Thursday, January 29, 2015

1887 Blantyre Riots

During 1886 a new Scottish Miners Federation was formed with 25,000 members. The group was becoming increasingly militant and was led by William Small, secretary of the Lanarkshire Miners Union, and James Keir Hardie, the secretary of the Ayrshire Miners Union.  Many Blantyre miners attended a meeting on 7 February 1887 in Hamilton led by Mr. William Small, who defended the miners' cause and was outraged at exploitation miners endured. Later that night all holy heck erupted in Blantyre.

The miners riot in Blantyre in 1887 made news all over the country from Glasgow to Aberdeen to Edinburgh and many smaller cities and towns. The story eventually made its way to far-away Brisbane, Australia, when it was published on 31 March 1887.

Aberdeen Evening Express

Snippet from the Aberdeen Evening Express 9 February 1887;
image courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive

The "coal crisis" in Lanarkshire, caused by disputes between the miners and the coal owners, has been accompanied by deplorable results. Late on Monday night a disturbance of a very serious nature occurred in Blantyre. The riot originated in the looting of a provision shop. On information reaching Hamilton, a strong force was dispatched to the scene of excitement. So threatening at one time was the aspect of affairs that the Riot Act was read. The mob was ultimately got under control, and by three o'clock yesterday morning peace was re-established.

The miners again began to congregate yesterday forenoon, however, about the premises of Mr. James Downes, licensed grocer, and at a signal from someone the at once tore down the shutters, smashed the windows, and entered the place. Barrels of whiskey were rolled away from the shop, broken open, and the contents divided, ample evidence of which was to be found in the many drunken persons about the streets. Bags of flour also were carried away, and deposited in some place still unknown. In fact the shop was literally sacked and scarcely a single article has been left in it. The front of the shop is strewn with broken glass, paper, and miscellaneous articles, but anything worth carrying away has not been neglected. The police were entirely overpowered, but they were soon reinforced by a large number of men, under Captain M'Hardy, with whom was Mr J. C. Forrest, Honorary Sheriff-Substitute. The reinforcement did not arrive a moment too soon, for the mob had turned attention to the shop of Mr M'Farlane's shop, almost opposite. The police, amid showers of stones, scattered the crowd, and drew themselves up in front of the building. The men then retired, but the police had constantly to be on the watch lest other shops should be looted. After leaving Mr M'Farlane's who, from which a number of articles had been carried away, the mob endeavored to break into Dixon's stores, the the police were able to cope with them, and prevented any damage from being done.

Sheriff Birnie, who next arrived, at once read the Riot Act, after which the police managed to clear the streets with drawn swords. In their march they were subjected to a good deal of abuse from the men, who hooted and groaned at them and threw stones. It was deemed advisable on the part of the shopkeepers after what had transpired to keep their places of business shut the whole day. Consequently, there was not a shop open. About one o'clock a meeting of shopkeepers was held, when they to apply to the authorities for more assistance. It is believed that on account of this application, together with the serious aspect of affairs, the military in the Hamilton Barracks are ready to march to the place whenever required.

Yesterday, large crowds of peopled walked up and down the streets. They were not all inhabitants of Blantyre, as great numbers have come in from the surrounding districts. There must have been at least between 10,000 and 12,000 persons about the streets. At two o'clock the police, who were scattered about in different places, and were brought together when necessary by conveyances, received the announcement that an attack was being made upon the co-operative store in Dixon's Row. The mounted police at once proceeded to the shop, having to encounter showers of stones on the way, and found a large mob endeavoring to enter the place. With the aid of policemen on foot, who had driven up in a wagonette, the mob was driven off, but not without trouble. Missiles of every description were thrown at the guardians of the law, and a number of them received rather severe injuries. However, they managed to preserve the store intact, though the men continued to loiter about the place during the day. Two apprehensions were made. The names of the men arrested are John Fury, miner, Dixon's Row; and Wm. Lena, miner, High Blantyre.

The district was much excited and, and fears were entertained that the rioting would be resumed last night. Sheriff Birnie remained with Captain M'Hardy in Blantyre all day yesterday to be ready for any emergency. An urgent telegram was received in Glasgow from Hamilton yesterday afternoon requesting a force of about 200 constables to be sent to the scene of the riots. A hastily-convened meeting of the magistrates was at once held in Captain M'Call's room, Central Police Chambers, and orders were given for the police to be in readiness, and the force shortly afterwards started, with Captain M'Call and Lieutenant Cameron in command. In response to a communication from Chief-Constable M'Hardy, Sheriff-Principal Berry proceeded yesterday afternoon to the scene of the riot.

