Monday, September 3, 2012

Karen Utter Jennings

            Humans are visual beings. We like pictures to help illustrate what we are reading or listening to. When photography was born, it is no wonder that humans bought into the new invention. The first photographs our ancestors saw amazed them and they marveled over the detail the photographs captured.
            The word photography means “light” and “to write.” The earliest cameras were actually boxes that used light to project images through a small hole onto surfaces. Rather than recording an image, they were projectors of light.
            A French inventor, Niepce, made the first permanent photograph in 1825 and Louis Daguerre collaborated with him to refine the process. When Niepce died, Daguerre continued to experiment. In 1839, he developed photographic plates and discovered an image could be made permanent by immersing it in salt. You may recognize the name Daguerre, for his invention produced the type of photograph known as the daguerreotype.
            Society first looked at the new photographic process as a threat to painting and drawing, but the interest outweighed the negativity. When our ancestors embraced photography, they liked its qualities. The demand for the new images spurred inventors to develop new and better ways to produce photographs.
            An interesting fact I found is that in the 1850 US Federal Census, there are 938 males over the age of 15 listed with an occupation of daguerreotypist.
            By 1840 William Henry Fox Talbert made the first paper print, called either a talbotype or a calotype. Those prints were produced from a waxed paper negative. Those images lacked sharpness and clarity. But it was the beginning of a wonderful way to capture people, places, events, and things on paper for posterity.
            Ambrotypes appeared in the mid-1850s, but by 1860, the tintype method was the most popular images to own. The tintypes were more durable and could be carried in a pocket or sent through the mail to loved one.
            I own three tintypes in my photograph collection. One is a small wallet size tintype of my great, great-grandfather, Thomas Nathaniel Johnson, who lived in Kings Valley, McDonald County. Another tintype is a large, 8x10 and the last is a 3 x 4 size cased image of a mother and daughter.

The above photo is Thomas Nathaniel Johnson, my paternal great, great-grandfather. Notice his tie has been hand-painted by the photographer. That was popular with tintypes. 
             After paper prints were invented, card photographs became popular; the paper print was mounted onto cardboard stock. Carte de viste, cabinet cards and stereographs are the three types of card photographs. I have many of these in my collection, also.
            Through time, it became the goal of the early photographers to simply the process of photography. The large cameras and heavy equipment was a cumbersome task to undertake.
            George Eastman, considered the father of photography, ushered in the age of candid photography with the slogan, “You push the button, we do the rest.” Eastman developed the roll film camera that anybody could operate and called it the Kodak camera.
            The Kodak Company is instrumental in the age of photography. They marketed their cameras to women and I’m glad they did. My great-grandmother owned a camera at a very young age and it became one of her passions. Through that passion, today I have a wonderful photograph collection!
            Cameras, film and photography has evolved into the digital wonders we enjoy today. But make no mistake; photography truly is an art form! I admire award-winning photographers, for there is nothing more breath taking than seeing a person or animal, place or event captured and saved to a paper print.            
            In coming posts, I will describe each of the types of photographs that has been listed. It is necessary to have an understanding of which types of photographs you may own, so you can identify and study them.
             I hope you enjoy collecting old photographs as much as I do and better yet, I hope you use your camera and snap those pictures that tell your family story.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Say Cheese! The Art of Photography

Karen Utter Jennings

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of family photographs is how lucky I am to own wonderful and varied collection. I am thankful for what I have found over the years that I’ve been searching. Many families are not quite as fortunate. Sometimes photographs are lost in a house fire or other disasters. Occasionally people are not interested in old photograph collections they inherited, so they are tossed out with the trash!

I’m surprised to learn that sometimes people keep the pictures thrown in a box and stored in the garage or attic. Year after year, the old photos are susceptible to extreme heat, cold, bugs, rot and dirt. The elements will eventually destroy those photos that are records of history!

Photographs are one of the most valuable genealogical tools we can find. Family pictures contain a vast amount of history and detail of social significance. They offer many clues about ancestors’ lives, which add to the information we obtain through paper records, stories, and certificates.
A family photograph collection is a direct link to family history. The photos and images will provide insight into your ancestors and the life they led.

This photo shows Gladys Opal Utter with her doll. Gladys was born in 1906; this photo was taken when she was 8 years old.  

Did you know that photography has been around for 172 years? It began about 1839 to 1840 when William Henry Fox Talbert announced to the Royal Society of London, England, that he had perfected a paper photographic process.

Did you know that working on old photographs in your collection means that you must play the part of detective? You need to research every clue in the picture and follow the lead to uncover information that is usually hidden in the elements of the picture. You must learn how to search for clues to the answers you want to get from your old photographs.

