Norman Rockwell’s “Family Tree”

Norman Rockwell, "Family Tree"

“For me, the story is the first thing and the last thing.”

— Norman Rockwell

Today, I had the opportunity to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art to view the exhibit they had put together of Norman Rockwell’s work. Today was the last day of the exhibit, so it was “now or never.”

What an amazing collection! From the early Boys Life pieces to the Saturday Evening Post covers, to the later pieces on civil rights, you can easily see the trajectory of the artist’s work, his increasing facility, and his growing bravery in dealing with the world as it is, not in simply the idealized way we think of when we think of Norman Rockwell.

As a genealogist, I could not help but notice the work “Family Tree.” Rockwell shows descent from a pirate and his paramour, through Confederate and Union soldiers and through Native Americans and prospectors. When asked about starting the tree with a pirate, Rockwell is reported to have said that everyone has “a horse thief or two in the family.” This is a whimsical diagram of the proper and the profane in all of our backgrounds.

The exhibit begins and ends with a quotation from Norman Rockwell: “For me, the story is the first thing and the last thing.” This is what genealogists are engaged in — not merely the cataloguing of dates of birth, marriage, and death — but teasing out the first and last things that can be discovered in our family histories, what I like to call “history at ground level.”

Additional resources:

Unintended Submersion Test

I don’t recommend doing this, but I left an SD card in the breast pocket of a dress shirt and then put it into the wash. It went through warm water (but not the dryer; we don’t even have one of those, which is another story for an environmental blog).

After the Transcend 4 GB High-Capacity Secure Digital card went through the wash, I retrieved it and put it in my Mac. Lo and behold, it’s working fine. I remain amazed, and expect to buy more of these, but at higher storage capacities.

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Season 2: WDYTYA? and’s Sweepstakes

Season Two of NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? premiers Friday February 4th, 8/7 Central.

(The episodes of the first season are available for free streaming from NBC’s website until February 5th at:

In honor of the forthcoming season, is running a sweepstakes:

The site says the Grand Prize is $20,000 in travel money, plus:

  • Up to 8 hours of consultation time with an expert genealogist
  • Help from up to 5 experts in fields relevant to your family history
  • A yearlong World Deluxe membership for you and 5 family members

They are also giving away 20 World Deluxe annual memberships.

You can enter the contest daily through April 8, 2011. (They also encourage you to provide five e-mail addresses of sales/contest leads. If you do this, they allow you another entry that day.

Good luck!

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The Site of the Battle of the Wilderness, Preserved

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has ended its plans to build a superstore on part of the site of the Civil War Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864) near Orange, Virginia.

In 2009, Wal-Mart received local approval to build the store, but a legal battle ensued, and Wal-Mart announced today that it would build its store elsewhere. This is a major victory for the Civil War Trust (until recently known as the Civil War Preservation Trust), a noted non-profit organization that has fought to preserve our disappearing Civil War battle site heritage.

This is an excellent sesquicentennial gift to all of us, and preserves a location where many genealogists and historians can understand the turning point of the Civil War. The site has intrinsic, historic, and environmental value far exceeding the economic value of yet another replaceable big box store. 180,000 men fought in the battle, and there were over 30,000 casualties. This location must be treated with respect for the sacrifices made.

The Civil War Trust posts the following comment:

“We are pleased with Walmart’s decision to abandon plans to build a supercenter on the Wilderness battlefield,” remarked James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Trust. “We have long believed that Walmart would ultimately recognize that it is in the best interests of all concerned to move their intended store away from the battlefield. We applaud Walmart officials for putting the interests of historic preservation first. Sam Walton would be proud of this decision.”

They also note in their full account that:

A wide range of prominent individuals and organizations publicly opposed the store’s location, including more than 250 American historians led by Pulitzer Prize-winners James McPherson and David McCullough. One month after the decision, a group of concerned citizens and the local Friends of Wilderness Battlefield filed a legal challenge to overturn the decision.

We should all celebrate this victory!

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Oprah’s Family History Secret

Oprah Winfrey announced on her show today that she has a long-lost half sister.

Her mother left this daughter at the hospital when she was born, in 1963. The daughter grew up in foster homes, and eventually wondered about her birth family. After two attempts to contact her birth mother, Oprah’s newly revealed half-sister found out who this woman was, and got in touch with Oprah. When Oprah confronted her mother, she at first denied it, and then she said, according to Oprah, “Yes, I think it’s true.” The relationship has since been proved by DNA testing.

While I am glad for Oprah and her new sister, to have the gift of finally being able to get to know one another, I am amazed at the choices Oprah’s mother made. First, it must have been painful to give up a child, and she must have felt deep shame to keep this a secret through all these years of Oprah’s success. And finally, to have this child know her family despite all the attempts to deny her existence and their relationship.

