Monday, August 24, 2015

Life Altered in an Instant

How often have you wished you could do something over again, vowing that this time you would do it better?  Sometimes the consequences of snap decisions are just annoying, but other times they are tragic.

As I shared in last weeks post, (found here) running across a McCleskey among Utah Death certificates came as a surprise, especially since it was a McCleskey with a connection to my family in Oklahoma. It would take some digging to find the story, but things eventually fell into place.

muskogge oklahoma, okmulgee oklahoma, genealogy,  family history

Lillian Howell was born in 1883 in Collin County, Texas to Henry Harrison Howell and Amelia Louisa Turner.  Lillian grew up in a household of 11 children, two were half siblings from her father's prior marriage. By 1900 the family moved to Creek Nation, Indian Territory.

Two years later, on 28 December 1902, nineteen year old Lillian Howell married thirty-one year old Benjamin Green McCleskey in Muskogee County, Oklahoma.

A year later their first child Floyd Elmer was born in 1903, followed by Williard Roscoe in 1904. Raymond was born in 1906 and Green Russell McCleskey was born on the 31 of March in 1909, likely in Okmulgee where his family was living in 1910. The brothers were close in age with all four born within six years. I can only imagine the challenges their mother faced as she raised four boys so close in age. 

Russell and his brothers all learned to read and write and helped their father on the farm. Life was hard and there was a lot to do for those families struggling to farm in the early days in Oklahoma. 

I wonder how many times over the years Russell's father, Benjamin, shared the story of losing his father, George Walter McCleskey, in a shootout with Native Americans in Weatherford, Texas, a story I shared here.

At the age of 20, Russell proposed to Virginia Canes and they tied the knot on March 2, 1929 in Okfuskee, Oklahoma.  While most couples feel a certain sense of optimism and hope for the future, few anticipate the challenges and difficulties that come with life. Sadly Russell and Virginia's life would include a very tragic event within their first year of marriage. 

When Russell and Virginia married, Oklahoma was already struggling economically, but the big stock market crash would occur later that year making life even more difficult. Jobs were hard to come by and people were willing to look beyond their immediate communities. I am not sure how Russell learned of the job, but he was hired to work for a loan company in Utah, so he and Virginia packed up and made the nearly 1,300 mile move to Utah.

In Salt Lake City, Russell worked as a manager for The Commercial Discount Company while Virginia worked as a telephone operator. They lived in a small three-year old brick house located at 1453 Westminster Avenue in Salt Lake City, Utah. They were some of the lucky ones. 

rumble seat, accident, salt lake city utah, genealogy, family history

Over Labor Day weekend in 1930, Russell and Virginia went on a little trip to Ogden with friends, Alma U. Daniels and wife Bernice. Bernice also worked for the phone company and it is likely the wives met there. In addition, the couples were close in age and lived within five minutes of each other. 

fall colors, Utah, Ogden, family history, genealogy
9/28/2012 Ogden, Utah 
The 2012 Federal Duck Stamp Contest 
photo by Garry Tucker, USFWS
On Monday evening, September 1, 1930, the couples returned from Ogden, driving along the Ogden-Salt Lake highway, a distance of about 40 miles. Riding along the base of the Wasatch Mountain range, they would have had a clear view of mountains, ablaze with the colors of fall. 

With an altitude of a little over 4,000 feet, evenings in Salt Lake City tend to cool down considerably as the sun drops and such was the case that day. Although the high on September 1, 1930 was 81, the low was 55. [1] While Alma, Bernice and Virginia rode in the front seat of the car, Russell rode in the rumble seat in the back, which soon became too cool. Several articles reported simply that G. Russell tried to move from the rumble seat to inside the car while it was still moving. Thankfully the following article gave a more complete picture of the events that occurred.[2]

Green Russell McCleskey, Alma U. Daniels, Salt Lake City, Utah. Benjamin Green McCleskey, William McCleskey, Raymond McCleskey, Floyd McCleskey, Oklmulgee, Genealogy,  Family History,

The newspaper reported that Russell died of a skull fracture, but the death certificate indicated that he probably died from a broken neck. [3]

Green Russell McCleskey, Virginia McCleskey, Salt Lake City, Utah, Okmulgee, Oklahoma, genealogy, family history, research, death certificate

I can't comprehend the shock folks must have felt as the news reached Russell's friends and family in Oklahoma. Russell was a young man in the prime of life with so much ahead of him. He was working, renting a nice home and was newly married. As friends and family gathered to comfort his devastated parents, Benjamin Green McCleskey and Lillian Howell, I imagine his aunt and uncle, Henry Edgar Howell and Ollie (Ganus), were among them. There would be many hard days to follow.