Do you know what orphaned photographs and heirlooms are? They are photographs and items that got lost from the family of origin. They are belongings that were once very dear to someone. We find orphaned photos and heirlooms in antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, or left in a box in the closet, garage or attic of a home when someone dies or moves. They are in those boxes of “junk” we buy at an auction. Or, in my case, they are precious items that were sold at auction after a particularly nasty grandfather stole my inheritance from me the day of my great-grandmother’s funeral.

The photo above was taken before 1914; it is the log cabin of my great, great--grandparents and my great-grandfather, located in McDonald County, Missouri.

Some of the topics I’m going to write about for future posts are a brief history of photography, the different types of photographs and picture postcards, separating and organizing your photograph collection, dating and identifying clues in photos, and caring for those old photographs. Did you know you can make a photograph timeline with the photos you have and then you can write your family history using the information from those photographs?

Even if you don’t have an interest in genealogy and you don’t own old photographs of kinfolk, you probably do have modern photographs of your family, your children, and your pets. These, photographs need to be cared for just as much as the old ones. And, there are some fun ways to use your modern photos and help take care of them at the same time…through scrapbooking. I’ll be talking more about scrapping and the above topics in future posts.

To document my resources for this photograph series, I will use these some of my genealogy books: UNCOVERING YOUR ANCESTRY THROUGH FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS by Maureen A. Taylor, TRACING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY by Lise Hull, and THE EVERYTHING GUIDE TO ONLINE GENEALOGY by Kimberly Powell.

I will also use internet resources and my personal copies of FAMILY TREE MAGAZINE. Finally, I will use my own family photograph collection to talk about where I got the photos, how I got them, and what I have learned through researching my collection.
My next post will focus on the boom of photography going in to the history of photographs and how the Kodak Company made their own history. I’m glad they did! Through their equipment, I’m collecting a great family history through photographs.

A fun fact: In 400 B.C., the Chinese philosopher Mo-Ti recorded the creation of an inverted image formed by light rays passing through a pinhole into a dark room.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Baseball Story

By Karen Utter Jennings

            What can you find when you research old family photos, old high school yearbooks and old newspapers?  You can find a great family history story.  Old photos may hold clues to where and how your family lived and what they did for recreation.  My dad, Ronald Utter, and his brother, Wayne Utter, played baseball or softball during their high school years at Rocky Comfort, Missouri.  I found many pictures of them in the old Rocky yearbooks.  After graduation, they played for local town teams in Rocky Comfort and Wheaton, Missouri.  I’m lucky to have their ball pictures in my photo collection.
            In one of the photos, Dad is wearing his ball uniform and holding his ball glove during the summer of 1953.  When I asked him about the photo, a smile spread across his face as he remembered that time long ago.  He said on the back of his jersey is “Nu Grape” and his ball glove was a Phil Rizzuto.  Rizzuto debuted in the major leagues in 1941 with the New York Yankees.  Rizzuto claimed the MVP in 1950 and won the Babe Ruth Award in 1951.  He was a five time All Star Selection, seven time World Series Champion and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994. 
            I researched the history of baseball and found that prior to the Civil War, baseball, known as town ball, was played in the New England States.   In the 1860s, baseball expanded into a national game and the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) formed.   By the end of the War, there were almost 100 baseball clubs in the NABBP.  That number grew to over 400 clubs by 1867 and that year the championship went to the Chicago White Stockings, which later became the Chicago White Sox.  Baseball was on its way to prominence in national sports.
            Through the years, baseball and softball has evolved into a mighty pastime with Americans.  From the National and American Leagues all the way down to the little summer teams, the game is one of America’s favorites.
             My brother Bill Utter, found newspaper articles from the old Wheaton Journal (now on DVD) about the ball teams in Rocky and Wheaton.  Dad said they won more games than they lost and the articles back up his stories.  My grandfather, Perry Utter, owned the Conoco Station in downtown Rocky Comfort, Missouri and managed the Rocky Comfort Conoco team in 1953.  Dad pitched for the team that summer with the team composed of Wheaton and Rocky boys.
            Another photo in the family collection is the 1957 Rocky Comfort town team.  With the help of my dad and Jerry Payne, a family friend, the team members are identified as Noble Flaxbeard, Carl Richmond, Wayne Utter, Donnie Richmond, J.W. “Dub” Johnson, John Howerton, Stanley Ford, Ronald Utter, Dale Lee Flaxbeard, Donnie Dyer, and Dale Richmond.  Max Ford and Jerry Kerr were just youngsters back in 1957, but they are proudly posing with the team.
            While you are researching your family history, remember those old photos may lead you to great stories that otherwise might never be found. And learning more about an interesting topic, can add wonderful detail to a single photograph. Such is the case of my family’s baseball photos. I wish you luck in finding your family history… 

