Monday, February 18, 2013

Mystery Monday: Welcome to the Family, Aunt Margaret!

Grandpa John Bartram
You ever have one of those ancestors you think you know everything about, but then they throw you a curveball you weren't expecting? If you've been researching your own family history long enough, I think you know what I mean.

My big ancestral surprise came from none other than my Grandpa John Bartram. You know, the grandfather I write about all the time. Not quite two years ago, I wrote a post about Grandpa John's life on what would have been his 100th birthday, and I included information about his wife, my Grandma Donna, and his four kids: my Uncle Jim, Aunt Brenda, Uncle Clay and Mom (Becky). What I didn't mention in that story was that, when Grandpa John passed away in 1987, he left us with a bit of a mystery about his life that we've been trying to solve ever since.

To recap, John Bartram (1911-1987), was one of 17 children and the youngest boy of the bunch. He married my grandma, Donna Madsen, in 1938, and they had four children (including my mom). Grandma Donna died in 1966, about seven years after she and Grandpa had been in a horrific car accident that left Grandma with brain damage and other health issues. 

When Grandpa John died in 1987, at the age of 76, I started hearing odd rumors about him possibly being married before Grandma Donna and having a daughter, who would be the older half-sister to my mom and her siblings. Now, Grandpa's generation were pretty good at keeping secrets. Occasionally, odd information and rumors seeped out after some alcohol intake, and then it would quickly be recanted, so we never had much to go on. My Aunt Brenda knew that I was dabbling in our family history, and encouraged me to do a little research to see what I could dig up. Of course, this was before the internet, and we didn't even have any names or dates from this possible earlier marriage and child. 

Over the years, I've searched for a woman who might be my mom's half-sister, but have had no luck finding any info on her or Grandpa's previous relationship: no birth, marriage or divorce records were surfacing in any of the locations where it made sense that he'd lived. I did find the marriage application for Grandpa John and Grandma Donna and, where it asks if either party had been married before, they both claimed "No". OK... So, I knew that Grandpa John was a bit of a wild cowboy, as well as a handsome young man, so it's possible that he had a child out of wedlock. Still, as the years went on, I wasn't having much luck with this mystery. 

Meanwhile, I started this family history blog a couple of years ago and, even though I wasn't terribly active on it for quite awhile, it still got daily hits. One hit that changed our life came this past June: I had been at a family party one day, and Aunt Brenda asked me, again, if I'd had any luck getting closer to finding her older sister. I told her that, honestly, at this point I thought that, if she was even still alive, she was going to have to find us. Well, when I got home that afternoon I checked my email and found a message from a woman named Susan in Oregon who emailed me to say that she had found information on John Bartram on my blog, and she was pretty sure that he was her Grandpa John, too! We compared notes and, sure enough, her mom is my Grandpa John's oldest daughter, and my own Aunt Margaret! 


I couldn't wait to tell Mom and Aunt Brenda. Luckily, Aunt Brenda was staying at Mom's house that night, so I got to break the fantastic news to them together. 

It didn't take long for us to fill in the blanks of how Margaret fits into the family. As I've mentioned before, Grandpa John came to California from Kansas for a short time as a teenager, and then returned for good in around 1927 with his parents and several siblings. The family settled in Clearlake, Lake County, California. According to what Susan had told me, as well as a birth record I found at, Margaret was born in Lake County in April 1929 to John Bartram and Perrilee Adkins. When looking at the 1930 US census for Lake County, I found Perillee's (aka Pearl) mother and several siblings living right next door to Grandpa's widowed mother, my great grandma Alice Veale Bartram, and her youngest daughters. It seems that Grandpa John fell in love with the next door neighbor girl and got her 'in the family way', so to speak!

May 1929 marriage record for John Bartram
and Pearl (Perrilee) Adkins
Now that I had some names and dates, I've been able to find a few official records that document Grandpa John and Pearl's marriage, and subsequent divorce, as well as Margaret's birth. John and Pearl married in May 1929, about a month after Margaret was born. From what Margaret and Susan have told us, their marriage was short-lived and rocky, which led to an unstable early childhood for Margaret. It also seems that Grandpa John's family, particularly his mother and his younger sisters, did not approve of Pearl and her family, and that there was some bad blood between them. I'm sure that was made more uncomfortable for the couple, given that the two mothers-in-law lived next door to each other! I did find a divorce record at the San Francisco court house (handily, a short bus ride from my office!) that shows Pearl sued for divorce in 1932, citing willful desertion, and it was finally granted to her in 1935. That was around the time that Grandpa John was traveling quite a bit while he competed in rodeos, and the 1940 census shows that he was also living down in Hayward, California, by 1935. Our combined guess is that the dissolution of the marriage had to do with several factors: they were both young and seemingly a bit wild, Grandpa liked to drink (and apparently got in trouble at least once when he was entertaining friends while he was supposed to be watching baby Margaret), and they had families that didn't care for each other (to say the least). 