Between four and five o'clock yesterday afternoon considerable excitement was caused in the vicinity of Glasgow Cross by a troop of about fifty of the 4th Hussars from Maryhill Barracks, with drawn swords and complete accoutrements, passing along Trongate and thence by Gallowgate en route to Hamilton. They will be held in reserve in that town in case Sheriff Berry should find it necessary to call for their assistance in quelling further disturbances.

Another report says that the spirituous liquors were dealt round in pails, jelly jars, and, indeed, in any available vessel, to men, women, and children, while the goods where handed out and carried away in loads by the people resident locally.

Glasgow Herald

At the end of an article that appeared in the Glasgow Herald on 10 February, the following list of the men and women arrested was included:

William Aiten (31)
Michael Banner (35)
William Bannan (23)
Michael Bannon (34)
Rose Barry, wife of James Wilson
Robert Brown (23)
James Burton (27)
John Cairney (53)
Michael Connelly (32)
David Copeland (50)
Daniel Donnelly (23)
Grace Donnelly (50), wife of James Mullan
John Dorran (19)
John Doyle (27)
William Ferd (40)
Robert Ferguson
Patrick Ferns (33)
Hugh Flynn (21)
John Furrie (24)
John Hannagan (35)
John Heron (37)
Cormick Higgins (62)
John Higgins (22)
Patrick Higgins (21)
William Hunter (29)
John King (23)
Thomas Laird (34)
Edward Laughlan (30)
Patrick Lawson (33)
Catherine Lynch, wife of Owen Carrel
John M'Aulay (21)
Charles M'Callum (50)
James M'Geachie (33)
James M'Govern (19)
Peter M'Guinnes (21)
Edward M'Guire (17)
James M'Guire (50)
Patrick M'Guire (40)
Rodger M'Guire (24)
Hugh M'Mahon (18)
Isabella Mooney, wife of John Weather
James Mullan (40)
Patrick Mullan (18)
Patrick Nimmo (53)
John Rafferty (25)
Archibald Robertson (51)
James Scullion (22)
William Tonner (21)
John Weatherall (38)
Henry Wilson (25)
James Wilson (40)

I don't see any Muir ancestors on the list, but the event must have been the talk of the town for quite some time.

The Aftermath

On 17 February 1887 most of those arrested, who had been jailed in nearby Hamilton, were released without trial. Nineteen of the men remained in prison for two months and appeared at the Hamilton Sheriff Court on 9 April. Most of them were charged with breach of the peace and rioting. The sentence was 60 days confinement, which had already been served; so the men were released.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

52 Ancestors #4: Man Crazy

Ancestor Name: Theodora (MORACK) Knapp VanDusen Barr (1914-2006)

Theodora was born on 9 July (my birthday) 1914 in Helena, Montana. She was the second of the five known children of Michael "Mike" and Anna Maria Marovich. At various times in her life she went by Theo and Dora. Her father was a miner, who immigrated from Russia in 1909 at the age of 30. I do not know if he had been married before.

Theodora's parents' marriage was not a happy one and the divorce seemed more than a bit acrimonious. Anna Maria accused Mike of cruelty and he accused her of infidelity. They were finally granted a divorce in 1920. He went on to marry at least two more times. Anna Maria remarried as well but her second marriage was more stable.

As published in the Anaconda Standard on 4 July 1918

As published in the Anaconda Standard on 2 July 1920

Theodora's younger sister, Elizabeth, known as Betty, was the wife of my third cousin twice removed. She was 14 years old when they married; the couple divorced in less than a year. She went on to marry at least four more times. The Morack family seemed to be marriage happy!

At the age of 17, Theodora married Beryl Leroy Knapp in Fort Benton, Montana in 1932. Beryl worked as a carman for the railroad and the newlyweds lived in Great Falls, Montana. Between 1933 and 1940 they had five children: Beryl Lucille (1933-1997), Bernard Leroy (1934-2011), Dollie (1937-2001), Nancy Ann (1938-2011) and Alice Holbrook (about 1940-before 2011).

