Nearly forgotten Uncle Donnie

Uncle Donnie

Uncle Donnie

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge this week is “nearly forgotten”.  The first person to come to mind was my Uncle Donnie.  I wrote his story in 2013 and am re-posting it today.  I loved this man, and I am sad about all the years that were lost with him. To find out about Donnie’s nearly forgotten life read on.

My father’s brother was mentally challenged.  Back when my father was growing up the term used was mentally retarded.  His brother, Donnie, was 14 years younger than him.  I don’t know if Donnie was born that way or if something happened after birth.  This was in the 1930’s, and they did not know as much as they do today on how to treat people with mental retardation.  He lived at home with my grandparents, and my grandmother did the best she knew how.  My grandmother died the year before I was born so I never knew her.  When she died, my grandfather had to make a tough decision of what to do with Donnie.  He had to go to work and could not leave him at home alone.  He could not afford to have someone come in and take care of him.  He decided to put Donnie in a state mental hospital.  My father and grandfather would go visit him regularly.   After my grandfather passed away in 1955, my mother and father would go see Donnie and send him clothes and things.  As a little girl, I would ask to go along.  My parents always refused to take me.  My father said “You never know what these people are going to do”, and he didn’t think it was safe to take me.  I asked why he couldn’t live with us.  My dad explained that Donnie couldn’t be left alone.  You never knew what he was going to do. He could set the house on fire, or hurt my brother or me.  He could not use the washroom on his own. There were more reasons, but now I can’t remember all of them now.  After many years went by,  my mom and dad quit going.  My father claimed that Donnie didn’t even know him anymore.  

In 1984 my dad passed away and my mother followed in 1987.  My brother and I had never met Donnie, and by this time it had been so long since my parents had visited that we didn’t even know where he was at.  We didn’t know how to go about finding him.  For ten years after my mother’s death, we didn’t try to find him.  Then one day my brother was going through some papers of my mothers, and he found some information that told what state hospital Donnie was in.  He contacted the hospital and Donnie was no longer there, but they were able to tell my brother that Donnie was still alive and where he was now residing.  My brother then called the hospital where Donnie resided, and he was told that Donnie was doing OK.  They invited us to come see him.  They seemed thrilled to find out that this man had a family.

In April of 1997 my brother and I made a day trip to see Donnie, and I met my uncle for the first time.  He looked at us with curiosity.  His nurse told him we were his family.  He shook our hands, and we sat on a porch.  He had a hard time communicating.  But you could see he was taking in everything.  I think he knew way more that he was able to communicate.  I asked him questions which he couldn’t answer, and told him that I was his Brother George’s daughter.  He repeated, “George”.  I told him George was in heaven with his mother and father.  He seemed to understand.  I asked him if he watched baseball and did he like the Cubs.  He said, “The Cubs suck.”  He would make hand motions when he wanted something.  He started pulling on his shirt and trying to unbutton it.  I asked him if he was uncomfortable and he said, “shirt sucks.”  He also said a few swear words that came out clear.  Other than that most of what he said, I could not understand.  But I felt we made a connection with him.  I asked him if he could give me a hug and he did.  When he was given commands he obeyed them.  He knew what was being said to him.  He was able to go to the bathroom by himself and keep himself clean.  They told us if we came back to bring pictures of my dad and grandparents.  He resembled my father and was a kind man.  He was not as bad off as my father had described.  Maybe it was because they knew more in recent years on how to help people with mental disabilities.  The administrator showed us his records going back to when he was admitted in 1946.  We did go back many times after that day, and brought my husband and children.  We went there for special events like Christmas parties, picnics, etc. We brought pictures of my dad and grandparents.  He ran his fingers over the picture of my dad and said, “George”.   I brought a picture of his mother and he said, “Ma”.  Another time he told me that his mother was with God.  He made me tear up many, many times.   Donnie would tear up when he saw us.  So I believe he knew we were his family.  My brother brought him a video of trains because we remembered my father saying he liked trains, and my father would take him to the train yards to look at the trains. I looked forward to each visit.  I had fallen in love with my Uncle Donnie.  Unfortunately, Donnie had a heart attack and died in 2002 at 68 years old.  The hospital had a memorial service for him.  I was unable to attend because I had Pneumonia at the time, but my brother went to it.  I am happy we had five wonderful years to get to know and love him.  Uncle Donnie is now free to fly without any physical or mental limitations.  May he rest in peace.

Coopyright © Gail Grunst 2013

Two Grandfather’s, Two different War Experiences.

Recently I’ve been hearing that Memorial Day is only to honor those who served and died in a war.  Our family is very lucky that no one has died in a war.  Both my grandfather’s served in WWI.  My husband’s brothers served during WWII and my husband served during the Vietnam War, but never was sent to Vietnam.  My Uncle served during the Korean War, but was never sent to Korea.  So you can see we have been fortunate not to lose anyone.  However, I would still like to honor those who served today even though they were not killed in the line duty.  All now except my husband, have passed on.  Thanks to all of you for serving.

