Frank Sadowski Jr. – Bravery Under Fire, 52 Ancestors #162

Your name is Frank Sadowski Jr.

You were born on May 8, 1921. You are the consummate all-American boy, a member of the science club in high school in Chicago, then on to Northwestern University studying to be a physician – following in the footsteps of your father.

You are a cherished member of the all-American family, son of an immigrant physician father who worked his way through medical school and “made something” of himself. You are his name-sake, shown with your father, below and your mother, Harriett, a stay-at-home Mom, peeking out the window in the background.

You have a brother, Bobbie, and a sister, Margie, shown below, who is also attending college, majoring in music. In fact, she’s racing you to see who will graduate first.

You have a beautiful girlfriend, Jean, a professional tap and ballet dancer, planned soon to be your wife – as soon as the war is over. She wears your ring in sweet anticipation.

You have it all.

Enlistment

December 7, 1941 – a day that lives in infamy in the history of this nation. Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, drawing the United States into the midst of WWII. Even today, nearly three quarters of a century later, most Americans know the meaning of that date.

Americans were shocked, then enraged and incensed. The next day, war was declared. Patriotism was running at an all-time high. The unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor, sinking American battleships, united Americans decisively, providing a common cause. It was no longer about warfare or politics, but about integrity and honor. Enlistment and recruitment offices were full to the brim, with long lines of patriotic young men proud and determined to fight for and defend America.

It probably pained you not to join the ranks that day to enlist.

On February 16, 1943, over the objections of family members, you feel you have to DO something. WWII is raging. You’re 21 years and 9 months old, barely old enough to buy a beer. Men are needed. Real men enlist! Emotions are running high. Northwestern University, and finishing medical school, can wait. You have a war to fight. For freedom. For liberty. For what is right. For mankind. To help those who are injured. You’re sure with your medical training that you won’t be on the front lines, so it’s a pretty safe bet.

You enlist in the Army.

Your mother sobbed inconsolably. A fortune-teller told her that two of her sons would serve, and only one would return. Now, the first half has come true.

Your first several months are spent in training in several locations: Texas, the University of Chicago which isn’t so bad, then Oregon and California. Christmas 1944 finds you being deployed to Okinawa in the Pacific Theater on a destroyer.

Before you leave San Francisco, you v-mail (victory mail) a Christmas card to your girlfriend because you won’t be able to later.

You also mail a very private letter to your sweetheart, which, for better or worse, didn’t survive for future generations to read. You talk about your dreams for a life together after the war, about your wedding, about your future children. You miss her terribly, an aching that won’t subside. You write her every single day, whether you can mail the letters or not. In fact, you write to her so much that the other guys, “Joes,” as you call them, tease you – but you don’t care. She is your link to sanity, to hope for the future.

The Letters

On December 9th, 1944 before boarding the ship, you also write a letter to your father, who too is waiting at home for your return. There is no paragraph spacing, because as you’ve said in other letters, writing paper is a scarce and valuable commodity.

Hello Dad,

This is a sloppy mess but so is everything around here. Never-the-less I’d like to write you a bit. You see I’m becoming quite a prompt son in spite of obstacles. Come on, pat me on the back. I’m a bounder as far as that’s concerned. Of course I’m going to thump you on the back, dad. Don’t look now but you’ve been very generous with us kids. Especially me. Of course ? your my favorite anyway. Maybe it’s because you’ve got the biggest darn heart any man has a right to have. I know now how you’ve spoiled me but I can’t help but love you all the more for it. I guess Margie would call me a weak character and apply polishing my dad again. She’s right but I want to do it anyway, pop. You see, I’ve never told you these things quite right till now so it’s a lot like a confession to me. Of course Mom, sis and Bobbie have been pretty good as a whole, but I apple polish you all one at a time. You, pop, were responsible for a very warm Thanksgiving in my heart. Say, Christmas, is probably right on you and though I wish you a Merry Christmas before let me do it again. Dad, I’m in just the pink of condition and kinda happy about having people like you at home thinking about me once in a while.

All my love dad,

Frank

While on board the ship, you write letters, but of course you can’t mail them until the ship docks, nor can you receive any mail. You count the days until mail call again, because that is the only lifeline between you and those you love.

On December 14th, you write a letter to your sister, Marge, who you also call “Red,” for her flaming hair, much to her chagrin, complaining, in a teasing brotherly way, of course, that you receive far fewer letters from her than she receives from you. You then write 4 paragraphs about the food, of all things, because you’re afraid to say goodbye to her. You then ask her, again, to write you more often, directly, no teasing this time. And then you finally say it:

So long sis, your brother sure is beginning to miss you.

The homesickness is dripping from your every word.

On December 22nd, you write a letter to your father that tells him how you’re just fine – because you’re really not and you’re terribly homesick and injured, but you don’t want to admit either.

Then you tell him how unhappy you are that the Army informed your parents that you were injured and you tell your father that it’s nothing, really, just a slight cut on your foot. You don’t tell him that the cutting instrument was an ax, because you know he would worry. You’re someplace on an island in the Pacific for treatment, so you tell him it’s easier on the island to sleep and that you’re always hungry, always first in the chow line and in the best health ever. Me thinks you do protest too much.

You complain that you still don’t have your brother, Bobbie’s address, and ask for someone to please send it to you. He too is serving in the military. You ask if his address is in the mail yet.

You congratulate your sister for graduating first. That must have come hard – but of course, had the war not interfered…

You close to your dad with, “Don’t forget, your son still loves you,” and a PS that says, “That goes for you too Mom and Marge.”

Now, you’re writing home almost every day. You talk about the Christmas carols on the radio and how it’s like Christmas in the middle of July. You reassure your family that you’re “feeling tops,” but of course, you’re not. You tell your father, “no more paternal concern on my score – do you hear!!!” Then you tell him that you worry about him and you want to come home and find him, “in the best health you’ve ever been in.”

And then:

Well, Dad, my time is running out but my love for you and the family isn’t.

Your loving son,
Frank

Finally, Christmas is over. Your letters home are gut-wrenching. The gifts sent by your family never arrived, but none-the-less you tell them you had a wonderful Christmas day doing nothing. Your letter on the 28th hints that you’re not receiving mail either, although you are still on the island recovering from the “minor injury.”

Say, pop, you’d better get a letter out here to me – maybe I’ll have something interesting in response. I write a much better letter when I’m reading one of yours.

Of course, you would never want to admit how desperately you miss your family or how you crave a letter. Some days, you receive 3 or 4 letters in one day, then none again for what seems like eternity.

A few days later, you are back on the ship again and writing your family. In those letters you admit to your sister that in fact, it wasn’t an ax after all, but a machete that slipped and cut your foot and infection followed. Sulfa drugs didn’t work. You were a lot, LOT, sicker than you admitted to your family.

It wasn’t your time to go. Not yet.

In January, you’re off the ship and on terra firma in the Philippine Islands, and you’ve lost your pocket Bible your father gave you to keep you safe. The Chaplain finds another one for you, but you lament the loss to your sister.

You tell your father how proud you are to have “Jr. tagged on your name,” because you are very proud to be his son. You tell him that some men don’t like being a “Jr.,” but you are honored. Your letters are becoming much more openly loving, with more than a hint of urgency.

Your girlfriend is working with the USO back home to put together a show so that she can show up in a performance and surprise you and the troops. I can only imagine the look on your face when you realize who is performing! It was supposed to be a surprise, but your girlfriend’s mother wrote a letter to you and unknowingly revealed the plan.

Wouldn’t that have been something!!!

Your letters continue to your family, but your life is becoming more difficult. You lament that your entire life is packed into one duffle bag, including that precious paper for writing home and an 8X10 picture of your girlfriend that you worry about spoiling. The Bible lives in your pocket. Some of your letters aren’t arriving home now. Your family and your girlfriend are comparing notes to try to piece your life together. The war is escalating and they are desperately worried.

Something is wrong. You are sent to Hawaii and try to pretend to your family it’s because you are sightseeing. Your tone gives you away when you say that “the coldness is sensed by me even more here than before.” And it’s not the weather you’re talking about.

Later in January, you’re gone from Hawaii, probably in the Philippines, and you tell your family that you’re “red-lined.” They don’t know that means that you’re in a thinly spread military unit holding firm against attack. Your letters become less frequent, or at least your family receives fewer of them, and there now seems to be at least a month or two delay between letters sent and a response to a particular letter.  Some letters take even longer.

You tell your family how wonderful it is that your unit has managed to somehow rig up a shower.

On February 9th, you tell your family you’re receiving some additional inoculations, “shots in both arms,” and then you’ll be “ready for shipment.” However, that’s delayed, because on February 12th, you have infectious jaundice and are now hospitalized in the Philippines.

On the 17th, you’re very sick, but you write a couple sentences to your family telling them their mail from 5 months earlier is finally arriving and that your skin color is very yellow.

You don’t write again until March 2nd when you tell your sister that you’ve been in the hospital for 18 days – and you fall asleep while writing.

The letters (apparently) stop, as your sister and father saved every single one. Perhaps you wrote them, but your letters were never received.

Okinawa

We know from your sister’s scrapbooks and family members that you do recover and are shipped to Okinawa, arriving on April 6th.

On April 15th, you were assigned to a medical unit in the thick of the Battle of Okinawa which began on April 1st and lasted 82 days, until June 22nd. This was one of, if not the single bloodiest battles of WWII, with a total of around 165,000 men killed and scores more injured. The battle was known as the “typhoon of steel” in English and the “violent wind of steel” in Japanese, referencing the ferocity of the battle and the intensity of the Japanese attacks.

On April 19, 1945, in the battle of Bloody Ridge, a Japanese sniper shot you in the head as you threw yourself over the body of a wounded soldier, trying to save his life. I hope your death was swift – that you didn’t suffer.

The second half of the fortune-teller’s story had come true.

And I wonder…did my mother somehow know? Did you visit her? Are you the ghost that haunts your parents’ home?

This photo of two abandoned M4 Sherman tanks was taken the following day, April 20th, at Bloody Ridge. The battle was so intense that all of the foliage was blown off of the trees and vegetation was destroyed. The winter of war.

Your life, as we know it, ended that day, but your body didn’t come home for another four years. Your lifeblood watered the soil of Okinawa.

Sadly, we don’t know if the soldier you were trying to save lived.

Your sister’s notes indicate that you received a commendation for “bravery under fire.” Clearly, that would have been posthumously awarded, but somehow that seems very inadequate and understated for your incredible sacrifice. A sacrifice even more profound because of your unrealized potential.

We are left to wonder what that might have been.

Honoring Your Memory

I wonder from reading your letters, or at least the ones I have copies of, if you knew somehow that you would not survive. It seems that you may have had premonitions. Perhaps they drove the urgency with which you told your family over and over again how grateful you were for their presence in your life and how much you loved them.

Your girlfriend, Jean, became my mother a decade after you died. You were supposed to be my father, but sadly, that never happened, nor did the rest of your dreams.

Mother told me that she knew, somehow, the last time that you left the train station in Chicago that you would not be returning home. She stood on the platform and watched through rivers of tears as you disappeared from her life that that day, a proud soldier. She said she cried too hard and grieved too deeply…and she knew. She always “knew” things like that. Your tragic death tore the very fabric of her soul. I can only imagine the anguish as she watched the train disappear down those tracks, escorting you to the merciless future she could not share.

