Thursday, March 11, 2010

It's all in the details

It occurred to me recently that for all the genealogical records I have and all the information I've gotten from them, I've only half read them. I've read the names. I've read the dates. But every bit of information on them is a clue. Maybe not to some GREAT BIG REVEAL about an unknown foreparent...but maybe. Or maybe to some interesting story. At the very least, it can help round out the picture for the life of someone you already have on your tree and help you get to know them a little better.

So, to that end, this past week I went through my genealogy book, where I keep all my records, and just made note of all the details I never bothered to look at before, for whatever reaon (who knew I had been such a lazy genealogist?) For example - on a marriage certificate, what was the name of the church? Where was that church located? Who performed the marriage ceremony? Who were the witnesses? My great-grandparents Frederick Stutzmann and Helen Haas didn't have a church listed on their marriage certificate, but the name of the guy who married them, Thomas F. Maher, revealed that he was a county clerk, so it looks like they got married at city hall. Sometimes the marriage witnesses are siblings or other relatives, but one of the witnesses on the 1885 marriage certificate for my 3rd great-grandparents Edward Haase and Eva Meinberg is Gus Follmer or Gus Follmar, who Eva was working for as a servant in 1880. Also, both witnesses appear to be male.

My great great grandfather, Jimmy Gorry, presented his son, Joseph Gorry, with a first communion missal in 1894 (they both died shortly after), but it was a missal that belonged to him, that he got at his own first communion in May of 1880. It states that he made his communion at St. Bridget's Church. A Google search reveals that there was a St. Brigid's Church that was located on Avenue B and Seventh Street near Tompkins Square Park in the East Village. It was known as a "famine church," having been founded in 1848 by Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine. I've looked at the missal before but St. Brigid's was a new clue for me, and quite possibly an important one, because I can't find Jimmy, his siblings, or his parents in the 1880 census. That neighborhood seems to be where they are in all the other censuses, but the church where he made his communion is a strong indicator that the Gorrys were somewhere in that vicinity in 1880, if I just have the patience to look and imagination to figure out what name in the census they're indexed under...

Today, I decided to look at letters my great great grandmother, Mary Horgan Gorry, received in 1918 from a soldier she was apparently in correspondence with during World War I. I had read them, but never really *read* them. The letters are written on YMCA stationery by "R. Morrow." In one dated Sept. 10, 1918, he talks about getting used to military life. He doesn't name where he's stationed, but talks about getting passes to go into Chattanooga, about it being a military camp, and being located in Chickamauga Park. A Google search revealed that during WW I, the Army had a base at Fort Oglethorpe, near Chattanooga, with two training grounds, Camp Forrest and Camp Greenleaf. The YMCA helped erect some of the buildings, and the medical camp there extended into Chickamauga Park by the end of summer 1918. R. Morrow talks about this being near Civil War battlegrounds and visiting the various monuments erected to "some great deed(s) performed by some great (men)." He also asks about Mary's husband, Elmer, saying he hopes that Elmer gets sent there, as it's a good camp.

In an Oct. 1 letter, Morrow talks about still liking camp life and going to school, studying anatomy, physiology, first aid, drills, articles of war, and medical training. The return address is "R. Morrow, N.C.O. School, Section C Co. E, Camp Greenleaf, Chickamauga." According to a Web site I found, Fort Oglethorpe and Chickamauga Park were hit by the influenza epidemic that fall - more than 3,500 soldiers got sick, and by November, medical training activities at Camp Greenleaf were suspended.

Those are the only two letters I have. They don't really provide too much insight into the life of Mary, except that she became pen pals with a soldier, but I wonder what happened to R. Morrow. Did he get sick and/or die from the flu epidemic? If not, where did he go when the medical training stopped, just a month after his last letter? Does he have any descendants living today who would be interested in reading the things that he wrote? Maybe I should try to find them, since I would want someone to do the same for me.

Anyway, the point is, that the important facts are, obviously, important. The details may or may not be important but they sure can be interesting.

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