Everything’s Relative: Nicknames, Criminal Connections, the Beaver Cleaver

Everything’s Relative: Nicknames, Criminal Connections, the Beaver Cleaver

The lighter side of family history.

Don’t Call Me That

When I searched the 1870 census for my great-grandparents, I found them listed in Milford, Kent County, Del., as William J. Orem, age 26; Anna R., age 24 — and Charlotte, age 3. Who was she? I didn’t know any of my grandmother’s sisters was named Charlotte.

Then I remembered a story my grandmother told me when I was a child. Her eldest sister was born in 1867 and named Charlotte. When Charlotte was about 3 years old, she’d stamp her feet and cry, “Don’t call me Charlotte!” After this happened over and over again, my great-grandmother said, “Then we’ll call her Georgianna.” Thenceforth, Charlotte was Georgianna. The family called her Annie.

My grandmother talked of her sister often, but she was better known to me as Aunt Annie.

Anne L. Kerr, Marlton, NJ

Leave It to Beaver

As folks were getting acquainted at a regional church conference in eastern New York, my husband chatted with someone who had worked at Penn State University. “You should meet my wife,” he said. “Her maiden name is Beaver; you know, as in Beaver Stadium.”(That’s where the school’s football team plays.)

The man perked up and asked me, “You’re a relative of James Beaver?”

“Yes, I’m his first cousin four times removed.” Since many people don’t know what that means, I translated: “My great-great-great-great-grandfather Peter Beaver was his grandfather.” Peter was a bilingual circuit rider; a church in Lewisburg, Pa., is named after him.

“I’m so glad I found you!” the man exclaimed. He then recounted my own family history: James A. Beaver, a Civil War Union general, lost a leg during his service. He went on to serve as president of Penn State’s board of trustees and governor of Pennsylvania.

Non-Beavers usually don’t get so worked up over our most noteworthy relative, I thought, so what gives? Finally, he explained himself: “I have the Gov. James Beaver Cleaver.”

At an auction in Pennsylvania, this gentleman had bought a meat cleaver once owned by James Beaver: the Beaver Cleaver. As we continued talking, he said, “Oh, I have to give you the Beaver Cleaver.”

All this happened several months ago, and I have yet to see the Beaver Cleaver. Maybe my co-conversant just couldn’t part with it, but that’s OK. The conversation alone was thoroughly entertaining.

Elizabeth Davis, Shoreham, Vt.

Oh, Say, Can’t You See?

Little was known about colorblindness before World War II. The inability to distinguish certain colors is a genetic condition that runs in families — including my father’s.

Once, my great-grandmother planned to can tomatoes, so she sent her young sons and grandsons (my dad among them) to fetch some from the garden. When they pulled home a wagon full of green tomatoes, she spanked them, unaware that not one boy could distinguish the ripe red tomatoes from the immature green ones.

Eventually, Dad learned to compensate for his colorblindness. During the 1940s and ’50s, traffic lights were inconsistent — sometimes the red light was on top, and sometimes the green one was. When we drove from New Mexico to Texas to visit family, I’d stay awake to tell my Dad when to stop and go so he wouldn’t run a red light.

Ann McLean, Jackson’s Gap, Ala.

Get a Leg Up

My husband’s great-uncle Stephen John Lauer told our family the most intriguing story about how his father, Stephen Lauer, lost his leg. It happened in a Pennsylvania factory. There was an accident, and Stephen’s leg was caught in the machinery. Since he was the only one who knew how to operate this equipment, he had to tell his coworkers how to extract his leg — all the while, it was being chewed in metal teeth.

Once freed, Stephen was placed in a horse-drawn wagon for a trip to the closest hospital, in York, Pa. Stephen knew he’d bleed to death before arriving in York, so he once again took charge of his destiny. He saw a farmhouse along the road and instructed the driver to stop. He requested gunpowder from the farmer, put it on his wound and cauterized his injured leg. Stephen lost the leg, but saved his own life. Family legend says that when his wife, Mary Susanna, came to visit, Stephen told her to pack up their things — they were going back home to Baltimore.

Nancy Lee Waters Lauer, Ellicott City, Md.

Friends in Low Places

My mother had all her things stored in my daughter’s attic. After Mom died, I loaded all the boxes and bags of photographs, letters, WWII souvenirs, bills and canceled checks into my car and drove them to my house.

As I was going through the papers, I found one letter so exciting I had to call my friends and family to share it. The missive was written to notorious outlaw John Dillinger while he was serving a jail sentence in Dayton, Ohio, in 1933. The author was his girlfriend Mary Longnaker, sister to one of Dillinger’s former prisonmates, who signed off with “Your Sweetheart.” I also found a letter from Dillinger asking Mary to send him newspapers, apples, pears, grapes and candy.

Finally, I found newspaper articles about Dillinger’s escape from another prison, the Allen County Jail in Lima, Ohio — where my grandfather Hugh Moorman was deputy sheriff. I’d never seen a photo of Grandpa, and his picture was in that newspaper.

According to family stories, my grandfather was on duty and had let Dillinger out of his cell for a game of checkers the same night the convict’s gang arrived in town to break him out. But the hour was late, and the gang decided they’d wait until the next night to storm the jail. My grandfather was supposed to work that evening, too, but the sheriff had asked him to trade shifts. If they hadn’t done so, Grandpa Moorman would’ve been shot and killed instead of the sheriff.

Joyce Kent, Fairborn, Ohio

From the June 2005 Family Tree Magazine

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