The discovery of your sister’s scrapbooks, salvaged from the trash heap by a wonderful Samaritan provided us with far more insight into your life that we could ever hope to have any other way. We know how much your family loved you and how desperately you loved them.

Of course, you have no way of knowing what happened after your death, how deeply and unremittingly they all grieved for you. You never knew that none of your family, nor my mother, were ever the same.  All these years later, in many ways, we still live in the light cast by your flickering candle.

There was no recovery – there was only plodding forward, one foot at a time in front of the other. You touched and forever changed their lives, just as you touched the life, or perhaps eased the death of that man on the battlefield.

You are, indeed, a hero – by any measure.

Cornerstone of Peace Monument

Today, the Cornerstone of Peace monument, unveiled in 1995 and shown below, located in Itoman on the southern tip of Okinawa by the cliffs of Mobuni near where you died honors more than 240,000 who were killed on Okinawa from the US, Allied Forces, Japan and Okinawa.

Your name is etched here, Frank, commemorating your sacrifice. It’s not much, but it’s something. There is no consolation prize in life and death.

By mdid with Flickr Creative Commons License

Thank You

72 years distant.

From a lifetime and half a world away.

Let me say those words.

Thank you.

Did anyone ever say them?

At your funeral maybe?

Your body languished for 4 long years.

Someplace in Okinawa.

Before you reached your final resting place.

Returning home a fallen hero.

I wonder.

Was it even you in that wooden box?

Covered by a flag.

Thank you.

Those words seem obscenely inadequate.

I don’t know if you can hear them.

I don’t know if you will somehow know.

I need to say them anyway.

Thank you.

Thank you for your service.

Thank you for your bravery.

Thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.

Your life…your love…your dreams.

You gave them all.

The hearts of those you loved died that day too.

We don’t know where your footsteps would have gone.

How many you would have saved.

Had your light not been extinguished.

Too early.

Way too early.

My heart grieves your death.

But oh so grateful that men like you lived.

At all.

At all.

To light the way.

Through the ages.

Your candle held high.

A fine example.

Honor, bravery, integrity.

Thank you.

You are not forgotten.

Eleven Years of Silence, 52 Ancestors #158

My mother, Barbara Jean Ferverda Long, passed away 11 years ago, today.

Some events and the surrounding snippets of time are indelibly burned into your memory, forever, like a movie for replay on your internal screen.

However, looking back those 11 years, it’s not so much what happened then, but the 11 years of silence that has followed. Of all the things, I miss Mom’s voice the most.

The voice who chastised me, a lot.

The voice who congratulated me.

The voice who called in the middle of the night to tell me a family member had unexpectedly died.

The voice who called me just to chat.

The voice I knew would always answer the phone, be there, on the on the other end of the line.

It was Mom that I called from the hospital when crisis hit my young family.

After moving away, it was Mom’s voice that connected me so often.

It was always Mom. Always the rock.

For a long time, I saved one message on my voice mail where she told me she loved me. I replayed it over and over, when I just needed to hear her voice. Then, one day, my carrier made a change and that was gone too – and the silence got a bit deeper and more permanent.

We think to take pictures, but few of us, at least not before the convenience of cell phones that take movies, thought to make recordings.

The last time I talked to Mom before she had a massive stroke in April 2006, she was laughing about me stopping traffic to escort a goose family off the road. Well, she wasn’t laughing at first, she was admonishing me to be careful out in that traffic because there were crazy people who would hit me. Or was I the crazy person for being out there in the first place, she asked. Then we both laughed.

I often called her on my way home from work. Mom couldn’t have a short conversation, and I certainly didn’t have a short commute, so hands-free cell was a blessing for both of us.

Then, one day while I was at a customer site, my cell phone rang and it wasn’t mother, but my sister-in-law, telling me that mother had fallen, crawled into the closet where they found her, and they had called the ambulance and taken her to the hospital. I left immediately and went home to quickly pack a bag and then begin the three and a half hour drive to where she lived.

When I was leaving the house with my suitcase in tow, my sister-in-law called again to tell me that mother had slipped from consciousness. I knew, in the pit of my stomach, what was going to follow.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, they confirmed that mother had suffered a massive stroke. The next 24 hours were critical. She would either get worse or get better. I knew mother’s worst fear was that she would be disabled and reliant on others – read vulnerable to abuse in a nursing home. She feared that far worse than death.

At that time, mother would rouse slightly to my voice, and I think she squeezed my hand once, but she didn’t seem to be able to respond to any requests. When we moved her from a gurney to the hospital bed, her eyelids flew open and much to my horror, I realized that her eyes were entirely sightless. She was blind, couldn’t talk and could only move one hand slightly.

I remember my abject horror at seeing her so terribly impaired – and knowing in that instant what she would have wanted.

She didn’t improve the next day, nor the next.

Then, we had to make a decision. My brother left, unable to deal with the situation, and my sister-in-law and I followed my mother’s advance directive and removed life support.

In spite of my mother’s well-known wishes, it was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made. I am extremely thankful that there were no family members opposed and I am incredibly grateful for Mom’s signed directive. We don’t think she could hear us, given the depth of her coma – but still I felt someone needed to tell her what we were doing and why, just in case – and that someone was me. Part of me desperately wanted her to sit right up and object. There was no response at all.

Then, the waiting began – for her to dehydrate/starve to death. It took 7 more days. What passes for acceptable care for humans would be viewed as unwarranted torture for a much-loved pet. Until you sit those 7 days and watch the painfully slow process, you don’t realize how barbaric it is. I’ll spare you the details and hope fervently you never discover for yourself.

Mother lived near the hospital, so I stayed in her apartment during my visit. I’m so eternally grateful that my daughter took time off work, which she could ill afford, and joined me for the wait. We took turns sitting watch at the hospital, comforted knowing the other person was no more than 5 minutes away. The initial days of hoping mother would recover and survive were replaced by hoping the call that she had been released would come sooner than later.

My daughter’s dog came along, because there was no one at home to take care of her – and walking Chica, who has now joined Mom across the rainbow bridge, was such a welcome respite from the hospital. There was a little woods behind the church a block from Mom’s apartment, and that walk in the woods provided us some much needed relief.

In contrast to our dark internal gloom, springtime was popping out all over. I vividly remember the cherry tree in front of Mom’s apartment resplendent in all of its pink glory. It’s amazing what we remember in highly emotional times of stress. I can’t see one today without thinking of mother.

Mom didn’t have a computer, so she didn’t have wifi either, but a coffee shop a block or so away did. By the time Mom passed, my daughter and I were regulars and every day when we walked in, the staff looked at us a long time, waiting for a yes or no headshake. The day it was yes, they didn’t have to ask.

April 30th was on Sunday that year. Mom finally breathed her last a little before 9 that morning. My brother, sister-in-law and I were with her, holding her hand, caressing her, telling her to let go – that her mother was waiting for her and so was Dad.

The night shift had been mine, and my daughter was sleeping. I didn’t call my daughter for the end, because I really didn’t want her to remember Mom like that. Seeing death is not anything you ever forget.

As I was leaving, my daughter was coming in the hospital door. She knew immediately when she saw me, and I suggested that she didn’t want to go up to the room. Mom wasn’t there anymore, thankfully. She was free.

We turned around together, returned to Mom’s apartment and went for a long walk with Chica. The church bells rang, and we cried together in the rain. Our already small family, now one person smaller.

Later that day, my daughter packed to drive home and go back to work on Monday, while I began to pack mother’s things into boxes and prepare to go to the funeral home the next day to make final arrangements.

Thankfully, mother had taken care of many of those details. It was her way of removing the burden from the family, and I was oh-so-grateful that she did.

There is no such thing as an “easy” funeral for me, but I got through it as best I could.

We celebrated Mom’s third career of more than 25 years as an Avon Lady. Many former customers came to pay their respects and tell stories about how Mom had helped them over and over again.  Mom viewed her Avon work as her “home visitation” mission, not as a job, which is why she never felt she could take any extended time away. It’s also why she never made a profit. She would drive across the county to deliver a tube of lip gloss and take a gift or food too.

I tucked a tube of Avon’s lip balm in her hand in the coffin – just so she doesn’t run out in the afterlife. She was always so concerned that her family would run short that she was constantly giving us a tube. The last one sits beside me at my desk today.

A couple weeks later, I celebrated the first Mother’s Day without Mom by loading her furniture into a rented truck to bring my portion home. Not exactly how I had planned to spend Mother’s Day. I ate the chocolate I had purchased for mother on the long drive home. She loved chocolate and I know she would have approved!

As I look back, there are several things that make me sad:

  • That I never got to take Mom back to Germany to visit her ancestral homeland. She never felt she could take the time away, and by the time she did, she was suffering from the early stages of dementia and was frail.
  • That Mother died in such horrid, abysmal circumstances – having to lay there and dehydrate/starve until dead. We prayed for another stroke to take her. Had we not discontinued the IVs, they told us it could be 30 days, or more, instead of 10. We had no good choices.
  • That some relationships she cherished were never repaired in her lifetime.
  • That she can’t share the genetic discoveries made since her death – both in general and relative to her ancestors. I would love to tell her about my finds. We enjoyed sharing so much.
  • That I didn’t coerce her into going on even more trips.
  • That I didn’t take advantage of some opportunities to do things together due to my schedule conflicts.
  • That I didn’t call and visit her more often – although I don’t know after someone is gone whether there is an “often enough.”
  • That I found so much literature about loneliness and depression in the elderly among her things. My heart aches knowing she was lonely when it’s too late to remedy.
  • That I was not more forceful in insisting, as in taking her kicking and screaming if necessary, that she see a neurologist. She was apparently having small strokes that went undiagnosed before the big one, but she did not want to admit she was having issues and became very angry with anyone who suggested otherwise.
  • That I had to spend the majority of my adult life living several hours distant, although I came home several times each year. However, coming home to visit is not the same as living a few blocks or miles away where you can pop in and out regularly and be a part of someone’s daily life.

As I look back, there are several things for which I am very grateful:

  • The last time I talked to Mom, we were laughing. That goose adventure makes me smile even yet today.
  • That I talked to Mom often, but not often enough.
  • That I made her several quilts because she covered up with them all the time and they could hug her when I could not.
  • That Mom gladly took every DNA test I asked her to take, and that she was genuinely interested and encouraged me to pursue genetic research. Had it not been for mother’s encouragement, I don’t know that I’d be doing what I do today.
  • That Mom and I went on several trips together, visiting where her ancestors lived, to libraries for research, to antique shows, to quilt shows and to the State Fair. Those days are golden, irreplaceable memories now.
  • I’m glad that I took my daughter, then a child, on many of those trips too – even though she didn’t necessarily want to go at the time. I’d wager that my daughter is glad now too.
  • That Mom and I had the terribly difficult discussion about end of life choices and where things I needed were located – before we needed to have the discussion – because we couldn’t have had that discussion when we needed to have it. I tried not to cry, but I just couldn’t help it that day. She cried too, because I was crying. Then we both laughed at ourselves. I’m laughing and crying just thinking about it!
  • That my daughter simply came to stay with me when Mom was hospitalized. I didn’t realize how much I needed her, and I would never have asked.
  • That my daughter’s dog came along. Fur family members can be infinitely comforting in times of distress.
  • That my son and his wife and child came to visit with Mom one last time – even though she may not have known. Then again, she may have known at some level.
  • That Mom’s funeral arrangements were, for the most part, already made. Thank you Mom.
  • That I knew unquestionably what Mom would have wanted under the circumstances.
  • That the springtime flowers were blooming furiously, because they lifted my spirits, even if just for a minute or two, from a very dark place. I somehow realized they spoke to the future and that there would be life after…

I have far more regrets about what I didn’t do than what I did. Life is about spending time together and on each other. Our time is the most valuable and loving gift that we have to give. Time is what makes memories that at some point will have to be enough to last us a lifetime.

