Monday, May 23, 2016

Military Monday: Carl Writes From Baer Field

Carl "Bear" Kilson

Early on in my Kilson genealogical research, I struck gold. After planting seeds on various message boards looking for information about any of the 6 Kilson family members, someone responded that she had something that one of them had written: a letter composed by Carl Kilson while he was serving during World War II!

In July of 1942, at the age of 30 years old, Carl traveled from Salem, NJ to nearby Camden to enlist in the U.S. Army. By October, he was a stationed at Baer Field, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where training, servicing and staging took place for Army Air Force troops and troop carriers (including several that carried troops to the Invasion of Normandy in 1944). He was one of upwards of 100,000 military personnel to work there. And on October 17th, he wrote the following letter to a friend back home in Salem named Williard M.:

(Click the images to enlarge. Transcription follows.)

Page One:
Sat. Oct 17
4: P.M.

Hello Willie,

Received your card today and was glad to know that you are getting along all rite and busy as Hell these days. Tell all your help that knew me I say Hello and everything is going all rite with me. It’s been pretty good to me around here and I just got done washing, as things keep you busy around here keeping clean, especially when you wear white in the kitchen all the time.

The old saying around here, when you fall out with a guy, You are on my shit list or You done tore your ass with me, they have these sayings going on all the time until some body thinks up a new one and [text missing].

Page Two:

[Text missing] out. I don’t get lonesome out here a bit, because there is something going on all the time that keeps your mind occupied. You know me, it’s nothing that worries me, as time must go on. The guys have a thing here about their money money all the time, just as soon as pay day comes they are up half the nite gambling and before the nite’s over with they have lost all their month’s pay. It’s something because there are some rich guys the next day. But me I still have mind the first time I came here.

The kitchen is agreeing with me very much and you should see me now. I will be home some of these days. Have you seen Jack lately or heard from him? Send me his address and I will rite to him. Well it’s about time for supper now so Goodbye. (Bear).

According to his obituary, Carl served as a Mess Sergeant from 1942 – 1946, stationed in Fort Wayne the entire time. How interesting to get a personal view into his time in the Army, even if it’s only a brief snapshot of this part of his life.

I hope to get my hands on Carl’s military record, so that I can learn more about his service and experiences during the war. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about Baer Field, I started here.

Many thanks to Jo Ann C. for your generosity in sharing this letter – I am so grateful to you for sharing a copy of a keepsake that meant something to both of our families!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

But at Least We Know Who His Mother Is, Right?

Lest you think the Social Security Number application is the only frustrating document I've recently discovered for my great-grandfather, Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson, let me share with you another one.

Click Image to Enlarge. Snippet from first page of Steve's birth recording in Montgomery County Register of Births, 1913-1917. DOB April 15, 1913.

Click Image to Enlarge. Snippet from second page of Steve's birth recording in Montgomery County Register of Births, 1913-1917. DOB April 15, 1913.

This record actually predates the SSN one, both in terms of when it was created, and when I found it, and it was quite the happy discovery. See, this is my great-grandfather's entry in the Montgomery County Birth Register for April 1913. I found it on my first trip to Alabama, back in March, in the Montgomery County Probate Court's office. (Shout out to the super friendly and very helpful archivist and front desk staffer - they were both great!) If you waded through my series of posts trying to establish Steve / Theodore's identity, you know that I had been desperately hoping to find a birth certificate or other record of his birth. So, jackpot!


Who does it list as his mother? That doesn't say Laura Ann...

Close up of mother's name, age and race from Birth Register

Come on! His dad's name is what we would expect - Stephen Evens (sic) but now his mom's isn't! It appears to say Sarah Evens, and even the Sarah looks like there was some confusion when it was written down.

Now, I can pretty reasonably assume that this is a clerical or reporting error, as neither parent was the informant.

Millie Bedson, who reported Baby Steve's birth. She was probably a midwife.

We know from the 1910 Census and Steve (father)'s 1918 World War I Draft Registration Card that Steve is married to Laura Ann Evans. Since Steve (son)'s birth falls in 1913, meaning between these two other records, we can assume Steve (father) and Laura Ann are together at this time. Plus, Baby Steve is listed as their 7th child together, this is listed as the first marriage for both, and he is reported as a "legitimate" child, aka not born outside of wedlock.

Furthermore, this birth register gives "Sarah's" age as 30 years old, within two years of what Laura Ann would be according to her birth year of 1885 (estimated from her listing in the 1910 Census).

And while we do know of one actual Sarah Evans, she is the daughter of Steve and Laura Ann, and would have been about 10 years old when her brother Steve was born. There are other Sarah Evans in Montgomery County around this time, but they are not likely candidates, especially given all of the above.

