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Archive for the month “July, 2016”

Elections: Lessons from a Great Great Grandmother

Most of my friends know I’m a genealogy “nut.” I can’t think of anything that’s much more fun than tracking down an elusive ancestor or finding a confirming document or digging up some long-hidden family “dirt.” As a case in point, when I asked my father-in-law some questions about his grandparents and great grandparents, he quickly lost patience with me. “What do you want to know about them for?” he demanded testily. “They were just a bunch of horse thieves and cattle rustlers!” Oh, my, if you think that didn’t get me started! It took a lot of digging, but thirty years later I turned it into a 500 page historical novel!

But every now and then, you run across a little gem, a little story that makes you laugh and cry at the same time. I found one of those today. I’ve known for a long time that I descend from a line of smart, opinionated, outspoken, stubborn women, who were almost always right, by the way. I just didn’t know how far back it went. Meet my great great grandmother. fe801721-5b46-4700-9258-2f33bfaabcecHer name is Julia Anna Pfaff. She was born near Barbourville, Kentucky, in 1839, to a family of German stock that had settled north-central North Carolina as missionaries. In 1857 she married William Wyatt Gibson, youngest son of a Valentine Gibson, whose ancestors of that surname first set foot on this continent in the 1600s at Jamestown. Shortly after their marriage, William moved his little family to northwestern Missouri where he farmed and she raised their eight children. To be honest, I hadn’t known much about Julia or her personal character until today, but what I learned, I recognized because I have seen it in my mother and my grandmother.

The “gem” is actually a news article that was published in 1995 in the DeKalb County [MO] Record Herald. Apparently the community was preparing to celebrate its Sesquicentennial and had set up a committee to plan the occasion. The article first announces an upcoming meeting and then explains that the author of the article had been asked if the Historical Society had information on the first woman voter in the county. In response, the author provided the following entry which she found in the DeKalb County Herald dated November 4, 1920. Here is the article as it must have appeared.


Mrs. Julia A. Gibson walked down Main Street Tuesday about 1:00 p.m. She had a firm step. In fact there did not seem to no[sic] any feebleness at all about the way she walked. And when she got to the middle of the south side of the square, she turned north and went up to the circuit court room to the place where the election was being held. And as she moved up the street there was not anything feeble, either, about her voice, as she let it be known that she was a Democrat and on her way to vote the Democratic ticket.

As the author of the 1995 article points out, Mrs. Gibson was probably not the first woman to vote that day in DeKalb County, since the episode is reported as occurring in the afternoon. And in the 1920 election between Harding and Cox, Mrs. Gibson’s candidate lost. But the author goes on to quote another article that appeared in the same issue of the Herald, which opined that “The women vote has about doubled the work of handling an election” and called for more polling places in the county to avoid the long lines for voting and having clerks counting into the wee hours. Well, yes! I wonder if the male election officials really hadn’t considered that women might actually avail themselves of their newly won right to vote. Go figure!

I think the reason this little episode speaks so strongly to me is because it brings home the fact that the right to vote, especially for those of the female persuasion, was won after a hard-fought and often bloody campaign that too many of us have either forgotten about or never learned about. My great great grandmother understood what a privilege was now offered her, even at the ripe old age of 81 and she did not hesitate to avail herself of it with all the aplomb she could muster. I don’t think she regretted voting even though her candidate lost.

I am also reminded that for men too the right to vote was won and has been maintained with “the lives and fortunes” of those who were willing to stand up for what they believed in, the right of all men to decide their own fate. The reality of the death and destruction suffered by the former colonists in the Revolutionary War has been muted in our own time, but it was nonetheless real. Thousands died over the six years of that war and many lost all they had.

I have talked to a number of people recently who are suggesting that they are going to just “sit this one out.” Looking forward to the election this November, they don’t like either candidate and so they think they just won’t vote. To be honest, I’m disappointed in the selection of candidates myself, but I have determined that I WILL vote. I refuse to give up what my Revolutionary patriots fought for, what my great great grandmother did with such obvious pride. I will vote, because to stay home is to deny what our patriots stood for and fought for. I will vote, because I want to live up to the example Julia Ann Pfaff Gibson lived out for me.