After Pearl and John divorced, Pearl married another man, John Creed, who would later adopt Margaret. By this time, Grandpa had already remarried and started his new family with my Grandma Donna. Apparently, Grandpa John refused to sign the adoption papers until he got to see his first daughter one more time. That was the last time Margaret remembers seeing her biological father. 

Fast forward to now: it turns out Margaret lives in southern Oregon, just a few miles away from my cousin, Dee Dee (Aunt Brenda's oldest daughter). So Mom, Rodney (my step-father), Aunt Brenda, Uncle George (her husband) and I drove up to Oregon the weekend after July 4, 2012, just a few short weeks after we'd found each other, to meet Margaret and her daughter, Susan (my new cousin who made the initial connection with me). They couldn't believe that we had been looking for them for so long. Susan later told me that she had found the information about Grandpa John earlier, but waited about a month to email me because she was nervous that we might not want anything to do with them. She couldn't have been more mistaken!!  

Mom, Aunt Margaret and Aunt Brenda: Sisters!!
Our first meeting was just wonderful. I loved watching Mom, Aunt Brenda and my new Aunt Margaret get to know each other, and Dee Dee and I had fun comparing notes with our new cousin, Susan. The conversation flowed easily and the afternoon ended too quickly. We had many stories to tell Aunt Margaret and Susan, and we were happy to hear their stories, too. We also shared lots and lots of photos with each other. We were sad to know that Margaret had not known a loving childhood relationship with her father's family, but we're happy that she can now begin a new relationship with her half-siblings!

Since our first meeting, the sisters have kept in touch via phone calls. Aunt Brenda has also been back up to Oregon to visit Aunt Margaret and Susan, and has had the pleasure of meeting her husband, Lewis, and at least one of their three sons. I enjoy keeping up with Susan on Facebook and the occasional phone call, and look forward to meeting the rest of my new cousins in the not-too-distant future and having them meet the rest of their Bartram family (remember, Grandpa John was the youngest boy of 17 kids, so there are a LOT of us). 

I think that meeting her half-sisters has been a bit healing for Aunt Margaret as she hadn't known her biological father since she was a little girl, and never had siblings growing up. We're just thrilled to FINALLY solve this nagging mystery and have her as part of our family!

L-R: Me, Aunt Margaret, Mom (Becky), Aunt Brenda, Dee Dee, Susan
BTW, Aunt Margaret looks SO MUCH like her father and my beloved Grandpa John!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Treasure Chest Thursday: Great Grandma & Grandpa Madsen's Drop-Leaf Table

When I was growing up, one the pieces of furniture that was always around the house was this cute, little drop-leaf table that my mom was very fond of. I knew that it had been a wedding present for my great grandparents, Lars Hansen Madsen (Grandpa Louie) and his wife, Johanna Bruhns, but I didn't know its whole story until fairly recently.

Louie (1893-1971) and Hannah (1886-1965) married on April 4, 1917, in San Francisco, California. I don't know who gifted them this wonderful drop-leaf table, but it has remained in the family, mostly, ever since. A little over a year ago, when I moved into my current apartment, my mom told me that she remembered the table being in her family when she was a young girl. This means that Grandpa and Grandma Madsen must have given the table to their oldest daughter and my maternal grandmother, Donna Madsen Bartram (1919-1966). Mom said that the table, by that time, was pretty scratched up and not in the best of shape, likely due to the family moving around. However, she always loved the little table and had hoped to have it for her own, someday, when she got married herself.

Lars Hansen Madsen and Johanna Bruhns
At some point, after my Grandpa John and Grandma Donna were in a horrible car accident in 1959, and Grandma was in poor heath due to her head injury and other ailments, Grandma Donna's best friend, Marie, came to the house and took the little table away. Mom was understandably disappointed: it seemed that this piece of her childhood would no longer be hers. However, when my mom and dad got married in 1964, Mom got an amazing gift that she wasn't expecting: Marie had taken the table, but not to keep for herself. She'd had the piece refinished to its original glory and gave it to Mom and Dad for their wedding!

As I mentioned above, the table always had a special place in our various family homes when I was growing up, and I think I loved it just as much as my mom did. I was always careful not to scratch it when dusting the furniture, and I hoped that someday Mom and Dad would pass it down to me, perhaps as a wedding gift.