Cemetery Family History Research

Writing in the Ozarks.....FAMILY RESEARCH IN CEMETERIES by Karen Utter Jennings

            A favorite thing for family researchers to do is visit cemeteries where their family members are buried. In my early childhood, I grew up visiting cemeteries with my parents and grandparents. But not long after I began my genealogy journey, I discovered a few new cemeteries where many more family members are buried.
Before you go to cemeteries to do research there are some items you should gather. Include a flashlight, paper and pen, a measuring tape, old brushes, rags, a jug of clean water, children’s sidewalk chalk, and a spray bottle with a mixture of ammonia and water. Don’t forget your camera and wear appropriate clothing. Sturdy walking shoes are a must and if it is hot weather, a sunhat might come in handy. I usually throw in my hoe, just in case I meet up with a snake!
When you drive to a cemetery, write down the directions so you can tell others how to get there. Also write down the direction and distance of the graves you find so you can easily find them again. You may want to take note of any large and unique gravestones nearby. Record all the information found on the stones and take note of any symbols that might be used.
If the gravestones are very old, you may not be able to read the inscription easily. Use the sidewalk chalk to rub over the lettering. This will make the letters pop out and can be read better. If lichens are playing havoc on the stones, spray the ammonia on them and wait a few minutes. Usually, after a little bit of time they can be removed by using the brushes to brush them off.
Be sure to take measurements of the gravestones and take lots of pictures. Take note of the sun and make sure the glare does not block any portion of the headstones. You may want to sketch the layout of the graves you find.
            There is an Utter family plot down at the Owsley Union Cemetery, south of Longview and north of Powell on 76 Highway in McDonald County.  That is where my paternal great, great-grandparents, David Jefferson and Christina Utter are buried. I found it easily. It is old, but the caretakers do a great job keeping it neat and clean. I had no idea where the Utter plot was located, so I started on the far left front and walked the rows.  Along the way, I was enthralled with the old and new tombstones.  Ancient and modern are mixed together. 
            While walking the rows, I saw the graves of many people from the Rocky Comfort area.  I took pictures of their stones to put with my collection of Rocky Comfort information.  Eventually, I found the Utter family plot.  There are about 30 graves located there.  David and Christina Utter are located in the middle of the family plot.  Their double stone is about four feet high and on a base.  
            There are many field stones marking graves in one of the rows. I need to speak with Retha Mitchell, the Pineville Librarian, and ask to see the Owsley Union plot index to the cemetery so maybe I can figure out who are buried there.
            Another aspect of cemetery research is learning what the symbols on the gravestones.
We will learn more about symbols in another future column.
            A word of caution: when you go sleuthing in cemeteries, please do not go alone.  It is really best to go with a buddy. Always make sure you have enough gas in your vehicle, carry your cell phone with you, and always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to come back.
Be prepared; weather plays a huge part in cemetery research. Sudden thunderstorms can be dangerous. Be alert to your surroundings and always watch for snakes in the summertime. Keep track of your time and stay with your time constraints. Happy hunting! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hills and Hollows Granny Women