The Quilt

My grandmother had six sisters. They all loved to do handwork–embroidery, crocheting, quilting–and although they would never have admitted it, they were always engaged in an unspoken competition to see who could do the most interesting stitch or who could come up with the prettiest design. I still have many examples of the work they did, but I have to say that I believe my grandmother was the champion quilter. Not only did she piece the quilts (sew the quilt tops together), she did the actual quilting (the sewing together of the quilt back to the quilt top with a batting in between). This required a quilt frame which stretched the quilt tight so that the quilter could make the tiniest stitches in a delightful pattern through all thicknesses. Nobody could accomplish this better than my grandmother. Her work was well known in her community and people would bring her their finished quilt tops for her to quilt.

When I was about nine, I decided I wanted to make a quilt. I picked a pattern that was much too hard for a beginner. It had many tiny pieces to each section and I had not yet gained my grandmother’s dexterity with a needle. Although I kept at it long enough to finish nine blocks, eventually I laid it aside, packing it away for decades until I recently retrieved it and gave to my daughter who said she wanted to finish it. We’ll see…
I started thinking about quilts today as a metaphor of our American society. Throughout my graduate school experience, we read much about the heterogenous character of our nation, how in the past it was referred to as a melting pot, but perhaps in our time the salad bowl metaphor may be more appropriate. Of course, I understand why these metaphors are suggested, but to me they fall short. I think perhaps the quilt metaphor is better.

Originally, the idea of quilt making stems from need. Back in the times when cloth was woven by hand or purchased at a high price, every scrap was valuable. When a garment was worn past wearing or if there were scraps left over from sewing a new garment, the pieces were salvaged and hoarded until enough were garnered to sew the pieces together to make a large covering. Initially, function was most important, so what the quilt looked like was not a major concern. Humans being what they are, however, some began choosing the pieces and colors to make designs. Some quilts were just aesthetically pleasing, but the map quilts which provided guides to escaping slaves are well known, yet another way to combine artistry and function.

So why is a quilt a metaphor for our nation? As the pieces are chosen for the quilt, the pieces come from different types and colors of cloth to make a single covering, just as people of many languages, cultures, races, and religions have come together to create one country. They have to be sewed together to create seams that join the pieces. This is where the salad bowl metaphor breaks down; in a salad the pieces stand on their own–they have no connection to each other.

The quilter knows the pattern she wants to create and thus has a design in mind, and for me the framework for our “national quilt” must be our Constitution. Each piece, though unique, has a specific role to play in the overall design. This is where the melting pot metaphor breaks down; in the past, Americans felt it was necessary for all immigrants to become like “them” or they couldn’t be “real Americans.” That idea runs counter to the deeper meaning of the Constitution, which does not designate a “right” way to be American other than to follow its tenets.

So in a quilt, what keeps the whole thing together is the seams, the places where two or three or four different pieces are joined. This is what frightens me about where we are as a nation right now. We have never been a perfect nation. There have always been ways in which the design of the quilt has been thwarted and abused. But for the most part, the seams have held. Now, I fear that our quilt is coming apart at the seams. If we don’t figure out a way to reconnect the pieces, to sew it back together, its very design is threatened.

As I write this, one more police shooting is being reported on the news. The news anchors are talking about a “madness” that has spread over our country. Is it madness, or have we forgotten our sewing skills? Each individual piece of the quilt must ask, where is the seam I need to be repairing?