Now, 11 years distant from that rainy spring morning, what remains, aside from those memories, is the loudness of the silence that never ends.

WWI – 100 Years Ago – Thou Art Gone, 52 Ancestors #155

World War I was billed as The War to End All Wars, except, of course, it didn’t. This past week saw the commemoration of 100 years since the United States entered WWI. 100 years, a century…and to think my father served.

After three years of keeping the United States out of the war, on April 2, then President Woodrow Wilson appeared before Congress and called for Congress to declare war on Germany, saying that “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress did just that.

On April 6, 1917, the United States entered WWI by declaring war on Germany after the sinking of 8 neutral US ships by German submarines in February of 1917 along with the discovery of a German plot to encourage Mexico to wage war on the US. The war no longer belonged only to Europe. We were involved, whether we wanted to be or not.

Shortly thereafter, more than 4.7 million Americans rallied to the cry and enlisted. A sampling of the recruitment posters is shown below.  You can click to enlarge.

Twenty-one months later, Germany was defeated and an armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

That’s the short dry version of America’s involvement in WWI, but there was more, so much more.

Families

Those 4.7 million men – they were our fathers and grandfathers and uncles and great-uncles and cousins. Every one of those men left families behind and went to war. 53,402 of those men would be killed in battle, and another 63,114 men would die in service from non-combat injuries and illnesses, including the Spanish Flu which struck with a vengeance beginning about March 1918.

Soldiers, stationed and living in close quarters, were particularly susceptible. This photo from 1918 shows a hospital ward of soldiers suffering from the Spanish Flu in Fort Riley, Kansas. Many military hospitals couldn’t handle the onslaught of patients and temporary hospital quarters were set up in gymnasiums and anyplace additional space could be found.

Ultimately, about one third of the world population became infected, and of those, 10-20% died.

For the soldiers who were taken ill, not only were they very sick, sometimes gravely so, they were far from home and loved ones. They must also have been worried about family at home, if they contracted the flu, and how they fared. Were family members alive or dead?

Both of my father’s paternal grandparents died in July and October of 1918, while he was serving his country.

The Agony of Departure

No matter how much one believes in the cause and wants to fight for all that is right, no matter how patriotic the family, the agony of departure with its uncertainty of return is universal.

This screen shot from The History Place shows soldiers and their families with such poignancy.

My father, a young enlistee, left behind a girlfriend, Virgie…who…as fate would have it, he married not as a young man, but some 44 years later in his sunset years, just two years before his death. The heart-wrenching photo below is of my father, but the handwriting is hers.

Virgie kept and cherished this photo for 44 years until they were reunited, and it was then passed to me after her death, more than another 30 years later – when they were both truly gone.

The Draft

Voluntary enlistments didn’t provide enough manpower. Beginning May 18th, 1917, men born between 1872 and 1900, between the ages of 18 and 45, regardless of citizenship status, were required to register for the draft, providing genealogists today with a peek into the lives of those men sometimes not otherwise available. After all, it was a full century ago.

24 million men registered, or about 25% of the total population.

Today, those registration cards are available at Ancestry and additional information is available at www.fold3.com. At the Ancestry link, be sure to scroll down for history about the registration itself and hints for searching. If your ancestor isn’t present in the draft cards, perhaps it was because he had already enlisted.

The Records

My grandfather’s draft card is shown below. I didn’t know where William George Estes was living at that time, as he moved between Indiana and Tennessee and eventually settled in Harlan County, Kentucky. However, I did know his birthdate, so it was relatively easy to find his draft card with a combination of name and birthdate. Will, as he was called, didn’t use his middle name on his draft registration, but he did sign the card. This is the only copy of his signature that I have.

He was white, 45 years old, his nearest relative was his wife, Joisie (Joyce) and he was of medium height and build with brown eyes and black hair.

While I do have a few photos of my grandfather, you can’t ascertain much of that information from photos.

Will and my grandmother had divorced in Indiana, and I wasn’t sure if he was married at that time, or not. The date of his registration is September, 12, 1918, which gives us a snapshot of him at that point in time. He was never called to serve.

Sons

William George Estes had 3 living sons:

  • Charles Estel Sebastian Estes born November 1, 1894
  • William Sterling Estes, my father, born October 1, 1902
  • Joseph “Dode” Harry Estes born September 13, 1904

Of those sons, only one would have been required to register for the draft initially, Charles, who went by the name Estel, was the only son old enough. I was unable to find his draft registration, even though I think I know where he lived at that time.

The other two sons, far too young to enlist, did just that – enlisted.

Enlistment

How could William and Joseph “Dode” have enlisted? They were too young. No place near 18 years of age.

Both boys “adjusted” their birth year.

My father recorded his birth year upon enlistment as 1898 and his brother, two years younger, did the same. We know, positively, via the census and later Social Security records that neither was born before 1900.

In the 1900 census, above, you can see that neither William nor Joseph were members of the family.  Only Estel and Robert, the son who died when the house burned.

In the 1910 census, Sterl is age 8, so born in October of 1901, and Doad is age 5, born in September of 1904. These years may be off by one year, as Joseph’s SS record says he was born in 1903 and my father’s says he was born in 1902 – but still, they were far younger than 18 years old in 1917.

How the heck did those boys pull that off? I have no idea, but they unquestionably did.

Unfortunately, my father’s military service records burned in the July 1973 fire in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. That blaze was so intense that it burned for 2 days and most of the records were destroyed. However, between various alternate record sources, the Veteran’s Administration and I were able to piece some of his information together.

For example, we know that William Sterling Estes enlisted on May 14, 1917 at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, near Indianapolis, giving his age upon enlistment as 18 years and 24 days of age. He was actually 14 years, 6 months and 13 days old. So young to be trained how to kill.

Fourteen. Years. Old.

Enrolling in the military.

Fighting a war.

And that is assuming that my father was actually born in 1902, not 1903 as some records, such as his delayed birth certificate, sworn to by his father and with the family Bible as evidence, state. So, he could have been 15 years old if he was born in 1901 as the census suggests, 14 based on other records such as social security, or 13 years old if he was born in 1903.

Giving his birth year as 1898 would have made him old enough to enlist. So, yes, there are primary source records that show my father’s birth year ranging from 1898 through 1903.

William Sterling Estes during WWI, above.  His brother, Dode, was two years younger.

Joseph “Dode” Estes during WWI.

I don’t have Dode’s service records, so I’m not sure whether he actually enlisted with his brother, or later, but the family story is that they enlisted together and “Dode was 12.”  It’s hard enough to believe my father enlisted and served at 14, but he did, let alone Dode at age 12.

Fort Benjamin Harrison

Fort Benjamin Harrison was a welcome center and training ground for recruits before they were sent elsewhere.

Men were assigned to housing known as cantonments.

They were trained in combat skills.

Training and study took place outside, between the cantonments.

Including inspections.

Quarters were close.

The mess tent was camp style.

You can see additional photos of Fort Benjamin Harrison at the World War I Museum, here.

To the best of my knowledge, my father never served overseas and never had to use his bayonette skills. I don’t really know though, because his military records were destroyed.  He died in 1963 and there is no one left to ask. On his funeral home record, it does record a war injury, so the question of overseas service remains unanswered.

After training was complete, the men were sent to their assignment.  I know that my father spent most, if not all, of his first enlistment at Camp Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan, where he was honorably discharged on May 19, 1919 and re-enlisted the following day.

Camp Custer

Camp Custer was built in 1917 for military training during World War I. Named after Civil War cavalry officer General George Armstrong Custer, the facility trained or demobilized more than 100,000 troops during World War I.

Construction began on July 1, 1917 and on December 5, less than six months later, the completed camp was turned over to the government.

A booklet, “Souvenir of Camp Custer,” published in 1918, gives an excellent contemporary view of the camp and its resources.

Camp Custer was called a “national university that takes a young man from the farm, the shop and the office and in a few short months graduates soldiers, trained and equipped, ready to fight the battles of democracy.

Camp Custer is a wonder place. Nothing like it was ever built in America before — and this is one of thirty-six such cantonments, all built in an amazingly short time to meet the country’s emergency needs.

The site of Camp Custer was as peaceful and quiet stretch of countryside as existed in America. Then came the declaration of war, and in five months a complete military city of two thousand buildings, with comfortable quarters for 36,000 men, stretched its length over four miles of territory.

This aerial view taken in 1918 shows what was at that time an expansive complex.

From my father’s letters to Virgie, we know that he contracted the Spanish Flu and was hospitalized at Camp Custer, at least twice in 1918. It was during that time that he met a hospital volunteer, Martha Dodderer, who was destined to become his wife and the mother of my half-sister.

In 1918, displays of patriotism became very popular. At that time, a human shield was formed at Camp Custer, utilizing 30,000 men and officers dressed for their position in the shield. My father would have been in this photo, someplace.

According to the brochure, this photo was taken from the top of the water tower.

I wish I knew more about the role my father played during the war. I know nothing other than his occupation was listed as a fireman.

The last veteran of WWI has died. It’s unusual to find someone whose father served. I was a very late in life child for my father causing me to be a generation off-shifted.

Your Tree

Take a look at your tree to see who was of the age to either serve in WWI or register for the 1917 draft.

In my tree, only one other male qualified, my Brethren grandfather. Brethren were pietists, but he did register and not as a conscientious objector.

This registration does solve one long-standing question about John Ferverda’s middle name. Was it Whitney or Whitley? Since he signed this card himself, his middle name is clearly Whitney! I also didn’t know he had grey eyes and light hair. By the time I knew him, his hair was clearly “light,” as in grey. There is only one color photo and it’s late in his life.

John Whitney Ferverda is shown below.

Earlier photos don’t really show his hair to be remarkably light.

John Whitney Ferverda never served, but, surprisingly three of his brothers did, and two more registered for the draft, telling me that several men in his family had grey eyes and dark hair. One had blue eyes and light hair. I really had no idea this family was more fairly complected with lighter skin and eyes. I guess we always think of our family as similar to ourselves.

The three stars in the window found in this picture of Evaline Miller Ferverda indicate that this family has three sons serving in WWI. That’s pretty amazing for a Brethren family.  If I hadn’t actually looked, I would have assumed that none of their sons served…and I would have been dead wrong and overlooked a great deal of information.

Siblings

Take a look in in the WWI draft registrations for your ancestor’s siblings as well. You never know what you might discover. WWI draft cards are an underutilized resource.

