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Losing a Cousin

Last week we made the heavy-hearted trip back to our hometown to say farewell to a cousin on my husband/tech advisor’s side who passed away unexpectedly.

Linda Mullin Laeng (1953-2022) had lived a full and happy life before a sudden illness proved fatal.

She was one of a group of 10 cousins who grew up together in the same community. They have other cousins, too, but those lived far away. This local bunch knew one another best. Most of them, now in their 60s and 70s, gathered for her funeral service.

Linda had lived her early years in Wyoming, married later in life, and then moved to California with her husband. In recent years, after her husband died, she returned to Wyoming to care for her mother.

She thrived there. She and her mom attended Mass daily and breakfasted regularly with other family members. She joined a bowling league.

They entertained themselves by visiting casinos where Linda often hit the jackpot. She was a lucky gambler, having won the California State Lottery during her time there. The priest said he wished he had talked to her more often about tithing.

This extended family will miss her cheerful presence. We are saddened by the empty spot in the cousin group.

It felt too sudden and too soon to say good-bye. Linda, enjoy your wings.

Robert Kirkham and Boonesborough

This month I joined a new book club, just in time to read a selection I found both helpful and interesting. The Taking of Jemima Boone by Matthew Pearl tells the story of a pivotal event on the frontier during the early days of the Revolutionary War.

Jemima, of course, was the daughter of famous frontiersman Daniel Boone. One Sunday afternoon in 1775, she and a couple of friends left the protection of the fort to take a canoe ride on the Kentucky River. They were kidnapped by the Shawnee.

Their subsequent rescue, and the retaliatory events that followed, shaped the course of the war in the Ohio River valley. Pearl’s book describes the role of the Boones during this time and introduces the reader to all the other players involved.

I felt a particular connection to the war contributions of these pioneers of Kentucky because a member of my own family was there for part of that time.

Robert Kirkham (1754-1819), my 4th great-grandfather, served at Boonesborough during the war. His name appears on the roster of Capt. John Holder’s Company in 1779.

That spring, a militia force crossed the Ohio to attack the Shawnee village at Chillicothe. This operation was part of the tit-for-tat that took place in the years immediately following Jemima Boone’s kidnapping. I do not know whether my ancestor participated in this raid. The militia failed to take the village, but the attack served as a warning to Britain’s Indian allies to back off.

I had hoped the book would mention Robert Kirkham, but it did not. I did learn something about his commanding officer, John Holder.

Holder married Frances Callaway, one of the other girls who was kidnapped with Jemima Boone. Perhaps my ancestor heard firsthand accounts of that event from her or others in the rescue party.

Reading this book helped me understand the political situation my ancestor faced during his Revolutionary War service. I can add some colorful information to his life story.

Earlier this month I submitted a supplemental application to the DAR to document my descent from Robert Kirkham. Reading this book has made his life and my connection to him feel much more real.

Census Revisited

The release of the 1950 U. S. census has generated curiosity in the genealogical community about what it might reveal of our families. This new release also made me think of all the information available from census records created in prior decades. For those years, we have not only population schedules that give us family groups. We also have an assortment of special schedules available.

In the spring issue of The Mayflower Quarterly Magazine, I read an article by Dale H. Cook about these seldom-used federal census schedules. He highlighted the Industrial and Manufacturing Schedules found in 1820, 1850, and 1860.

My family always farmed, so I thought manufacturing schedules would be of little interest to me. I have never looked at them.

Then I remembered that my third great-grandfather Benjamin E. Dunbar (1776-1831) had owned a saltworks at Chatham, Barnstable County, Massachusetts. Would the 1820 manufacturing schedule tell me anything about that?

I located an image of the 1820 Barnstable County manufacturing schedule on Family Search. It was a hand-written narrative of the industries found in the county. These included small ropeworks and cotton spinning operations.

The main onshore industry was my family’s occupation of making salt from seawater. The schedule compiler explained the economics of the business. I learned that the owners were often retired seamen who worked alone. Family members were pressed into duty to cover the evaporation troughs when it rained. The saltworks were idle during the winter.

