Everything’s Relative October 2003

By Family Tree Editors Premium

Not Your Average Show-and-Tell

A few years ago, I taught my class of gifted middle-school students how to research their family trees. For two weeks, they learned to figure Soundex codes, read and interpret census records, determine relationships and fill in charts. For the final day of class, I asked students to bring in five items that were significant to their families. For my part, I brought my father’s baby shoe, a book of poems my mother had collected, my grandfather’s World War I draft card, the wallet my great-grandfather carried in the Civil War and a page from the family Bible.

I scheduled the demonstration for the last hour of the day. That morning, one of the students, Andrea, brought a plain white box into the library and asked if I could keep it in my office until that afternoon. The box sat in my office all day. I tried to move it at one point and found it extremely heavy, but of course, I didn’t look inside.

Finally, it was time for the demonstrations. Students brought yearbooks, photo albums, charm bracelets and newspaper articles. When it was Andrea’s turn, she lifted the heavy box onto the table and said, “For my demonstration today, I brought my grandfather!” Out of the box, she lifted a large, clear plastic bag filled with her grandfather’s ashes!

After 26 years of teaching, I’ve swapped a lot of good teacher stories, but this one always gets gasps, laughter and admiration for Andrea’s creativity.

Becky Walker, Sand Springs, Okla.

For about five years, I’ve used the eBay auction Web site <> to find family heirlooms. But I made my all-time best purchase in February. I was vacationing with my family at Walt Disney World when I received an e-mail notice that an item from my family’s hometown, Middletown, Md., had become available. When I viewed the item, I was amazed to see that it was my great-great-grandfather’s photo album.

Most of my Beachley family is from Maryland and Pennsylvania, so how someone from Oregon obtained this album remains a mystery. The album contains 144 black-and-white photos dating from 1905 to 1919 (including the one above).

I bid against a Middletown resident, but I ultimately won the album for $149. That comes out to about $1 per picture — well worth it for this priceless family heirloom. I don’t think I’ll ever have another “find” like this one!

Mike Beachley, Harrisburg, Pa.

Getting the Message

Last summer, I received an e-mail from a friend in Mayfield, Kan., where my husband and I used to live. A man from North Carolina and his fiancée had gone to the local grocery store and asked if any Evans relatives were still living in the area; he knew some were buried in the local cemetery. My friend knew my maiden name was Evans, but she didn’t want to give a stranger my telephone number. Instead, she took his e-mail address and promised to pass it on.

I wrote the couple as soon as I got their address. It turns out he’s my fourth cousin, and they live in Surry County, NC, where my Kansas Evans relatives were born. At the time, my husband and I were planning a reunion for my first cousins (there are only 11 of us), and on a whim I invited the couple to come. And they did! They even brought his mother and brother.

As soon as we met, we felt as if we’d known each other all our lives. They brought me a rock from the chimney my great-great-grandfather Elias Evans built in Surry County (he moved to Kansas in the 1870s and is buried near Mayfield). But the most exciting items they brought were the original letters my great-grandfather Lee Evans had written from Mayfield to Siloam, NC, over about 20 years. What a priceless treasure!

My husband and I already have plans to travel to North Carolina to visit these newfound cousins and to tour my ancestors’ old stomping grounds. I can’t wait. And all because an unknown traveler from North Carolina happened to meet someone in Mayfield, Kan., who knew my maiden name and passed along an e-mail address.

Elaine Clark, Wellington, Kan.

Death by Chimney

When my father-in-law was 8 years old, his father died, leaving him with just a few scant memories and no family history. I knew I had my work cut out for me when I began to research my husband’s family. Fortunately, at the time, we were living in the same small town where his paternal side, the Tripps, had settled around 1850.

One day, a neighbor brought me a logbook from the local Masonic lodge, to which my husband’s grandfather, Prince Tripp, once belonged. In the logbook, Prince had recorded notes about the family and a family tree that went back four generations. This genealogical gold mine also contained several odd notes, the oddest stating that Prince’s great-grandmother died from falling off a chimney.

After reading this note, we had several questions, such as “What was she doing on a chimney in February in upstate New York?” and “Why did her husband leave town shortly after she died?” We toyed with the idea that foul play was involved.

Years later, I found a history of Orleans County, NY, where the Tripps had settled. Much to my surprise, it mentioned the death-by-chimney incident with a slight twist to the story. According to the book, she didn’t fall off the chimney. It seems the chimney fell on her while she was shopping at the general store.

It’s still a sad story, but we had a good laugh at ourselves for all the different scenarios we’d imagined. We also were relieved to learn that no skulduggery was involved.

Barbara Tripp, Orlando, Fla.

From the October 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.