Samuel Bolton was my father’s uncle – his mother’s brother. He was born on June 12, 1894, so he was relatively close to my father’s age.

Samuel turned 23 years old a week after his draft registration. Samuel did serve in the war, being inducted on September 20, 1917, just 3 months after registering. He was sent overseas in May of 1918 and was killed on October 8, 1918, on the battlefield, in France. Sadly, there are no photos of Samuel, nothing, other than this one.

I was able to discover the name and number of Samuel’s unit, which allowed me to track Samuel, with his unit, to that fateful day in France. If you can find the unit name and number in which your family member served, you can figure out where they were, when, and put together the story of what happened to them during that time in their life.

Honoring Our Veterans

Thankfully, WWI was not on American soil. It was not the war to end all wars. In fact WWII followed just over two decades later. Sadly, as we have seen since, warfare seems to be a perpetual state someplace in the world and even as I write this, American men and women are serving in harm’s way.

Other than the short-lived Spanish American War in 1898, in which comparatively few American men participated, WWI was the first conflict since the Civil War in the 1860s. The Civil War produced some draft registrations for northerners, but did not produce draft registration cards on this scale, so WWI is the first resource that offers genealogists a type of nationwide census of military eligible men.

How did WWI touch your ancestors? Was it through their own service, or the service of a spouse, brother or parent? Did they return home, or are some buried in cemeteries like the one at Camp Custer or even on foreign soil?

Please take a minute to silently honor those who served and to think about how our lives today might have been different had WWI not occurred, or had the outcome been different in either a global or personal sense.

Smokey Robinson – Who Do You Think You Are – “Overcome with Joy”

Courtesy TLC

On this Sunday’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? at 10/9c on TLC, Motown legend and icon Smokey Robinson dives into his late mother’s family history. He searches for answers behind the mystery of why his grandfather disappeared from his children’s lives, and finds a man tangled in a swirl of controversy. Then Smokey uncovers the story of his great-grandfather, and comes face to face with an unbelievable history.

Anyone in my generation is familiar with Smokey Robinson, nicknamed “Smokey Joe,” from his days with The Miracles beginning in the mid-1950s through his more recent continuing performances even though he’s no youngster anymore.

You can hear his infamous “Agony and “Ecstasy” here.

One of the aspects of this episode that I really enjoyed was that Smokey seems so “real.” He’s not an actor, and you can tell that what he says is absolutely sincere and often, the same exact emotions we feel as genealogists. It’s so easy to relate to him. In fact, I checked the We’re Related app, just to see, with no luck.

Smokey’s music is iconic, as is the man himself. Someone many can identify with, struggling through and triumphing over poverty, infidelity, drugs and many other stumbling blocks that life has to offer.

As it turns out, his ancestors, and probably many of ours as well, struggled with the same temptations in one form or another.

I have one thing to say to Smokey Robinson – “I feel you!”

Many people whose ancestry reaches back into the times of slavery find pursuing their genealogy somewhat difficult, but they aren’t the only people with this problem. I have the exact same issues with one of my family members who just seems to “disappear” from time to time, and in both cases, Smokey’s and mine, it has nothing to do with slavery at all. It has to do with human choices!

Smokey’s Parents

Smokey begins by telling us the story of his parents. His mother, Flossie Mae Smith, born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1907, died when Smokey was 10, and as he said, “the world stopped.” She was his closest friend. Such a sad moment. Even more than half a century later, these early painful memories are so close to the surface.

Courtesy TLC

Smokey’s parents were divorced when he was 3, so he didn’t know much about either side of his family. He did know that the Warr surname was one he had heard on his mother’s side, but he didn’t know how it connected and was anxious to find out. Smokey said he knows that his mother is going with him on this journey.

Yes, Smokey, I’m sure she did.

Smokey met with a genealogist at the LA Public Library to review what he did know, finding census records showing his mother as a child in the 1910 census. However, that record proved to be confusing, because while his mother was age 2, and his grandmother’s marital status was married, her husband was not listed with the family.

Who was the grandfather and where was he? Why was he not with the family in the census? Why had Smokey never heard one thing about the man?

I swear, I think Smokey and I must be related, because my father’s side of the family is full of this kind of intrigue. It’s fun when it’s someone else’s story, but it’s not one bit fun when it’s your story AND you can’t find the next step.

Thankfully, Smokey had help.

Memphis, Tennessee

Smokey was off to Memphis, Tennessee where he met with both an archivist and a professional genealogist at a restaurant in old town that I thought sure had something to do with the show, but apparently did not.  I kept waiting for the genealogist to say, “And this is the building he owned” or “where he worked,” but it didn’t happen. I would have loved to have vicariously sampled some southern food.

Smokey found his grandfather, Ella Smith’s husband, Benjamin J. Smith, in various records in Memphis, including a 1914 divorce record. That does explain why Smokey had never heard of him, but it doesn’t explain where he was on the 1910 census.

Smokey says, “I want to know where he was.” Can I ever understand that feeling. How DARE our ancestors be missing in a census!

Smokey knows that his uncle, Dewey, was born in 1901, so by inference he knows that his grandmother was married to Benjamin Smith since at least 1900 until their divorce in 1914.

Or does he?

Enter Euzelia – the other woman. Except no, maybe she wasn’t the other woman. Maybe his grandmother was.

GRANDMA??? The other woman?? Nooooooo

No one wants to think of grandma as the other woman. Surely, there is some mistake here.

Looking at the 1900 census, sure enough, Benjamin was married to Euzelia. Ok, so maybe they got divorced.

They did, in 1902.

Uh, Ok.

But Uncle Dewey was born in 1901?????

Smokey said, “I am very confused.”

Like I said Smokey, I feel you.

But then, but then….they found Benjamin in 1910.

In Birmingham, Alabama.

Doing the last, and I mean the VERY last thing you would have expected him to be doing.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but you will be…let’s just say…shocked.

Smokey got it right when he said that his grandfather was “A Player” and he didn’t mean in musical terms.

Warr

Having reached the end of the Smith line with Benjamin, Smokey shifted to his grandmother’s side of the family to see if he could discover where the Warr surname came from – which involved a trip to the National Archives in Washington, DC.

Unlike grandfather Benjamin’s death certificate which listed his parents as “unknown,” his grandmother Ella’s death certificate listed her parents as Adam Warr and Sarah, surname unknown.

Ella was born in 1889, in Fayette County, near Memphis, so Smokey has already gone back quite some time using her death certificate information. Once again, using the census, they found Adam Warr in 1870, living with his family. With a lot of digging, they discovered one document where Adam Warr gave a deposition, in his own words. That was an amazing discovery, actually, given the circumstances…and something we all hope for. Those are the only words from Adam’s mouth that Smokey will ever hear.

Since they were looking at original documents, the “X” where his grandfather signed was also by his own hand.

The genealogist told Smokey that she had found the location where Adam Warr lived, in Fayette County, Tennessee. So back Smokey went, to Fayette County, outside Memphis.

Roots in the Land

Smokey is a man after my own heart. He had to go back to his ancestor’s land. He was drawn there. He wondered if his grandmother, Ella, visited there often. That’s probably where she was born. This is the field where the grandmother he knew and loved would have played as a child. She walked here, and so did her parents, Adam and Sarah.

Courtesy TLC

Smokey needed to stand where Adam stood. Where Adam lived, where he worked, and probably, where he breathed his last.

Courtesy TLC

Adam’s bones as well as Sarah’s may even rest on this land.

Courtesy TLC

Smokey is simply “overcome with joy.”

This is such a positive, uplifting story. I was sorry to see it end. But isn’t that the best way to feel at the end of anything. I hope you enjoy it on Sunday evening as much as I did during the screening.

Thomas Dodson’s Estate Inventory, A Tallow Sort of Fellow, 52 Ancestors #153

We met Thomas Dodson in his original article, and we know that he was born in 1681 and died in 1740. What we didn’t have then, and have since acquired, is Thomas’s estate inventory.

On April 6, 1741, the estate inventory was submitted to the Richmond County, Virginia court for Thomas Dodson who had died on November 20th of the previous year, and whose will was probated on February 6th, 1740/41.

Estate inventories are very often overlooked resources, with just the date of the inventory being recorded. Many books that transcribe records don’t include the details, but those details are so very important. Don’t presume that the records don’t exist because they weren’t transcribed because that’s exactly what happened with Thomas Dodson.

I was fortunate that the original records remain in Richmond County and the clerk’s office was willing to make me a copy. I didn’t know that there was a detailed inventory until the envelope arrived.  I was doing the happy dance by the mailbox in the snow, once again.  Not everything is online, and some of the best records aren’t! You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Why Estates?

When a person dies, the items that they own must be filed with the court. In some locations, the only record is that the inventory was filed, and in others, or at other times in history, the entire estate inventory is copied into the record book.

In some locations, the estate sale, including who the items were subsequently sold to, and how much they paid, are also included, which helps immensely to determine relatives based on who attended the estate sale, and to track important items forward in time. For example, the family Bible.

At this time in history, and throughout the entire colonial era and beyond, when a man died, everything owned by the couple was considered to be owned by the man. The very few exceptions are when something was willed or deeded specifically to the female in her own stead, generally after she was married, and prohibiting her husband was having influence or control over the item. That rarely happened, so when a man married a woman, everything that was previously hers became his, including anything she actually owned from a previous marriage. He could not sell land without the wife releasing her dower right, meaning her right to 30% of the value when he died – but otherwise, he could do anything he pleased with whatever he wanted.

The good side of this situation is that when a man died, his estate inventory literally included everything except his actual land. Therefore, the woman’s spinning wheel, loom, pots and pans…everything…was listed, except for her clothes.

This provides us with a view of the entire family at that point in time. Rather than skimming over the estate, take time to really become one with it. By this, I mean, analyze it, look things up, and research. What did an ox cart or a pewter plate look like in 1740?

You can learn information about your ancestor through their estate inventory that you could never learn any other way – unless you’re lucky enough that they kept a journal.  Raise your hand if your ancestors kept a journal?  Mine neither!

I utilize Google extensively, as well as Wikipedia. I enter the item I’m searching for, with the word “antique” included. This often gives me sites on e-bay and antique dealers. So for stillyard I would enter “stillyard antique 1700s.” In the case of colonial Virginia, I often add the word colonial, or try different word combinations in different order. By the time I’m done, I discovered a lot about my ancestor’s world just from the items he owned. I found a lot more than is included here, but when I’m writing for my blog, I have to worry about copyright.  When you’re just researching for yourself, you don’t have to worry about that.

After you’re finished, you can then figure out a lot more by what kinds of items were missing. Let’s do this for Thomas Dodson, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Thomas Dodson’s Estate Inventory

Thomas Dodson’s estate wasn’t particularly large and includes the following bulleted items with their estimated values in pounds, shillings and pence. Spelling preserved as it was in the original.  You can click to enlarge any image.

I don’t know what some of the items are, so any help is appreciated.

  • 4 cows and 4 yearlings – 4.8.0
  • 3 heifers and 1 stear – 1.10.0
  • 8 cows and young stear – 4.0.0
  • 1 cow and calfe 0.10.0

I noticed that commas were not used in the inventory, as there should be a comma between oxen and cart in the item below.