For genealogists, these kinds of denials have always presented a problem, especially in areas such as adoption, where contemporaneous documentation may be difficult to come by. DNA matching can help fill in gaps where documentation or denial sow doubt or outright obfuscation.

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Catalog of Misfortune: Railway Accident

1910 US Census, Lawrence Co., OH, Charles W. Clark Household

Freight Conductor Killed.

At 3:20 o’clock this morning, Chesapeake and Ohio Freight Conductor J. B. Lutz stopped his train near Sewell and on the bridge crossing the New River. While standing there a following train ran into the caboose, instantly killling Conductor Lutz and causing serious injury to Rear Brakeman Hugh Ratcliffe. The approaching train was seen by Lutz and Radcliffe, [sic] and the latter jumped and landed in the river, fifty feet below.

“Freight Conductor Killed,” The Washington Post, March 13, 1907, p. 12.

This was my great great grandfather, John Ballard Lutz. When he died in this accident in 1907, he left a wife (Flora Belle née Fox) and eight children between 19 years and one month of age.

Three years later, we find Flora Belle married to Charles W. Clark in Huntington, West Virginia.1 On 3 or 4 May, the household is in Lawrence County, Ohio, where they turn up in the US Census enumeration for that county.2 Along with the married couple are his two children (Laura M. and William A.) as well as her children (Lola, Harry, Alta, John, Margaret, and Madeline).

This census record presents one question: Where was Connie Marie Lutz? She would have been a 12 year old, between Harry and Alta in the pecking order…. Perhaps the census taker missed her in the welter of the eight children he was able to record.

In a flash of the collision of that train, the lives of this family were inextricably and suddenly changed. Flora Belle, who had been a housewife, relying on her husband’s railroad income, suddenly had to find an income while raising her children. By the time of the 1920 census, Flora Belle is living in Huntington, West Virginia again, and listed as a widow.3 She later took in boarders and ran a rooming house. It was a completely different life than it would have been because of that wreck on the Sewall Bridge.

1 Register of Marriage, Cabell County, West Virginia, 13 Feb 1910, marriage record of Charles W. Clark and Mrs. Flora B. Lutz, West Virginia Division of History and Culture, West Virginia Archives and History, digital image: : accessed 22 January 2011.

2 1910 U.S. Census, Lawrence County, Ohio, population schedule, Union Township, ED 94, p. 10A, dwelling 197, family 198, Charles W. Clark household; digital image, ( ” accessed 22 January 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 1202.

3 1920 U.S. Census, Cabell County, West Virginia, population schedule, Huntington, Ward 3, ED 22, p. 4A, dwelling 56, family 79, Flora Lutz household; digital image, ( ” accessed 22 January 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1950.

Follow Friday: Randy Seaver

Randy Seaver is one of the best known genealogy bloggers. He’s consistent, dedicated, and a genuine journalist.

Randy’s reviews of new features on and FamilySearch, cutting through marketing spins to point out where features are actually improvements, or bring more questions than answers. He does this without animosity or rancor.

If you don’t know Randy’s work, you should amble over to

Recent posts include:

  • a summary of plans for the family tree portion of FamilySearch
  • a Google Map that directs one to kayak from Seattle to Hawaii, and from Hawaii to Tokyo as part of a trip from the San Diego, California area to Tokyo
  • a review of GEDCOM export and import of sources, and a discussion of attempts to build a better GEDCOM

Wordless Wednesday: Barn Burning

On July 14th 1908, my great grandfather Nels Johnson’s barn burned to the ground.

The story goes that his son Wallace had a pony in the barn and that the first animal that Nels saved was Wallace’s pony. My own curiosity is piqued by the fact that they actually had time to take these pictures.

[slickr-flickr search=”sets” set=”72157625739184401″ items=”3″ type=”galleria”]

Woman Uses 1930 US Census to Find Long Lost Brother

Siblings Albert Taber and Florence Hand reunited in 2010 after 85 years

CNN reports about a woman named Florence Hand, who had an inkling that she had been separated from a sibling, 85 years ago.

Using the 1930 US Census, she found this brother living with her grandfather. She used this information to find him, and they have been reunited.

The CNN piece is brief but makes a couple of points that are important for beginning American genealogists to remember, here they are in a more elaborated form:

Spelling. Consider alternate spellings. Success will come to those who think, “I wonder if they could have spelled it this way?”

The US Census is a powerful tool. It is easy to access online, and it can help place your ancestors in particular places at particular times. Personally identifiable census data is released 72 years after it is taken, for the privacy of individuals. So the most recent census available is the 1930 census. (I will add that this also means that the 1940 census is becoming available on April 2, 2012 in a digital format from the National Archives at their facilities and over the Internet. For more information, see the National Archives page about the 1940 Census.

