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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas is a time of great joy -- families together, sharing memories as well as gifts and good food. Christmas is also a time to remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. I believe our loved ones never truly die as long as they are in our memories. We remember them especially during the holidays and wish they were here to celebrate Christmas with us once again.

Sometimes wishes come true.....

The following Christmas story was written by Frances Boren Haymond Nugent. She was the daughter of Lee Boren and Laura Belle Steward Boren of Fairland. When Frances was a small child (age 4), she was orphaned when her parents passed away at very young ages. Frances was raised by her grandparents, Margaret and William “Fred” Steward of Fairland. After Margaret died, Frances’ other grandparents, the Borens, helped raise her, too.

This story was generously shared by Frances’ daughter, Carolyn Haymond Bowden. She wrote that she thought her mother would like having her story published on this blog. She said her mother would be amazed by our way of communicating through blogs and emails. Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing this. It’s a wonderful Christmas gift.

(By Frances Boren Haymond who was aged 7 in 1914)

There was the Christmas at the little gray house across the street from the Methodist Church in Fairland. The year was 1914. Grandpa Steward and Hazel had moved from the brick house when Grandma Steward died in July 1913, and my mother Laura Belle Boren (had died) in April 1910. Hazel (Steward) was a senior in high school, I was in the 2nd grade.

Santa Claus left us many nice gifts. Brown leather leggings and a fur muff and neck piece for me and for Hazel a tiger skin hat and scarf, what else I don’t remember. I think we had candy, but not much, I’m sure.

Grandpa, Hazel and I were eating our Christmas dinner when the church bell started ringing fast and loud, very different from the slow Sunday morning ding-dong. We ran outside and saw that the house at the far end of our street was on fire. We ran down the street, Uncle Jim Steward’s house was down that way.

Men with buckets of water were trying to save the house, drawn to the bright flames that flashed out from one of the windows. It was not Uncle Jim’s house, but it was near and Uncle Jim and Aunt Eddie and cousins Ofa, Sumner, Fern, and Ivy (Steward) must have been visiting elsewhere for I don’t remember any of them staying with us as the house burned. (Note, “But Ivy says she remembers being there.”)

It was the first burning house I’d ever seen. Uncle Jim moved into the new house that was built later.

The rest of the day, even the walk back to our deserted Christmas dinner with Grandpa and Hazel has faded from my memory. I suppose I said a prayer before I slept. I always did. I was programmed to do so.

A wish fulfilled…..a glimpse into Christmas past with my Steward family. What a wonderful gift!

I would like to wish all of you -- my family and friends, and all who read my stories, a memorable and blessed Christmas. Remember to share your memories and keep the stories alive. They will be cherished by someone just like me……

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cemeteries - Restoring the Past

On a recent visit to Shelbyville, I went to the beautiful Fairland Cemetery to visit the family plot. This cemetery has been well maintained and always seems the same. No missing stones, no broken or cracked stones (that I know of), it is always a lovely peaceful place.

Other cemeteries in the county are not so fortunate. I also have ancestors in the old Brandywine Cemetery just outside Fairland. It was once a beautiful cemetery, but time has taken its toll and the number of broken and missing stones grows larger every year. Even though it is well-maintained and kept neat, the location of the cemetery seems to have helped its decline. It is off the main road and seems to have been vandalized many times over the years. It is a sad situation.

There is a new movement in Shelby County to restore many of these old, decayed cemeteries. The Webb Cemetery is currently being redone with the help of volunteers led by Julie Bielefeld. Julie and husband, Jon, restored the Lisher Cemetery. The Lisher Cemetery, filled with my ancestors who moved to Shelby County in its early days, is a small piece of heaven on earth. Every time I visit the cemetery, a great sense of peace and happiness fills me. This is how I want to feel when I visit the old cemeteries in Shelby County.

Unfortunately, there are so many who make me feel sad, frustrated and even angry when I see they have been vandalized. A reader told me that the Parrish Cemetery is in need of help, another said the Old Boggstown Cemetery was in bad shape. I know the small Williams Cemetery, not far from the big casino just north of Shelbyville is in serious decline. There are so many that need our help.

With genealogy becoming immensely popular today, the urge to travel and visit the homes of our ancestors is growing. Many people come to Shelby County to find their ancestors. I know the routine well! Researchers visit the Genealogy Library (Genie House) first. Next, they read the obituaries and find the details of their ancestor’s life and death. They discover where their ancestor is buried by checking the wonderful cemetery books that detail most (if not all) of the Shelby County burials. They usually ask the staff (and it’s a GREAT staff!) how to find the cemetery. Once they reach the cemetery, they are either awed or dismayed…..

If you would be interested in contributing a donation to the cemetery restoration project, or would like to volunteer for their next project, please get in touch with me. I’ll send you information on how to do both.

The restoration of the old cemeteries will continue to be discussed in this blog. Stay tuned for further updates.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Old Letters Are Treasures

Finding Clues In Old Family Letters

My Grandma, Ofa Steward Williams, kept a lot of family treasures. They weren't pieces of valuable jewelry or heirloom antiques - they were so much better. Grandma kept boxes of old family photos and letters. These are the treasures that genealogists dream of finding.

On many of my visits with Grandma, she would give me some of the photos and letters. She knew I was interested in the family history - I always asked questions about who was related to us and how??? I suspect there were some days when she wished I would stop! But she always seemed eager to discuss the "old days" and told wonderful stories about her family life as she was growing up in Fairland, just north of Shelbyville.

Her father was James Matthew Steward. He was a rural mail carrier until he retired when he became ill with T.B. He passed away when he was 60 years old, in 1932. He was my great-grandfather and everyone called him Pampaw or Pampaw Jim.