Both my grandfather’s served during WWI.  One stayed here in the United States, the other one was sent to France.  I wrote about my grandfather who was sent to France a couple of years ago on this blog.  I am reprinting it today along with my other grandfather’s story too.  Both are not the most exciting stories, but I am still proud of both of them for serving.  When any one enlists or is drafted, they don’t know what the future holds.  They both went without complaint and served their country during war time, not knowing if they would return.  That in it’s self must be scary.  So here are their stories.

Grandpa Kaiser

Grandpa Kaiser Military 2

My Grandpa Kaiser was in the Army during WWI; however he never left the United States.  Even though I knew Grandpa well, I do not know much about his military service.  I heard that he spent most of his time in Georgia.  I have lots of pictures he took during this time.  I have never sent for his military papers.  I was looking to see if I had his enlistment or discharge papers, but all I could find was an “Order of Induction into the Military Service of the United States”.  It doesn’t give much information.  It just says to report to the local board at 1950 Lawrence Ave at 10 AM of the 31st day of August 1918.[1]  By this time the war was almost over.   I did find a couple of cards with his papers.  One is a “Notice of Classification” dated 7/11/1918.  His classification was an “I-A”.[2]

I also found another card “Army Training School Certificate”[3].

The information on the card is as follows:

School: South Div. War Training

Location: 26th and Wabash Ave.

Name: Kaiser, Fredrick Rudolph.

Permanent Address:  233 Winnemac Ave., Chicago, Illinois.

Course: Auto Mechanic

Started Date:  9/1/1918

Finished Date:10/31/1918.

Trade Rating in School Course

A= Apprentice  J=Journeyman   E=Expert

Main:  Auto Mechanic Rating: A

Eng. Assem: A

Auto Elec: A

General Ratings by Three or More Instructors

5=Highest   4=High   3= Middle   2=Low  1=Lowest

Mechanical Ability:  4   3   3

Speed:                         3   3   3

Resourcefulness:       3   4   4

Personal Qualities    4   5   5

I had wondered why Grandpa entered the war so late.  Then I learned that the first registration was June 5, 1917 for men ages 21 – 31.[4]  Grandpa missed having to register by 3 months.  He turned 21 the following September.[5]  The second registration was June 5, 1918 for those men who turned 21 after June 5, 1917.[6]  This is when Grandpa registered.  His WWI draft card is dated June 5, 1918.[7]  This answered my question as to why he was drafted so late.

His draft card said he was working for the Texas Company (Texaco).[8]  Grandpa went back to work at Texaco after leaving the service, and he continued to work for them until 1961 when he retired with 46 years of service.[9]  I wish I knew more about his military service, sometime I will have to send for his records.  In the mean time, I’m proud he served in what ever capacity.  During both of the wars he was teased about his name Kaiser.  So on this Memorial Day, thank you Grandpa for serving our county.

[1]  Order of Induction into Military Service of the United States for Frederick R. Kaiser, Order Number 152, Serial Number 146.  Dated August 31, 1919.  Chicago Local Board No. 60, 1950 Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Illinois.  In possession of author.

[2] Notice of Classification for F. R. Kaiser, Order No. 152, Serial No. 146,  Dated July 11, 1918.  Chicago Local Board No. 60, 1950 Lawrence Ave., Chicago, Illinois.  In possession of author.

[3] War Department—Army Training School Certificate for Frederick R. Kaiser.  South Div. War Training, 26th and Wabash Ave., Chicago, Illinois.  In possession of author

[4] National Archives Website, World War I Draft Registration Cards M 1509 Historical Background.

[5] Baptism Certificate for Friedrick Rudolf Kaiser, baptized June 21, 1899, born September 12, 1896, Ravenswood Evangelical Church, Pensacola and Hoynes Avenues, Chicago, IL; Registry Entry #485.

[6] National Archives Website, World War I Draft Registration Cards M 1509 Historical Background.

[7]“United States, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918”, FamilySearch ( .  Fredrick Rudolph Kaiser, 1917- 1918.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Certificate of Retirement from Active Duty with Texaco Inc. for Fred R. Kaiser, 1961 after 46 Years of Loyal Service. Signed by the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Augustus C. Long.

Grandpa Manfroid

My grandfather, George Manfroid, served in France during WWI.  He died when I was eight years old so I never heard about his war experience in France.  All my father ever said was that his father was in France during WWI.  That was it the end of the story.  I did not think much about it until one day when I was reading his enlistment and discharge papers.  I was going to use these papers for a class that I was teaching.  I wanted to show an example of things that you might find in your possession or in the possession of a relative, and how they can be used to help you trace your ancestors.  I had read these papers before but all I really cared about back then was where he was born, date of birth, etc.  But since I knew all that I took a closer look and thought about what they said.  He was inducted on September 19, 1917 in Maywood, Illinois.  His vocation was a millwright, he was 25 years old, blue eyes, light complexion, 5 feet 10 inches tall, and single.  His character was excellent, his service honest and faithful.  He was part of the A.E.F. France, received no wounds, and was entitled to wear the Blue Service Chevron.  He was at Camp Grant, Illinois when discharged on January 19, 1919.[1] [2]

