Sunday, December 15, 2013


It was a rare warm day on the beach of Lake Superior. There were no rolling waves or cutting white caps. The sun shone on the near white sand, the air free of biting black flies. The Hart clan was gathered, all four siblings and spouses along with many of the cousins. For those who know, this was also a rarity. There was conversation, shared food, and recreation. And while this may have been enough to make this an inimitable day, an item emerged from the Lake that “never gives up her dead” to make this day even more noteworthy.

My cousin’s husband, Tom, had been lounging near the shore, letting the soft sands and warm waters of the Lake slip between his fingers and toes. In the tranquility of this oasis, he stopped as he encountered a metallic item. Standing, he held a watch. To the astonishment of those gathered, my dad identified it as a timepiece he had lost several years ago. Despite the furious waves of autumn, the harsh snow pack of winter, and the treacherous ice floes of spring, the watch had not only survived intact, but it had remained, buried, in front of our cottage. This alone was an unimaginable phenomenon given the forces of the wild Superior. But more was to come. For when the watch was dried and wound, the ticking hands began again to circle the dial.

I invite you to ponder and sift this image through your personal lens of belief. For me, Tom’s find is a powerful metaphor of hope: While we may seem to have lost something precious, there is renewed life, often in inexplicable ways.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Do I Remember?

I believe my dad carried this photo of his parents and sister, along with dog, Trixie, to war with him. I love it for the memory of the pipe.
Usually I meander along a rolling stream of consciousness process before I connect a family history/herstory discovery with a Sepia Saturday prompt. But this week no such journey was needed. The connection with smoking was direct and immediate. I remember fights with my maternal grandfather over my dislike of his cigarette smoking. Even today I can’t stand the slightest whiff of lingering smoke in a hotel room or on the clothing of a hairdresser. 
But pipe smoke. That is different. And likely for the powerful sensory memories that bring me back to a place and time for which I have only a dreamlike memory. Thankfully, it answers a self-doubt.
Do I remember him or just know the photo?
In the furthest reaches of recollection, I am not sure if I really possess any visual memories of my paternal grandfather. I have mind pictures of him sitting in a chair, holding a dog I believe to be named Pooh-Pooh. But is that visual memory real or has it taken shape thanks to the few photos I possess? I can’t be sure.
I never hear his voice in my mind’s ear. Was he a storyteller like my father and his brother who could recount a situation, replete with details of the subject’s family tree and the mishaps of their youth, as the tale took its winding course, punctuated with the teller’s index finger shaking the details at his listener? Had this trait been passed from father to sons? I have no idea.
But that pipe aroma. Any hint of pipe tobacco jars my sense of place along the time continuum and wafts me back to where the memory of Louis Hart, Jr. resides. His pipe comes alive, its smoke encircling my soul. In the mysterious workings of the brain, it is odor that invokes the most powerful and vivid memories in all of us.  For me, that scent is the reassuring substantiation that I did know my paternal grandfather and he knew me. That is comforting.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Dog Genes

This Sepia Saturday post should have been easier for someone trained as a Reading Specialist, but alas, all the pictures I wanted to use are still in a photo album in my mother's house. So, I began flipping through my photos and found this perfectly staged picture for a 1960s Christmas card showing the week's theme, reading. And what better subject for the Hart family then to have a dog reading, for this sums up so much of our family history!

I read while Candy looks on. Oh, the other girl in the picture is my sister, Claudia. An apt afterthought given the story that follows!

We have long joked about the "dog gene" in our family. We all have had many dogs and know that we come by this adoration honestly. This was quite apparent to me during my last trip to my mother's house. I love to page through her old albums, take selected photos to her, and hope for a story to unfold.  Like all our photos, they capture a tale, even when clearly posed. Sadly, some pictures show faces that will never be known to me. I mourn the loss of names that have been forgotten over the years so try to remedy past oversights by captioning what photos I can. This quest gave my mom and me quite a laugh as we looked at pictures like these from the 1930s and 1940s:

This small sampling shows our well-known family love for dogs. But while other family photos are missing the names of relatives and friends, the dogs in the photos are always clearly labeled.