Theodora was in her mid 30s when her youngest child was born. Married with children must not have suited her. Some time after 1949 (the last Great Falls city directory I can find) she left Beryl to raise their five children alone, possibly for another man or just to escape. This was confirmed by a niece, who did not think Aunt Dora was a very nice person. Thankfully, those children had one responsible parent.

I do not know if Beryl ever remarried, but did find this interesting photograph of him on page 1 of the 7 April 1976 Independent Record.

Beryl Knapp shoveling snow; photograph published on 7 Apr 1976
in the Independent Record

In 1959 Dora married Henry "Harry" Earl VanDusen in Los Angeles County, California. He was 26 years old and Dora was 45. Harry died in 1998 and is buried at the Tacoma National Cemetery in Kent, Washington.

Younger men apparently didn't suit Dora either as her marriage to Harry lasted less than ten years. In 1969 she married Charles M Barr in Orange County, California. Charles was ten years older than Dora. Records for Charles have proved to be elusive. I do not know if the couple remained married or when Charles died. I do know that Theodora (Morack) Knapp VanDusen Barr was living in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho in 1985. She died on 2 December 2006 in Teton County, Montana, and her surname was listed as Barr.

Perhaps in Charles Barr she found the husband for which she was always searching?

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Closest to Your Birthday.

It appears 9 July was a great day for birthing babies in my family tree. No fewer than 23 people share my birthday. It should be noted my tree is large and sprawling. I maintain one public tree and it includes my One Place studies as well as research I've done for my in-laws.

Marriage Happy!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Worldwide Genealogy: Keep Clicking

The Worldwide Genealogy -- A Genealogical Collaboration project is continuing in 2015. This year I will be contributing a post every other month on the 25th. Hilary Gadsby, a fellow Worldwide Genealogy contributor, wrote a great post a few months ago, Killing Them Off -- It Can Help Knock Down Those Brick Walls. I decided to try and kill off my grand uncle, Leo James Jennings. He was the only sibling of my grandfather for which I did not have a death date and that frustrated me to no end.

Sawtelle Veterans Home where Leo was admitted in 1932 for a variety
of health issues, which frankly threw off my search for a death date as he
lived until 1973. Photograph courtesy of the California Historical Society's
Digital Collection

I hope you'll click over to my post to learn how I used Hilary's advice to successfully kill off Uncle Leo...and in the process learned a lot about his second wife, Kathleen (O'Gorman) Jennings.

The Irish Wife
Newly Discovered Photographs
The Mother Nobody Knew
A Lover Not a Fighter

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Honoring Robert Dennard Tucker

Robert Dennard Tucker is the 4th cousin twice removed of my sister-in-law and today is the fifth anniversary of his death. Mr. Tucker published a genealogy of the Tucker family in 1991 entitled, The Desendants of William Tucker of Throwleigh, Devon. He got his love of genealogy from his grandmother, Sally (Tyson) Tucker, just as my father did from his mother. He served in the Korean War and was a keen business man. He founded two medical device and pharmaceutical companies.

Robert Dennard Tucker (1933-2010) from his book,
The Descendants of William Tucker of Throwleigh, Devon;
personal collection

Almost two years ago, I believed Mr. Tucker's book had helped me breakthrough a brick wall. Who were the parents of Benjamin Tucker (died 1778), my sister-in-law's six times great grandfather? I later discovered his conclusion about the connection between the Bermuda and Georgia Tucker families was incorrect through the Tucker DNA Project. Testing has proved they are not connected. Apparently, there were three men named Benjamin Tucker in what became Southampton County, Virginia, and Mr. Tucker got facts about them jumbled up. To his credit, no one else has been able to sort them out to date.

In his book he said, "I do take my goals seriously. When obstacles are confronted in their achievement, I use every weapon in my arsenal to overcome them." And I don't think he was kidding. He purchased the plantation patented to Benjamin Tucker in Southampton County in 1746.

Benjamin Tucker's Southampton County, Virginia, plantation, which was
purchased by Robert Dennard Tucker from his book; personal collection

He likely funded the restoration of the family cemetery found on the property and erected headstones for several of his ancestors buried there. He also funded work on the Tucker family parish church in England and paid professional genealogists to assist his research of nearly 40 years.