  • 1 yoke of oxen cart and wheels – 4.15.0

Teams of oxen were rarely split as they learned to pull together and were most effective as a team. In this case, they were sold with their cart and wheels and were a relatively high value item. You can read about oxen, carts and wagons in this Colonial Williamsburg article, complete with pictures.

  • 32 hoggs and 8 pigs – 4.0.0
  • 14 sheep and 3 lambs – 2.0.0

Slavery

I don’t even know what to say about the next inventory entries. I try very hard to simply review my ancestors lives and attempt to understand them in the context of the timeframe in which they lived, from their perspective – but the vile institution of slavery rails against everything I believe in. I realize that perspectives were much different then, and I realize that had the slaves not been sold into slavery, they would probably have died at the hands of their tribal captors in Africa, but nothing can justify the institution of slavery – especially not in hindsight. I can only hope that Thomas was a kind and gentle man and that he had a caring relationship with the humans over whose lives he exercised complete control in every way possible.

  • 1 negroe man named Harry – 22.0.0
  • 1 old negroe woman named Sue – 12.0.0
  • 1 negroe woman named Bess – 23.0.0
  • 1 negroe child named Joe – 7.0.0
  • 1 negroe lad named Dick – 22.0.0
  • 1 negroe girl named Sarah – 16.0.0
  • 1 negroe girl named Nan – 14.0.0

In 1726, the North Farnham parish register shows Thomas Dodson as a slave-holder, but it doesn’t say whether Thomas Dodson is Jr. or Sr. Slave births were not recorded by the name of the slave, but by the master to whom the slaves belonged.

We know based on a 1733 deed entry that Thomas’s son, Thomas Dodson Jr. was to own at least one slave “as soon as any comes to Virginia to be sold.”

There simply weren’t enough slaves, or indentured servants, to go around for the labor-intensive tobacco crops.

The chart above is compliments of the Jamestown/Yorktown Foundation educational material.

Slaves were heavily utilized in the production of tobacco on the Virginia plantations, as shown by this advertisement showing tobacco workers in Virginia.

It wasn’t until Thomas Dodson’s will that we knew for certain that he too was involved in the slave trade. His will sets forth negroes named Sarah, Harry, Bess, Joe, Sue, Dick and Nan and Thomas’s children to whom the slaves were to descend.  I was relieved not to find my ancestor, George, among those receiving slaves.

From the time Thomas wrote his will on February 17, 1739/40 and when his estate inventory was probated 14 months later, the negroes he owned had not changed. I chafe at even using the word “owned” in context of humans.

Bess and Joe were to descend to the same heir, suggesting perhaps that Joe was Bess’s child. Bess’s value suggests that she is of an age to have additional children, which makes me wonder if Harry is Bess’s husband since their value is almost equal and they live on the same plantation. Clearly both are in the prime of their lives. Let’s say they are age 30, which means they would have been born about 1710.

Sue and Dick were also supposed to go together. In the inventory, Sue is referred to as an old woman and Dick as a lad, where he is referred to as a boy in the will. His inventory value suggests he is older and capable of hard and productive field work almost equal to that of an adult.

I’m left wondering what would have been considered “old” at that time.

Perhaps the history of slavery in Virginia would lend some perspective here. I’d wager, in general terms, someone 60 or older would have been considered old.

In 1741, a 60 year old person would have been born in about 1681.

In 1650, there were only about 300 Africans living in Virginia. Originally imported Africans were treated as indentured servants. Some Africans did complete an indenture, were freed, purchased land themselves and later, purchased slaves as well.

By 1640, at least some Africans were slaves and by 1660 slavery had become part of the culture, at least in practice if not in law. In 1662, a Virginia suit ruled that children would carry the status of their mother, regardless of their race, paternity or if they were of mixed heritage. The 1660s begin to show signs that Africans were clearly slaves. For example, one African servant who attempted to escape with white servants could not have his indenture time extended, as the white indentured servants did, so he was punished by branding. The only reason an indenture could not have been extended is if the man could never have become free.

If the slave Sue was considered old and was born about 1680, she could have been born into slavery in Virginia, or she could have been born in Africa and imported as either a child or adult.

By the end of the 1600s, Africans were being imported in quantity for sale by the Dutch and English, in particular, and by 1750, it is estimated that there were 300,000 African slaves in Virginia, although many were not first generation. We know that in 1733, there was more demand for slaves than there were slaves available and there was a waiting list to purchase slaves.

More of Thomas’s Estate

  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 5.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 3.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 6.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 5.0.0
  • 1 feather bed and furniture – 2.10.0

We don’t know anything about Thomas Dodson’s plantation, including whether or not his slaves lived in the house with the family or whether they had their own quarters.

A document produced by Colonial Jamestown tells us that small planters typically had 5 slaves or less, including children, and indicated that slaves on small farms often slept in the kitchens or an outbuilding or sometimes in small cabins near the farmer’s house. This document shows some reproduction photos of slavery in colonial Virginia, including slave quarters. Thomas Dodson owned 7 slaves, of which 4 were children, one was old and 2 were adults. Maybe he was slightly larger than a small farmer, but if so, not much.

One thing is for sure, the feather beds and furniture were not for the slaves.

Does this means that Thomas Dodson’s house had 5 bedrooms? That’s unlikely for the timeframe, especially given that children of that time were expected to share bedrooms, and often, to share one bedroom. And sometimes, that bedroom was the attic loft.

However, the fact remains that Thomas Dodson owned 5 feather beds and furniture and they had to fit someplace. Poor people slept on straw beds on the floor.

Thomas Dodson clearly wasn’t poor.

  • 2 chists (chests) table and forum – 1.0.0

A chest in this context probably means a chest of drawers, but I don’t know what forum would be.

  • 1 chist trunk – 0.8.0

A chest in this context probably means a chest like a trunk, probably wooden.

  • Cash – 6.8.2

Given that almost all of the transactions in Northern Neck Virginia were paid using tobacco, it’s amazing that Thomas actually had this much cash on hand.

Here’s the second half of the first page of Thomas’s estate.

  • 2 mares and 1 horse – 8.15.0
  • 1 cubbord – 1.0.0
  • 1 old rugg – 0.2.6

In colonial Virginia, rugs were not used on floors, but hung on walls or used on beds for warmth. Bed rugs, according to the “History of Quilts,” in the 1700s, were of a low grade wool and manufactured in England. In 1755, Samuel Johnson described them as “course, nappy coverlets used for mean beds.” They may have been knotted shag, although no examples remain today.

  • 6 qll? (pounds?) Best puter – 8.9.0

There is no way for us to know if the best pewter and the other pewter is a function of quality, decoration, or wear, or maybe some combination. The pewter plate above, for sale by an antique dealer, is from the 1700s and actually has scratches on the surface from usage.  Lead was originally used in the production of pewter.

  • 3 yll? Of puter – 0.17.0
  • 1 old oval table – 1.0.0
  • 9 old chairs – 0.9.0

Given that there is no other table, this had to be the kitchen table and chairs.  Thomas Dodson had 9 children, so the family had 11 in total.  No spare chairs, that’s for sure.

  • 1 large Bible – 0.15.0

Oh, what I wouldn’t give for this Bible. I’m guessing that this Bible may have originally belonged to Thomas’s father, Charles Dodson. Thomas couldn’t read, but his father could. It would not be unlikely that the Bible was given to Thomas by his father, or by his older brother, Charles at or before his death in 1716, if father Charles had left the Bible to son Charles.

The Bible was probably oversized and leather bound as was the custom with Bibles of the time. It was also worth as much as some of the pewter and more than the 9 old chairs, not quite as much as the oval table, but exactly as much as a pair of cart wheels with the parts to finish.

I have to wonder, if Thomas could not read, and we know he signed his name with a “T” mark, what did he do with a Bible? Perhaps it was sentimental in nature.

  • A parcel of tools – 0.18.0
  • 1 chist 2 small cask – 0.7.0

Wooden boxes during that time were called caskets. Given the chest context above, I suspect that’s the kind of cask being referenced. However, the 13 lid of cask below probably references lids to tobacco casks, which were used to pack full of tobacco and roll the tobacco down the road, termed rolling roads, to the docks where the casks would be loaded for England.

  • 13 lid of cask – 2.12.0

A tobacco cask was called a hogshead, shown below and was often quite large, almost 3 feet wide holding 1000 pounds of tobacco.

  • 1 still and tub – 6.0.0

There’s no doubt about the meaning of a still. Alcohol at that time was believed to be medicinal as well as recreational. You can read a fun article by Colonial Williamsburg here about drinking and distilling in colonial America. George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon is wonderfully preserved, although certainly much larger and involved than a single still.

People regularly drank beer, because typhoid was passed in water contaminated with fecal matter. Beer was much safer, and was often consumed in place of water. Oh, and by the way, cider at the time was alcoholic too, so don’t think your ancestor drinking “syder” was a teetotaler. He wasn’t..

All things considered, it’s amazing that fetal alcohol syndrome wasn’t rampant with the estimate that people of that time drank roughly 8 ounces of alcohol daily. Maybe women didn’t consume as much alcohol as men.

This photo below is the copper pot from a still displayed in the Museum of Appalachia.

And the still itself.

The still was obviously considered quite valuable, as much so as a feather bed and furniture or the smallest slave child.

  • 2 raw hides and side of leather – 0.9.0

I wonder if these hides were from domestic animals or from wild animals. My suspicion is that they were domestic. Nothing was wasted. A hide would have been untanned and leather was ready for working.

  • 2 pr cart wheels part to finish – 0.15.0
  • 1 pr spoon moulds grasp (or prasp or trays) and pinchers – 0.8.0

I looked for spoon molds and found molds for spoons. I doubt that is what was meant. Anyone have any ideas?  There are no candle molds in the inventory, but spoon molds aren’t candle molds, are they?

  • 7 old books – 0.75.0

I looked at this two or three times. Seven old books were worth more than a gun? And maybe the reason they were old books is because they had belonged to Thomas’s father, given that Thomas was not literate. Did he keep his father’s books for sentimental reasons? Why did a man that couldn’t read own old books?  I’d love to know the titles.

  • 1 gun – 0.10.0

Would the gun have been a pistol? If so, this tells us distinctly that Thomas wasn’t hunting. I suspect by the time that the Northern Neck had been settled for 50 years or more, by the time Thomas was born, the wildlife was pretty well hunted to extinction in that region.

This flintlock pistol was from circa 1700-1730.

  • 1 box iron heaters and spit – 0.8.0

I’m not sure what iron heaters were at the time, but a spit would have been used to turn meat in the fireplace (or in an outside kitchen) while cooking. You can see photos of lots of colonial American furniture here, as well as fireplace apparatus.

  • 2 pair tongs and candle sticks 2 pottacks 2 narrow ? – 0.19.6

I wish they had said what the candlesticks were made of. Obviously, some kind of metal but they were not included with the pewter. Perhaps brass?

  • 1 cross cut saw wrost? and file – 0.10.0

A cross-cut saw is designed to cut across the grain of wood and is usually quite heavy duty. This example is a two man saw with a springboard.

