind and playful disposition deteriorate. She finally passed away on June 2, 1993, but we really lost her long before then. She's buried at the National Cemetery in San Bruno, California, and I'm lucky that I live near enough that I'm able to visit and pay my respects fairly often. I still miss Grandma Edith, and I'm proud to honor her on this special day.
Grandma Edith with me and my little sister, Cindy