As a result of DNA testing, Mr. Tucker's work has been somewhat marginalized and his book thought to be unimportant. I believe this not to be the case. From my research, I think his work from Benjamin Tucker forward to be very solid. For years Judge Folks Huxford was considered by many to be the foremost authority on the Tucker line in Georgia.  He published several articles and at least one book about the pioneers of the wiregrass region of Georgia, including the Tucker family. The lineage he provided for Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr., who fathered 32 children and represented Colquitt County at the Georgia Secession Convention is not correct. Judge Huxford thought Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr., to be the son of Elisha Tucker. That lineage was accepted by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

However, Robert Dennard Tucker believed differently.

He conclusively proved in his book that Elisha and Henry Crawford Tucker, Jr. were brothers, not father and son. In addition the rest of his research on the Tuckers who migrated to Georgia after the Revolutionary War is very solid. I believe Mr. Tucker's life's work should not be tossed aside so lightly. It is certainly not the first family genealogy book that is not entirely correct. They are still good reference points to guide a genealogist's own independent research.

As a result of doing just that, I was able to share with my sister-in-law a great deal about her father's family. Her father died when she was 12 years old and she didn't know a lot about his family. That has been a joy thanks in large part to Robert Dennard Tucker.

"The Tucker Maneuver"
Thirty-two Children!
Henry Tucker and the Georgia Secession Convention

Sunday, January 18, 2015

52 Ancestors #3: Tough Life, Tough Lady

Ancestor Name: Lela Ann (HARBERT) Amsberry (1873-1952)

Lela Ann Harbert was born on 13 March 1873 in Mason County, West Virginia, to Elbert Francis and Sarah Ellen (Shriver) Harbert. The Harbert family had lived in what became the State of West Virginia since Virginia was a British Colony.

Lela was the third of nine children and her father was a farmer. Like many of his contemporaries, he decided to migrate west and homestead land in Custer County, Nebraska. In April 1887 he followed his friend and neighbor, Francis Everett Amsberry, who had moved his family to Nebraska by renting a half of a box car in 1885.

But life out west did not go well for the Harbert family. Lela's mother died in 1888 when her youngest daughter was just 17 months old and Lela Ann was 15. The younger children were farmed out to willing friends and the older ones were left to fend for themselves. Their father was no longer much of a presence in their lives.

On 25 March 1889 in Custer County, 28-year-old James Martin Amsberry, son of Francis Everett Amsberry, married 16-year-old Lela Ann Harbert. According to a poem he wrote about his wife in 1913, he fell in love with her two years before when he went back to West Virginia to collect debts from people who owed his father money.

In two separate claims James acquired 240 acres of land in Custer County and by 1900 he owned the farm and a printing business. He and Lela had six children between 1890 and 1907.

The James Martin Amsberry Family circa 1896.
James is holding Tinsie Ethel, Roy Frances and Carl
Everett are standing and Guy Matthew is on Lela's lap;
photo courtesy of member ChrisIller.

In 1902 Lela's brother, John Harbert left his wife, who he married in 1896, and young son. Lela was incensed after a visit from her brother. She wrote to his estranged wife, Jennie:

"He told me he intended to get loose from you as soon as he could but when he investigated he knew he had not a ghost of a chance...He has been running around with Emma Bennett, a woman of disreputable character and also has two illegal parade around the street with that dirty thing...He has acted so mean with us about the rest he owes us that I won't keep no secrets for him. I am done with him...I guess if he lands in the pen, it won't be any worse disgrace than we are enduring now anyhow...I want him to have to pay you about $50 a month, and have to keep on the wrestle to earn it and not have so much to spend with some other woman about like Em Bennett or pour it down his neck.[1]

In 1915 James and Lela's two oldest children, Carl Everett and Roy Francis, and their wives moved to Oregon. A few months later Lela, along with her two youngest children, Hugh Martin and Vivian Louise, followed her older children to Oregon, leaving her husband behind. James followed the next spring after selling his newspaper, The Miller Sun, a public auction. I get the sense James didn't have much business sense as the family always seemed to struggle financially.

Amsberry Men: Father, James Martin
Amsberry on the left and his oldest sons,
Carl and Roy to the right circa 1916;
photograph courtesy of
member cfm1151

Times were hard for the family in Oregon. They survived on apples the first year. They built a wooden platform and erected a tent and that's where they lived through the winter before Lela's husband arrived. That summer the men built a primitive house. Lela's daughter Vivian described what happened next in her book, My Mother's Daughter:

"The next few years are rather mixed in my mind. Apparently Mama became tired of carrying water uphill from the spring, and eating whatever wild game my brothers could trap and retrieve ahead of the coyotes. So without fanfare, she bundled me up and took me off again into an unknown world. I saw my Dad only a few times after that.