By Eugene Zelenko – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8452686

  • 4 broad hoes and 2 narrow do (ditto, meaning hoes) 1 frying pan 13 old hoes 2 old axes – 0.16.0

An ax from the 1700s. Men forge fond alliances with their long-time favorite tools.

A story from the farm where I grew up was about the old ax. There are only 2 parts to an ax, the handle and the blade. At some point, the handle got replaced, and at another point, the blade got replaced, but it’s still considered and referred to as the same “old ax” even though neither of the original ax parts remain.

  • 1 womans saddle and bridle 1 old saddle pistols holsters and bridle – 1.0.0

I notice that there is one less saddle than horses in the inventory.  In colonial times, horses were not used in the fields.  Oxen were.

At that time, women rode sidesaddle, with the pommel being located to the left of the saddle instead of in the center.  This would have been Thomas’s wife’s saddle and probably also used by his daughters from time to time.

I do wonder if it was the woman’s saddle that had the pistol holsters, or if this just happened to be listed together. All sorts of thoughts flew through my head.

This article by Colonial Williamsburg shows a saddle pistol holster at the bottom, along with saddles and bridles from The Saddler’s Shop.

And this fellow, being the original gun collector, apparently, sports several holsters as this year’s new fashion look on the front of Pirates Illustrated:)

  • 1 pair hand irons 1 frying pan 4 roap hooks 8 ½ brass 1 lavie? Pam (pan?) – 0.18.9

I have absolutely no idea what a lavie? Pan might be, but I know what a frying pan is!

This item, below, found at an antique shop and now sold is a plantation size frying pan. I swear, it’s large enough to make paella for everyone, although paella wouldn’t have been on the menu in early Virginia.

I had presumed that a frying pan would be cast iron, but obviously, I was wrong.

  • 2 tin pans kittle and lanthorn 127 lb? pott iron – 18.6

I’m thinking this probably was not a tea kettle.

Lanterns were the only form of lighting other than candles. Many lanterns were designed to be carried outside and were sometimes hung outside. Lanterns enclosed the flame to reduce the risk of fire.

The second page of Thomas’s estate begins, below.

  • 1 basting ladle 1 iron Do (ditto) and flesh forks pr stillyards 1350 nails – 1.0.6

A stillyard is a weighing and balancing device. This picture actually shows a stillyard from Pompei, but they changed very little over the years.

Nails were individually hand forged on plantations by blacksmiths. Each nail, at this time, was square headed and nails were valuable commodities. There is no evidence of blacksmith tools, so Thomas would have purchased or traded for these nails. I wonder if he was planning to build something.

This photo is not from Thomas Dodson’s property, but it’s from a restored Virginia property built around the same time, using square nails and construction probably similar to that found in Thomas Dodson’s home.

  • 2 punch bowls 1 earthen dish 2 pieces earthen ware – 0.12.0

I wonder if a punchbowl suggests entertaining.

  • 2 tubs 3 pails 1 piggin 6 trays 1 moal tubb – 0.12.0

A piggin is a small pail with the handle on the side used for measuring grain.

These items all look to be for maintaining livestock

  • 2 old sefters? 1 old rundlet 1 old dripping pan 2 meal bags 1 leather wallet – 5.0

This leather wallet is from the 1700s. When open, it contains pockets much like wallets today.

A rundlet is a small barrel which may contain from 3 to 20 gallons. As a measure for wine, it often contains 18.5 gallons.

  • 1 grinding stone and some triflets 12 lb? wool 1.5 lb? yard 1.5 lb? cotton – 0.13.6

A grinding stone would have been something used on the farm, like a grinding wheel, or something closer to the Native American grindstone which consisted of a smaller stone to be used with the hand and a larger stone that the smaller stones crushed or pounded corn or grain against.

A triflet is another name for trinket or trifling item.  I sure would like to know what those triflets were.

  • Looking glass 1 slate a parcel knives and forks – 0.6.0

A looking glass, another term for mirror, was most definitely a luxury item, but it’s the only luxury item in Thomas’s estate. We don’t know if this was a handheld item or a larger wall-mounted mirror.

I sure would like to know how many knives and forks were in that parcel. Often estates had fewer silverware pieces than people, which makes me wonder at the mealtime protocol.

Does a slate infer education of children, perhaps? I believe, but am not sure, that George Dodson, my ancestor who was the son of Thomas could write.

  • Old spinning wheel 1 old shoot – 0.3.0

Spinning wheels were essential to colonial households. Everything had to be spun into thread or yarn before it would be woven or made into something else. You can read an article about weaving, spinning and dyeing at Colonial Williamsburg, here.

I don’t know what a “shoot” is.  Any ideas?

  • 10 lb? taoller (tallow?) 6 bottles 2 dunking glasses – 0.4.8

Does anyone know what a dunking glass is?

Women made candles of tallow using cotton or linen wicks. However, tallow candles were odiferous, given that they were made from rendered animal fat, and not odiferous in a good way. I’m surprised that there are no candle molds given that he has tallow, although wicks could also be dipped in liquid tallow to form candles. However, this methodology was generally for those too poor for candle molds, and Thomas’s doesn’t seem poor.

Wealthier people could purchase candles made of beeswax. Apparently Thomas Dodson was a tallow sort of fellow.

  • 10 cups and salt seller – 0.2.8

A salt seller, today termed a salt cellar, is quite close to my heart. I’ve been infatuated with salt cellars since I was young and have a small collection today. Salt cellars are items of tablewear used to hold and dispense salt. In the 1800s, each individual person had a cellar set at their place beside a pepper shaker, but earlier, everyone shared one cellar, dipping salt with a small spoon or pinching with their fingers the amount of salt they wanted. Family sizes cellars were maybe 2 inches across, with personal cellars being an inch or so. We don’t really know what this “seller” was made of, but since it is listed separately from the pewter and with the cups, I’d wager it was glass or china and not silver or metal. Salt is corrosive, so glass was a much more utilitarian device. This beautiful English salt cellar is from about the 1720s.

  • Old broad ax 1 iron wedge 1 goudge – 0.3.0

A gouge is a type of woodworking chisel, shown below, being utilized to make a dovetail joint.

By Aerolin55 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8266918

Contemporary gouges of different shapes and sizes and a wooden mallet used to strike the gouges.

Thomas’s inventory was dated April 4th, and signed and recorded by the court on April 6th, 1741.

Charles Dodson, John Hightower and William Everett were the appraisers.

The Charles Dodson listed would not have been Thomas’s son, Charles, as heirs were never appraisers. Thomas’s brother, Charles was deceased already, so the Charles Dodson in question was Thomas’s nephew, Charles Dodson.

Tobacco

By now, you’re probably wondering where the entry for tobacco was on Thomas Dodson’s inventory.

On August 3rd, 1741, apparently Thomas Dodson’s tobacco crop had been picked and appraised at a value of 3,986 pounds and was further registered with the court.

The most interesting information is that we now know about how much tobacco Thomas’s plantation produced in a year. This tobacco crop had to support the entire household for the entire year.

If one adult male could work about 3 acres of tobacco, let’s say that 2 children could work the same as one adult. We know that Thomas Dodson had 3 adult or nearly adult slaves and 3 slave children, plus one old woman slave. Let’s say that was equivalent to 4 or 5 adults, we know then that Thomas had 12 or 15 acres of tobacco under cultivation. If we divide 3986 pounds of tobacco by 4 people, roughly 1000 pounds of tobacco was produced by each adult. If we divide 3,986 by 5, then about 800 pounds of tobacco produced per person, or about 266 pounds per acre under cultivation.

Of course, we don’t know if Thomas Dodson’s youngest sons were also working in the fields. I would wager than any male living at home was expected to do just that, so Thomas’s two youngest unmarried sons may have also been working the crops. A third son was reported to be blind.

What’s Missing?

Notice there is no entry for corn on Thomas’s inventory, nor was there an additional inventory filed, at least not that made it into the record book and was transcribed.

Corn, hay and grains would have been required to overwinter cows, pigs, sheep and horses. While some cows and pigs would be slaughtered each fall, farmers couldn’t slaughter all of them or there would be none left to reproduce for the following year. Furthermore, horses were extremely valuable and utmost care would be taken of the horses.

Speaking of horses, there weren’t many, and there was no buggy or wagon – which is kind of odd considering this was a plantation.

How did the women get to town or to court, or is this one of the reasons why we seldom see their names in court records? Men rode horses to court and there were no wagons or buggies? There was, however, a woman’s saddle in the inventory. Almost every time a female releases her dower rights in the Richmond County records during this timeframe, she appoints a male power of attorney to represent her in court. Perhaps this tidbit shines additional light on why.

There were no trade tools, such a carpenter’s tools, blacksmith’s tools or cobbler’s tools. This tells me that Thomas had to trade for all of those items and services. His only commodity to trade, other than livestock and perhaps corn, although there was none listed in his inventory, was tobacco.

There were no weaving looms, so cloth would have to be purchased.

There was no table other than the old oval table and no chairs other than 9 old ones.

There were no couches or other furniture that would suggest any sort of aristocracy or that Thomas was anything more than a general farmer in today’s vernacular.

Growing up on a farm, the farmer was always at risk; from insects, from weather, from equipment breaking down, from the markets crashing. Never, ever was the farmer not at risk and never, ever did he not worry incessantly about the crops.

Cost of Goods in Colonial Virginia

Thomas had available cash, meaning sterling. It’s difficult to understand how much items cost, so let’s take a look at the pricing for standard items that was set by the Richmond County court on March 6, 1727.

  • One gallon good syder (cider) – 12 pence or 10 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of punch made with good sugar and lime juice one third rum – 12 pence of 10 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of Madeira Wine – 2 shillings or 20 pounds tobacco
  • One gallon of French Brandy – 14 pence of 14 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of French Brandy Punch made with white sugar – 2 shillings or 20 pounds tobacco
  • One quart of French Clarret – 3 shillings or 30 pounds tobacco
  • One good dyet (diet) – 1 shilling or 10 pounds tobacco
  • Pasturage for a horse – 24 hours 6 pence or 5 pounds tobacco
  • One night’s lodging – 6 pence or 5 pounds tobacco
  • One gallon Indian corne – 7 and one half shillings or 6 pounds tobacco
  • One gallon rum – 8 shillings or 80 pounds tobacco
  • One quart bottle of English beer – 12 pence or 10 pounds tobacco

It seems most of these items had to do with alcohol, but that’s OK, because we know our colonial ancestors consumed a lot. And look, now we have a recipe for two kinds of punch that were likely in that punch bowl in Thomas’s inventory.

I equalized the sterling currently of the time and then calculated how much Thomas Dodson had at his death.

A pence was equal to roughly a pound of tobacco, according to the court order, so 2,402 pence would have been equal to about 2400 pounds of tobacco. Therefore, it appears that Thomas had a little more than one half of a year’s worth of cash on hand, assuming that 3.986 pounds of tobacco was a year’s income.

Extrapolating from that, it looks like it took about 10 pounds sterling for Thomas Dodson to run the plantation for a year, and feed everyone, assuming the 3,986 pounds of tobacco was a representative year.