Well, the years have passed, I'm a middle-aged woman and I'm still not married (it's ok -- I'm quite happy as a single girl!). So, when I moved into my darling 1920s apartment -- complete with built-ins, original hardwood floors and brimming with character -- I knew that Great Grandma and Grandpa Madsen's drop-leaf table would be a perfect addition to my new home. One day, I gathered the courage to make my case to Mom: I may or may not ever get married, but I'd really love to have that table someday, and would she mind offering it to me as a house-warming gift? As luck would have it, she and her husband, Rodney, were already looking for a bigger piece of storage furniture, and the drop-leaf was taking up space where that new piece would go. So, they loaded it up in their pickup truck and brought it to me that very weekend!!

I see our family treasure every morning when I walk out of my bedroom and head down the hall to get ready for my day. It holds Grandpa John and Grandma Donna's wedding photo and a Christmas picture of my Mom, Aunt Brenda and Uncle Jimmy when they were very little (even before Uncle Clay was born). I need to have Great Grandma and Grandpa Madsen's photo framed and included on the table, in a place of honor among their family. But I think of them both often, and I think they would be happy that their great grand daughter still cherishes this lovely piece of furniture that was given to them as they started their own lives together nearly 100 years ago.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Wedding Wednesday: John Bartram and Esther Meredith

John and Esther Bartram are the older
couple seated. My great grandfather,
Joseph Bartram, is the handsome
gentleman standing in the rear.
While visiting my cousins, Steven and Carl, in Wales last summer, we got to tour the farmhouse in Llanrothal, Hereford, England (just on the border with Wales), where Carl's and my second great grandparents, John and Esther (Meredith) Bartram, lived and we also checked out the church where they were married. It got me thinking that we must be able to find their marriage records somewhere. Sure enough, the UK General Records Office (GRO) was my ticket to locating not only John and Esther's marriage records, but also birth and death records for several of my English and Welsh ancestors.

The GRO maintains the United Kingdom national archive of all births, marriages and deaths dating back to 1837. Prior to that date, civil and parish records are probably your best bet. The GRO records can be ordered online for about $15.00 each (£9.75), and it will help to know the BMD (Birth Marriage Death) index number for the certificate you are ordering. Luckily the BMD numbers are pretty easy to find at the FreeBMD website, and the ordering instructions on the GRO website are quite simple to follow. 

After I got home from my trip to Wales, I decided to take the plunge and order several certificates from the GRO. It broke my bank account for awhile, but I think it was a worthwhile investment. Here's the official marriage certificate for John and Esther:

The certificate shows that John Bartrem (sp) and Esther Meredith were married on July 12, 1846, in the Church of Welsh Newton, in Hereford County, England. John, a bachelor, was an innkeeper living in Welsh Newton, and Mary, a spinster, had been living in Dixton, Montmouth, Wales. It also shows that John's father was Samuel Bartrem, a labourer, and Esther's father was Joseph Meredith, a sawyer. The marriage was witnessed by John's brother, William, and Esther's sister, Mary. William and Mary eventually married each other!

Here's the Church of Welsh Newton (St. Mary the Virgin) where John and Esther were married, and where Esther's parents, Joseph and Sarah are buried:

Cousin Steven, taking in the view
And, here's the house where they lived and farmed in Llanrothal, Hereford, England:

The current owner of the house estimated that it's probably a few hundred years old. Obviously, the structure has been altered over the years, but the owners have lovingly restored the interior to a state where it shows off some of the original features, such as wood beams and stone fireplaces and alcoves. John and Esther Bartram had a lovely home in a beautiful setting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: An Unexpected Cousin In My Own Backyard!

I love cemeteries. I mean, what genealogist DOESN'T love a good cemetery. A lot of my friends (and some of my family) think it's a bit weird and macabre that I like to visit old burial grounds when I'm traveling. But, I think they are wonderful places full of history, stories and, odd as it may sound, life!

Some of my favorite cemeteries (other than where my own people are buried, of course) are the eerie, yet somehow romantic, above-ground crypts in New Orleans, the old, urban graveyards that now house many of our country's founders and patriots in Boston and the small, hidden-away burial grounds along narrow paths in the English and Welsh countryside.

My favorite local cemetery, however, is the 226-acre Mountain View Cemetery nestled in lower hills of Oakland, California. It's just up the hill from me, and I can walk to it from my apartment. It is truly one of the most splendid cemeteries I've ever visited, and it has its own unique history that is just as fascinating as the histories of some of its illustrious inhabitants.

