05 December 2015

One Cold Christmas in Germany

The Kindness of a Stranger

By Myra Vanderpool Gormley (c) 2015

It was Christmastime, but nothing was going according our plans — except my ship arrived on time. The weather was cold and snowing and we were a long way from home. Between us, we didn’t have $20 in cash and only a few Deutsche marks, which would have been handy, since we were in the middle of Germany.

We were stuck between staying at a hotel near the Hauptbanhof (main railroad station) that we couldn’t afford much longer and our paid-for apartment that the landlady refused to give us the key to until January 1, which was more than a week away. We had no car and no way to transport my suitcases and trunk from the hotel to the apartment except by taxi. I had hauled these from Oklahoma, across the Atlantic Ocean to Rotterdam and then via train to Germany. They contained all my clothes and our household goods — all of our worldly treasures needed to set up housekeeping.

So far we had been unable to reach our military sponsor, who should be able to get us temporary housing or help out somehow. So here we were, but what were we going to do? Additionally, there was the language problem. My husband had signed an apartment lease, but, of course, it was in German and our new landlady-to-be was rigid in her refusal to let us have the apartment. While we had paid a full month’s rent plus deposit and an extra week, we couldn’t move in, evidently because the current occupants now refused to move out until the first of the year. She quoted German law, which was Greek to us, and we suspected she might have been gaming the system by collecting from both renters. However, when you’re young, poor, and a long way from home, what are your options?

This was long ago, before there were credit cards or debit cards that work with a swipe, no matter where you are in this world. In those days, one had to have cash — either in American dollars to use at the military base or in the local currency. Of course, the stores and markets had to be open also for you to purchase anything.

Christmastime in Germany is a magical world and it was easy to fall under its spell and forget our housing situation — at least temporarily. Wandering the winding streets of the old city, we discovered the Christmas market. We stopped and listened to brass band music and drank some Glühwein (hot mulled wine). It warmed us up and brighten our spirits.

Vendors peddled sugar-roasted almonds, stöllen and gingerbread hearts. Beautiful Christmas tree decorations, handcrafted wooden toys, clocks, and hand-blown glass ornaments were available. If I had had any money, I would have gone into a buying frenzy. Instead, we purchased bratwursts dripping with hot mustard on small Brötchens — in a desperate attempt to silence our growling stomachs because we had skipped breakfast to save money.

As we started back to the hotel, we discussed our apartment situation and then glibly decided to go see the landlady one more time and plead our case. We decided to call the sponsor again, too. Tomorrow would be Christmas Eve and most businesses would close early. Both December 25 and 26 are legal holidays in Germany. We were running out of time. The military base would be on a holiday schedule, which meant the Post Exchange, American Express and Commissary would be closed. We desperately needed to get a check cashed and convert some dollars to Deutsche marks.
The sponsor still did not answer the phone.

We caught a Strassenbahn to the apartment and rang Frau Brücker’s apartment. When the buzzer sounded, we went into the foyer, shaking the snow from our hats and coats, then headed up two flights of stairs to her place. She greeted us with a torrent of
German spewed so fast that neither of us could catch but a word or two. We shook our heads. “Ish verstehe nicht!” So she yelled louder. We shook our heads.

Finally, she went to the phone. Was she calling the police? I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of writing home to the folks — “Dear Mom and Dad — we are in jail —for renting an apartment.”

Shortly after Frau Brücker returned from the long hallway where her phone was located, still yelling in German, there was a knock on the door. A young woman entered and introduced herself as Hannelore. Her English was good with a British accent. She explained that Frau Brücker had asked her to come translate. She lived in an apartment on the top floor of the five-story building. The frau told her side of the story and we explained our situation.

After more discussion, there appeared to be no happy solution to this saga. Frau Brücker would not let us have the key until January 1, but she did agree to let us bring our suitcases and trunk and store them in the basement. Finally, we realized it was an impasse, so we stood up and started to say our good-byes, knowing we had a long hike to the military base and another Strassebahn ride back to the hotel.

Then Hannelore said, “Why don’t you come back tomorrow, say between 10 and 11? I am leaving in the early afternoon to go skiing in Bavaria for a week. You can have my apartment for that time — if you wish?”

Tears blinded my sight, and I know I heard the rustle of angel wings.

