Transcribing: A Close Connection to the Past

In One Night in Norwalk – A Hitchhiker’s Tale, I told how I found entries in my grandmother’s diary of the night I arrived at her door after a failed attempt to hitchhike home from school.

I am lucky to have Grandma’s diaries, and other writings of hers. They have provided me an intimate window into her life – and told me what she thought of me. While transcribing them, I felt I became closer to her than I ever did while she was alive. And, while transcribing her words, I adopted a process that made her seem even closer; a process that is the subject of this post.

 

Harriott Wickham Memories

Photos: Harriott Wickham self-portrait, 1914; Commencement photo of the Class of 1907. Harriott Wickham earliest diaries: 1908-1909 (open); 1910 Tour of Europe (black cover); 1910-1914, Wooster College Years (red cover).

Early on, I formed the habit of transcribing Grandma’s letters, diaries, stories and other documents before I read them. Seeing the words for the first time as I typed them made it seem I was experiencing her thoughts as they had formed in her mind. Sitting at my desk late at night, or in the morning before dawn – my usual time for research and writing – I often felt as though Grandma was with me, directing my fingers as they moved across the keyboard of my computer.

Have you ever tried this technique? If you have not, I suggest you give it a try.

 

 

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One Night in Norwalk, Ohio – A Hitchhiker’s Tale

With all I have written about the history of Norwalk, Ohio, you might think that I grew up in that city and the Firelands. But I did not. I was born in Amherst, Ohio, and raised in Lorain and Avon Lake, all in the county east of the Firelands. In fact, to my knowledge I have spent only one night in Norwalk, Ohio: Thursday, September 27, 1973, forty-four years ago today. How do I know that, you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you.

I had just begun my Junior year at Bowling Green State University, south of Toledo, and after two years in the dorms, had moved to an apartment on Napoleon Road, across the railroad tracks from a hog slaughter house.

I needed a car. A neighbor of my parents back in Avon Lake had a car for sale. I decided to hitchhike home and buy it. After all, it was only a hundred miles or so. No problem. So I walked to Wooster Street, hung out my thumb, and headed east. [1]Norwalk Hitchhiking Map

Rides were scarce that day, and those who picked me up did not take me very far. As dusk settled in, I found myself standing at the U.S. Route 250 exit of the U.S. 20 Norwalk Bypass. Continuing to hitchhike in the dark did not appeal to me (wisely, I think).

But, Grandma Barton lived in Norwalk. [2] She’d take me in. I abandoned my plans of getting home that night, and hiked north along Benedict Avenue toward town.

I arrived at Grandma’s home on Hester Street after dark. The lights were on. I knocked. She opened the door and stared at me with surprise.

What did she think of me showing up at her door after dark? I’ll let her tell you.

 

Thursday, September 27, 1973

Another warm day, but not as hot as yesterday. Late in the p.m. a knock at the door and there stood David. He had hitch-hiked this far on his way home, but did not want to try his luck farther, as it would soon be getting dark. I did not think he should either, so he called home to tell them he was staying here over night. Nice to have him for a little visit.

Friday, September 28, 1973

Just after we had eaten breakfast this a.m. Carrie [my mom] arrived to take Dave on to Avon Lake, where he is to finish his deal to buy a car there. Somehow it did not occur to me to lend him my car to go on to A.L.! But perhaps that would have been just as much trouble, as they would have felt it should be brought back.

Harriott Barton Christmas 1973 - Avon Lake Ohio (2)

Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Christmas 1973

That’s it, my one night in Norwalk, Ohio. And breakfast, too!

I had wondered over the years what Grandma thought about my little adventure. (I had learned my mom’s opinion of my “antics” on the ride from Norwalk to Avon Lake that morning). Finding these entries in Grandma’s diaries a decade ago was a blessing. I’m glad she was not upset with me. But what else could I expect from someone who had homesteaded in Wyoming as single young woman, married a rancher, and raised a family on the edge of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.

Grandma was not the timid sort.

 

Diaries from our ancestors are such a treasure. In my next post, I’ll tell you how I make the transcription of these gems into a deeply personal experience.

 

Footnotes

[1] To any children (in the unlikely event any children actually read this post), do as I say, not as I did: don’t hitchhike!

[2] Harriott Benedict Wickham Barton, Norwalk High School Class of 1907, whose stories of her life, our family’s heritage, and of the Firelands inspired me to publish the Firelands History Website. After my grandfather’s death, she had sold their farm south of Norwalk and moved into town.

