Everything’s Relative

By Family Tree Editors Premium

Playing politics

One of my favorite family artifacts is my grandmother Brown’s doll, which she always had hanging by a thick cord around its neck on her dining room wall. When I would spend a Sunday afternoon at Grandma’s as a child, I would always have her tell me the story of her dolly.

Back in 1896, when my grandmother was 7 years old, the presidential candidates were William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley. Both candidates were going to make whistle stops in Shelby County, Ill. My great-grandmother, Ida Dickinson Scrogin, was a staunch Republican and wanted her little girl, Delia Opal, to yell for McKinley when he made his stop in their town. My great-grandfather, John Allen Scrogin, wanted his daughter to back “his man,” Bryan. Both parents wanted to win over their little girl to their political ideologies, so they plied her with incentives.

My great-grandmother told my grandmother that she’d buy her a store-bought dress if she were to yell for McKinley. My great-grandfather promised her a store-bought doll if she’d yell for Bryan.

It was really no contest for my grandmother, who’d always longed for a doll. And so, when William Jennings Bryan stood at the back of the train on his campaign trip through Shelby County, little Della yelled and yelled — not caring one bit about the politics, for she simply wanted to make sure she got her store-bought baby doll.

True to his promise, John Scrogin found a way to buy his little girl the doll he’d promised. He loaded up a wagon full of corn and made an all-day trip into town, trading a good portion of his fall crop for the most beautiful doll in the world for his daughter.

It’s this doll that hung for all my childhood memories on my grandmother’s dining room wall and the one that she gave me when I turned 16 years old.


What’s in a name? $2,000

In 1849, my great-great-grandmother Croom was pregnant with my great-grandfather-to-be. At the same time, Great-great-grandfather Croom had cosigned a $2,000 loan for one of his neighbors, Thomas Waters Jr., in which he guaranteed to make repayment if Waters defaulted.

With the birth of the new baby in January 1850, my great-great-grandfather found that he was not only the father of a baby boy, but that he was also going to have to pay off Waters’ debt. These two things happening at the same time must have made a big impression on the parents, since the name given to the baby was Picture of Hard Times Two Thousand Dollars by Thomas Waters Jr. Croom.

At some later time, the pain of paying the note must have dissipated, since the baby was renamed Rotheus Caswell Croom. Although he did receive a name change, all of his life he was called “Pic,” short for Picture of Hard Times Two Thousand etc.

And things seemed to have continued to improve for the family. Their next child, born in August 1851, was named Luck Now Croom.

Sometimes family stories are just that — family stories, not family facts. In this case, however, I have the old family Bible, clearly recording the birth and renaming of Great-grandfather “Pic.”


Scottsdale, Ariz.

Late-blooming heirloom

In 1990, after my mother had died at age 79 and my dad passed away five months later at age 84, my sister and I were preparing to have an estate sale to get ready to sell the family home. Mother had kept very little of the normal keepsakes from her youth and had shared the items from her mother with my sister and me through the years. A house fire many years ago had destroyed most of the family treasures.

The night before the sale, I made one last sweep through the house to see if there was anything else we needed to keep. I spied a small pewter bud vase, about six inches high, sitting on a cabinet. I picked it up and turned it around in my hand several times. I decided I might use it sometime when my roses were blooming.

I took the vase home with me and sat it on my kitchen cabinet. After the sale ended, I was straightening my kitchen and decided to wash the vase and put it away.


About 10 years ago, my husband and I attended a matinee at the Marriott Lincolnshire in Illinois. The theatre is adjacent to convention facilities. When our play let out, we noticed that other people were leaving a meeting held by a Milwaukee-based company. One of the men who passed us had a name tag with the same first and last name as a fellow who had been our older daughter’s high school boyfriend for two years. We stopped him and asked if they were related, but they weren’t.

A few weeks later, I met a cousin I’d found through genealogy sources. He and his wife were passing through Illinois on their way to Milwaukee and we had nice visit. He left me with an extensive family tree — where I found the name of the man we’d stopped in the Marriott lobby. No, he wasn’t my daughter’s former boyfriend. Instead, he turned out to be my cousin!


Skokie, Ill.

As I started to put it in the water, I noticed something in the narrow bottom of the vase. I got a pencil and fished out a small piece of paper. There in my mother’s handwriting was a tiny note: “This vase was given to me by my grandmother Snavely when I was a little girl. There were two of them, but one was broken a long time ago.”

I almost dropped the vase, I was so excited. I had nothing that had belonged to my great-grandmother — I thought. Then my mind went into motion and I could vaguely remember seeing a vase like that somewhere before.

I went through my cedar chest containing my own personal keepsakes and found the matching vase. A chip was broken out of the rim, but it was definitely the mate that had supposedly been broken a long time ago.

I treasure both vases, but most of all I treasure the note my mother placed in the vase for me to find after she was gone.


Denison, Texas


My interest in family history sparked to life many years ago when I decided to display portraits of my ancestors on the wall of my entrance hall. While looking through a box of my mother’s pictures for a suitable likeness of my grandmother as a young woman, I came upon a small studio portrait framed in a delicate ivory-colored oval. But the tip of grandma’s nose in the picture was marred, as if some substance had been dropped on it that upon removal had also removed part of her nose.

“Oh,” my mom explained, laughing, “that was the picture Grandpa brought out West when he left New Brunswick in 1906. Grandma couldn’t come out to marry him until two years later, and by that time he had kissed off her nose!”

I’d never thought of my grandpa as a romantic. He was just my grandpa. What an eye-opener!

I had a copy of Grandma’s photo restored with a built-up nose. But I treasure the original where Grandpa kissed her nose right off!


Burnaby, British Columbia
From the April 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine