Thursday, April 20, 2017

Happy Birthday, George Takei!

Happy Birthday to George Takei, born 80 years ago (April 20) in Los Angeles, California.

I can't believe it's been a year since I saw him speak at the Bryan Series in Greensboro, North Carolina. Famous for his role as helmsman Lt. Sulu (later Captain Sulu) in Star Trek, Takei spoke about Gene Roddenberry's groundbreaking vision that went into the series.

Roddenberry envisioned the starship U.S.S. Enterprise as a miniature version of planet Earth. The international crewmembers represented the people and nations of Earth: Captain Kirk was North America, Scotty was Britain or Europe, Sulu was Asia, and Chekhov was Russia.  Lt. Uhura represented not only Africa, but also American Indians. In reality, several of the actors were Canadian. And, at the height of the Cold War, Walter Koenig (Checkhov) was from Chicago, not Russia.

As a lifetime fan of Star Trek, I read George Takei's autobiography, To the Stars, around 1995-1996. Only a few chapters in this long and interesting life story are about the T.V. show and spin-off movies. I was astonished to learn that American-born Takei and his family were imprisoned during World War II as part of the Japanese-American internment policy, wherein thousands of people were uprooted from their homes and sent to prison camps. I had never learned that dark piece of American history.

My reading of the book coincided with a couple of business trips to California. Influenced by Takei's California stories, I tried sushi for the first time (and loved it ever since) and stuck my fist in John Wayne's fist print at Mann's Chinese Theatre.

When Star Trek's original series cast got their own square in the Theatre's Hollywood Walk of Fame, they were supposed to only write their names so all seven could fit. But Takei, who had grown up in L.A., wasn't about to be shortchanged in this dream-come-true moment. When it came his turn, he signed his name, then placed his hand firmly in the cement. The rest of the cast came back and added their handprints – Leonard Nimoy's in the "Live long and prosper" Vulcan salute.

Monday, March 27, 2017

QUIP 2017 - a writing retreat in South Carolina

I went to the Quakers Uniting in Publications annual conference this month at Penn Center on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, a place draped in Spanish moss and historical buildings. It's the site of an early school for freed slaves, started early in the American Civil War.

We stayed in Benezet House, a century-old dorm that housed female students and teachers and hosted classes and co-ed chapel services.

It was nice staying together in one building, grabbing coffee or tea in the morning or settling into couches with our laptops in the shared living room.

QUIP planned more down-time, this year, between guest speakers and business sessions, so there was a little time to walk down to the water and around the historical buildings, or to think and write.

Last year's storms had closed the public (ocean) beach. After a tumble that left me bruised and a little wobbly, I kept my explorations to the inside of the old house.

I'd noticed chimneys and cupola vents from the outside and wondered if the attic might be accessible. There were, indeed, easy stairs up, but the access was partially covered by a large, precarious piece of scrap wood. I peeked through the opening and decided not to try to wrestle the covering.

Most of the attic was filled with modern HVAC ductwork and blown-in insulation. One curious thing was a small wooden room, built up to the roof. What was it used for - storage? Was it used to hide something?

Covered circles in the chimneys and the wide hallway upstairs indicated that wood stoves were used for heat. A beautiful, built-in armoire in the hallway must have been shared. We looked into the room behind it and discovered the space inside is now used for closets, but the facade of doors and drawers has been preserved!

The small museum across the street was loaded with information about the school and the Gullah people who lived on the islands (no photography allowed).

You can read more about Penn Center in Penn Center: A History Preserved.

Here are posts about QUIP 2012, 2011 (and here),

Saturday, February 11, 2017

I found my ancestor – Not There!

For the past year or so, I've been poring through texts about the American Civil War, especially the Battle of Gettysburg, as research for a book about my ancestor Thomas Maness. Modern books about the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Regiment, antique books from the library published by old veterans at the dawn of the 20th century, archived maps and narratives.

I hate it.

Technology and terrain brought "enfilading fire" from cannon down upon the troops, while tactics that hadn't changed much since the Revolutionary War kept men marching toward the enemy in all-important line. My great-great-grandfather's regiment, the 26th North Carolina Infantry, lost the highest number (and percentage) of men of any regiment in any battle in the War (Underwood, p. 58). His company, Company H, reported only six men on the duty roster who hadn't been killed, wounded, or captured.