I recently found a letter that he wrote to his only son, Charles Sumner Steward who lived in Indianapolis. I think this letter is a wonderful example of the closeness Pampaw had with his family. It reminds me of what life was like before we had tv, computers, cell phones and all the other distractions that intrude into our lives every day. Before we had all of these gadgets, we had lots more time for our family and friends - and isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

This letter was written just after the passing of Pampaw's dad, William Frederick Steward, he died just a few weeks before, on December 22nd. The letter is so full of love and caring. It showed how very close Pampaw Jim was to his father AND to his son. It made me feel as if I had known Jim Steward, even though he was long gone before I was born. The old letters reveal so much about the writer - his personality, his love of family, even his intelligence (I never knew how much schooling Pampaw Jim ever had.)

So, save all those old letters (and emails) from your loved ones. Your future generations will be thankful some day that you did. I know that I am.

Here is Pampaw Jim's letter to his son, Sumner:

New Years Day 8:30 PM 1928

Dear Folks,

We have a jolly big fire going and Mom and I are resting in our big chairs comfortably, and hope you are, at this moment, as comfortable and safe from the outside cold as we are. We do enjoy your company so much, even if only for a little while at a time. I believe everybody had a good time today, and I hope all are safe at home now, feeling repaid for braving the elements of this bitter cold, by the pleasure they brought to the old home visit once again.

We are always glad to welcome you all back home, but you especially, Sumner, stand in a peculiar relation to your old Dad now, as I feel that you are the one man in the world I can tie to. I have confidence in others, and I like my friends, but my brothers are gone, my old Dad has crossed over, and I have only you.

I am proud of you, boy, and can truthfully and thankfully say I have always been. I hope when you look at me, as I have so recently had to look at my own father, you can pray the little prayer I prayed as I looked upon his face for the last time, and I hope I can merit it. "Oh God, make me worthy of him, help me to emulate his virture, forget his failure, and meet him again in a better home." His passing has been a hard blow to me, but nothing in life has ever plumbed the depths of my being as did your going nearly ten years ago, when you left home on that awful night - bound for war. I want to keep young in heart, always. I want to work and play, and to be worthy of the family and friends God has blessed me with, so I can always enjoy and interest them all as they come and go. I just got to thinking of things like this after you all left, and that's where you come in at. I can unload some my burdens on younger shoulders - on yours.

I am full of hope for the future and hope we all meet in many more family gatherings - but one never knows what the future holds. Wishing you both a happy and prosperous New Year, I am the same old


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Honoring Our Shelby County Ancestors

Ways to Honor Our Ancestors

It is about that time of the year when we think about our family members who are no longer with us. With Memorial Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in the near future, we wish we could find a way to remember them in a special way.

If you have ancestors in a distant county or state, it can be a challenge to find the time or a way to leave flowers on a loved one’s grave. We aren’t all able to travel to Shelby County to the beautiful cemeteries for each special occasion to leave a memorial.

I've learned some other ways to honor my ancestors -- although I do leave flowers whenever I get back to Shelby County. Unfortunately, I have so many deceased ancestors, I could fill my car with flowers and drive from cemetery to cemetery and probably never get all the flowers delivered in my brief visits.

Here are several different ways to honor your ancestors. Ways that they would appreciate. Ways that will make you feel good that you took the time to remember them.

Make a donation to honor them. Remember, ANY dollar amount is appreciated!

* The Shelbyville Genealogy Division of the Shelbyville Public Library needs donations. Send a check of any amount in your ancestors’ name and thank the staff for their excellent work. Their address is: 58 West Hendricks St. Shelbyville, Indiana 46176

* Make a donation to the restored Strand Theatre. Send a check of any amount, tell them you are honoring a family member. The Strand has become a true community center. Talk about bringing the past back to life! It is happening here every week. The Strand’s address is: 215 S. Harrison St. Shelbyville, Indiana 46176

*Join the Shelby County Genealogical Society.
This is a wonderful organization, working hard to put together historic books about the county. With each paid membership, a subscription to Fore Bear Pa's comes to your mailbox. It has many interesting old newspaper articles, photos, births, deaths -- all focused on Shelby Co. The membership fee is $15.00 a year. Their address is: P.O. Box 434, Shelbyville, Indiana 46176.

*Contact your ancestor’s church and request information on making a donation in their honor. Ask how to donate flowers for the alter to honor them on a special day.

*Share your genealogy!!! This will insure your ancestor’s place in immortality. There are many ways to share your genealogy. I will admit, I am donating ALL of my research and books to the Shelbyville “Genie House”. But, if your ancestors were in other counties, you might decide to donate your research elsewhere. The Indiana State Library has a HUGE section of family files, and I’m sure the Ft. Wayne Library must, too. Be generous with your research and help other family members get to know their ancestors. Be sure that you give yourself credit and copyright your work.

* Write a blog. Tell the world about your experiences with genealogy. Share your stories of joy when you make a big connection. Share your sorrow when the family legend about a sad event is discovered to be true. Let the world know you have a big wonderful family, in spite of a rotten apple or two (if you've found any!). Let the world know how proud you are of all of your ancestors.

As a final suggestion I would like YOUR suggestions about how you honor your ancestors. Please email me and I will add a second installment to this chapter. I KNOW there are many other family traditions that are observed, so please share them.

Our ancestors lived in hard times. They lived without all of the advantages we have today. Many of them fought in wars to defend our future rights and to make the world a better, safer place for us. We should honor them each and every day. We wouldn’t be here without them!