After studying the papers, I was curious as to what A.E.F. stood for and why he received the Blue Service Chevron.   I look up the A.E.F. and found it stood for American Expeditionary Forces,[3] and the Blue Service Chevron was given to soldiers who served overseas less than six months[4]  I Googled my grandfather’s name and found his name in a book titled The Official History of the Eighty-Sixth Division.  He is listed as serving in 311th Trench Mortar Battery.  According to the book he left New York Harbor on September 17, 1918 aboard the Lapland for France.  He spent his time in Vitrey and Chauvirey-le-Chatel.  The 86th division was to be sent to the Lorraine Front on November 14, 1918 with other American Divisions and thirty French Divisions to capture the Metz.  The 86th was to participate in what the supreme war council had planned as the Allies’ mightiest endeavor of the war.  But on November 11, 1918 came the news of the signing of the Armistice.  He returned to the United States on January 9, 1919 aboard the Georgia.[5]

The men prepared for a year to battle on front lines and for some this was a disappointment. I don’t know my grandfather’s feelings because nothing was ever said.  I think about the part fate played here.  If he fought and was killed, I would not be here.  We take for granted our lives and the lives of our ancestors.  But one little twist of fate could change everything.  Even though he never fought on the front lines, I am still proud that he served his country honorably and faithfully during this time.  Thank you Grandpa for your service to this country!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks topic is Military

Copyright © 2018 Gail Grunst

[1] Enlistment Record for George Manfroid, September 19, 1917, Maywood, Illinois, book 44, page 176.  In possession of author.

[2] Honorable Discharge from the United States Army for George Manfroid, January 19, 1919, Camp Grant, Illinois. Book 44, Page 175.  In possession of author.

[5] Little, John G., The Official History of the Eighty-Six Division (Chicago, Illinois, States Publication Society, 1921).

Copyright © 2013 Gail Grunst

Home Sources

One of the first steps in starting your family tree is to look around your house and ask your relatives for anything they may have to help you get started.  Some of the things to look for are of course birth, marriage, deaths, and baptism certificates, but also, letters, post cards, pictures, baby books, funeral books, funeral cards, school report cards, diplomas, family bibles, confirmation certificates, membership cards, naturalization records, Journals, address books, date books, and this is just to name a few.  You never know what you information you can get from these things.  Never discount anything.  People sometimes wrote stuff down on little scraps of paper. When I read old letters they will sometimes mention other people, and then I have found myself searching for the people mentioned in the letters.  I have a date book of my grandmothers. Not only did she record every date accurately, she made comments next to each date about the person or event.  For instance, she wrote that her cousin Julius Reinhardt was somewhere in the South Pacific.  She started this date book during World War II.  That not only told me she had a cousin Julius Reinhardt, but also that he was stationed in the South Pacific during WWII.

Here are some of the things that I have in my house that were given to me by my mother a long time ago.

Letter to my Grandmother

Letter to my Grandmother

Aunt Liz in theatrical dress

Aunt Liz in theatrical dress

Grandpa Kaiser's Baptism Certificate

Grandpa Kaiser’s Baptism Certificate

Grandpa Kaiser Certificate from Texico

Grandpa Kaiser Certificate from Texico


Early years at Texico

Fred Kaiser sitting on wheel about 1920.

Grrandpa at  work (Texico)

Grandpa at work (Texaco)

Mom's sixth grade class

Mom’s sixth grade class

I have many more items that I have not scanned yet.  But this gives you an idea of what to look for around your house.

From these documents I can get my grandfather’s birth date, place of birth, where he was born, his parent’s names, where he worked, and how long he worked there.  The pictures tell me what jobs he did while working at Texaco. The letter written to my grandmother gives me her address and an address in Ottawa, Illinois.  It connects her to her Bower side of the family in Ottawa.  The picture of a great aunt shows that she was in some kind of play around 1900.  The class picture shows that my mom (second row, first one on the left) went to Gray School when she was in sixth grade.  Not only do I get the dates, but also a glimpse into their lives.

You might want to check out the following sites to read more about home sources.

Genealogy Today

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems

Happy Birthday Ronnie, I miss you!


Six months ago today my brother passed away.  Tomorrow, July 12, he would have turned 60.  I still have a hard time accepting that he is gone.  Something happens or I hear or see something and my first thought is I have to tell Ron.  But Ron is not here to tell.  It still seems not real to me.  In February we had a memorial service for him.  I was able to speak which surprised me.  Here is what I said with a shaky voice and holding back the tears.