My great grandchildren may not know the male in the photo is their 4x great grandfather, Thomas Richards or their 2x great grandmother, Barbara Sundberg is the dog-loving child, but they will know the hounds who lived on Superior Street in the 1930s are Boots, Bugle, Young Prince, Old Prince, etc. I wasted no time laughingly chastising my mom for this lapse. Yet somehow, the omission reveals an overarching family trait: the deep love we have for the dogs, who are not just our pets and companions, but our family.

This was never clearer to me then when I returned home to look at photos of my own children.

Turning over the photo of Andrew revealed that some things never change. I had labeled the picture ONLY with the dog’s name. Yep, it does run in the family!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Tale

Boxes? Boxes? I had nothing for the Sepia Saturday prompt about boxes. But then I began listing boxes in my head and ended up at boxcars…boxcars, ah, trains! There it was – the tale of the Paulding Lights as shared by my dad, William Hart.

Here, my dad (kneeling) holds his dog, Trixie, while his parents stand near-by. 
Who told the tale? 
            “There it is, down through those trees,” my dad’s outstretched pointer finger poked at the car window to indicate what appeared to be a desolate spot in a forgotten part of the world.  It was the place of the famed Paulding Lights, mysterious glowing orbs that confound locals and adventurers. But true to form, my dad knew their history and told it that day in the car.
His tale is one fraught with fragments, now stitched together by his listeners for he is no longer here to retell his version.  The yarn that lives on is one I have struggled to authenticate.  I interviewed those in the car, talked with cousins, and researched the factual parts of the story. But memories are different or nonexistent. The incidents relayed in the anecdote don’t match with documented facts. As a researcher, this created an ethical dilemma for me: Do I share the story as I’ve pieced it together? It may not be true.
But in the quiet of my night, the answer was clear. This was not meant to be objective history; it was family (his)story. It didn’t matter if the facts were accurate. Its value was in the sharing. Even in the telling of it, my dad was communicating a slice of life, of his beliefs, and of his days growing up on Bluff Street. I can imagine his mother, standing at her gate or pinning her wet laundry to the clothesline, spinning the yarn, and fascinating her son with the mystery of it all. Yes, true or not, this fable is a part of my family lore.  

The bare bones of the tale are shared below. Believe it or not!

            It was a Saturday. Louis Hart, Jr. was preparing to leave his home on Bluff Street to work his shift as a fireman on the steam locomotive that ran out of Marquette. Thankfully, for the generations that followed, he never made it to his post that night. That fateful failure led to his survival and another’s demise, for the train crashed, just outside of Paulding, MI.  Legend claims the souls that perished never rest. They walk the tracks, swinging their ghostly lanterns, in a never-ending quest to stop the inevitable. Years later Louis was one of those startled by these spectral lights, reminding him of the fragility of choices.

            Today the Paulding Lights are a mecca of sorts for ghost hunters, thrill seekers, and those with a fascination for disproving the paranormal. The spot is marked with a U.S. Forest Service plaque, has been featured on the Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files television show, and was the subject of a Michigan Tech University study. Questions about this place remain. But to me, it will always be the subject of Essie and Louis Hart’s tale as told by my dad and now shared by family members who have memories of differing details.  Ah, families!

My grandfather, Louis Hart, Jr., in train garb.  He clearly notes on the 1920, 1930, and 1940 Census Reports that he is a locomotive fireman, squeezing in the word, fireman, on both the 1930 and 1940 forms.

My dad always scoffed at family history, yet in his aged handwriting, he captioned this photo for eternity: Dad Louis, and Jody Kaufman.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Unexpected Destinations

Delighted to back with Sepia Saturday after a long personal drought.