What We’ve Learned

Based on Thomas’s estate inventory, it appears that he wasn’t poor, but he certainly wasn’t rich, considering that he didn’t own any luxury items other than a looking glass.  He didn’t own a buggy or wagon or even beeswax candles. He had one gun and fewer saddles than horses. He didn’t own enough chairs for his entire family to sit at the table at once, and there is no bench listed in the estate.  There is only one table and no couches or anything else suggestive of anything beyond a relatively spartan farmer lifestyle other than 5 feather beds.

The family story was that the Dodsons of Richmond County were wealthy plantation owners.  Maybe not so much – at least not Thomas. Thomas’s wealth, sadly, was in the value of his slaves which were valued at 116 pounds as compared with approximately 94 pounds for the rest of his estate, less the tobacco crop, which of course could not have been produced with only the labor of family members. It was in the best interests of a small farmer to treat his slaves and indentured servants well.  I hope Thomas did.

I think I’ve milked every iota of information out of Thomas’s estate records by this point. If you can think of something I didn’t, I’d welcome your input.

It’s amazing what can be discovered by systematically and carefully analyzing your ancestor’s estate inventory, especially in conjunction with Google search to see similar items of that date and time, and understanding the history and customs of the time and place where your ancestor lived.

Do you have some estate inventories that you could look at again? Hope you didn’t have anything else planned today!

Sadowski WWII Scrapbooks Salvaged From Trash Heap, 52 Ancestors #149

In the 2015 Memorial Day article, Frank Sadowski, My Almost Father, I shared the story of the man my mother was engaged to before his untimely death in WWII, killed in action on April 19, 1945.

Frank Sadowski

I thought when I finished that article, and hit the publish button, Frank’s story was complete. After all, Frank was killed 70 years earlier, now almost 72 years ago.

But Frank’s story wasn’t yet over. In fact, in many ways, that was a new beginning.

Chapter 2

Exactly a month later, Frank’s nephew, Curtis, found me in a moment of spontaneous serendipity when on a whim he typed Frank’s name into Google and discovered my article.

A month after that, in July 2015, I met Curtis and his wife, Janet, half way between where we live and gave Curtis the original photos of Frank and Frank’s father, Curtis’s grandfather. The family photos had all disappeared, so Curtis was extremely grateful for those two, shown above and below.

Frank Sadowski and father

During the visit with Curtis, I also returned Frank’s class ring to the Sadowski family – the ring my mother had cherished her entire life. Certainly not a decision I reached without a lot of soul-searching.

Frank's ring in box

With mother gone, the ring would have faced a lonely dead end in my family, especially after I join mother on the other side. Frank’s ring belonged with the Sadowski’s…in particular…one special person – and I was on a journey to make that happen.

Now this sounds all matter-of-fact, dry and boring today, but let me assure you, it was anything but. In fact, I cried my way across Indiana that hot July day in 2015. Not only was I about to return Frank’s ring, 70 years later, but I was also “driving through my life,” places I hadn’t visited in years. Where Mom last lived, the farm where my brother, John, lived, past the restaurants where we all met and shared meals on Sunday after church. I passed near where Mom and John both died and are buried and drove through the Indiana of both my and Mom’s childhood – past tractors and corn fields, inhaling the smell of Indiana summertime – all of which brought intense memories rushing back. Every landmark brought fresh tears. All of those things, plus the errand I was on combined into a huge emotional swirley to become a bleary-eyed tornado. I certainly didn’t anticipate any of that. I turned on the radio to divert my mind…only to hear songs that reminded me of…yep…mother and life in Indiana.

Word to the wise – never listen to country music if you’re already crying. It doesn’t help a bit, but you can at least cry with the radio blaring and sing along with the sobbing songs.

Emotional avalanche or not, that trip was destined to be.

At Christmas 2015, when Bert, Curtis’s son was home on leave, Frank’s ring went to Bert who is today serving in Kuwait with a medical unit in the Army. That’s when I published the article, Frank’s Ring Goes Home.

When Bert put that ring on his finger, I felt closure. I knew the ring was where Mom and Frank would have both wanted it to be, protecting Bert, with a future in the Sadowski family.

I thought the Sadowski book was closed for sure then, but it wasn’t.

Chapter 3

A week ago, I received another one of those very unexpected messages on my blog. The kind that makes you blink to be sure you’ve seen what you thought you saw. You read it a second and then a third time, then sit in utter shock for a few minutes, trying to decide if it’s for real. The Sadowski’s seem to produce this kind of unexpected phenomenon.

Joan Mikol, who shall forevermore be referred to as “the angel,” was walking her dog a dozen years or so ago, in Chicago, when she spotted some scrapbooks in the trash. It looked like a home was being cleaned out and there were bags and bags of trash waiting for the trash truck, but one of the bags had popped open and scrapbooks were peeking out.

Curious, Joan stopped and took a look. She saw what appeared to be old letters, and then looking closer, noticed that they were from WWII.  Joan couldn’t leave them in the trash. Having lost a family member in that war, Joan gathered them up and took them home.

Then, Joan read the letters, one by one. She sobbed. Her husband couldn’t read them.

Joan didn’t quite know what to do with the scrapbooks, so her sister took them to California for 5 or 6 years and for awhile, considered writing a book. She didn’t, and once again, the scrapbooks came back to Illinois. Thankfully!

Joan contacted a museum in Washington DC who was hesitant to accept them and encouraged her to try to find the family. They suggested she type Frank’s name into a search engine – which is exactly what Joan did and found my article. Next, Joan contacted me.  You can click to enlarge Joan’s message, below.

scrapbook-e-mail

As you’ve probably guessed already, in a very kind and loving gesture, Joan returned the scrapbooks to the Sadowski family.

scrapbook-joan

This is both a beautiful and a heartwrenching story, and I’d like to share it with you.

But before this most recent chapter unfolds, let’s step back in time some 70 years and take a look at how the scrapbooks became lost in the first place.

The Aftermath

Frank’s death was devastating for the Sadowski family, a loss they collectively and individually never recovered from. According to Curtis, it was like someone extinguished a flame and the light never came back on.

When Curtis and I were discussing how Frank’s death dramatically affected so many lives, because in an unmistakable way, Frank’s death affected me too – Curtis quite succinctly said, “We’ve all grown up in the shadow of the same man.”

The three Sadowski children were very close in age, with Frank having been born in 1921, Margie in 1922 and Bobbie in 1924.

Frank’s mother, Harriett, dreamed that all 3 of her children would marry and all live in the Sadowski home together, raising their families under one roof. Not only was that not to be, but two of the Sadowski children never had children and the only one to remain at home was Margie who cared for her parents.

After Frank’s death, the Sadowski family tried to rebuild their lives, but their world was clearly divided into two halves, as was my mother’s. Before Frank’s death, and after. Harriett blamed Frank’s father for encouraging Frank to enlist. Harriett didn’t want either of her sons to serve. She had visited a fortune teller before the war who told her that two sons would serve, but only one would come home. Frank’s father probably blamed himself. At one point after Frank’s death, his parents nearly divorced.

Frank’s brother, Edmund Robert Sadowski, known affectionately as Bobbie, was also serving in the military at the time that Frank was killed and experienced what we today know as survivor guilt. Frank’s father, Dr. Frank Sadowski Sr., a general practice physician, begged Bobbie to come home, sending him letters filled with myriad reasons why he, medically, shouldn’t be serving and encouraging him to seek a medical discharge.

Bobbie finished his tour and eventually did come home, much to the relief of his parents and sister, Margaret Rita Sadowski, known as Margie.

Mother met Margie about 1942 or 1943 when they were both dancing with the Dorothy Hild Dancers at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, then a swanky upscale lakefront property where featured acts like Bing Crosby performed. The dancers opened for those acts, and when less famous names weren’t on the marquee, their dance programs were the entertainment.

Dorothy Hild Dancers

Bobbie came home the war, married in the early 1950s and started a family. Margie never had children, but that wasn’t the life she had planned.

On December 10, 1952, Margie obtained a marriage license and had a civil marriage ceremony, but never the Catholic wedding her husband promised. In fact, before the all-important church wedding could occur, he abandoned Margie and then, when she divorced the cad, the Catholic Church excommunicated her, so Margie lost both, plus her dreams. Margie did not do well with any of this and spent time “hospitalized” out of state as she tried to recover. At that time, this type of medical event was termed a “nervous breakdown” and both the breakdown and the “failed” secret marriage followed by divorce and excommunication were colored by shame and embarrassment, to be hidden away and never discussed, ever.

One of the ways that Margie dealt with the losses in her life was by volunteering at the St. Mary of Nazareth hospital where her father treated patients as a physician.

scrapbook-margie-1957

In 1956 Margie was a featured speaker for the annual luncheon and in 1957, she received a special award for more than 1000 hours of volunteer work through the women’s auxiliary. Looking at the photos above, with Margie at right, you can see that this was truly a dress up and wear gloves social event. Margie was truly a beautiful woman, inside and out.

Despite the fact that Margie, for the most part, never “worked” outside the home, she had a degree from Northwestern University in Chicago.  In the 1941 Steinmetz High School Yearbook, she is quoted as saying she wanted to dance professionally and obtain a music degree. Margie accomplished both goals. She played the piano and had a beautiful voice, in addition to dancing. Margie’s photo from the 1941 yearbook is shown below.

scrapbook-margaret-1941-yearbook

Margie lived in the family home, caring for her aging parents and with Frank’s ever present photo. Curtis tells that Frank’s mother placed his photograph dead center on top of the grand piano in the living room and that Frank’s eyes followed you everyplace you went in the room, the silent sentinel watching everything, always, never resting.

On June 18, 1971, Frank’s mother, Harriett died after a long illness.

scrapbook-harriett-1971

I’m sure that Margie and her father struggled after Harriett’s death. Harriet had been an invalid for years, and Margie had probably taken over household duties years before. By this time, Margie was just shy of 50 years old and Dr. Frank was 83 and still practicing medicine.

Margie’s life would change dramatically in the not too distant future.

Murder

Just when you think this story couldn’t possibly get any sadder, it does.

scrapbook-frank-murder

Published Dec. 6, 1971, Chicago Tribune

Dr. Sadowski practiced at a time when doctors dispensed their own prescriptions. Furthermore, doctors still made house calls with their infamous black bags – something doctor Sadowski continued to do, often not returning home until 9 or 10 at night after a full day seeing patients in his office.  He would then smoke a cigar and have a beer with a raw egg before turning in.

scrapbook-doctor-bag

By Sandrine Z – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Everyone knew the local doctors, and when the doctor arrived at your house carrying his black bag, the entire neighborhood knew someone was “too sick” to go to the doctor’s office. Often, doctors of that generation made house calls until they retired or died, but the next generation didn’t, of course.

I recall when I was growing up that you never went to a pharmacy – in fact – there weren’t pharmacies. No need. The doctor had everything you needed and you left the doctor’s office with a small while envelope, about 2 by 3 inches, if not smaller, with instructions for how to take the medication written on the outside with the medicine on the inside.

Apparently, others knew that too. According to the family, drug seekers broke into Dr. Sadowski’s office when he was alone completing paperwork, demanded drugs and beat the good doctor when he refused their demands. At 83, Dr. Sadowski, a former wrestler, was no slouch and could still take his sons arm-wrestling. He put up a good fight, but was outnumbered. Did they simply land a lucky punch?  We’ll never know, but that beating eventually proved fatal.