Ron is my little brother by eight years and my only sibling. Not only was Ron my brother, he was also my friend.  I remember the day he was born.  I was so excited to have a little brother and someone to play with.  I don’t think at 8 years old, I realized how long it would be before he could actually play with me.  My mother let me help her bathe him and feed him.  I remember all his milestones, his first smile, the first time he sat up on his own, his first tooth, when he started crawl, walk, and talk.   Although, I sometimes regretted that he learned to talk.  Then later his first day of school, graduation, driver’s license and first job.  I wanted him to be able to play games with me.  So I started teaching him board games at a very young age.  Every Christmas we would get a new game and we continued this tradition as adults.  Every Christmas, I would try to find a new game for us to play.  Our favorite was 20 questions and Ron won most of the time.  He seemed to have a mind for trivia.  He had a great sense of humor and kept his sense of humor almost to end.  In the hospital the nurse was asking him questions and typing his answers into the computer.  He had to go to washroom and while he was in there the nurse said to him I can still ask you questions from here.  So she continued to ask him and he answered.  Then he said to the nurse, “This is the first time I’ve played 20 questions from the bathroom.”  The nurse cracked up.  

Ron and I often reminisced about our family.  We were a close knit family.  Every night the four of us always had dinner together.  My father was a history buff and talked a lot about history, politics, and current events at dinner table.  Both Ron and knew our history and that was thanks to my father.   Our mother and father stayed married to each other until my father passed away in 1984 and my mother followed in 1987.  We lived a few blocks from my grandparents and their home was our second home.  Our holidays were filled with family dinners where there would be 10 – 14 people at the dinner table.  In the summer there would be family picnics in our back yard as well as other places. 

We didn’t have many family vacations, but in 1967, my mother, Ron, and I drove to California.  My dad stayed home because he had to work.  It was quite an adventure for us.  We were two women alone on the road with a 12 year old in a 1962 Rambler.  The road was not expressway like today, but a two lane highway most of the way and sometimes very desolate.  We worried what we would do if the car broke down.  In Utah they were doing road repair and there was about 20 miles of a gravel road.  All of sudden we heard a knocking noise and we wondered out loud what it was and then it went away.  Just as we started to relax that it was gone, it would start again.  This went on for several more times before my mother caught Ron putting his arm out the window and knocking on the roof of the car.  We talked about our trip for years afterwards and my father would say that he didn’t go but he knew every detail as if he had been there. 

 In 1969, I started taking Ron to Cub games.  We would go a couple times a month.  After the game we would stand outside Wrigley Field and wait for the players to come out.  I would take pictures and Ron would get their autographs.  We even made a trip to St. Louis to watch the Cubs play Cardinals and stayed at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel where the Cubs stayed.  Ron would get their autographs in the lobby.  I remember there was a crowd around Ernie Banks and he was signing autographs.  Just as it was about to be Ron’s turn, Ernie said, “No more.”  Ron said, “Please Mr. Banks won’t you sign one more?”  And Ernie signed his autograph for Ron. 

Ron and I had our share of arguments and we would get mad at one another, but it never lasted. Ron and I didn’t need to call each other every day and we didn’t say I love you very often, but we knew it. I knew he was there for me and he knew I was there for him.  We were never any further than a phone call away.  He was a devoted Uncle to my sons, and a great brother.  When Ron was Ill he became my hero because of the way he handled his diagnoses.  He put up a good fight! When he passed he looked so peaceful.  Now he is with my mom and dad, and all our other relatives and friends that have passed.  His passing has left a big void in my life.  I will miss him on holidays and all the days in between.  I miss hearing his voice, and seeing his face.  I miss knowing he was just a phone call away, I miss his humor, I miss him beating me at 20 questions. I read this quote somewhere and I don’t know who wrote it or where it is from but it fit Ron and me.  “Sisters and brothers are the truest, purest forms of love, family and friendship, knowing when to hold you and when to challenge you, but always being a part of you.”

I miss you Ron and I’ll miss seeing you tomorrow on your birthday and celebrating with cake and presents.  I miss you so much RIP!

Remembering Uncle Russ

Uncle Russ

Uncle Russ

Remembering my Uncle Russ today on what would have been his 84th birthday.  Uncle Russ was 16 years old when I was born.  My parents were living with my grandparents when I was born so Uncle Russ was one of the first people I knew as a baby.  He held me, played with me, and walked the floor with me when I was fussy.  We moved to our own place when I was one, but we were only blocks away from Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Russ.  After Uncle Russ graduated from high school, he became a mail man and for a while our street was on his route.  I would wait every day for Uncle Russ to come down the street with the mail.  I would follow him from house to house for a little while and then go home.  Some days he would stop by our house for lunch.  When I was four my Uncle joined the Navy.  I was heart-broken that he would be gone for long periods of time.  He left for Great Lakes Naval Training in November 1951 and completed his training in March 1952.  From there he went to Jacksonville Florida for more schooling and then to Memphis, Tennessee for still more schooling.  I’m not sure what his training or schooling was in, but he ended up working on airplanes and belonged to the Air Transport Squadron and his occupation was crew member.  After his schooling in Memphis he was transferred to Moffet Field in California in September 1952.  He was there until February of 1954 when he was transferred to Hickam AFB in Oahu, Hawaii until his discharge in November 1955.  We saw him periodically during the four years when he would come home on leave.  While he was stationed in Hawaii he did not come home on leave, and we did not see him for a couple of years.  He would send me presents from where ever he was stationed.  He sent me a hula skirt from Hawaii.  He sent my mother a Chinese tea set from San Francisco.  I now have that tea set.  He also sent me dolls for my doll collection, and he never forgot my birthdays.  While he was gone, my brother was born.  So he came home to a baby nephew.