So, I'm going to chalk this up to a reporting or clerical error, until and unless some future DNA test calls this conclusion into question.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Great-Grandfather, Keeping Things Interesting!

I know, I know - I'm posting about multiple lines in the same week! *Shrug* I've got multiple balls in the air and new info is constantly coming my way. 

In this case, that new info is the un-redacted (is that a word?) version of my great-grandfather Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson's Social Security Number application. While I was in New Orleans, I sent away for these apps for three family members and had them mailed to my permanent address so they wouldn't miss me in transit depending on how long the turnaround time ended up being. So this baby was waiting for me when I got home.

My biggest reason for wanting this document was to see who he listed as his parents. (Note: If you are reading this, you've probably had a Social Security Number since your first weeks of life. But Social Security began in the 1930s and adults who wanted to receive the associated benefits needed to apply for a number themselves, because it didn't exist when they were born, and so their parents hadn't applied for it for them.)

When I originally sent away for this form, new privacy laws had just gone into effect which meant that the very information I was looking for - his parents' names - had been blacked out so I couldn't read them. But, Steve/Theodore's birth is now so far distant that protecting the names of his parents is no longer mandated. Of course, since I've now connected with members of his extended family who have confirmed his parentage, by the time I opened the envelope, I felt like this would be a rubber stamping of what we already new.

But my great-grandfather just couldn't let it be that simple, huh?

No redactions - hurrah!

His mother? Fine. Laura Ann Strokes is pretty much in line with Laura Ann Scruggs, Screws, Strug and other variations of her surname that I've seen. (For example, see snippets from her kids marriage certificates here.) It seems none of her kids (or the county clerks the family interacted with) could agree on who she had been born.

But his dad? Why couldn't it just say Steve Evans?!

I know, I know, he changed his name when he fled Alabama for his own personal safety. And I'm sure folks would have been suspicious or confused if his adopted surname (Johnson) didn't match that of his father (Evans). But genealogical due diligence means that at some point I'm going to have to research the name L.M. Johnson, just to see if it has any meaning or significance to the family story. Aargh!

It's okay, though. Genealogy is nothing if not full of twists and turns. He's just keeping it interesting for me. Thanks great-granddad!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Timeline Tuesday: Introducing the Kilsons of Salem County, New Jersey

Samuel D. Kilson in an early school photo.
Spoiler Alert: You've already met them! If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that one of my research goals is to discover how my great-grandmother Katherine Shepherd is related to the Kilson family. I’ve posted multiple times as I’ve learned more information, under the heading of Mystery Monday: Women, Who Art Ye?, and I also posted when I visited the cemetery where several members of the Kilson family are buried.

So why this post? Because I have yet to give a useful timeline for this family, and I have so many stories I want to tell about them, but I don't want to jump the gun! So, first comes a timeline, and then come details on movie theaters, military service, Junior Afros, and more.

1912, February 15: Samuel Waymon/Wayman (often going by just Waymon/Wayman) Kilson and Bertha Allen marry in Salem City, Salem, New Jersey. Waymon works as a farm laborer.

1912, June 21: Bertha gives birth to their first child, a boy named Carl.

1913, August 9: Carl becomes a big brother when they family welcomes second son, Samuel Dennis Kilson.

1915, August 16: The summer baby streak continues when Bertha gives birth to the couple’s third child and first daughter, Eleanor Frances Kilson.
Bertha E. Kilson in school photo

1918, February 7: Bertha claims a namesake when she delivers their fourth and final child, a daughter named Bertha Elizabeth Kilson.

1925, April - May: Parents Bertha and Waymon purchase a house at 27 Elm Street, in Salem City. This will be the residence for all of the Kilson children for their entire lives. Except for Carl and Samuel’s service in World War II, they all live at home even as adults.

1931, June 16: Daughters Bertha and Elizabeth are both mentioned as being part of the 8th Grade class to celebrate their promotion from the Grant Street School, though they are 3 years apart in age.

1933: Son Samuel graduates from Salem High School, where his nickname is “Sandy.”

1936: Daughter Bertha graduates from Salem High School, “With youth and jollity by her side.”

Carl Kilson, during military service.
1940, July 5: Matriarch Bertha passes away at the age of approximately 46. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery, in Salem, NJ.

1942 – 1946: Eldest son Carl joins in the Army during World War II and serves as a Mess Sergeant. For at least some of this time, he is stationed at Baer Air Field, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both before and after his service, he works at the Palace Theatre in Salem.

1942: Second son Samuel also begins a stint in the Army during World War II. Similar to his brother, he also works at a theatre both before and after his military service, but at the Fenwick, also in Salem.