Mama never seemed to be out of a job...Another time she took care of an invalid lady in Portland. I remember how upset she became when Dad called on her there. I couldn't understand what was going on, but not terribly long after that Mama started talking about a divorce...She was repelled at the sight of Dad and equated her life with him as a form of slavery thus befalling every married woman. She grouped all the male gender together as having a single purpose in life, that of 'using' the female counterpart for his pleasures. The very odious overtones of her remarks scarred me for life. For years I thought of sex as a dirty word and something to be hidden in a closet!"

Lela Ann (Harbert) Amsberry date unknown;
courtesy of member

Lela Ann (Harbert) Amsberry lived a sometimes tragic and always difficult life but I think of her as a tough woman mostly for warping her youngest daughter's view of men, marriage, and sex. She seemed a cold, unforgiving woman. Her life perhaps marred by tragedy and what for her was an unhappy marriage. Sadly, her husband loved her until he died in 1939, likely at the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane where he had been an inmate on or before 1930. He wrote in his diary, "One thing if it is the Lord's desire, I hope to be restored to the mother of my children, the wife of my youth." 

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challengeoptional theme Tough Woman.

[1]Excerpted from Echoes from the Blockhouse: The Thomas Harbert Family Saga by Brian and David Harbert.

Lela Ann Harbert was born on 13 March 1873 in Marion County, West Virginia, to Elbert Francis and Sarah Ellen (Shriver) Harbert. The family moved to Mason County, West Virginia, before 1876 and then to Custer County, Nebraska, in 1887. She married James Martin Amsberry on 20 March 1989. They had six children between 1890 and 1907. In 1915 Lela Ann moved to Oregon with her two youngest children. She divorced her husband between 1920 and 1930. He died in 1939 and she died in 1952. They are buried beside each other in the same lot in Multnomah Park Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. So James got his wish and was reunited with "the mother of my children, the wife of my youth."

Dead Poets Society

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Sinking of the S/S Katha

John Riddell Findlay was my third cousin once removed and was a merchant seaman during World War II. He joined the S/S Katha as 3rd mate on 13 June 1941 in Hull, England. Four months later the ship was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat. John Riddell Findlay may have been aboard at the time as I believe he didn't join his next ship until 13 September 1944.

S/S Katha; photograph courtesy of

I found this firsthand account by Roy Prince about the sinking of the S/S Katha on, the official newsletter of the USS Guadalcanal Task Group 22.3 Association.

In April 1943 I was an 18 year old 3rd Radio Officer on the British merchantman S/S Katha, a freighter of 4,357 tons built in 1938. I had boarded the ship in London and we were now on a voyage from Oban to India via the Cape of Good Hope sailing in Convoy OS45 with a crew of 64; 12 officers from Scotland and England, 9 gunners, and a crew from the Portuguese colony of Goa on the east coast of India. We carried three Radio Officers and each of us had a 4 hours on and 8 hours off shift. I worked the "noon-to-4pm" and "midnight-to-4am" shift. 

The cargo was a typical wartime mixture of sixteen Hawker Hurricane fighters in wooden crates, ammunition, mail, some wooden crates containing “Stephens Black Ink," strange how little details remain in one's mind, and a brand new shiny red Fire Engine with “The City of Karachi” painted on its sides. Most of the crates had “Britain delivers the Goods” stenciled on them but they didn’t get there this time! 

Convoy OS45 consisted of 43 Merchant Ships sailing in 11 columns, the theory being that most attacks would come from the side, so by providing a broad front the convoy would pass a given point in a shorter time. S/S Katha was the second ship in column 11, the outer starboard column. We were escorted by six Royal Navy ships -- one sloop and five corvettes. Most of the merchant ships were armed, carrying a 4 pounder on the stern and an assortment of machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons manned by Army/Navy gunners. 

Typical North Atlantic Convoy; photograph courtesy of Marconi
Veterans Organization

Although the ship was only five years old at the time, the radio room was spartan. The radio equipment was manufactured by Siemens and the radio officers worked for whichever company supplied the radio equipment and not for the shipping company. The receiver was a two tube (…we called them "valves") job with plug in coils covering 12 khz – kc/s in those days – all the way up to 18 khz and it was as selective as a barn door. The transmitter, RT and CW, was rated 150 W input and merely covered the medium frequency Marine Band of 390 – 510 khz. 