After Uncle Russ came home there was a period of time when he had no job.  He would be over at our house almost every day when I got home from school, and he would play board games with me. I can remember my grandmother talking to my mother about him needing to get a job.  Everyone seemed worried that he wasn’t working except for me.  I didn’t want him to get a job because I wanted to play games with him every day.  But he finally did get a job at B. F. Goodrich changing tires on cars.  He worked there about 5 years when he met his future wife.  She came in for new tires for her car.  A few months later they married.  After they were married he got a job working for TWA.  During his time at TWA he loaded luggage on the plane, loaded the food on the plane, cleaned the planes, and then became a ticket agent. He was married to his first wife for 13 years and there were no children when they divorced. He moved to Phoenix, Arizona married a second time.  They moved back to the Chicago area and they divorced after two years.  He again moved back to Phoenix and then married again.  This time the marriage lasted a year.  After that he said he was done and was not going to marry again and he never did.  My mother and brother moved down to Phoenix after my father died and lived with him down there.  After my mother’s death my brother and uncle moved back to the Chicago area and he stayed in the Chicago area until his death.  Uncle Russ was very competitive when he played games.  He played to win.  He was a wiz at crossword puzzles.  The last few years of his life, he became a recluse and we didn’t see or hear from him often. He seemed to prefer his solitary life. It made me sad that he wasn’t more involved in our lives.  But I have great memories of my Uncle the way he was when I was younger.  Even my kids remember their Great Uncle the way he was before he became a recluse. He passed away on October 4, 2011 alone.  So it is on this day that I think about all the fun my brother and I had growing up with Uncle Russ. He was always there for us.  I miss you Uncle Russ.  RIP.

Copyright © 2014 Gail Grunst

The Fathers in My Life

I wrote about the father’s in my life on June 18,2011. I am re-posting it for Father’s day this year

Family Tales from Gail

I would like to honor the fathers in my life.  First and foremost there was my Dad.  I loved my Dad very much.  He was always there for me.  He grew up during the depression and that made a great impact on his life.  I remember the stories that my dad told me about the depression.  When I hear today’s recession compared to the great depression on TV,  I cringe because today is nothing like my father described to me.  His father lost his business, then they lost their house, and they ate banana’s for Sunday dinner.  There were no safety nets like there are today for the unemployed.  Because this made such an impact on my Father he decided that his children were not going to go without.  He went without lunch for weeks and saved his lunch money to buy me a doll for Christmas.  He made me…

View original post 443 more words

The Year in Review

The year, 2014, started out with me in the hospital, and once I recovered, my husband required several medical procedures.  It seemed that we were running to doctors two or three times a week in addition to our normal everyday things we needed to do. My cousin passed away in April, and then the week of Thanksgiving my brother was diagnosed with terminal Lung Cancer. Last March,my one son got married and moved 250 miles away. It seems that 2015, so far, isn’t any better than 2014.  My brother passed away from the Lung Cancer on January 11, 2015.  Since then we have been very busy running around to take care of his estate, cremation, and burial.  We had a memorial service on February 21, 2015.  Needless to say that my genealogy has been put on the back burner.  Now that things have settled down a bit, I hope to be able to get back to doing more genealogy and writing about family. I have several family stories rattling around in my head and hope to get them posted soon.  I haven’t abandoned this blog, just too much to do and not enough time to do it all.  My 2015 resolution is to get back to genealogy, get those family stories written, and get them posted.

Bower’s Family 1757 – 1955 Research Notes

Research Notes

I started researching the Bowers’ Family in 1979 by interviewing my grandmother, Helen Bowers Kaiser.  She told me that her mother and father were divorced when she was a small child.  She said that her father’s family, the Bowers, thought they were better than her mother’s family, the Reinhardt’s, and would not acknowledge their marriage.   After her mother and father divorced her father has nothing to do with his children.  Her mother pointed her father out to her one time when they saw him walking down the street.  Helen, my grandmother, ran up to him and told him that she was his daughter.  He said, “Get away from me kid, I don’t have any children.”  Another time they saw her grandmother, Alexena Bowers, in the cemetery but her grandmother did not acknowledge their presence. She said that her father was a musician and a drunk.  Her mother read in the paper that her father died frozen to death in the doorway of an apartment building in Chicago.  He had passed out drunk and froze to death.  She said her grandmother’s maiden name was Fischer and she came from Canada. They were related to the people who built the bodies for Chevrolet cars (Fischer Body).  Other than that she knew very little about her father’s family.