                                              HILLS AND HOLLOWS GRANNY WOMEN
By Karen Utter Jennings 
            Disclaimer: In writing this article, I make no claims to persuade folks to choose folk remedies over a medical doctor should a person have an illness. I merely write historical articles about interesting topics, and especially enjoy researching women and history. So with that in mind, I give you information about midwifery in Southwest Missouri. 
            Women have always been the backbone of families. They served in many capacities and their duties included caring for their children, their husband, and many times their elderly parents, siblings, as well as neighbors and friends. Homemakers did not need a job outside of the home, for homemaking included everything from making soap and doing the laundry, caring for the needy and the ill, to helping tend the farm work when need be.  
            In days long gone, Ozarks women learned from their own mothers and grandmothers how to care for the sick and how to help bring babies into the world. Their medicine came from the earth; the plants, flowers and trees provided remedies to cure the sick and afflicted.
            The most knowledgeable and experienced of these women were healers and midwifes, often-called Granny Women. They were known far and wide for their giving service and helping hands. Folks depended upon the woman to come when the need arose and they relied on the Granny Woman’s special knowledge of herbs, roots, and concoctions. Those women had skills and the wisdom to use the native plants for healing purposes.
            In early days, doctors were few and far between. Sometimes the great distance a doctor had to travel was a hindrance for those who were gravely ill. Before the turn of the century, many doctors were not trained in the knowledge of germs. The states lacked standardized licensing requirements, the quality of their education varied, and so their medical practices were handled with crude effectiveness. 
            Many rural Ozarkian women preferred the familiar Granny Woman to treat them with their mild herbal remedies and to deliver their babies. Traditional midwives met the concern for modesty during the birthing process, an important consideration in areas where the use of male doctors might offend an entire community.
            Some midwives carried a “midwife’s book” to reference when complicated childbirth procedures arose. Sometimes they used superstitious rituals to give mothers psychological relief such as having the mother hold something that belonged to her husband to symbolically bring him into the delivery room. Their use of herbal remedies and teas helped speed the birth along; but they might also use morphine tablets or quinine when the pain became unbearable, if the medicine was available.
            After the birth of a baby, the Granny Woman might stay for a week or longer to help about the house and allow the new mother time in bed to heal. Caring for the new mother, the new baby, and doing housework and household chores was of great importance to keep the woman from hemorrhaging or having other childbirth complications.
            Many times Granny Woman was not paid with money. Rather, they accepted whatever offering the family could provide at the time, possibly giving her meat or chickens, vegetables from the garden or enough material to make a dress. If the family had nothing, that was all right, too.
            As midwives became certified within their home state, they were able to charge to attend births. The going rate in 1906 was $3.00 her birth attendance.
            Granny Women knew how to prepare herbs, roots, tree bark and other native plants and flowers to make healing ointments, teas, poultices, and concoctions. Most native roots had to be gathered before the sap began to rise because they lost their value after that. And, some plants became poisonous at certain points in their growth cycle.
            For example, Southwest Missouri midwives surely combined sage, peppermint, black walnut, slippery elm bark, pokeroot, horseradish, elderberries, dill weed, with honey, black strap molasses, lard, onions, vinegar and whiskey to make tonics, potions, plasters, poultices, and teas. And many a child with an earache had tobacco smoke blown into their ears as a cure.
            The Missouri Medical College was originally organized in 1840 as the Medical Department of Kemper College. It was the first medical school established west of the Mississippi river. In 1845, it became the Medical Department of the University of Missouri. There are a few women midwives listed on the Missouri History Program website, all of whom lived in St. Louis, Missouri for the years of 1888-1892.
            The American Medical Association was founded in 1847. Eventually doctors began to resent midwives. They looked upon the granny women as competition for business. The medical profession was growing and insisted upon education, standard examination procedures, and licensing requirements for all practicing physicians. Throughout the nation, doctors waged a campaign to run midwives out of business. They portrayed the women as being ignorant of medical procedures and lacking cleanliness.
            Midwives practiced cleanliness by scrubbing and cleaning their homes on a daily basis. After attending deliveries, they cleaned up the bed and the new mother and infant. Sterile environments did not come along until years later when hospitals flourished.
            Even though European countries were establishing schools of midwifery, American doctors were refusing to admit women to medical schools. When the American Medical Association demanded that all people practicing medicine be trained and then licensed, that was the demise of  midwifery.  
            However, in the isolated hills and hollows of the Ozarks Mountains in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, as well as other isolated parts of the United States, Granny Women continued to serve their communities with their skills into the twentieth century. Ozarks folklorists have collected information about these women and their healing practices.
            Until the New Deal programs and World War II changed the region’s financial system and transportation, bad roads and the lack of money forced most Ozarkians to rely on native remedies prepared by the womenfolk of the family.
            Eventually, pregnant women began to enter hospitals to give birth and Granny Women went by the wayside. The science of medicine scoffed at the nurturing and holistic care that midwives had provided their family, friends and neighbors.
            The era of the women’s healing art of domestic medicine is now history. But if we look closely into our own family history, we would surely find Granny Women.  
            My great, great-grandmother Nancy Smith Johnson practiced midwifery and the healing arts in the hills and hollows of McDonald County, Missouri. Although I have not found any legal certificates providing that information, it is noted in her obituary. Taken from her obituary, it reads: “The nights were never too dark nor the times too hard for Nancy Johnson to willingly lend a helping hand in time of need. She could count by the dozens the babies she helped into the world and the lives she practically saved. Her cheerful disposition and pleasant smile made her most enjoyable to all around her.”
            My family photographs of Nancy Johnson show her as short and petite, with black hair and a thin face with a sharp jutting chin and high cheekbones. She bore five children in her lifetime and passed away in 1949 at Rocky Comfort, Missouri.
            Among the acquisitions at the McDonald County Historical Museum, we found Delpha Laughlin’s midwife certificate. Issued on October 20th, 1884, at the State Board of Health in Hannibal, Missouri, it certifies that Laughlin had practiced midwifery for a period of ten years and was therefore legally authorized to practice in the state. Laughlin received her certificate at Powell, Missouri, on January 1, 1885.
            Today midwifery is an internationally recognized profession. The American College of Nurse-Midwives includes the primary health care of women and their newborn children. A Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) is a woman who is educated in nursing and midwifery, who possesses certification according to the requirements of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
            The Nurse-Midwifery practice manages women’s health care, focusing on pregnancy, childbirth, the postpartum period, care of the newborn, and the family planning and gynecological needs of women. The Certified Nurse-Midwife practices within a health care system that provides for consultation, collaborative management or referral as indicated by the health status of the client.
            Despite the evolution of medicine, Ozarks women continued to practice the healing arts that had been handed down from mother to daughter. Instilled in the women, they did whatever was necessary to care for their family and friends, in sickness and in health.
            The herb garden was grown right alongside the vegetable garden. In the fields and woods native plants, trees, and flowers grew in abundance offering their healing properties for those who gathered and gleaned.
            In this modern world, there are those who scoff at and become quite angry with the thought of people seeking holistic health and “folk,” “home,” or “natural” remedies. And of course, after doctors spend countless years of study and pay for it all, they do not want to hear of someone seeking backwoods cures.
            Today herbs are a big industry. Herbal stores and natural food stores run a brisk business. Women have always known how to care for their own. I remember my grandmothers using herbs and plants to put a meal on the table and to heal what ailed us. And I am certainly proud to have found a Granny Woman in my family history and to have the certificate for Delpha Laughlin at the McDonald County Historical Society.
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References for this article come from online sources: Missouri History Museum: Genealogy and Local History Index; Missouri Medical College (; an online workshop, “Herbal Lore and The Historic Medicinal Uses of Herbs”; a copy of Delpha Laughlin’s Midwife Certificate; and from the obituary of Nancy Johnson from the Wheaton Journal on DVD, courtesy of the MO Historical Society. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Legacy of the Hope Chest