An auto alarm was used to monitor the 500 kc/s distress frequency when the radio officer was off duty (… in peacetime the ship only carried one Radio Officer). Reception of a series of 4-second dashes at 1-second intervals, sent out by the calling ship preceding a distress message, would set off alarm bells placed throughout the receiving ship alerting the radio officer to an incoming distress signal. There were frequent false alarms set off by bursts of static. 

Eight days out of Oban we had reached position 41.02 N 15.39 W, west of Cape Finisterre. On 2 April shortly after 2215 local time I was asleep in my cabin upper deck mid-ships (…in the Merchant Marine each officer had a cabin -- unlike the tougher conditions in the armed forces). Suddenly I was startled awake by a God awful uproar I can only describe as sounding like an anchor chain being dropped from a great height on to a metal deck. I lay there, now wide awake, staring into the darkness and listening, but nothing much seemed to be happening so I figured it was not important and stayed under the covers trying to calm down and get back to sleep. A few moments later the 2nd Radio Officer, who had been on watch, ran into the cabin and shook me up. We had been torpedoed. He said there was no point in going to the radio room as the radio equipment was badly damaged and inoperative. Oh, the innocence of an 18 year old; things like that only happen to others. I was wearing pajamas but it didn’t take me long to put on a pair of pants and a life jacket! 

We had been hit by two torpedoes on the starboard side and the Captain had issued the abandon ship order. The ship was now a tangle of bent and twisted plates and ruptured pipes. We threaded our way through all the wreckage and headed for the starboard side lifeboat station to which I was assigned. When we got there we found the lifeboat a hopeless mess, wrecked by one of the torpedoes. That wasn't going to work so the third mate, an apprentice, and myself decided we had better get to a life raft fast.

Arriving there as quickly as we could in the midst of all the wreckage and the darkness we found the raft in good condition and still in place on the launching rails. Those wonderful rafts, secured on two girders, could be released by hitting a shackle allowing them to slide off the ship. Grabbing the wooden mallet kept in position alongside for that purpose, the third mate began raining a series of frantic blows on the release shackle. But the mallet wasn’t up to the task and it splintered in his hands. I don’t recall exactly where he found the piece of metal -- no trouble finding it as there was a lot of it laying around -- and he used it to pound the shackle releasing the raft to our great relief.

Those rafts must have saved many lives as launching lifeboats, even if not damaged, was a hazardous job and many lives were lost doing it. I went over the side down a Jacobs ladder and in fairly calm seas managed to get aboard the raft without even getting my feet wet. Eleven of the Goanese crew, the third mate, an apprentice, and myself ended up on the raft and managed to paddle away from the ship which by now was folding in the middle and beginning to resemble a pair of scissors just before it disappeared beneath the surface. It’s hard to believe I was able at the time to see so well in the dark; it’s a bit different now! 

U-124 in 1940; photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

It wasn’t until many years after the war I learned it was U-124 which had sunk us. (the famous "Edelweiss" boat commanded by young Jochen Mohr, then in his twenties. U-124 sank 48 ships under two commanders before herself being sunk in this attack on OS45. Werner Henke had served as 2nd Watch Officer on U-124 before taking command of U-515 which we encountered about a year later very close to these same waters.) Although the escorting Navy ships were rushing about searching for the submarine it seemed at the time as if we were the only people left in the ocean, the rest of the convoy having passed on and out of sight. It's funny now -- but as I look back on it one thought kept coming to mind -- here we were floating around on a raft alone in the dark on the open ocean, our ship having just been blown up and sunk beneath our feet, and all I was thinking was: “I wonder how the others on this raft will behave if we are on it for very long?” 

Just before dawn the S/S Danby, another British freighter, found us and took us aboard. Danby was the designated rescue ship sailing last in the column. She had seen two ships torpedoed and sink and had left the convoy to search for survivors. The Master of the Danby was a very brave man to cruise around in the dark knowing two ships had been torpedoed and that a U-boat was out there somewhere ready to attack again. 

The sub continued to track the convoy and about an hour later it was detected on radar by two of the escort ships, HMS Black Swan and HMS Stonecrop, and sunk by depth charges with the loss of all 54 crewmen. 

The following day the Danby caught up with the convoy and we were transferred to a Canadian ship which had room for us and took us to Freetown, West Africa. We were only there one night before a large ship entered the harbor and a few hours later we were on our way to Scotland aboard the Queen Marytraveling at 33 knots. It only took six days from Freetown to Scotland! 