I next visited the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery in Ottawa Illinois and found the graves of the Bowers’ Family.  I found the birth and death dates of Charles, Alexena and their five children.  I also found that Alexena’s maiden name was not Fischer, but it was Frazier.  My next step was to acquire the death certificate for Charles and Alexena.  I found one for Alexena, but could not find one for Charles.  I ordered Alexena’s death certificate from the State of Illinois.  It gave Alexena’s birth date, death date, and the fact that she was born in Canada and was married to Charles.   It also gave her parent’s names as David Frazier and Catherine McBean both born in Scotland. The informant was her daughter Ethelyn Bowers Vittum.  I interlibrary loaned the Republican Times newspaper from Ottawa for the dates of the death of Alexena and Charles.  I found both Alexena and Charles Bowers’ obituaries.

According to the newspaper, Alexena was born in Naragawayn, Canada.  I could not find a Naragawayn, Canada.  I wrote to a map place in Canada and was told that it was probably misspelled and the closest name to Naragawayn was Nassagaweya, Ontario, Canada.    I believe they are probably right and have gone with the assumption that Alexena was born in Nassagaweya, Ontario, Canada.  It is also a place where Scottish Highlanders settled, and since her parents were born in Scotland, I felt that the circumstantial evidence was good enough to make this assumption.  I have been unable to find an actual birth record to date as civil records do not go back that far in Canada, and I have not checked Church records as of yet.  I think that a trip to Ontario is necessary to find the missing pieces.  I haven’t been able to find any information on he parents either.  There are many Frazier/Frazer/Fraser in Ontario.  Without knowing more about David and Catherine Frazer it is impossible to figure out which one might be them in other records.

Charles’ obituary said he was born in Ferrington, Norfolk, England.  Once again I could not find a Ferrington, Norfolk, England.  I belonged to a List Serv for Norfolk, England.  I posted a question asking where Ferrington, Norfolk, England was at.  I received many answers saying that there was no Ferrington but there is a Terrington.  This would be an easy mistake for the newspaper to make.  It could be a typo or they misunderstood the person giving the information.  After that I started looking for Charles’ birth in Terrington, Norfolk, England.  There was a problem in that there are two Terringtons.   One is Terrington – St. Clement and the other one is Terrington – St John.  So when looking for the Bowers’ name, I had to look in both places. At this time I did know his parents names.  I hit a brick wall and I stuck there for many years.

I made many trips to Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois looking for information on Charles and Alexena.  I did find Charles’ naturalization papers filed in the LaSalle County, Illinois Courthouse in Ottawa, Illinois.  On his Declaration of Intent it gave the date he left England and the date he arrived in New York.  With this information, I was able to locate the ship he came on to the United States, and I was able to look at the passenger list.  Someone came with him who also had the last name Bowers.  He was about 50 years old and it looked like his first name was Bonard.  It was hard to read the microfilm. I searched all over for a Bonard and all possible spellings, but had no luck.  Charles’ obituary mentioned that he had two brothers Robert and William that lived in Syracuse, New York.  I did find a Robert but did not know if it was Charles’ brother.  One day in 2009, I was searching on the Internet and decided to search Terrington, Norfolk, England.  I found the Wisbeck and the Fenlands Website that listed baptisms, marriages, and burials of people living in Terrington-St.Clements, Norfolk, England.  I searched the surname Bowers.  I came across the name Bonnet Bowers who married an Eliza Linford.  When I saw the name Bonnet it hit me that this was probably the name on the passenger list.  I went back to the passenger list to look at the name again.  It could indeed be Bonnet.  I searched further and saw that a son Richard was born to Bonnet and Eliza and then a son Robert, a daughter Eliza, and Charles.  Charles’ baptism was about the same time that I had for his birth in my records. Then I searched Ancestry for Bonnet Bowers and had one hit, the 1841 England Census.  I looked at the record and there was Richard, Robert, and Charles living with Bonnet in 1841.  The mother and sister were not listed. I did not find a William as Charles’ obituary stated.  Perhaps Richard or Robert’s middle name is William.  But further research showed Richard and Robert both living in Syracuse, New York.  I found Bonnet living with Robert in Syracuse, New York.  By looking at the census records I found that Richard and Robert were both married and Richard had several children.  I was having a terrible time trying to find out when Bonnet, Richard, and Robert died.  Once again on I did a search for Bonnet and found someone else with a Bonnet in their family tree.  They had 1794 as his birth where as I had 1796.  She had Bonnet’s death date as 1871.  She had Richard born in 1822 same as I did and she had Richard’s death date as 1895.  Since I now had an estimated time of death, I contacted a library in Syracuse, New York and asked if they had newspapers going back to 1871 and if the obituaries were indexed.  They wrote back and said they did have newspapers going back that far and yes the obituaries were indexed.  I asked if they could look up Richard and Bonnet.  The librarian wrote back and said she searched the NYS vital records index for Richard Bowers and located his date of death as 23 September 1895 in Syracuse.  The Vital Records registration started in New York state outside of New York City in 1881 so she was unable to look up Bonnet.  She was however able to locate a Burnet Bowers who died in Syracuse on 9 February 1871.  The obituary further stated that Burnet Bowers funeral will take place in the house of Robert Bowers in Syracuse.  Once again I think the newspaper misspelled Bonnet.