The Legacy of the Hope Chest
Karen Utter Jennings 
            Hoping and wishing and thinking and dreaming…..
            Weddings play a big part of nearly every little girl’s dreams. The tradition of the hope chest began in the middle Ages when all families expected that their girls would marry a handsome man and live a blissful life. Preparations began as soon as the daughter was born and a family’s hopes and dreams for their young girl were placed in a wooden chest or box.
            In Italy, these highly- decorated boxes were called “cassones,” in Germany they were “shranks” and when European immigrants arrived in America, they brought their idea of chests with them. They were called “hope chests” or “blanket chests” and were made of cedar wood to protect the contents from bugs.  
            During Word War I, the Lane Company, based in Virginia, manufactured wood ammunition boxes for the United States government. After the war, the market for the boxes faded, and they turned to producing wooden chests geared to the natural romantic spirit of girls. The Lane Hope Chest was born. Today, Lane chests are a popular choice for hope chests.
            But, what goes into a hope chest? The answer depends on the personal ideas, choices and thoughts for the chest’s owner. Typically, things such as collections of all types, books, photos and albums, linens and quilts, dishes, antiques, and baby items may be placed inside.  
            Today, the idea of a hope chest does not necessarily mean a young woman’s dream is to get married. She may dream of being an entrepreneur and having her own business after she graduates university and decides to remain single. Anything that represents your interests should be cherished. Hope chests are just that: place your hopes and dreams of whatever kind of life you want, inside. When you are ready for that life, the hope chest is there with all your planning inside.
            Hope chests are not just for girls. Boys, too, need to be encouraged to keep their memorabilia and keepsakes. One might want to title a chest for their son as a “treasure chest.” You can envision what a treasure chest might look like. Explore the possibilities with your son or grandson to peek his interest in keeping such a chest.
            Today’s market offers plenty of styles, shapes, sizes and colors. From the traditional “folk art” piece to the modern sleek chest, explore the possibilities before you choose which chest will hold your hopes and dreams. The future can be placed in a chest.            
            I have my own hope chest. As a child, we lived in the same small town as my paternal great-grandmother, Ollie Johnson Utter Brier.  And I was in her house just as much as I was in my own home.
            One of the pieces of furniture Ollie owned was an old cedar chest. The chest is made of cedar wood and is a traditional size. It sets on the floor (there are no legs) and has carved-wood handles on each end of the lid. Rectangular diamond-shaped wooden pieces adorn the front and sides of the cedar chest and it is very heavy.    
            As I grew into a young girl, one day when I went to visit, the cedar chest was setting in the living room under the front window. Great-grandma Ollie and I sat on the hardwood floor next to the chest. She explained that the chest would be mine when she died or when I got married, whichever came first. She called the cedar chest a hope chest and explained the meaning of it.  She encouraged me to cherish my keepsakes. She said she was “setting things back” for me when I grew up and married, so the things inside were mine for my new life that lay ahead of me.
            She told me that my grandfather, her only son, Perry Utter, made the chest when he was a boy.  She said Perry was talented in woodworking and he loved to make things.  Ollie’s father, Thomas “Bud” Johnson, was a logger and hewed lumber on the old home place in McDonald County, Missouri. Perry learned the wood making trade from his Pa Johnson.
            As Ollie’s gnarled hands lifted the lid, I saw several things inside wrapped up with doilies and handkerchiefs (hankies as we called them) and laying next to each other. She lifted the first item out of the chest, unwrapped it, and handed me a German pickle dish that was very old and worth a lot of money. She told the story of the dish and that it had belonged to a female family member.  
            Ollie brought out a square box that housed her Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera. Her story about cameras and her love of taking pictures is one that I will always remember.  As soon as cameras became available, she bought her first one and began snapping pictures of everything around her, especially her family. Along with the camera, she gave me her photo album.
            When we reached the bottom of the cedar chest, we rewrapped each item and placed them back into their safe place. She closed the lid on the chest and I ran off to play.   
            I am happy to say, I got married before her death, so the cedar chest came to live at my house.  Over the years, it lost its strong scent of cedar and it needed a good cleaning and a few repairs. I used soap for wooden furniture and left it as it is. I never want to refinish it, as doing so would diminish the vintage charm.
            As time goes by, I add things to the old hope chest and someday I will sit with my granddaughter to explain the history of the ephemera and memorabilia. I have placed my hopes and dreams that they will one-day carryon the tradition of passing down heirlooms through the generations into my hope chest.
            What about you? Have you created legacy for your children or grandchildren? Do you have a hope chest filled with your hopes and dreams?