Some Roots of Patriotism

I have been looking for a different way to celebrate the birthday of the Uni13 star flagted States of America this year. After 74 years, it’s a bit hard to come up with something innovative. I wanted something a little more profound than fireworks and flag-waving, although I enjoy and appreciate those activities as much as any American. What could I do, I asked myself, that would be truly meaningful and a little different?

fireworksThen I remembered a great nephew who has been separated from his father’s side of the family almost since birth. I recently made contact with him on Facebook and realized that  he doesn’t know the stories, traditions, and legends that were a part of my growing up; I feel bad that he has not had the benefit of that. So, in honor of him and the Fourth of July, I have written a piece that provides a brief summary of some of the Patriots from which we both descend. I know many Americans have similar roots in the patriotism of their ancestors. As I share mine, perhaps others will recall or decide to seek out their own deep roots in this country, whether they are old or relatively new. Like most Americans, I have some of both. So…here are some of my patriots. The introductory line for each person indicates how I descend from each one.

Barbara Moelling McClanahan — Melvin Moelling

Melvin MoellingMelvin Kenneth Moelling was born Dec 18, 1918, in Billings, Oklahoma. He graduated from high school in Billings and attended one year at the University of Oklahoma. He left school to follow his father in the oil field in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, fields that were just opening up in the 1930s. When the war broke out on December 7, 1941, he was married and expecting his first child (me). Within the first few months, he went to a military recruiting station and volunteered for service. He was told he wasn’t needed; they would call him when and if they needed him.

He decided to take a job at the new ship building facility that had been quickly established in Evansville, Indiana, to support the American war effort. He worked for about two years in the shipyard as a boilermaker, feeling strongly that he was still “doing his part.” In the meantime, a second child (Kenneth) was born. In 1944, the draft board sent word that now they needed him. He volunteered for the Navy, but he told the enrolling officer that he did not want to serve on a submarine, He went through basic training as the oldest man in his group; the others called him “Dad.” He eventually was assigned as a gunner on a convoy ship escorting fleets of supply ships mainly across the Atlantic. There were other assignments, however, because I heard him brag many times that he only lacked the Suez Canal going all the way around the world. He served until the end of the war, being discharged in late 1945 at San Diego.

Like many veterans, Dad never talked about the fighting he did, but he was very proud of his naval service. It was hard on him and on his family, but he never complained. Once when we visited the Battleship Texas, he pointed out the huge guns like the ones that he had manned, the kind you have to sit in to operate. One of the most severe dressing-downs I ever got from him was when Kenneth and I, as clueless early teenagers might, began singing the national anthem in a very silly and disrespectful way as we did the dishes one evening. He came rushing into the kitchen shouting that he fought for that flag and we should never disrespect it like that again. I never have.

Barbara Moelling — Bertha Bernice Holroyd — George Leroy Holroyd — Edwin Holroyd — William G. Holroyd

William HolroydWilliam G. Holroyd was born in Tinsley, Yorkshire, England, on October 11, 1829. Little is known about his early life, but he lived near Sheffield, which is well known as a steel town. It appears that he gained some knowledge and experience in the steel industry before coming to America with his wife and daughter in 1852. He appears to have settled initially in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a town also known for steel, and apparently worked there briefly before moving to eastern Nebraska, where he settled on a farm and began farming operations. His son Edward was born there in 1858.

The Civil War broke out in 1861. Anticipating such an eventuality, the steel mills in Pittsburgh began revving up production of military weapons, especially cannons. William, in Nebraska, received a communication from the steel mill he had worked at, asking him to return to help with the increased production. I think it is fair to assume that they would not have gone to such effort to call him back, had William not had a level of skill and expertise that they needed. He moved his family back to Pittsburgh for the duration of the war. By 1866, however, he was back in Nebraska, doing the farming he had apparently dreamed about doing year before in smoky Sheffield, an activity he could only realize by coming to America and then helping the Union secure a victory with materiel he helped make. He died in 1915, having spent the bulk of his life enjoying the freedom he could not in England.