I also searched census, church records, city directories, and books for information on Charles, Alexena and their children Richard, Robert, Elizabeth, Ethelyn, and Genevieve to gather information to write this story.

It seems that some of my grandmother’s stories were correct and some false.  I was able to obtain Alexena’s probate file.  While reading her probate file, it is obvious that she did not acknowledge her grandchildren.  There is no mention in her son, Robert’s obituary that he had children nor is there any mention in Alexena’s obituary of grandchildren.  The story about her father being found dead in a doorway of an apartment building is false.  According to his death certificate he died of Tuberculosis and died in the hospital.  He was hospitalized about a month before his death.

I was curious about the house at 543 Chapel Street and did a search of property records to see who owned it before and after they did.  In doing the search, I found that Charles owned other property as well.  I found a quit claim deed that Charles’ son Robert, signed along with Robert’s wife Eva signing the property over to his mother for $1.00.  Up to this point, I have been unable to find a marriage record for Robert and Eva.  I was beginning to wonder if they were ever really married, and perhaps this was the reason that Robert’s parents did not acknowledging the marriage or grandchildren.  But Eva would not have been required to sign the quit claim deed if they had not been married.   So this is proof that they were indeed married.  I have not been able to find a record of Robert and Eva’s divorce.

My son, Brian, through his photography met a man from England on the Internet and he took a picture of the church where Bonnet and Eliza were married and their children baptized.  There is grave yard next to the church and he took some pictures of the Bowers’ graves.  There is a grave for an Eliza Bowers, however most of the tombstone is unreadable.

Everyday more and more information is on the Internet.  The LDS Family History Library in Utah is indexing their microfilm and placing it on the website.  I searched the name Bonnet Bowers in June 2011.  I had done this many times before and came up with nothing.  However in June, I found Bonnet Bowers birth listed and his parents names are Charles Bowers and Sarah Bonnet.  This made perfect sense to me since Bonnet was such an unusual name.  The date of Bonnets birth was close to what I had from his obituary the location was close to where I found Bonnet married and his children’s baptism.  I then sent for the microfilm to look at the actual record.  I also sent for film for Bonnet and Eliza’s marriage, and film with burial records for Terrington-St. Clements, Norfolk, England and found the death date for Bonnet’s daughter Eliza and wife Eliza.  As well as the death of Bonnet’s Mother, Sarah, and his Father, Charles.  Also found the births and deaths of Bonnet’s brothers and sisters.  There will always be more research to do. I hope to one day be able to go back further than 1757 and find descendants of Bonnet’s brother’s and sisters.

Did find brother William who was a step brother of Charles.  Charles’ mothehr had been married before she married Bonnet and a child William Linford. You can read Finding Brother William from my post dated 11/24/2012.

Copyright © 2014 Gail Grunst



Bower’s Family History 1757 – 1955 Part 9

Ethelyn Bowers

Ethelyn Bowers

Around 1876 or 1878 Ethelyn was born in Ottawa, Illinois to Charles and Alexena Bowers. The 1880 Census has Ethel 4 years old.[1]   Cemetery records have her born 1878.[2]  In 1902 Ethelyn worked for W.C. Vittum as a manager of the insurance department, [3]  and around 1925 Ethelyn married W. C. Vittum.[4]

“W.C. Vittum engaged in the real estate and insurance business in Moloney building.  He came to Ottawa from Galesburg in 1888 and opened “China hall” at 722 LaSalle Street, which he conducted for 10 years, disposing of it in 1898 to enter his present line of work.  Mr. Vittum was one of the original directors in the Ottawa Development Association and has always taken an active part in efforts to build up Ottawa.  His latest and greatest achievement was the battle which he successfully waged single handed to steer the new LaSalle County Electric Railway out of financial difficulties in which it had become involved and place on a solid foundation.  It seems certain that before the close of 1913 this line between Ottawa and Mendota will be in operation. Mr. Vittum’s parents were D.W and Harriet (Childs) Vittum and he was born in Canton, Illinois, May 13, 1859.  In 1883 he married to Miss Nannie G. Hollister, of Champaign, Illinois, and they have one daughter Nina who is the wife of  Dr. Alva Sowers, of Chicago.”[5] W. C. Vittum’s wife Nannie died in 1923.[6]

Ethelyn died March 14, 1935 in Ottawa, Illinois.[7]  She is buried in the Ottawa Avenue Cemetery.[8]  W.C. Vittum died in 1939 and is buried next Ethelyn.[9]

Copyright © 2014 Gail Grunst


[1] Year: 1880; Census Place:  Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois; Roll: 79_223; Family History Film: 1254223; Page: 516.2000; Enumeration District: 81 Image: 0554. and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005

[2] Cemetery Record for Ethelyn Bowers, OttawaAvenueCemetery, Ottawa LaSalle, Illinois; Date of Birth, June 20, 1878, Date of Death March 14, 1935, Burial March 16, 1935; Burial location: OT, 18-7, Cemetery Card: CCY-TS, Record: #8542.