11 July 2015

Flocking Together: Birds of a Feather

It started out as a lark, so to speak. Cousin Jack (the one who claims he had his ancestors stolen right off the Internet) and I found a new young cousin, Heather, via Facebook. She is related to both of us through our BYRD line. Heather thought it amusing that we had both BYRDs and ROBINS in our family trees.

To tell the truth I had never thought much about it before -- I've been tracking down these ancestral turkeys so long that I guess I don't pay any attention to what their names might mean otherwise. However, her comment got Cousin Jack and me to comparing our charts and databases in depth and we've discovered we have several nests of different kinds of birds perched upon our branches.

In addition to a covey of New England PARTRIDGES (not in a pear tree, thank you very much), we've found a bevy of QUAILS/QUAYLEs, flushed out a murder of CROWs, and a company of PARROTTs. We had a good laugh about these feathered finds.

Then Cousin Jack chirped, "Don't forget about the SWIFT side of the family," And I said, that's not a bird —- that family name comes from an ancestor who was fleet of foot (probably running from the law from what I know about that side of the family).

"Swift is also a bird," Jack cooed, "they build edible nests, and besides haven't you ever heard of chimney swifts?" I hadn't, but by golly, he was right. This old lady learns something new every day in genealogy, so I added the SWIFTS to our nesters.

Then it was my turn to get Cousin Jack.

"Put the GOOSE line into our family aviary," I warbled. He started to twitter in protest, but I pointed out that the name was an old occupational one for a breeder of geese. And, that they had feathers (the geese, not our ancestors). So into the gaggle they went.

We have now added to our avian: A charm of FINCHes, a watch of a NIGHTINGALEs, a muster of PEACOCKs that appear out of nowhere in early Georgia, a bank of SWANs, a loft of PIDGEONs, a cast of FALCONs, a herd of CRANEs, plus a CARDINAL and a WREN.

I figure any day now we're going to turn up some really funny fowls in our family trees  —- perhaps a CUCKOO, WOODPECKER, FLYCATCHER or even a TITMOUSE.

However, I'm beginning to think I have gone into ornithology rather than genealogy. Cousin Jack is still worried about ancestral theft on the Internet. He should be so lucky to have these birds stolen.

14 May 2015

My Bermuda Triangle

While the real Bermuda Triangle is a place in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where aircraft and ships supposedly have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, my own triangle was not one where such disasters took place, but rather one where I could disappear for hours — or most of a day, especially on Saturdays.

Muskogee Public Library 1914-1972

This triangle started from the back of my dad’s garage at the alley. Exiting via the big heavy doors there, I headed east to a Classic Revival-style building across the street.

It stood there on the corner of D Street and East Broadway in Muskogee, Oklahoma — a Carnegie library that looked like hundreds of others. However, past its entrance and the glass floors of the mezzanine, it was a treasure chest overflowing with books, old newspapers, and stereoscopes. Up on the second floor was the incredible mural artwork by Acee Blue Eagle, a Creek/Pawnee artist who had taught at Bacone College, not far from my grandparents’ farm, north of Muskogee. It was here I became a full-blown bookworm, re-ceived my introduction to art, gazed at old images on a stereoscope, and explored events of the past in newspapers.

Completing the triangle was a long, low red and white building — miles long in my child’s mind and innate ability to judge distances. It contained hundreds, perhaps thousands, of giant cartons of ice cream — with more varieties than I could count or ever eat, though I tried.

A day in my Bermuda Triangle was about as close to heaven as one could get in my opinion.

Some Saturdays there were book readings or story telling at the library, and then afterward I browsed the bookshelves, even though I had learned to use the card catalog. Browsing was more fun I thought because that is how I found many books I would never have chosen by their titles or description in the catalog.

Finally, after deciding on the books to “check out,” which was usually a difficult decision since there was a limit to the number one could have per visit, I headed for the third leg of the triangle.

Out the front door of the library and down the well-worn areas, which we kids had created from years of sliding down the sides of the stone staircase instead of using the steps, I would go. In the heat of an Oklahoma summer, a girl could get a bit of a butt burn doing the slide because we had to wear dresses in those days. However, I don’t remember any serious injury.

Juggling my newly borrowed books, I’d race across the street to the Carnation Dairy — that long low building which set across the alley from dad’s auto repair shop. First, I would do an inventory of all the flavors to see if anything new was available and then began the difficult part — deciding on which flavor I wanted. Cherry vanilla was always a favorite, but I loved sherbet too. If I had enough money for a triple cone, I often wound up with three different sherbets — usually pineapple, orange and lime. With a big cone and books in hand, it was back to my dad’s garage to find a spot to eat the ice cream and read a book until time for us to go home.

