Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Little Bit of Heaven

My brothers and I 
I loved summers as a child.  Growing up in the country, my brothers and I often set out on foot or on mini bikes to explore the hills where we lived. We climbed trees, shot BB guns, played in the sprinklers and swam at the local pool.  Life was sweet and innocent and our biggest worry was getting back in time for dinner.

Somehow summer has changed.  As I frantically run around, planning, picking up and dropping off this and that,  I try to finish my never ending "to do" list and I can't help but reflect on how summers used to be. They used to be a time to catch my breath before school started up again in the fall.  Summers used to be a time to relax and recharge.  What happened?

As a child, our vacation every year included a trip to the San Luis Valley in Colorado to visit our relatives.  While there, our time was spent with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins galore and it seemed as if we were related to everyone who lived there because, for the most part, we were.  In the valley there was a sense of belonging and of being loved and I always felt that we experienced a little bit of heaven there.

A particularly fun memory is of riding around with Uncle Clyde as he checked on his hay fields. Riding beside him as we bounced along the dirt roads and across the hay fields was a treat I never passed up.  His fun sense of humor, his gentle way of teasing, the treats in his glove box and stops for an ice cold bottle of pop always seemed to be a standard part of his day.  He loved me and I knew it and he spoiled me rotten.

On our visits there,  I helped gather eggs, learned to outrun ornery sheep, watched cousins milk cows (I never quite mastered that one), drove a tractor and enjoyed farm fresh eggs and "fresh side" for breakfast. Oh how my Grandmas and Aunties could cook!  It not only felt like heaven there, but the food tasted like heaven as well.

Heber and Orson Ganus in Sanford, Colorado
Heber and Orson
Evenings and weekends were filled with family gatherings. The adults chatted about everything imaginable while the cousins ran and played night games in the fields and outbuildings. It never occurred to me that those wonderful carefree days would eventually come to an end and that some day I would look back and ache to relive those cherished childhood memories.

While on a trip to the valley a few years ago, we visited the Sanford Museum located in Sanford, Colorado.  They have a great collection of photos and memorabilia and were very helpful. There in an album full of old photos, I found a picture of my Grandpa Heber Ganus and his twin, Orson.  Thankfully,  although the picture was dark and a poor quality, it was clearly marked and my father assured me that it was indeed a picture of my grandfather and his brother.

From the stories I've heard, I know that childhood was rough for my orphaned grandfather, but this simple picture gives me hope that just maybe he too had some fun carefree days.  Seeing the twins, sticks in hand, dressed in their bib overalls and hats while carefully balanced on a small wooden raft in the middle of a pond, I am reminded of the stories and antics of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Where did Heber and Orson's imagination take them that day?

I wonder if that day was like the days I spent in the valley as a child?  In that high mountain valley the warmth of the sun seems to permeate your whole being, the sky seems a little bluer and although I know I am biased, even the white cotton-candy clouds seem more fluffy.

I envision the two brothers talking and laughing and if I know anything at all about boys, I suspect there was a healthy amount of mischievous splashing.  Did horseplay send either one or both of the boys into the pond?

I hope that in their fun, they were able to forget their troubles and their loneliness for the family life they no longer had.  I hope that in the companionship of his brother, Grandpa Ganus felt that contented sense of belonging and of being loved.  Summers can be good that way and I would like to think that just maybe... on that day... Grandpa too felt a little bit of heaven.


San Luis Valley, Colorado


Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Happy Blogiversary to ME!

Today is my blogiversary marking two years of blogging.  Although still a "baby blogger" by most standards,  I am amazed at all that I have already gained from blogging.  My initial intention was to share my stories for the benefit of others who are researching my families or locations, but in reality I am the one who has benefitted.  I would like to share a few of the ways blogging has helped ME! (Just what's on your "benefits of blogging" list?)



Benefits of Blogging


1.  I realize that although I know a lot about my ancestors, there really is so much more to learn.

As I began to write their stories,  I was initially amazed at how often I needed to stop and do more research.  The process of writing has helped me to see the holes in my research, which in turn has led me to new discoveries.  Suddenly it made total sense that we are encouraged to stop and write when we hit a brick wall.

2.  I realize how often I assume information.

In the process of writing my ancestors' stories, I can see that it is so easy to assume things that are not actually substantiated by fact.  Sometimes those assumptions are just floating around in my head, influencing the decisions I make on where to look next when, in reality, I need to be looking elsewhere. It's a good reminder to not be too quick to jump to conclusions and to always check the facts before assuming anything.

3.  I benefit from the experience of other bloggers.

I think we all have little tunnels of reasoning that our thoughts tend to follow.  I know I sure do and I have benefitted a great deal from the comments and insights that other bloggers have shared as comments on my blog.