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Amanuensis Monday: Jane Graham Murder Case

Below are some transcriptions of newspaper articles relating to the likely murder of my 3rd great grandmother, Jane Graham, in 1854 in what was then Monroe County, Virginia, and is now Summers County, West Virginia.

[ Joseph Graham’s Barn ]

Joseph Graham’s barn, on Greenbrier river, Monroe county, was burned to the ground on the night of the 27th ult.

    From The Daily Dispatch, Vol. IV, No. 241, Richmond, VA, Friday, August 14, 1854, p. 1, col. 5. “Virginia.” microfilm, Richmond, VA Dispatch, July through December 1854, Ball State University Library, Periodical Service, Muncie, IN.

[ The Greenbrier Era ]

The Greenbrier Era has a long account of the murder of Miss Jane Graham, in Monroe county. She was on bad terms with her brothers, and according to the account in the Era, they are suspected of having had something to do with her murder. In fact, she once had an illegitimate daughter, and to this, perhaps, may be attributed the enmity. The barn of Joseph Graham, her father, was burnt on the night of the 27th ult., subsequent to which Jane Graham was not seen until she was found murdered in the bushes, some distance from home. The verdict of the jury of inquest is considered extraordinary. We copy the Era’s remarks on the subject:

After hearing all the evidence, the jury came to the conclusion that Miss Jane Graham fired the barn — that in so doing she roused the fierce dog belonging to the family — that the dog followed her, and that some of the family pursued in the same direction — that some of them came up with her where the first indication of a scuffle occurred — that she then escaped but was overtaken where the indications of a second scuffle were found, and there murdered. The jury, we understand, were unanimously of a conviction that this was the manner of her death; yet (will it be believed in the land of chivalry and in the 19th century?) they brought in a verdict, on paper,  that she “came to her death by some unknown means!” One of the jurymen, whom a friend of ours conversed with, said they dared do nothing more — the Grahams were such a desperate set that the whole neighborhood feared them!

    From The Daily Dispatch, Vol. IV, No. 243, Richmond, VA, Wednesday, August 16, 1854, p. 1, col. 4. “Virginia.” microfilm, Richmond, VA Dispatch, July through December 1854, Ball State University Library, Periodical Service, Muncie, IN.

Arrest of the Graham Family.

A statement relative to the murder of Miss Jane Graham, of Monroe county, which we copied a few days ago from the Greenbrier Era, will be remembered by our readers. It was there intimated that suspicion rested on Joseph Graham and his four sons (father and brothers of the deceased) of having committed the deed. A friend writes to us from Lewisburg that they have all been arrested. He also requests us to state that the verdict of the coroner’s jury was “death by some unknown person or persons,” not “by some unknown means,” as reported heretofore.

    From The Daily Dispatch, Vol. IV, No. 245, Richmond, VA, Friday, August 18, 1854, p. 3, col. 1. “Latest Mail News.” microfilm, Richmond, VA Dispatch, July through December 1854, Ball State University Library, Periodical Service, Muncie, IN.

Monroe County Court.

The County Court of Monroe met Monday morning, 21st instant, when, after the transaction of some minor business, the case of the two negroes charged with the murder of Miss Jane Graham was taken up. The prisoners were brought in, but at the insistance of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, it is stated, the trial was postponed to the next session of the Court.

Miss Graham, the party murdered, is stated to have been possessed of property to the amount of some $3000, and was soon to have been married to a respectable middle aged mechanic of Rocky Point. This statement is made upon good authority. The surviving party appears greatly affected at her death. — Greenbrier Era.

    From The Daily Dispatch, Vol. IV, No. 253, Richmond, VA, Monday, August 28, 1854, p. 3, col. 2. “Latest Mail News: Monroe County Court.” microfilm, Richmond Dispatch (VA) July thru December 1854, Main Film #20, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, researched August 7, 1999 by Jordan Jones.

The Grahams.

The Lewisburg Chronicle, alluding to the conflicting rumors in reference to the murder of Miss. Graham, says:

“We can only say this much, however, that the Grahams are not under arrest, as the Richmond Dispatch would have the public believe.”

It appears to us that there is some ill-nature displayed in that sentence. The Dispatch “would have the public believe” nothing but the truth, and has only published brief statements in regard to the Graham affair, as furnished by correspondents and by newspapers. The arrest and subsequent discharge of the Grahams was announced several days ago, on what we presume to be good authority, and we have never seen a contradiction of it.

    From The Daily Dispatch, Vol. IV, No. 257, Richmond, VA, Friday, September 1, 1854, p. 4, col. 1. “Virginia.” microfilm, Richmond, VA Dispatch, July through December 1854, Ball State University Library, Periodical Service, Muncie, IN.
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