The name of the town is familiar, Champion, Michigan. It is one of those towns of my childhood where what seemed like endless, long dusty car trips would result in the family pouring out of the back of a station wagon to set up a picnic. But if the town scrapes the cobwebs of my mind, the stern family etched in time, has no meaning for me.  The photograph is one of several that were once mounted in a maroon velvet album, kept in my grandmother’s basement. As a child, I loved the smell of that musty thing, and even more, adored paging through the photos, imagining those people of old. It was silly of me to never have asked my grandmother for the names of these unknown family and friends.  Now I struggle to put together the pieces. I show them to the 80 year-olds who squint and say, “Well, it could be a Millman or Richards,” and I wait for the soliloquy regarding facial features. But as I’ve continued my ancestor hunt, I find many of those supposed matches just do not fit. The child is too old for the time they spent in Vermont or the identified person did not live in the town during the year noted on the back of the photo. I sigh. And the only way to make up for my abject failure to quiz my grandmother is to write voraciously on the back of my own photos or to post them, heavily captioned, on a family website. 
The cabinet photo in question seemed to hold many clues. Champion is and was always a small town. The name of the studio, scrolled at the bottom, should have been an easy find I reasoned. But a search of the city directories, on revealed no L. Winsor Studio for the available years, 1894-1917, a reasonable time frame based on the clothing worn by the females.  An Internet search indicates this photographer may have had a studio in Champion in the early 1890s but then moved westward. At least I had a date, but one that once more led me to curse the loss of those precious 1890 census records. I scoured my family tree for cousins with the requisite number of family members living in the area at the time. Coming up short, I got out my magnifying glass and studied facial features, hoping to identify family traits. Nothing worked. I returned to my tree and picked at families of families.

And then, an answer. It was that rush of joy that I had been missing since I last engaged in this exploration, so many months ago. But, as has been true with most of my genealogical investigations, the solution was not the one I had been seeking. No, I still do not know the identity of this family, lovingly saved in my grandmother’s basement. But the search of the siblings clarified a nagging question: the mystery of why my family had chosen Ishpeming, Michigan as their destination when the Ely/Vershire mining operation was beginning to fail. The Richards and Simons branches, united by the marriage of my great great grandparents in Ely, had pulled up their fragile roots in that waning mining town to journey for frigid northern Michigan. I had often wondered why the growing clan chose this spot to begin life anew. The photo search unintentionally revealed a Richards brother, long ignored by me, who had traveled directly from Gwinear, Cornwall with his wife and young son to the mines of Upper Michigan. I now had the name of that ancestor who was the impetus for the family move to “the Yoop,” the place where our roots would run strong and deep throughout the 20th century.

That brother? Matthew Richards - a coincidence my family will find amusing.

The journey we begin does not always bring us to the destination we intend.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

An Amazing Journey: Sepia Saturday 6 October 2012


As I write this week’s Sepia Saturday post focusing on ships, I think of the various vessels that brought my ancestors to the shores of the United States. I ponder these journeys while eating a saffron bun, a treasured treat of my Cornish heritage. As a child I grew with these dishes that were remnants and reminders of the long ship journey from the homeland: pasties, saffron buns, Cousin Jack cookies, Sunday roasts, goodies that remind me of how thankful I am that despite my ancestors’ long ocean voyage from the rolling hills of Cornwall to the frigid shores of Lake Superior, those recipes were treasured as mementos of the home they left and were passed to us today. 
I have been on a journey of a different sort.  And while not a journey on a ship, my journey has spanned time and place as I unearth the lives of the families, mostly miners, of my past. I began with my mother’s side of the family tree for she is alive and valuable memories can be coaxed from her. The tales of my journey into her family tree are told elsewhere on this blog. It is a journey full of mouse clicks, Internet discoveries, travels to my home in Marquette, Michigan, to Ely, Vermont, and the best journey, a trip across the ocean to stand in the little villages my great grandparents and beyond called home.

The St. Ive Parish Church. The village of St. Ive, not to be confused with the seaside town of St. Ives, had a population of 468 people in 1801. In 2001, 2121called St. Ive home. 

The photo above is of the parish church in a small Cornish village, St. Ive, where one branch of my mother’s family lived. The opportunity to visit this roadside village and walk among the markers took me back to the time when Jane Ruse Hill and daughters must have journeyed from their home to Sunday service. I felt their presence among the grave markers and in the rustle of the bushes.
Lately, I have let my mother’s genealogy rest a bit while I travel back through the generations of my dad’s side of the family. Imagine my surprise when this same small village cropped up in the census, baptismal, marriage, and death records of the Doneys and Slades, names from his branch of our one family tree. 
What karmic destiny that centuries later and an ocean away, the descendants of two families who inhabited this same tiny Cornish village would meet and marry!
Now I plan to journey across that ocean again, to once more walk the churchyard of St. Ive, this time to think about those ancestors on both sides of my family tree who packed up their lives and memories, stepped onto a ship, crossed the vast ocean so that their descendants could once again join together in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It is a strange and wonderful journey we share.