4.  Blogging is helping me to learn more about the topics of interest and my areas of research.

We love to visit and chat with people who like the things we like.  As anyone who has attended a genealogy conference can tell you, this certainly extends to genealogist.  Blogging about a topic or location has served as a magnet for other like-minded genealogists.  They in turn have shared new websites and sources, which of course have benefitted me immensely.

5.  Blogging is broadening my circle of friends and associates.

I love the opportunity to interact with the community of genealogy bloggers. (Thank you Thomas MacEntee for establishing Geneabloggers.) Not only am I learning more about how to be a good blogger, but I have also connected with new friends.  The world truly has become a little smaller in the process.

6.  The "cousin bait" thing really works.

We've all  heard that blogs can serve as "cousin bait."  I am still waiting for a major breakthrough from a newfound cousin, and while I haven't received a boatload of genealogical goodies from anyone yet (although I still have hope), I have received a few stories and pictures that I have absolutely loved.

7. Having a blog is forcing me to sit down and write.

For years, I said I was going to write....tomorrow......next week or maybe after the upcoming major event.  The truth of the matter is I like the thrill of the chase, which is research.  But having a blog and wanting to have something to share in my blog has forced me to quit procrastinating and make writing a priority.

8.  Writing a blog has reminded me that before I conquer writing that family history book someday, I need to remember how to write.

I am amazed at how many of the writing rules and "niceties" I have forgotten and how much I need to practice practice practice.

9.  Because I blog, I read other people's blogs more often.

Writing a blog has created a greater interest in poking around the web to see what other people write about in their blogs.  From other people's blogs I've learned about everything from how to blog to how to research and everything genealogical in-between.



10.  Blogging is just darn fun!

I don't know what I expected exactly when I started blogging, but I didn't realize that writing a blog would be so much fun, but it is!  Writing, sharing, reading other's stories and seeing the stories in my own ancestors' lives unfold as I write have all added a new dimension to my world of genealogy.


While "blogiversary" is a bit of a funny word, it is definitely something worth celebrating.



Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I've Got News!

I've got news!


I am excited to share that I have recently been asked to be part of the "May I Introduce to You" team at GeneaBloggers

Each Monday GeneaBloggers publishes an interview with a blogger from the genealogy community.  For five years Gini Webb has done an excellent job conducting the interviews and sharing the stories in "May I Introduce to You."   Recently she and Thomas MacEntee decided to expand the team and invite four additional individuals to be part of their team.  I am pleased and excited for this opportunity and look forward to this new adventure.  

Please take a minute to click on the link below and visit the website where you can read the announcement and meet each member of the team. 



Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved




  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

It Was Over--Or Was It?

It was 1871 and, although the Civil War had been over for many years, for many Southerners it was far from over.  Many struggled with substantial losses on a variety of levels.  Land stripped and void of vegetation, loss of farm animals and in many cases the complete loss of their homes and personal belongings all contributed to a sense of desperation.  It would take many years to establish a sense of normalcy in their lives and some would never fully recover.  Living just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, the Ganus families were among the many that struggled.

North Side of Atlanta
following the war
Library of Congress
Beginning in March of 1871, the federal government allowed citizens in some Southern states to file for compensation for the losses sustained during the Civil War.  Applicants were required to prove that property was taken or destroyed by the Union Army.  In addition, applicants were required to prove that they remained loyal to the federal government during the war. Thousands of Southern citizens sought relief from their impoverished condition by applying.  Burton W. Cook and wife Mary (Ganus) were among those who applied.

In Clayton County, Georgia on the 26th of June, 1871,  Burton filled out an application for losses he suffered at the hand of the Union Army.   His claim was rejected without justification.

The paperwork however still contributes information to what is known about Burton.  Filed among the Southern Claims Commission papers, Barred and Disallowed,  Burton claimed the loss of a mare valued at $100.00 and 35 bushels of corn valued at $35.00.   He indicated the property was taken in Fayette County, Georgia by General Sherman's army on its way to Jonesboro on 31st of August, 1864.  

Anxious for any opportunity to receive their "just dues" from the federal government, many Southerners filed erroneous claims.  The question is not whether Burton's family suffered losses, but whether Burton was always loyal to the US Government?  I suspect I know the answer.   While Burton's damages pale in comparison to many other claims, unfortunately, his claim also lacks the testimony that accompanies many claims.  As luck would have it, his file consists of four pages of the basic form, with no additional testimony.

The files can provide interesting reading.  Some include testimony in which the claimant describes in great detail the harsh circumstances personally endured.  Some include dramatic statements of their professed allegiance to the government.  Often such richly woven stories include the names of family, neighbors and friends.  I found myself smiling at one such lengthy claim that comprised many pages of testimony describing the claimant's love for the federal government in addition to his secret disdain for the rebel cause.  The claimant added that he had always supported the federal government.   Unfortunately his case was rejected with the conclusion that not only had the man supported numerous sons while they served as Confederate soldiers, but he himself had served for a time and had contributed substantial funds and supplies to the Confederate Army.