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Disclaimer: in my legacy writing, I do not intend to be sexist, bias, or unethical toward gender or nationality. I merely write and report the facts that I have found and those that I know from my own personal experience. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Family History: How to Begin Researching Yours

How to Begin Researching Your Family History
Karen Utter Jennings

Are you interested in finding out more about yourself and your ancestors? Do you wonder about the medical history of your family members? Do you have old family photographs that you can’t identify? Why not start your genealogy journey?

As with all journeys, there is much to discover and learn.  The rewards are never ending.  During my journey, I have found photographs and many other interesting documents and family stories of the main family lines that I am researching. These newfound items of days gone by and bits and pieces of information were added to what I already knew about them. 

So, how do you begin your genealogy journey?  How do you find relatives, amazing facts, pictures, records, and mementos?  Begin by focusing on only one surname.  This is important so you do not get overwhelmed. You may stop at any time with that surname and begin to research another one, but until you get a bit of experience, it may overwhelm you if you try to search for multiple lines at the same time.
Here are the first steps to begin researching your family history: 
1. Decide on one surname to focus your research.  
2. Gather pencil/pen and paper or if you prefer to type, go to the keyboard.
3. Start with yourself and record your information: when and where you were born and your parent’s names.  Next, if you are married, write your marriage information and your spouse’s information.  Be as complete as you can.  If you have children, continue writing each of your children’s information.  If the children are married with children, write that information down as well and continue until you finish each person in your line. When you finish, set this information aside.
4. Next, begin to record the information about your parents, but remember to focus on the surname you chose. Record everything you know about them.  When you finish, set this information aside. 
5. Continue to record the information about your parents’ parents, and so on.  Do this until you cannot go any further because you do not have information on that set of grandparents.
6. After you have worked to produce information, you need to organize it.  Place your work in a folder or if you worked on the keyboard save your work on the computer. 

Genealogists use family group sheets to organize their information.  A family group sheet is an 8 ½ by 11 inch paper that is used to record each family unit and the vital statistics.  The sheets organize your information as a series of family groups.  Family group sheets are user-friendly.

Begin filling out the family group sheet starting at the top.  There are spaces to write in who is preparing the sheet, the date, the relationship to preparer, the family unit number and the ancestral chart number.  Family group sheets are easy to use and self-explanatory in most cases.

Next, fill in the husband’s vital statistics: the day, month along with the year he was born, the city, county, and state/country where he was born.  Included are fields for his occupation, religion, if he was christened, when he was married, died and buried, the cemetery, if he had a will and the cause of his death.   Beneath his information is where you fill in his father’s and mother’s names.

Below the husband’s information will be the wife and her vital statistics and fields for her other information.  Be sure to include the wife’s maiden name if known.  Also, write down the wife’s mother’s maiden name in the appropriate space.

After you have finished the wife’s information, you will start filling in their children’s vitals.  There is space for twelve children. If there are more than twelve children, use another family group sheet. 