Dr. Sadowski didn’t die right away. He lingered for a couple months in the hospital, finally having a stroke that took him. By that point, it was probably a blessing. He was severely injured, more so than the articled indicated.  And in case you’re wondering, two men were tried for murder but not convicted. It’s difficult for the prosecution when the victim who is the only one who can positively identify the perpetrators dies. The defense argued, of course, that it wasn’t their clients who beat the doctor, and that the beating didn’t kill the doctor, the stroke did – and that the stroke was unrelated to the beating. That was before the days of DNA evidence, of course.  The trial might have an entirely different outcome today.

The family, who attended the trial daily, said that when the judge dismissed the charges he said, “Well, he was an old man anyway.”  They found that comment both incredibly inhumane as well as unbelievable.

scrapbook-frank-sr-obit

Published Feb. 7, 1972, Chicago Tribune

During the time that Margie’s father was in the hospital, she met a man named Ray Stehl whose family member was also in the hospital and also died. After Margie’s father died, she married Ray within months. She also inherited the Sadowski family home.

scrapbook-estate-sale

For some reason, the estate auction wasn’t held for another 6 years, in September of 1978.  While the property itself was apparently included in the sale, the home was not sold.

The Memory Keeper

It was Margie that lovingly assembled the scrap books.

scrapbook-franks-letter

Each letter was carefully centered and its envelope exactly centered on the facing page or above the letter, if there was space.

scrapbook-envelope

I’d wager she read those letters over and over again. Maybe they were her link to sanity, or comfort when she had none other. These scrapbooks were Margie’s way of memorializing Frank’s life.

Frank wrote letters home to his parents and to Margie as well. She kept all of those letters, mounting them in the scrapbook, plus included other family memorabilia like her grandfather’s naturalization papers.

Frank Sr. wrote letters to son Bobbie when he was in the service, and Bobbie brought those letters home. Margie included them in the scrapbooks too.

It’s easy to tell what Margie felt was important by what she included in the scrapbooks.

Frank’s personal effects were never returned after his death, including any letters he had in his possession. It took Frank’s father 4 years of constant fighting to have Frank’s body returned. I can’t help but wonder if the body shipped home was actually Frank’s, but it really doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then if it brought the family comfort.

Talk about an open wound. I hope the family had some semblance of closure when they finally buried Frank and had a funeral in 1949.

The family never forgot and never stopped grieving. I don’t believe they ever healed.

In 1973, Margie placed a memorial in the newspaper on Frank’s death date, April 19th – 28 years after he died.

scrapbook-1973-memorial

Later that same year, she memorialized her parents’ 54th wedding anniversary.

scrapbook-1973-anniversary

And Frank’s birthday in 1974.

scrapbook-1974-birthday

Her father in 1975.

scrapbook-1975-memorial

Her mother in 1981.

scrapbook-1981-memorial

Margie continued to place memorials for Frank and her parents. In a sense, this is the social equivalent of posting to your Facebook page, except newspaper memorials weren’t free and required advance planning and thought.

In 1996, Bobbie passed away, having blessed Frank and Harriett with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, even if they didn’t all live under the same roof as Harriett had once hoped.

Haunting

After Dr. Frank’s 1971 death and their marriage later that year, Margie and Ray lived in the Sadowski home, referred to by the family as “the big house.”  By all reports, the house was extremely haunted.  The home, originally build in 1896, shown below as it appears today on Google Maps Streetview.

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The Sadowski children and grandchildren report that they saw shadowey figures walking up to the attic, heard footsteps on the second floor when no one was there and continually heard voices in the house, just out of earshot. Neighbors reported repeatedly seeing a woman watching them from the sewing room in the tower. That house was anything but peaceful.

Eventually, Margie and Ray couldn’t stand the haunting anymore, purchased a motor home and lived in the back yard. Sometime later, they moved to the home that Ray inherited, about 10 blocks away, but still owned the Sadowski home although it sat fully furnished, just like it always had been, but abandoned in time. It was burglarized in 1972 while Margie and Ray were on an extended honeymoon, and ransacked, taking Margie and her brother Bobbie and his children years to straighten out entirely.

The ironic part of this equation is that Margie took the Sadowski scrapbooks with her to Ray’s house, because where Joan found them in the trash was on North Luna Street in the Jefferson Park area where Ray lived, not in the 2300 block of North Oak Park Avenue where the Sadowski home was located.

Even in her later years, those scrapbooks obviously meant a lot to Margie. I wonder what happened to Frank’s picture on the piano and the other family photos as well.

Margie’s Death

Margie died in April of 2004.

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Joan Mikol tells us that she found the scrapbooks in about 2005, so very near Margie’s death.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Ray died on March 31, 2008.

As her husband, Ray inherited all of Margie’s estate. The Sadowski family was not informed of Ray’s death and his family disposed of his possessions and estate however they saw fit. Ray had no children.

So, now you know the rest of the story…how Frank’s letters came to be found on a trash pile some 60 years after his death a few blocks from the family home. I’m betting Margie turned over in her grave. That’s not all that got thrown away. All of the family photos bit the dust too – all of them. All the family had left were memories of those eyes, watching them from the piano.

Frank’s Voice

These scrapbooks give Frank one last chance to speak. His letters give shape and a personality to the man who died 72 years ago. They also give a contemporary voice to other family members, allowing everyone memorialized in the scrapbook to speak from the other side of the grave.

I can’t help but wonder what was in the letters Frank had in his possession when he was killed in Okinawa. You know as a GI he coveted each letter from home, and especially from his girlfriend, my mother.

And since I’m wondering, I wonder what became of the letters that Frank wrote mother. I know she would never have thrown them away. Given that I never saw them, not as a child nor as an adult – nor at her death – I know beyond any doubt that they were either lost or thrown away by someone else – not mother. I’m sure they were extremely personal and probably quite intimate. Aside from professing their deep love for one another, the letters probably discussed their dreams for their future together, their wedding and their eventual family.

I suspect Frank’s letters to mother were disposed of in a fit of jealousy. Mother told me that my father was insanely jealous of Frank, even though Frank was dead and had been a decade before I was born. Maybe the jealousy was so intense because Frank was dead – and died a hero. You cannot compete with a ghost that someone still loves, and I’m sure in many ways no one could or ever did live up to Frank in mother’s eyes.

Mother must have grieved the loss of those letters too. She, like Margie, probably read them repeatedly, seeking any shred of solace. Another part of Frank taken from her, ripped from her very heart.

The Scrapbooks Go Home

On the morning of February 22, 2017, following a sleepless night due to adrenaline and excitement – Curtis drove from southern Illinois and I drove from Michigan on a grey but unseasonably warm winter day. We met Joan at a McDonalds in Portage, Indiana where she gave us the scrapbooks.

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Bless Joan for salvaging what little can be recovered of Frank’s all-too-brief life. My mother too, plays a part in those letters – albeit a bit role.

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Curtis’s wife, Janet, is going to scan all 4 scrapbooks and share the images. I started to read one letter, written near Christmastime just four months before Frank’s death, and teared up immediately. I stopped, because blubbering for hours in a McDonalds reading scrapbooks is unacceptable – especially times 3 people and 4 scrapbooks. They would have called the men with the white coats and the butterfly nets to come and get us.

Instead, Curtis, Janet and I had a lovely visit, for about 3 hours. I love e-mail, but visiting in person is just so much fun!

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Were it not for that bullet, Curtis and I would have been first cousins. We’d be comparing our DNA results. I’d be part Polish and those scrapbooks that include a few early letters from 1917, written in Polish, would have made my heart quicken and skip a beat.

Curtis and I aren’t biologically related, but our families are certainly indelibly entwined, a kinship, for lack of a better word, formed by the same tragic death almost 72 years ago, before either of us was born.

I never knew before these scrapbooks surfaced that Frank was killed on only his 4th day on that particular medical unit assignment. Frank had previously been ill with malaria and injured his foot with an ax. Oh, that the malaria had been just a little worse or his foot injury had been severe enough to disqualify him from active duty. As a medic, Frank dove, under fire, to rescue an injured soldier, only to be killed himself. I wonder if the other soldier survived, and if so, if he or his family had any idea what Frank sacrificed. Or did those two soldiers die together on the battlefield that day?

The fourth day.

The. Fourth. Day.

And VE Day was just a month away. VJ Day was just 4 months after that. The war was ending. How horribly tragic, in every sense of the word.

Frank came so close to NOT dying.  Four days one way, a few seconds perhaps on the battlefield, a few weeks in the other direction and Frank wouldn’t have died. But he did and that bullet irreversibly changed the lives of so many people, snuffing out possibilities in an instant. Giving me a different father a decade later.  Making Curtis and I only partners on this bittersweet co-journey and not cousins.

Gratitude

Curtis, Janet and I parted so incredibly grateful for Joan’s generosity and that our reunion was for such a wonderful occasion. A homecoming of the best kind – beyond anything we could ever have imagined in our wildest dreams.

I hope Mom and Frank were watching. Maybe somehow they helped. I can see them smiling and applauding – the young Frank and mother, happy, back in 1944 before Frank left the last time.

After I have an opportunity to read and digest the letters, you’ll be hearing Frank’s voice. I promise you, there will be a Chapter 4 – thanks to Joan and the generosity of the Sadowski family.

Thank you Joan, from the bottom of our hearts.  You’ve assuredly earned your halo!

Curtis, Janet and Roberta

scrapbook-curtis-me-janet

LeVar Burton’s Keynote at RootsTech 2017 – From Kunta Kinte to Star Trek and The Power of Imagination

Not only is LeVar Burton an incredible actor, portraying Kunta Kinte in 1977 in Alex Haley’s roots, followed by Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge in Star Trek, but he’s an unbelievably insightful man with a powerful story to tell.

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I wasn’t able to attend Rootstech this year, but thankfully LeVar Burton’s absolutely incredible keynote is finally available online. I’ve been hearing about it for days and I was finally able to watch this morning.

If you watch only one thing this year, watch LeVar’s keynote. And I don’t mean if you’re black, I mean if you’re human. It’s only half an hour and, I promise, you’ll not regret it. In fact, you’ll need a box of Kleenex and leave feeling wonderful, renewed and inspired.

And please, do the “One Minute Exercise” with LeVar.

Aside from LeVar’s incredibly interesting delivery and poignant stories about his mother, Roots and Star Trek, he made the following points:

  • LeVar said his mother was determined that he would reach his full potential, “even if she had to kill me.”  I’m sure we can all related to that.
  • We all have an important story to tell and an equally important contribution to make to humanity.
  • Close your eyes and bring into your mind a person who has seen your potential in life and helped you realize your gift, what your contribution to the world might be. Someone who saw you and recognized your brilliance and helped bring it into being.
  • None of us get through this life on our own. We all have assistance on this journey.
  • You can do what you can imagine. Focus equals manifestation.
  • Unless you can be still you may never hear that voice of God within. Pay attention or you might miss something incredibly important that is key to delivering our gift to the world.

The Desert News provided some additional coverage here.

LeVar’s session is not on the RootsTech video selection, but other sessions are available for free viewing here if you scroll down a bit.

Thank you LeVar for the single most incredible, inspiring keynote speech on any topic I have ever witnessed.