Since Thomas Maness didn't die in the war, and wasn't captured until the following year, I set out to prove that he was one of those six men.

I'd been using Civil War service cards for Thomas: individual records that were transcribed years ago from old rosters (found in Fold3, from microfilm at the National Archives). Besides dates of service and POW time, the cards contain rich details like height and eye color, and the fact that Thomas couldn't read or write (he made his mark). I created a timeline, putting the information in order, and realized there was a huge gap in Thomas' records through much of 1863. That was frustrating, since the Battle of Gettysburg occurred 1-3 July 1863.

I almost went to D.C. last year, but fortunately found out that the information on Fold3 was all the National Archives had as far as service records. I finally found out the original muster rolls were closer to home, in the North Carolina State Archives, and planned a trip to Raleigh.

The archives where I work contains many old ledger books of church records, and that's what I expected for the muster rolls. To my surprise, the librarians brought out huge sheets the size of unfolded road maps. Each sheet detailed one payday and muster (attendance) for Company H, with names and details listed down both sides.

Company H muster roll for 30 June 1863

I went straight to the critical date of 30 June 1863. Ignorant of the large Union force in the nearby town of Gettysburg, but wonderfully timed for future historians, the Confederate army mustered and paid their soldiers the night before the battle. That muster has been used to cite who was in the Battle, although usually by numbers rather than individuals.

The ink or pencil on this particular sheet had faded so much I strained to read it. Finally I found T. S. Maness at the very bottom on the front. I leaned over and followed the line across the page to faint writing in the "Remarks" column: "C[ont] in hospital at Petersburg, V. A." Thomas wasn't paid that day, although his cousin on the line below, Jonas Sedberry Maness, was paid $22.00 for 2 months.

Thomas wasn't there.

I was shocked and pleased and probably laughed. All that research for nothing – my ancestor wasn't even in the Battle of Gettysburg! Why was it funny? Because it matched up with oral history, passed on by Thurman Maness and Lacy Garner. The stories said that when Thomas felt a particularly awful battle coming up, he took "salts" (laxatives) and made himself sick enough to miss it.

Thomas Maness might not have been the most honorable man in the world, but he was certainly a character. His scrappy wit kept him alive — and without that, I wouldn't be here.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Books of 2016 - and a Giveaway

Books for Business and Life

Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant To Do - I enjoyed reading an advanced copy of Chris Guillebeau's latest book, and I'm ready to read it again. You don't have to be a full-time entrepreneur to enjoy it; tips and stories include "side hustles" and improving your current job. (Read my review here.)

Would you like to win a free copy of Born For This? Simply leave a comment on this blog post by Friday night, Feb. 3. Be sure to include a way to contact you if you win (e-mail or instagram handle).*

I read part of and skimmed The Courage to Be Rich, but it's terribly outdated. These sound principles for personal finance were written prior to 9-11 (2001), before ideas like skipping that "daily" restaurant coffee became so cliche.

The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity – Part thriller and part mind-blowing religious perspective. Aside from a few spots in the middle where the same idea was repeated over and over, this was one of those unique books that leaves you thinking after the final page.

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep YoursAlive – I highly recommend this book, especially for small church groups.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – I'm still recovering. Or, well... my loveseat is still recovering (where I stacked things). I read the whole book but only attempted the first phase of cleaning out, which resulted in me donating eight bags of clothes – eight bags! For people who want to declutter, I think we need a combination of this KonMari big-event method and FlyLady's 15-minutes-a-day method. The author, Marie Kondo, seems OCD and "born organized." One good idea I took away is that things are a function of time: it's easier to let go when something has already served its purpose. But Marla Cilley, known as the FlyLady, understands those of us who are not constantly cleaning but have 100 things on our minds.

Blog Post Ideas: 21 Proven Ways to Create Compelling Content and Kiss Writer’s Block Goodbye – a quick read with lots of practical ideas.

Books for Genealogy and Writing

Forensic Genealogy – The author is another engineer turned genealogist! I read the entire text and enjoyed it, but would only recommend it to people who like spreadsheets and want to learn more about DNA.
You Can Write Your Family History (2003 version) – I started this book about a decade ago, but thought it dry and too heavy on nonfiction emphasis (I was drafting a novel of my 17th-century ancestors with few facts available). I read the entire book in 2016 and it seems spot on, now that I'm writing nonfiction about my 19th-century family (with enough facts for a story). I recommend it, based on where you are in your family history writing. 