Barbara Moelling — Bertha Bernice Holroyd — Mollie Ellen Kirk — Coleman Benton Kirk — William Grandon Kirk

William G. Kirk was born May 6, 1826, in Fleming County, Kentucky, the youngest of eleven children born to William Francis Kirk and Elizabeth Jordan. Four days after his twentieth birthday in 1846, William enlisted at Mt. Sterling, Kentucky for a term of one year, and was sent to serve in the Mexican War. One can only guess at his motivation for joining up to fight in this war, but he was indeed sent to Mexico, where he spent about three months hauling goods from Camargo to Buena Vista. He is also reported to have served as a wagon master during the Civil War. In 1887, he applied for a pension at the age of 61, claiming that because of his war service he was unable to William G. Kirk“make a living.” As physical disabilities, he listed “Rheumatism, Deaf in Right Ear and hearing Bad in the Left, enlargement of the Liver, Kidney Disease and Piles and a general Physical Reck.” Despite all of these alleged disabilities, in 1848 he had eloped with the young
daughter of a prominent Estill County, Kentucky, pioneer and fathered 13 children with her. The family story of his penchant for alcohol may have contributed to some of his ailments, but his service should still be remembered with honor.

Barbara Moelling — Bertha Bernice Holroyd — Mollie Ellen Kirk — Coleman Benton Kirk — William Grandon Kirk — William Francis Kirk — Joseph Kirk

Joseph KirkJoseph Kirk was born July 25,1747, near where the borders of Pennsylvania and Maryland join. He belonged to a Quaker sect in the area, a group known for their pacifism. He was married at the Nottingham Meeting House in Calvert, Maryland, on June 8, 1769, to Judith Knight. A farmer, he appears on the muster roll of the West Nottingham Company of a Pennsylvania militia under the command of Captain Ephraim Blackburn. Little is known of the particulars of his service. However, in 1787 when Joseph and Judith later moved further west to Crawford County, Pennsylvania, the minister of their home meeting wrote a letter of commendation for the family to the receiving meeting, noting that Joseph’s war service would require some remediation.

Barbara Moelling — Melvin Moelling — Lida Ethel Hawkins — Grace Hellen Cannon — Nancy Kelly — Bartley (Bartholomew) Carroll — Bartholomew L. Carroll — Bartholomew Carroll

Bartholomew Carrol gravestoneBartholomew Carroll, the eldest, was born in 1719 somewhere in Virginia. He married Catherine Zumwalt in Shenandoah County, Virginia, in 1772. It is not known if he was married before Catherine; we do know that many of Catherine’s Zumwalt kin went on to fight for the Texas Revolution. According to his pension records, Bartholomew signed up at New London, Virginia, on June 1, 1780, as a private. He would have been 61 years old. He was in the battles of Camden, Guildford Court House, and Eutaw Springs. He was discharged January 1, 1782, and given a pension in 1818 at the age of 96. At the time, he was living with some of his children in Johnson County, Indiana. His was the first will probated in Johnson County.

Barbara Moelling — Bertha Bernice Holroyd — Mollie Ellen Kirk — China Ann Gibson — William Wyatt Gibson — Mary Wyatt — Samuel Wyatt

wyatt-coat-of-armsLittle is known about Samuel Wyatt, a likely descendant of the Rev. Haute Wyatt, chaplain to his brother Sir Francis Wyatt, an early governor of Virginia. He was born about 1755 in Virginia, but was living in  the Morgan District of North Carolina during the Revolutionary War; by 1805, he had moved to Knox County, Kentucky.  His service to the Revolutionary cause appears officially to have been the signing of an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, “as prescribed by the law of the state.” Although that seems to be a somewhat simple, less demanding evidence of patriotism, it must be considered that signing such an oath was considered treason by the Loyalists, of whom there were many in North Carolina.

These are not all of the patriots in my direct line and certainly not all in the larger family that includes uncles, cousins, and even a few aunts. We have family members who took part in virtually every conflict America has been faced with. For the most part, they did so because they believed in the country they helped found or maintain and what it stands for. Now it’s our turn to do what we can to make sure America continues to be the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Remembering the long forgotten members of our family and the sacrifices they made is a beginning point.

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