The manufacturing schedule does not provide details of specific businesses, nor does it list any owners names. From other sources I already knew where the Dunbar saltworks was located and how many feet of troughs the family had.

The manufacturing schedule did give information on how the business operated, how people got into it, and how important it was to the local economy. It was worth taking the time to look at this supplement to an early 1800’s census.


An Unexpected Find in the 1950 Census

Earlier this month the government released the 1950 U. S. census. Genealogists everywhere can look for themselves or their parents and grandparents on this newly available source. The My Heritage website let me know early on that they had indexed my home state of Wyoming.

So, what did I find?

  1. I searched first for my mother’s Bentsen family. My recollection of their whereabouts in the postwar years was hazy, and I wondered whether they resided in Wyoming or South Dakota in 1950. I learned they were living in Park County, Wyoming. My mom was a college student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie that year, but she was enumerated with her family. My grandfather owned an electrical shop where he and my grandmother both worked.
  2. I suspected that other relatives also lived in Wyoming at that time. I found them, too. My dad’s cousin Alta Reed was living and working in Cheyenne. Dad’s older sister Hazel Reed Barnes and her family lived on a ranch near Glendo, Wyoming.

Since looking up these families, I have learned that I need not wait for additional indexes to be compiled. The government’s website ( has an OCR search feature. I used that to look for my dad. I found a surprise.

He was enumerated with his mother and two of his brothers at the family home in Loveland, Colorado. The youngest brother Donald Reed was still in high school. Dad and his older brother Harold were working at the local sugar factory.

The sugar factory? I knew that Harold had always worked there, but I did not remember that my dad ever did. He had graduated from Loveland High School in 1945 and promptly joined the Navy. After being demobilized in 1946, he had bounced between college and work for the next eight years.

He was employed at various places during that time to earn enough money for school. He mentioned working at molybdenum mines in Colorado and Montana. He did railroad and telephone company work in Wyoming. When he was attending school for a semester, he would wash dishes in the dormitory dining hall.

But I did not recall that he had ever returned home to work at the sugar factory. Sugar beet farming was a big local industry when he grew up, and I knew he and his fellow high school students were pressed into harvest duty during the war years. But I did not expect to see him back living at home and working at the factory in 1950. Now I have another anecdote for his life story.

Some of my fellow genealogists have told me they do not plan to look at the 1950 census. They say that they already know where their families lived that year. I say, take a look at it anyway. You never know what you might find.

Progress on The Box

Several years ago, I acquired the genealogy library and research materials that had belonged to my father’s cousin. She lived to be 93 years old and had studied family history all her life. She had a lot of stuff.

I have filed most of it away in my own office. We purchased IKEA bookshelves for her 300+ books of genealogical records. We placed her voluminous research notebooks in another bookcase. We made room for her filing cabinet alongside ours. All is stored away, awaiting a good purging.

That left The Box. I have written about it before. It contained loose papers, in no particular order, on every conceivable ancestor. It sat in a corner of the room where it challenged me to deal with it every time I walked past.

I decided that 2022 was the year to empty it.

Some of the materials already had been organized into file folders. I went through each one, discarding old correspondence with vendors and then placing the folders in her file cabinet.

That left about 18″ of loose papers. At first, I thought I could avoid being overwhelmed by this stack if I just filed a couple of pages a day.

After a week or two, I realized this was unworkable. These pages included records our cousin had transcribed, family group sheets and trees she had built, and RootsWeb messages she had printed off. I needed a filing structure for this work.

I decided instead to do a rough sort by state, surname, or family tree. I made file folders for each category. Then, as I watched TV, I began sorting the stack of papers. I placed items in the new folders as I went along. I made room for these in her filing cabinet until I can figure out which records to keep and which to discard.

Now I am about halfway through what remained in the box. I can see the day when it no longer takes up floor and table space in my office.

When I am finished with this phase, it will be time to set up a schedule for the long overdue purging of my cousin’s records. She and I shared our paternal Reed line, and I plan to keep everything about them. I do not need her maternal Neal materials.