Our total casualties on the S/S Katha amounted to six -- ive in the engine room and one who was crushed abandoning ship. The ship directly ahead of us, the S/S Gogra, must have been unfortunate enough to have been hit in the hold where a cargo of ammunition was stowed. She had exploded in a towering flash of flame and fire and out of a crew of ninety only eight survived. 

Of course, being eighteen and feeling immortal, the whole experience was just a thrilling time for me. Something I noticed many times was the respect the experienced seafarers had for the dangers of the sea; the U-boats were a secondary consideration. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

52 Ancestors #2: Fleeing a Tsar

Ancestor Name: Wilhelm Schalin (1859-1952)

We know the Schalin family considered themselves German, but we have no idea from where in Germany they originated. Wilhelm Schalin's great grandfather married Anna Dorothea Rosnian in 1791 at Wladylawowo, Poland, which is located on the shores of Gdansk Bay. Prussia, Austria, and Russia had taken chunks of the country in 1772 in what became known as the first Polish partition. In and 1795 the three countries partitioned Poland again until it was erased from the maps of Europe.

Wladylawowo, Poland, the first reference of the Schalin family in Poland

When Prussia took over their Polish territories, they discovered about 1,500 German villages had already been established. During Prussia's rule, they established more settlements. In 1806, Napoleon created the Duchy of Warsaw. But it was short lived. Russia pushed Napoleon out of Poland in 1812-1813. In 1815 Congress Poland was created, but its foreign affairs were controlled by Russia. Portions of Poland that were under Austria's control were added to Congress Poland and German settlement spread to those areas. By the mid 1800s, there were about 325,000 Germans living in what is now Poland's western half of the country. In 1831 there was a Polish uprising and Russia took full control of the country.

Russia had also acquired the Volhynia region of what is now Ukraine during the Polish partitions and controlled its destiny for 120 years. The vast areas of the region were largely unsettled wilderness which had never been cultivated by its former owners, Polish nobility. In 1862, Tsar Alexander II freed the serfs from the land and many left the farms for better work opportunities. The Boyar landowners were left with large tracts of land but no workers and no income from the land. The owners encouraged Germans living in Poland to lease their land. The Germans responded in large numbers. In 1861 there were less than 5,000 German families living in Volhynia. By 1915 there were 235,000 families. Wilhelm's father, Gottlieb Schalin moved his family to Volhynia between 1861 and 1863.

A German farmhouse in Volhynia; photograph courtesy of Lucille Fillenberg Effa

In 1881 Alexander III became tsar of Russia. Unlike his father, he was very conservative and reversed several of his father's liberal policies. He believed the country could only be saved by the political ideal of single nationality, language and religion. He attempted to realize this ideal by mandating the teaching of Russian throughout the empire, outlawing any other religion but Russian Orthodoxy, and weakening foreign institutions in whatever manner possible. Alexander III rescinded the ban on German men serving in the Russian army and levied new taxes on German communities. By this time many of the Germans living in Volhynia were German Baptists. Their religion was outlawed and their ministers arrested.

Wilhelm Schalin, my great grandfather

Wilhelm Schalin decided it was time to leave Volhynia. His family and several others traveled to Liverpool, England, and boarded the S/S Sarmatian on 21 April 1893. They arrived at the port of Quebec on 4 May 1893 and traveled by train to Winnipeg, Manitoba. After purchasing needed supplies, the families continued west and homesteaded land in the Leduc area of Alberta, Canada, which at the time was part of the North-West Territories.  Wilhelm Schalin homesteaded section SW15-T49-R24-W4. A year later my grandmother was born on 23 May 1894.

S/S Sarmatian

And that's how my Schalin family came to live in Canada.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme King.

This post was originally published on 27 March 2014.

Starvation Faced Fredericksheim
History of Fredericksheim
Fearless Women: Religion
Differing Memories or Family Reunions Can Be Dangerous

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Catawba Sanatorium

Jeanette Brown Witt married my third cousin once removed, Albert Hugh Burt, between 1946 and 1948. They lived in Roanoke their entire married lives. Jeanette worked as a stenographer and Albert worked his way up to district supervisor at the State Board of Education. He died in 1969 and Jeanette, in 1992. They are both buried in Evergreen Burial Park.