 

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Researching the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 – and Other Subjects

firelands-historical-society-museum

Firelands Historical Society Museum

 

If I had my druthers, I’d spend my free time in Norwalk, Ohio at the Firelands Historical Society‘s Laning-Young Research Center, the Norwalk Public Library and the Huron County Courthouse. But I’ve found it inconvenient to do so from my home in Colorado. What to do?

Fortunately, resources about Norwalk abound online. Beside Ancestry.com, FamilySearch and other “normal” genealogical sources, here are a few others specific to Norwalk and the Firelands I regularly use to flesh out my Sufferers’ Land and Norwalk High School Class of 1907 series of posts on this website:

  • The Firelands Pioneer: The journal of the Firelands Historical Society was first published in June 1858. The “Old Series” of the-firelands-pioneernineteen issues ran from 1858 until 1878, followed by twenty-five additional issues in the “New Series” from 1882 to 1937. During the publication of the “Old Issue,” most of the original settlers of the Firelands were still alive, and many contributed eyewitness accounts of their experiences. In 1939, the Firelands Historical Society published an index to both series. This index has been invaluable to me in my research. Most issues of The Firelands Pioneer are now digitized and just a Google search away.

  • Another important source of information about the Firelands is History of the FirelandsW.W. Williams 1879 book History of the Fire-Lands: Comprising Huron and Erie Counties, Ohio With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of the Prominent Men and Pioneers. Mr.. Williams used The Firelands Pioneer as an important source for History of the Firelands; he also drew from many other  primary sources, to include court records and personal interviews with settlers still surviving in the 1870’s. The resulting book is a treasure trove of histories, biographies, and illustrations for the genealogist and historian interested in this region and the families that settled there. This tome is available online, and I have posted links to the Table of Contents of the book on this website.

  • Finally, another great source is the Huron County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society Website. Here you can find links to HCCOGS Logopublications of the society, and other sources: death indexes, cemetery and funeral records, indexes of probate and court records and more. You can also request assistance from society members for a fee. This is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in researching the Firelands.

So that’s it: a short list of the resources I’ve found most useful in researching posts for this website. But there is one more that only recently become available to me: newspaper archives. I’ll tell you about that source in my next post.

 

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Nothing New Under the Sun

Great fire of 1908

Scene of the Devastation of the Michigan Fire of 1908 [1]

This year, it seems that the entire western U.S. is in flames. Although in Colorado, where I live, we have mostly been spared the fires, we have suffered through weeks of heavy smoke from conflagrations in Canada, Oregon and Montana that obscure the sky, burn our eyes, and weigh heavily on our spirits.

I hiked in the hills near my home south of Denver this morning. Normally, Pikes Peak, fifty miles to the south, stands out boldly against a blue sky. But this morning, I could barely make out the foothills of the Front Range, a little over ten miles to the west.

Fires like these are not new, however. One-hundred nine years ago, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham, wrote in her diary about smoke from faraway fires that blanketed Norwalk, Ohio. Here’s what she had to say:

 

Saturday, Sept 11, – The air is so full of smoke from the Canadian & Michigan forest fires that it is like a thick fog. The air is close & muggy, and the sun doesn’t even cast a shadow. It is only about four o’clock now, but you can scarcely see the sun although there is not a cloud in the sky, at least as far as I can see, which isn’t far, for I can hardly see across the valley. My, I’m glad we don’t have forests around here. It’s bad enough clear across the Lake. [2]

There is nothing new under the sun, according to the prophet. [3] And sometimes, there is no sun.

Something is different today, however – coverage of these events. These days, national and local news sources extensively cover wild fires, and cautions us of the health risks. But on September 11, 1908, the dense smoke Harriott Wickham described in her diary merited not even a mention from the Norwalk Daily Reflector or the Evening Herald. An article in the latter paper did report about a forest fire in Minnesota, but only because it threatened a town. [4] Property loss was news. The environment was not.

Footnotes:

[1] From “MAJOR POST-LOGGING FIRES IN MICHIGAN: the 1900’s.”

[2] From the unpublished diary of Harriott Wickham, Norwalk High School Class of 1907 covering May 1908 to May 1909 in the possession of the author of this blog. As it is today, there were no real forests around Norwalk in 1908. Pioneers like Harriett Wickham’s ancestors had cut them down over the previous century.

[3] Ecclesiastes, 1:9.

[4] “Forest Fires Do Great Damage,” Norwalk Evening Herald, page 3, column 5.