I read most of The 26th Regiment of N.C. Troops, plowing through the battles, as research for the book I'm writing about my great-great-grandfather.

PetersburgNational Military ParkVirginia – more research.

Books for Fun

My recreational reading was all science fiction, from the Victorian era to 5,000 years in the future. Now that I think about it, all the stories occurred no farther than Earth and Mars.

Seven Eves – At 867 pages, this book is huge! But amazing. I had to read it in spurts, because every time I picked it up I stayed up too late. 
Babylon 20/20 – A fast read about what life in the near future could be like if things went horribly wrong. (Disclaimer: my sister wrote it! Proud sister, here!)
John Carter of Mars (A Princess of Mars) – I've wanted to read this classic since the movie came out. It was entertaining, but flowery. 
The 100 – I'd watched the TV show, but the books are very different. I mean, the cover has a picture of Finn, and he's not even in the book!
Day 21 (The 100, book #2)

I'm still Reading:
Homecoming (The 100, book #3) – OK, the show and the books have diverged so much that I kinda got stuck. 
Dirt and the Good Life – Essays by a couple of professionals who took a sabbatical to run a farm. One of those low-stress books with separate stories that you can pick up any time. 

And I started, but put aside: 
Making a Literary Life
I Am Spock

Here are the books of 2015, 2014, and 2012.

Don't forget to leave a comment to enter the giveaway. If you enjoy pictures and stories about books, follow me on Instagram.

*Be sure to leave your contact information (e-mail, instagram, or twitter handle; Facebook won't work for non-"friends") along with your comment to enter the book giveaway. The Friday night deadline includes most time zones, but generally ends around midnight EST. If you win, I'll send you a message to keep your address private. Entrants from outside the continental U.S.A. agree to pay shipping.

This blog contains affiliate links – if you use them, thanks! I received free copies of Born For This (and bought my own extra copy) and Blog Post Ideas

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Tombstone Tuesday – Nancy Maness

My great-great-grandfather's third wife, Nancy Pool Maness, had a bit of mystery about her. Her son-in-law, the informant on her death certificate, didn't know her date of birth and she's missing in the 1900 and 1910 censuses. Despite her dramatic death — having been killed by a train — I couldn't find any mention of the accident or an obituary in the regional papers. Perhaps her tombstone would at least fill in a date.

Nancy's death certificate clearly states that she was buried in Brown Cemetery. I found modern transcriptions online through Find A Grave and RootsWeb, but no Nancy. Although there are several hundred graves listed, I couldn't find a management office for the cemetery. So I added the cemetery to my Virginia itinerary, hoping it wouldn't be so large that I couldn't find anything.

Directions and GPS led me north of Radford, along a winding road in the low mountains with glimpses of a parallel railroad track.

As I turned into a steep drive, I laughed at myself, realizing why I hadn't been able to find an "office." Brown was a family cemetery that grew into a community cemetery. On top of a hill in the countryside, the stones stand out in dramatic outline against the evening sky. The cemetery looks down on the railroad track to the east and a large pasture with cows to the west.

The sun cast a burst of rays through the clouds as I walked, row after row, reading the names. I never found Nancy, or Fannie (who was also buried there), or Nancy's parents. A few stones were completely obscured by a black mold. Patterns in the grass told me there are many unmarked graves. Sadly, I saw a few from this century that still have temporary markers – future unmarked graves for those either too poor or too alone to afford a permanent gravestone.

At least I saw the cemetery, in some way paying my respects. Perhaps there's a book or a file somewhere that has an older list, including stones that aren't there anymore.

After a good dinner and a night's rest in Radford, I returned to the courthouse in Pulaski to finish looking through the chancery file. Before heading back to North Carolina, I stopped in the old courthouse and then the Ratcliffe Transportation Museum. The latter has a scaled model of the town of Pulaski in the 1950s, as well as a museum of local history.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Nancy Pool Maness – part 2

Since finding my great-great-grandfather's third wife, Nancy Pool Maness, who had a daughter (Fannie B. Maness Sifford) and later died in a tragic accident, I wanted to know more about her life. I don't find Nancy until the 1920 census, which leaves a huge gap since 1880. I've never found Thomas in any census, except 1870 with his first wife and children. Did he stick around a few years, or did his wanderlust take him away before Fannie ever knew him (like in his second marriage)?