In 1940, before her marriage, Jeanette was a patient at the Catawba Sanatorium, which was established on the site of the Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs, located seven miles from Salem and southwest of Roanoke. The facility was founded in 1908 as a public institution for the treatment of tuberculosis. It was known as one of the most organized and best equipped institutions of its kind.

W. W. Baker began the sanatorium after he experienced the disease himself. He introduced a bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly that made the sanatorium a possibility. Visitors commented on the cheerful atmosphere and smiling faces. The facility stayed open until the 1950s when better methods were found for the treatment of tuberculosis. Then the sanatorium became the Catawba Hospital, which is still being used today.

Dining Room at the Catawba Sanatorium near Roanoke, Virginia;
photo courtesy of
The Infirmary at the Catawba Sanatorium; image courtesy of

Jack L. Wood, once the acting director and CEO of Catawba Hospital said in a 2001 interview with Cooperative Living that the sanatorium was "a premiere facility in the early 1900s. We had the first X-ray machine in Roanoke valley."

Monday, January 5, 2015

52 Ancestors #1: They Called It Ireland!

Ancestor Name: Peter Charles Dagutis (1918-1991)

My husband and I have been remodeling our house for the last two or three years and I've used the upheaval as an excuse to let my genealogical files get extremely unorganized. My fresh start was cleaning up my office and putting my books into some sort of order and creating a filing system for all the paper my genealogy hobby obsession has created.

While sorting the piles of paper by family line, I ran across all my father-in-law's World War II files. He served in Company H, 2nd Infantry Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division. For most of the division's time in Europe, they were assigned to Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army.

The division spent time in Iceland where they did stevadore work and helped the Sea Bees build Meeks Field. In 1943 the Division left Iceland for England. In October of that year they moved to Northern Ireland to continue their training and prepare for fighting in Europe.

It was among my father-in-law's papers that I found a pamphlet entitled, "And they called it Ireland!"

Personal collection

To the Irish -- Begorrah!
This book is respectfully dedicated because they have done so much to make us feel at Home -- away from Home.

And now we'll tell you about the place..

Once upon a time  -- Irish balladry explains that some careless angels let fall "a little bit of Heaven" which settled on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, and they called it Ireland. Many centuries have passed since that celestial accident and, after a belligerent historical background, Ireland in 1921 became divided into the twenty-six independent counties of the Irish Free State or Eire, and the six remaining counties of Northern Ireland, with which we are concerned, and which are still under British sovereignty. So when World War II began, Northern Ireland swore her allegiance to Britain and went all out for victory!

Then came the Yanks with everything, including the kitchen stove. We dispersed through the countryside and settled as much as the Army overseas ever settles down.

The customs were a little strange. We learned to drink tea in self-defense (the British have the oddest conception of coffee!) It was hard to get used to driving on the left side of the road -- and what roads!

But the natives were friendly. They were good listeners. And sure the Blarney in her talk took you back to old New York.

Personal collection

Rationing and shortages made things a little hard at first, but we soon got acquainted until even market day didn't amaze us. The stalls appear and disappear at the last Wednesday in each month and the gypsies are in town every market day.

We took a dim view of the blackout when man's best friend was his flashlight.

We went to villages often. The beer was both mild and bitter but we grew to like it. Shopping was pretty difficult for a while. You have to memorize opening and closing times if you want to get in anywhere.

Personal collection

We took a weekend pass and fought the Battle of Belfast where we ran into the Navy, the Air Corps, WACs, etc. It was interesting to contact other branches of the forces, but where ever we went there was the Red Cross, and the indefatigable hostess. However, we were here for a purpose so training was more rigid than usual. And now we're prepared for anything to hasten peace!

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge, optional theme Fresh Start.

Peter Charles Dagutis was born on 10 Mar 1918 at West Hazleton, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, to Adam Peter and Cecilia (Klimasansluski) Dagutis. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on 7 April 1941 and served with Company H, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division. The division was attached to Patton's Third Army in early August 1944 after arriving in France on 9 July 1944 and participating in Operation Cobra, the breakout of the bocage terrain as part of Omar Bradley's First Army. On V-E day the division was in Czechoslovakia. Peter was honorably discharged on 18 June 1945. Later that summer he married Elizabeth Theresa Fishtahler. They had three children; their only son is my husband.

Charles Peter Dagutis: Historic WWII Assault Rhine River Crossing
Guest Blog: "Stay Alive in `45!"