Family Group Sheets, as well as other genealogy records can be accessed at these websites for free:,, or

As you search for your family roots, I hope you enjoy the journey. 



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rural Country Correspondents in Southwest Missouri

Country Correspondents in Rural Southwest Missouri
By Karen Utter Jennings
In the good old days when newspapers were young, editors relied on country correspondents to report the news from the rural areas. Country correspondents, also called community correspondents, lived in small communities in our counties and gathered local news of their area for the newspaper. They took their written news to the newspaper office themselves or sent it via someone else making the trip to town.  

Rural life in the hills and hollows was brimming with news of people working, births, deaths, accidents and socializing.  However, getting that news to the newspapers meant using correspondents. There were no telephones and the mail system was not reliable to deliver the mail in a timely manner.  Many times, the mail hack was late due to high water when trying to ford a creek, or while encountering other difficulties.

Many people scoffed at community news, comparing it to gossipy rubbish. At the same time, people clamored to read the latest news reported in their community column. Correspondents were made fun of, but they eventually earned the respect they deserved.  People cared about their neighbors and were hungry for news. As time went by, newspaper subscriptions were a great need in the community.

My late mother-in-law, Veta Jennings, was a correspondent for The Neosho Daily Democrat in 1949 during her senior year at Neosho High School in Neosho, Missouri. She wrote news for the Schmolke Hill Community located north of Neosho. She told us she received a “little bit” of money for each column she wrote. When I asked her what a “little bit” was, she said it was fifty cents.

Veta’s columns are preserved on microfilm at our Neosho, Missouri library and I printed them for her before she passed away. From one of her columns, we learned that in July 1949, her parents, Lawrence and Neoma Fikes, bought a new car. In another column, she told of going to a Saturday night movie in Neosho with her future husband, Leroy Jennings, and a pal of theirs. That added interesting details to our growing Jennings family tree!

Many of the old-time country correspondents wrote weekly columns about their community for 20 years or more.  I have found much of my family information recorded in the Neosho Newspapers on microfilm. James Reed’s transcriptions from his inherited Pineville, Missouri, newspapers are another source where I have found bits and pieces of family information to add to my Utter family history.   

When I search the newspapers on microfilm, I always look for news from Rocky Comfort, Missouri. It is there that I have found social history about my late grandfather, Perry Utter. From the newspapers, I have learned that Perry was involved in the Masonic Lodge at Wheaton Missouri, he led the Methodist Men’s Club at Rocky Comfort Missouri Methodist Church, and he coached his sons’ softball teams when they were on town teams.

I also learned that my great, grandmother, Ollie Brier of Rocky Comfort, sold parakeets for one dollar each and during the summer of 1957, she and her husband, Bill Brier, bought a new yellow Plymouth sedan vehicle. There is so much more that I have learned about my families, all because the country correspondents reported the news of the day.

Of course, using the newspapers on microfilm does eat up time. I have spent hours reading and searching. If you use the newspapers on microfilm, gather a notebook and pen or pencil and have dates available so you can go to that particular date in the newspaper and begin your search, rather than having to search the entire paper. 

As the newspaper industry has advanced, today’s editors differ in opinion about country correspondents.  Remember to search the old newspapers on microfilm for country correspondents’ news of the day when you want to add meat to the bones of your family history. I am thankful to the men and women who reported the news in the little towns of our country.

Modern Woodmen of America Organization

By Karen Utter Jennings

Many of my Utter ancestors are buried at the Owsley Union Cemetery, located south of Longview and north of Powell on 76 Highway in McDonald County, Missouri. One day while there, I noticed a unique headstone for Walter E. Utter, a son of my great, great-grandfather, David Jefferson Utter. Walter died two days before Christmas in 1908 from pneumonia.   

Walter’s headstone is a rectangular smooth piece of gray stone that sets on a large base.  It measures five feet tall. Walter’s date of birth and date of death is on the front of the stone. An inscription reads, “left a wife and five children.” At the top of the rectangle on both sides, are engraved upside-down lilies. Four large engraved stone logs are stacked on top of the headstone.   Beneath the lilies and logs is a large square emblem marked with a shield, an ax, and an aul, with the letters M, W, and A. 

I had no idea what Walter’s headstone represented. But, I noticed other ornate headstones in the cemetery that resembled his. They mark the graves of Jerry H.Clapper and Lee R. Owsley. Owsley’s stone resembles a tree trunk with the same emblem, but his states “Erected by the Woodmen of the World.”  From that, I had the information I needed to do research. 

