City Connection: We aren’t the First Chamberlains in Point

Winter sucks. We don’t going anywhere and I spend my days dreaming about all the cool ‘ancestral’ places I’d like to visit. Yesterday, I was particularly bummed about it being February, -25, and the ground covered with snow, then I remembered something I had stumbled across quite awhile back. We aren’t the first Chamberlains to live in Point . Of course, there are quite a few families with that surname but not all of them belong to my husband’s Chamberlains. I decided to revisit that little discovery.

While researching Todd’s 2nd Great-Grandfather, William Henry Chamberlain, I spent some time investigating William’s brother. Joseph Addison Chamberlain isn’t particularly interesting to me, I was hoping to find more clues about the brothers’ father. Joseph’s obituary popped up in the Ancestry hints section with some surprising information in it. One of his daughters lived in Stevens Point. How cool!? I left that tidbit floating in space for over a year, until last night.

This home isn’t a deeply important connection to our family history, but it’s a fun one.  It took me less than hour to track down, Carrie May Chamberlain and her husband, Joseph Robert Weyher, living in Stevens Point. They lived here for at least a few years between 1918-1920 based on the obituary and census records. By the 1930 census, they lived somewhere new.

Which house!? That was the real question. The 1920 census has the street name and house number. They lived right on Main Street. Sometime in the 1970s (If I remember correctly) Point renumbered their streets/addresses, so I had to do a little digging. Using the Sanborn Maps from the Library of Congress, I was able to track down the old address and figure out which house it is today. It’s still standing!

I checked it out on Google Maps to see what it looks like now. I’m hoping to get a chance to drive by it soon. It will be fun to think of that little connection we have to the town, however small it may be. And it’s fun to think there were Chamberlains living here 100 years ago!

Refocusing for 2020

Sometimes, I get wrapped up in sharing so much about my garden,  that I forget some of my other plans for this project.  Beautiful flowers and plants are just so dang distracting! I’ve shared a lot of my garden already, but I have more plans for the other side of my “Grow Your Roots” project, family history.

Last year was quite a reality check for the complexity of my project. There are so many factors that go into growing and writing about a heritage garden that it easily overwhelmed me. I also felt I spent so much time working on weeds, at my real life job, and strict genealogy, that I missed out on some of the more fun and probably more interesting aspects of this project (the  journey and experience).

I want to share the excitement of finding new information about my ancestors and finding their homesteads (or whatever is there now). I also want to embrace the travel aspect of it. While visiting my grand-father’s likely birth place was amazing, I missed the chance to experience more of the area and culture. While it is obviously different from the culture of 1915, spending time in the area can teach me about the landscape, people, and history of that place.

One of my core beliefs about history in general is that if you can find a way to personally connect to a historical figure, event, or place, history becomes much more important to you. While I have a degree in US History, I will admit much of it just went in one ear and out the other, aside for some cool bits of trivia. It wasn’t until I started researching my genealogy that history really became important to me.

Two examples of this are inspired by one ancestor. John Finley. Oh, is he a thorn in my side. But I have to give him credit for sparking my interest in the War of 1812 and the pioneer history of Illinois. I had really never given much thought to either topic, until researching him. Through that one ancestor so much history has come to life and I gained deeper appreciation for a state I previously only grumbled about.

So this year, in my quest to find ancestral homes and plants. I want to stop, take in everything about the place, and really dive into that moment and all the history that has lead up to it.

Plus,  tracking down the actual plants and flowers, is much more difficult than I originally expected.  Even if I don’t come home with a cool plant, an experience is worth it. And I can find an appropriate plant to honor my ancestors that will live in Zone 4!

A Home with a History: The Hall Homestead

It’s been a while since I’ve done a family history post, now that I am in gardening mode. This one also took a while to research!

I have done some research on Todd’s side of the family and he has some deep roots in Wisconsin. Lucky for us! I’ve also been researching his ancestral homes. Many are no longer standing, including one in Madison (where the iris his great-aunt gave me originally came from).

Before we moved to Wisconsin, Todd and I would come to stay with Janet, his great-aunt, for a weekend or even longer (she also helped Todd plan his marriage proposal to me!). She lives just a block off one of Wisconsin’s largest lakes. And it wasn’t like visiting some old stuffy lady. Janet is a character and a well-loved, well-known local. On occasion, she would pull out old family albums and tell us all the stories. I loved it.

