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Oyez, Oyez! Read All About It!

Many males who are my age or older will remember that our first taste of employment was had by delivering the local newspaper. Being a paperboy was almost like a rite of passage that is sadly disappearing from today’s American culture. For young boys it could instill a sense of responsibility, pride of ownership (your route was YOUR route), and allowed us to develop many of the skillsets needed to be successful as we moved forward in life.

Whether delivering the daily paper or a weekly supplement, the process for the paperboy was pretty much the same. The papers were delivered to a common area where you would pick them up. You’d have to assemble the sections and fold them into a throwable form. You would then fill up your satchel or bag, sling it across your shoulder, hop on your bike and pedal through your route having memorized the houses that have subscribed to the paper. 

But, as in any profession, there are always some who manage to take it up a notch. Ed Kukst, my son’s grand-uncle, was one such “special delivery” carrier. He completed his route on a motorcycle. That’s him, in the center of the picture, with two other lads getting ready to deliver the Spokane Chronicle in the 1920s. Ed grew up to have a career in law enforcement. He retired from the Spokane Police Department as a lieutenant.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Defining God

Rev. George Gillespie, a 7th great-grandfather of my niece’s husband, has been described as “one of the greatest and most influential Scottish Presbyterians to have ever lived… though his life was exceedingly short.” He was one of four deputies who were sent up from the Church of Scotland to sit and represent her in the Westminster Assembly in 1643 which was meeting to restructure the Church of England. Though the youngest member in attendance, he took on a prominent role.

When John Selden, a lawyer who sided with Erastianism (a doctrine which taught that the state should have supremacy over the Church in ecclesiastical matters), rose to address the Assembly on the matter of discipline, his eloquence was so profound that foe and friend alike believed it to be unanswerable. The Presbyterians turned to young Gillespie to respond and defend their opposing viewpoint. When he was finished, Selden is reported to have said to those in attendance, “This young man has swept away the learning and labor of ten years of my life.” When the Scots retrieved Gillespie’s notes in order to preserve his impassioned speech, they found just three words, “Da lucem, Domine; Give light o Lord.”

He is said to have been involved in the crafting of the Catechisms that were developed during the Assembly, most notably the answer to Question number 4: What is God? When asked to draft an answer, feeling inadequate to the task, he suggested they pray. In his prayer he said, “Oh God, thou art a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” That part of the prayer was quietly recorded by another member of the assembly and proposed as the answer to the question. It was readily adopted, unedited and in its entirety.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please watch our TEDxEustis Talk on YouTube at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Dream A Little Dream

Robert Allen, my 4th great-granduncle, served as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee for over 15 years. On March 29th, 1822 while at his residence in Washington DC, he was awakened by a dream so vivid, he was compelled to write a 3 page letter to his wife explaining it in detail.

In the dream, he had arrived home to his Greenwood Plantation in Tennessee to find his wife, Rebecca, distressed because apparently he had arrived with another woman. So unconsolable was his wife that it made him think that she believed he had affections for another. He went to great lengths in his letter to say that this was simply not true.

After composing the letter, he was still disturbed by his dream so he saddled his horse and set off for Greenwood, a three week journey. Arriving, he was presented with the news that his wife, who was pregnant, had lost the child and died a few days later… on the night he had the dream.

Three years later, he married again. He brought his second wife, Alethia, to live in his plantation home, thus fulfilling the “prophecy” of the dream he had.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, film, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to check out our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Hair Art

During the Victorian age, mourning hair art became quite popular. Taking their cue from Queen Victoria who, after her husband’s death in 1861, adopted a permanent state of formal mourning that lasted the rest of her life, people began to look for ways to memorialize the passing of a loved one. Mourning thus became fashionable on both sides of the Atlantic.

Hair art has its roots in the 17th and 18th century when child mortality rates were extremely high. Hair, unlike flesh or bone, was found to keep its color and composition for decades, even centuries. So hair would be clipped and saved so it could be incorporated into artworks as a sentimental keepsake for those who were in mourning.

Artists would use hair in many ways. Some would arrange the hair in shapes (like a fleur-de-lis) to be inserted into lockets or as part of a montage; others would weave the hair to fashion an intricate lace or ribbon; some, after pulverizing the hair to form a kind of pigment, would then incorporate it into the paint itself and create a mourning scene on a piece of jewelry or canvas.