Joseph Cullen Root started the Modern Woodmen of America around 1883 for honoring the pioneer woodsmen who cleared the land for developing our roads, communities, and building homes. Modern Woodmen of America, also known as the Woodmen of the World, began as a fraternal benefit society that protected families and their financial futures by offering insurance protection. In the early days, certificates provided a death and a monument benefit to its members, furnishing free gravestones when they died. Eventually the elaborate gravestones became obsolete due to the cost of materials and cemetery regulations.    

Originally, all of the Woodmen’s gravestones were to be identical in size and design, but the result varied across the nation as local stonecutters used a wide variety of designs. What evolved are beautiful, elaborate, and precious works of art marking woodmen’s graves. There is the answer to the question of why all of the headstones are different, except for the Society’s emblem. 

Woodmen’s gravestones are scattered across the nation and is a fascination for many people who want to document the elaborate stones found in cemeteries. The USGenWeb Archive Project does have some photos of gravestones in our area, but not of the Owsley Union Cemetery. You can access the website at USGenWeb Project to see the photos.  

Cynthia Ann Utter, my great, great-grandfather’s sister, married Lewis Fulweiler Houser. They lived in the Rocky Comfort, Missouri, area all of their married lives. Lewis Houser is distinguished as being a charter member of the local Modern Woodmen of America in Rocky Comfort. I have a picture of the Rocky Comfort Citizen’s Bank building. Banking was done on the lower level, while the Modern Woodmen met in the upper level of the building.

After finding the interesting Woodmen headstones in cemeteries, I watch find more when I’m out visiting cemeteries. As of this writing, I have seen many Woodmen stones dispersed throughout our Missouri counties. While using the newspapers on microfilm, I watch for meeting notices of any fraternities.  

I am proud to have Modern Woodmen of America in my family. Finding information like this is thrilling for family history researchers. Do you have Modern Woodmen of America ancestors in your family tree?  If you’re not sure, why not do a little research and see what you can find?
I wish you luck in finding your history ~ 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Hope Chest

by Karen Utter Jennings
The first seven years of my life were spent at Rocky Comfort. We lived on the old home place down by the Indian Creek Bridge south of the post office. My paternal great-grandmother, Ollie Johnson Utter Brier lived on the hill south of the school. I was in her house just as much as I was in our own.

I remember each room in Great-grandma Ollie’s house and the furniture she owned.   One of the pieces of furniture I loved was the cedar chest. The chest is small, sets on the floor (there are no legs) and has carved-wood handles on each end of the lid. Rectangular diamond-shaped wooden pieces adorn the front and sides of the cedar chest and it is very heavy.    

As I grew into a young girl, one day when I went to visit, the cedar chest was setting in the living room under the front window. Great-grandma Ollie and I sat on the hardwood floor next to the chest. She explained that the chest would be mine when she died or I got married, whichever came first. She called the cedar chest a hope chest and explained the meaning of it.  She said she was “setting things back” for me when I grew up and married, so the things inside were mine.

Great-grandma Ollie said my grandfather, her only son, Perry Utter, made the chest when he was a boy.  She said Perry was talented in wood working and he loved to make things.  He also made the wooden sewing machine stand that housed her Singer sewing machine. I later learned that Ollie’s father, Thomas “Bud” Johnson, worked in the woods, hewing lumber after he came to Missouri from Indiana in 1876. That is the topic of another column someday.

As Ollie’s gnarled hands lifted the lid, I was delighted to spy several things inside wrapped up with doilies and handkerchiefs (hankies as we called them) and laying next to each other. She lifted the first item out of the chest, unwrapped it, and handed me a pickle or condiment dish that was very old and worth a lot of money. She told the story of the dish. It had belonged to a female family member.  

Ollie brought out a square box that housed her Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera. Her story about cameras and her love of taking pictures is one that I will always remember.  As soon as cameras became available, she bought her first one and began snapping pictures of everything around her, especially her family. Along with the camera, she gave me her photo album. That photograph album is a topic of another column in weeks to come.

When we reached the bottom of the cedar chest, we rewrapped each item and placed them into their safe place. She closed the lid on the chest and I ran off to get out my paper doll collection and other toys and spread them on the floor to play.   

I am happy to say, I got married before her death, so the cedar chest came to live at my house.  Over the years, it lost its strong scent of cedar and it needed a good cleaning and a few repairs. I used a good soap for wooden furniture and left it as it is. The chest now holds my important memorabilia. As time goes by, I add things to the old chest and someday I will sit with my grandchildren to explain the history of the items. 

I am in the process of taking pictures of the heirlooms I own and writing about what I know of them. I teach my grandchildren about their heritage and the genealogy work I do. One day, years from now, family members will harvest the benefits of my genealogy work, so that they may pass on the story of the old cedar chest.