[3] OttawaCity Directories 1901-1902.  LaSalle County, Illinois Genealogy Guild, 115 West Glover, Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois

[4] Year; 1930; Census Place: Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois; Roll: 532; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 68; Image: 77.0. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA:  The Generations Network, Inc. 2002.

[5]Ottawa Old and New: A Complete History of OttawaIllinois 1823 – 1914 (Ottawa, Illinois: Republican – Times Ottawa, 1912 – 1914), p. 142

[6] Cemetery Record for Nannie D. Vittum, Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois; Date of Birth 1860, Date of Death 1923; Burial location: BU, 5K (N ½), Cemetery Card: CCY-TS, Record:  # 2565.

[7] Cemetery Record for Ethelyn Bowers, OttawaAvenueCemetery, Ottawa LaSalle, Illinois; Date of Birth, June 20, 1878, Date of Death March 14, 1935, Burial March 16, 1935; Burial location: OT, 18-7, Cemetery Card: CCY-TS, Record: #8542.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cemetery Record for William C. Vittum, Ottawa Avenue Cemetery, Ottawa, LaSalle, Illinois, Date of Birth 1860, Date of Death 1939, Burial February 13,1939; Burial Location:  OT, 18-7, Cemetery Card: CCY-TS, Record # 8537.


January 26, 1967 the Big Snow Storm

I originally posted this a couple of years ago.  I decided this year with all the snow and cold weather we have in the Chicago area, this would be a good time to remember the big snow storm on January 26, 1967.  Enjoy!

As an older adult (senior citizen), I despise the snow and cold weather.  As a child I loved the snow.  I’m not sure exactly when my opinion of it changed.  Maybe it the big snow storm of 1967.  If your old enough and lived in the Chicago area in January of 1967 you may have your own memories of the big snow storm.  I was working in Northlake, Illinois at GTE Automatic Electric at that time.  I remember it was around 2 or 3  pm., when someone said that there was a big semi stuck in the dock because of the snow.  I was wondering how I was going to get home.  If a big semi was stuck, how was my little car going to get out.  A little later the company announced it was closing.  This was an unusual move for AE.  They had all kinds of rules and you better follow them and they rarely closed if ever.  I went to my car and took one look and knew I wasn’t going anywhere.  I had no snow shovel and the snow was already to my bumper.   A lady I worked with lived nearby, and before I left she told me if I couldn’t get home to come to her house.  I started walking down Railroad Avenue and I had a choice to walk all the way down to North Avenue and back up Westward Ho Drive to her house or go down a hill in two feet of snow to her backyard.  I chose the latter.  I had a dress on (women were not allowed to wear slacks to work back then) and my boots were knee-high.  The snow was over the top of my boots.  I got to her house and was very thankful that she had invited me.  Several other people showed up too and that night was like a big slumber party.  I had only been working there since August, and I really got to know my coworkers.

My Mother was stuck at her job in Elmhurst, Illinois for a while.  I can’t remember how she got home because I usually picked her up on my way home from work.   School let out early that day because of the snow. When my brother got home, no one was home so he went to the next door neighbors.  My Father drove a truck for Burney Brothers Bakery that was located in Northlake also.  He was in Chicago stuck in traffic.  His truck then broke down.  He called the plant but they could not get to him.  He sat in the truck until the wee hours of the morning and then decided to walk or freeze to death in the truck.  He started walking and walked to Northlake (around 20 miles) .  He would stop at various places for food, coffee and to warm up.  The snow storm was on Thursday January 26th, my father made it to Northlake around noon on Saturday January 28th.  There were no cell phones back then so the only way he had of communicating with my mother was a pay phone.  I was still at my coworkers house on Saturday.  When my dad called home, my mom told him I was still in Northlake.  He called me and told me to meet him on North Avenue.  He was not going to attempt to drive down a side street.  I walked to North Avenue and met my dad.  We drove to our home in Villa Park about 6 miles.   It was slow going but we finally got home.  My mother and brother made some attempt at shoveling out but there was still a lot to do.  Then my dad, mother, brother and I shoveled our driveway and side-walk.  On Sunday January 29th we went back to get my car.  We still had to shovel out my car.  My aunt and uncle went with us and all of us shoveled.  I could not get to work on Monday and on Tuesday North Avenue was still only one lane going each direction.  I was late for work and my boss told me about it.  When I told him it was because of the snow he said I should have planned better and left earlier, and the young people where I work think they have it bad now.  I didn’t walk twenty miles in two feet of snow, but my father did.

My Car in the parking lot of Automatic Electric on January 29, 1967 (three days after storm)

Below are links to information about the snow storm.  One has a video of a news report from 1967.

Lasting Effects of Snowstorm 1967

Winter of the Deep Snow

The Infamous Chicago Blizzard of 1967