Hulda Schuhmann, the sister-in-law of my daughter-in-law’s 6th great-grandfather, was such an artist. Her tree, made with the hair of her departed husband, continues to remain in the family’s possession. 

The popularity of mourning hair art waned during the 20th century until it has become almost non-existent today. Still the craftsmanship of the historic examples that have survived is unmistakable and we can only imagine the import they carried for the people for whom they were made.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And please enjoy our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Off With His Head

History is filled with injustices and wrongs committed. And position or power often does not protect against them. In the 17th century, my 11th great grand-uncle, Thomas Wentworth, rose to a level of prominence very quickly. He was knighted at the age of 18 and elected to the House of Commons. He sat on a number of Parliaments where he became a supporter of Charles I. This put him in conflict with many of his peers who were actively working to strengthen to power of Parliament and restrict the influence of the king.

Under the leadership of John Pym, laws were passed to take away the king’s right to dissolve Parliament; made it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes; and gave Parliament members control over the king’s ministers. Wentworth sided with the royals in those disputes and was appointed Earl of Strafford in return for his loyalty. But it came at a cost.

Wentworth was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, charged with treason. His widely attended trial opened on March 22, 1641. For seventeen days he successfully defended himself against thirteen accusers, arguing the charges brought against him and for a time it appeared his impeachment would fail. But Pym and his other enemies decided to propose a bill of attainder, which allowed a person or persons to be declared guilty and be punished without the need for a trial.

The king, under pressure from his wife (who did not like Wentworth) and others reluctantly gave consent to the attainder. Wentworth was beheaded on May 12, 1641.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Broadway Bound

As many know, I met my wife-to-be on a theatrical stage. 31 years ago, we were cast as brother/sister in the show “The Cocktail Hour.” A year later we were toasting to our marital happiness. But we are far from the only stage performers to find a place within our family tree.

At the beginning of the 20th century, George Tennery, my niece’s husband’s first cousin, appeared on Broadway. His first performance was in The Singing Girl by Victor Herbert. It appears he was an understudy as I found a review of his performance online. It reported that “owing to the illness of the tenor, Mr. Richie Ling, the company was at great disadvantage. Mr George Tennery sang Mr. Ling’s parts during the entire week and the best I can say in his favor is that his singing is not so bad as his acting.” Ouch. But nice to know that the backhanded compliment has a long and storied history among theater critics. I once received a review that said something along the lines of “Mr. Ondrasik, though untrained, certainly seems to be enjoying himself.”

But George apparently continued unfazed, as he appeared in two other Broadway shows, The Fisher Maiden in 1903 and Buster Brown in 1905. I could find no other references to his career although in his father’s obituary it is stated that “he was well known as one of the best tenor singers in the musical world.” 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to check out our TEDxEustis talk: https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones, But Words Can Lead to Bullets

There was a time when words had consequences. Nearly 140 years ago, two competing Virginia newspapermen discovered this for themselves. Richard Beirne was the 28 year old editor of Richmond’s newspaper, The State. It was widely known to be an arm of the Democratic Party. Their competitor, The Whig, was run by William C. Elam. Their war of words began in 1883 when Confederate hero Billy Mohone used Elam and The Whig to launch a new political party.

Beirne published an editorial highly critical of Mohone and insulting to any who followed him, calling them a “vicious, corrupt and degraded group.” Elam responded in his paper the next day calling Beirne not only a liar but one who does so “deliberately, knowingly, maliciously, and with the inevitable cowardice that is always connected with insolent bravado.”

Beirne took offense and through an intermediary sent a challenge to Elam which was accepted.   News of the pending duel spread through the town and the mayor ordered both men to be arrested. But they were already in hiding. Their first attempt to settle their dispute was interrupted by an officer but the parties managed to escape. They agreed to meet again outside of Waynesboro.

This time, they were not disuaded. Both men fired their weapons at the count of two and missed. Their pistols were reloaded. The second time, Elam’s shot went high but Beirne’s bullet caught Elam in the inside of his right thigh. Both men were taken from the scene and were back to work at their respective papers within 10 days, each one publicly praising the courage of the other.