Burton too had served in the Confederate Army from the beginning of the war until the end when he was released as a prisoner of war, and yet he filed a claim.  Was his application simply an effort to receive compensation for losses?

The basic form that Burton filled out required that the applicant provide the names of individuals who could verify the truth of the claim.  I was interested to know who he listed and was pleased to see his witnesses were James Ganus of East Point, Fulton County, Georgia and Mary Cook, also of East Point.  Mary was Burton's wife and James was his father-in-law.  While the document does not contain James' actual signature, it does give me reason to believe that James lived at least until June of 1871 when the application was filled out. James was shown living with Burton and daughter Mary on the 1870 US Federal Census.  This is the latest document currently known on which James' name appears. James would have been approximately 72 years old, a ripe old age for that time.


While Burton's file is relatively small, I am grateful for the few details it provides.  Once again I am reminded of the benefits of finding all documents relating to our ancestors.

I am sure Burton felt at least some disappointment when his claim was rejected, although his situation was not uncommon.  The number of people claiming property loss greatly exceeded the number who received compensation.   Undoubtedly, for those who had been so vested in the Southern cause, proving their loyalty to the US Government was a difficult sell.

The war was over,  issues continued and yet slowly the South did rebuild.  While much had been destroyed, the unconquerable spirit for which Southerners were known survived.  And so, Burton and his family, along with countless others, began the tedious process of rebuilding.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014,  All rights reserved

Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Sign or Not to Sign?


It was over.  General Robert E. Lee had signed the surrender and Confederate soldiers began returning home. While technically the war was over, for many southerners the emotional scars were deep and would be slow to heal.  There would be many issues to resolve in the turbulent years that followed.  Many resented the government they felt had betrayed them and the resulting friction was more than evident .

Surrender of General Lee
Library of Congress
Upon their release, each rebel prisoner of war faced the decision of whether or not he would sign a document declaring his allegiance to the United States Government. Would he maintain his allegiance to a Southern government that had failed, or align himself with the government he had fought against?

Initially, I was surprised to find an Oath of Allegiance in Burton W. Cook's Civil War file.  While it would be easy to assume  a change of heart,  as I have read about the Oath of Allegiance, I have learned that many, if not most Southern Confederates signed simply because they wanted to return home.

Included among Burton W. Cook's Civil War file is a paper which reads:
"Name appears as signature to an Oath of Allegiance to the United States, subscribed and sworn to at Elmira, N.Y., June 19, 1965."
It further indicates that he had enlisted in Georgia 53rd, Company C, that he resided in Atlanta, Georgia and includes a physical description and was signed upon his release from the prison, Elmira in New York.  From this paper, I learned that Burton had a florid complexion, dark hair, gray eyes and stood 6 foot tall.  Because Burton appeared successful in his acquisition of land and goods, I had previously assumed that he had at least some education, but this paper seems to suggest otherwise.  Burton signed "by mark," implying that he could not write his name.  Had it been difficult for him to sign a paper he could not read,  presented to him by people he did not trust?

Although there is relatively little information on the form, for me it is a gem because it provides information found no where else about Burton W. Cook, married to Mary Ganus, my second great grandfather's sister.  It underscores the value of finding every source pertaining to each ancestor. From this document, I learned what Burton W. Cook looked like, where he lived, that he was among the many that were not educated, and that after years of war and imprisonment,  he signed his allegiance to the United States Government.  For the details it provides for me and for Burton's descendants, I am so glad that he signed.

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

From Murder Scene to Picnic Spot

Was this really the spot?  Families picnicked, children squealed in delight as they chased each other around the playground and a baseball field begged for boys to come play.  Initially one would never suspect this to be the site of the double cabin where George W. McCleskey was murdered.

Park where the Double Cabin stands

Intrigued by the story told earlier on this blog about the  shoot out at the double cabin,  a cousin decided on the way to a family reunion recently to take a little detour to Holland Lake in Weatherford, Texas to see the cabins for himself.  Claude Chambers took pictures and generously shared them with me.  The historical marker confirmed that he had the right place.



The marker reads:
THE DOUBLE LOG CABIN
At Holland's Lake * A monument to the pioneers of Parker County * The east room with bullet scarred walls shows where George McCleskey was killed by Indians in 1873 * The west room was Dan Waggoner's Headquarters Ranch House built in 1855 * Adopted meeting place for old settlers reunions
Orange arrows indicate where most of the
bullet holes can be seen
The cabins are well preserved and easily accessible.  Claude and his wife were pleasantly surprised to find that they could view the John Bumgarner's cabin up close.  The bullet holes still remain in the cabin.  As can be seen above, the cabin includes a "dogtrot." Dogtrots, which are primarily seen in the South, provide a breezeway which allowed ventilation.   Naturally it was generally the coolest spot in the house and I am sure was a real bonus in the blistering Texas heat.