The 1920 census gave me a clue: Nancy owned her own home in the Dublin Magisterial District, Pulaski County, Va. Perhaps a deed or a will would mention Thomas. So I traveled to Virginia a few weeks ago for a short research vacation.

I started looking in the Pulaski County Courthouse in the town of Pulaski. The only index reference I found listed Nancy Poole Manes [sic] estate as grantor.

Nancy actually lived in Belspring, not the city of Dublin. The deed book mentioned property sold in a case of Mrs. Agnes Maness, plaintiff, against Charles P. Sifford. I recognized Charles as Nancy's son-in-law, Fannie's husband. There were no details.

More information was in the Chancery Court records, those large tomes similar to deed books. Entries spanned several years in the 1920s. The court ordered Nancy's house to be sold at auction. "Infant defendants" — minors — were mentioned without names. Were they Charles' and Fannie's children, or others? Who was this Agnes Maness?

The answers were in the Chancery Court files. All of the papers related to the case, from the initial complaint around 1924, were tied together and filed under the case closing date of 1932. And what treasure they contained!

Agnes Manes had been married to Thomas Cleveland Manes (this branch of the family dropped an "s"). As the complaint states: "the said Cleveland Manes and Mrs. Nannie Sifford were the only two children of Mrs. Nancy Manes who died at Belspring, in said county, several years ago, intestate, and leaving the said Cleveland Manes and Nannie Sifford as her [sole] heirs at law." Both children died soon after their mother, and this case was between in-laws.

After the house was sold in 1926 and the assigned commissioner and guardians agreed on distribution, each grandchild received $16 to $25 dollars, with a larger amounts of $105 going to Charles and $36 to Agnes.

I can imagine the situation from my own experience: Charles, who still lived in the vicinity and had grown children with one boy at home, was in no hurry to clean out and sell his mother-in-law's house. Perhaps he thought one of the grandchildren would live in it, someday. Agnes, who lived in Pennsylvania and had no sentimental ties to the home, and whose coal-miner husband's death left her with six small children and no income, needed whatever she could get to survive. The case doesn't seem too contentious, as Agnes did not require anyone to be bonded and Charles signed a paper agreeing to sell the house. But I imagine these two families, living in different states, did not remain close. Both spouses eventually remarried.

The more I find, the more questions arise. Cleveland was born in 1886, nine years after his sister. Does that mean that my Thomas Maness stayed in one place for a decade, fathering that second child? Did he wander off, but come back to Nancy later? Or did Nancy meet some other man after Thomas left? With her husband missing, she would not have been able to remarry.

Cleveland's obituary doesn't mention his parents, and I haven't yet found a death certificate or any other record that does.

Thomas' next known whereabouts was in 1895, when he married wife number four in Moore County, N.C.

Next time: Searching for Nancy's grave

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Searching for wife number three – part 1

In trying to fill in the life of my colorful ancestor, Thomas Swain Maness, I found out his third marriage was in Virginia, to Nancy Pool in 1876. They married in Giles County, which is right next to Pulaski County, which seemed to confirm our family's oral history that he left home to find a job at the Bertha Zinc Mine.

The 1880 census lists Nancy by her maiden name, living with her parents. Thinking that she might have found out about Thomas' other marriages and considered herself single, and not finding her in a later census (1890 missing), I'd stopped looking.

Then last year I ran across Nancy's death record. Her name had been horribly mistranscribed in Ancestry as Nannie Mares, but it popped up while researching her father, Moses Pool. Like Thomas' other wives who never knew what happened to him, she considered herself a widow. It's a sad record, as the informant didn't know her birthdate or much about her, and she was "Accidentally killed by train."

Not only did Nancy keep her married name, but the informant's name led me to a child. Fannie B. Maness, daughter of Nancy and Thomas Maness, married railroad engineer Charles P. Sifford. I have more cousins in Virginia!

Next time: Finding a surprise in the Virginia court records!