I can donate books about the areas where the Neals lived to the Denver Public Library or the Bemis Public Library in Littleton, Colorado. I am not sure yet what I can do with the Neal papers. Our cousin had no children, and her brother’s children did not seem interested in family history when they gave all this to me.

Perhaps as they grow older, they will change their minds. They will be my first stop when it is time to find a new home for their family records.

Once I finish up with The Box, I can move on to the next phase of slimming down all this research material. My husband/tech advisor will be happy to see me finally do it. It would be nice to reclaim some office space and enjoy a less cluttered look.

A New Patriot Line

Revolutionary War ancestors provide the key to joining the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) lineage society. I have known since I was a young teenager that I was eligible for membership even though no family member in living memory had joined the organization.

In the 1960’s, my paternal grandmother brought me a family tree compiled by a cousin. It traced my lineage back to Robert Kirkham (1754-1819), a Patriot who served at Boonesborough with the frontiersman Daniel Boone.

Since then, I thought that if I joined the DAR, my membership would be based on that line. It did not work out that way.

In 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing, I decided to join that organization to preserve my New England genealogical research. When my application as a descendant of Stephen Hopkins was approved, the Mayflower Society Historian contacted me about joining the DAR, too.

My Mayflower line includes a Patriot ancestor, Gershom Hall (1760-1844). The Historian kindly forwarded all the documentation to the DAR for me, and soon I was a member based on descent from Gershom Hall, not Robert Kirkham.

So what about Robert and all that lineage work? It turns out you can submit DAR supplemental applications based on other ancestors.

I decided to go ahead and turn in one for the Robert Kirkham line. At last month’s meeting, I asked my Chapter Registrar about it. She urged me to send everything I had on Robert’s line to her right away. She was eager to begin.

My first step was to look at the DAR database to see whether anyone else in Robert Kirkham’s line had ever joined the DAR. If there were other approved applications, I might not need to submit so much new documentation.

I found that several of Robert’s descendants had joined over the years.

Only one other person had claimed Robert’s daughter Ann Kirkham Reed on an application. That file dated from the 1940’s. The DAR makes clear that older applications may not have been as complete as those required today. I wondered whether I could use what the other person had submitted over 80 years ago.

I contacted my Registrar to ask for advice. She reviewed the 1940 application. The three generations from Robert Kirkham through his daughter Ann Reed and grandson Caleb Reed looked fine. Caleb Reed was my second great-grandfather.

Since my supplemental application would claim through my father’s family just as my original application had, I already had sufficient evidence on file for him and for myself. I would need to submit paperwork for only two generations—my grandfather Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935) and my great-grandfather Samuel Harvey Reed (1845-1928).

This morning I submitted digital copies of everything the Registrar thinks I need to make my case. She says I can sign my supplemental application at our next Chapter meeting in two weeks.

And then I will wait, and then wait some more for approval. After getting terribly backlogged during the pandemic, the DAR processing time for supplemental applications is taking up to 15 months.

No wonder the Registrar wanted me to get started on this right away.

Time to Catch Up

An idiom is a phrase or expression that has a non-literal meaning. Some, like “to catch up” can have more than one meaning.

This week I have found myself catching up in various ways:

  1. Of friends or relatives, to update one another on life events. We just returned from a 2-day trip to Wyoming to visit with relatives. There, over lunch, we were able to catch up with one another’s news. We looked in on my 91-year-old mother-in-law and heard accounts of recent travels made by siblings. We exchanged health information.
  2. To make an effort to become current with something after having fallen behind. Back at home now, I need to catch up on all the chores that languished while I was away. After unpacking, I must tend to neglected e-mail and household tasks.
  3. To be involved in something. Once I have completed the other catching up activities, I can once again be caught up in my favorite work—genealogy.

All this catching up is tiring, and I will be happy once I am again caught up with everything. It’s good to be home.


Here Comes the 1950 Census

Genealogists nationwide have their eyes on tomorrow. The 1950 U. S. census will be released on April 1, 2022. What will it tell us?