Mountain View Cemetery was established in 1863 and designed by famous landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Manhattan's Central Park, both UC Berkeley and Stanford Universities and the Midway Plaisance at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, among many other notable parks and projects around the United States.

From the top of Mountain View Cemetery on a rainy day,
looking out toward the San Francisco skyline
The cemetery is a feast for the eyes when it comes to grandiose crypts and headstones that pay tribute to some of California's important historical figures, including Domingo Ghirardelli (of the famous Ghirardelli Chocolate Company), J.A. Folger (founder of Folgers Coffee), noted California architect Julia Morgan and several former California governors, senators and other notable politicians. 

However, Mountain View is also the burial place of nearly 200,000 regular souls who now rest among the beautiful scenery and dozens of winding pathways that attract walkers, bicyclists and picnickers along with those who come to pay tribute to their loved ones. I love meandering along the paths that curve along the gentle hills of this park-like cemetery. According to the cemetery website, "Mountain View is distinguished from other cemeteries by its architect's vision of man and nature and their relationship to each other." And, it's true. It's one of those rare places where you know that you're in the middle of an urban geography, however you're free to shrug off the stress and confines of the city and bask in the nature -- and, on a sunny day, the incredible views -- that Mountain View offers.

The GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Civil War burial plot at Mountain View Cemetery
So, the title of this post mentions something about a cousin, right? Well, one day last summer, I went out for a hike at Mountain View. Since there are so many paths one can choose, I like to mix it up in order to see new views and explore different burial plots, such as the Jewish section and the Civil War plot. Really, I see something new every time I'm there. So, this one day, I was tooling around a plot where I hadn't spent much time before. I don't know what made me turn to look at this one particular tombstone, but there it was:

My cousin, John Milton Eddy, and family
 I first noticed the surname: Eddy. Hey, I have Eddys in my tree! I looked a little closer, and this guy, John Milton Eddy (1800-1862), was born in Middleboro, Massachusetts. Hey, that's where my original Pilgrim, Samuel Eddy, settled in the 1630s! I guessed that this had to be a long-lost relative, so I snapped the above photo and went home to do a little sleuthing. Turns out, John Milton Eddy is my 3rd cousin, 7 times removed (thanks to for doing that bit of calculation for me). John and I are both descended from my 10th great grandparents, Samuel Eddy and Elizabeth Savory, who arrived at Plymouth Harbor on the Handmaid on October 29, 1630.

Death notice in the Sacramento Daily Union
for Jane Caroline "Carrie" Eddy
Perhaps, you may have noticed that John Milton and his daughter, Jane Caroline Eddy, died in Eureka, California. So, why are they buried 275 miles south of there, in Oakland? I was curious about that, so I went to the cemetery office and asked to see the burial records. (On a side note, the volunteer at the office was a little incredulous when she asked what was my relationship to the deceased and I answered, "He's my 3rd cousin, 7 times removed!") After a bit of persuading, she finally brought out some papers, including several pieces of correspondence regarding the plot, and made copies for me. It turns out, John and his wife, Olive Sanders Eddy, journeyed from Massachusetts to California sometime between 1841 (when youngest daughter, Jane Caroline, was born in Boston) and 1850, likely during the Gold Rush period. Jane, nicknamed "Carrie", died from influenza at the very young age of 16 in 1857. John Milton died just five years later, also in Eureka. Olive later went to live in San Francisco with her granddaughter, Lizzie Eddy Atkinson (whose mother, Eliza, was another of John and Olive's daughters) and Lizzie's husband, David Watt Horsburgh. When Olive died after a long illness, in 1885, David and Lizzie purchased the plot at Mountain View and made arrangements for John and Jane's remains to be moved from Eureka to finally rest with Olive in Oakland. The other two people listed on the gravestone are Martin White (1826-1901), who appears to be a family member or close friend (and shows up on the 1850 US census with them), and Antoinette Magruder Stone (1830-1916), who was a "very old friend of family." From David Horsburgh's correspondence with the cemetery officials, it seems that several others are buried in the plot, including several members of a Wood family, who seem to be connected with John and Olive's daughter, Eliza.

I'm still learning more about John Milton Eddy and his family who were early pioneers in California. I want to know what drew him to California? How did he die? What kind of man was this distant cousin of mine? Are there any portraits of them??? As I discover more tidbits about John and his family, I'll be sure to report them here. Meanwhile, I now have a reason, other than the brisk exercise and stunning views, to walk around Mountain View Cemetery: I have family to visit!