Saturday, October 31, 2009

Consumate Prankster Grandaddy Holt

My Grandfather Holt use to regale we kids with the antics of his youth. One particular tale he would tell was an incident with his Grandfather Taylor, an old, very overweight, Irish immigrant from County Down. Grandfather Taylor enjoyed sitting in front of the fireplace smoking his pipe. Occasionally, the pipe would either die out if the old fellow fell asleep, or just burn out. When this would happen he would usually get whomever was near to either bring his tobacco or have them refill his pipe. This particular time Granddad and his brother Clyde and sister Mamie were handy and offered to refill the pipe. The entire procedure was hatched before hand and the conspirators had a small container of black gunpowder stashed in the next room where the tobacco was kept. They alternated layers of gunpowder and tobacco, tamping the last layer of tobacco nicely into the bowl, and then gave the pipe to the old man.

Grandaddy Taylor leaned back in his chair, carefully tamped the tobacco down, lit it and comfortably relaxed. After a few puffs, the pipe gave little "piffft" and a few sparks flew out. The old gentleman grunted, re-lit the pipe and leaned back again to enjoy his smoke. "Pffft" again. He took the pipe out of his mouth, looked at it, tamped it down even harder, and again leaned back to enjoy. This happened several more times to the annoyance of the old fellow but he would just re-tamp it and continue enjoying his smoke. Of course, all the while Grandad and his co-conspirators watched, giggling quietly. All of a sudden, the pipe literally exploded with a loud bang, singeing Grandad Taylor’s eyebrows and blackening his face from the lips up. I guess pandemonium broke loose in the Holt household and Grandad, Clyde and Mamie headed for the hills. He never did tell us the final outcome of this shenanigan. He couldn't, the memory was still so vivid he couldn't stop laughing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

End of the Line?

My great grandfather, Joseph Leman/Lehman/Davis, born c1840 in Pennsylvania, is a family conundrum of sizable proportions. In thirty years of searching I find him only in two records, the 1880 census for East Deer Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and in his father-in-law William Kennedy's Bible. In the Bible he is listed as Joseph Leeman (sic). Joseph is the end-of-the-line progenitor in my research on my Mother's (Naomi Alberta (Davis) Holt), male family line. His mother, it is believed, is Agnus/Agnes Leman, born in Ireland c1820. My Davis grandparents always maintained that Joseph's mother's name was Agnus Leman. There is only that and the entry in his father-in-law's Bible, cited above, as to the validity of the name Leman.

Joseph married Sarah Ann Kennedy in 1869 bringing with him his daughter, Laura, b1861, from a previous marriage, possibly to with Susan E. Potts, an immigrant from England. In the 1880 census cited above, he said his name was Davis, that he was born in Pennsylvania, that his father was born in Pennsylvania and his mother born in Ireland. Children listed were Laura 19, Martha 10, Annie 4 and Albert 3. Living next door was a Samuel Davis, born Pennsylvania and wife, Agnus, born in Ireland. Moving back in time on Samuel we find his wife's name to be Nancy in 1870 and 1860, both times shown as born in Ireland. In 1850, living with Samuel, 50, is an Agnus Leman, 20, born in Ireland, and Margareta Davis, 63, born in Ireland. In 1881, Samuel's wife Nancy is buried in Samuel's cemetery plot. In 1886, buried in Samuel's plot are a Rebecca Lehman 2, and two weeks later, a J. R. Lehman 46. Remember now, in 1880, the entire family was listed as Davis.

In the 1900 census, Sarah Ann is living with her now married daughter, Annie Wills, in New Brighton, Beaver County, Pennsylvania. Sarah states she had 6 children and 5 were living. Remember, Laura is only her stepchild. We know of William Stevick (Wee Willie), a child born out of wedlock in 1865, Martha, Annie, Amy (lived only a few short months) and Albert. My guess is she must have been referring to Laura as one of her children also.