Theirs was the last formal duel fought in Virginia. My sister-in-law’s 1st cousin, Waverly Ragland, served as Beirne’s second for the first (interrupted) duel.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

The Revolution’s Doogie Houser

By all accounts, Dr. Robert Johnston, who is related to my daughter-in-law, led an interesting life at an interesting time. At the age of 10, he began attending the College of Philadelphia. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it focused on preparing students for lives of business and public service. To graduate, students had to face a public examination by members of the board of trustees. Robert was quizzed by Ben Franklin himself.

After graduation, Robert continued his education, focusing on medical training. Following the completion of those studies, he was recommended for service in the Pennsylvania Militia as a surgeon. He served during the failed attempt to take the British-held Quebec City during the Revolutionary War. As the repelled American troops retreated, Johnston was near the front, treating the wounded from his regiment.

He was then chosen to be the Assistant Deputy Director of Hospitals in the Northern Department where he served til nearly the end of the war. Afterwards, he was appointed deputy purveyor for the military hospital of the Southern Department and put in charge of purchasing and acquisition of all goods. He apparently did so using his own funds as there are records of reimbursement requests he filed.

Following the war, he became involved in an unusual venture. Recruited by investors to try an open up China to American trade, he became the investors’ ginseng broker. Ginseng was a plant that was highly desirable to the Chinese and it happened to grow wild and in abundance in the Appalachians. Robert spent three months collecting as much ginseng as possible. In the end, he loaded The Empress of China, the boat to be used for the journey, with 57,687 pounds of it.  He traveled with it to China where he sold the entire lot for $5 a pound which equated to a 500 – 600 percent profit.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to check out our TEDxEustis talk at https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8.

Siege on Quebec

Jonus Hubbard, an 8th great-granduncle to my wife, was born in Worcester MA and was an active businessman of ample means as the Revolution began. He was a first lieutenant in Captain Timothy Bigelow’s Company of Minute-Men and later became a Captain in Colonel Jonathan Ward’s Regiment. His commission was signed by none other than John Hancock.

While at Fort Western on the Kennebec, he wrote to his wife the following: “I know not if I shall ever see you again. The weather grows severe cold and the woods, they say, are terrible to pass. But I do not value life or property if I can secure liberty for my children.”

He was on the Kennebec taking part in the first major initiative by the new Continental Army. The goal was to capture the British-held province of  Quebec and persuade French speaking Canadians to join their cause. It was a dismal failure, as smallpox became a major problem. It is presumed a British officer intentionally sent out infected civilians to the American lines. Whether an intentional act or not, smallpox decimated the attackers. Over half of the 10,000 troops contracted the disease and died. Only a small fraction of men remained healthy enough to storm the fortified city guarded by a now superior force. Jonus Hubbard was captured and taken prisoner on Dec 31, 1775. He died of his wounds between Jan 5 and 6, 1776. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our TEDxEustis talk! https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8

The Troup Suit Club

Two of my daughter-in-law’s 3rd great granduncles, Snap and David Pace Jarvis from Troup, TX, established their family business, Jarvis & Company, in 1888. It would continue to be a fixture of the community for the next eight decades.

The store carried a complete inventory of goods and became the community’s go-to source for clothes, shoes, hardware, farm implements, groceries, feed, fertilizers and buggies. They also bought and sold horses and mules as well as cotton. Snap’s wife explained, “Farmers would usually shop twice a year. They would come in the fall to sell their cotton and pay up their past accounts. Then the farmers would buy their winter supplies.

When Snap and D.P. retired, the store was left in the hands of Snap’s sons, Julian and Newell. When Newell moved on, Julian became the sole proprietor and under his management the store continued its successful rise. Jarvis & Company became especially known for the quality of its men’s clothing.  Julian established the “Troup Suit Club.” Members were assigned a number and required to pay $10 per week. Each week, if a member’s number matched the cent amount of a predetermined stock, he won a free suit. If no one won after a number of weeks, the amount paid could be applied to merchandise within the store. At one point there was up to 100 people paying into the club, some coming in as far away as Tyler to take part in the offer.

A family legacy finally ended on February 7, 1963 when The Troup Banner headline declared that Jarvis & Company had been sold to an investor from Dallas.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotape, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website. And be sure to watch our recent TEDxEustis talk about geneaology.  https://youtu.be/uYlTTHp_CO8