Recently I found a picture online of a boarded-up Carnation Dairy, which also shows the back of what was once my dad’s garage. It all looks so small and dilapidated. I prefer to keep the images from my childhood memory. The ones of when the dairy was huge, brightly painted and packed with ice cream cartons and customers — back when dad’s garage was bustling with activity, filled with the sounds of revving motors and the smells of gasoline and oil. The Renoir impressionist image of me curled up in a chair in dad’s office in the midst of my Bermuda Triangle, licking a triple-deck sherbet cone, reading a Laura Ingalls “Little House” book is how it really was — to me.

11 March 2015

Tracking Difficult Women and Restless Men

Tracking Difficult Women and Restless Men
Imogene Emma (Swarts) Vanderpool Davis (1852-1928)
John S. Davis (ca 1805-1852)

By Myra Vanderpool Gormley

Long suspected, but now the proof stares me in the face — I am addicted to genealogy.

The proof came by the dawn’s early light (when some my best discoveries have happened) as I looking for information about when and where the father of Harvey Smith Davis died. Not that it really matters. After all, this Davis family is not in my family tree and appears only as an in-law line in my husband’s and then indirectly (via marriage) to one of my Vanderpool cousins. Nevertheless, I am a sucker for trying to resolve glaring discrepancies, especially when they light up a pedigree like a blinking neon light.

I had no intentions of tracing the lineage of Harvey Smith Davis — I just wanted to know whether his father had died in Vermont (as one researcher claimed) or in California (as another has recorded). There are too many miles between Vermont and California to brush this off as a minor discrepancy. Plus, there was inconsistency in the year of his death. Neither researcher had provided a source for the claims, so obviously it was up to me to ascertain the date and place of death.

A search in the Vermont Vital Records, 1720-1908 database at Ancestry.com produced a record for a John S. Davis of the right age and with the correct wife’s name (at least based on what I had from the 1850 Wolcott, Lamoille County, Vermont census). The extracted (printed) information I found gives his death age as 48, the death date as 26 September 1852, the cemetery as Fairmont, and place of death as “Vermont, USA.” However, upon examining the actual image of that record at the website — a card — under remarks it says John S. Davis “died in Calif.” The record says it is a “true copy” and it is signed by the town clerk of Wolcott and dated 16 November 1920 (perhaps when the cards were created and/or compiled?).

Why is it in genealogy when you obtain one answer it just creates more questions?

It appears that John S. Davis died in California in 1852 — and one assumes he was one of the many forty-niners from Vermont who went in hopes of striking it rich — but was his body shipped back to Wolcott for burial? That would have been expensive. Of course, if he had found some gold, the cost might not have been a factor. If he died in 1852, obviously he was not buried in 1851 as another online source indicates.

His death left his widow, Caroline, and three children — ages 14, 12, and a four-year-old son (Harvey Smith Davis), the original object of this search. I discovered that Caroline died in 1861, which left Harvey an orphan at age 14 in Vermont.

What happened to his two older siblings? I found him with his mother and older brother, Loren, in the 1860 census, but by 1869, Harvey has left Vermont and arrived in Missouri, where he married Irena Eve, a daughter in my husband’s Pierson family. Harvey's sister, Mary Smith Davis,  married first John Ferris Morrill who died during the Civil War and married secondly Henry Fisher. She died in 1875 at the age of 35 years, 7 months, 9 days. I have not found anything more on Harvey's older brother.

About two or three years after the death of Irena Eve Pierson in 1889, Harvey married secondly Imogene Emma (nee Swartz) Vanderpool and then with her, their two little daughters, and several of his children by his first wife, they removed to the Indian Territory. My guess is this took place about 1894, but at least some time  before the 1900 census when they are enumerated in the Cherokee Nation of Indian Territory.

Now I have even more questions, plus I have discovered that one of Harvey’s younger sons married a Cherokee girl who has an extensive and well-documented family tree.

Ah, the entangled roots and branches we encounter in our searches. No wonder some of us become addicts.

You can read another article I wrote about Imogene Emma (Swartz) Vanderpool Davis in Ancestry Magazine called "Dealing with a Difficult Woman" at