Now in 2007, the plot really thickened. A direct male descendant of Joseph's, a great grandson, had his DNA done and low and behold, most of the 37 marker individuals in that testing program have the surname Boyd. In the 1850 census living next door to Samuel Davis and Agnus Leman was the large family of John Boyd 83. John hailed from Ireland. And interestingly, Agnus's son Joseph, who would have been 9 or 10, is nowhere to be found. Indeed, I know of him only in the Kennedy family Bible, 1869, and in the 1880 census in Pennsylvania. I have no idea where Agnus was living in 1839 when she became pregnant. It could have been in Ireland or Pennsylvania or any place in between.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blog's Chief Jackanape

That jackanape you see to the immediate left, me, Robert E. Holt, is the person responsible for the information you will read in this blog. I started my family research some thirty years ago out of a growing curiosity about who I really was and where did I come from. My Geological work was taking me all over the world and the location of my roots became of interest to me. Maybe I could visit the places my ancestor's came from. First, though, I needed to know who they were and where did they come from.

History provides the information that permits us to know who we are and where we have been. By studying our ancestors within the context of history we learn of the many dynamic cultural forces that impinged upon them and helped shape whom they became and where they lived. Extended family, familiarity and place have an enormous magnetism consequently, a major relocation, even within a country, let alone a continent away, constitutes a major life and culture change. Thus it is fascinating to study our ancestral tracks and the forces that brought them to the American shores and how we, their descendants, arrived at where we are.

I'll begin, in turn, with my four principal lines of family, Holt, Childs, Davis and Thornhill. As we move along in my research on the various family lines you will see that I have not always been successful in finding the immigrating individual or indiviiduals. Indeed, in one case, Davis, I have gotten back just three generations beyond myself. It is my hope that as we go along interested readers of my data will fill in the gaps and there are gaps. Also, do not hesitate to pass on constructive criticism or suggestions. Pictures of ancestral family members would be greatly appreciated. In short, I want you to join me in making this blog into a discover-our-extended-historical-family enterprise. Some of the family lines won't be of interest to you, but join me in those that do.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One of Grandad's Stories

My memories of Grandfather Holt are all positive and brimming over with warmth. He was a warm, loving and caring person. His sense of humor was outrageous and his talent for practical joking was rivaled by few. When we were all living together there on the farm Grandad,"POP" or "DOC" as we called him, frequently functioned as a baby sitter when Mom and Dad went to town. He would gather all four of us kids around the big fireplace in the living room, which from mid-fall to mid-spring always had a warm welcoming fire flickering and glowing in it, and tell us stories. And what stories they were.
One of the stories I remember very vividly occurred on one of those baby-sitting evenings long ago. The lights were out and only the flickering fireplace silhouetted the closer objects in the room. We five were as one in his big overstuffed chair. Soon, very quietly at first, came a muffled tumm, de-tumm, de-tumm, then, clump clump clump, the sound slowly increasing in intensity and finally featuring the clattering and clanking of chains amid the now very loud clop, clop of horse’s hooves announcing the coming out of a dark, misty night of a rider on a tall, black horse. "Look Look," was rendered in a low, hoarse, quivering whisper, "he doesn’t have a head!" What’s that he’s cradling tight against his left hip with his left hand? Oh NO! Its his head! Look, looook at those dark,glistening, staring eyes and that long, stringy, black hair blowing in the wind at his side." By then, as you might imagine,we had snuggled and hugged in even closer for his protective presence. Then, almost imperceptably, came a long, hissing moan that rose in intensity then trailed off ending with a groaning, moaning sigh . Long before the moaning trailed off, we had all squeezed so close to him we were literally pushing him into his chair, as we knew full well that bloody apparition was going to appear somewhere in that room in person. A long, very pregnant silence ensued accompanied only by a faint, wheezing, slightly-hissing sound. Then, loudly, "Oh Yuck POP!" as a brown, warm, stream of tobacco juice slithered between Rod’s toes from a well aimed splitooe. Grandad chewed and/or smoked a wiry tobacco called "Five Brothers," whose slimy, oily, pretty-brown juice now was slithering over the top of Rod’s toes and down over his foot which was sticking straight out from the chair.

I could go on and on with shenanigan after shenanigan such as this that our very much loved grandfather Holt played on us kids there on the farm as we were growing up. Indeed, I do intend to get back to you from time to time with more of his fun-loving shenanigans involding others as well as us kids .