Close up of the cabin's east wall
Although the cabin was moved several years ago, it was carefully reassembled to preserve the history of the cabin.  Originally built in an isolated area near Holland Lake in the late 1860's, today the cabin's surroundings stand in sharp contrast to their original location. Although the marker indicates that George McCleskey was killed in a shootout outside the cabin in July of 1873, as people stop and read the marker, peer into the windows and maybe even stick their fingers into the bullet holes,  I imagine very few know the full story or comprehend the impact that event had on the wife and children who were left behind.  

Thank you cousin Claude for taking time to visit the double cabin and for sharing with me your visit to this piece of family history!  

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I Thought I Knew


I thought I knew history.  After all, I had certainly taken my share of history classes over the years.  As a child, I listened in school, attended the assemblies and dutifully completed my history assignments.   High School required yet more history and in college I took 5 history courses as part of my graduation requirements.  I hate to admit that through it all, I never really learned to like or appreciate history.

It really wasn't until I began to research my own ancestors and discovered their lives intertwined with historical events that I suddenly found history interesting and relevant to me.  When I learned that I had ancestors in America very early on and that my fourth great grandfather, David Gurganus, participated in the Revolutionary War and that my third great grandfather,  Joshua Rainwater, fought in the War of 1812, the details of those events suddenly became fascinating and the events and dates began to fall neatly into order.  I have even found myself actually reading history books on my own, without the urgings of a teacher or the fear of failing a test, and I have liked it!


Visiting Virginia this past May took history to an entirely new
level.  As I've said before, it's one thing to read about history, it is another thing to visit the sites where those events actually took place, to feel the emotion of those places and to ponder how those events impacted not only my ancestors' lives, but my own.  As we visited the various historical sites in Virginia,  I found myself looking at many of the events in an entirely different light.  Much of what we saw there pertained to the Civil War, but we visited many other significant historical sites there as well.


When we visited St John's church in Richmond, we were able to see the exact spot where Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech declaring "Give me liberty or give me death."  As our guide shared with us the riveting details leading up to that event, she helped us to feel his passion and to better understand the significance of his speech.  I wondered what kind of commitment to liberty my ancestors had felt.



Of the many places we visited, Colonial Williamsburg was without a doubt one of my favorites.  There I learned about elements of our nation's beginning that I had never before internalized.

As we walked around the park, we listened to the murmuring of actors dressed in period clothing, portraying discontented and concerned citizens and imagined what it felt like to live in a time of such uncertainty.  While typically so much of our study focuses on the main characters of history, this helped me to consider the sacrifice, commitment and courage required by even the common citizen as steps were taken to establish our country as an independent nation.  I realized that not everything significant occurred in a meeting behind closed doors or on the battlefield.   What type of discussions had gone on among my ancestors, their families and friends?  What was the talk around the family dinner table or over the fence with the neighbors?  With each step taken towards independence, what had been my ancestor's understanding of the situation and had they wrestled within their own minds with their allegiance?

In the park, women in long cotton dresses, bonnets and crisp white aprons, represented mothers and wives of the time. They gathered in clusters as neighbors and friends and anxiously shared their concerns and fears for their sons and their husbands, discussing the rumors of pending rebellion.  It helped me to see and think about issues that I had not considered before.  Living in a new land, citizens had serious concerns about not only the unknown consequences of separating themselves from their mother country, but also about their ability to exist alone in a new world. For the women, losing their husband would mean facing life in a new colony alone.  How had my female ancestors felt as the rumors of rebellion and war began, knowing that it would take their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers and leave them alone?

We listened as a man portraying George Washington shared his views and experiences, allowing members of the crowd to ask him questions.  I wondered how my ancestors felt about many of the issues he presented.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we heard the fife and drum procession long before we saw it and I felt excitement as they rounded the square and moved onto the field.   Following their spirited performance,  the minutemen stepped forward, then loaded and fired their muskets and I felt chills down my spine.  They had done an excellent job in transporting us back in time and I felt a renewed gratitude for the courage shown by those willing to forge a new life in America and for the steps they took in establishing a free country.

I thought I knew history, but there is so much I didn't know.



As I look forward to the Fourth of July, my thoughts will be of the many men and women throughout history that courageously took a stand for what they believed, despite the cost to them personally. Thanks to them, we live in a land of many privileges and freedoms.  In addition, my prayers will be for the many men and women that continue in the fight to maintain that freedom.

God Bless the USA!

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2014