In addition to the usual questions asked every decade, we will see a few tidbits of additional information gathered from some people (six per sheet):

  1. Was the person living in the same house a year ago?
  2. Was the person living on a farm a year ago?
  3. What was the highest grade of school attended? Finished?
  4. How much did the person earn in 1949?
  5. If male, did the person serve in the wartime armed services?

The last person in the group of six also provided information on marital history, number of years since a change in marital status, and how many children a woman had borne.

How eager are people to see this information? My friends in the genealogy community seem mixed in their anticipation. Some say they already know where their families were in 1950, and they have no sense of urgency to see this record. Others, like me, are more curious.

I do not know where many of my family members were in 1950. I would like to find out where they were enumerated:

  1. My mother, Joyce Bentsen (1929-2000), was a college student that year. I believe she spent the 1950 school months at the University of Wyoming and the summer working in Yellowstone Park.
  2. My dad, Earl Reed (1927-2017), went to college sporadically from 1946-1954, so I do not know whether he was working or going to school in 1950. Was he in Wyoming or Colorado?
  3. My maternal grandparents, Martha Mattila (1906-1977) and Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986), moved around a lot in the post-war years. I do not know whether they were living in Wyoming or South Dakota in 1950.

Sometime in the next week or so, I may take a peek at the 1950 census to see what I can find out. I do not expect any surprises, but I would like to fill in the blanks of my family’s whereabouts that year.

Trip Planning

Most years we try to take a genealogy research trip. Some trips can be one-day jaunts, but this year we will take a lengthy one. We plan to drive through the American Midwest to see the places our families lived and to visit a few repositories. This takes some planning.

Where will we go?

  1. Farm locales. My family lived in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. We are compiling land descriptions for all the farms.
  2. Repositories. The big stop will be the Allen County Library in Indiana. We may visit the Ohio Genealogical Society Library. Various county and city libraries are possibilities, too. I need to comb through the online catalogs for all these places to identify which ones are worth a stop.
  3. Courthouses. So far, I have not identified one I need to visit, but I am open to the possibility if I find I still need some document that is not available online.
  4. Cemeteries. These are a low priority because most of the information is now available on FindAGrave. If one of the repositories can give me a clue as to where someone not on FindAGrave is buried, I will take time to search for the grave and photograph it. I am talking to you, Jane Lawless and Caleb Reed.
  5. Historic sites. We need to break up all the genealogy with some visits to local historic sites. I want to see the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve in Kansas, the Lincoln cabin in Coles County, Illinois, and the historic district and canal in Hudson, Ohio.

They always say that planning for a trip is half the fun. Maybe it is fun, but it is sure taking a long time. I am ready to be finished and move on to something else. Let’s hit the road!

My First St. Patrick’s Day (since I learned I am Irish)

After years of searching, last year I learned that my mystery great-grandfather was a full-blooded Irishman. It took DNA testing to reveal his identity. Today is my first St. Patrick’s Day since discovering this family bloodline.

Even though my family did not know in previous years that we were part Irish, we joined the community in recognizing St. Patrick’s Day each year with food and garb. I grew up surrounded by Irish neighbors who celebrated day, so we did, too. My brother and I always took care to wear something green to school on St. Patrick’s Day so as not to be pinched for failing to wear the appropriate color for the holiday.

Over the years I have often put up a decoration or two in the week leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. We have enjoyed following the Irish-American tradition of serving corned beef and cabbage on March 17th.

And now another St. Patrick’s Day holiday has arrived. Knowing that I have some bona fide Irish heritage, do I feel more of a sense of ownership in the celebration? The answer is, not really. I have not found myself doing anything more that I always did to mark the occasion. Despite the DNA test, I feel no connection to Irish culture.

My Irish great-grandfather may have fathered my grandmother, but he was not part of her life. He never acknowledger her as his child, and he did not contribute to her support. She was not raised with any awareness of her Irish ethnicity. She told me that she had no idea who her father was.

Irish culture never figured into my family background, and a DNA test has not made a difference in how I think of myself.

So today, I am wearing a green sweater, as I always have. A corned beef is cooking in the Crock Pot. The celebration stops there.