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eulogy for John

6 November 1955---19 October 2008
October 18, 2009
Evergreen Cemetery, Tucson, Arizona

I come here today, not to mourn John’s passing but to honor a wonderful, loving and productive son. I clearly remember John’s coming into our life in Radford, Virginia, around 2:30AM the morning of November 6, 1955. We were expecting him to be born sometime within the coming week. But certainly not that day, let alone 2:30 in the morning.

About 1:45AM, Frances shook me awake with the startling news she thought the baby was about to be born. I was completely fuzzed out but managed to get dressed and helped Frances get into the car and took off for the hospital. Several times along the way Frances, in a very worried and almost desperate voice informed me she was sure the baby was coming right there and then. Of course, I was already a-dither and merely drove faster. The hospital finally hove into view and we came to a screeching halt in front of the door. I threw my door open, ran around to her door to help. A nurse came running out, shoved me, a mere discombobulated male, out of the way and helped Frances into the hospital.

I hurriedly parked the car and came running. When I got inside, I was informed Frances was in the delivery room. A few minutes later, a smiling nurse came out and informed me that I had a beautiful new son. For the next fifty-two and a half years I had the joy and pride of watching a wonderful, successful and happy life unfold.

As a youngster, he had more scratches, bruises and tumbles than any kid in the neighborhood. He was, in many ways, shy. But he was also, in his own way, gregarious and had lots of friends. He became a Boy Scout and almost attained his Eagle Scout badge. However, he discovered girls and the badge faded away.

His first year in college at the University of Arizona was, academically, an unmitigated disaster although he managed to pass most of his classes. The problem? Girls, Girls and more Girls. We put him on his own and told him we would reimburse him, semester by semester, only if he successfully passed all his classes. He did and we did.

After a discover-the-world junket in Europe he arrived home, broke and unemployed. I owned the Owl Head Ranch at the time and was traveling considerably in my job so I put John in charge of the Ranch. Cattle ranching then was a distinctive and different way of life. In many ways harking back in time a hundred years. John quickly adapted to moving between the past on the Ranch and the present when away, clearly preferring the former.

During his tenure there, he hired, fell in love with and married, Suzellen Young. She had two wonderful children, Michele and Justin whom he instantly considered his own. Michele lived at the ranch permanently and their relationship was so extraordinary and loving that John soon made of her his by legally adopting her. Indeed, to him, both were his children and so remained all his life.

To John and his family the Ranch was not only home, it was a way of life. They literally moved in and out of the past to the present and back again almost on a daily basis. To me, they all seemed to enjoy round-up, branding and shipping the most. Round up of between 500 and a 1000 half-wild cattle and their calves and/or a 1000 or more steers on 120 square miles (76,800 acres), even though fenced, is no small undertaking. The largest pasture was 45 square miles and the smallest, 10. The work could be hard, dangerous and fun all at the same time. I remember a truculent, sour tempered, old Brahma bull John had nicknamed "Gotcha" that would charge you at the slightest provocation, especially if you were a-foot. We were on horseback, weaning calves from their mothers, and when we put the last calf in the smaller corral, I got down from my horse and started to close the gate. John yelled "Dad, ‘Gotcha’." I whirled around and saw charging me, the meanest, tail-high, head down, ill-tempered old range-grouch around. Up and over the corral fence I went, landing in a heap in a large pile of cow dung on the other side. Poor John and Suzellen could hardly stay mounted they were laughing so hard. And so it was on the ranch, hard work, low pay, danger and joy all wrapped up in a wonderful way of life. But, good things all come to an end and we had to sell the Ranch.

After leaving the Ranch John moved to Tucson and began teaching at Mountain View High School and taught the rest of his life. It was in his teaching career that he positively touched so many lives. So as to better counsel them he got his Master’s degree at Northern Arizona University and was just one year short of attaining his Doctorate at the University of Arizona. Student after student after student has written wonderful letters attesting to his positive influence on them and how time after time, he selflessly helped them overcome, either or both, their academic or personal problems. They attested to the fact that he was never too busy to stop whatever he was doing and listen to them. Nor did he ever belittle them or their problem. He always tried to help.