Life can be altered forever in an instant. A seemingly simple action can lead to a tragic end. How often I have replayed an incident over and over in my mind, wishing I could go back and do it again but different. If only.....

Married just over a year, Virginia had her husband's body shipped back to Oklmulgee and buried in the Okmulgee Cemetery. 

[1] "The Weather" column Salt Lake Telegram, September 1, 1930, image 7, Utah Digital Newspapers;, accessed 14 August, 2015. 

[2] Salt Lake Man Killed In Fall off Auto, Salt Lake Telegram, September 2, 1930; Utah Digital Newspapers,; accessed 11 August, 2015. 

[3]  Utah Death Certificate Index, Utah Department of Administrative Services,, Green Russell McCleskey Death Certificate, accessed 14 August 2015. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Monday, August 17, 2015

Lost and Found

Sometimes you find people where you least expect to find them! 

Martha Olivia Ganus wife of  Henry Edgar Howell, daughter of William Franklin Ganus
Martha Olivia (Ganus) Howell
(Original photo in my possession) 
While helping a friend do some research, I spent some time searching the Utah Death Certificates. While I was at it, I couldn't resist putting in a few of my own family names into the search box just for fun. I really didn't expect to find anyone because the majority of my ancestors lived in the southern states. 

Imagine my surprise when I typed in McCleskey and up popped Green Russell McCleskey. Although not a direct ancestor, Green Russell McCleskey's family lived near my family in both Georgia and Oklahoma and with the name of McCleskey (my brick wall) I've kept my eye on this family for some time. 

Russell's mother, Lillian Howell, was a sister to Henry Edgar Howell, who married Martha Olivia Ganus, my grandpa's half sister. Martha Olivia, or "Ollie" was William Franklin Ganus's daughter with his first wife, Mary Matilda Roberts.

Just to make sure that this was the same Green Russell McCleskey, I double checked my database and confirmed that, yes, parents and his birth date were the same.  

Since my grandfather's half sister, Ollie (Ganus) Howell was Green Russell McCleskey's aunt and they lived in the same area of Oklahoma, I felt sure that the families interacted. Below are the Howell, McCleskey and Ganus families and the red helps to clarify the link. 

Henry Harrison Howell b. 1840 IL d. 1928 Ok
married Amelia Louisa Turner b. 1852 IL d. 1928 OK

Children of Henry and Louisa

   1. Katherine Anne Howell b. 1873
   2. Henry Edgar Howell b. 1875 Il d. 1951 Ok marr. Martha Olivia Ganus b. 1880 GA d. 1916 OK
   3. Elroy Howell b. 1878
   4. Lily Howell b. 1883 TX d. 1899 OK
   5. Lillian Howell b. 1883 TX d. 1974 Ok married Benjamin Green McCleskey b. 1871 Tx d. 1932 OK

       Children of Benjamin and Lillian
            * Floyd Elmer McCleskey b. 1903
            * Raymond C. McCleskey b. 1906
            * Green Russell McCleskey b. 1909
            * Willard McCleskey b. 1913

   6. Lela Howell b. 1886 Tx d 1905 Ok
   7. Pearl Howell b. 1889 Tx d. 1905 Ok
   8. Willis Jay Howell b. 1895 OK
   9. Minnie Mae Howell b. 1895 OK          

So what was Green Russell McCleskey, an Oklahoma boy, doing in Salt Lake City, Utah and what was his story?  Have your kleenex ready for next week's post when I share the story I uncovered. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pass It On

As genealogists we would all like to think that what we do will matter to future generations. We hope that our efforts will mean something and that after we are gone, someone will pick up where we left off. What can we do to help instill an interest in the younger generation? 