She told me many stories of her grandparents farm in Viroqua, and that the farmhouse was moved into town many years ago. I’ve tried to figure out which one it may be and even where the Leonard farm was. I have yet to find that house. In the process of searching for that farm, names started popping up in old maps that were familiar and I started discovering even more family ties in Vernon Co, but never pursued them.

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Aunt Janet, Todd, and myself at one of our favorite lunch spots!

A couple years ago, we were visiting and looking through some stacks of albums and photos and an old faded family portrait jumped out at me. Behind an old frame, the faded picture showed a family standing in front of a house. Not exciting. Unless, you’re me and you’re trying to track down ancestral homes.

The Hall House

The old photo in the old frame

I immediately started interrogating Janet about the photo. She wasn’t sure who was in it or where it was, but I wasn’t about to give up. She ruled out it being the storied Leonard farm, but not the other side of her family, the Halls.

I took several photos of the photo and worked on enhancing the features on the computer when I got home. Soon, the figures became somewhat familiar. They looked like people I had seen before. Not in person, but in many other old family photos. Their features were too small and blurred to make out, but other things like height and statures gave me clues.

Hall Home Enhanced

I determined it was members of the Hall family and based on the age and my own recognition from other photos. I believe the photo may be of John R. Hall, his wife, Effie (Osvald) Hall, and three of their children. The children should be Clarence, Elda Mae, and Elmer Eugene. Elmer Eugene would be the youngest, born in 1894. Their youngest brother, Harold, was born in 1897.  I think that should place the photo right around 1896? Below are some photos of John, Effie, and a portrait of the family.

I did some searching, as always, through some historic maps and found J.R. Hall owning land just south of Viroqua in the late 1890s. Sure enough, when I overlaid the maps, I found a house that looks suspiciously similar to the one in the photo. At least from what I can tell on Google Maps!

After some more sleuthing, I am certain this is the Hall farm just south of Viroqua. The farm itself has a long history from what I’ve been able to pull out of various maps and a great excerpt from History of Vernon County, Wisconsin, together with sketches of its towns, villages and townships, educational, civil, military and political history; portraits of prominent persons, and biographies of representative citizens; history of Wisconsin, published in 1884. You can see the entire book here

Mrs. Martha A. (Sabin) Hall is the relict of Ralph Hall, who with his family came to Vernon county in October, 1856, and settled on section 5, town 12 north, of range 4 west, where Mrs. Hall with her family still resides. Mr. Hall purchased the farm of Oscar Henry. He was born in England in 1830, and came to the United States in July, 1843, with his parents, who settled in Cook Co., Il. He was married in Illinois in 1851, to his present widow, Martha A. Sabin. Mr. Hall died July 6, 1872. His father, George Hall, died in Illinois. His mother came to Viroqua in the fall of 1865, where she still resides. Mr. Hall was a highly respected and industrious citizen; was a charter member of the Vernon County Agricultural Society, and was also for some time treasurer of that organization, and was also at one time chairman of the town board of Viroqua. Mrs. Hall was born near Cleveland, Ohio, in October, 1830. Her parents, Sylvester and Phebe Hall, settled in Cook Co., Il., in 1841, where they lived till their decease. Mrs. Hall has three children — Phebe A., wife of Henry McDermott, was born in Cook Co., Il.; Ananias, born in the town of Viroqua, in December, 1858, and John, born in 1868. She still resides on the homestead farm, which contains 140 acres.

I completely lucked out finding this bit of information. It is super rich not only in genealogical information, but for tracking down the ancestral home. I had seen this biography before, but used it only for the genealogy. When I reread it, I was excited about it all over again.  All the bits and pieces are adding up. And to have a photograph of the home from so long ago is even more special.

Martha and Ralph Hall

Ralph Hall and Martha (Sabin) Hall

In the decades after this biography, based on a few historical maps, the farm went to John Ralph before 1896 then on to his brother Ananias some time before 1915. I have yet to do much research after that. I am just too excited to see what’s still there knowing that the land hasn’t been turned into a neighborhood yet, and there still seems to be an old farm house on it.