To me, he gave great pleasure because he was my son. He also gave me another daughter, Suzellen, three wonderful grandchildren, Michele, Michael and Justin, and three absolutely delightful, great grandchildren, Jordan, JohnAlan and Joshua. Loving memories of him will be with me until we meet again and meet again we shall.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My First Steps at Holtdale

I have many good memories of the first ten years of my life which were lived in that old frame house. Even though it was in the middle of the depression, we never felt deprived. Life was normal to us children even though the adults were acutely aware of the difficulties of the times.
I'm never certain where true memories begin and repeated telling of incidents by family members either fortifies or provides memories for pre-retention times in young people. Some of the things I will relate, particularly about my preschool days, have to be provided memories. Others, I'm sure are true memories, however, I won't attempt to differentiate, I'll just relate the incidents.
On my nine-month birthday a neighbor, Jap Groscrost, was visiting and all were sitting around the living room talking. My father was holding me up and moving me about in a practice walk when Jap' got on his knees and coaxed me to come to him. They tell me that after several false starts, I took my first unassisted steps and toddled to him. A monster had been freed from its tether and nothing down low was safe thereafter.
Late in my toddling stage, I’m told, I would run about the yard sucking a bottle-nipple as a pacifier, which I called a "tipple." On the farm we had chickens, ducks, turkeys, cows and pigs. The chickens, ducks and turkeys had the run of the place and one old gobbler considered himself the yard major-domo and lord-protector of the harem. It seems that I was in the habit of chousing the hen birds to see them run and squawk. Old Mr. Gobbler decided one day that enough was enough and caught me in mid-chouse, downed me, and took the tipple out of my mouth and ran off. I guess my new found courage "got up and went" for off I ran to Mom screeching that the mean old gobbler had taken my tipple. The moral of this little tale is, no matter how big and self important we become, there is always someone just a little bigger and more important.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Uncle Frank--at Holtdale

Frank Raymond Holt II--now there was an uncle to brag about. Frank was born 19 March 1911 in Rochester, Pennsylvania to Agnes Gertrude Childs and Frank Raymond Holt Sr. According to Grandad, Frank was an absolute joy around the house. He was mischievous, bubbly, in to everything, and on the farm no Indian was known to yell louder, run faster, or poke his nose into more things or places. Somewhere around 1919 or 1920, he contracted polio and it settled in his right, lower leg leaving him crippled for life. But that didn't slow Frank down even one little bit. He use to say that he passed high school---"through the front door and out the back," so his formal education was minimal at best.

Sometimes Uncle Frank, who was an unrelenting practical joker and tease, would help with spraying the fruit trees. One of my earliest memories of Uncle Frank was when Dad, Grandad and Uncle Frank were spraying in the orchard. Dad had built a seat for me up on top of the sprayer tank so I could ride along. The sprayer was wheeled and pulled by the farm's Fordson tractor. Frank was always full of the old nick. This time, Dad was driving the tractor and Frank and Grandad were spraying the trees on their respective side of the sprayer. Somehow Frank always managed to spray me with the stinking lime-sulfur spray. More than once, I went screaming to Mom who, in turn, gave all three a tongue lashing for soaking me. In spite of that, Frank and I became great friends and constantly played practical jokes on each other.

One time, when I was eight or nine years old, Uncle Frank was painting the chicken coop, which was near the “three-holer” outhouse. Always the practical joker, he painted a ring around each seat in the outhouse. Shortly thereafter, I came down to bug him a bit and while there, needed to take care of the call of nature. I popped into the half-moon house, dropped my drawers and sat down. Squish! Arrgh! I had been had. I heard Uncle Frank howling with delight at my plight. He made sure, to my great annoyance, that everyone else knew about it too. What to do to even the score? I had been assigned to pull weeds in the garden and I remembered some nice big Scottish thistles that had given me trouble in the weeding chore. I pulled the heads of some and carefully placed them in Frank's bed. He, as usual, had gone sparking (courting the ladies) that evening. I was sound asleep when a loud and explosive curse awakened everyone. Uncle Frank had found my thistles. Oh, what sweet revenge.