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Where They Went – Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, Ohio (and the Bobbsey Twins)

 

The Bobbsey Twins

The Bobbsey Twins book cover, circa 1908 (from Wikipedia Commons)

 

Were you once hooked on the Bobbsey Twins? I was. The lives and adventures of Nan and Bert, Freddie and Flossie, and their family fascinated me, perhaps because their lives were so different from mine.

I had not thought about the Bobbsey Twins for years, but they came to mind as I was researching the lives of the three graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 who are the subjects of this post. Not the twins, actually, but their parents: Richard, owner of a lumber yard and Mary, his stay-at-home mom. As I recall, Richard was rarely seen, taking the morning train into the city for his job. Mary stayed home, caring for their lovely suburban home and two sets of twins, with help from the servants, of course. As I imagine it, the lives of the three Norwalk, Ohio natives who settled in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights must have been very much like theirs [1]

From the time John D. Rockefeller purchased land in what is now Cleveland Heights, the area has been a known for its affluence. Founded as a village in 1903, it had grown to 5,000 residents by 1910, and in 1920 it exceeded 15,000. One of the “streetcar suburbs,” it became home to many managers and other office workers in the city. [2]

stephen-young-commencement-photo-1907Stephen Young and Ruby Hoyt had homes in Cleveland Heights most of their lives. Stephen did not spend much of his life in the town, however. He was overseas during both two world wars, and between those conflicts, and after, he spent much of his time either in Columbus, Ohio, serving in the state legislature, and in Washington D.C. during his career in the House and Senate. He did practice law in Cleveland from time to time, and I imagine him commuting into the city from his home on Edgehill Road in Cleveland Heights. [3]

Ruby Hoyt married Hugh McAllister, a salesman in the publishing industry. Hugh must have been a good salesman, because he and Ruby had a live in maid at their comfortable home on Queenston Road in Cleveland Heights. They had three children, two girls and a boy. [4]

 

 

Ruby Hoyt and Nina Humiston

Nina Humiston also married a successful businessman: Henry Ronk, who worked in finance in the oil industry. At first they lived in Cleveland, but after Henry started a public accounting firm, they moved first to a home in Cleveland Heights, then, as his practice grew, to Shaker Heights, where Nina stayed at home to raise three children, with the help of a couple of servants. [5]

Ruby Hoyt, and Nina Humiston married well and probably lived the dream portrayed in the fictional world of the Bobbsey Twins. Certainly, they had their ups and downs in life: but overall they enjoyed a life of privilege and comfort. To these advantages, Stephen Young added power and prestige through his military and political careers. Any way you look at it, these members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 took full advantage of their place in society.

Next up, Lakewood, Ohio, where two graduates enjoyed similar lives of prosperity and marriage – and one who had the former, while forgoing the latter.

 

[1] From The Bobbsey Twins article in Wikipedia.

[2] The history of Cleveland Heights in the several decades of the twentieth century are from the Cleveland Heights history webpages in Wikipedia and of the Cleveland Heights Historical Society.

[3] For source material about Stephen Young, see his Wikipedia article, and the Stephen Young person page on the WeRelate Wiki.

[4] For source material about Hugh and Ruby McAllister, see the Ruby Hoyt person page on the WeRelate Wiki.

[5] For source material about Henry and Nina Ronk, see the Nina Humiston person page on the WeRelate Wiki. The history of Shaker Heights can be found on Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Where They Went – Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland 1930

Cleveland, Ohio – 1930 [1]

 

By far, Cleveland and its suburbs was the primary destination for the graduates of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Why Cleveland? Today – although it is experiencing a renaissance – the city is a shadow of the metropolis that lured young people from around the world to work in its factories. In 1907, Cleveland was already an industrial powerhouse, by 1920, it became the fifth largest city in the nation. And it was not only jobs that made it a destination of choice for many in the early twentieth century. Philanthropy by titans of industry like John D. Rockefeller and Louis Severance brought culture to the city. [1]

Nine of the twenty-seven graduates of the Class of 1907 spent most of their lives in Cleveland or its suburbs, but only three lived in the city limits of Cleveland, and none of them ever married.

Fred Osborne Commencement Photo 1907

Fred Osborne came from a working class family, his father was a housepainter and paperhanger, and he became a working class man. After graduating from Norwalk High School, he went into farming, and became a beekeeper. Around 1920, he moved to Cleveland, and for over twenty years lived in an apartment at 1482 East 84th Street with his sisters, while working as a mail carrier out of the University Post Office at 1950 E 101st Street, Cleveland. After retirement, he moved to Pinellas, Florida, where he died in 1972.