1944, February 14: Patriarch Waymon Kilson passes away, four years after his wife. He is approximately 54 years old. He is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

1953, Aril 2: Daughter Bertha passes away quite young, at the age of 35. She is laid to rest at Evergreen Cemetery, in Salem, like both of her parents. Prior to her passing, she had been working in a cannery, as a packer.

Eleanor Kilson, likely at her home, 27 Elm St.
1962, October 8: Samuel Dennis Kilson passes away in the Veteran’s Hospital in Chester, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Beverly National Cemetery several days later. He has never married and has no known children.

1968, September 14: Carl Kilson passes away, “stricken” on his front lawn at 56 years old. He is survived only by his sister.

1968, October 13: Just a month after her brother’s death, Eleanor – the last remaining Kilson child – passes away at the age of 53. Like her siblings, she is unmarried and has no children, leaving no heirs to this branch of the Kilson line.

1969, August: The house and land at 27 Elm Street are sold in a Sheriff’s Sale for $3,000, to cover costs Eleanor owes the county for receiving assistance from the Welfare Board.

As usual, 1) these milestones are all supported by documentary evidence, and 2)  I will link posts to their respective points on this timeline as I write them!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Photo Friday: Our Alabama Cousins

Three weeks ago today, I was waking up to my first full day of hanging out with my Birmingham, Alabama cousins. The extended family of my paternal grandmother's dad, discovering their existence and actually meeting a few of them had been the highlight of my Alabama research trip the month before, and now I was getting to spend some real time with them!

I stayed with my cousin - technically, my second cousin, once removed - and her family. (Confused about that relationship? This chart will help! My great-grandfather Steve Evans/Theodore Johnson and her grandmother Jannie Mae Evans were brother and sister.)

It was a lovely trip. Not only did I meet 4 generations of the extended family, get to eat some of their delicious cooking and hear some of their memories, I also got to look at family photos, get copies of funeral programs for individuals who had passed, explore some of the areas where our family lived, worked and played, and see sites that were important to Alabama - and our nation's - Civil Rights history.

You can see some of my Civil Rights history and outdoors photos over on my other blog, But I've saved my family photos from that trip for here.

My host, her husband, and their grandson.

My cousin with two of her sisters, up from Montgomery, AL

A few of the kids and grandkids, all smiles!

Another of the kids, my third cousin, who would like you to know that he doesn't always take his shoes off and fish in creeks!

A double relation by marriage, he's in his 90s and remembers my great-grandfather leaving Alabama!

Two generations of double relations, they dug in their memories and helped solve a genealogy puzzle!

I'm so glad I added a second Alabama trip to my schedule - it was absolutely worth it to have this experience. And now, as my grandmother said to me when we chatted during this trip, a fire has been lit and we need to get the branches of our family - spread at least between Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois. Michigan and Alabama - together for a reunion! Whew, boy!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Break in the Silence!

It's been quiet over here, I know! But for good reason - I've been B-U-S-Y!

Raw oysters, served at a talk at the Southern Food & Beverage Museum.

First, I had to say my farewells to New Orleans, with more sightseeing and even more delicious food!

Rapids at Turkey Creek, in Jefferson County, AL.

Then I took a second trip out to Alabama to spend some time with my newly discovered cousins and explore the area my ancestors called home!

Next, I hopped over to sunny Fort Lauderdale, for a genealogy conference.

And now I'm back home in less-than-sunny (despite what a certain TV show would have you believe) Philadelphia, catching my breath.

It may actually be a little while longer until I dive back into posting, but not because I'm not thinking about genealogy. Actually, after my three days of sessions at the National Genealogical Society Family History Conference, I have genealogy fever! There was so much good information, so many resources shared, tips offered, and things demonstrated that I am still processing and have many materials to go through. So I'm going to spend a few days (at least) reading and catching up on tools and techniques before I dive back into my specific research.

However, I've got some specific ideas in mind that I will be researching and writing about once I dive back in to this side of things. For example:

  • Steve Evans / Theodore Johnson, I just can't quit you! My paternal great-grandfather may have had up to 13 brothers and sisters, but several of their names have been lost. Before I fully believe it, I need documentation! So, I'll be exploring that.
  • I'll also be exploring his life after Alabama - what did his world look like in Ohio and West Virginia?
  • And, of course, what was it like to be a black coal miner in Alabama, and to live in a coal mining town?
  • On my maternal side, my great-grandmother Katherine Sheppard/Shepherd married an actor. I've already found some fun info and will be digging for more!
  • What was life like in Washington, DC for my grandparents, Louis Shepherd and Elnora Cooper? What else can I find about his time in the CCC? What can I discover about her family's migration from Georgia?
  • Who is my granddaddy's daddy?? And where did his mother's people come from??
 So, bear with me and stay tuned - I'll be back to posting more regularly soon!