My next plan of action is to contact the current owner of the house and send a copy of the photo to them. Hopefully, as with all attempts to visit ancestral homes, they current owners will respond positively!

Last year, I visited my paternal grandfather’s birth site, and the year before we collected my maternal grandmother’s flowers. This year, I think this is the farm to see!

A little side note for genealogy nuts: Ralph Hall, is my husband’s 3rd great-grandfather on his paternal grandmother’s side.

 

Building a Home Archive

I am lucky enough to be trusted with a few collections of old family photos and documents, partially because I have shamelessly asked for them. It is my dream to have the family history I collect safely stored and digitized so that all my family members can have copies and that that they can be passed down in the future.

For a short period of time, I worked in the archives at UWSP. It was a learning experience I will cherish forever. It also sparked my passion for seeking out and preserving family photos and documents. While I was there, I examined and wrote descriptions for our county historical society’s small collections. It gave me a chance to see how archives are organized and documents stored. A lot goes into preserving the old photos and bits of history that we sometimes take for granted. Images and newspapers aren’t really made to last!

After leaving, I have been continuously working to better my own home archiving process and knowledge. Like all things, it’s a work in progress.  My dream would be to have an entire small room dedicated to a library and archives, but you know… a 1000 sq ft house doesn’t really have a lot of extra space. The spare room is my best choice. Fortunately,  one of its closets is a pretty good location. It’s free of light, stays even in humidity and temp. But, I do have to use it to store my sewing machine and all of my extra tack (a ton of spare bits and bridles).  I’ve been working on it for awhile to get it set up for a home archive.

I picked up a lot of knowledge from the university archives but I’ve also spent a lot time searching the internet and found some great resources for home/family archivists. My favorite blog is The Family Curator. Lisa’s advice on creating archives, storing photos, and million other things related to family history makes her blog my go to choice when I need advice or ideas for my own archival process.

I also rely heavily on articles published through museums small and large (like the National Archives), conservators, and archival companies like Gaylord Archival. I follow a variety of groups on Facebook too, and try to save articles that will help me. Every collection is a bit different, so do some searching around to find a method that works for yours.

Here is what my current archive situation looks like:

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As you can see, it needs some work. The bankers boxes aren’t archival, but they are clean and simple (I also got them on clearance). Most are pretty organized, but now I hope to go through and properly label everything. Currently, I have collections from my grandma, a great aunt, my mother, and a small mix from my Dad. I need to add a shelf and get a few more small boxes. These metal shelves came from Target. There are also some hooks that need to be added so I can hang my extra bridles a little easier.

I know it’s a weird mix of stuff to have in a closet, but I keep my leather nice and clean. The cool, dark, and dry closet keeps any mildew that the bridles are prone to from getting going.

Family History Gallery: Triumph and Defeat

Many moons ago, I promised my next post would show the results of my family history gallery. I had to give up that dream and post a few things before. That family history gallery has been a beast.

The two major problems for me:

  1. deciding where to hang things
  2. execution

I’ve played with layouts, all sorts of great ideas of artifacts to include, and looked through dozens of photos. It has been overwhelming. Sometimes, you just need to put a nail in the wall and go with it.  I’ve ran into other problems too.

Some of my chosen photos from digital sources caused a huge set back. When I tried to get prints made, I received alerts that the resolution was too low for the sizes (even though most were no bigger than 4×6). So, I had to rethink some of those photos and decide how and when I would tackle the task of bringing out the archives and scanning them.

The task of bringing out the archives has been a hassle forever. My large closet in the spare room is host to not only my family archives, but my sewing stuff, signs, and all of my extra horse tack. With no proper shelving, every time I need something, I have to take out half the closet.  Not to mention, when we do have a guest, extra things get stacked in there too.

That problem is in the process of being solved.  You can read about my home archives makeover, here (I’ll link it when I’ve finished my post!)

So far, I’ve hung most of the frames, but need to fill in a few small gaps. Next I will be choosing the images, maps, etc. that I want to highlight in my gallery right now. Next, I will be able to figure out what images I can put into what frames and have them printed. Here is the current status:

Family History Gallery

I have frames up, next will be filling in gaps, and picking out the photos I want to use!

I wonder how long this next step will take me? At least I’m making progress…