 

University Post Office Cleveland Ohio

University Post Office 2017 [3]

myrtle-woodruff

Myrtle Woodruff

How important is it to check source documents and not rely on transcriptions? Very important. But sometimes we goof, as I did in my post on education when I reported that Myrtle Woodruff had not pursued an education after high school. That despite finding her obituary, which reported that she had graduated from Ohio University. While drafting this post, I checked her obituary and realized my mistake. I went to the original 1940 Census record for confirmation, and there it was: Myrtle Woodruff had completed five years of college. How stupid of me! Oh, well! Lesson learned (I hope), and now I have the chance to set the record straight.

What did Myrtle do with her education? She taught at West Technical High School in Cleveland. [4] In 1928, she lived on Prospect Avenue in Cleveland. Later she moved to the suburb of Lakewood. After retiring in 1946, she returned to live with a sister in their hometown of Fairfield Township, where she died in 1951.

West Technical High School

West Technical High School, Cleveland, Ohio [5]

Edna West Commencement Photo 1907

Edna West spent most of her short life (she died in 1936) living in boarding houses. After graduation, she moved to Trenton, Michigan, where she taught school, living in a home with fourteen other boarders, most who were teachers. By 1920, she had returned to Ohio and was working as a clerk in Cleveland, boarding at 3848 Prospect Avenue (now a parking lot). But in the end she returned to teaching. According to the 1930 Census, she was a governess at the Cleveland Christian Home for Children located at 11401 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. [6] She was the first of the class of 1907 to die, passing away on April 6, 1936 in Toledo, Ohio.

That’s it for the tales of those graduates of the class who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Next up, the suburbs, beginning with Cleveland Heights.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Image from Pinterest, downloaded August 6, 2017

[2] From the Cleveland Wikipedia article. An excellent source of information about Cleveland is the Case Western Reserve Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.

[3] Google Maps Image downloaded August 6, 2017.

[4] West Technical School was a highly rated high school in Cleveland. Established in 1912, it closed in 1995 and was converted to apartments. For more information, visit the West Tech Alumni Association website.

[5] Image from West Technical High School Class of 1967 Reunion Website. on Classmates.com.

[6] The Cleveland Christian Home for Children is an orphanage founded in 1900, and is still operates today. A history of this institution is at the Cleveland Christian Home Website.

Note: For timelines and sources, click on these links: Fred Osborne, Myrtle Woodruff, and Edna West. I will fill in the gaps with individual biographies for these three in later posts.

 

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907 Demographics – Those Who Stayed

 

old-norwalk-high-school0001

Norwalk High School, Norwalk, Ohio 1907

 

 

In the ninety years from the founding of Norwalk, Ohio by Platt and Sally Benedict to the graduation of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, a large proportion of those who settled in the town had stayed, especially those of the social status of the graduates of the class. That was about to change. The stress of World War I and the continued industrialization of America tore at the fabric of small towns like Norwalk. The lure of the big city and the rapid settlement of the west beckoned. Within ten years of graduation, three-quarters of the class of 1907 would leave Norwalk. We’ll see where they went in my next post. In this one, we’ll look at the few who stayed behind

Only seven of the twenty-seven graduates of the class stayed in Norealk and its surrounding townships. Four — Sheldon Laning, Homer Beattie, Irene Bragdon, and Irene Eline — lived in Norwalk. The two men went away to college, and lived elsewhere for a time. But they both returned to Norwalk, and spent most of their careers in the town.

Sheldon Laning and Homer Beattie

Irene Bragdon never married and lived her entire life in her parent’s house, and taught in the Norwalk school district. Irene Eline married a clerk in a Norwalk dry goods store and raised a family with him in the city.

 

Irene Bragdon and Irene Eline

 

The remaining three classmates who stayed in the area spent their lives in the farming townships around Norwalk where they were born. Earl Sinclair became a carpenter and farmed in Clarksfield Township. He never married. Gertrude Ryerson and Alice McCammon married farmers, and raised families with them on farms in Steuben and Bronson Townships.

 

Earl Sinclair, Gertrude Ryerson, and Alice McCammon

 

These seven young people of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 decided to stay close to home. Most of their classmates, however, did not. In my next few posts, we’ll see where they went, beginning with the three graduates who settled in Cleveland, Ohio.

 

 

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