In Frank's early twenties, Grandad helped him purchase an airplane, a two seater, bi-wing Waco. He kept it at the airport in Patterson Height's, up on the mountain top behind Fallston. His instructor, Vic Berge, became a family friend. Because of his crippled leg, Frank could never get his pilot's license even though he was proficient at flying his plane. He would frequently fly over the farm and buzz the place as well as the neighbor's homes. On one of those sassy, buzzing jaunts, he knocked a brick out of our neighbor Jack Engle's chimney. Now that was the talk of the neighborhood for awhile. All we kids, as well as Dad and Mom, rode in the thing with him from time to time. I have a great memory of him in that airplane, pulling up to park after a flight, with his tight, leather helmet strapped snugly under his chin with the big goggles and his nice, white, flowing-in-the-breeze scarf. He survived his airplane phase in grand style.

Some time in the late 1920's or early 1930's Uncle Frank left the farm. Then in 1934 and out of work he returned but was now married to Mildred (Crumrine) Walter's, who had a child, Mickey, from a previous marriage. Grandad gave him an acre and helped him financially to build a home on it. The family moved into their only partially finished home which was adjacent to Grandad's house.
Mother and Dad had lived in the house that came with the farm since their marriage in 1920 and Grandad lived with them after Grandmother died. Dad had been told the farm would eventually be his if he stayed and help make it into a viable entity. It had been a tough fourteen or so years but it had started to pay off. Then, when Frank returned, Grandad decreed that Frank would be a full partner with Dad on the farm. That arrangement, flawed at best, lasted until the late summer of 1936 when Dad, after an argument with Grandad about the money situation, abruptly quit the partnership. That very day he moved Mother and us kids into the unfinished home he was building on the other side of the farm. He found a job as a wire drawer in the J&L steel mills. Frank also left the farm and started his welding career which in time, led to a very successful career for him.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Growing up on the Farm

My mother, Naomi Davis Holt, myself, and Sandy at left
Growing up on that farm during the depression years of the late twenties and thirties of the twentieth century was an exceptional experience. This was a rural community in transition from the horse and buggy past, to modern times. Many of the local farmers, such as our nearest neighbors John and Ada Gillespie, still used horses for their farm work. By then, though, most folks used automobiles to get back and forth to town and for their social lives. Not everyone had electricity, but interestingly, just about everyone had an old crank telephone hooked up to a twelve or fifteen party line. If I remember correctly, you could ring others on the line by ringing, for instance, two longs and four shorts for a certain individual, or one long for the operator. Not too classy or convenient, but real neighborly. The favorite pastime, of course, was eavesdropping which, with every extra ear, caused the volume to decrease sometimes to an almost inaudible level.

Homes ranged from those with all modern conveniences including running water, septic system and electricity such as ours, to those without anything, not even running water. But everyone got along just fine and we learned to make allowances for each other. Just by being there and interacting with the neighbors was participating in the past. I was actively involved in neighbor helping neighbor, learning how to use tools which were remnants of the past, some already found in museums. I used horses just as my ancestors had done, learned to harness them and what to call the various harness parts. I actually drove horse-drawn wagons in work situations and rode in buggies. I pumped the blacksmith’s bellows, and used his tools. I was involved on a daily basis either at home or at a neighbors in the care and handling of cattle, sheep, chickens, butchering, harvesting and even subsistence and sport hunting and fishing. However, at the same time I learned to take modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones, radio and airplanes for granted. It was all there, the new and the old, and like the sponges we are as children, I soaked up every tiny tidbit and made of it my character.

The community at large was like an extended family. Every one knew every one else or were at least aware of whom they were. In one sense, I was raised in a huge, warm, fuzzy cocoon. A youngester acting up in that community would be reminded, by a complete stranger to him, that if he didn't straighten up his parents, by name, would be told. I could walk down any street or along any road at night and be perfectly safe. It was big band time. Our major means of being in touch with the world was the radio and out of it flowed some of the greatest music ever heard. It was our communicator on the world as well. It brought the world, for the very first time, together. The first commercial radio broadcast was made by KDKA Pittsburgh in 1926, the year I was born. Silent "Cal" Coolidge was President. Just over the horizon, unseen yet, was the greatest depression our country ever experienced. In was in those soon to be depression years that I was raised.