Recently I've had grandkids express an interest in "doing what you do, Nana." Frankly it surprised me because they are still relatively young. But when we recently held a family reunion with our kids and grandkids, we decided to weave in a few family history experiences along with the other activities. 

genealogy, family history, FamilySearch Discovery Center, family reunion
Using the iPads to learn about their ancestors 

One thing we did was to take the grandkids down to Family History Discovery Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have varied activities to help families learn about their family history and many, if not most of the activities are very child-friendly. 

FamilySearch Discovery Center, teaching children genealogy, reunion
Seeing their ancestors' immigration 

Upon entering the center, we received an iPad to use during our visit. After logging into a FamilySearch account,* we placed the iPad on various displays and had a totally customized experience as we learned about our ancestors. 

Drawing on what is in the FamilySearch tree, we had a choice of a variety of activities. One activity allowed us to see our ancestors' immigration and life events displayed on a large map. In one of the rooms in the center, a display transformed the room to the ancestor's time period while we learned what life was like for them.

genealogy, family history, FamilySearch Discovery Center
Grandchild's face in a costume of his ancestry 

Another display showed the ethnic origins of our ancestors. The kids loved being able to have their picture taken in their ancestor's costume. 

Another booth allowed us to record some of our own life experiences. The kids thought it was a lot of fun to answer the questions. 

The next two days of our reunion were filled with fun activities such as riding go-karts, swimming, bowling, boating at the lake and roasting hot dogs over the fire in the mountains. We had a great time together. 

On the last day of our reunion, following a dinner of barbecue chicken, corn on the cob, pasta salad and watermelon, one of our daughters pulled the kids aside for an activity that helped the kids learn about a couple of their ancestors.

With a little help, the kids had fun painting the backdrop for the play they would put on. We had to giggle when we saw the 2 year old busily painting his legs instead. Thankfully it was a very washable paint.

genealogy, family history, FamilySearch Discovery Center, family reunion
Painting the backdrop for the play
Ancestry, Genealogy, reunion activities

After they finished painting the backdrop, our daughter gathered the children around her and told them two stories about their ancestors. One story was from their grandpa's side and one was from my side of the family.

Then the adults pulled up their lawn chairs and enjoyed the production. While our daughter and her husband narrated the stories, the kids acted out the scenes from their ancestors' lives, adding a little of their own creative interpretation. While I doubt my ancestor actually did the "happy dance," when the thief who stole his last morsel of bread for his family died or that my husband's ancestor turned into the headless horseman following his trek across the plains as portrayed by another grandchild, we surely enjoyed their dramatized versions and overall, I think our ancestors would have approved.
family reunion activity, genealogy play, ancestors, ancestry, pioneers
I don't remember a headless horseman as part of the story!

Following the play,  we enjoyed a dutch oven dessert and a firework show. The reunion was a success and a wonderful time to reflect on the past, enjoy the present and look forward to more time together in the

After everyone went home and the clutter was picked up, the sticky floors were mopped and the mountains of laundry were done, I reflected on our reunion and felt that deep contentment that comes from having spent time with those you love . We had a great time and I wondered if just maybe in the process of having fun, we were also able to instill in our grandkids a desire to learn a little more about their heritage.

The cast 

One of my favorite comments came from a nine year old grandson. Because he was one who has expressed an interest in doing genealogy,  I asked him after visiting the Discovery Center what he would like to help with. He looked at me and said, "Did you notice that some of the people in our tree didn't have a death date? We don't even know when and where they died. That bothered me. I want to help find that information."

I am amazed how quickly he picked up on the missing information and thrilled to learn that someone from the younger generations is already ready and willing for me to pass it on. 

*To participate using an ipad at the Discover Center,  you must have a FamilySearch account. To sign up for an account,  you must be 8 years and up. Set up the account prior to visiting the center. Younger children will be outfitted with a backpack and hat to help them feel part of the adventure. 

Copyright © Michelle G. Taggart 2015, All rights reserved